Why I Support Donald Trump for the GOP Nomination

April 21, 2016

I’m not a registered Republican.  For that matter I’m not a registered Democrat either.  In fact, I’m not a registered member of any party. I think California currently calls people like me “no party preference.” It used to be “declines to state.”  I like the sound of that one better. Chances are pretty good that I’ll vote for the Democratic presidential candidate this year.  It’s not that I have a warm or even tepid regard for the Democratic candidates.  It’s because of the Republican candidates.  Most GOP presidential candidates are just repellent.  This year, the two leading Republican hopefuls appeal to the side of human nature that’s usually the raw material of sensationally brutal and senseless crimes.  What we’ve got here, folks, is a sociopath and a guy with borderline personality disorder.  The sociopath, Cruz, is what they call in crime fiction an organized offender while the BPD guy, Trump, is a disorganized offender.

If either of these guys wins the presidential election we’re doomed or, even worse, doomded.  The good news is that, at least according to current polls, neither stands a chance against a Democrat who can walk, talk, and doesn’t drool too much.  Naturally I’d like the less likely winner to run.  I think Big D is my man.  I’m backing him, at least in the fight for the nomination, 101%.  I’d like to go 110% but that’s impossible since 100% is an absolute maximum.  I think the extra 1% is within sampling error so I’m sticking with it.

I urge all like minded citizens to follow my example.

The Rising Tide of Canadian Illegals in the US

July 14, 2013

Part I-The Invasion

Wichita, KS

July 13, 2013

In a city that is Middle American both culturally and geographically there is a growing awareness that the city has been infiltrated by Canadian illegals with PhDs. Sources in city government who prefer to remain anonymous say that the official estimate of the Canadian illegal population is currently 350,000 and growing daily. One of the anonymous officials said, “It’s the Underground Railroad in reverse. The route established by John Brown and his supporters still exists. Now they’re using it come here from Canada.”

This reporter went to seven convenience stores selected at random from the internet and bought a 40 oz. bottle of malt liquor at each. All of the clerks pronounced the letter “O” in the distinctive Canadian manner and ended many sentences with a rising inflection and the word “eh.” Several of them wore plaid flannel shirts. Clerks were observed with copies of Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” and Spenser’s “Faerie Queen.” One was scribbling arcane mathematical equations in a spiral notebook. None of them would comment on their national origin. All of the stores had large amounts of hockey paraphernalia on display.

Other cities across the country are experiencing this phenomenon. Boise, Idaho landscape contractor Elvin Tappe said, “About six months ago I noticed that the groups of people waiting on the street corner I usually go to for casual laborers looked different. A lot of the guys weren’t Hispanic. The new guys spoke English too. They had kind of a funny accent but they weren’t nearly as hard to understand as my brother-in-law from Georgia. I decided I’d try a couple. They were pretty good. They took a half hour lunch and didn’t drink on the job. On one of my jobs we were building a retaining wall. A guy took a look at the drawing and said ‘I think this is way overdesigned. It doesn’t have to be nearly that thick.’  He did some quick calculations and, by gosh, he was right. I saved 50% on materials on that job.”

In Del Rio, TX this correspondent managed to interview a man we’ll call Brian who was working as a bus boy in a local Mexican restaurant. He said “I was a tenured professor in the English department of a respected university but there was something missing from my life. I hated wearing tweed and corduroy jackets with patches on the elbows. The pipe smoke burned my tongue. I was bored with the clumsy advances the female, and some male, students made in hopes of improving their grades. Then there were the Quebeckers. The gangs were especially bad. It was hard to walk around in many neighborhoods because of the bands of tattooed young men who wore berets in their gang color. These “garçonz,” as they called themselves, harassed passers by. There were reports of car break ins and muggings. One morning my wife and I were putting groceries in the car when a group of garçonz came up to us. One of them said ‘Votre maman souffle les ours morts. Elle les aime beaucoup.’ He leered and put his fingers up to his mouth in a V shape. He moved his tongue back and forth through the V while making libidinous noises. I was mortified. My wife found it strangely provacative. We discussed it and decided that the U. S. was the only choice.”

Nationwide, the population of Canadian PhDs and their families is estimated at upwards of 20,000,000. The unfortified borders of Montana and North Dakota are favored entry points. ICE refuses to comment on the issue. Spokesperson Walter Moryn said “We have received complaints about illegal immigration from Canada. We are investigating several situations. I’d prefer not to comment until we have some concrete evidence.”

