Friday, May 26, 2017

1799 Faking Precision

Math Phobia Photo

This is really, really cool. You can fake precision using real numbers and no one will much think about your trickery.

Want an example?
Here’s a quote from the label of a waterless hand sanitizer bottle: “Kills 99.99% of Most Common Germs That May Make You Sick.”

Wow, powerful stuff, right? Zaps pretty much everything dangerous. A virtual instant sterilization. Only .01% left when you’re finished.


But look at it closely.

“Kills 99.99% of most common germs…”
“Most” can mean just over half. Say 50.000001% So, really, this stuff can kill about 99% of about half” a  more precise rendering would be “kills about half” of “common germs that may make you sick.”

But what is COMMON? And what does “MAY” make you sick mean? If these germs may make you sick, they also may not make you sick.

And while we’re at it, what does “sick” mean? Are we talking about Yellow Fever? Or maybe a little bit of itchiness? A sneeze, maybe? Are we talking about cancer? Or perhaps a sniffle?

The thing sounds downright scientific. But there are so many variables, the figure means 100.00% of nothing. (or 0% of everything.)

So, here we have an example of hiding behind number-supported imprecision. But it’s only one example.

Here’s another, the famed Dow Jones Industrial Average. This is calculated by taking the closing prices of 30 stocks, adding them together and dividing by 30, right?

Wrong.The DJIA is “weighted.” Stocks are given values over and above their actual price.That’s why when you add up the stock prices and divide by 30, you get nothing like what Dow reports as the day’s closing figure.

How about your body temperature? It’s 98.6, right? Normal. But not always. Some people are a little higher or a little lower most of the time and they’ve learned not to panic after reading the thermometer.

We won’t get into the way surveys are taken, because that’s too long and complicated for this venue. But suffice it to say asking “are you willing to spend $120 million on a new school building?” will not elicit the same percentage of “yes” answers as “do you want your children to have a good education in better surroundings than they now have?”

And “do you want to win the war on terror?” will not get the same “yes” votes as “should we send more Americans to fight in Afghanistan?”

This example should ring true: “The temperature is 87 degrees.” Very precise. Except also meaningless, because chances are you can’t feel the difference between 85 and 89.

One well known media company has a complex formula for determining the value of employee bonuses. The formula is used to determine the value of something akin to a stock certificate. But the number of these faux stocks awarded to an individual employee, is decided by the whim of a supervisor. So the precise accounting is meaningless and the amount of the bonus dependent not on the value of the paper, but on the mood or attitude of the supervisor.

Numbers are, indeed, precise. What we do with them often is more camouflage than calculation.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 1 + 1 = 9.9999999999. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

1780 The Auto Crat

Four wheels and a 20 HP engine.  Get out and get under.

It takes a lot of nerve to tell a guy named Ford how to run a car company, but here goes.

Let’s get all the bad stuff out of the way first.  Henry Ford was an industrial and financial titan but had a dark side.

Union buster. Anti-semitic. Autocrat. Fifty percent of a mutual admiration society with Hitler. (The other half was Adolf.)

Okay, enough bad stuff for our purpose here. Now some interesting stuff for history buffs and finance geeks:

Ford is credited with one innovation he didn’t innovate and not credited with one he did.

The one he didn’t: Mass production.  It was in the pipeline when he started pumping cars out of the River Rouge complex in Michigan, still one of the wonders of the industrial world.

Ford made everything that went into its cars except the tires.  Those came from Firestone.  They made steel on site and then turned it into millions of cars and trucks.

But mass production and interchangeable parts would have happened around the time it DID happen. And while Ford did it well, they didn’t do it first.

Ford’s one-true-innovation was financial, not industrial.  He made his independently owned dealers buy their inventory.  Better than bank loans. A whole lot cheaper.   Back in the Model T days, no one had done that on a large scale.

Also in finance:  Ford is a public company (NYSE:F.) But the superstock still is family owned.  So when you buy shares, you’re buying aftermarket products. The real power is in what’s called the “B” stock, the kind only the Fords have.

