Son of Snake Oil

I may need to  start a new series

First some history. I have a gym membership, and I spend some time on the treadmill. The treadmills come equipped with cable TV, and you can punch in the channel you want. I was strolling and scanning CNN when they went to a commercial break. The first thing that caught my attention was this.

Some call me skeptical, and some call me cynical, but I’m cool with that. No surprise ,the first thing that popped into my mind was the F-word. No, it’s not the word you’re thinking of, but it’s a word you do not use when describing somebody’s business if you don’t want to get sued.

So I watched the ad, and I figured it would show up on YouTube back home, and here it is. Follow the link to watch.

Listening, I caught the correct pronunciation, and it’s re-VI-tive. You purchase one of these things—easy payment terms are offered—and you crank it up and put your feet on it—don’t know if you’re supposed to stand on it—and it sends electrical impulses into your legs, causing your muscles to contract and not, and the result is supposed to be less pain. Assuming you had pain to begin with.

Here’s a guy using it sitting down. The claim is you only need one session a day.

See the image at the top. This is “clinically proven.” Do we know what that means? They don’t elaborate. They do mention—see image number 2 above—the device is “FDA Cleared.” I wondered about that. They have an ad site on the Web, and there is additional language:

FDA Cleared: Giving you peace of mind

OK, not much. Another site was more informative:

What Does “FDA Cleared” Mean?

According to the organization, FDA cleared means that a device has been submitted to the FDA along with a 510(k) premarket notification, showing that it is “substantially equivalent to a device that is already legally marketed for the same use.”

In other words, “FDA cleared” does not mean that the FDA has approved the device, that they’ve confirmed it works as advertised, or that they’ve even tried it in the first place.

The Food and Drug Administration explains more on their site: From there I snooped further and pulled up this document. I have a copy in case this link ever goes stale, and the critical wording is this:

Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Document Control Center – WO66-G609
Silver Spring, MD 20993-0002

􀆏 John J. Smith, MD, JD
Regulatory Counsel
Hogan Lovells US LLP
Columbia Square 555 13th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004
Re: K143207
Trade/Device Name: Revitive IX (OTC)
Regulation Number: 21 CFR 890.5850
Regulation Name: Powered Muscle Stimulator
Regulatory Class: Class II
Product Code: NGX, NUH
Dated: November 7, 2014
Received: November 7, 2014

Dear Dr. Smith,
We have reviewed your Section 510(k) premarket notification of intent to market the device referenced above and have determined the device is substantially equivalent (for the indications for use stated in the enclosure) to legally marketed predicate devices marketed in interstate commerce prior to May 28, 1976, the enactment date of the Medical Device Amendments, or to devices that have been reclassified in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (Act) that do not require approval of a premarket approval application (PMA). You may, therefore, market the device, subject to the general controls provisions of the Act. The general controls provisions of the Act include requirements for annual registration, listing of devices, good manufacturing practice, labeling, and prohibitions against misbranding and adulteration. Please note: CDRH does not evaluate information related to contract liability warranties. We remind you, however, that device labeling must be truthful and not misleading.
If your device is classified (see above) into either class II (Special Controls) or class III (PMA), it may be subject to additional controls. Existing major regulations affecting your device can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Parts 800 to 898. In addition, FDA may publish further announcements concerning your device in the Federal Register.
Please be advised that FDA’s issuance of a substantial equivalence determination does not mean that FDA has made a determination that your device complies with other requirements of the Act or any Federal statutes and regulations administered by other Federal agencies. You must comply with all the Act’s requirements, including, but not limited to: registration and listing (21 CFR Part 807); labeling (21 CFR Part 801); medical device reporting (reporting of medical device-related adverse events) (21 CFR 803); good manufacturing practice requirements as set forth in the quality systems (QS) regulation (21 CFR Part 820); and if applicable, the electronic product radiation control provisions (Sections 531-542 of the Act); 21 CFR 1000-1050.
If you desire specific advice for your device on our labeling regulation (21 CFR Part 801), please contact the Division of Industry and Consumer Education at its toll-free number (800) 638-2041 or (301) 796-7100 or at its Internet address
http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ResourcesforYou/Industry/default.htm. Also, please note the regulation entitled, “Misbranding by reference to premarket notification” (21 CFR Part 807.97). For questions regarding the reporting of adverse events under the MDR regulation (21 CFR Part 803), please go to

http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/Safety/ReportaProblem/default.htm

for the CDRH’s Office of Surveillance and Biometrics/Division of Postmarket Surveillance.
You may obtain other general information on your responsibilities under the Act from the Division of Industry and Consumer Education at its toll-free number (800) 638-2041 or (301) 796-7100 or at its Internet address

http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ResourcesforYou/Industry/default.htm.

Sincerely yours,

Felipe Aguel -S for
Carlos L. Peña, PhD, MS
Director
Division of Neurological
and Physical Medicine Devices
Office of Device Evaluation
Center for Devices and Radiological Health

I have omitted some uninteresting stuff to leave room for the uninteresting stuff I did not omit. I am sure you are as impressed at the thoroughness of our government agencies as I was upon going through this very professionally-prepared document.

Final analysis: the FDA has not tested this device, and it goes without saying they are not vouching for its effectiveness. Buy it if you wish. Use it if you wish. Complain or don’t complain. Some have (excerpts):

15 Consumer Reviews for Revitive (2.7 on a scale of 1 to 5)

Got scammed by these guys

I tried to place an order yesterday, May 16th, at 3:49 AM and their associate said my order did not go through. I told her to hold while I call Discover and she agreed. I get through to Discover and they said she put two charges on my card for $394. She did not hold one minute to hear this. I called back several times to speak to supervisors and other associates on phone, and now they give me the run around that they do not see my name in their system nor phone number. Two charges pending on my credit card are sure showing up for $394. I have contacted to inform them of their scamming associates. Never will I attempt to do business with this company!

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

Swollen leg and ankle.

  • By David Wardley,
  • Auckland, New Zealand,
  • May 12, 2018
  • Verified Reviewer

Swollen right leg and ankle for nearly three years and getting worse. Arthritic right foot too. Leg scan last week showed no clots. Compression socks helped a but slow progress. After only three days of Revitive use while watching the 6 o’clock news, leg calf and ankle is back to normal size, foot is much better too, and pain is gone. Believe it!

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend [gave it 5 stars]

Disappointment

I don’t know if you can say it’s a fake or scam, but it’s not any good if you have much pain. It may help tired feet and legs, but it’s worthless when it comes to diabetic pain. I think it’s way overpriced, and I’d never buy one thinking it was going to help, believe me, I have one built in. I know they will never print this because they know it’s the truth, I’ve been typing this just for fun I guess, but I tried. Good luck, I hope it helps you more than it did me.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend [gave it 1 star]

It may not be the snake oil of legend, but it could pass for the son of snake oil.

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Fronting The Brand

Continuing A Theme—Number 5

The brand may be critical to the success of a business, and companies go to lengths to protect theirs. A company’s brand distinguishes their product from the crowd, and brand loyalty is critical to repeat business. What happens when you cloud your brand with your personal predilections? Examples abound. Take the case of Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter:

Papa John’s CEO Steps Down Following Controversial Remarks On NFL

December 22, 20171:39 AM ET 

John Schnatter, the founder of the Papa John’s pizza chain, will step down as CEO in the wake of controversial comments he made last month about the NFL’s handling of the anthem protests.

Schnatter will be replaced on Jan. 1 by the company’s chief operating officer, Steve Ritchie. Schnatter will remain chairman of the board.

The 56-year-old founder of the chain came under fire after remarks he made during the company’s third-quarter earnings call. He said Papa John’s — a National Football League sponsor and advertiser — had been “hurt” by the “take a knee” protest led by African-American players to draw attention to police brutality.

To be sure, Schnatter is a staunch conservative, his credentials being sterling:

In 2012, Papa John’s and Schnatter received media attention after he made critical comments about the Affordable Care Act to a class on entrepreneurship.

Schnatter hosted a fundraiser at his home for Republican Party candidate Mitt Romney in May 2012.

Schnatter contributed to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and made supportive comments about his administration in January 2017.

In October 2017, in a conference call with investors, Schnatter blamed the National Football League for poor financial performance, stating “The NFL has hurt us . . . We are disappointed the NFL and its leadership did not resolve this,” referring to the U.S. national anthem protests. Later that day, Papa John’s announced that the NFL shield or “official sponsor” designation on Papa John’s commercials and advertising would be removed.

On December 21, 2017, CNBC and The Associated Press reported that Papa John’s announced that Schnatter would be replaced as Chief Executive Officer effective January 1, 2018 by Chief Operating Office Steve Richie. Schnatter, who appears in the chain’s commercials and on its pizza boxes, and is the company’s biggest shareholder with approximately 9.5 million shares, will remain chairman of the board.

Ordinarily there would not be anything wrong with being politically conservative and proud of it. However, in most recent times American conservatism has taken an ugly turn, finding favor with racists, xenophobes, Christian extremists, and the anti-gay faction. Papa John’s mistake has been to publicly associate his brand with the political right:

Papa John’s CEO’s comments spark protests

Mark Fisher-Staff Writer

Updated 6:18 p.m Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 Filed in News

America’s deep philosophical and political divisions following a divisive presidential election are prompting dueling protests involving of one of the nation’s largest pizza chains.

