Run It Up the Flagpole

This is a special “extra” feature for Lives Matter? Really? Are You Sure?, an outtake from the original story above.

The UVM Student Government Association ran a Black Lives Matter flag up the flagpole on Thursday. Not everyone is saluting. The black flag is flying next to the American flag and the Vermont state flag in front of the UVM student center. Flags representing other groups have flown from the same flagpole.

Many dissenters think reported that an organizational flag should not be flown at the same height as the American flag, period. Especially at a place of higher learning.

The United States Flag Code establishes the rules for display and care of the national flag of the United States of America. It is a federal law, but the penalty for failure to comply with it is not enforced.


When the United States flag is displayed with the flags of states of the union or municipalities, and not with the flags of other nations, the federal flag, which represents all states, should be flown above and at the center of the other flags. The other flags may be the same size but none may be larger.

Displaying flags from different causes is probably OK in the UVM context but UVM itself, in providing the pole they ran it up, obviously violates the U.S. Flag Code.

Now back to the Black Lives Matter protestors…


Mayday! Mayday!

The NYTimes reports that, after Rep. Pete Gallego (R-TX) lost the election for his Congressional district in 2014, “researchers from the Baker Institute and the University of Houston’s Hobby Center for Public Policy polled 400 registered voters in the district who sat out the election. All were asked why they did not vote, rating on a scale of 1 to 5 from a list of seven explanations — being ill, having transportation problems, being too busy, being out of town, lacking interest, disliking the candidates and lacking a required photo identification.

“The vast majority of those who claimed not to have voted because they lacked a proper ID actually possessed one, but did not know it.”

“Nearly 26% said the main reason was that they were too busy. At the other end, 5.8% said the main reason was lacking a proper photo ID, with another 7% citing it as one reason. Most surprising, however, was what researchers found when they double-checked that response: The vast majority of those who claimed not to have voted because they lacked a proper ID actually possessed one, but did not know it.”

I’m thinking that if you are so spectacularly uninformed that you don’t know you have ID, you don’t know enough to vote.


I Solved the Problem!

Lots of people believe that all they have to do is shout and they solve the problem.

Bernie Sanders hectors us on falling family income and wealth inequality and sticking it to Wall Street.

Donald Trump blusters about politicians and immigration policy and making America great again.

Oddly, this column is not about politics. I don’t care if Mr. Sanders has a higher net worth than 85% of his fellow countrymen nor what country Mr. Trump was born in.

The AARP has a great series of “Take A Stand” ads that I simply had to plug. See, their braying, trumpeting characters take us to a larger truth.

Real people point us down the same road.

“I had my say,” my friend Ashley Proctor says, satisfied. Having had her say, she can go on about her day with the warm feeling that she solved whatever problem that angered her.

Ms. Proctor thunders on regularly about how I don’t want people to get health care and the evils of non-traditional marriage and even how long it takes to defrost a turkey (longer, she thinks, in the frig than in a cooler).

Do you suppose that yelling at me about any of those will change my mind or change her life?

My friend Dean “Dino” Russell regularly rants on Facebook about ethanol in gas and solar deniers and illegal aliens. He mostly uses ALL CAPS.

I’m absolutely sure Dino knows that the people who agree with him just nod and click “Next” and those who don’t agree with him just shake their heads knowingly and click “Next,” too.

And yet we still have ethanol in our gas (and the price of corn has quintupled) and the entertainment industry still thinks E.T. should be able to vote.

I worry that soooooo many of my friends think that bombast is all it takes to change the world.

So what’s the problem? Pissing in the wind is a good thing, right?


Human Interface Design: A Tale of Two Phones

Professionally, officially, I’ve never had much reason to consider how humans interact with the machinery I’ve designed. In fact, since my specialty is material handling equipment, I’ve had lots of reason to consider how to keep humans from interacting with the machinery I’ve designed. Belts and gears and pushers and pullers and blades and fingers should be kept mutually exclusive.

All that changed when I designed a boat.

A Tale of Two Panasonic PhonesI like how stuff feels in my hand, whether a boat hull or a nice shirt or a cordless phone.

Apple’s former “Human Interface Evangelist,” Tog Tognazzini, told Science Friday that Apple doesn’t deserve its reputation for good design anymore. (Be warned that SciFri’s SoundCloud will make you sign in just to listen to the file.)