Heading in the right direction: in the dark days of auto production in the early 2000s, Bill Ford hired Alan Mulally, an engineer and high ranking guy at Boeing and made him chief executive.

Jaw dropping. An outsider.  An airplane guy.  At the time, we wrote that it was a brilliant choice even if the new guy had never set foot in a car factory.

Mulally had the right credentials. He made huge transportation machines and other stuff that’s far too heavy to lift.  He ran a profitable company with a labor situation so complex it was a wonder they produced as well as they did.

Perfect credentials.

And they made it through the recession without federal help.  Amazing. No other US based carmaker managed that one.

But in auto years -- which are like dog years only shorter -- that was ancient history.  And recently Ford has been faltering in areas that it considers crucial to its future.

Things like self-driving cars are simmering on medium heat when they should be on the high powered burner.
They’re behind in electric car development.  They’re doing okay in sales.  But doing okay is not okay.

Lurking in the background was something Bill said not long ago: his company was in the “mobility business,” not “just” a car maker.

That’s reminiscent of Jack Welch telling General Electric shareholders “we’re not an industrial conglomerate, we’re a communications company.”

That quote also was little noticed.  And it’s hard to tell where it came from when GE’s big profits were in medical equipment, plastics, jet engines, washing machines, stoves and lightbulbs.

“We’re a transportation company?” No. You make F-150s and Mustangs and other large and small machinery.  Sometimes you do it well, sometimes not (If you want a Lincoln, buy one. But the reviews will suggest otherwise.) When you lose sight of your real purpose, you are heading for the undercard instead of the main event.

Toyota and Honda don’t stay awake nights worrying about an identity crisis.  They’re pretty sharp operators and have eaten Detroit’s lunch for years. It’s a lesson Ford has to learn.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2017, former Taurus owner but once was more than enough. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

1779 Kitchen Confidential

Face it.  There’s never enough room in the kitchen to do what you want to do.  Something lives on every counter and on every shelf of every cabinet.

  1. Remodel and expand
  2. Get rid of the counter hogs
  3. Buy more gadgets and appliances. We’ll figure out what to do with the overpopulation later.
I opt for number 3. Except the figure it out later part.

Do you suppose the great chefs of America, Europe and the far east created their timeless recipes using $10,000 ranges, $8,000 refrigerators and a symphony orchestra of electrical “tools?”

No way.  They had fire, a few pots and pans, some implements used to poke or stir or flip and a sense of adventure.

The first cooked eggs were scrambled with a fork or flipped with a spatula. The first salad was made by tearing apart vegetables.  The first cookie was baked because someone had too much left over dough but not enough to make a second cake.

Confession: I am an appliance addict in the body of a man who dislikes cooking and even more dislikes cleanup.

But that doesn’t stop me from drooling over the latest pressure cooker or slicer from Shopping TV with the same lust that used to be reserved for my female classmates in middle school.

The only real difference is access.

Look at the kitchen here!  There’s a machine that automatically cuts cucumbers, squash and onions in “perfectly uniform slices.”

Elizabeth II doesn’t travel all that much anymore.  And even if she came here for tea, would she notice the uniformity of the slices on the cucumber sandwiches?

Two electric pressure cookers. One six quart with a complicated control panel and enough pre-set choices for a jetliner or a Rolling Stones concert?

The second one is bigger and has only a mechanical timer.

Doesn’t matter what goes into either, what comes out is mush with an overlay that smells like something between spilled paint and a steam engine.

It took an act of congress to get rid of our Jack LaLanne juice machine.  But we finally replaced it with both a Ninja and a “Magic Bullet” mixer.

There’s a slow cooker. These things should come with alarms you set so you can use them early in the day.  Sure beats waiting for dinner at 10 PM because you started too late.

There’s a toaster oven with a control panel borrowed from the aforementioned Rolling Stones concert.  Just to make toast and warm up last night’s leftover pizza.

But it’s not just electrical appliances.  Acoustic appliances are just as crowding.