The controversy began with comments made by Papa John’s owner John Schnatter that he would raise prices and cut employees’ hours to pay for costs associated with the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Those comments prompted calls for a boycott, which in turn triggered a call for a Papa John’s Appreciation Day today.

“Papa John’s has been targeted by the left for a boycott, for simply articulating that ObamaCare would hurt profits and force cutbacks in employee hours,” says the “National Papa John’s Appreciation Day” Facebook event page. “Stand up to this nonsensical and illogical action and support Papa John’s this Friday!” More than 17,400 Facebook users had indicated they were “going” to the Papa John’s event as of late Thursday afternoon.

Schnatter apparently learned too late that when you seek to divide your customer base you are drilling toward losing half of it. It’s a lesson impressed on others, including Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby. These latter two are privately owned concerns, and each impresses its fundamentalist Christianity on its brand. A result is I have friends (many) who will never set foot in either. Full disclosure: I never set foot in either from the outset.

Has the NFL been damaged by players who kneel instead of standing? President Trump seems to think so. All right, he may not actually think so, but he does say so:

…NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.

Full disclosure: I have never attended an NFL game, nor have I ever watched one from beginning to end on TV.

Summarizing, a major factor with Papa John’s is that it is a publicly held company, and its CEO’s first concern must be to stockholders. Meaning the CEO must not ride on the company brand to forward his private preferences. John Schnatter has only recently become aware of this distinction.

The Government You Paid For

Number 15

Somebody posted this on Facebook, and I thought it was kind of cute, so I stole a copy.

The subject came up yesterday after our house received a campaign email from Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who plans to run for re-election next year. See the link above.

Of course you never receive a single campaign email. These are like bosons, whose quantum mechanical properties increase the likelihood of other  bosons. To demonstrate we do live in a boson world, Greg Abbott’s campaign mail continues to populate our inbox. So, here’s the latest:

Barbara,

Our Texas economy is thriving under Governor Abbott’s leadership.

According to Forbes’ list of Best States For Business 2017, Texas’ economic climate ranks #1 due to our strong employment numbers and rapid growth. Companies are continually relocating to our state, creating jobs and spurring economic expansion.

During Governor Abbott’s first term, Texas has added more than 500,000 jobs and experienced its lowest unemployment rate in the past 40 years—and he’s just getting started!

Number 1! And from Forbes no less. That is impressive, but not the complete story:

Forbes Lists

Hey! Number 1 in economic climate, number 2 in best states for business and growth prospects. Number 1, number 2. Who’s keeping score? Forbes is, and there is more:

Profile

The $1.6 trillion Texas economy is the second biggest in the U.S., behind only California. Texas ranks first for current economic climate thanks to strong employment and gross state product growth over the past five years. In addition, there are 100 of the 1,000 largest public and private companies in the U.S. based in Texas, including giants like AT&T, ExxonMobil and Dell. Startup activity is also tops in the nation among larger states per the Kauffman Foundation. One of the only things holding Texas back is the education rate among its labor supply. Only 83% of adults have a high school degree, which is second lowest among the states.

[Emphasis added]

Besides ranking number 1 in economic climate, Texas also ranks number 21 in regulatory environment and number 30 in quality of life. Those measures might need some study. Start with quality of life, for which Texas does poorly. A quick reading indicates Forbes relies on “Mercer , the global human resources consulting firm.” Here is what Forbes has to say on it:

To determine the rankings, Mercer evaluates local living conditions according to 39 factors including political and social environment (such as political stability), economic environment (currency exchange regulations and banking services), sociocultural environment (media availability and censorship), medical and health considerations, schools and education, public services and transportation, housing and consumer goods.

Additionally from Forbes:

Western European cities dominate the list, with Vienna topping it for the seventh year in a row, followed by Zürich, Auckland, Munich and Vancouver, making the last one the top-ranking North American city. Seven Western European cities filled out the top 10. Düsseldorf came in sixth, Frankfurt seventh, Geneva eighth and Copenhagen ninth.

No North American city makes the top ten. Here is how North American cities fare:

In North America, Canadian cities ranked highly, with Toronto coming in at 15, Ottawa 17, Montréal 23, and then the first United States city, San Francisco, ringing in at 28.

All right, now, we are getting close. How about cities in the U.S.A.?”

In the U.S., the City by the Bay was followed by Boston (34), Honolulu  (35), Chicago (43), New York City (44), Los Angeles at (49), and Washington DC (51).

No Texas city makes the cut in the revealed rankings. You will be heartened to know that Baghdad and Damascus round out the bottom of Mercer’s list.

But Texas is number 21 in regulatory environment. I performed a quick search to determine which numbers are best, high numbers or low numbers. Forbes seems to say that compliance with government regulations is a burden on businesses, so does that mean Texas ranks close to the middle in state-imposed regulations?

We do know this. Texas is a major center for the petrochemical industry, and the hazards related to these operations are acknowledged. Anybody who lives near an oil refinery or has driven past one on a good day will know these operations make their presence known. Government regulations dictate what must be done to minimize the risk of catastrophic events, and they also place restrictions on the amount and type of pollutants refineries can emit.

Enough said about that. Governor Abbott’s letter concludes:

Governor Abbott knows that small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we must create an environment that encourages more Texas entrepreneurs to start and grow their enterprises.
Texas deserves a champion of economic liberty—that’s Governor Abbott.

We are glad to learn this comes with the added bonus of an undereducated workforce and a less than standard quality of life.

Keep reading. The Governor will have more to say.

Amazon Adventure

This should get the conversation started:

Late 14c., via Old French (13c.) or Latin, from Greek Amazon (mostly in plural Amazones) “one of a race of female warriors in Scythia,” probably from an unknown non-Indo-European word, or possibly from an Iranian compound *ha-maz-an- “(one) fighting together” [Watkins], but in folk etymology long derived from a- “without” + mazos, variant of mastos “breast;” hence the story that the Amazons cut or burned off one breast so they could draw bowstrings more efficiently. Also used generally in early Modern English of female warriors; strong, tall, or masculine women; and the queen in chess.

I don’t know if that’s what Jeff Bezos had in mind when he founded the company, but I have been doing business with the concern for over two decades. Sometimes the adventure is beyond comprehension. Here’s the latest.

I purchased my Canon Rebel digital SLR 13 years ago from Amazon and quickly expanded my lens set by ordering a 28-90 zoom lens, which since then I have been using as my standard lens. When I upgraded the camera body to a Canon 5D, I kept the lens. It earned its keep, making me hundreds of dollars in image sales. And it is a cheap lens. A drawback is the top focal ration: f/5.0. That’s not so good for low light levels. For example, shooting (figuratively) Congressman Beto O’Roarke at VFW Post 76 Sunday night I had to crank the ISO up to 64,000. Makes for grainy images. I decided it was time to spring for a better lens.

Christmas is approaching, and I am sure Barbara Jean mentioned something about what I wanted for Christmas. When I suggested I was going to get the lens, she said OK. This was the same day she was suggesting we get a divorce. And here is where the fun with Amazon started.

I searched Amazon’s inventory, and this had the makings of an ideal choice. $329 plus tax. Shipping is free and also very quick for Amazon Prime members.

Barbara Jean and I were scheduled for lunch with the Free Thinkers on Tuesday, so I waited until Tuesday morning before ordering the lens. I did not want the lens sitting on my front porch while we were off having lunch in Boerne. Amazon promised the order would be delivered by 8 p.m. on Thursday—that’s tomorrow. I suspected it might come sooner, so this morning I checked the order status. Sure enough, the shipment was already in San Antonio and would be delivered by 8 p.m. today.

Some background. I was born in a small town somewhere out west of Fort Worth—even farther west than that. And that was a long time ago, and things were primitive, even for the mid-20th century. Technological progress continued to amaze me decade after decade. And one feature of modern technology I so much appreciate is the ability to track a shipment from beginning to end.

I logged onto Amazon a few minutes ago and noticed my order was out for delivery. Not only was my order out for deliver, but there were two deliveries ahead of mine. If the photo below were large enough you would be able to read the fine print near the top.

That was great news. There was no need for me to take a nap. My order would arrive within a few minutes. I refreshed the page, and the message said the driver had been re-routed, but my order would still arrive by 8 p.m. Isn’t modern technology wonderful?

I was about to check the status again, when the door chime informed me of the good news. I rushed down one flight of stairs and received the Amazon package from the delivery guy. Oh joy!

Of course I hustled back upstairs and unpacked the Christmas package. I pulled the Canon 5D out of its bag and unhitched the 28-90mm zoom. I clicked in the new lens and prepared to see f/1.4 come up on the display. I put a finger on the action wheel and cranked it all the way down. It stopped at 1.8. WTF? Then I gave the lens a closer look. WTF!

My confidence in modern technology was tragically shattered. Despite all the best Amazon has going for it, they managed to ship me the wrong lens.

However, Amazon has recourse for such eventualities. I opened the order page and clicked on the link to return the item, which Amazon will do for free. And I printed out a return label. Then I performed the next logical step. I checked on the specs of the item I had received. Amazon is selling it for $20 more than what they shipped me. So I thought, “Why not?” Some additional digging, and I found the appropriate link and clicked on it. Almost immediately my phone chimed. It was the nice lady at Amazon. I explained the situation. I was willing to accept the lens they shipped and let the matter drop.

