2017-11-30

Government

Government

I am avoiding political ideology in my blog (so far), but there are some aspects of government that are not about how to run a country but are about how to run a government. The topics below are, to my mind, not about ideology. I can't see how anything here fits on the left/right spectrum. But they are bound up in the Democrat/Republican duopoly.

I expect that you will shoot my proposals full of holes. That's okay with me, as long as you realize that what we are doing in the USA is not working and something needs to change. Being wedded to the Constitution and tradition will not fix the problem, in part because people have found ways to read anything that they want into the Constitution and in part because the Constitution does not look forward to our current society and technology.

CONGRESSIONAL BUDGETS

It is clear that Congress cannot control the amount of money that it spends. The budget should be prepared in points. When the allocation of points is done, the points would be scaled to the income of the previous year (so no cheating on projections). Regardless of the number of points allocated, the budget would be balanced. Or it could be unbalanced by a separate law that specifies a percentage deficit or surplus.

This cannot include contractual payments, such as interest on the national debt and Social Security payments. It should include entitlements. Entitlements (welfare, Medicaid for example) are not obligatory and should only be paid as the government can afford them.

Furthermore, funds collected by law enforcement agencies, national parks, etc. should be passed on to the treasury to prevent unethical generation and use of the funds.

VOTING

The common election in the United States is - one time vote, the plurality wins. This warps the election and helps ensure two party control as voters are more concerned about blocking bad candidates than electing good candidates. It is subject to gaming - want to ensure the election of a right wing candidate - just make sure that there are two left wing candidates to split the left wing vote. And is not "majority rules".

The fix - easy and used a lot in other places - vote in rounds, first candidate with a majority wins, eliminate all but two candidates after round one.

It would also be good to have a "no acceptable candidate" on every ballot. If "no acceptable candidate" wins, a new election is held, with all current candidates are excluded.

There are other possibilities for voting, but we (the USA) have chosen, perhaps, the worst.

That still leaves us with a bunch of uninformed and easily mislead voters, biased and uninformed news sources, and external influences.

How about some one on one debates? Put two candidates in the same room without a moderator and televise them. Each would have a microphone, but only one microphone would be active at a given moment. Each candidate would have, for example, a total of one hour of microphone time. A candidate would ask a question and flip the active microphone switch. The other candidate would respond and flip the switch. When a candidate's hour ran out, the other candidate would take his/her remaining time. Then maybe two minutes each to finish.

A candidate could bring along an assistant to look up facts, but only the candidate would have a microphone.

The camera should be stationary to avoid camera bias and show the actions of both candidates and advisors at all times.

CHALLENGING CONSTITUTIONALITY

As I understand it, someone must demonstrate imminent harm by a law, executive order, or regulation to have standing in a lawsuit that challenges Constitutionality. But it isn't just a matter of harm, it's a matter of proper functioning of the government. Congress, the president, or any state government should be able to request a quick judgement from the Supreme Court to address laws, executive orders, regulations, and non-enforcement of laws.

And I don't understand why the court judgements take so long. Why can't an issue be resolved within a week after arguments are presented?

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

The way it's supposed to work - the Congress makes laws, the Department of Justice enforces the laws. The way it works - the Congress makes laws, the Department of Justice enforces the laws that the President likes. Why? Because the Department of Justice is part of the executive branch.

Congress makes the laws and sets up the rules that allow the executive branch to implement the laws and extend the laws via regulation and executive order. It seems to me that congress should oversee the Department of Justice to enforce the laws that they authored. Or possibly it should be a separate branch of goverment.

SUPREME COURT

Politics has entered the Supreme Court. Decisions are made for political reasons and then justified by (mis) interpreting the Constitution. I think this is obvious from the voting patterns - four votes on the left, four on the right, and a decisive vote in the middle. How can a group that is just interpreting the Constitution repeatedly yield this pattern.

If it's going to be political, we aren't doing a very good job of choosing justices to represent the people.

Let's try this - every five years, four or five justices are elected in a nationwide election. The election is in two rounds. The first round narrows the candidates to eight or ten. The second round selects four or five justices. Everyone gets one vote in each round.

