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Gender: Male
Hometown: California
Member since: 2003 before July 6th
Number of posts: 26,396

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Journal Archives

Geography, not politics, hurts [CA] Central Valley candidates (SFGate)

Geography, not politics, hurts Central Valley candidates
By John Wildermuth Published 2:10 pm, Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s biggest obstacle in her run for state controller might not be that she’s a Republican in a deep-blue state or a woman where men often dominate politics. Instead, it’s her Fresno address that could cause trouble.

In a state where the voting population, money and political clout flows from the densely populated cities along the coast, Central Valley politicians historically have had a tough time getting elected to statewide office.

“It’s difficult,” admitted Tim Clark, a consultant for Swearengin, who’s facing Democrat Betty Yee, a state Board of Equalization member from Alameda. “It’s a struggle to get known to donors, who are in places like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orange County.”

The only current state officeholder from the Central Valley is Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones of Sacramento. The last California governor from the state’s interior was “Buckboard” Jim Budd, a Democratic congressman from Stockton who was elected to the state’s top office in 1894.

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Now I'm pretty sure that Swearengin's biggest problem is not geography, but the overall discussion is pretty interesting...

What types of guns are turned in at San Francisco buybacks?

As San Francisco prepares for its fifth gun buyback this Saturday, organizers released statistics that give a window into what type of firearms have been taken out of circulation in the past.

The stats appear to suggest that though these aren’t necessarily street guns on the brink of being used in crimes, they often weren’t being stored securely in homes, and their disposal made people feel safer.

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The surveys found cash wasn’t the primary reason people handed over firearms — just 16 percent said money was the main driver. Safety was the bigger motivation, with many saying they were given the gun but didn’t want it, or that they had changed their mind after buying one. A few said they found an unwanted gun in their house or yard.

The guns were typically older models, not of the type usually used for crime, and those who turn in weapons are sometimes older and not in more crime-prone age groups. The San Francisco surveys found that nearly two-thirds of sellers were over 50, with just 4 percent coming from people 18 to 29.

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No major surprises, but a fairly comprehensive set of data. Supports (IMO) the conclusion that 'buy-backs' aren't likely to have much crime impact, but do have the benefit of improving household safety on an individual basis...

25 bears hit by cars in Yosemite,10,000 deer killed in state; how to avoid them

Every now and then, there comes a moment where you hear something so outrageous that it feels like you’ve been grabbed by the ears and lifted right off the ground.

One of those moments came last week in a memo from Yosemite National Park that reported that 25 bears have been hit by cars this year in the park. That’s one for every week of summer. In addition, about 10,000 deer a year are hit and killed on California roadways.

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Not exactly rocket science, but the numbers surprised me. And I have to confess that when I've already driven 3-4 hours across the Valley to get to a trailhead, I don't drive as slowly as I could on the final approaches...

A parched farm town is sinking, and so are its residents' hearts (LA Times)

Beneath this small farm town at the end of what's left of the Kings River, the ground is sinking.

Going into the fourth year of drought, farmers have pumped so much water that the water table below Stratford fell 100 feet in two years. Land in some spots in the Central Valley has dropped a foot a year.

In July, the town well cracked in three places. Household pipes spit black mud, then pale yellow water. After that, taps were dry for two weeks while the water district patched the steel well casing.

In September, the children of migrant farmworkers who usually come back to Stratford School a few weeks late, after the grape harvest, never came back at all.

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Really heart-breaking portrait of the ongoing drought...

Quizzes for scuba divers. Fun and educational!


Find out if you're a safe diver, to minimize your risk of

8 Minutes, 15 Seconds (by Levi Jacobs)


MARCH 20th, 2134, 1:33 P.M.

No disasters yet.

Don Maugham stood tense near the back of the control room—what he liked to call “the bridge”—and watched the holo feeds. He wasn’t a handsome man, but in good shape for his early fifties, with a gentle face and a firm handshake. Today he was all focus: as lead researcher in Toynbee Astrotecture Corporation’s third solar probe project, the next ten minutes could have decisive impact on the rest of his career. On the holos at the front, they could see the probe had successfully opened a wormhole. Whether the other side of that hole would be the center of the sun, as planned, or somewhere else in the Local Interstellar Cloud, remained to be seen. If it hit the sun’s core, they’d calculated the probe’s shielding should give them two thirds of a second to record and transmit what it found there—hopefully opening insights into the nature of solar fusion, and possibilities for direct solar energy projects. If it wasn’t, he’d wasted a few trillion dollars of Toynbee Corporation money, and probably wouldn’t be head researcher again any time soon.