Amazon was agreeable, and they kicked in a $30 credit on top. What’s not to like? I may in the future apply the $30 toward the purchase of the f/1.4 lens if the day comes I find I cannot live without it.

Isn’t modern technology just beyond belief?

Schlemiel-in-Chief

Number 11 in a series

politics-trumpdenigrate

Do I have to do one of these every day? Apparently so. I should have known before I got started down this path.

I usually avoid commenting on published opinion pieces. That’s because opinion pieces are just that, somebody’s opinion. And this blog is titled Skeptical Analysis. That’s what I do here. I do analysis of stuff, and analyzing somebody’s opinion is sort of like slicing Jello. OK. Bad metaphor. But you get the idea.

The reason I’m commenting on this opinion piece is where it appeared. Yes, it’s from The Wall Street Journal. You know, The Wall Street Journal, currently under the protective wing of arch conservative Rupert Murdoch. That’s cool. Murdoch’s World is a safe place for a pro-business, anti-liberal news outlet. Which is what makes this piece interesting:

President Trump meets with Shinzo Abe on Friday, and one subject is sure to be trade. The Japanese Prime Minister may be too diplomatic to say it, but someone should tell Mr. Trump the damage that his trade policies are already doing to the rural and farm-state voters who put him in the White House.

Yes, President Trump, recently elected in broad conservative victories last November, is catching flak from possibly the most conservative print outlet in the country. So, what gives?

I’m guessing what happened is Donald Trump, the darling of the far right, is not viewed as a true conservative by America’s conservative base. American conservatives have a number of deeply-etched policies, including:

  • Small government
  • Fewer government restrictions on business
  • A strong military
  • Fiscal responsibility
  • Low taxes

Add to that fewer restrictions on gun ownership, anti-abortion, promotion of Judeo-Christian religious teachings, and you have a winning strategy with conservative voters. The problem is, although Donald Trump mouthed all of these in his campaign, he added a bit of crazy not seen in American politics since Joseph McCarthy, over 60 years ago. For Trump, the Republican headwind was fierce. One by one conservative Republican candidates denounced him, save one, and one by one he demolished them. In November the crazies won, and now mainstream Republicans are frightened. Here is a President who, while spouting the party line, is lurching dangerously close to the brink of catastrophe. American business is going to be hurt.

What the WSJ piece says [there is no by-line, this is apparently from the WSJ editorial board] is that Donald Trump’s protectionist policies are bound to do something similar to what the American protectionist policies 90 years ago did. In those days trade dried up, factory output went unsold, workers were fired and could no longer purchase factory goods, factories closed in a cycle that culminated in the worst ever economic distress in this country’s history.

In this case the issue is not factory output, but farm  products. The United States is a major agricultural exporter of food. The WSJ item provides a pair of graphics to illustrate.

First is a short list of farm exports. The table indicates 77.3% of American cotton production is exported, not consumed in this country.  Add to that 71.9 % of the tree nut (especially walnuts and almonds), 52.4% of rice (eat your heart out, PRC), 50.6 of wheat, and more. Farm products are definitely a significant contribution to this country’s balance of trade.

politics-economicswsjfarmersexports

So, whom do we not want to piss off? Who are the people gobbling up our farm products and who could possibly retaliate by doing their shopping elsewhere? The table shows Canada is our biggest customer. Hey, they are just beyond a border almost without bridges, and their short growing season is not amenable to many of the farm products they require. Next comes the PRC. This is the most populous nation on the planet, and they are unable to feed themselves. The PRC is a major exporters of manufactured products to the United States, and their agricultural imports, again, help ameliorate the current trade imbalance we have with them. And Mexico! Mexico, close behind Canada and the PRC, is a major customer, which Donald Trump’s planned policies will likely piss off to the tune of $17.7 billion a year.

politics-economicswsjconsumersofamericanfood

The WSJ concludes, in the face of the Schlemiel-in-Chief’s wildest expectations, free-trade is a boon to American business.

The bigger political picture for the Trump White House is that U.S. agriculture is already struggling amid a strong dollar and declining export volumes. Net farm income dropped 15% to about $68 billion last year, the lowest since 2009, according to the Agriculture Department. Unless Mr. Trump wants to compensate with more taxpayer subsidies, the best way to boost incomes is to let farmers sell in more markets, not fewer.

One reason the U.S. benefits from free-trade deals is that America has among the lowest import barriers on earth (5% average for agriculture), so new agreements tear down levies abroad and open new markets. President Trump should consider that reality before escalating on trade—and betraying the Farm Belt voters who are relying on him to bring growth and opportunity.

Is Trump about to renegotiate NAFTA, even strangle it? Despite what many of his supporters have screamed for, and he has repeatedly promised, President Trump is likely to incur less than gentle opposition from a Congress that has to face angry voters every few  months. Farmers, who rallied for Trump all last year, who joined in on shouts of “Lock Her Up!” may soon be shouting “Shut Him Down!”

The drama is not over. Keep reading.

Hello, I’m the 21st century, and I’m here to take your job.

technology-trace-01

TRACE, a machine that reads bank checks

I spent nearly 50 years of my life as an engineer, and I think I know when it first started. It was in 1971 that I begin to work in earnest to eliminate people’s jobs.

There was a small engineering consulting company in Austin, and we received a contract from a concern called Autotronic Systems, Inc. Ignoring the name, the company was headquartered in Houston, and they had a chain of self-service gas stations about the country. That was an innovation in 1971, pumping your own gas. It eliminated the job of the smiley attendant, who also checked your oil and wiped your windshield. Our job was to design equipment that fit inside the gas pump and recorded the amount of fuel pumped and the amount charged. The data were transmitted to another device we designed that would store daily sales data and at night phone the home office and transmit the information. Wayne van Citters and I did the software for the home office computer. People lost their jobs.

Two years later  I was working for a company in Irving, Texas, and what they did was build machinery that read the sales receipts from gas stations and did all the sales computation. Their machinery would also read bank checks, printed forms, and mail addresses on envelopes. We eliminated the jobs of the people who previously did this data entry.

In  particular, the company worked on a program to eliminate Post Office workers who eyed addresses and typed them in, or just entered the ZIP code if that was available. Twelve such work stations fed huge machines by Pitney-Bowes that then sorted the mail to the appropriate collection bins. The huge machine was appropriately call a Letter Sorter Machine (LSM). Jobs were eliminated.

I worked a few weeks at a test operation at the Post Office on 8th Avenue in Manhattan, across the street from Madison Square Garden. Postal workers did not like us. There was back room talk of workers sabotaging the machines. Eventually the company I worked for lost the contract to IBM, and I was fired. But the next day I went back  to work for them and did more mischief, eliminating jobs for several more years.

My first patent was for a machine that wrapped a band around a stack of dollar bills. It didn’t have to be one-dollar bills, it would put the strap around 100 bills of any denomination. We sold this system to the Federal Reserve Bank, and my invention eliminated the job of the person who used to put the strap on. Who wanted that job, anyway?

The same company was also a leader in the development of the ATM (automated teller machine). These machines are still around, and they have eliminated thousands of jobs in the banking industry. Docutel was the company that developed ATMs, and it was acquired by Olivetti.

Next I worked on weapons systems for the United States military. You could say I eliminated soldiers’ jobs by automating the work of killing people. My first project involved automating the location of submarines by sonar. I did the software.

My life of developing computer software aimed at eliminating the human element from all manner of tasks. My wife worked for an engineering company, and she was the business manager. She hired me to develop computer software to automate the repetitious accounting tasks. This was before the days of Quick Books.

I finally quit the business of killing jobs four years ago. It’s now the 21st century, and those jobs are not coming back. People are looking for things to do.

Donald Trump campaigned on the basis of a multitude of promises. One promise was to bring back jobs that have been lost in the coal industry. Disinterested parties have looked at this and wondered aloud who would want to go back to working in a coal mine. Nevertheless, idle miners are now looking ahead to going back underground and chewing at the coal seams, or else, sawing off the tops of mountains and scooping up the exposed coal.

But it’s not just safety and environmental concerns that are killing the coal jobs. The 21st century is killing coal jobs. Nuclear power, natural gas-fired power plants, and finally solar and wind power are killing coal jobs. These jobs are not coming back.

Progressive politicians bring us good news. Green power, they promise, will bring back the jobs lost at the coal mines. There is an enormous industry being created to produce wind turbines and solar farms. The new industry will create in the order of 100,000 new jobs, far exceeding the 30,000 lost at the mines.

Not so fast. These green power jobs are not permanent. Once the solar and wind farms are constructed and brought on-line, the industry will only need people to maintain these facilities and to expand them as power needs increase. Unlike coal, wind blows when you are not looking, and the sun comes up every morning. There is no need for the man to shovel sunshine onto a solar panel.

It’s much the same with the automobile industry. Teams of workers who used to assemble automobiles in the United States and in other countries have been replaced by robots. The major industries of electronics and computers would be impossible without the complete automation of just about all processes involved. Watch a video of computer disk drives being manufactured, and you will get an appreciation of the minuscule degree of direct human involvement.

It’s coming to be much the same in all major industries. Retail is eliminating the sales clerk who spends 30 minutes with a customer looking at a $30 pair of shoes without buying. Amazon started it with books, but the trend continues upward. The elimination of human-driven retail drives customer costs down, making it better for the economy all around, but at the cost of out-of-work sales staff.