A candidate would need 12.5 or 10 percent in the first round to guarantee a move forward. And 25 or 20 percent in the second round to be elected. Any more votes for that person would be wasted. So candidates could form groups. Any unneeded votes to a candidate would be reassigned to other candidates in the group as needed to move as many of those candidates forward as possible.

This would yield a wide range of views among the winners. In the case of five winners, it would take just one fifth of the voters working as a political group to ensure a representative on the court.

Note that this is just an initial proposal. I suggest a lot of simulation to work out kinks in this voting system.

This direct election of the justices would separate the selection of justices from the president. If you are trying to select a president to handle an incredible variety of jobs, why would you add selecting Supreme Court justices to the mix? That warps the presidential election.

Do you think that this would turn the Supreme Court into a political battlefield? It already is, and the wrong people are in charge of selecting the players.

CONGRESS

Voting for representatives by location was necessary in the past, but no longer. Politically oriented modification of voting districts is a recipe for corruption. How about if we have forty senators and eighty House of Representatives members. Ten senators and forty House members would be elected every two years. The elections would be nationwide, in two rounds, with the first round first narrowing the candidates to twenty for the Senate and eighty for the House. The final round would select ten senators and forty House members. Everyone gets one vote in each round.

A candidate would need only 5 (Senate) and 1.25 (House) percent in the first round or 10 and 2.5 percent in the second round to guarantee a move forward. Candidates could form groups and any unneeded votes to a candidate would be reassigned to other candidates in the group as needed to move as many of those candidates forward as possible.

Now you would need a ten percent political group to ensure a senator and 2.5 percent group to ensure a House member. There are no districts or gerrymandering to get in the way of representation.

The reduced size of the two houses of Congress would contribute to improved decision making, but they are still big enough to be representative of the multidimensional political spectrum.

POLITICAL PARTIES

The Democrats and Republicans have become entrenched and far too powerful. And they fail to meet the needs of many people. For example where does a fiscal conservative, social liberal go? Where does one who just wants to get rid of the current power structure go?

The two party system is not part of the Constitution. But the Constitution set up the environment that allowed it to evolve and take over.

The voting concepts for the Supreme Court and Congress, above, would have an dramatic effect on political parties. A group of twenty percent of the population would have access to the Supreme Court. A group of ten percent would have access to both houses of Congress. Small parties would become useful, getting a foothold in national politics, and becoming an organization that can grow.

PERVERSE INCENTIVES

Any government program that receives or pays money, should be set up to avoid counterproductive incentives.

If a program subsidizes something - food, income, health insurance - a step in income should never result in losing more subsidy than the increase in income - that's incentive to remain dependent.

An increase in income should never result in a reduced after-tax income.

CONSTITUTION

Regardless of how well you think the Constitution could work, assuming that it was interpreted correctly and followed, it set up the environment that produced our current mess. So I have no problems suggesting changes, as noted above.

Since I've opened the gate, one more change - why not get rid of the Senate or House of Representatives. I can't see how having two houses of Congress instead of one has any benefits. And the bill reconciliation process is used to obscure legislative tricks.

And the Constitution could use some more precise language, at least in some of the amendments.

AWFUL ACRONYMS

A side note - POTUS and SCOTUS are possibly the ugliest acronyms that I have ever encountered. How do I get people to stop using them?

2017-11-24

User Interfaces

Modern Computer and Phone User Interfaces

User interfaces - what happened to ergonomics? It's been replaced by PRETTY GRAPHICS, TRICKY SHORTCUTS, and CONSTANT CHANGES.

Graphics user interfaces reached their peak usefulness around Windows XP. A simple two (or three) dimensional menu at the top of the window. After learning an application's menu, you could find a needed function quickly and easily. Some of the menu items had keyboard shortcuts, noted on the menu. The right mouse button invoked a menu of often used functions.

Office 2007, I think, introduced the ribbon and a horrible new interface for graphs in Excel. The ribbon is just a funny looking free form menu where the items are not clearly delineated. And they moved everything. I wasted hours searching for function that I could get to very quickly in previous versions. And on the Excel graphs, you have to specify a myriad of details that defaulted nicely in earlier versions. And for what improvement in function? NOTHING.