Moryn advised that anyone who suspects that Canadian illegals are living in their town to contact ICE. He promised that every complaint would receive the agency’s full attention.

Part II-The Dean Interview

July 14, 2013

In this second installment of our series on the influx of illegal Canadian immigrants with PhDs we’ll take a look at some of the sociological consequences of the invasion from the north. Last week I interviewed Dr. Jerome Herman Dean, a senior fellow at the Rickey Institute of Social Behavior in St. Louis. Dr. Dean specializes in the dynamics of crowds. He recently published a monograph titled “New Trends in Group Behavior” in the Midwest Journal of Social Dynamics.

JF: I understand your monograph has caused quite a stir both in the academic community and among the general public. Could you describe your findings?

JHD: Over the last three years my research staff has monitored behavior in a variety of public places. They’ve noticed an odd shift in the dynamics of these situations. The incidence of fights among the spectators at hockey games has declined by 60% from 2004 levels. Customers at dawn Christmas sales have formed orderly lines and entered the store at a walk, one at a time when the doors opened. There has been a 25% increase in the use of turn signals. The incidence of people giving up seats to the aged and infirm on public transit has increased by 75%.

JF: Do you believe this indicates a trend?

JHD: Yes. For the last fifteen years we have studied the behavior of crowds in four areas: driving, entertainment events, shopping, and public transit. We’ve developed objective measures of crowd behavior. We’ve established a particularly useful metric which we call the “Rudeness Index.” In each of the four areas we’ve found a statistically significant decline in rudness since 2004. Furthermore the Rudeness Index shows a decline every year versus the previous year.

JF: Have you identified a cause for this shift in behavior?

JHD: Our current results show a strong positive correlation between the increase in the population of Canadian illegal immigrants with PhDs. The decline in the Rudeness Index since 2004 has tracked the increase in the Canadian illegal PhD population very closely. We’re now working on several studies to test our findings.

JF: So you’re not sure that the Canadian Invasion is responsible for the changes you’ve noticed.

JHD: This is science; everything is open to question. I believe in the soundness of our methodology and the statistical analysis of our results. So, yes, I believe that the increase in the number of Canadian PhDs who entered this country illegally is, given the current level of knowledge, the best explanation we have for the decline in rudeness. My colleagues in the profession are in accord with me.

Michael Gerson, Sabermetrics, and Election Results

November 10, 2012

In Michael Gerson’s November 5 column in the Washington Post he takes on people who use math models to predict election results.  He says that problem with this method that it is not only ” pseudo-scientific but that it is trivial.”  He uses Nate Silver’s method as an example calling it ” little more than weighting and aggregating state polls and combining them with various historical assumptions to project a future outcome.”  He argues that this sort of analysis reduces political science to the prediction of election results without considering the things that motivate people to form opinions and make decisions.  He calls political science a “division of the humanities.”

Gerson’s argument reminds me of the baseball establishment’s reaction to the application of statistical techniques to baseball.  Baseball stats have been around since the dawn of the professional game.  In the 1940s and early 1950s general manager Branch Rickey used some predictive techniques that weren’t widely publicized.  In the early 1960s a storm broke when retired metallurgist Earnshaw Cook published a book called “Percentage Baseball,” which was the first attempt to subject the game to mathematical analysis.  Cook, like many pioneers, made some large mistakes.  He also was right about many things.  Baseball managers and executives railed against Cook’s ideas on baseball strategy.  One area where he was undeniably correct was that the bunt is generally a bad idea except under certain conditions when a team needs to score a single run late in a game.  Cook’s big mistakes were a method of  setting  a batting order that doesn’t maximize scoring and a system for using pitchers that, while similar to the way teams use pitchers today, is not compatible with the human body or the amount of pitching talent available on most teams.  The common theme in the reaction of the baseball establishment was that baseball transcended numbers.  Gerson said something very similar, “An election is not a mathematical equation; it is a nation making a decision.”

In the 1970s Bill James, Pete Palmer and others developed better methods of analysis and prediction for baseball.  James coined the term “sabermetrics” from the acronym SABR for the Society for American Baseball Research, a group that started out with a historical emphasis and broadened its approach to include the statistical analysis that was becoming more popular.  The book Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, and the recent movie of the same name chronicled the application of sabermetric techniques to running a baseball team.  The baseball establishment reacted to Billy Beane’s use of  math the same way it did to Cook’s book.  Beane’s Oakland Athletics became very successful because Beane used analytical conclusions to try to find the best bargains in player talent.  Other teams weren’t doing that.  Today most teams use some sabermetric analysis in assessing talent, considering the value of trades, etc.

