News and Views

From my kids accomplishments, to my heretical perspective of the world

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The Dunning-Kruger Effect

October 9th, 2016 · 2 Comments

David Dunning and Justin Kruger of the department of psychology at Cornell University in 1999 performed experiments measuring how well people evaluated their own competence. The result was that people who knew very little about a topic generally greatly over-estimated their competence, while experts tended to correctly or slightly under-estimate themselves. It was only after being trained on a topic that those lacking skill began to realize their own incompetence.

As Dunning himself put it: “If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent.… The skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.”

Dunning here discusses how this effect applies to Trump supporters, and in fact probably to Trump himself. Trump probably doesn’t understand how grossly unqualified he is for the job. (This article is worth reading.)

This effect is apparent everywhere, and in fact is a major weakness of Democracy. Voters are passionate about their choices, but often based on limited or incorrect understanding of the issues. Many people have strong feelings about economic policies, but really understand almost nothing about economics. Stimulus? Balanced Budget? Deficits? Raising or lowering taxes? Are these things always good or bad, or does it sometimes depend on the situation? People knowing nothing about Climatology are convinced that climate change is a hoax, throwing a snowball into Congress as proof the world is not warming.

I think a reasonable approach is to listen to the experts when they agree, such as with climate change. On a topic such as economics, we should probably go along in the cases where most economists agree, but when the experts disagree it is foolish to be sure you know the right answer.

There are some interesting quotes showing that this is not really a new discovery:
– Confucius “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”
– Bertrand Russell “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision”
– Charles Darwin “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”
– Shakespeare (As You Like It) “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool”

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South Dakota

October 2nd, 2016 · 3 Comments

We spent a week in South Dakota in mid-September. It was even better than we had expected.

We flew into Rapid City, near the south-west corner of the state, and stayed in a beautiful hotel in Keystone. Keystone is just a couple of miles from Mount Rushmore; in fact we could see George Washington and Thomas Jefferson from our room.
Mt Rushmore from room

It was much clearer, though, from within the park. Note the workers on Roosevelt’s head. We’re not sure what they were doing.
Mt Rushmore

We also visited Badlands National Park. Dad always used to say that they don’t make National Parks for nothing; they are always worth visiting. Badlands is no exception.

In our drives around the state we saw lots of wildlife along the road, such as Bisons:

and Pronghorn (note the radio collar on the center one):

and Big Horn Sheep:
Big Horns

One day we drove into Wyoming to the Devils Tower. It was more interesting than I thought it would be, definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
Devils Tower

We saw three climbers on their way up the tower; two of them are in this picture. It takes skills that I don’t have to climb something like that.

On the last day we went to see the Crazy Horse Monument. They’ve been working on this for many years; I’m not sure it will ever be complete. Eventually it is supposed to be an Indian mounted on a horse; so far they have completed the Indian’s face and carved a hole which will be under his extended arm. After paying $22/car load you really can’t see it any better than from the highway. The only reason to go inside is to watch a movie on the project, and of course the gift shops.
Crazy Horse

While Donna was Googling our location, she noticed that a nearby gulch and road carried our family name:
Lafferty Gulch Road

We also visited Wind Cave National Park. This one might be an exception to Dad’s rule. While it is a long and deep cave and has some unusual formations, in our travels around the world we have seen much more majestic and beautiful caves. Even Kartchner Caverns here in Arizona is a lot more colorful. However, the park above ground was beautiful and worth the visit by itself. That’s where several of our wildlife photos came from. So we are still glad we came.

It was a nice trip. People were friendly, drivers cautious and courteous, the early Autumn weather was pleasant and the scenery was magnificent. This part of the country remains less settled; hopefully it will stay that way so the natural beauty can be preserved.

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Everyone Aiming at Defender?

August 13th, 2016 · 5 Comments

Windows 10 has built-in anti-virus, called “Windows Defender”. It’s nice to have free anti-virus, but I have some concerns about it.

First, Defender doesn’t get very good ratings from independent anti-virus testing labs. (4 stars out of 6 on Protection.)

