Mimsy Were the Borogoves

For the wisdom of the wise are the criterion of your madness.

A free market in union representation—Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

I tend to disagree with most conservatives about unions. For one, they tend to lump all unions together; but there is a huge difference between real unions, who negotiate with owners on behalf of their employee members for more money and better conditions from the owners, and government unions, who negotiate with employees on behalf of other employees for more money from taxpayers. This is critical, because real unions have an incentive to make sure that the business their members work in stays competitive. There is no such incentive for government unions. Both ends of the table are negotiating with other people’s money.

Outside of government unions, however, the problem with unions is that they are set up as monopolies. Monopolies tend toward maintaining their monopoly rather than providing better service to the people forced to buy from them.

When people have a choice about what services they buy and who they buy it from, when services must compete, the people paying for those services are better off. They receive better service at a better price. When a service has a monopoly, when people are forced to buy that service and forced to buy it from one provider, the service always suffers, and badly. Worse, the people buying the service have no idea what they’re missing.

People had no idea what they were missing under AT&T's monopoly. Or under airline monopolies.1 Or electrical power monopolies. In every case so far, removal of government-sponsored monopolies in favor of choices has resulted in better products, better services, and better prices2. Even though in every case, many people complained that the change would be for the worse, that in this case a monopoly was necessary. They couldn’t see the benefits behind the forest of their fears.

There’s no reason to expect union monopolies to be any different. We have no idea what we’re missing because unions are monopolies. But history tells us that what we’re missing will be so amazing we won’t be able to remember how we lived without it once the monopoly ends.

Conservatives who oppose all unions instead of just government unions make the same mistake from the other end. They recognize how bad union monopolies are for workers, but have no idea what a healthy free market in union services would do for workers or the economy.

The way to be a programmer is to program—Wednesday, November 6th, 2019
Hello, World color bars

The traditional “Hello World” program, spiced up for the TRS-80 Color Computer 2.

In Tassajara Cooking, one of my favorite cookbooks, Edward Espe Brown says that “The way to be a cook is to cook.”

He’s right. And the way to be a programmer is to program.

My first computer program was:

  • 10 PRINT "HELLO THERE. I AM YOUR NEW TRS-80 MICROCOMPUTER!"

I know this because it’s the first program in the TRS-80 manual. I don’t know what my second program was, because I tend to go off-track quickly when reading through programming manuals. It is a lot more fun to learn by doing and making mistakes than copying rote lessons. I’d never used a computer before, never seen one in person, and bought it really as a glorified calculator: I’d been saving for a calculator, realized that it would only take a few more months to get a real computer, and bought a used TRS-80 Model 1. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

But unlike modern computers, it didn’t come with any software other than BASIC. In those days, everyone who owned a computer was expected to be a programmer. It was how you got your computer to do anything. There were books filled with programs to type in. I stayed up late typing other people’s code, and learning from it. From code that did something useful, not just code designed for lessons. This is what I tried to emulate when I wrote 42 Astoundingly Useful Scripts and Automations for the Macintosh (Plug: also available in print.)

I also subscribed to magazines that printed computer programs for readers to type. Those programs came from their readers—readers who wrote programs that did something they found useful, and sold their programs to the magazines for others to use. My first sale, to Hobby Computer Handbook, emulated a Mattel handheld baseball game. My brother had one, and I wanted one. It was a problem that could be solved by programming, so I wrote a program. I used the money from the sale to buy an expansion unit with more memory for the Model 1.

The first serious program I wrote for the TRS-80 was a word processor, in BASIC. I had saved to buy a word processor, and I went to a local electronics fair—an amateur radio convention—to buy one. I thought I’d be able to get software cheaper there than through mail order, and I’d be able to see it in operation before buying it. I was right. What I hadn’t considered was that I’d also be able to see great games in operation, too.

Roast beef for National Sandwich Day—Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

Sunday is National Sandwich Day. So far I’ve been focusing on breads for National Sandwich Day, but what’s a sandwich without something to go between? A good sliceable roast beef is high sandwich cuisine, and I’ve recently discovered a great, simple recipe for it using what is (for now, anyway) a reasonably priced cut, sirloin tip.

This recipe is attributed to Mrs. M. H. Webber of Seabrook, Texas, in the Holiday volume of the Southern Living Cookbook Library. It is a very simple recipe and produces great results. The first time I made it, I overcooked the roast and it was still amazing.

After an hour and a half I check the temperature, and as long as it’s 160° in the center, it’s done.

Roast beef is a hearty flavor, and can handle a hearty bread. In this case, I’m using a seeded rye from the fourth volume of Donna Rathmell German’s Bread Machine cookbook series. If you don’t have it, any rye will do; the seeds are anise and fennel in addition to the caraway that is probably already in your rye recipe.