Icons - as often suggested, a picture is worth a thousand words. But an icon is worth about one word - IF you can figure it out. Why do people think it's easier to understand the meaning of a simplified American house than the word "home"? Especially now that the word home is easily replaced by the equivalent in whatever language has been specified by the user. Why does three horizontal bars mean a menu? Why does a picture of a globe mean notifications? Why did we advance from the abacus to the computer, just to regress from words to hieroglyphs.

And how do you help or get help over the phone - how do you specify an icon by word? "Click the menu icon." "Which one is that?" "The one with three horizontal bars." "Why didn't you just make a button named menu?"

Why do people like grid menus? It is much easier to scan a list menu that a grid - much less eye movement.

Menu choices should not move unless specified by the user. I expect to find a given menu item at the same place on the menu every time I open the menu. If the menu choices move (based on how often they a used), they are not where I expect them and I have to search. The time saved by having a menu choice at the top versus bottom of the menu, given ordinary mouse control of the cursor, it essentially zero. Worse, when you are looking for an unknown second level menu choice, and the top level menu changes, it is very confusing to do an exhaustive search of the menus. This is a regular occurence on tabbed menus with two lines of tabs, because typically an upper tab becomes a lower tab when chosen.

Hover action - this is web page issue. When the cursor is over an ad, name, etc. the browser will display information about the ad, name, etc. Naturally it does that right on top of what I am currently reading. I didn't specifically put the cursor on the ad, I just shoved it aside to get it away from what I was reading. Web authors - please don't interrupt me when I don't ask for it. Hovering is not asking for anything.

Gestures on touch screens make fine shortcuts for those who want to take the time to learn them (and then relearn when things change in the next version of the software). But for those who haven't seen the documentation, there is no indication that a gesture is needed and, sometimes, no way to invoke a function without the gesture. You should have access to all function via menus.

And you should be able to turn off gestures. Google Play for books - I often try to turn the page and accidentally do some unknown gesture that magnifies the text about 5x. Then pinch to get it back to the normal size. What a pain. In Dolphin browser (on average, way better than Chrome or Firefox) I will scroll down a long page, only to find that the last scroll sends the page off the screen, irretrievable. Then I have to reload the page. I don't know what gestures I've done to cause this and I can't find an option to turn it off.

Squeezable sides, pressure sensitive touch screen buttons - how are you going to communicate to the user what these do and how are you going to handle situations where they are invoked accidentally? And why are they needed?

Blinking cursors, blinking anything on a screen, are very distracting. Some people (me for one) cannot concentrate on an application's function while something is blinking on the display. It is an ongoing series of interruptions. I can't edit text while a cursor is blinking. I can't play a game while an advertisement is blinking.

Full white on all displays that I have ever seen is painful. But if you turn full white down, the other colors become too dark. There needs to be a way to darken full white easily.

Is there anything more idiotic than the Windows Registry? Take all of the user settings for every program on the computer and put them in one place - incomprehensible, uneditable, unmovable. When you update the operating system or the registry gets corrupted ALL of your settings are gone. Is it any wonder that people don't want to update the operating system or switch computers - it takes days before you are up and running again. This replaced INI files - attached to their application, editable with any text editor, easily scanned to find and set available options, easily saved and copied for use with new versions of the program. Why did such a simple and effective system get replaced with such garbage?

Mice could be vastly improved, but no one bothers. How often would you like to move the cursor only vertically or horizontally? A simple button on the mouse could be set to handle that. How often do you want a very low cursor movement to mouse movement ratio for detailed cursor movement? A simple button on the mouse could be set to handle that. Why don't computer companies give us useful function instead of useless features?

Laptop computer touch pads - why are they in the middle? I'm right handed - I want it on the right. Other people would benefit from having it on the left. It can't be hard to make it movable or optional. Instead, it sits in the middle, on EVERY laptop computer that you can buy, and causes HELL from accidental touches.