“Probe approaching entrance.” That was Mick, exhibiting his love of the obvious. String technology meant that they had instant holos of the probe’s location, though its actual feeds still took eight minutes or so to travel at light speed back to Earth. They watched as the oblong probe approached the temporary time-space rupture. Don crossed his fingers. Wormhole technology was relatively new—found in the last five years—and their control of it less than perfect. If the equipment malfunctioned ...

“Five seconds.” An amused subsection of Don’s brain noted Mick’s tense, clinical tone, like at the old Cape Canaveral launches. He was a glory hog. Oh well.

“Entering wormhole.”

Don held his breath as the probe disappeared; all eyes turned to the holo projection of the core. Nothing there. “Status?” Don asked.

A dot appeared in the burning white core. “Entrance!” Mick shouted, and a collective whoop went up from the twenty-five or so scientists in the room. Don grinned, relieved. They’d done it!

Then a whole section of the core went dark, the white gone, a moment later replaced by red. What the hell?

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A Tank Only Fears Four Things (by Seth Dickinson)

The surgery makes Tereshkova into a tank.

In the war, she never showed any fear, not at Fulda, not even in the snows of Vogelsberg when the Americans dropped the first bomb. When Clinton and Yeltsin shook hands at Yalta, when the word came down to the 8th Guards Army to yield Frankfurt and withdraw to Soviet soil, Tereshkova spat into the dirt and said: “Too bad. We were turning things around.” And Yorkina, who sat beside her in the cab, laughed and shook her head. Between them the Geiger counter made soft cricket noises.

When they were discharged, they each promised to write, having failed in their goodbyes to say what Tereshkova, at least, felt in her heart: I needed you. I wouldn’t be okay without you.

But she isn’t okay. On her first day home in Vereya, Tereshkova hears the diesel engine of a truck passing on the road, and she begins to sweat.

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A theory of jerks (by Eric Schwitzgebel)


Are you surrounded by fools? Are you the only reasonable person around? Then maybe you’re the one with the jerkitude

Picture the world through the eyes of the jerk. The line of people in the post office is a mass of unimportant fools; it’s a felt injustice that you must wait while they bumble with their requests. The flight attendant is not a potentially interesting person with her own cares and struggles but instead the most available face of a corporation that stupidly insists you shut your phone. Custodians and secretaries are lazy complainers who rightly get the scut work. The person who disagrees with you at the staff meeting is an idiot to be shot down. Entering a subway is an exercise in nudging past the dumb schmoes.

We need a theory of jerks. We need such a theory because, first, it can help us achieve a calm, clinical understanding when confronting such a creature in the wild. Imagine the nature-documentary voice-over: ‘Here we see the jerk in his natural environment. Notice how he subtly adjusts his dominance display to the Italian restaurant situation…’ And second – well, I don’t want to say what the second reason is quite yet.

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The moralising jerk is apt to go badly wrong in his moral opinions. Partly this is because his morality tends to be self-serving, and partly it’s because his disrespect for others’ perspectives puts him at a general epistemic disadvantage. But there’s more to it than that. In failing to appreciate others’ perspectives, the jerk almost inevitably fails to appreciate the full range of human goods – the value of dancing, say, or of sports, nature, pets, local cultural rituals, and indeed anything that he doesn’t care for himself. Think of the aggressively rumpled scholar who can’t bear the thought that someone would waste her time getting a manicure. Or think of the manicured socialite who can’t see the value of dedicating one’s life to dusty Latin manuscripts. Whatever he’s into, the moralising jerk exudes a continuous aura of disdain for everything else.