Will there ever come a time when people will no longer need to be directly involved in producing goods and services? It’s hard to say. Many jobs I (and others) predicted would never go away are now gone for good. Economics, like nature, seeks the steady state. Eliminating jobs reduces the cost of products, but it also eliminates the customer who is supposed to pay for the products. Eventually a balance will be obtained, but at what level? In the meantime, workers are shuffling and trying to adjust, or not. The coal miners of West Virginia just defeated a candidate who promised to eliminate their jobs.

Will workers be able to vote their jobs back? Not likely. When it has been tried it has failed. Communism was a political approach to managing the economy, and it resulted in near 100% employment at the cost of dismal standards of living. This reality killed communism and the Soviet Union, but communism still thrives in the PRC, Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba. I am not mentioning North Korea, which seems to be a special case.

In conclusion, if you recently, or a long time ago, lost your job because of me, don’t bother trying to find me. First, it would not be worth your effort, and second you would be chasing the wrong perpetrator. It was the 21st century that took your job.

Don’t Bump The Trump

One of a series

A warning for those who chance to meet a wild Trump coming home late at night, past a graveyard, all alone in a storm: Don’t bump the Trump. [With apologies to Shel Silverstein.]

I started this thing about presidential candidate Donald Trump four weeks ago with no idea where it was heading. Now I find I will be able to post a new item every day from now until November without repeating myself. Thank you, Mr. Trump. It’s the nicest thing anybody’s ever done for me. Thank you very, very, very much!

Self-obsessed billionaire Donald Trump earlier snatched the campaign torch from the Republican Party by scooping up conservative America’s low-hanging fruit. Full disclosure: it’s something I proclaimed over a year ago could not be done. I was wrong! How wrong? Very wrong. I completely failed to take into account Donald Trump’s sterling business reputation:

Even before Donald Trump won the Republican presidential primary on a shoestring budget, the billionaire has been an innovator when it comes to his finances. The real-estate mogul, who has declared bankruptcy four times, has a long history of refusing to pay contractors, lawyers, and employees who work for him if he finds their work unsatisfactory. So it is perhaps unsurprising that several members of Trump’s neglected policy shop in Washington, D.C., quit last month when they found themselves the latest victims of the candidate’s unorthodox budgetary discipline.

Most of the people working at the campaign’s Beltway outpost walked out the door in August when the paychecks they say they were promised never arrived, according to a new report by The Washington Post. “It’s a complete disaster,” one former adviser told the Post. “They use and abuse people. The policy office fell apart in August when the promised checks weren’t delivered.”

But, come on. These people were, themselves, hucksters of the first order. Shouldn’t it be declared justice of the poetic kind to see them stiffed in classic form? It’s not as though the Trump campaign screwed over some school children:

Within hours of their performance at a Donald Trump rally in Pensacola, Fla., last January, the U.S.A. Freedom Kids were a sensation.

You remember the video: Three preteen girls in star-spangled outfits crisply working through simple choreography as they lip-synced an upbeat update to “Over There.”

That infectious performance kicked off a flurry of media appearances. The Freedom Kids told “Inside Edition” that Trump told them that he planned to listen to their CD all night. The group, which had been around for about 2½ years by that point, was a viral sensation largely inextricable from Trump himself.

Yes, the little girls were great. A scintillating performance. And was the Trump campaign ever grateful. Thank you very, very, very much. And not much more. In fact, nothing at all more. The kids, rather their promoter, got nothing that was promised for their appearance. Time and again it was the classic Trump run-around.

Now, though, the relationship is different. Jeff Popick, father of the smallest Freedom Kid and author of “Freedom’s Call” (the song performed at the Trump rally), told The Washington Post by phone on Monday that he planned to file a lawsuit against the campaign for violating its agreement with the group.

“This is not a billion-dollar lawsuit,” Popick said. “I’m doing this because I think they have to do the right thing. And if this means having to go through the court system to enforce them doing the right thing, then that’s what I have to do. I’m not looking to do battle with the Trump campaign, but I have to show my girls that this is the right thing.”

A Trump representative phoned Popick and asked for the kids to perform at an event in Iowa. The kids and their parents caught a flight and then drove the rest of the way to the event, only to be told they weren’t to perform. They could attend the event, but they were directed to not talk to the press. They never received any compensation for their expenses. Mr. Popick picked up the tab. A former Trump fan, his ardor has now cooled.

Thank you, Mr. Trump. Thank you very, very, very much.

Yeah, it’s game on. We are going to have more fun between now and November. We can be assured Donald Trump will never fail to entertain us.

Continue reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Don’t Bump The Trump

One of a series

Politics-TrumpFailed

A warning for those who chance to meet a wild Trump coming home late at night, past a graveyard, all alone in a storm: Don’t bump the Trump. [With apologies to Shel Silverstein.]

It’s game on. Self-professed billionaire Donald Trump earlier snatched the campaign torch from the Republican Party by drawing in conservative America’s low-hanging fruit. Full disclosure: it’s something I proclaimed over a year ago could not be done. I was wrong! How wrong? Very, very wrong. I completely failed to take into account Donald Trump’s fantastic business acumen:

Donald Trump often boasts on the presidential campaign trail that hardball tactics helped make him a successful businessman, an approach many voters say they admire. Those tactics have also left behind bitter tales among business owners who say he shortchanged them.

A review of court filings from jurisdictions in 33 states, along with interviews with business people, real-estate executives and others, shows a pattern over Mr. Trump’s 40-year career of his sometimes refusing to pay what some business owners said Trump companies owed them.

A chandelier shop, a curtain maker, a lawyer and others have said Mr. Trump’s companies agreed to buy goods and services, then reneged when some or all were delivered.

Larry Walters, whose Las Vegas drapery factory supplied Mr. Trump’s hotel there eight years ago, said the developer, Trump Ruffin, wouldn’t pay for additional work it demanded beyond the original contract. When Mr. Walters then refused to turn over some fabric, sheriff’s deputies burst into his factory after Trump Ruffin sued him. Trucks took the fabric away.

All right! So much for a bunch of sore losers. What does the real record show? Start with the silly meme at the top of this post. To enable search engines to find it I’m providing a transcript:

Trump Airlines……..Failed

Trump Casinos……..Failed

Trump Marriages….Failed

Trump Mortgage……Failed

Trump University….Failed

Trump Vodka……….Failed

China Connection….Failed

Bankruptcies………..Four

So remind me again, what makes him such a winner?

Since this blog is titled Skeptical Analysis, let’s dissect each of these points:

Trump Airlines: failed

Echoes of Trump Shuttle reverberate in the Trump presidential campaign. He bashed his rivals with scant justification, grabbed media attention with flash and dazzle, and relied on gut instinct to pursue strategies that flouted industry norms.

But while Trump broke into the shuttle business with typical bravado and brand mastery, he was brought low by a series of missteps and a softening economy. His lack of expertise in East Coast skies took a toll, and he was forced to give up the airline after less than three years.

Trump Casinos: failed

ATLANTIC CITY — The Trump Plaza Casino and Hotel is now closed, its windows clouded over by sea salt. Only a faint outline of the gold letters spelling out T-R-U-M-P remains visible on the exterior of what was once this city’s premier casino.

Not far away, the long-failing Trump Marina Hotel Casino was sold at a major loss five years ago and is now known as the Golden Nugget.

At the nearly deserted eastern end of the boardwalk, the Trump Taj Mahal, now under new ownership, is all that remains of the casino empire Donald J. Trump assembled here more than a quarter-century ago. Years of neglect show: The carpets are frayed and dust-coated chandeliers dangle above the few customers there to play the penny slot machines.

Trump marriages: failed

Donald Trump married the Czechoslovakia-native Ivana in 1977. A former model, the new Mrs. Trump joined her husband in his real estate development business and eventually held executive positions at the Plaza Hotel and Trump’s Castle Hotel and Casino. The couple became prominent in New York society and had three children: Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric.

In the 1990s, rumors began to swirl that Donald Trump was having an affair with model Marla Maples, a Georgia native. Ivana separated from her husband in 1990 and eventually won a $20 million divorce settlement. She went on to become an author, fashion designer and has married – and divorced – two more times.

Trump married Maples in a lavish New York ceremony in December 1993, two months after daughter Tiffany was born. The marriage was short-lived; the couple separated in 1997 and divorced in 1999 with Maples receiving about $1 million. She has not remarried and was a recent contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.”

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2005-01-21/news/0501220056_1_donald-trump-marla-maples-prenup

Trump married the former Melania Knauss in January 2005, after dating the Slovenia-born model for several years. In 2006, the couple’s son, Barron William Trump was born. Melania Trump later launched a jewelry collection and skin care line.

Trump Mortgage: failed

In the spring of 2006, the tycoon hosted a glitzy event at Trump Tower to introduce Trump Mortgage LLC, a new firm that specialized in selling residential and commercial real estate loans. He devoted a floor of the Trump Organization headquarters at 40 Wall Street to the new business. And his picture appeared atop the company website with the instruction: “Talk to My Mortgage Professionals now!”

“I think it’s a great time to start a mortgage company,”  Trump told a CNBC interviewer in April 2006, adding that “the real estate market is going to be very strong for a long time to come.”

Within 18 months, as the experts’ worst fears began to pan out and home prices began to dip, Trump Mortgage closed, leaving some bills unpaid and a spotty sales record that fell short of Trump’s lofty predictions. Trump distanced himself from the firm’s demise, saying at the time that he had not been involved in the company’s management and that its executives had performed poorly.

