Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Using uBlock, an ad blocker, to block newsletter signup popups

There are millions of websites out there trying to get and keep your attention. Someone figured that prompting users with a popup asking them to sign up for an e-mail newsletter is effective in driving traffic and conversion rates. Here's a typical example

For the most part, it seems uBlocker's ruleset seems to either have grown to encompass these newsletter ads or websites have abandoned them. For the sites that still use them:

Here's an imperfect way of eliminating them. You have to do it on a per-site basis and it isn't foolproof, but if you are used to browsing without popups, it can be worth it.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention my go-to first method for blocking popups and annoying content in general. Disable javascript. In Chrome, click on the small icon next to the URL and the option to enable or disable javascript is there. This also bypasses more primitive paywalls.

Step One: Install uBlock Origin. Here's the link for Chrome and here's the one for Firefox. This method will probably work for Adblock/Adblock Plus although I find uBlock superior.

Step Two: Right click on the ad and click "block element"

Step Three: It's best to first click on the background until you see the whole page selected. uBlock will name the element being blocked. If it says something along the lines of "ad wrapper" or "ad container", block it.

Step Four: Again, right click on the ad and click around until you see the whole ad selected. Sometimes it isn't possible and you will have to repeat the process for all the parts that remain. But if you do are able to click such that the whole ad gets selected, that makes it easier.

Monday, November 16, 2015

De mortuis nil nisi verum

From 30,000 feet, the mass murders in Paris are not significant.* The global trend has emphatically been towards less and less violence despite the media narrative to the contrary. The Islamists have not reversed the progress made in lifting most of the world out of povertypeople living longerbringing people together, and reducing violence.**

In terms of causes of death or injury, global jihad probably doesn't even make the top 100. It probably cracks the list if you are living in the MENA region, but even then, I doubt it's that high. Don't get me wrong, radical Islam, and yes, by extension, Islam itself, is a problem. But it's not such a problem that it requires trillions of dollars and persistent bombings and military intervention to "keep us safe". If anything, we are less safe - though the establishment darlings in the main US parties think the solution is ever more intervention.

It's a little depressing. No, it's very depressing that the default attitude in one of the most prosperous times in human history is fear. Maybe it's always been that way. Fear when electrification, sanitation, immunization, telecommunication, and all these wonderful things were spreading. The fifties nostalgia and science fiction might have just been a thin veneer hiding fears of the prospect of nuclear war. But microwaves, computers, and the jet-age weren't fiction. Dr. Strangelove or Leave It to Beaver? Neither. Zeitgeist is sophomoric. The optimism of an age, however, was probably with the kids who grew up during the time. Maybe they should be the ones running the news.

I remember when I was in grade school, there used to be a show called Nick News or Kidz News or something. We used to make fun of it, even though the show was aimed at us. Most fifth graders are smart enough to know when they are being patronized but that never occurred to the producers I guess. They probably had all sorts of experts involved who believed it was just the thing to address some deficiency in some metric in some study produced by some think tank somewhere.

How do kids see the future? I hope it's not Hunger Games and other dystopias. What is this generation's Star Trek? Not the movie, but the show. Or maybe there are no more unifying themes in American society. The Frontier is settled, the Cold War won and we're just muddling through. Even then, how many actual frontiersmen and cold warriors were there? Very few. The Indians and Russians, maybe they were all a distraction - though is it really a distraction if it gives you purpose? I'll grant the jihadis that. They have a sense of purpose, even if it is in aggression and violence. I mean, just look at the places where euthanasia is growing! Places like the Netherlands, Oregon, and Switzerland. Peaceful, prosperous places, and people want to die. If life is without meaning or purpose, then death is not peaceful; it stings.

* Personally I'm not a fan of the infographic kinetic typography style, but as they say, content is king. Speaking of which, the content isn't completely accurate but it's pretty good. Accurate statistics taking in a war environment is essentially impossible.

** We see in the data that tribal societies are amazingly violent. Mel Gibson's Apocalypto was probably underselling it. The author files these under "non-state" violence which can be disconcerting to people, like myself, who view the state monopoly on violence as a negative, but it would be a mistake to conflate libertarian advocacy for non-state solutions (e.g. Alternative Dispute Resolution vs courts for the provision of order; private security companies vs police, private schools vs. public schools, etc) with a desire to return to a pre-Industrial hunter gatherer state.

