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January 23, 2017

Trump's conspirators

For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have bore the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered but the jobs left and the factories closed.

So said Pres. Trump in his inaugural address, identifying the perpetrators of the Bladerunner-esque hellscape he depicted.

It’s not clear who he means. That’s worrisome.

The “rewards of government” Trump has in mind seem to be monetary, since in the next sentence he talks about wealth, and in the one after that he contrasts prospering politicians with factory workers who have lost their jobs.

So, who does Trump thinks is this shadowy group that has controlled our nation for their own personal monetary profit? Obama and his administration? Especially in terms of personal enrichment, the Obama years were the cleanest in my lifetime. And, of course, Trump’s poised to be the most corrupt in terms of self-enrichment.

It makes me nervous when politicians blame a small unnamed group that controls the country and does so for personal monetary benefit. Sounds like a dogwhistle to me, especially when an anti-Semitic white racist is the president’s chief strategic adviser.

I’m struggling to make sense of this particular paranoid conspiracy theory. I’m only coming up with one answer.

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November 6, 2016

United Needs Info: a screenplay

United Airline’s new app let’s you watch free entertainment on flights on your Android or IoS device. But it wants to know a lot about you first:

United app's permissions

Some find that a tad intrusive. Not at all. Let me explain why…

You’re watching a movie on the new United in-flight app when suddenly a perfectly groomed middle-aged white man in an expensive suit and a carefully cropped goatee stands up and announces that the plane is now under his control. He turns his palms up, and one by one six young men rise from their seats spaced throughout the plane. Their dark faces are covered by bandanas so that all you can see are their dark eyes and dark skin. One of them coughs in Arabic.

All of your instincts, honed by years in a service known by a three-letter acronym that no one knows, not even you, come into play.

You gently swipe your thumb, scarred and weary from your many exploits, across your iPhone7™ on which you had been watching a movie, using United’s revolutionary YouScreen Personal Full Entertainment System — the Home of the Whopper — revealing what to the shapely white woman in the seat next to yours appears to be a game of Ultimate Fighter. The quizzical but charmed look on her face says she’s thinking it’s an odd time to play a game. But you know better.

Click left-right-right-up-up-A-left-D-down-right-down-down-up-A-A-B-A and … you’re in.

YouScreen slides a special screen in front of its usual friendly GUI. The YouScreen ATM (Anti-Terrorist Mode) displays blinky data and little fiddly bits against a camo background. It does a quick matrix analysis and reports on all non-white passengers currently not activating their AIS (Ass In Seat) sensor.

Got ’em!

The YouScreen’s map reveals that the one closest to you, in seat 16B, has some Arabic name that sounds all the same to you, lives in, let’s say, Iran, has been treated for cardiac arrhythmia, and during the flight watched two Jennifer Aniston movies and an episode of “Touched by an Angel.” He is clearly the weak point where you can begin.

But then you notice something interesting. YouScreen tells you that the man standing at the front of the plane is Fritz Deutscher, a German national. YouScreen reports that his phone is filled with TED Talks about leading through intimidation, and that he recently searched for “shoe inserts that embiggen you.” You can see that on his calendar are weekly therapy appointments, and twice weekly tanning sessions. There are daily skype calls to and from his mother with an average her-to-him talk time ratio of 14:1. Herr Deutscher may look tough, but is quite insecure.

You have the YouScreen ATM call Deutscher’s mobile using the special ring tone he’s set for his mother. As he lifts it to his face, you have it take a selfie, knowing that the lighting in the plane is low enough to trigger the flash. He is just for a moment dazed, confused — why is Mutti calling him in his moment of triumph? Why can’t he ever satisfy her? — and blinded.

You are out of your seat. Within moments you have subdued the terrorists.

Humbly waving off the cheers from the rest of the passengers, you slip back into your seat. The white woman next to you touches your hand. You go back to your movie.

And that movie is … Die Hard. Or maybe Air Force One. Something self-knowing and ironic. Doesn’t matter.

[Fade out]

You see, ladies and gentlemen, it’s all for your safety and convenience.

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October 14, 2016

What is it anyway?

I found this on Reddit. Can you tell what it is?

Click on the black stripe to find out: The gear that drives a lawn sprinkler


October 10, 2016

Second debate: The wordclouds

Here are wordclouds, generated by WordClouds, for the entire debate last night, and for Clinton and Trump. Here’s the transcript.

By the way, according to the tool at Planetcalc, Trump used 1,162 unique words; Clinton used 1,242. According to Readability-Score, Trump spoke at a 7.6 grade level, while Clinton spoke at a 9.0 grade level. Yay for democracy.

Overall debate

Made with


wordcloud - hillary


wordcloud Donald

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October 3, 2016

Happy Roshashana from Donald J. Trump

Trump eating out of a bagel and honey bowl

Click to enlarge

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September 30, 2016

Clinton's tech policy in five tweets

Hillary Clinton’s tech policy is progressive. This doesn’t surprise me because the techies she has surrounded herself with understand the Internet not only as an information system but as a democratizing, person-to-person, many-to-many, cultural force.