Trump University: failed

In blunt testimony revealed on Tuesday, former managers of Trump University, the for-profit school started by Donald J. Trump, portray it as an unscrupulous business that relied on high-pressure sales tactics, employed unqualified instructors, made deceptive claims and exploited vulnerable students willing to pay tens of thousands for Mr. Trump’s insights.

One sales manager for Trump University, Ronald Schnackenberg, recounted how he was reprimanded for not pushing a financially struggling couple hard enough to sign up for a $35,000 real estate class, despite his conclusion that it would endanger their economic future. He watched with disgust, he said, as a fellow Trump University salesman persuaded the couple to purchase the class anyway.

Trump Vodka: failed

“Trump steaks,” said Donald Trump. “Where are the steaks? Do we have steaks? We have Trump steaks.” The billionaire Republican presidential candidate was giving avictory speech in Florida in early March, after the Michigan primary. Behind him were American flags; beside him, a display table piled high with Trump-branded merchandise for sale. “We make the finest wine, as good a wine as you can get,” Trump said of the dozens of bottles of Trump wine. “I supply the water for all my places, and it’s good—but it’s very good,” he said about the shrink-wrapped cases of Trump water. Trump mentioned Trump Vodka, too. But there’s no Trump Vodka on the table for the TV cameras to zoom in on.

One week later, on St. Patrick’s Day, J. Patrick Kenny, the creator of Trump Vodka, is sitting in his New York office, sipping a Diet Coke and explaining what had gone wrong. Not even he has a bottle of the stuff left. “There used to be one here, but it’s gone,” Kenny says. “The company cratered.” Trump Vodka had problems, from distillery to bottling to finance. Even so, it would be just another celebrity’s doomed foray into liquor if it weren’t the project of a potential president. With no political résumé to speak of, the only way to evaluate the capabilities of Trump is by once again poking around in his exploits in commerce. Like his bankrupt casinos, closed college, and other dead-end brand journeys, Trump Vodka was a flamboyant exercise in failure. Trump, naturally, insists it was a triumph, though good luck finding a bottle today. Its slogan was “Success Distilled.”

China connection: failed

“The problem with our country is we don’t manufacture anything anymore,” Donald Trump told Fox News a year ago. “The stuff that’s been sent over from China,” he complained, “falls apart after a year and a half. It’s crap.” That very same Donald Trump has his own line of clothing, and it’s made in … China. (O.K., O.K. — not all of it. Salon, which reported this intriguing, head-scratching fact, notes that some of his apparel is from Mexico and Bangladesh.)

Bankruptcies: four

Hillary Clinton mocked Donald Trump’s business failings in a major speech arguing that the presumptive Republican nominee would be disastrous for the economy.

“He’s written a lot of books about business. They all seem to end at Chapter 11,” Clinton quipped, adding. “He bankrupted his companies not once, not twice, but four times.”

We rated a similarly worded claim from Trump’s former primary rival Carly FiorinaMostly True, because it’s not accurate to say Trump is solely to blame. (For the record, Trump doesn’t deny the charge and instead argues it was a smart business decision.) At the time, we found four bankruptcies, but since then, we’ve found two more for a total of six. So Clinton was right that Trump bankrupted companies four times, and she could have offered a higher count as well.

Let’s go through them one by one.

And, indeed, the Politifact article does describe six bankruptcies of Trump businesses. All this puts the meme at the top of this post out of the touch-and-go company of Internet memes, which means that all this Skeptical Analysis has been just for show, and these past few lines of print I’ve been flogging a dead horse. As I remind readers, that may be true, but I am not the one who slew the animal in the first place.

Yeah, it’s game on. We are going to have more fun between now and November. We can be assured Donald Trump will never fail to entertain us.

Continue reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Don’t Bump The Trump

One of a series

Politics-TrumpBusinessSuccess

A warning for those who chance to meet a wild Trump coming home late at night, past a graveyard, all alone in a storm: Don’t bump the Trump. [With apologies to Shel Silverstein.]

It’s game on. Self-professed billionaire Donald Trump earlier snatched the campaign torch from the Republican Party by drawing in conservative America’s low-hanging fruit. Full disclosure: it’s something I proclaimed over a year ago could not be done. I was wrong! How wrong? Very, very wrong. I completely forgot to take into account Donald Trump’s tremendous business successes:

Trump has a track record of piling up his businesses with unsustainable debt, and then having them file for bankruptcy. Per CNN Money, “no major US company has filed for Chapter 11 more than Trump’s casino empire in the last 30 years.” Under Trump’s leadership, just a few years ago, his company missed a $53.1 million bond interest payment—kind of a big deal. And lest Trump try to delude anyone into thinking that these bankruptcies were all just clever corporate maneuverings with no effects for him personally, note that to pay off creditors, he has had to offload huge shareholdings, yachts, and airlines.

Can’t be true. How could Donald Trump possibly amass his celebrated fortune if he were such a failure at business? Good question:

The emerging picture is an ugly one. In Atlantic City, Mr. Trump’s casinos failed even when the rest of the town continued to thrive. Along the way, Mr. Trump used company money to pay off personally guaranteed loans, and — after the 1995 creation of the public company Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts — publicly traded funds to bail out privately held casinos. The company has filed for bankruptcy five times.

Ouch! That has got to hurt. It would appear Donald Trump is the victim of rumors spread by a bunch of losers:

But a survey of Mr. Trump’s four decades of wheeling and dealing also reveals an equally operatic record of dissembling and deception, some of it unabashedly confirmed by Mr. Trump himself, who nearly 30 years ago first extolled the business advantages of “truthful hyperbole.” Indeed, based on the mountain of court records churned out over the span of Mr. Trump’s career, it is hard to find a project he touched that did not produce allegations of broken promises, blatant lies or outright fraud.

See? “Broken promises.” “Blatant lies.” “Outright fraud.” Losers, losers. Losers everywhere.

Yeah, it’s game on. We are going to have more fun between now and November. We can be assured Donald Trump will continue to keep us entertained.

Continue reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Je n’ai pas la clé

Now I really don’t have the key.

The correct key for the correct lock.

See the previous post:

OK, now I really do have the key. But it is an interesting story.

In the previous post I poked fun at business that do not really have a handle on day to day operations. The state of business-customer relations also came up. I noted that when my new house was completed in 2010 the builder gave me the keys to the garage door, said keys having been given to him by the company that installed the garage door. Said company being Parrish & Company, Inc., 26995 Highway 281 N, San Antonio, Texas, (830-980-9595). I also mentioned that Parrish and Company had provided a lock for the garage door and had provided keys to yet a different lock. I also mentioned that when I informed Parrish and Company of their error more than two and a half years after the fact they graciously offered to make good on their error. They, at no expense to me, offered to provide me with the correct key. They would hold the key for me at the front desk of their offices at 26995 Highway 281 N, San Antonio, Texas, and would exchange the correct key for the wrong keys when I arrived. It was the kind of customer outreach that traditionally warms the cockles of my heart. I guarantee you that on this occasion their generosity did just that.

And now the key is gone. Not only is the key gone, but the lock is gone, as well. And not only the lock, but the entire garage door. It happened this way.

On a Tuesday night last month came a terrible pounding on the roof. I was upstairs at the time, and I was sure it was the fist of God. Turned out to be only the fist of hail, but that was enough. The roof is history, according to my insurance adjuster. Likewise the garage door. Hail dimples reduced the door’s real estate value to zero, and today they replaced it.

But not the lock. And not the key. The new door came without a key lock—the man said they don’t do that anymore. I’m guessing they don’t do that anymore when the insurance company is paying for a new door and not me.

Hey! Mike phoned a little after nine this morning. Said the crew would be there within 15 minutes. Just time for me to park the cars down the street. They came. They had the door panels loaded on the truck, already the proper color. See the photo. And no lock. And no key. The key I drove twice on 281 to the northern limits of San Antonio is now surplus.

The good part is, these people appear to do this sort of thing for a living. In and out in 30 minutes while I watched. They’re Mission Overhead Door Service, contracted by Blackmon Mooring, contracted by USAA insurance.

And now I’m wondering what I’m going to lose when the contractors come next week to do the roof. Stay tuned.

Structural Defficiency

KansasCitySkywalkCollapse-01

From Wikipedia

I started my working career as an engineer right out of college, working for the university from which I had just graduated. And quickly I began to hear engineering horror stories. One was the case of the reversed viewport.

The University of Texas Austin campus had a new accelerator building where they intended to do research in (relatively) high-energy physics. It was a linear accelerator where charged particles were shot down an evacuated tube under the force some very high voltage differences. In order to do something with these high-speed particles you have to insert something in their path inside the evacuated tube, and to do that you have to work with a port, an engineered hole, in the side of the tube. That’s where the problem came in.

The carefully designed port was essentially a hole in the tube wall, and there was a vacuum flange built into the port. The vacuum flange allowed researchers to bolt a matching flange to the port, tighten the bolts, and obtain a vacuum-tight seal.

Came the time the researchers needed to add a new device to the port, and that device needed to have a matching vacuum flange. No problem. They sent over engineering drawings of the vacuum flange to the office where I worked in the Physics building. This was before I came to work, so others told me the story later, and it was funny. Sort of.