Gerson laments the popularity of numerical analysis in political science today.  He talks about scholarly journals being filled with “a profusion of numbers and formulas more suited to the study of physics.”  He believes that politics is “mainly the realm of ethics — the study of justice, human nature, moral philosophy and the common good.”  One problem with the ethical focus is that people don’t necessarily consider ethics or justice in forming their political opinions.  Some vote their wallet.  Others vote the candidates’ appearance.  The Nixon Kennedy debate is a reminder that the electorate, as a group, isn’t quite as high minded as the average scholar.

It’s certainly possible that some of the journal articles attempt to quantify things that are difficult to quantify, especially when the subject at hand doesn’t have a precise, readily agreed upon definition.  That’s a common flaw in psychological research.  Where Gerson is wrong is in downplaying the significance of numerical analysis.  The outcome of elections is something people find interesting.  If the best results so far have come from black box techniques that ignore the actual decision making process, the predictive value of the techniques is both interesting and useful.  The canonical black box approach is the use of input to predict output without being concerned with what happens in between.  Stuff goes into the black box.  We don’t know what the black box does with it.  We do know that something comes out.  If we can predict the output of the black box on the basis of the input we know something.   Sometimes we can use that knowledge to open the lid of the box.

The Society for American Baseball Research has never abandoned its historical and biographical work.  There’s still a great deal of interest in the human side of baseball.  Members write papers and books on baseball history and biography all the time.  The Society also has many members whose primary interest is statistical.  The  Society recognizes both approaches as interesting.  Gerson wants political science to ignore those whose interest is in quantifying and prediction and stick with the philosophical approach that he favors.  It’s reminiscent of the old mathematicians’ toast, “Here’s to pure mathematics.  May she never be of use to anyone.”  Of course, eventually someone almost always finds an application for the most esoteric area of mathematical abstraction.  If political science is defined the way Gerson wants to define it, there’s no place for numerical analysis or the prediction of political events, whether they’re election results or long term trends.  Admitting numerical analysis broadens the scope of the field.  It may not make pundits obsolete but it just might be able to illuminate punditry in ways that are different from the age old scholastic speculation that’s characterized the field.  Numerical analysis can never tell us everything we want or need to know.  It can tell us some things that other methods can’t.

Although Gerson probably doesn’t think so, this election was an occasion for celebration for pollsters and math modelers.  Almost all of the polls predicted the outcome correctly.  The math modelers did well too.   It’s true, the people who were concerned with predicting the outcome didn’t spend much time on the why.  That doesn’t preclude others from examining those questions.

Best Thing Goin’ in the Woman Line–Memphis Minnie

November 7, 2012

Bukka White called Memphis Minnie “about the best thing goin’ in the woman line.” In the 1930s and ’40s she was one of the top blues recording artists. A powerful singer and skilled songwriter who played guitar better than most of her male contemporaries, she recorded over 180 songs, most of which she wrote, between 1929 and 1959. Musicians who appeared on her records included Big Bill Broonzy and Little Walter. Her songs were covered by a wide variety of musicians including Bob Wills, Led Zeppelin, and the Jefferson Airplane.

Memphis Minnie was born Lizzie Douglas in Algiers, Louisiana on June 3, 1897. Her family called her “Kid.” In 1930  a record company A & R man named her Memphis Minnie. In 1904 her family moved to Walls, Mississippi, a few miles south of Memphis. Her first guitar was a Christmas present when she was 8. She attended school long enough to pick up the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic. In her teens she ran away to Memphis numerous times, coming home when she ran out of money. During WWI she joined a Ringling Brothers show that toured the south. From that point she was on her own as an entertainer.

In the early 1920s she worked with Mississippi blues artist Willie Brown, who also played regularly with Charley Patton and Son House. She and Brown played together for five or six years. Willie Moore, who often played with her and Brown said “Wasn’t nothing he could teach her… Everything Willie Brown could play, she could play and then she could play some things he couldn’t play.”

