Presidential choices

The US Presidential race is basically a big popularity contest. People generally pick a candidate based on personality and how much they like the person, rather than on policy issues. The best way to predict who will win an election is to ask “Which of these people would I rather have a beer with?” Recently I’ve been trying to work out why it’s this way. I’m not asking why people make emotional decisions; I learned in my 20s that when it came to interpersonal relationships and evaluating people, my intuitive emotional responses were much more accurate than my intellectual analysis.

Google PAC

Out on Twitter, someone posted a few of the politicians that Google PAC had donated to. The names included Moscow Mitch McConnell, rabid climate denialist Jim Inhofe, and assorted other awful people. For those outside the US: Corporations here are allowed to set up Political Action Committees or PACs to channel bribes. They are also allowed to “request” that employees “donate” from their pay checks to these PACs. If the employee explicitly asks not to contribute, they’re not legally permitted to punish them, but I’m sure you can imagine how well that works in practice.

Life comes at you fast

On December 21st we were all set to head to Minnesota to spend the holidays with family. We got into the car for the trip to the airport, pushed the button to start, and the display turned on all the Christmas lights: Prius festive lighting This was not good timing, to say the least. Following normal computerized car debugging procedures, I tried turning it off and on again.


A familiar tale of tragedy You’ve probably heard of The Tragedy of the Commons. This is the idea that if a natural resource (the commons) is available to all to use as much as they like, it will inevitably become overused and ruined. This is a common economic argument which has been cited in contexts ranging from healthcare to the Internet. However, the argument wasn’t popularized by an economist. In 1968, it was American ecologist Garrett Hardin who published The Tragedy of the Commons (PDF).

Fitbit R.I.P.

I was a happy Android user for around 7 years. Then Google abandoned tablets, so I got an iPad. Then they abandoned mid-price Nexus phones, so the choice was either to get an iPhone which would work seamlessly with my iPad, or to pay the same amount for a Google Pixel phone that wouldn’t, and would be obsolete sooner. That was a really easy choice. Then Google abandoned even lip service to “Don’t be evil”.

Into the Fediverse

In the wake of Facebook’s recent behavior, I see people once again saying they wish there was an alternative. Well, there is. There’s a social network with 4.7 million users that’s free and open and not controlled by any single company. I’m going to tell you how to join it. First, though… What have Facebook done wrong? In case you have missed the major news stories about Facebook’s misdeeds, Facebook has…

Explaining Brexit

Since I’ve had several American friends ask me what the deal is with Brexit, here’s my writeup. Please note in advance that percentages from polls aren’t exact, because they’ve varied up and down over the months of drama; and of course, who knows how accurate the polls even are these days? My aim is to describe why the overall problem is going on and on, not to indicate whether this or that political party has 34.

Thoughts about the Apple Card

I was invited to apply for the Apple Card early, so I’ve had time to experience the entire cycle through to paying the first month’s bill. Here are my thoughts. The approval process is amazingly swift and easy, because Apple already have your details from your Apple account (iTunes, app store). You apply right from the Apple Wallet app, and get an answer instantly. The cash back and interest rates are nothing special.

I like big buttes and I cannot lie

When I first moved to Austin, Texas, I expected Texas to be like in “True Stories” — flat, desert, cactus and tumbleweeds. It was a big surprise to find out that central Texas was lush and green and full of trees. It does turn brown during summer, but once the fall rains start everything springs back to life. We recently traveled to Marfa and surrounding towns for some vacation time, so I’m able to report that if you travel to west Texas, you’ll see the Texas you might be familiar with from the media.

Star's End

During the 1970s, the world of modern classical music managed to break in to the mainstream. In the US, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley and other avant garde composers started to be able to fill venues, and they came to have a heavy influence on the electronic music of the late 1980s and early 1990s, from The Orb and Orbital to Colourbox and Aphex Twin. The UK also had a number of classical composers who were briefly mainstream in the 70s.