Stockpiling

We’ve all be advise to stay home and avoid unnecessary contact with, due concerns about a virus.

Google maps has an useful feature, i.e. a little chart showing how crowded a store is. For example right now the nears Costco is half as crowded as usual.

Costco looks to be empty right now.

Yesterday and early this morning it was running about double the usual crowd. People rushing to stockpile supplies. Maybe the rush is over, maybe people know or think the store has been stripped clean.

I’ve noticed, over the last few days, the big ethnic grocery stores are generally much calmer. Some actually look like people are avoiding them.



$13 thousand dollars, thanks Republicans

It’s a shame that journalists are allergic to arithmetic.

For example the 50 Billion dollars that Apple won’t pay in taxes thanks to the Republican 2017 Tax bill divided by 125 Million households in the US is $1,200 dollars/household.

Apple was estimated to own 88 Billion before and their PR cheerfully trumpets that they will be paying 38.

Here’s another example.  $2.8 Trillion (total US firms have stashed overseas) times.  Apple’s share of that: $252.3 Billion.  I.e. 9%.     So if all those firms take advantage of the tax cut it’s $1,200/9 * 100.

$13,333  dollars per household.

Regulatory Stories

It would be fun to accumulate a book of stories about regulation.  My book would be about what a messy complex necessary business this is.

For example, the story of a friend who’s contractor disappeared halfway thru the remodelling job.   When he got another guy to take over the building inspector insisted they remove the dry wall.  The wiring had not been inspected.

Today’s example:  A number of cities started using dry ice to kill rats in their burrows.  It was very cheap and very effective.  Soon, the media reported that the EPA had stepped in to say, “Ah guys?  That’s not an approved pesticide.”  So they stopped.   The media accounts all had this just the facts quality about ’em, but I sensed the underlying narrative was “Yo reader, ain’t regulation lame!”

I noticed story since I use dry-ice when I catch a squirrel trying to eat my house.  It is the recommended technique.

A few days ago New York city started again.  The cities pushed to get the technique approved.  But the story I read had a telling detail.  Apparently what was approved was not dry ice, but rather a product called “Rat Ice” made by some Bell Labs.

Which raises the question in my mind.  Who complained to the regulators?  In New York their original trial run was a park where the poured the dry ice into 60 burrows; so maybe the park’s users complained that the entire park was smoking.

A cynical observer would quickly guess that the rat poison vendors complained.

The Bell Labs is not the famous research laboratory in New Jersey.  Nah, it’s a firm that sells classic rat poisons, baits, and traps all over the planet.  They even have a registered trademark tag line: “The World Leader in Rodent Control Technology®”.  They haven’t gotten around to marketing Rat Ice on their web site.

To me the proof of this is this bit from an article from USA Today that appeared back when the flurry of media reports about how the EPA was telling the cities to stop using dry ice:

Ruth Kerzee, executive director of the Midwest Pesticide Action Center, said her organization raised concerns with regional EPA officials and the city of Chicago about the new rat-killing method.

Kerzee, whose organization promotes minimizing the use of pesticides, said while dry ice is less toxic than some conventional pesticides it remains unclear what, if any, guidelines cities created to ensure the product is being safely handled by personnel.

“We think it could be a sea changer, a great thing to be able to use, but it does need to be vetted and go through the process, so that we don’t end up in a situation where we throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Kerzee said.

The National Pest Management Association, a trade group representing private pest control companies, also inquired with EPA and the Illinois Department of Public Health about the use of dry ice after Chicago launched its pilot and was told it could not be legally used as rodenticide, said Jim Fredericks, chief entomologist for the association. The group published a message to members in its newsletter last month that “any use of CO2/dry ice to control rodents would be a violation of federal law.”

Fredericks said the industry association is not calling for the EPA to permit dry ice as a rodenticide. “It’s not one of our priorities right now,” he said.

There is a joke to be made here about inventing the better mousetrap and “It would be a shame if some innovation where to upset that nice business you have there.”

Mastodon

Yet another attempt to create a social network.  This one’s called Mastodon.  It is analogous to Twitter, i.e. short status updates with following, liking, comments.    Web UI, and apps for assorted devices.   It’s usenet like in with a user accounts residing on nodes and then the nodes stitched together into an exchange network.  Open source with ties to the FSF/Gnu community.

We wish them the best of luck, this is hard rabbit to pull out the damn hat.

Here are some charts based on data taken from this page enumerating some of the nodes in the network.  These are log log charts, and each point is for a single node.  Their equivalent of Twiter’s tweet is being called a toot.  Though in these charts it’s called a status.

A not unusual distribution for an unregulated social networks.  It’s always delightful make up little stories about why there is a node who’s users have made an huge number of toots per user.

The Backfire Effect

You may have noticed that sometimes: you argue with somebody and you come away thinking: “My that backfired!”   Rather than loosening their attachment to their foolish belief they have become more committed.

In years since the effect was named studies have revealed that the effect is common and potent.   They have discovered that some public health advertising campaigns backfire. The target audiences become much less likely to change behavior.  Even bizarrely after the audience admitted that they accepted the facts.

With a public health mindset you can then start to wonder what dosage of facts and information is optimal to change a person’s mind.  Studies that attempted to start to get a handle on that (see links below).  But slight spoiler – it’s really hard! – but not too hot, not too cold.

So what’s going here?  Naturally we all labor to keep a consistent world view.  Whenever new information comes over the transom our minds devote some calories to folding it into that world view.   Let’s call that work skepticism.  It can be defensive, curious, even light hearted  skepticism – smart people take pride in this work.    If the information is at odds with our current world view we are motivated to take the exercise more seriously.  The name for that syndrome is “motivated skepticism.”

It’s not actually that surprising that engaging in the exercise would often strength the existing world view.

That all reminded me of what in back in the 70s the AI community used to call truth maintenance.   Failure to keep the software’s model of truth well maintained was treated as an existential threat to the system.  Because, it’s well known that in simple sets of equations a single mistake doesn’t just lead to bad results; it lets you prove that anything is true.

Here are three podcasts (123) about this.   Part of David McRaney’s the “Your not so smart” series.   David’s turf is around questions of what social science can tell us about discourse, debate, and changing people’s minds.  If you are not into podcasts you can skim the posts enumerated above for an overview and links to other materials.

Sleeper cells

I’ve recently been enjoying a podcast on microbiology.

They recently mentioned that some bacterial infections include a tiny fraction of hibernating cells.   The sleepers are unaffected if somebody tries to murder with an antibiotic.  Later when they awaken the antibiotic is gone and the infection returns.

Bad faddish ideas are like this too.

Why FIFO?

Amazon’s AWS has a message queue system, aka SQS, to which they have recently started adding a variant which assures that your messages are delivered in the same order that they got sent.  I.e. first in first out.

If you are surprised that they don’t do that by default you may enjoy thinking about what would be involved if the Post Office was to decide to offer this feature.

That said, I’ve been surprised that it took so long for this to show up and I remain surprised how slowly they are rolling it out.

So it is with some amusement I read in their doc an example of why you might want this feature.

“Display the correct product price by sending price modifications in the right order.”

Which I think helps explain why Seattle is one of the few AWS sites that supports it so far.