My bigger concern is that even if it worked very well, it’s an obvious target for hackers. If everyone is using the same AV program, then effort spent finding holes and weaknesses in it are going to pay off big. Every black-hat hacker in the world must be focusing on finding and exploiting flaws in Windows Defender. Based on this, I’ve decided to try an alternative for a year.

It’s not that I have a lot of problems with viruses. I think I’m a pretty safe user, and have never had a significant infection. But I work on other people’s computers and know that malware is prevalent and can be messy. Worse yet are things like ransomware that encrypts your data unless you pay for a key.

Based on independent lab AV-Tests’ results**, only Kaspersky Lab’s AV got 6 out of 6 stars in all three categories (Protection, Performance and Usability). Obviously Protection is the most important category, and several other programs get 6 stars in that category (including AVG and Norton).

Whenever I read about the latest exploit or malware infection, it seems that people are quoting Kaspersky Lab, and they are often the first to find it. They have an excellent reputation in the AV world. Based on all this, I bought a one-year, 3 computer subscription. I’ll see how it goes.

I would suggest that if you are already using the free version of AVG there’s no strong reason to switch since it also gets 6 stars for protection. But if you are depending on Windows Defender, you might want to think about using something else.

** In June, Defender detected 97.3% and 99.3% of two categories of current malware. AVG was 100% and 99.4%. Kaspersky was 100% and 100%. Looking back over previous months, Defender is often much worse (sometimes in the 80’s), while Kaspersky continues to shine. AVG slightly exceeds Kaspersky in a few cases, but on average is lower. And Kaspersky consistently has less impact on system performance than either of the others. That’s a tie-breaker for me.

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Medicare 5 Months In

August 5th, 2016 · 2 Comments

I’ve been on Medicare for 5 months now, and it is so much better than any options I had before. I’m saving about $500/month on premiums, my annual deductible is $166 compared to $6000, after which I pay 20% of better negotiated prices, and many more physicians accept Medicare than my previous insurance.

Gisele is still on her Aetna PPO plan, for another year. We have had so many issues with physicians apparently being “in-network”, but then not appearing on their internal list. It has taken several hour-long phone calls, and I’m not sure it is straightened out yet.

If you ask a physician’s office, “Do you take Medicare?”, usually they will say yes, but in any event they will know immediately whether or not they do. With our other policies, it’s “Which insurer? Which Group Plan? Which network? We’ll have to check…”

Medicare is very similar to the universal coverage that most developed countries have (did I say “most”? I mean every one except the USA). Can we find a way to extend it to everyone?

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Off to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

July 28th, 2016 · 2 Comments

In many ways, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is nicer than the South Rim. There are fewer people, and it’s at a higher elevation which results in cooler temperatures, more rainfall and consequently lusher vegetation. On the downside, it takes a lot longer to get there from here. And though there are fewer people, they are compressed into a smaller area, so it still feels crowded. But it’s not hard to get away from the crowds.

We left Thursday morning. As we were driving out of town, the Lane Keeping Assist on Gisele’s Accord was not working. It would not lock on to the lanes. I was in a panic; Would I end up having to steer the car all they way there? 🙂
But stopping and restarting the car rebooted the system and it started working fine, with no problems the rest of the way. Whew!

We really enjoyed our stay. We were unable to get a cabin for the four nights, so we stayed in the motel the first two nights. It was actually OK — the motel is at the far end of the visitor area, and we were at the far end of the motel, so it was quiet. There was a bench outside our door that looked out over the ponderosa forest, and I spent quite a bit of time sitting there reading.

The last two nights we moved into a cabin, which in most ways was nicer; bigger and quite close to the Lodge. It was very warm (mid-80s) and unlike the motel it didn’t have a ceiling fan, but that wasn’t a big problem. Some of the cabins look out over the rim, but in retrospect I’m glad we didn’t get one of those. There is a trail between the cabins and the rim, so you would have people walking by your front door all day long — 20 or 30 feet away, but still too close for my taste. It was quieter where we were, near the middle of the group.