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Interesting tangential comment in here as well; I never knew the source of the word jerkwater: "The jerk-as-fool usage seems to have begun as a derisive reference to the unsophisticated people of a ‘jerkwater town’: that is, a town not rating a full-scale train station, requiring the boiler man to pull on a chain to water his engine."


The Secret History of Life-Hacking


We live in the age of life-hacking. The concept, which denotes a kind of upbeat, engineer-like approach to maximizing one’s personal productivity, first entered the mainstream lexicon in the mid-2000s, via tech journalists, the blogosphere, and trendspotting articles with headlines like “Meet the Life Hackers.” Since then the term has become ubiquitous in popular culture—just part of the atmosphere, humming with buzzwords, of the Internet age.

Variations on a blog post called “50 Life Hacks to Simplify Your World” have become endlessly, recursively viral, turning up on Facebook feeds again and again like ghost ships. Lifehacker.com, one of the many horses in Gawker Media’s stable of workplace procrastination sites, furnishes office workers with an endless array of ideas on how to live fitter, happier, and more productively: Track your sleep habits with motion-sensing apps and calculate your perfect personal bed-time; learn how to “supercharge your Gmail filters”; oh, and read novels, because it turns out that “reduces anxiety.” The tribune of life hackers, the author and sometime tech investor Timothy Ferriss, drums up recipes for a life of ease with an indefatigable frenzy, and enumerates the advantages in bestselling books and a reality TV show; outsource your bill payments to a man in India, he advises, and you can enjoy 15 more minutes of “orgasmic meditation.”

Life-hacking wouldn’t be popular if it didn’t tap into something deeply corroded about the way work has, without much resistance, managed to invade every corner of our lives. The idea started out as a somewhat earnest response to the problem of fragmented attention and overwork—an attempt to reclaim some leisure time and autonomy from the demands of boundaryless labor. But it has since become just another hectoring paradigm of self-improvement. The proliferation of apps and gurus promising to help manage even the most basic tasks of simple existence—the “quantified self” movement does life hacking one better, turning the simple act of breathing or sleeping into something to be measured and refined—suggests that merely getting through the day has become, for many white-collar professionals, a set of problems to solve and systems to optimize. Being alive is easier, it turns out, if you treat it like a job.

In fact, one thing that’s striking about this culture of self-measurement and self-optimization is how reminiscent it is of a much earlier American workplace fad—one that was singularly unpopular with the workers themselves.

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Interesting framing of life-hacking in terms of early 20th Century 'scientific management' (Taylorism)...

Wikipedia: where truth dies online

From: Sp!ked

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Wikipedia has been a massive success but has always had immense flaws, the greatest one being that nothing it publishes can be trusted. This, you might think, is a pretty big flaw. There are over 21million editors with varying degrees of competence and honesty. Rogue editors abound and do not restrict themselves to supposedly controversial topics, as the recently discovered Hillsborough example demonstrates.

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The self-selection of Wikipedia’s editors can produce a strongly misaligned editorial group around a certain page. It can lead to conflicts among the group members, continuous edit wars, and can require disciplinary measures and formal supervision, with mixed success. Once a dispute has got out of hand, appeals to senior and more established administrators are often followed by rulings that favour the controlling clique.

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Wikipedia may be the ultimate devolved business model. Its content is generated by unpaid and largely uncontrolled volunteers. Its management structure is almost non-existent. Editors earn ‘brownie points’ by obsessively editing as many different pages as possible, preferably in subjects that they know nothing about. Specialist knowledge is frowned upon and discouraged. Those with the best understanding of Wikipedia’s procedures join together to bully and sideline newcomers.

To the casual reader, much of Wikipedia appears adequate, but be warned, nothing can be trusted. If your life depends on it, go elsewhere. Search engines have given us the power to instantly uncover source material that used to take weeks of library research to find – if it was available at all. Sources can be biased, but at least with other sources you know who has written what you are reading. With Wikipedia, you do not. Everyone has an agenda, but with Wikipedia you never know who is setting it.
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Some interesting examples of wiki-hoaxes/biases here, most new to me. I do think the writer goes a bit too far in his condemnation: although I agree in approaching Wikipedia with skepticism, it has value (as a starting point, to look up a basic fact, or for a refresher on a common and non-controversial topic, for example)...
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