Her policy brief, however, is long and detailed. No, of course you won’t agree with everything in it. Me neither. But that’s how politics works, and how it’s supposed to work.

So I decided to try to reduce the policy down to a more manageable scale, starting with a bumpersticker and working my way up. It’s here.

If you care about the cyber, vote.

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September 22, 2016

The Trump Stand-in Audition Tapes

The Clinton campaigned apparently auditioned a bunch of celebrities to stand in for Trump as she practices debating him. I somehow managed to get the transcripts of their auditions. They include, perhaps surprisingly, Louis CK, Bryan Cranston, Quentin Tarantino, and some others.

You can read the full transcripts here.

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September 2, 2016

Wait, did I become a jock?

I believe we invented the indoors because it’s better than being outdoors.

I don’t care about sports. Oh, sure, I watched the clips of the USA’s women’s gymnastics team, but mainly as amazing science fiction because clearly that was not possible.

I enjoy watching dance for the same reason, although I am also capable of being moved by it, something that no home town team does for me. I went to a couple of dance classes with my not-yet wife when we were courting, but I stopped coming out of pity for our poor, kind teacher who would not accept that someone could fail to master walking with his arms in opposition to his legs…you know that thing humans do when their right hand swings back as their left leg swings forwards.

Needless to say, I was not on any high school or college teams.

In short, I am your basic indoor Jew. A schlub.

I prefer it this way. Bodies are over-rated, except for eating and, well, you know. They’re high-maintenance and whiny. But what are you going to do? You can’t live with ’em and you can’t live without ’em, am I right?

So I was surprised to realize that I may have become a jock.

It’s September. I live in Boston. Tomorrow we might get snowed in until April, or, like last year, it might stay early Fall until January. Which means my jogging days are numbered. And, of course, they’ve got a big red number counting down as well, given that I’m 65 years old and never thought I’d still be sweating into a baseball cap at this age.

Jogging — yes, I know the whippersnappers don’t call it that any more — is the only athletic activity I’ve ever succeeded at, where success means doing it more than twice in a row. I started doing wind sprints when I was in college, very occasionally, and then in grad school in Toronto started running at the local YMCA. That came to an end when people complained about the volume of my footfall on the wooden track. Apparently my feet have hinges that cause them to slap the boards like cricket bats. So, I began running outside.

I reached my peak around 1977 when I trained for and then ran in a 10K. I was pretty proud of myself as I reached the finish line until a twelve year old girl sprinted past me chewing gum and holding a transistor radio to her ear. But in truth I’ve never been motivated to run fast or even a bit faster. I’ve been motivated by making it back home where I can sit indoors.

That ultimately is the secret to my success with jogging: I head out in a loop and the only way to make it stop is to keep going.

I am a terrible jogger. I was always slow but now I watch who’s passing me and realize that I only feel like I’m running. Still, I come home and sweat for half an hour.

Being a world-class athlete isn’t always pretty

During the intervals when I’m running, I do it maybe 3 times a week, although I’ve been running every day, compulsively, all summer. I put on my bright green shorts, one of my ancient baseball hats, and my earphones playing something upbeat that I can stop listening to as the voice in my head gets more insistent, and run 2.5-3.5 miles depending on how I feel and how cool the temperature is; my endurance is in a non-linear negative relationship with the heat.

The truth is that my mood is better during the months when I’m running. Could be the sunlight, which I otherwise avoid the way other people duck out of the rain. Could be the cardiovascular effects; my heart rate is lower during my running months. Could be the general lassitude the exertion brings on; when it comes to everything, I just give less of a damn. Who knows.

But what’s made me think that I’m slipping into jockhood is that I’ve actually been looking forward to my daily jog. I’m not running any faster, I’m not running any better, I still look like a bag of potatoes falling down the stairs, but I sort of enjoy it. Sort of.

It will pass. As will we all.


August 30, 2016

Party tech policies

Clinton policy page home page

Clinton Tech and Innovation policy

Trump policy home page

Trump’s Tech and Innovation policy

I did a Google search on “ technology” and likewise for innovation and couldn’t find a tech policy on his site, although he does support the GOP platform which mentions innovation:

Libertarian Party

I couldn’t find a tech policy per se, but their platform mentions supporting uncensored and unregulated media and tech, privacy, and the use of innovative tech to protect the environment.

Green Party

The party platform doesn’t have a top-level tech policy, but there’s a subsection of the” Advanced Technology and Defense Conversion” section that talks about telecommunications, and one about Open Source Software.

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August 14, 2016

The World According to TED

Here’s some info about the 2,200 TED Talks based largely on the tags that TED supplies on its Web site; the data are a few months old. Keep in mind that I am grossly incompetent at this, so I’ve included the SQL queries I used to derive this information so you can see how wrong I’ve gone and can laugh and laugh.