The engineers in the physics building designed the required device with the matching flange. Then somebody had the whole business constructed in the machine shop and sent it over to the accelerator lab. It did not fit. The bolt holes did not line up. You wanted to say WTF?

An investigation ensued. Yes, the engineers received the correct drawings of the vacuum flange. Yes, the new device was designed correctly according to the engineering drawings. Yes, the flange was constructed according to the engineering drawings. No, the damn thing did not fit. And then they revealed the source of the problem.

When the accelerator was constructed the machinist who produced the vacuum flange reversed the drawing. He constructed a mirror image of the port design.

No problem. The accelerator lab guys figured they could just make the matching flanges to conform to the as-built. And they did. And everything worked just fine, because it really didn’t matter whether the flange was left-handed or right-handed.

But they never changed the drawings. When they asked the engineers in the physics building to build a new device they never told them about the change. Nobody talked to nobody, and everybody just went along doing their work and drawing their pay.

A few years later lightening struck again. This time I was working for an engineering company, and we got the job to design and build a bracket to hold a gold-coated mirror for the McDonald Observatory. No problem. My boss had done this before. He had the drawings from the previous bracket he had designed. He gave me the drawings and told me to make a new design, only use a 45-degree angle.

I did that, and we had it built, and we shipped the finished product out to the observatory. There was a tight schedule. The astronomer had reserved only a small window of time on the telescope. The astronomer came out from Langley to the observatory in West Texas. We got a phone call. The damn thing did not fit.

My boss was non-plussed. What was the problem? We built the first one, and there was no problem. There should be no problem with the new one.

Actually, there was a problem with the first one. Only, at the observatory the engineers had spotted the problem immediately and had their machinists produce a correct version of the bracket. And they never told anybody. They didn’t tell the NASA guy from Langley when he came out the first time to use the telescope, and they never told my boss. And we spent government research bucks building yet another wrong bracket. And it was not cheap.

And this kind of stuff can be deadly:

The Hyatt Regency hotel walkway collapse occurred at the Hyatt Regency Kansas City in Kansas City, Missouri, United States on Friday, July 17, 1981. Two vertically contiguous walkways collapsed onto a tea dance being held in the hotel’s lobby. The falling walkways killed 114 and injured a further 216 people. At the time, it was the deadliest structural collapse in U.S. history, not surpassed until the collapse of the south tower of the World Trade Center in 2001.

This was another of those situations. The original designer, Gillum-Colaco International Inc., produced a workable design. You may need to visualize this:

  • There was a second-floor walkway, a third-floor walkway and a fourth-floor walkway, all suspended from the lobby ceiling structure by steel rods.
  • The forth-floor walkway was suspended directly by steel rods attached to the building structure above.
  • The second-floor walkway was suspended directly below the fourth-floor walkway, on the same rods. See the drawing.

kc_walk_proposed

The rods attached to the upper building structure ran straight down, passing through the supports for the fourth-floor walkway to the second-floor walkway. The rods were designed to hold the load of both walkways. The fourth-floor walkway was supported by the rods by threaded nuts, seen in the drawing. To install the nuts, the rods had to be threaded their length up to the fourth-floor walkway.

First some notes about the strength of threaded fasteners. An SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) machine screw will, under tensile load, pull in two before the threads will strip, provided at least six threads are engaged. If the nut engages at least six threads there would be no danger of the threads stripping under any load the screw will sustain. Threading a load-bearing bar, like a screw, produces some weaknesses over an unthreaded bar. Strengths of threaded fasteners are ultimately determined by putting samples in a testing machine and pulling until the rod separates.

The problem came when the builder, Havens Steel Company, did not want to thread all this much steel rod. They proposed an alternative.

kc_walk_actual

Now Havens needed to thread only a few inches of steel rod. Everything should work the same, right? No. Look at the drawing at the top of the page, and follow along with this explanation:

Due to the addition of another rod, the load on the nut connecting the fourth floor segment was increased. The original load for each hangar rod was to be 90kN, but the alteration increased the load to 181kN. The box beams were welded horizontally and therefore could not hold the weight of two walkways. During the collapse, the box beam split and the bottom rod pulled through the box beam resulting in the collapse.

For non-engineers out there, 90kN is 90,000 Newtons, about 20,183 pounds. Multiple rods supported each section of the walkway, so the design was safe for the expected load.

Look at the drawing at the top of the page again. There is something else wrong with the altered design. Offsetting the down rod and the up rod produces a shear force on the beam that was not intended by the original designers. GCI, Inc. surrendered their professional engineering expertise to Havens, a company lacking any such credentials. And people died.

All this came to mind a few days ago when a former college roommate sent me this photo from Jakarta.

IndonesianArchitecture

Here is what Byron Black had to say in his note:

Daddy makes enquiries. An architect friend hollers out laughing down the telephone line. “Oh that place! They hired these whiz-bang architects from Paris; the geniuses decided they’d go for a supple, light structure. Cut back on the reinforcing rods.
“Then the owner changed her cute little mind and added fifteen more floors to the original design. Wanted to sell more units.
“Nobody thought to tell these guys that the buildings they’d drawn up, and the precise angle they’d set them at, were going to pick up the wind and sail back and forth. Even when the contractor was building them, the workers all bundled up and scared shitless from the swaying, the architects never found out.
The owner added 15 additional floors. And never told the architects. And never changed the design to strengthen the lower structure to support the additional load.
I’m thinking there must be a Take An Engineer Out To Lunch Day sometime soon. Do that. And have a good talk.

Institutional Advertising

NorfolkSouthern-03

I believe this has come around before:

So now I’m watching the news on cable TV, and I see a lot of ads by Norfolk Southern. And these are really glitzy productions. There’s a cute jingle playing over the video (“Helping this here country move ahead as one”), and there are beautifully choreographed sequences of products being moved and trains and powerful locomotives moving in perfect harmony. Steven Spielberg, you need to watch this.

I considered it so odd that Norfolk Southern, a railroad company that doesn’t provide service into the region where I live, would be advertising themselves to me. Again this morning, as they have been for weeks, Norfolk Southern is showing all the stuff they haul. It’s impressive.

Cargo containers filled with manufactured goodies from across the Pacific.

NorfolkSouthern-02

Train loads of coal to fire my power plant. And steel products. New automobiles.

NorfolkSouthern-04

Would that I had that much stuff to ship.

But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the company is trying to build brand loyalty. If it wasn’t shipped by Norfolk Southern, then you don’t want it.

I’m telling you, it’s an impressive ad. There are these two train engineers talking over things in the yard, discussing what they’ve been hauling. They seem like earnest, committed railroad men. I’m sold. From here on out it’s Norfolk Southern for me and my family. Before Barbara Jean and I make the next purchase at the H-E-B store we’re going to ask, “Can you verify these carrots were shipped on Norfolk Southern?

NorfolkSouthern-01

Keep reading.

Fronting The Brand

CRW_5248

I started on this theme a few weeks ago:

When you have a business, when you have a product, you want a public face, a brand. Brand identification gives your product, your service, your business an association in the public mind. You want customers and potential customers to think of a need and to associate your brand with it. Well established, your brand becomes a valuable piece of property.

Chick-fil-A was the featured enterprise then. Now it’s Hobby Lobby. Full disclosure: The person who runs things in this house is sometimes a customer of Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby, Inc. was founded by David Green in 1972. The current president is Steve Green, an evangelical Christian. Green’s other activities include promoting Bible study courses for public schools. Here’s what it’s all about:

The Green curriculum “is like nothing we’ve seen before,” said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center and editor of a booklet sent out to all schools by the U.S. Department of Education in 2000 on teaching religion in public schools. “It’s unique in its ambition and its scope and its use of the latest technologies. I think school districts far from Oklahoma will take note.” So will civil libertarians. In an award acceptance speech last April before the National Bible Association, Green explained that his goals for a high school curriculum were to show that the Bible is true, that it’s good and that its impact, “whether (upon) our government, education, science, art, literature, family … when we apply it to our lives in all aspects of our life, that it has been good.”

That the Bible is good and that its impact is good—those might be negotiable. That it’s true—you have got to be kidding, Mr. Green. Where do I start? How about if I start in the beginning?

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

9 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dryland appear: and it was so.

10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.

12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.

[Links removed]

There is so much that’s wrong with the opening lines of the Bible. A casual reader will get the idea the entire book is a work of fiction. And that much is true. Some examination is in order. Let’s start with the first line: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Really? By all accounts this was about 6000 years ago. However, the Earth has been around for about 4.5 billion years. The “heaven,” the Universe, has been around maybe 13 billion years. And “God” created it all 6000 years ago? Is this a new definition for “true?”

“God divided the light from the darkness?” Really? (again) The division between light and darkness as understood here is another name for night and day.  Night and day should be a natural consequence of a round ball (the Earth) illuminated by a bright object (the Sun). No divine intervention would be required. And somebody is giving “God” credit for this. Really?

I don’t think readers really want me to get involved in the separation of dry land and the seas plus a lot of other foolishness laid out in Genesis. Let’s move on to some more interesting stuff.