There’s the copper pot which is really good except it’s too small. (Should have waited for the larger model, just out.)  Oh, and there’s no copper in it. It’s aluminum with some sort of copper colored coating.

There are pots of every description ranging from itty-bitty to big enough to rate its own zip code.

There are two non-stick fry pans that are really really good.  They arrived here when Paula Deen became a non- person on TV,  discounters bought the surplus products with her name on them and then sold them for next to nothing.

Who needs two?  Plus the three others from Home Shopping that are rarely used.  Or the cast iron one that “I just had to have” and never use.

But there’s one really really critical piece of machinery: a stovetop percolator. That’s in case the electric power goes out crippling the Mr. Coffee.

And there’s a barbecue lighter for the same reason. Today’s gas stoves require electricity to ignite. But you can still turn it on in a power failure by striking a match or clicking your Bic.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, May 19, 2017

1798 Death of a Demon Genius

Here’s the Roger Ailes Quiz.
Fox News Photo
He was an evil man (y/n)
He was anti Semitic (y/n)
He was a right wing wacko (y/n)
He did more harm than good (y/n)
He did no good at all (y/n)
He was a sexual predator (y/n)
He was a television genius (y/n)

Roger Ailes died this week at age 77 and forces for good and evil lined up in their (y/n) columns and started pontificating even before rigor set in.

The bios and templates have been in place for a long time.  These are the long stories that magically turn into obituaries when the person dies and they top the story with “So and So died last night. He was 104. His husband of 83 years, Such and Such, confirmed the death but did not provide a cause.”

Then come 12-hundred well chosen words on what a great guy So and So was. Or two minutes and 29 seconds of video on the nightly news.

Sometimes the correspondents die before the subject of the obit.  This poses its own problem: Run the video or re-do it.  Both solutions have drawbacks.

Okay, but we’re talking about Ailes and here’s where plenty of readers are going to get annoyed.

My answer to all seven questions:  Y.

The one that’s going to stick in the craws of readers of this page is that last one… the one about being a television genius.  

When we think of “genius,” we tend to think of Einstein or Rembrandt or Mozart.  People who bring light and beauty into the world.

And we forgive these men and women some of their quirks because the return is so high.

Tens of thousands of people roam the planet with the quirks but not the genius, the great creative spirit that gives us a Chaucer or a Dostoyevsky.

Let’s face it, Fox News is part of pop culture.  More harmful than the Kardashians and the Real Housewives of Pocatello. But pop culture nonetheless.

How could a guy like Ailes harass all those women without people noticing?  How could Bernie Madoff scam all those people without someone noticing?

They didn’t. Either of them. People noticed but ignored.  When Madoff’s Ponzi scheme collapsed, we were shocked… except those who believed all along he was a common thief.  Well, maybe not common.

With Ailes, everyone knew.  But as long as the ratings and the money poured in, people who should not have written it off wrote it off.

What changed?  Did Fox suddenly gain a conscience? Was bad publicity damaging their brand?  No to both.

The Murdochs want to buy Sky TV in England. In order to do that they have to pass muster as proper Brits.  Proper Brits do not fondle the help, at least not where it can be seen.  They certainly don’t put them on the casting couch. Or so it’s said.  

So Madoff did billions of dollars in damage by sitting at a desk and telling lies.  Ailes did horrible things by lying or by sitting on his office couch.  But there’s no way to put a price tag on that.

“I hired her because she was hot.” -- Roger Ailes on why Sarah Palin got that short-lived job as a commentator on Fox.  Quoted by the Washington Post in 2011.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2017

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

1797 Goodbye Wi Fi

1797 Goodbye Wi Fi
Your rent-free office away from home may soon shut you out.  Yes, some coffee shops and fast food joints are turning off the router.  No more free wi fi for you!

What’s the deal?  Too many hacks because most of those connections are unprotected?  (Never have unprotected wi fi. You could catch a WTD, a wirelessly transmitted disease.)

This prematurely born budding trend started in Toronto according to press reports. A coffee shop proprietor wanted people to stop staring at their phones, tablets and laptops and start talking to each other.