After leaving Brown she moved to Memphis and started working with Joe McCoy. In 1929 they were signed by a Columbia Records scout who heard them playing for tips in a barbershop. They recorded eight songs in New York including “When the Levee Breaks” and “Bumble Bee,” a song she was to record five times. The record company released the records under the names Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie. The records did well. She dropped Kid Douglas in favor of Memphis Minnie. It was the beginning of 20 years of blues stardom for her.Image

She and McCoy settled in Chicago shortly after their records came out. They recorded frequently and played clubs in Chicago as well as the South and Midwest. Their sound was based on intricate guitar duets that combined a rural feel with sophisticated interplay. She played lead while McCoy played a bass line. Her vocals were simple and straight forward with an air of power and self assurance. Many of their songs had rural themes like Plymouth Rock Blues, a song about chickens, and Frankie Jean, a song that showed how to call a horse. What’s the Matter with the Mill combines sexual innuendo with a farmer’s regular trips to the grist mill. They recorded many double entendre songs with titles like My Butcher Man . Daily life was the theme for songs like North Memphis Blues, a commercial for a restaurant called the North Memphis Cafe and Memphis Minnie-jitis Blues, a song about a bout with meningitis that’s notable for its stark, elegant language.

Her biggest hit from this part of her career was Bumble Bee, which she recorded several times. It celebrated lust in a way that transcended the double entendre material she recorded so often. “I got a bumble bee, don’t sting nobody but me… ” she sang. In the second version she recorded, she sang “He had me to the place once that I wish to God that I could die.” The lyrics to each version of the song are markedly different.

Minnie and Joe McCoy split in 1935. Their last recording was a two sided duet called You’ve Got to Move on side one and You Ain’t Got to Move on side two. Joe did have to move. In the mid ’30s Minnie’s style took on a more urban flavor. For the next four years or so she usually recorded with a piano player, often Big Bill Broonzy’s frequent accompanist, Black Bob, to complement her guitar.

Around 1939 she connected with Ernest (Little Son Joe) Lawlars, the love of her life. They lived together until he died in 1961. She and Lawlars did guitar duets that were similar to her earlier work with Joe McCoy but stripped down to deliver the rhythmic pulse that drove the blues of the late 1930s and ’40s. With Lawlars she recorded some of her best songs. In My Girlish Days, a deep blues about coming of age, ends with, “All of my playmates is not surprised. I had to travel ‘fore I got wise. I found out better but I’ve still got my girlish ways.” Lonesome Shack is about relationship insurance. She sings about a “lonesome shack” “out cross the hills” where she can go if her current relationship falls apart. Me and My Chauffeur Blues combines double entendre with fact. Although she owned a car, Memphis Minnie never learned to drive. Nothing in Rambling is another deep blues that contrasts security and life on the road. It begins with “I was born in Louisiana, raised in Algiers. Every place I go it’s the peoples all say ‘Ain’t nothing in rambling, either running around.’” Lawlars did the vocal on Black Rat Swing, a comic tune that features the refrain “gonna find my shoe somewhere near his shirt tail.” The song was released with the vocal credit “Mr. Memphis Minnie.”

During this period she began playing the electric guitar. Other blues players in Chicago like Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red started using amplification too. It was not a revolutionary development. At the time people used the electric guitar because it helped them be heard in noisy clubs. Record company publicity pictures from around 1940 show her with an electrified National arch top guitar.


She and Lawlars continued to record into the early fifties. Their last release came in 1953. In a 1952 session for Chess they were assisted by Little Walter on a remake of Me and My Chauffeur. While they recorded less frequently than in the previous two decades, they were a popular live act in Chicago in the early ’50s, working at well known spots like the Club de Lisa, Sylvio’s, Gatewood’s Tavern, and others. By the middle of the decade club work their fell off as the electric music she pioneered with Big Bill and a few others in the early ’40s matured and supplanted the music of the older artists. In 1958 she moved back to Memphis with Lawlars.

In Memphis they played music as long as their health allowed. They appeared on local radio with Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Nighthawk and worked in local clubs. In 1959 they recorded an unreleased three song test for a local label. In 1960 Minnie had a stroke that put her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Lawlars died in 1961. Minnie had a second stroke soon after. She spent the remainder of her life in a nursing home. She died in 1973 and was buried in Walls, Mississippi.

Suggested Listening

The best bang for the buck is the two 4 disc box sets on JSP, Queen of Country Blues 1929-1937 and Queen of the Delta Blues, Vol. 2.   Both are available at all of the usual on line CD sources for around $25.  Her entire recorded output is available on mp3 from your favorite download site.

