Larry Hosken: New

Yes, the flying pig is wearing a facemask. 240 Third Ave, near Clement.
photo: front yard display

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2020-07-13T18:56:34.563494

Yesterday, I walked along a stretch of Fulton Street to see the message recently painted there. It wasn't so easy to read on the ground; it made more sense from the vantage of, say, a local news helicopter.

photo of Fulton Street with letters painted on it: BLACK photo of Fulton Street with letters painted on it: LIVES photo of Fulton Street with letters painted on it: MATTER Aerial view from NBC chopper of Fulton Street with letters painted on it: #BLACK LIVES MATTER

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2020-07-08T17:16:38.450629

Book Report: One Person, No Vote

It's a whirlwind tour of voter suppression in the USA. Nowadays, Depending on who you ask, North Carolina is no longer considered a fully-functioning democracy; how did we land in this situation?

Nowadays, corrupt Secretaries of State ignore most kinds of election fraud, but focus on preventing one kind: Voter Fraud. Voter fraud involves getting a human being to go to a physical voting place and impersonate a voter. It would be a pretty stupid way to cheat at an election: the logistics of moving around many many fake voters is much more difficult than the logistics of, for example, moving around many many fake ballots. That's why eletion fraudsters use other means. Each election, scattered around the country you'll see new reports of a few confused folks voting twice; nowhere near enough to swing elections. But a corrupt Secretary of State will use this as an excuse to change state election rules so that only people who can show a driver's license can vote. Then the state shuts down DMV offices in carefully-chosen areas. Thus, most Black folks must travel far to get ID; white folks can pick up ID nearby. Unsurprisingly, many voters of color can't take a half-day to travel to get ID. When Alabama set up a Voter ID law, they "needed" to issue 300,000 IDs to cover every voter who didn't already have a license; but in fact Alabama only issued 5,000 of these IDs, having dissuaded the other voters via sheer hassle.

Some folks, railing against false voter fraud claims, go too far: they falsely claim that there is zero voter fraud out there. This book doesn't fall in that trap, thank goodness, instead pointing out the handful of loons who try it each year. That's good; if you're dealing with conspiracy theorists, you'd better not claim there's zero voter fraud when a quick news search will turn up a few cases.

Nowadays, corrupt Secretaries of State suppress votes by removing voters' names from the rolls. As presented, this sounds reasonable: when voters move away or pass on, you want their names off the rolls, lest fraudsters use those names for fraud a la 1960s-era Chicago. But nowadays states already remove these moved-on names from their rolls. Corrupt Secretaries of State remove many, many names of valid voters right before elections. E.g., Secretary of State Kemp removed the names of 600,000 people who had moved out of Georgia… except that 300,000 of those people hadn't actually moved out of state. By the time the courts step in, it's too late to fix the problem. Many removed-from-rolls voters figure out how to re-register in time for their vote to count, but many others don't. Somehow, the corrupt Secretary of State doesn't go to jail (in Kemp of Georgia's case, he instead went to the Governor's office); somehow, the election results are allowed stand.

Something I learned from this book: I knew that corrupt Secretaries of State removed voters from the rolls who hadn't voted for a few years. I didn't know that the NVRA specifically mentioned that this was not a valid reason to toss a voter off the rolls.

Gerrymandering is unusual in that both major parties do it. The book points out an interesting recent case: New Jersey, 2018, centrist Democrats wanted to gerrymander; progressive Democrats stopped them.

Anyhow, this book is one of those that I had to read slowly because I kept pausing to shake my fist.

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2020-07-05T20:30:33.139272

I got sick. Fortunately, it felt more like an annoying-flu-thing rather than a lethal-pandemic-thing. But the sickness surprised me, sneaking past my shelter-in-place defenses. These days, I hardly interact with people face-to-face. But I do some: bought some tea at a near-empty store; talked with the apartment maintenance guy about a lock not working. In the future, I guess mail-order tea will suffice.

I hardly interact with people these days, but could do less (will do less, internet tea should be fine). San Francisco's kept its pandemic infection rate from surging, but hasn't reduced it—just held it level.

That flu reached me. In theory, most folks are being careful and that flu should never have spread anywhere near me; but in practice, that flu reached me.
*groan*
I guess I'll be more careful.

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2020-06-29T13:36:16.191406

Book Report: The Library Book

Susan Orlean writes about the Los Angeles main library. There's history, an unsolved mystery, but my favorite bits were about day-to-day operations at the modern-day library. There's not so much emphasis on the books, more about providing space and community resources to local folks. It was on my mind when I read this Twitter thread about a Miami-area library re-opening in a hope-it's-declining pandemic. Anyhow, libraries are awesome; please use a mask while visiting.

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2020-06-13T21:48:13.909021

octothorpean.org will shut down around June 30, 2020. It had a good run.