Does the Bible even make sense? Hardly ever:

1. God is satisfied with his works
Gen 1:31
God is dissatisfied with his works.
Gen 6:6
2. God dwells in chosen temples
2 Chron 7:12,16
God dwells not in temples
Acts 7:48
3. God dwells in light
Tim 6:16
God dwells in darkness
1 Kings 8:12/ Ps 18:11/ Ps 97:2
4. God is seen and heard
Ex 33:23/ Ex 33:11/ Gen 3:9,10/ Gen 32:30/ Is 6:1/
Ex 24:9-11
God is invisible and cannot be heard
John 1:18/ John 5:37/ Ex 33:20/ 1 Tim 6:16
5. God is tired and rests
Ex 31:17
God is never tired and never rests
Is 40:28

Here is more from the King James Version:

And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

Really? “The Lord” (God) “could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.” Please don’t laugh at me folks. I didn’t make this stuff up. Somebody else did. Somebody else who obviously was not thinking it through. Earlier in the Bible “The Lord” created Heaven and Earth and everything in it in only six days. But when it comes to chariots  of iron, man that’s just too much. You know what, dear reader. If you can get hold of one of those chariots of iron then don’t let any grass grow under your feet. You’re going to be able to rule the world.

Should I mention the Book of Exodus? May as well.

The story in the Bible is that the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt and escaped Egypt and fled to the Promised land, spending 40 years in the wilderness. 30,000 of them. Then “The Lord” delivered them to the Promised Land, and thus began the rest of the story of the Hebrew people.

The problem with is all evidence indicates the Hebrews were never in Egypt en masse. They occupied those two hilltop regions in the Eastern Mediterranean continuously for more than a thousand years prior to the time the Bible has them migrating in. The fact is there was no scourge of newborns in Egypt, so there was no real “Passover,” and the entire meaning of the holiday is based on myth.

Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments. These are the Ten Commandments inscribed on stone tablets as dictated by God. And God plagiarized previous authors, because many of the rules spelled out echo existing tradition and law:

Julius Morgenstern argued that Exodus 34 is distinct from the Jahwist document, identifying it with king Asa’s reforms in 899 BCE. Bright, however, believes that like the Decalogue this text has its origins in the time of the tribal alliance. The book of the covenant, he notes, bears a greater similarity to Mesopotamian law codes (e.g. the Code of Hammurabi which was inscribed on a stone stele). He argues that the function of this “book” is to move from the realm of treaty to the realm of law: “The Book of the Covenant (Ex., chs. 21 to 23; cf. ch. 34), which is no official state law, but a description of normative Israelite judicial procedure in the days of the Judges, is the best example of this process.” According to Bright, then, this body of law too predates the monarchy.

Hilton J. Blik writes that the phrasing in the Decalogue`s instructions suggests that it was conceived in a mainly polytheistic milieu, evident especially in the formulation of “no-other-gods-before-me” commandment.

[Some links removed]

There’s a lot more stuff, and I feel safe to conclude the Bible is mainly myth and hardly ever true. If the Bible is not true, then is it in any way “good?” Depends on how you define “good.” If you want to know what Eastern Mediterranean tribes were thinking two to three thousand years ago, then the Bible will give you some clues. Remember, these are only clues. A lot of the Bible has suffered more recent editing.

If you want to argue the Bible is a reliable source of wisdom for formulating modern law and social mores, then you’re going to have an uphill battle. Some examples:

Judges 21:10-24 NLT So they sent twelve thousand warriors to Jabesh-gilead with orders to kill everyone there, including women and children.  “This is what you are to do,” they said. “Completely destroy all the males and every woman who is not a virgin.”  Among the residents of Jabesh-gilead they found four hundred young virgins who had never slept with a man, and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh in the land of Canaan.

That was about rape, and it was not the entire story. How about the love of God?

The LORD is a jealous God, filled with vengeance and wrath.  He takes revenge on all who oppose him and furiously destroys his enemies!  The LORD is slow to get angry, but his power is great, and he never lets the guilty go unpunished.  He displays his power in the whirlwind and the storm.  The billowing clouds are the dust beneath his feet.  At his command the oceans and rivers dry up, the lush pastures of Bashan and Carmel fade, and the green forests of Lebanon wilt.  In his presence the mountains quake, and the hills melt away; the earth trembles, and its people are destroyed.  Who can stand before his fierce anger?  Who can survive his burning fury?  His rage blazes forth like fire, and the mountains crumble to dust in his presence.  The LORD is good.  When trouble comes, he is a strong refuge.  And he knows everyone who trusts in him.  But he sweeps away his enemies in an overwhelming flood.  He pursues his foes into the darkness of night.   (Nahum 1:2-8 NLT)

Sweet. You won’t find many, if any, sanctions against slavery in the Bible:

If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years.  Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom.  If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year.  But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him.  If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master.  But the slave may plainly declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children.  I would rather not go free.’  If he does this, his master must present him before God.  Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl.  After that, the slave will belong to his master forever.  (Exodus 21:2-6 NLT)

We want to base civil law on these teachings? Really? Civil law based on the Bible would be harsh, indeed:

Note also that any one of his possessions which a man vows as doomed to the Lord, whether it is a human being or an animal, or a hereditary field, shall be neither sold nor ransomed; everything that is thus doomed becomes most sacred to the Lord.  All human beings that are doomed lose the right to be redeemed; they must be put to death.

This is the kind of stuff Steven Green wants our children to learn in school? Probably not. Let me tell you what is really going to happen.

There is going to be a Bible course for the public schools, but they are not going to teach the real Bible. There is going to be a lesson plan with the name of the Bible pasted on, but the lesson plan is going to outline social concepts and philosophies conjured up in the mind of Steven Green, and it’s going to be a plan to get people to thinking what he wants them to think, and spirituality is going to make way for political indoctrination whenever convenient. Such is the power of money.

Adventures in Car Shopping

I have this old car:

CarAndHouse

No, not that car. That car belonged to a friend of Tom, who lived next door. I mean this car:

OldCarAndHouse

I’ve had this car since the previous century, and when I retired over a year ago Barbara Jean and I agreed to sell the car and just keep hers. I mean, with nobody working what need had we of more than one car? I negotiated with a buyer, and that went nowhere, and in the end we agreed that we can still use two cars. We might not both always want to go to the same place at the same time.

Things worked along. Barbara Jean was thinking this car is now as old as some rock stars, although without so many miles. We should be thinking of replacing it. It would be the last car I would ever own. That was something else to think about.

We had always discussed that any replacement sould be a compact, and not a high-end model. It would be our town car. Cross continental trips would require using Barbara Jean’s Camry. We were thinking a Toyota Corolla.

So…

So Barbara Jean started perusing the local pre-owned market. She showed me this:

CertifiedUsed2014Toyo-1

This car was listed with six miles on the odometer. (?)

The local dealership had four LE models. Three of them were white. This was the only sliver. She did not want another white car. I agreed. We couldn’t just hop down to the dealer to take a look at the car. We had arrangements for an outing with Nancy and Gary. That’s another story. But before we left to meet up with our friends I did phone the number listed, and I talked to Richard. He said yes, they still had the car. Would I like to come down today (Saturday) and look at it. I explained we had other plans, and we would come on Monday (closed on Sunday). I did ask how a car with six miles was being listed as pre-owned. A car rolls off the production line with six miles. Richard said this sometimes happens when another dealership orders more inventory than they are allowed to. (?) We went off to the Arts and Jazz Festival with Nancy and Gary.

Cavender is a huge dealership in San Antonio, selling multiple brands at locations spread across the city. I watch Time-Warner cable TV a lot, and spots between entertainment are often filled with adds by the company. Famous singer George Strait lives in the area, and he is often featured in ads for the General Motors brand, especially Chevrolet. I often wondered what part of any automobile purchase would go toward what must be a sizable advertising budget. That is going to remain a mystery.

As the other story (above) tells, our adventure at the festival didn’t pan out, and we ended up having a nice lunch at a place called The Cove on Cypress Street. As we wrapped up lunch we realized the dealership was along the route home. We could stop and take a look at the car. Barbara would treat everybody to a yogurt afterwards. We arrived at the dealership:

IMG_4540

I told the lady who greeted me we came to speak with Richard. I had talked to him earlier about a car, and I was hoping he could show me the car today. She said she would get Richard for me. She went off. Somebody came to see us. It was not Richard. He said he would show us the car. We told him Richard said they had the car. He said we should go look for the car. It must be outside. I suspected it would be outside. We all went out side and looked for the car.

We looked in the lot by the sales office. We went to the lot across the street. I’m telling you, I don’t think Cowboy Stadium ever parked this many cars for a game. “How about this car?” the man asked. No, that’s not even a Corolla. This one? No, that’s not silver. Well, where is the car? We all went back to the sales office. It was a warm day.

The man went away. Another man came. He would find the car for us. I said, fine. Please do. He said we should come with him to look for the car. I said no, we would wait here in the air-conditioned show room while he went to look for the car. The second man went off “to look for the car.” We waited in the sales area and discussed the science of selling cars.

Gary had in a previous life done this very thing. He explained what was going on. The first man (not Richard) had first dibs on making the sale. He had failed. He could not find the car. The second man was lower on the totem pole and he had been given the shaft, rather the job of “looking for the car” and conducting some kind of business with us. We waited in the show room:

IMG_4542

It was comfortable there. And pleasant. Maybe that’s why Barbara Jean had told the second man we would wait 30 minutes for him to find the car. I mentioned I would have given him only ten minutes, then we would have been off to get a yogurt. Besides, in 30 minutes it would be closing time at the dealership.