VP Debate–Will Biden Raise Lycanthropy Issue with Ryan? Will He Use a Silver Bullet

October 11, 2012

The much anticipated VP debate takes place this evening with Joe Biden and Paul Ryan squaring off.  While insiders expect that much of the wrangling will center on Ryan’s budget and Romney’s controversial assertions in last week’s presidential debate,  there’s one thing that many wonder about.  For many years there has been an undercurrent of lycanthropy accusations swirling about Ryan’s feet.  A growing number of people believe that Ryan is a werewolf.  

Dr. Howard Lovecraft, noted occult expert, points out, “Ryan exhibits two physical characteristics long associated with the loup garou, a connection between his eyebrows and a widow’s peak.  It’s also significant that the debate is scheduled to avoid the next full moon on October 29th.”

Former long time Ryan campaign staffer Missy Hohenstaffel of Racine, WI says, “I worked for Mr. Ryan for many years.  I finally had to resign because I feared for my own safety.  Every 28 days, as regular as, you know, what happens with birth control pills, Mr. Ryan would stay in his office.  Lots of us heard strange noises like a wild animal or something.  I resigned when I saw strange looking men in gray jumpsuits delivering live goats and sheep to Mr. Ryan’s office.  The weird noises got louder after the deliveries.  Nobody ever saw the goats or sheep ever come out.  A day or two later, after Mr. Ryan came out of his office people from a specialized cleaning company, one of the ones that cleans up after floods and toddler birthday parties, would go into Mr. Ryan’s office and spend several hours there.  It made me very nervous.”

We haven’t been able to verify the rumors to our satisfaction, but we do think that they raise important questions that need public clarification.  We hope Mr. Biden, who’s known for his hard hitting debate style, will address this issue.   

Sandusky Gets 30 Years Plus, Endorses Romney, Vows to Fight

October 9, 2012

Today Jerry Sandusky, erstwhile Penn State football coach and youth leader, received a 30 to 60 year sentence after his conviction for child molestation.  Judge John Cleland, not to be confused with the author of Fanny Hill, handed down the sentence.

Sandusky made a statement in court in which he proclaimed his innocence and vowed to fight for exoneration.  He advanced the theory that he was the victim of a left wing conspiracy.  The highlight of his statement was his endorsement of Mitt Romney for president.  He said, “Mitt and I go way back.  He’s one of the few who’ve stood by me throughout this ordeal.  He’s promised that when he takes office he’ll free me from prison on day one of his term, right before he repeals Obamacare.  I urge all right minded people who oppose this legal travesty and miscarriage of justice to vote for Romney and clear my name.  I believe in America. In your heart you know I’m right.”

We reached out to the Romney campaign for comment but, as of press time, has not received a response.

iPad Novelty Group to Appear in Stores for Holidays

October 9, 2012

Apple is rumored to have ordered 10 million displays for the probably not vaporous iPad Mini.  It could be in stores as early as November 2.  While the Pixie Dust Storm surrounding the pint sized tablet approaches category 5, industry analysts are beginning to talk about other iPads that may find their way to Holiday stockings this December.  Sources at the Cupertino Fortress of Solitude who spoke only on condition of anonymity say that shortly after the pico tablet appears, the Maleficent Malic Empire will release a line of novelty iPads as an homage to Steve Wozniak, the inventor of the Apple I computer.  Wozniak, before he hooked up with super salesman Steve Jobs, tried other ventures including a Polish Joke of the Day phone number.  (Seriously, you could look it up.)  This line’s theme will be based on the Woz’s sense of humor and will emulate some of his favorite childhood toys.

Leading the pack will be the iPad Squirt.  This little content consumption device will feature a bit of content creation.  The Woz loved his squirt flower.  The Squirt comes with a 100 ml tank and an ultra low energy consumption pump that reportedly will reduce the battery life over the standard model by only a few seconds per charge.  It will be able to use most any fluid from distilled water to ultra high or ultra low pH solutions of powerful acids or bases.  With an extra cost attachment it will be able to deliver sour milk without clogging the nozzle or the internal plumbing.  It will come in a less expensive rear nozzle model for those who want to squirt their friends and the top of the line front and rear nozzle model that allows nerds to lend their iPad to unsuspecting friends and co-workers who’ll get a little surprise.

Also slated for pre-Holiday release is the iPad Whoopee.  No, it’s not that kind of whoopee.  It’s a high tech version of the famous red rubber cushion kids and Shriners have placed on the chairs of unsuspecting victims for what seems like thousands of years.  It will come in two models, the Sound and the Sound ‘n’ Scent.  The sound model will allow the user the choice of ten prerecorded lifelike sound effects as well as the ability to create his or her own using Garage Band.  New sound effects will be available on iTunes.  The Sound ‘n’ Scent model will give nerds the option of delivering chemical sprays.  It will come with a hydrogen sulfide and lactic acid cartridge.  Reportedly butyric acid  and ethyl mercaptan will hit the market soon.