We took a walk about a mile below the rim on the North Kaibab Trail, which is actually part of the Rim-to-Rim trail, and part of the Arizona Trail that Dale has been hiking (and I’ve joined him on a few sections). Having hiked the trail to the river from the South Rim, I can say that the North Rim seems like a more pleasant hike, in that there are lots more trees and it seems a little less steep. The trails down the South Rim are mostly bare rock.

Below the Rim

On the days leading up to our arrival there had been a fire near the North Rim. During the first few days there, scenic roads were closed. The last full day of our stay, they opened the road to Cape Royal and Imperial Point so we took a drive. The views from the lookouts have been captured by better photographers than us, so I won’t post those, but on the way we passed through several burned areas. Here’s an especially bad spot.

Fire Damage

We had always wanted to see Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona. I almost waited too late to make reservations, but was able to get a spot on a tour on the day we left the North Rim. The tour was for 8:00am, and we were 2 1/2 hours away, so it meant getting up at 4:30 so we could leave by 5:30. But it was well worth it. It’s truly an amazing place, ranging between 5 and 10 feet wide, around 120 feet deep and several hundred feet long. The only disappointments I had was that we had to join a tour, it was crowded, and the guide told us nothing about the history or natural history of the canyon. It was all “See the bear?” and “There’s Lincoln’s face”. I have no interest in seeing faces in random patterns, I want to understand what happened and how it was created.

Antelope Canyon

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Bulb Life, Again!

July 12th, 2016 · 5 Comments

How exciting!

Just a brief followup on the bulb life experiment I started in 2000 (Here and here . My kitchen has 7 PAR30 bulbs in the ceiling. Back when I was using incandescent bulbs, average life was less than a year, so on average I was changing every bulb more often than every year, or about 8 or so total bulb changes per year.

Since finally converting entirely to fluorescent and LED bulbs, I haven’t had to replace a single bulb in 4 1/2 years. They really do last longer than incandescent bulbs, and I’ve thereby avoided about 36 changes over this time.

I kind of wish my fluorescent bulbs would burn out so I could replace them with LED bulbs. I prefer the instant on, but most of my fluorescents take a while to warm up.

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Tire Rolling Resistance

June 2nd, 2016 · 7 Comments

What an exciting topic! 😉

I had to replace the tires on my Volt so I went to Costco to see what they recommended. They put me in a set of Michelin Premier tires. I know these are excellent tires, but they fail badly at one criteria that is very important to a Volt owner: Rolling Resistance.

I normally got around 40 miles of range on a full battery charge, on the old “OEM” tires. With the Michelin’s I was only getting about 32 miles, a 20% reduction in range! It was unacceptable, so I took them back, taking advantage of Costco’s 30-day return policy. They guy didn’t seem very happy about it, but he didn’t outright object, and it’s no money out of his pocket anyway. And I had told them when I bought them that I wanted low rolling resistance tires. I don’t think the guy really knew anything about that.

After some research, I replaced them with Bridgestone Ecopia Plus tires, especially designed with low rolling resistance for electric cars and hybrids.

Hooray! I hit 42 miles today, bettering even the original tires. It’s what Costco should have put me in to begin with.

They seem to handle just as well as the originals and the Michelins, and are maybe a little quieter. I’m happy!

I have to assume that tires have just as large an effect on gas mileage too. It’s surprising that rolling resistance isn’t a bigger factor in tire sales.

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Chrome Mobile Friendly

May 2nd, 2016 · 1 Comment

I hate it when I load a web page on my phone, and just as I start reading, more ads or images load and the text gets bumped up or down on the page. Sometimes this happens multiple times until the article finally completely loads.

Ad blocking programs help this on my PC, but it’s hard to run an ad blocker on my phone. Most of them require “rooting” the phone, which creates difficulties and problems all its own, such as OS updates and security issues.