Apple has a well earned reputation for perfect, intuitive gadgets.

Back in the old days of the 80s, manufacturers printed a long book (translated through Sanskrit from the original Chinese) of instructions and illustrations for most anything you bought. Tech writers ruled. You’d either “RTM” or spend the rest of the machine’s potentially very short life fiddling with it to learn how to use it. We techies bemoaned the day manufacturers stopped supplying that long, printed manual.

Apple fixed that.

Steve Jobs changed your life and mine.

“iOS raises the bar for excellence in user interface design and offers great opportunities for you to deliver engaging and unique user experiences. Consider these common design concepts before you start coding to enhance the usability and appeal of your apps.”

Apple made it not just possible but necessary that anything you hold in your hand be hand friendly. Or not.

Wikipedia tells us, “The goal of this interaction is to allow effective operation and control of the machine from the human end, whilst the machine simultaneously feeds back information that aids the operators’ decision making process. Examples of this broad concept of user interfaces include the interactive aspects of computer operating systems, hand tools, heavy machinery operator controls, and process controls. The design considerations applicable when creating user interfaces are related to or involve such disciplines as ergonomics and psychology.”

The industrial design field of human-machine interaction also has concepts that work across interpersonal relationships as well.

My friend gekko held forth on the latest modern management style: “The latest flavor of The End All Solution To Managing Employees and Co-Workers fades quickly and no others rise to replace it,” she wrote over here.

Exactly. Most of these management fads are pretty much designed by aliens who have never actually probed a human. The closer in me would like it if the “Human Resources” folks inventing this stuff had at least rotated through an actual Human Interface design department. And taken the flack that should come when they get it wrong.

Hey H.R.? There are more people doing the work than in your “sample.”

H.R. gets it wrong more often than not because they forget to test their latest fad on real employees.

Mr. Tognazzini makes the point that Apple did that, too, with their new, gray, “flat” iconography and text interface. If you’re over 50, you can’t see their new, gray, “flat” iconography and text interface.

Good DesignHey Apple? There are more people over 50 than under 25 in your test market!

Apple gets it wrong more often than not because they forget to test the design on their actual users.

I’ve written before about the Panasonic cordless phones I like so much. The phones have always fit my hand and my pocket nicely. They have a headphone jack and work excellently with my headset. They have plenty of memory in the phonebook and multiple ringtones that can be assigned to various numbers. They have built in call blocking.

I had to buy a new one. You can see the old black one and the new white ones in these photos.

Bad Design Sadly, Panasonic changed the cordless phone face. Just a little bit. “We’ll make the buttons bigger so our older users have a better experience!”

Except the bigger buttons now let you butt dial or table dial or hang up the phone when every you use it. The bigger buttons ride up on the sleek, curved, front face and stick out farther than the body. I saw that the first time the phone butt dialed my neighbor. You’d think the Panasonic design department would have noticed.

Panasonic got it wrong because they forgot to test the design in the real world.

There’s a moral in there.


Sale! Sale! Sale!

Americans lurve sales. We shop the grocery fliers. We bargain for our cars. We go to garage sales.

I bought milk on sale Saturday because it was “on sale” but it would be “regular price” today when I actually run out. I have to buy milk every few days, sale or not, but I try to time it to match the store cycles.

On the other hand, I’m in the market for a new-to-me pickup truck and a camera lens. I don’t need either of those today so I’ve been more picky waiting for the price I’m willing to pay.

Willing to pay is the key.

Ever tried to figure out what that new car actually cost the dealer? How about what the dealer paid for that “certified pre-owned”?

I found a car on sale recently. A dealer bought the car for $9,500 and spent about $400 for repairs and reconditioning. The car went on the lot for $13,990. That’s more than a 40% markup for some “floor” space on a gravel lot.
The eventual buyer “negotiated” the price down to $12,450 for that $9,500 car.

We trust used car dealers, don’t we?