The third member of the Novelty Group will be the iPad Chunk.  It will mimic the time honored plastic vomit pool beloved by kids the world over.  The case will have an irregular simulated vomitus theme which will continue on the nauseatingly realistic Iris display screen saver.  No one will sit on your chunk if you leave it on your chair.  Again, two models will be available, the Sight and the Scent.  Release of the more expensive Scent has been delayed by butyric acid supply chain problems.  If the Chunk takes off, by next spring the Klowns of Kupertino may release the iPad Poo.  The name says it all.

The final member of the Novelty Group is the iPad Joy.  It features a small, energy efficient, low amperage generator that will deliver 10KV.  Not only will it deter theft, but it will provide hours of fun for nerds everywhere.  The question “Wanna try my iPad?” could be a laff riot for geeks.  Old time mini/mainframe users will be delighted to find that the Joy will include an Increase_Keyboard_Voltage utility.

Obama Wins Nomination on Ninth Ballot

October 9, 2012

Recently delegates put in some serious overtime at the Democratic Convention.  It was 4:15 AM EDT before presidential candidate and current incumbent Barack Obama finally got a majority on the ninth ballot.  It was much more exciting than any convention since the 1920s.  The delegates finally went home at 8:30 AM after selecting Joe Biden as the vice presidential candidate by acclimation and hearing Obama’s two hour and thirty minute acceptance speech.

On the first ballot none of the three presidential hopefuls managed to get a majority.  Obama, Lyndon Johnson, the sprightly zombie, and Barney Frank finished in a virtual tie.  After the sixth ballot Johnson dropped out when it was clear that Frank was developing a commanding lead.  Johnson delighted onlookers  by releasing his delegates to vote their conscience.  It took three more ballots for Obama to grind out  a narrow victory with 51% of the delegates voting for him.  Frank was gracious in defeat and promised to campaign vigorously for Obama.  Sam Rayburn and Hale Boggs of the Johnson camp spoke for LBJ, announcing that he was going to endorse Obama.  Johnson needed to leave the arena to harvest some cerebral tissue.  His staff, taken by surprise by the number of ballots,  hadn’t stocked the meat locker sufficiently.

In his acceptance speech, Obama promised to revitalize the US economy.  He said that on his first day in office the IRS would freeze the Romney family’s offshore assets in preparation for confiscating them.  While this would be, at best a symbolic debt reduction gesture, in the area of Romney related job creation Obama promised to bail out American Motors and bring back the Rambler, AKA “The All American Car.”  The big surprise of the evening/morning was Obama’s announcement of his initiative to revitalize the economy by eliminating organized crime.  He plans to legalize vice on a grand scale thus taking it out of the hands of criminal entrepreneurs.   His plan involves turning intoxicants, gambling, prostitution, and finance over to private enterprise in hopes of breaking the back of the cartels and crime syndicates that currently control these businesses.  He said,

We can cut the deficit to nothing in ten years or fewer by unleashing the American entrepreneurial spirit and taxing the resulting businesses at a moderate rate.  As a bit of lagniappe, we’ll be able to revitalize America’s inner cities by taking away the gangs’ raison d’etre.  I expect that the most egregiously offensive instances of gangsta rap will become historical curiosities as inner city youth finds gainful employment in what we’re calling the “Service Revolution.

Republican rival Mitt Romney was quick to criticize Obama’s initiative.  “My wife Ann often says, ‘I don’t smoke and I don’t chew and I don’t go with guys who do.’  Gambling, drugs, prostitution, and finance are not the path to a healthy economy.”

Pundit Walter Lippman put down his Medulla Martini and said, “This promises to be the most interesting presidential campaign since Strom Thurmond with his ‘gallows on every corner’ platform crossed swords with Henry Wallace and Harry Truman.”

Apple vs. Samsung–Musings on Software Patents

October 9, 2012

Recently Apple won a billion dollar plus judgment in its suit against Samsung about patent infringement on smart phones and tablets.  I’m not an intellectual property attorney so I can’t offer an expert opinion on the law in this case.  I’m more concerned with the idea of software patents in general.  Patents come from an era when technological advances were mechanical, electrical, electronic…  Although there are some examples of patents being granted for some questionable things, patents of this sort generally do cover a new way of doing something that either couldn’t be done before or is so much better than existing ways of doing it that it’s an obvious departure from what the law calls “prior art.”  It’s not enough to have an idea.  You have to develop a concrete technique to implement the idea.  Software patents don’t seem to have to meet this criterion.