But I'm very grateful to the work of people like Max Roser and Hans Rosling whose data driven approaches are an antidote to the sensationalism that drives the media.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

No Adam and your legion of hackey writers, the Electoral College doesn't ruin democracy

Democracy is already a ruinous system. It is the tyranny of the majority and the terror of minorities. It's hilarious how something that, by definition, tramples the aspirations of the minority through threats and violence is taken for granted as a good thing. Even the word undemocratic is a pejorative. Incidentally, it's always bothered me when a media outlet calls a government they don't like a regime. The Assad regime for instance. How that sort of editorial slant makes it past the style books, I don't know.

If I were writing bots that trawled the news to do some sort of analysis for feeding trading algorithm bots, noting a change in reporting from "[Demonym] Government" to "[LastNameGovernmentLeader] regime]" would be a good shorting strategy. Probably means it's time for a regime change and for the US to spread some democracy.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

More Tim Eyman, less Kshama Sawant please.

Most of the results are in and it looks like Tim Eyman's initiative to lower the state sales tax from 6.5 to 5.5 percent unless voters are allowed to amend the state constitution to require more stringent controls on tax increases has won. I'm happy to have voted for it although it puzzles me how such a proposition (with a lower case p) for such marginal changes that only a policy wonk could care about could produce so much opposition. The major state newspaper editorial boards were opposed which just goes to show that if you let the media shape your reality, you will lose touch with reality.

Most counties voted for I-1366 with the main holdout being Seattle. Not a surprise considering one of Seattle's major races was between a progressive and a socialist. The socialist Kshama Sawant won that one. She's famous for having brought in the bone-headed $15 minimum wage in Seattle.*

If she cares so much about economic inequality, she should mandate full economic egalitarianism. Everyone must be as wealthy as King County's wealthiest, who, in this case, happens to be Bill Gates. Until that happens there can be no justice. It's not fair that Bill Gates has a net worth of $80 Billion.

Since it's impossible to give everyone in Seattle $80 Billion (though Jeff Bezos would only need $37 Billion), the only way to achieve economic equality is through wealth redistribution. No billionaires allowed. Had Sawant's sociopathic vision been implemented earlier, there never would have been a Microsoft or Amazon which is too bad for people like me who enjoy Amazon Prime and Microsoft Windows.

Ironically, had there been no Microsoft, Sawant would likely still be in India.

In general, I think immigration and open borders are good things, but I'd make an exception for people like her.

* Unlike a lot of conservative commentators, I don't think this will lead to large scale unemployment in Seattle, not because minimum wages are immune to the problems affecting price floors (they aren't), but because workers whose skills aren't worth at least $15/hr will go elsewhere. Seattle's average productivity and per-capita income will increase and the policy will look like genius.

 It's a little bit like China's PISA scores. The PISA tests are meant to measure children's educational development in different countries but China's score comes from a favorably selected group in the wealthiest city in the nation. That didn't stop obsolete media outlets from heralding the Chinese educational system.

Not saying the Shanghai data aren't useful. Shanghai is a huge city and even if it is only partially representative, it suggests it could be an economic powerhouse without peer. It's not a surprise they took the top spot, not that international comparisons mean anything.

Data from international comparisons are useful, but these things usually reinforce the position "national" thinking has on people. It's like how talking about people in collectivist terms e.g. class, gender, race, nationality etc. biases the individual to think in those terms as opposed to the correct framework, see Methodological Individualism. This isn't to say that groups don't exist, but the nation-state and the inter-national system are constructs that take for granted the legitimacy and preĆ«minence of the state.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Where are you Yatima?