The Interwebs have exploded with people discussing Mr. Sanders and his plans to tax the rich to fund free universal health care, free college, free birth control, free housing for the poor, and more. One poster wrote:

“Obamacare is a giant bloated horrible mess. Medicare is much the same. We can’t simply toss them in the trash, though, and tell everyone, ok now, go out there and shop for insurance same as you do shoes, good luck! Because unlike the kabillion shoe-sellers competing with each other for our business, there are only a couple health insurance companies colluding to eff us all up the ass. No matter what happens, they are guaranteed to raise their rates and make more money. Nothing and no one stops them, the way things are currently structured. Obamacare never even pretended to fix this.”

Mr. Obama lied.

The NYTimes reported that, Back when he was pushing the Unaffordable Care Act, President Obama lauded Grand Junction as a model of better, cheaper health care. “You’re getting better results while wasting less money,” he told the residents.
It turned out that Grand Junction’s Medicare billings were lower than average with no impact on health outcomes. “All we have to do,” he implied “is get the rest of the country acting more like Grand Junction, to get U.S. medical costs to drop.”

Grand Junction is one of the most expensive health care markets in the country for anyone on ObamaDon’tCare or any other private insurance despite its unusually low spending on Medicare. It turns out that Grand Junction has a small enough, healthy enough Medicare population that providers can cost shift to the private plans. Grand Junction has a big enough population with little enough competition that they can charge mostly what they want.

That works because a house call used to cost one chicken but today we have no idea how much your physician will charge for the half-dozen “procedures” that go on the bill for a simple checkup.

Have you ever asked your doc what an office visit costs?

And no one every notices that Emperor Obama’s plan has no clothes.

We need a sale!

Oh. Wait. Here’s a more personal example of costs and transparency.

SWMBO had a “screening mammogram” last fall. The bills included the actual boob crushing/digital picture taking, computer analysis, more computer analysis, and an assessment. The hospital billed $402. The physician who read the “film” charged $151. Medicare paid the hospital $104 and the doc $38, about a third of the billed cost.
No one at the hospital knew how much it would cost. No one could even tell us who would “read the film” so we could ask that price.
A south Florida provider advertises “cheap” mammograms for $799. The commercial doesn’t tell us if that includes just imaging, imaging and computer assessment, imaging and computer assessment and assessment, or something else.

We had no idea how much SWMBO’s procedure cost until Medicare sent us the make good on how much they paid. It’s intriguing that the total charge (not what we paid but the total charge) was less than the “cheap” one in Florida.

Medicare is like getting medicine on sale, right?

I’ve written about cost shifting before.

ObamaDon’tCare is like getting medicine on sale, right?

Rather than reducing costs, the Unaffordable Care Act has raised the annual cost of health care from $8,299 to $9,146 last year to a looming $10,000 per person this year. That makes it a $3.2 Trillion budget item. That’s THREE POINT TWO TRILLION DOLLARS.

Mr. Sanders’ failed-plan to expand health care coverage is pretty simple arithmetic. He wants to expand health care coverage by adding or increasing specific taxes (a 6.2% income-based health care tax plus a 2.2% income-based tax, plus new progressive income tax rates, plus capital gains and dividends taxes, plus estate tax). Total government spending is about $3.8 Trillion for the Feds and $6.2 Trillion for all U.S. Federal, state, and local governments. Mr. Sanders will double the Federal budget and push government spending overall to about $10 Trillion. That’s TEN TRILLION DOLLARS.

Mr. Sanders’ “let’s pretend we can do it by soaking the rich corporations” approach takes away the retirement of seniors and guarantees poverty for everyone else working for for a living.

We need a sale!

Many pundits believe all we need is some transparency. They’re wrong, too. Just knowing how much an office visit costs is only part of the solution.

The real answer is simpler. There isn’t enough money in the U.S. economy to pay for the current model of U.S. health care whether it is nationalized a la Mr. Sanders or market-based a la the national association of used car dealers.

Back in 2009, my treatise on fixing the U.S. health care system started from a simple premise: Health care in America is fundamentally broken. The numbers in that piece are still dead bang on. In 2018, I wrote then, “health care will cost $13,000/year for every man, woman, and child in America.” It’s 2016 now and we’re at $10 grand already.

The fix is a two-part piece, starting here.

This directory lists some of the earlier  No Puffin Perspective™ articles about the Patient Protection and Unaffordable Care Act signed into law by President Obama in 2010.