There is one solution I’ve found that helps a lot. It’s not perfect, but good enough that I use it with almost every article I read on the web. Chrome’s Mobile Friendly Mode, or Reader Mode. It strips out all ads, videos and most of the side text and images that are not embedded directly in the text, giving mostly plain text to read.

The downside is that all the ads still load, so it won’t decrease your data usage, but if I don’t have to see them I don’t mind. This also has the advantage that web sites that look for ad blockers won’t know you aren’t seeing their ads.

It’s included with Chrome for Android, but has to be enabled. To enable, type “chrome://flags” in the address bar in Chrome. About half-way down look for “Reader Mode triggering” (do a “Find in page”) . You can let Chrome determine which pages are likely to work, or do as I do and just enable it on every page (Always). Once in a while the page won’t load, or will say “No data found”. Just close Reader Mode and read the article normally. Note that you may have to restart Chrome for this change to take effect.

Now, when you load a web page you will see a new button at the bottom, like this:

Mobile Friendly Page

The button usually takes a few seconds to appear. Just touch the button to go friendly. If you scroll down without touching the button, it will disappear. Scroll back up to re-enable it.

Once in a while if it doesn’t appear I do a pull-down to reload the page and that often triggers it. And often the whole page has to load before the button will appear, so in those cases it really doesn’t save you any time, but I still prefer the clear, uncluttered page.

When I first installed this a few months ago, there were options to change the font size and color, but those options seem to have gone away; at least I can’t find them. I had set it to white on black for reading at night in bed and it is stuck that way, but that’s fine.

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March 31st, 2016 · 6 Comments

I just put down a deposit on a Tesla Model 3.

Sounds more exciting than it is. The Model 3 won’t be out for about 2 years, and details won’t be released until tonight. If I change my mind, I can get a full refund.

My plan is to wait and see what develops. If the Chevy Bolt (coming out this fall) looks good enough, I may opt for that. If the Model 3 looks a lot better, it may be worth waiting for. Main considerations are access to the nationwide charging network and AutoPilot. If the Model 3 doesn’t offer both of these, it probably wouldn’t be worth the wait.

We’ll see!

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Semi-automatic Driving

February 24th, 2016 · 9 Comments

We drove from Tempe to San Dimas in southern California today in the new Honda Accord. The automatic features were very helpful.

ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control) is great. You can set your cruising speed, and as you approach cars from behind it will adjust your speed to keep a safe distance. This is getting to be fairly common; my 2011 Acura MDX had this feature, and I loved it then too.

LKAS (Lane Keeping Assist System) is new to me. This is the first year it’s been available in an Accord.

LKAS worked surprisingly well. If the lanes are well marked the car steers a straight path right down the middle of the lane, allowing the driver (me!) to relax. I found myself looking out the window at scenery more than I usually would, or turning to talk with Gisele, or paying closer attention to the radio. I could take both hands off the wheel to take the cap off my water bottle. It took a while before I really started to trust it, but it was pretty reliable.

There were a few quirks:

– Going around tight curves it tends to hug the outside of the lane. It never went outside the lane, but it got close, so I learned to help it out a little and keep it closer to the middle.

– As night fell we came to a stretch where the lines were poorly marked and the reflective lane markers were spread pretty far apart, and the LKAS had trouble seeing the lane. I actually had to steer the car part of the time!

– Where freeway exits are not dotted along the edge, the car would sometimes try to split the difference between the lane and the exit, kind of pointing at the gore. However, this wouldn’t last long before it would either re-find the lane, or warn me that it had lost the lane and ask me to take over.

– The worst part is that it would only function for 15 seconds at a time if I didn’t move the wheel a little to show I was still there. It would beep, and then shortly after turn off LKAS. I started to get in the habit of keeping one hand resting on my knee, lightly wiggling the steering wheel to keep it active.

This is a good glimpse into the future of driving. I expect the technology to improve every year until eventually we really have self-driving cars. Tesla is pretty close now to self driving on the freeways, though it can’t drive around town by itself like the experimental Google car can.

I don’t plan to ever buy another car that doesn’t have at least this level of automation.

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