And most important of all - STOP CHANGING THINGS for no good reason. Why do you think that I want to relearn a device's user interface every year? Maybe you can speed up the interface by 10% (or maybe not). But it is likely that I will spend more than that learning the new interface. Why do you think we still have QWERTY keyboards? It's not because it's the most efficient. It's because we don't want to learn a new interface. (We even use it on those horrible little phone keyboards where touch typing is impossible.) Why don't you spend your time fixing bugs and filling in basic function instead of changing the user interface?

Linux

Linux

For those who don't accept Apple's monopoly on hardware for their OS and Microsoft's ridiculous policies and practices on Windows, there is Linux. Linux is functional and has an incredible array of free software - some great, some okay, some not good enough. Sometimes you have to get Windows software and run it under a Linux Windows environment.

I have used Linux now for a couple of years. I settled on Ubuntu with the LXDE desktop. Not bad once you get it configured.

If the Linux establishment wants to take over the desktop, it will have to be done with ONE desktop, not fifty. And that one will need to not be missing important features.

I tried many desktops before settling on LXDE. They typically had one disabling problem, usually a missing function or bug. One of them (Cinnamon) was great except that it disabled hardware acceleration for the display. This made OpenSCAD (3D design program) unusable. I couldn't find a fix (that worked). LXDE has one big problem - no central application for configuration. I can live with this. And it has one big advantage over all of the others - the CPU monitor on the panel (that's the control bar at the bottom of the screen) makes it easy to see what is going on with the CPUs. This lets me run another app while OpenSCAD is building a model and I can see on the CPU monitor when it is done. One strange quirk - it takes three packages to install - lxde, lxde-common, lxsessions-logout. This is only documented on obscure web pages that you find upon realizing that just installing lxde doesn't get the job done.

LXDE, and other desktops that I have tried, need an simple icon maker that just puts a couple of words in a small image, to be used as a user chosen icon. I used a paint program to do this and have my word based icons in a number of places, most importantly on the panel, where they are used to invoke important applications. For the file manager, for example, I use "Files" "home" on one icon. It brings up the file manager in my home folder. Very useful.

The command to unmount a USB disk from the Linux terminal is "umount", NOT "unmount". This is one of the worst ergonomic nightmares that I have ever encountered. The human brain works on word shapes and meanings, not spelling. When you want to know how to unmount a disk and you see the word "umount", the typical human brain (well, mine anyway) corrects this to "unmount". This, inexplicably, does not work.

Internet help for Linux is horrible. The typical answer to a question has no date, no software version numbers, and plenty of arcane terminology to help you try to fix the issue. If you understand the fix, it is still likely to not work. Not only do support packages have to be installed for many applications, they have to be the right version of the support package. And the support packages need the right support packages. There are automated installer packages to help with this. Often they work. When they don't work, you need a Linux expert to find the problem. Not good enough.

Two essential features of Microsoft Excel in an engineering environment are Solver and Visual Basic. The OpenOffice Solver is useless. I haven't tried Basic in OfficeCalc because I haven't needed it.

Fortunately for Linux users, there is a good way (maybe more than one) to run some Windows programs on Linux - Wine. Wine creates a Windows environment from which you can run many Windows programs. It isn't perfect but if the Windows program is developed with Wine in mind, it can be very good. (I am writing this on my Windows text editor under Wine.)

One of the neat things in Linux is that the file managers can access networked computers that are running a secure shell server. Windows can access secure servers but only through a special program such as WinSCP, not File Manager. I run SSHelper on my Android phone then access it from the LXDE file manager (PCManFM). This can also be done via an FTP server, but that is not secure. Well - Android 8 broke SSHelper, so until it's fixed I must use an FTP server. (For security, I have my WiFi router set up to only allow my own devices on the network.)

I have a large tips file to help me remember how to do things in LXDE/Ubuntu. If people ask, I will post it here.

As Microsoft becomes stupider and stupider, Linux needs to get its act together so people will have somewhere to turn.

2017-11-17

Olympic Sports

Olympic Sports

Walk racing? - as I understand it, this is a race where the participants must always have one foot touching the ground. Is there actually a reason to determine who can travel a distance the fastest while always touching the ground? Seriously?