It’s only partly successful.

People stopped using their internet devices and started reading newspapers and magazines.  No worries. The proprietor can’t stop you from that. But the printed page is committing suicide and soon there won’t be any.  

Getting people to talk among themselves is a laudable goal.  Think of the discussions you’ve missed over the past few years by not bothering your table mate with your annoying non sequiturs and political wisdom. Or vice versa.

It’s like a sports bar shutting off a dozen TV sets.  People get into fights.

The coffee house crowd is generally more genteel than the bar flys. But that’s only because they’re caffeinated rather than alcoholated.  While you find the occasional drinker of Perrier with a twist at the “The Dugout” or “The Stadium Inn” and there are decaf drinkers at “Giapetto's Espresso” or “Le Figaro,” they are at a disadvantage.

They have neither the tanked-uppedness of the boozers nor the high energy of the Frappuccino Latte Venti Primo of the coffee crowd.

These un-fueled patrons are unlikely to get into discussions with strangers.

The fueled crowd on the other hand is likely to get into bar fights and coffee shop fights.

And if you think the former is worse than the latter, think again. Someone throws a beer in the face of the other guy and the other guy gets wet and angry.  Throw a Sumatran Mocha Machiatto in someone’s face and they get wet and burned. And maybe covered in whipped cream or five perfect layers of espresso sweetness and dollop of caramel goo.

A coffee shop fight is a terrible thing to see and even worse to join.  Plus at the coffee shop, the drink throwing will end up ruining that Time Magazine with the five buck cover price.

(Sponsored content: Subscribe today and you can ruin a copy of Time at half the cover price every week, plus receive this free LED illuminated magnifying glass with your paid subscription.)

People don’t go to coffee shops to talk with their neighbors. If they converse with the guy next door, they do it at one’s house or the other’s, over the fence in the driveway or building lobby or on the sidewalk.

People go to coffee shops to be alone with their thoughts.  They answer email without the kids running around and yelling.  They do work- related stuff without the shopping channel audio or Jerry Springer or ads for Xarelto followed by lawyer ads against Xarelto blasting in their ears.

They go to get away from their significant other for an hour.  They go because they’re just not going to mow the lawn today.

And sometimes, they go simply for a cup of coffee.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2017.  Black. Two sugars.

Monday, May 15, 2017

1796 Gorsuch and the Burp Monster

Photo: Moote Pointe NY Police Dept.

Dramatis Personae:
F.M. -- an otherwise unidentified 13 year old 7th grader from New Mexico.
The Teacher -- a gym teacher in FM’s school.
Arthur Acosta -- a sworn local police officer assigned to the school.
Neil Gorsuch -- an appeals judge when this story takes place and now an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court which might hear the case.

The story begins in 2011 when FM disrupts his gym class by making fake burping sounds and refuses to stop.  The gym teacher calls the school office which dispatches officer Acosta to the gym.

According to press reports at the time, Acosta escorted FM to the school office, cuffed him and arrested him on charges he violated the state law that prohibits “disrupting the educational process.”

FM was convicted and the parents sued the cop.  The case went to an appeals court which upheld the arrest by a vote of 2-1. Gorsuch sat on that court, disagreed with the decision and wrote the dissent.

He said the decision ignored the intent of the law by failing to distinguish between class clowns and serious disrupters.  So if FM had, say, staged a bomb scare or set off a firecracker, that would have violated the law. But in Gorsuch’s view sound effects alone did not.

Lawyers for the mother, Annette Montaro, are asking the Supreme Court to hear the case.

If it does, Gorsuch probably will recuse himself because that’s what Associate Justices who’ve heard a case previously tend to do.

We’d be back to that 4-4 liberal/conservative breakdown that hobbled the court for all those months.  So are burping sound effects pro liberal or are they pro conservative?

The Supremes have regularly declined to hear cases of school discipline problems and likely it won’t agree to hear this one.  Expect that yes/no decision soon. Maybe today.