They say in the Mediterranean that the best accompaniment to a meal is the wine that was grown near to the ingredients. As you can see in the photo, the perfect accompaniment to this sandwich is cheap Texas beer. Happy eating!

Brandywine beef

The first time I made this, I overcooked it to about 190 degrees. It was still amazing. There’s a lot to be said for recipes that are difficult to screw up.

Roast Beef Sandwich

Mustard, tomato, jalapeño, red onion, roast beef, red bell pepper, cheddar cheese on seeded rye.

Why is it so difficult to hold schools accountable?—Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
Round Rock High School report card

This is part of what a Texas school accountability rating looks like.

Thinking about the backhanded Occupy Democrat campaign for school choice reminded me that back in January, I was at a presentation where Monty Exter of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, expressed confusion about why it is so difficult to tell when a teacher is doing well compared to other industries. At the same time, he complained about relying on standardized tests to measure student outcome, in order to determine whether the teachers are teaching well.

Of course, the reason it’s harder to acknowledge merit in education compared to other industries is that parents cannot pull their dollars from a failing school and transfer them to a successful school.

There are a lot of teachers who complain, justifiably, about too much paperwork, especially standardized tests. They’re a one-size-fits-all mechanism that can’t be customized to the classroom or the student.

But failing the ability to do what they’d do for any other industry failing their children—switch to someone who isn’t failing—parents will demand some form of testing. Testing is a substitute for accountability. Accountability can only come when students and parents are free to take their money and go elsewhere. But because parents don’t have that choice, they ask for substitutes. Testing tries to simulate accountability in a monopoly. Unless you want to give parents the ability to fire public school teachers, standardized testing is the only substitute for choice.

The reason parents demand one-size-fits-all testing is that school administrators and union administrators demand one-size-fits-all schools. Parents can’t choose where to send their kids without paying twice, so they demand some other form of accountability. Sadly, simulating accountability in government schools will probably work about as well as simulating accountability in government health care. It is very difficult to ensure that a monopoly is accountable. Monopolies cater to the bureaucrats who control the checkbook, not the taxpayers who pay into it. As with doctors and hospitals, only choice makes schools accountable. Only pluralistic schools are accountable, and they are accountable because they are accountable directly to the parents. In a system of choice, it is the parents who control the money.

This is what accountability looks like: I hire the school to teach my children. If they don’t do a good job teaching my children I fire them and hire someone else.

A thousand points of color: give your photos a pointillist turn—Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

I wrote in Astounding Scripts about using option-8 as the sole palette when creating ASCII images in color. It creates an interesting pointillist effect.

  • asciiArt "Yellow Rose.jpg" --colors --width 150 --palette "•"

Use the flower photo at Yellow Rose of Los Angeles (JPEG Image, 249.0 KB). You’ll probably also want to change the width to match your Terminal window (or change your Terminal window’s width to match 150 characters), but it should come out looking like this:

You may also want to play around with different background colors. I tried white and black, but surprisingly the effect is more pronounced with the default green background.

It can create an interesting effect to save it as a PNG file as well. The PNG version has more colors, because PNG allows more colors than the Terminal does. With only eight colors, the Terminal version is starker. The PNG version is both more colorful and more faded.

  • asciiArt "Yellow Rose.jpg" --colors --width 150 --palette "•" --save yellow.png --quiet

You can, of course, adjust the density of the image by adjusting the width from 150 characters across to more or less.

Unlike most ASCII art, which prefers simple images, this technique can work with any image. It even worked on the photo of me wearing a Mr. Incredible mask, which I used as the example in the book.

It’s not quit pointillism. That requires the points to be close enough together to merge with each other. There is enough space between the option-8 bullet to keep the points separate when viewed closely or at a large size, and to strongly fade the image when viewed from a distance or at a small size. This is more like the accidental child of Seurat and ASCII. In Seurat’s images, the image is brought out through closely-drawn dots. With this technique, the image is veiled by well-separated dots.

Anything less than school choice is unfair—Wednesday, October 9th, 2019
Occupy Democrats: Why We Need School Choice

Even Occupy Democrats sees how unfair it is to deny school choice.

The unfairness of government monopolies is impossible to deny. The latest Occupy Democrats meme to hit my Facebook feed decries the unfairness of putting a mother in jail for the crime of… exercising school choice.

According to Occupy Democrats, Tanya McDowell went to jail for five years because she lied about her district in order to get her child into a better school.