The following popped up in my RSS


As is usual with the Kurzweil AI site, there's a lot of useless speculation. Googling "Circular Electron Positron Collider" did lead me to the following comment regarding the future of high energy physics via larger particle accelerators:
Yatima says: 
August 8, 2013 at 3:18 amConsidering the way “western” economies stay mired in inflationism, debt traps and welfare-warfare statism — if China manages to make a soft-ish landing for their overleveraged, bubbling, export-slanted and cheap-labor-from-the-countryside dependent economy (as well as not fall into the trap of internal or external armed conflict), they might be a contender for a projet of a 2030 or later timeframe. They are flush with foreign cash (or rather, US gov’nment IOUs) and looking for national prestige so they could start on design work immediately. Is anyone talking to them?

In a lot of ways these huge projects by the Chinese government remind me of the good ol' days when geopolitics was the US and the USSR. None of this BRICS stuff or Islamic extremism. The relationship between the US and China is more like Firefly's "Alliance" than the Cold War's Rambo or Rocky, but the simplifying paradigm of a bi-polar world has a lot of appeal.

Two is none

I'm mailing off the Anova sous-vide device for exchange but thought I'd give it one last try.

Low Liquid. No worries, I can sous vide the old fashioned way so I grabbed my ThermoWorks RT-301WABlank screen. The older units like mine, which I'd bought in 2011, were prone to rapid battery drain so, not a problem; I had bought several of whatever the weird watch battery this thing takes just for this situation.

Swapped the battery out and ... still nothing.

I had it coming; the device only has a 4.6/5 star rating on Amazon. As I wrote before, 4.6 is basically junk. Ninety two percent. Suckered in by the Halo effect yet again. As a cognitive bias it's not an entirely unreasonable one; companies that become a trusted name have an incentive to maintain that trust. It means repeat customers and higher margins, though, there's always a temptation to kill the golden goose through branding leverage hell.

  1. Introduce a thousand SKUs with your company's name on it for a slight markup
  2. Maintain markup through status/luxury marketing. 
  3. Go bankrupt when exposed/fashions change.
  4. Sell trademark to a company that will destroy any remaining value your brand had
see: Polaroid, Eddie Bauer (or any outdoors company really), any of the LVMH companies, Black & Decker, etc.

The ThermoWorks' halo product is the ThermaPen. It is widely considered to be the best food thermometer in the business, or at least that's what Big Kitchen* tells me, so I figured the cheaper made-in-China RT301WA would be a Pareto buy - 80% of the capability for 20% of the cost.

It never occurred to me that ThermoWorks is a small company that is not going to be able to get the top-tier in Chinese factory production. I just figured that the company did the hard work and passed the savings on. But even $30 for a digital thermometer is netting huge margins which is why there are now more players in the space - all leveraging Chinese manufacturing. Worryingly, some of these, e.g. LavaTools, form some of the top picks by America's Test Kitchen and The Sweethome (a meta review site that increasingly looks like it doesn't have the art of meta analysis figured out. Back to consumersearch.com for me).

The RT301WA is no longer sold on Amazon though it is available on ThermoWorks' own site. It's been revised to use a more common battery with larger capacity. Even though you can still buy it, I can't help but feel like it is a fly-by-night product. Should have gone with the Thermapen. Quality only hurts once and all that.

The Thermapen is made in England. I tend to associate general manufacturing quality with car reliability and the fact that the UK doesn't produce cars any more says a lot. The Thermapen is probably a quality unit but overpriced. I wish one of the big Japanese electronics firms would wade in. Come to think of it, Panasonic has never let me down. Well, I did have a semi-rugged Toughbook fail on me but that was largely my fault. Panasonic rice cooker, Panasonic bread maker, Panasonic phone, Panasonic batteries, Panasonic camcorder, Panasonic digicam, Panasonic laptop. Now that I spent the time thinking about the Panasonic stuff I use, I'm surprised because I don't have any brand loyalty to the company. I think that's maybe because Panasonic is rarely the top of the line product in terms of features: Zojirushi, Nikon, Apple, and Sony tend to lead in those product categories, but it always seems to be a competent choice. Now there's a company I wish I had studied in business school.

* Linking the big names and companies wouldn't even make for an interesting infographic; they're mostly on Food Network. It casts doubt on the scientific objectivity of Alton Brown or Anthony Bourdain's renegade image. Alton Brown shills for Shun knives. Emeril has his line of cookware. Someday, we will all have meters and the the panoply of SI calibration equipment.