Software is different.  Anyone with a programming or computer science background can tell you about a few things that are unique advances.  The one almost all programming students learn about is the quick sort.  It’s a way of sorting stuff that’s not intuitively obvious and is very efficient.  In fact it’s not easy for many students to understand without spending a fair amount of time studying it.  Tony Hoare, the inventor, was a student when he came up with the idea back in 1960.  He either decided not to patent it or didn’t think of patenting it.  There are other algorithms, recipes for performing computing tasks, that are the result of original ideas.  Most of them are in the public domain.

IBM was probably to first company to patent software on a large scale.  It is still one of the biggest software patent owners in the world.  Most big software companies own a lot of patents, which are either things developed by their own employees or existing patents that they bought.  There are also companies called “patent trolls” who exist solely to buy software patents and sue companies that might infringe on their patents.

A lot of the Apple vs. Samsung suit relates to “look and feel,” meaning how programs look on the screen and interact with the user.  In the 1990s Lotus sued Borland over Borland’s spreadsheet software that looked a lot like then market leader Lotus 1-2-3.  Lotus lost eventually although by the time the Supreme Court declined to reverse a lower court decision Microsoft had taken over the spreadsheet market with Excel.  The Lotus suit was over copyright, not patents although there are some similarities to the Apple vs. Samsung case.  Among the things Apple has patents on are a method of zooming in by tapping the screen and an interesting way of moving back to the top of the screen.

The thing that would probably strike most programmers here is that moving around on a screen is one of those tasks that can be performed in a wide variety of ways.  It depends on the operating system and the hardware, but there are few programming tasks that have a single best solution.  If it were up to me, I’d need to see proof that Samsung implemented the patented features exactly the same way that Apple did.  I’d be very surprised if that were true.

Speaking more generally, I think software patents do more harm than good.  I can’t think of any sensible reason to prevent people from developing a different way of doing something even if the result looks the same on the screen.  If a company copies another’s original software exactly, that’s wrong.  If a company develops a technique that produces a similar result on the screen but works differently from another’s, that’s implementation of an idea.

As I said above, I’m not an intellectual property attorney.  I’m just a programmer.

Rework at No Charge, My Life in Heat Treating IV–Joe

June 23, 2008

I made a career decision towards the end of my first year at OMT.  I wanted to move beyond manual labor.  That meant going to the swing shift and working for Joe.

In the small world of Bay Area heat treating, Joe was a legend.  He was known for three things:  an encyclopedic knowledge of heat treating, tremendous physical strength, and heroic drinking.

At OMT Joe ran the shop.  He was the skilled employee.  The day shift and graveyard shift followed his instructions.  He had almost 30 years experience and seemed to remember every job he’d ever processed.

When I met him, Joe was in his middle 50s.  He was about 6′ 2″ tall and weighed at least 250.  He had thick black hair without a trace of grey, a round face, and a ruddy complexion.  He had broad shoulders, narrow hips, and a barrel chest.  In spite of his size he did not look like a strongman.  His long muscled arms lacked definition.  He looked as though he’d never lost his baby fat.  He had a child’s innocent egoism that was accentuated by his voice, which often broke as though it were still changing.  He spoke with no reserve about the minutiae of his life.  I learned a lot about his diet.   If I were to choose an actor to play him it would be Wallace Beery, who starred in many of the movies Joe saw as a child.

Joe was the archetypal OMT Drinking Man.  When I met him he was in a controlled phase.  On week nights he limited himself to three thick fingers of whiskey in a water glass.  On Friday nights on his way home from work he would pick up a 1.75 L bottle of Old Crow and spend the weekend in the company of the top hatted corvid.

He’d given up driving more than ten years previously.  One morning he went out to the car and discovered that he had run into something the night before.  He couldn’t remember a thing about it–what, when, or how.  He decided he was going to hurt someone and never got behind the wheel again.  He depended on Luis, his right hand man at work, to drive him to and from.

Joe never slept.  He napped.  When he was in the Navy in WWII he had a job for a couple of years where he was four hours on and four hours off.  It permanently changed his sleep schedule.  This came in very handy for me when I was in charge of the graveyard shift.  I could call him at any time.