Teams are still playing—there's about one new team per day. In May, three teams solved the big scary metapuzzle.

So why shut it down? octothorpean.org is built "on top of" Google App Engine. Google App Engine's API is changing; and Octothorpean would need some adjustments in the near term. In the medium term, App Engine won't have a way to send email. Octothorpean assumes there's a way to send email. With some further adjustment, it could stop assuming that… But that's adding up to a lot of effort; and I'm pretty distracted these days.

octothorpean.org had a good run. Six+ years! Time to let it go.

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2020-06-08T18:05:23.874098

Book Report: Republic of Lies

This book explores some recent hoaxes and fake news, concentrating on stories that got gullible folks to take political action. (Does blundering around with a rifle count as "political action"? Maybe. Anyhow.) Though I'd bumped into these hoaxes and hoaxters in the news, this book pointed out some trends I hadn't picked up on.

E.g., dummies who fell for one hoax fall for other hoaxes. There's bad news and good news here. The bad news: loons don't admit they were wrong; they just stop following one piece of fake news and move on to the next. The good news: if you thought that umpty-ump thousand Americans believed in pizzagate and another umpty-ump thousand Americans believe in QAnon, you'd think a lot of Americans were really gullible; but there's a lot of overlap between those dummies.

It was kind of spooky to read about how such a large fraction of Swedish folks prefer non-mainstream news at the same time that Sweden was Leroy Jenkinsing COVID-19, letting many many citizens die because maybe the disease wasn't going to be that dangerous somehow?

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2020-05-26T16:39:40.467237

Pull List

In these unprecedentedly contagious times, I must not shop inside the comic book store. Instead, I can order ahead so the excellent proprietor can hand comics to me at the front door. This nudged me to figure out a "pull list", a list of comics to reserve. Organized comic collectors have them; and nowadays I guess I'm one of those.

Every so often someone asks me what comic books I read and I can never remember at the moment, since I'm not so organized, comics-wise. But today I have an answer!

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2020-05-22T16:34:15.515577

Book Report: The Grid (The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future)

In my head, an electrical company's control room looks like some Hollywood vision of NORAD: a map of the region with blinking red lights to indicate imminent-brownout warnings. But my head is wrong. Historically, a good-enough monitoring sytem for an electrical grid was a telephone: when customers from some neighborhood called up to complain that they'd lost power, you knew that neighborhood had a problem. That system worked pretty well for a long time. In the bad old days, things were more predictable.

In the bad old days, power use was more predictable second-to-second. That was good, because electricity moves really fast, and we don't have much good battery tech yet; thus, a big electrical company needs to provide just the right amount of power for all its customers second-to-second. Old-time refrigerators kept running all the time instead of just running their chillers occasionally. This used a lot more power—but that use meant that a typical household's power use was about constant (modulo a big step when the AC turned on/off).

In the bad old days, power production was predictable second-to-second. As long as you kept flinging coal into the burner, power came out at a steady rate. New-fangled wind and solar power plants are better for our health, but not so predictable, second-to-second. We don't control weather.

In the USA, things aren't modernizing so quickly. Some regions finally have smart meters, but plenty still don't. There's monitoring systems that can watch for power problems on lines—but they're new and have software that's new (and thus hasn't had all the bugs shaken out yet). The USA has brownouts and blackouts. I used to think my local utility, PG&E, was bad, and they are—but they're not atypically bad for the USA.

The economics and laws aren't so great for modern USA power companies. Reality isn't great for them, either. E.g., if my landladies put solar collectors on my apartment building's roof, that's good for a lot of people, but not for the power company. There's more clean power available; folks in the building could use that power even if the local utility has problems… but it's yet another bit of unpredictable power production on the grid with less money going to the power company. The book indirectly makes a good case for moving power companies out of private hands and over to government; the system that works best for the local economy overall might not make money itself.

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2020-05-17T17:16:28.108801

My local blood bank (Vitalant, operating in the San Francisco bay area) wrote to say that they're especially interested in plasma donations from folks who have recovered from Covid-19. Apparently, they're working with local med school+hospital UCSF to test whether such blood might help other folks to covercome the disease. My high school chum Peter Tang points out that such plasma isn't likely to be a super-duper cure: really what you want is for the body to produce its own antibodies; donated antibodies might help a little, though. (I think he said something like that. I'm scrolling through old chats, and he kinda went on a rant about why injecting UV was a bad idea… It's been a rough time for folks who know something about medical whatever… a lot to get upset about ANYHOW Peter's had a lot to vent about lately and I didn't have the energy to keep scrolling back through all of it to find exactly what he was saying about antibodies or whatever from donated blood). I'm accustomed to the blood bank asking me about various diseases that might disqualify me from donating, but it's new for them to ask about extra-tasty super-qualifying diseases.

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2020-04-27T21:10:01.340005

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