There is a classic joke about running. Let's see how it translates into walking. Two hikers are walking through the woods and stumble upon a large bear looking hungrily back at them. Already well shod in walking shoes, the first starts walking away. The second says "Why bother? You can't out-walk that bear." The first replies "I don't have to out-walk the bear, I just have to out-walk you."

Swimming - I understand why you might have a race to see who can travel a certain distance in the water in the shortest time. But why is the stroke that you use important? The freestyle races, as I understand it, do not limit the stroke, and the result is that everyone uses the front crawl. To me, these are the only races that matter.

Shot put - again why is it important how you throw the thing? Throw it any way you like and see who can throw it the farthest.

Veledrome one on one bicycle races - I haven't watched them in a long time because they are so stupid, so maybe this has changed. Aerodynamics are so important that it is much preferred to be behind the leader so that you can "slingshot" ahead just before the end. So the cyclists stand around doing nothing or moving very slowly at the start until one thinks they have an advantage. Why not start on opposite sides of the track?

Table Tennis - I loved playing table tennis when I could do it without pain. I was terrible at it - poor hand/eye coordination, slow reaction time. And I was worse in tournaments - I fall apart in competition. Starting around 1970, I think, the game changed due to innovative paddle surfaces - tacky for incredible spin, slick to not impart spin, everything in between, and long pips for unpredictable spin. It became a game of deception that I couldn't even begin to handle. In tennis, facing a pro's serves, I would be lucky to not end up in the hospital, being unable to get my racket up in time to protect my body. But at least I could predict the trajectory of the ball after I had watched it get to the net. Table tennis, the ball gets to the net then hits the table, I have no idea where it's going, and if I manage to get my paddle on it, I have no idea where the ball is going next. I don't know how, but it needs to be fixed.

High jump - these athletes amaze me. Clearing a bar eight feet high. That's one or two feet above the top your head. Incredible. At my peak physical condition, I could probably have cleared four feet. But of also of interest, no one tells you how to jump. Why don't they have separate events for belly up or back up? Because that would be stupid.

Other track and field athletes are amazing too. For example, the pole vault adds a pole and balance skill. Long jumping is good, but just doesn't impress me like high jumping. Running is a great sport but most of the running events take a while to watch - I have a pretty short attention span. (Why doesn't each running event have four different running styles, freestyle, running backward, one legged, and sideways?)

Judged sports - gymnastics, figure skating, diving, a lot more that I can't think of, can be beautiful and fun to watch. But the winner is chosen by the judges, not by a true technical measurement. I know that the judges have technical points to score. But the fact that they end up with different scores means that the score is not accurate. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

How many different kinds of wrestling and one on one fighting are there at the Olympics - a lot, as I recall. If you have to limit how you can fight, it's not a real fight. Put two people in a ring and let it go until one gives up (or can't get up).

Of course most of the participants are impressive athletes. But if you want to show me that you are a world class athlete, then participate in a sport that has the best athletes. Basketball or track, not race walking, ice skate racing, diving. Well, I still won't really care, it's just entertainment and advertising.

The opening and closing ceremonies - is there anything more boring than these ceremonies? Perhaps they could score each country's participation for boredom and give out three more medals.

2017-11-09

Yahoo and Facebook

Yahoo and Facebook

YAHOO

I am stunned. Every weekday for many years, I would go to Yahoo Finance, bring up a list of investments, export the end of day quotes to a CSV file (spreadsheet), copy it into a personal spreadsheet and display the current value of my assets.

But now Yahoo has deleted the export function. Why? Because people used it - "It has come to our attention that this service is being used in violation of the Yahoo Terms of Service. As such, the service is being discontinued." I thought I would explain to them that this is a unique and useful service. I have found no other company that offers this function. But I cannot find any feedback mechanism to explain this to Yahoo (I don't think this blog counts).

Incidentally, Yahoo, if you are wondering why business is bad, "Yahoo" is the dumbest web name that I have ever encountered. Look up the definition - "a boorish, crass, or stupid person".

FACEBOOK

Facebook for the desktop is an ergonomic nightmare.

"Return" ("Enter") is almost universally used for "new line" in editing text. But when writing a note on Facebook, it immediately sends the note. Facebook, are you trying to get me to embarrass myself by sending unfinished notes? Could you give me the option to turn this absurdity off.