Number of unique tags

378 of ’em

SELECT count( DISTINCT(tag) ) FROM tags

Most popular tags

# of talks tagged


628 technology
481 science
472 culture
454 global issues
368 design
363 TEDx
308 business
286 entertainment
201 arts
175 education
165 health
164 politics
164 creativity
141 art
130 economics
127 medicine
125 biology
122 music
122 TED Fellows
118 brain
111 social change
108 invention
106 storytelling
105 environment
105 cities
103 innovation
103 future
101 activism
93 children
92 history
92 health care
91 collaboration
91 war
90 communication
88 psychology
86 women
83 photography
81 animals
80 Africa
78 society
78 humor
76 performance
74 computers
72 exploration
72 life
69 architecture
67 nature
66 humanity
64 oceans
63 community
59 sustainability
59 Internet
58 film

SELECT count(tag),tag
FROM tags GROUP BY tag ORDER BY count(tag) desc;

Tags used only once or twice

1 Criminal Justice
1 refugees
1 South America
1 farming
1 Moon
1 Addiction
1 testing
1 3d printing
1 vulnerability
1 grammar
1 augmented reality
1 Themes
1 Speakers
1 cloud
1t skateboarding
2 painting
2 mining
2 origami
2 evil
2 nuclear weapons
2 pandemic
2 conservation
2 funny
2 television
2 urban

SELECT COUNT( tag ) , tag
FROM tags

Most viewed talks

Quite possibly wrong.

999910   A new kind of job market
999152   How to grow a tiny forest anywhere
998939   I believe we evolved from aquatic apes
998234   Is anatomy destiny?
998218   Get your next eye exam on a smartphone
997791   How Mr. Condom made Thailand a better place for li…
997437   Anatomy of a New Yorker cartoon
997409   How butterflies self-medicate
996048   A powerful poem about what it feels like to be tra…
995980   A Magna Carta for the web
995836   Seas of plastic
995023   How synchronized hammer strikes could generate nu…
994892   The lost art of democratic debate
994208   My wish: Protect our oceans
993977   Be passionate. Be courageous. Be your best.
993519   The sound the universe makes
991659   Creative houses from reclaimed stuff
991413   Our century’s greatest injustice
991107   How to read the genome and build a human being
990965   Watson, Jeopardy and me, the obsolete know-it-all
990621   The birth of Wikipedia
989093   Institutions vs. collaboration
989009   Are we ready for neo-evolution?
988772   How art, technology and design inform creative lea…
988724   The shrimp with a kick!
988671   How we cut youth violence in Boston by 79 percent
988000   Design for people, not awards
98784   Let’s bridge the digital divide!
985947   A mouse. A laser beam. A manipulated memory.
985910   Augmented reality, techno-magic

select times_seen,title from talks
order by times_seen desc;

Tags of the most popular talks


There’s a very good chance I got the sql wrong on this.


Total times viewed

culture 838422406
technology 786923853
science 643447348
business 502015257
global issues 496430414
TEDx 455208451
entertainment 454656101
design 438630037
education 300884017
psychology 254105678
creativity 253564686
brain 247466263
arts 237680317
health 229849451
economics 170768562
politics 167696727
music 156026971
happiness 152902998
storytelling 152901475
art 150698303
biology 150041947
medicine 148259678
children 145085756
humor 135238512
TED Fellows 132508655
innovation 131199988
invention 131005556
work 128498631
social change 126931374
performance 126748070
communication 123383482
photography 117563973
women 112713285
TED Brain Trust 112432190
society 110938282
future 107266930
leadership 105273096
environment 105248603
activism 102566309
life 101140951
cities 101137670
demo 99763884
history 99190820
animals 97888183
evolution 96694769
computers 96482674
collaboration 95467954
health care 89321143
humanity 86872761
writing 83887498
war 82927410
nature 82570058
success 82167936

SELECT DISTINCT tags.tag , sum(talks.times_seen) FROM tags
INNER JOIN talks ON tags.talkid = talks.talkid
GROUP BY tags.tag
ORDER BY SUM( talks.times_seen ) DESC
LIMIT 3,53;

Tags of least popular talks

HIV 425898
refugees 600837
skateboarding 636577
chautauqua 685869
South America 750182
grammar 798075
cello 1067130
vulnerability 1161544
Criminal Justice 1169914
augmented reality 1173622
vocals 1294926
painting 1458681
3d printing 1533524
Moon 1648828
cloud 1722064
nuclear weapons 1770997
oil 1881325
pandemic 1916790
One Laptop Per Child 2041228
glacier 2152056
conservation 2292578
urban 2298278
origami 2356218
television 2400358
microfinance 2473192
mining 2548989
charter for compassion 2820656
street art 3166364
TED-Ed 3192662
wind energy 3235963
epidemiology 3266959
ants 3295524
state-building 3479554
solar 3548619
Guns 3575760
apes 3595746
Addiction 4216103
mobility 4229741
code 4428049
geology 4581536
New York 4614232
Brand 4661846
rocket science 4669955
cyborg 4689850
capitalism 4745782
primates 4771987
machine learning 4915396
natural disaster 4990286
nuclear energy 5001603
meme 5066551
novel 5120690
immigration 5350061
Vaccines 5374354

same as above, but ascending

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