Speaking on behalf of class clowns everywhere, this space says Free F.M.  Sure his record will be sealed if the conviction stands.  But still.  C’mon, people.  

The one time class clown who is telling you this story knows what it’s like to be sent to the office.  There were endless meetings with the assistant principal of ❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚ High School.

F.M. was a kid in 2011. Now, he’s an adult.  He’s probably sorry he disrupted the class. He probably didn’t do it again.  A couple of sessions of detention would have stopped the whole thing.

Are we so litigious that we cuff a kid for burping in a class that almost no one likes in the first place?  In the real world, the other kids in class would have surrounded FM after school, and dragged him off to the soda shop down the street, put him in a booth or on a stool and bought him the biggest ice cream sundae he’d ever seen.   And then they’d demand that he teach them how to make those fake belches.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017

1795 The G Man Goeth

FBI’s Least Wanted Photo                           Hoover would have known what to do.

In his race to devalue everything American, so-called President Trump has fired the head of the FBI, Jim Comey who had it coming back before the election, but not since.

This dismissal makes all the sense as the scorpion that kills the frog in the middle of the river causing both to die.

Comey won the election for Trump by quacking in public about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails mere hours before the election, assuring a Clinton loss and a Trump win.  (Okay, sort of win on a technicality, but  he’s been inaugurated so it doesn’t matter.  Yet.)

Two reports about all this are chilling to say the least: The first from the New York Times says Sessions and Trump met about the firing a day or two before it happened.  The other, originally from McClatchy’s Washington Bureau, said Comey had asked for extra funds to investigate any possible connection between Trump and Russia.

Sessions had to know that when he “recommended” the firing.  Recall that he’d said he would recuse himself from any such investigation.  This is not that, except Sessions is a marionette and wouldn’t have “recommended” the firing if the right string in his head had been pulled.

In any event, bipartisan pressure is building for a congressional investigation.  Either house can start one on its own.  If one does, the other will too so as not to be one-upped.

So, how was the dismissal handled in the following day’s news conference?  Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wants you to know that none of this has anything to do with Russia.  Wessays™ running commentary posted elsewhere at the time went thus:

 If this woman is not an imbecile, she certainly knows how to play one on TV. What is she talking about? This came from the top.

"Jeff, get someone to write a bill of particulars about Comey so we can ax him."

"Yes sir, Mr. President.

Hey, you, the old guy... send a memo that details Comey's 'atrocities' ... like Hillary and other stuff. Make it as long as you can."

"Yes Sir Mr. Atty Gen."

So Old Guy Who's Been in the Justice Dept for more than 30 years follows orders which is how you get to work in the Justice Department for more than 30 years. Sessions says "OMG, Y'all. This Comey's gotta go!" He writes to Trump.

Trump says OMG youse guys, this guy's got to go. Sends Comey a letter and the deed's done. And they didn't have the decency to tell him, but he heard about it on KNX Radio.  Before he got the letter.

Then, a funny thing happened at the meeting yesterday of the Senate Intelligence committee.  The acting director was testifying and there’s no doubt it makes the White House squirm.

Andrew McCabe told the senators that the investigation into the Trump/Russia connection would continue apace.  And he disagreed with a White House assessment that the agents on the ground had lost confidence in Comey.  

In any event, J. Edgar would not have asked the White House for money to investigate the White House.  He'd find water in his budget he could squeeze from other programs, conduct the investigation and then get warrants and then indictments. Comey is a sensitive man of the 21st century and asks permission where none is required.

Note to the President: This is not “The Apprentice,” You can’t fire them all.

“This is Nixonian.” -- United States Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) likening Comey’s firing to Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” in which special prosecutor Archibald Cox, investigating the Watergate coverup was fired in October, 1973.

--In “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” the grandfather character is forever demonstrating how everything important goes back to the ancient Greeks. In Soviet Russia, they claimed everything from the Polaroid camera to cupcakes was invented in the USSR. Now there’s Trump “inventing” priming the pump, to the amazement of everyone who has used the phrase for decades, everyone who knew that Lincoln was a Republican and everyone who knew health insurance was complicated.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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