Why can't I easily view hidden comments on discussions? You tell me how many new comments there are, but there is no way to view them without carefully showing every hidden section. Give me a button that displays an entire thread.

Hover windows - I'm reading a comment and the cursor happens to be on a name or picture. A couple of seconds later a window opens with information about that person. ON TOP of what I'm reading. This is ANNOYING. Why can't I turn it off?

Why can't I move the desktop messenger window? It covers things that I'm trying to read.

For a public group, why is a pinned post not displayed on a phone? If you need a post pinned to the top of a group, it needs to be there for everyone, not just the people on desktop computers.

Facebook sent me this notification not long ago - "Your new notifications are now sorted to help you see what's most important to you." Upon clicking on "Learn more" - "These notifications are listed by how relevant we think they are to you, so they may appear to be out of order." You think you know more about what is relevant to me than I do?

What is the difference between a Page and a Group? I don't know. I don't care. Why don't you have a "Organization" page that people can configure to their needs?

Why does Facebook block me from getting Facebook messages on my phone via my browser? And why does it no longer include the message text in the email notification. The Facebook Messenger app is ANNOYING - I will not keep it on my phone.

"Good afternoon, Cary!" - why do I care if Facebook wishes me a good afternoon? Why can't I turn this off?

AT LAST (October 2017) - instead of "Works at Retired", it says "Retired". "Works at Retired" had annoyed me for a year and a half.

Upon proofreading the above, I noticed a trend. I seem to be easily annoyed. Or maybe Facebook's software really is awful. Do the software engineers use this software? Perhaps they have their own special version and like to inflict pain on the rest of the world.

2017-11-03

Sports

Some of the rules of various mainstream sports are just dumb.

Free throws in basketball. So you get fouled - why are you forced to take a free throw? Why not give the fouled team the option to just keep the ball? This would cut out all of the ridiculous end of game stop the clock and force a free throw nonsense.

Golf - why do you get to have a different club for every situation. Let the golfers show their skill by being limited to five clubs. Or maybe use all the clubs you want but you have to carry (not cart) them yourself.

Tennis - the serve is an overwhelming advantage. Why do you get two chances at each serve? If the server only had one chance then much of the advantage would go away.

Soccer - how is it a contest if no one can score? Increase the goal size until scoring becomes a regular event. Then you will see who is consistently better at scoring. It's not about boredom, although this would help. It's about measuring skill. How have you measured skill if the vast majority of the drives end with nothing? One team could get 10 good shots at the goal, the other never able to cross midfield - score 0 to 0, a tie - huh? Same game but the goal is two feet wider - score maybe 5 to 0 - now the score reflects the game.

Hockey - I'm pretty sure that hockey is just soccer on ice with sticks. Same fix applies.

American football - if you throw the ball down the field and don't catch it, why should you get to keep the ball? Seems to me that a pass should be the same as a fumble. Go ahead and throw the ball - if no one catches it, it is up for grabs. That gets rid of a lot of judgment calls by the refs and it makes a lot more sense to me.

Baseball - I haven't figured out how to make baseball any less boring. But reducing the number of games in a season would make each game much more of an event.

Tie games - choosing winners in a tie game - what a mess. Long overtimes, endless overtimes, changes to the concept of the game. Two soccer teams play to a tie. Then the winner is chosen by kickoff? What does that have to do with the game?

My suggestion is that you start the game with the tiebreaker, integrated into the game.

For timed games (basketball, football, etc.), if you score first in a game, and that game ends with a tie score, you win. No overtime. Not only is it simple, the team that is behind knows exactly what it needs to do to win.

Golf - the first person to take the lead at the end of any hole owns the tie breaker.

This might even be interesting in chess - the first person to take a piece that is not followed on the next move by the opponent taking a piece owns the stalemate breaker (a new strategy would be to take the first piece even if it gives you a disadvantage, then play for the stalemate).

Baseball, the first team that has a lead at the end of an inning owns the tie breaker.

Maybe a lot of this wouldn't help anything, but to me, at least it would help the rules make sense.