He loved movies.  He grew up in a small city in Eastern PA where his father was an alderman.  His family wasn’t wealthy during the Depression but his father had a steady income.  There was always a dime for Joe to go to a Saturday matinee and have some popcorn.  Movies were the common interest Joe and I had outside of work.  I had spent a lot of my childhood watching movies from the thirties on TV, many of which Joe saw in the theater.  The same prodigious memory that served him so well in his work was crammed with movie detail.  He knew all the character actors from thirties movies.  He and I enjoyed talking about them.  He remembered the plot of almost everything he’d seen.  His taste was somewhere between inclusive and indiscriminate.  If it could be projected on a screen and had English dialogue Joe liked it.   The thing that saved his taste from being indiscriminate was that he liked some movies more than others.

Joe’s first heat treating experience came after high school.  He worked in a heat treat shop in New Jersey for a couple of years before enlisting in the Navy.  He re-enlisted after the war and was discharged in Oakland, CA in 1947.  One ship he served on was part of the group at an early Bikini Atoll nuclear test.  He said that the safety precaution for those on deck was to turn their backs when the device exploded.

Joe married and tried the restaurant business.  When that didn’t work out he went to work in a commercial heat treat shop in Oakland.  That was where he met Big Dick.   When Big Dick and his partner Dale left to start OMT, Joe was their first employee.

I worked for Joe for a year.  He taught me the basics of the black art portion of heat treating, the things that can only be learned from experience.  He wasn’t a teacher by temperament.  He lacked patience and begrudged the time spent teaching when he could be working instead.  A lot of the things that he knew he had trouble expressing verbally.  He did two things right.  He encouraged me to act on my own and expected that I would make mistakes when I did act on my own.  He also gave me a great bit of heat treating philosophy.   Straightening warped metal is an important part of heat treating.  The combination of high heat and rapid cooling in the hardening process for steel often makes parts warp.  Joe had a knack for bringing the parts back to their original shape.  He told me, “You’ll never learn to straighten till you break something.”  Apparently he knew what he was talking about.  Everyone in his age group whom I met in Bay Area heat treating talked about his straightening ability.

Joe gave up drinking in 1983.  He had had some physical problems and started drinking heavily for pain relief.  He had an operation that he never talked about in detail.  After that he never touched a drop.  He showed no signs of withdrawal even though I’m sure it was very hard for him.  His personality didn’t change a bit.  He bought a car and began driving to and from work, reliving Luis of his chauffeur duties.
About a year into his sobriety his wife died of cancer.  They hadn’t been close for many years but, true to their Catholic upbringing, never considered divorce.  It took Joe at least a year to straighten out the problems with her medical insurance.

When I left OMT at the end of 1985 Joe was 62.  He could do as much or more physical labor than anyone in the shop.  He still had no grey hair.  He had the same enthusiasm for his job he had as a young man.  A few months later he had a stroke.  He was lying on the couch watching TV.  The next thing he knew he was lying on the floor not knowing how he got there.  It was the first time something like that happened to him without benefit of alcohol.  His son took him to the hospital.

In less than six months he was back at work.  He had no savings and no life outside of work.  He’d lost a lot of control over the left side of his body and walked with a cane.  His speech was affected too.  He could express himself as well as ever but had difficulty with pronunciation.  His voice, always raspy, became more low pitched and didn’t break any more.

I visited him at the shop several times when I was passing through Oakland in the evening.  The thing that I remember most that he said to me was “Never have a stroke.”  We laughed but I knew he was completely serious too.  He wasn’t cut out to be an invalid.  Aside from his strength he needed to be in constant motion.   When he drank he slowed down to a normal person’s pace.  Alcohol was the governor on his personal engine.

After a couple of years away from OMT I lost touch with Joe.  When I visited him in the shop I saw his physical decline parallel the decline of OMT.  Over a twenty year period industry had abandoned the Bay Area.  OMT’s biggest customer, a steel foundry, went out of business.  Two other major customers moved to Nevada.  OMT had a graveyard atmosphere.

In 1992 I was looking for my first programming job and not having much success.  I called Little Dickie and asked about a part time job.  He offered me a full time job, which I turned down.  He told me that Joe was still working and that Jim, the truck driver had died.  That was my last contact with OMT.  Dickie died in the late nineties, victim of his prodigious drinking habit.   The building was bought and rehabbed as loft housing.  It looks clean and neat, nothing like it did as OMT.  The corrugated siding is decorative.  It’s painted.  There are no broken windows.