Ignore for the moment that the real reason McDowell went to jail is for selling drugs. Under conservative proposals for school choice, their hypothetical McDowell wouldn’t have had to lie about where she lived to send her child to a better school. Lying about her address would never have had to be a part of that plea bargain. Even as a homeless person she could have sent her child to whatever district she wanted, and her child’s portion of school funds would have followed that choice.

The choice of district is one of the simplest forms of school choice that conservatives support.

The unfairness of our current government-run school system is so obvious that even the far left, pro-big-government, Occupy Democrats can’t resist using it to highlight the blatant racism of the system.

Because it is blatantly racist. Whenever Democrats criminalize school choice, they’re always criminalizing the choice of underserved communities, the choice of poorer parents, the choice of minority children. When Democrats shut down school choice options, they are almost always school choice options that save predominantly minority communities from failing schools.

It wasn’t Republicans who cancelled the DC Voucher program. It was Democrats, under President Obama—who sent his own children to a very expensive private school.

It’s Democrats who keep criminalizing school choice, who trap children in failing schools, who continually force parents to throw good money after bad instead of allowing parents to choose what school best fits their children. Instead of letting parents decide. The hardest thing for politicians to do is to let us make our own decisions. It is the nature of politics that politicians think they know better than us what we need; making our choices for us is why they got into politics.

And eventually, they always end up pointing a gun at us to force us to make the choice they think we should make. They always end up putting us in jail for disagreeing with their choices for us.

Commemorate Patriot Day with Betsy Ross—Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

The asciiArt script from 42 Astoundingly Useful Scripts and Automations for the Macintosh is astoundingly useful, as the title of the book implies, and can be used for a wide variety of purposes. I originally made this image for Independence Day, overlaying the Declaration of Independence on a drawing of the Betsy Ross flag. The Betsy Ross flag’s simple design is perfect for sequential ASCII art. The circle is a simple geometric element that shows up when placed in text; the stars of the modern 50-star flag get muddled unless the text is made so small as to be unreadable.

  1. Download the Betsy Ross flag for use with the asciiArt script: Betsy Ross flag (PNG, 24.9 KB)
  2. Place it in a folder where you can run the asciiArt script.
  3. Open the Terminal.
  4. Type “cd”, a space, and then drag your work folder onto the Terminal. Press the RETURN key, and you’re ready to create ascii art from the Betsy Ross flag.

Because the flag is such a simple design, when recreating it using text for the greyscale it makes more sense to keep the number of characters small. Here’s the Betsy Ross flag with just the asterisk, equals, and exclamation:

  • ~/bin/asciiArt "Betsy Ross Flag.png" --palette "*=! "
What the f*** is wrong with Americans?—Wednesday, September 4th, 2019
Have some fucking decency

Pretty sure decency also involves not assuming people have something “fucking wrong with them” just because they disagree with you on the best way of providing quality health care.

There is something obscenely wrong with you if you disagree with the left. You’re not a decent f***ing human being unless you support the Canadian health care system of long waits and no choices.

What the fuck is wrong with Americans who aren’t on board with free healthcare. I’m Canadian and I don’t care that I pay extra taxes so a little boy in Alberta can have open heart surgery, or an elderly man in Nova Scotia can get the heart medication he desperately needs. It’s called taking care of your people. I’m glad I pay so that people can have a good quality of life. It’s called being a decent fucking human being.

The left used to use Britain’s National Health Care as an example of caring for other people. But with two recent high profile examples of literally keeping patients—children—under armed guard to keep them from leaving the system, I’m not surprised they’ve given up that example. Before that they used to praise the Veterans Administration’s government-run health care. They turned on a dime, albeit a large one, when the immense corruption at the VA became public, and the veterans who died because of delayed medical treatment. I received political mailings for a few weeks claiming (correctly) that single payer would be just like VA-care before that reference went the way of the dodo.

Neither of those institutions did a good job “taking care of their people”. Despite the massive taxes required to pay for those government services. People who have to interact with the VA and the NHS have far from “a good quality of life”.

What the fuck is wrong with Americans is that we do not want armed guards forbidding us from choosing our doctor when the government-provided doctor fails us.

The VA and the NHS are exactly what happens with monopolistic health care. Corruption and long waits, refusing to allow challenges to the system. Now the only place remaining for the left to praise is Canada. It’s not a great choice, but the only other option would be admitting they’re wrong.

While the left thinks anyone who disagrees with the left has something the fuck wrong with them, I have never seen anyone on the right in the United States complain about British National Health Care, or Canadian Health, unless someone else has tried to force the same system on us. If other people want to try different systems, that’s their business. Most people don’t care if other people want to do something stupid. They care when other people try to convince them that stupid is smart and anything other than stupid is evil. We know that the next step is forcing stupid on everyone.

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