I don’t recall if the second man ever came back, but a third man, wearing a red shirt, came and explained they were having trouble locating the car. Gary later told me, and I firmly believe, a dealership always knows at all times the location of all its inventory. I remarked that if Barbara Jean were running this operation there would be a computer spread sheet and a relational database identifying the location and status of all high-priced inventory such as automobiles costing many thousands of dollars each. We were long past concluding the dealership no longer had the car or else never had the car to begin with. Their aim was to keep us around until some kind of business could be conducted.

I told the man in the red shirt “Richard has my phone number. He will call me on Monday, and we will come down and look at the car. We live just a few miles up the road.” Goodbye, out the front door, to my old car parked a little ways down the lot. We all trooped over and started getting into the old car. The man in the red shirt rushed up to tell us he just heard from the office that the car had been lent to a customer. We thanked him for the information and left a message for Richard to phone me on Monday.

At the Yogurt Zone near the house we all had big cups of frozen yogurt, and Barbara Jean picked up the tab. Everything worked out just fine in my assessment.

Taking Liberties With Advertising

Liberty Mutual, wherefore art thou? I see thy commercials on yon cable channel, yet I comprehend not. Forsooth:

LibertyMutual-03

 

LibertyMutual-01

This poor soul had his new car destroyed by a wayward window air conditioning unit. He is so glad he has Liberty Mutual. Maybe some skeptical analysis is in order.

Done.

This man does not need insurance. The person who just dropped the unit on poor soul’s new car needs insurance. Right now.

So, why does Liberty Mutual feature this poor soul in it’s ad? Ask not of me. Ask Liberty Mutual:

Liberty Mutual Group, more commonly known by the name of its primary line of businessLiberty Mutual Insurance, is an American diversified global insurer and the third-largest property and casualty insurer in the United States based on 2012 Property and Casualty direct written premium. It ranks 81st on the Fortune 100 list of largest corporations in the United States based on 2012 revenue. Based in Boston, Massachusetts, it employs over 50,000 people in more than 900 locations throughout the world. As of December 31, 2012, Liberty Mutual Insurance had $120.1 billion in consolidated assets, $101.5 billion in consolidated liabilities, and $36.9 billion in annual consolidated revenue. The company, founded in 1912, offers a wide range of insurance products and services, including personal automobilehomeownersworkers compensation, commercial multiple peril, commercial automobile, general liability, global specialty, group disability, fire and surety.

[Some links removed]

See, Liberty Mutual does all of this, and still they advertise people who do not need insurance. Like this man. His car has been destroyed by a tree limb. He needs car insurance. He needs Liberty Mutual.

LibertyMutual-02

No he doesn’t. This man needs it:

LibertyMutual-04

Right now.

Maybe you want to purchase automobile insurance from Liberty Mutual. Maybe you do not want to purchase stock in the company.

Applied Cryptography

Not strictly about cryptography, but closely related. This is about hash codes.

MD5HashCodes

It was a long time ago. Maybe 52 years. I started as an engineering student at the university, and they wanted all of us to learn how to use the computer. Seriously, it was the computer. They had one. We all took the (non credit) course as part of freshman orientation.

You need to know right now that a large segment of the freshman engineering class had little to no interest in the computer. That meant that I and a few others (out of a class of hundreds) had the computer to ourselves. We spent a lot of our off time programming all sorts of stuff. And there was something about this computer. In fact, it was something about all computers in those days. There were no user accounts. And there were no passwords. You just sat down at the computer, and you were on.

Those were the good days. Later, working for a company, we obtained access to the university’s CDC-6600 through a phone link. It was shared access with user accounts. And passwords. I began to become acquainted with the concept of passwords. Later at another company we purchased shared access to another company’s computer. It was over a phone link using a printer terminal. You typed, and responses were printed. There was no screen. When you entered the password, the printer went back and x’ed out the password that had printed. Passwords had to be kept secret.

Subsequently there were VAX computers all around with multiple accounts on each, and I eventually ended up sharing a cube with a computer whiz who really knew what was going on inside. And he explained password implementation concepts. It made sense immediately, and I wondered that I had not thought of it myself. It goes like this:

The computer will not let you use its services unless you enter the correct password assigned to your account. So you enter the proper string of letters and digits. The computer must be comparing them with the expected string of letters and digits to determine you have entered the correct password. It must have a copy of the password stored somewhere.

Absolutely not. This would be a dangerous thing to do. If the password is stored somewhere, then some snoop, at least anybody with administrator privilege could copy the password and use it to spoof your login. Very bad. So your password is not stored.

What is done, instead, is to use the password string you have selected and use that string in a computation to produce a new string. That resulting string is all that is stored. Your password is never stored. When you enter your password, the computer keeps it in volatile memory only long enough to perform the computation. Then it discards it. The computer compares the result of the computation with the string it has stored and determines whether the results match.

But, you say, if I can discover the computation method, then I can just take the stored string and reverse the computation to obtain the user password. You could do that. If you could reverse the computation. What is used is a computation that is very difficult to reverse. Enter the concept of a hash function.

A hash function, in simplest terms, takes given value, a number or a string and scrambles it so badly the result is from all appearances completely random. In a useful implementation a hash code performs a “many to one” mapping. Here’s a short explanation of “many to one.” See the diagram:

ManyToOneMapping

The two ellipses represent mathematical “spaces.” The difference in size of the two ellipses represents that one space is larger than the other. The larger space contains more points than the smaller one. Now you want to establish a relationship between points in A to points in B. Since A has more points, multiple points in A need to map to the same point in B. This is a “many to one” mapping.

What can you do with this concept?

Suppose you want to capture the essence of a large document. You want this essence to be small and portable, but you still want it to be unique to this document. A hash code is one way to capture the essence of a large data set.

Enter MD5.

The MD5 message-digest algorithm is a widely used cryptographic hash function producing a 128-bit (16-byte) hash value, typically expressed in text format as a 32 digit hexadecimal number. MD5 has been utilized in a wide variety of cryptographic applications, and is also commonly used to verify data integrity.

MD5 was designed by Ron Rivest in 1991 to replace an earlier hash function, MD4. The source code in RFC 1321 contains a “by attribution” RSA license.

[Some links removed]

The reader is invited to visit the link to RFC 1321. This is where I obtained my original code for MD5 shortly after it came out. “RFC” stands for Request For Comment, and it is the means by which the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) reviews, accepts and publishes standards for the Internet.

If you want to use MD5 on your computer you can obtain the code from RFC 1321 and compile it on your computer. For this exercise I’m using a copy obtained with Cygwin, an application that allows users to run a UNIX-like environment on Windows computers.

Here’s a demonstration. I obtained an article published in the newsletter of the North Texas Skeptics in October 2001. The item is wordy, and I won’t reproduce all of it here. I will exhibit one paragraph. The article is about creationists’ use of phony academic credentials, and I discussed creationist Kent Hovind. Among other things I covered the misuse creationists often make of protein sequence comparisons between different biological species:

Furthermore, comparison of sequences for the different organisms show what should be expected from evolution. Although cytochrome c performs much the same function in the different organisms it shows these differences due to random DNA copying errors during reproduction. As long as the resulting protein performs a useful (and required) function in the descendent organism, the descendent will thrive and reproduce, and the error will be retained in the subsequent lineage. The further along the line of descent a particular organism is the more accumulated change there will be. If a lineage branches, as during the formation of a new species, the chain of differences will diverge, as well. The result is that the accumulated differences between two living organisms marks the amount of change since the two lineages diverged.

Ignore, for a moment, my misspelling of “descendant” in the article.To perform this demonstration, I captured the text of the article into a text file, and then I executed MD5 with the file as input. Here’s what I got:

$ md5sum message.txt
54eb1c5086598e9f925bb3ec30c215f0 *message.txt

The first line is from my computer screen when I executed md5sum, the Cygwin MD5 implementation. The command line parameter is “message.txt,” the name of my text file. The second line is what md5sum printed out. It incorporated every character in the file, not just the text quoted above, and used them in the computation of a 32-digit hexadecimal value. It digested the entire file into 32 hexadecimal characters. And that’s how MD5 gets it’s name. “MD5” stands for “message digest 5.” This is the fifth version of Ron Rivest’s message digest utilities.

How is this useful?

Suppose somebody pays me to do some research and produce a lengthy report. I do all of this and produce a big write-up. I send my write-up to the person who paid me for the report. And I get a phone call. My client says he received the report, but some things do not look right. It’s possible somebody mucked with the report before passing it on to him. He may not have a legitimate copy.

Rather than having my client send me his copy of the report so I can go over it line by line, I ask instead that he just execute MD5 against his copy. This is assuming the original is an electronic file. My client does this and then reads back the 32-digit hash code to me over the phone. I compare what he tells me with my own copy of the hash code. It’s easy to do. There are only 32 digits to compare.

Let’s see what would happen if somebody did muck with the report. Here is another version of the previous quote. Only I have made a minor change. Can you find the change?

Furthermore, comparison of sequences for the different organisms show what should be expected from evolution. Although cytochrome c performs much the same function in the different organisms it shows these differences due to random DNA copying errors during reproduction. As long as the resulting protein performs a useful (and required) function in the descendent organism, the descendent will thrive and reproduce, and the error will be retained in the subsequent lineage. The further along the line of descent a particular organism is the more accumulated change there will be. If a lineage branches, as during the formation of a new species, the chain of differences will diverge as well. The result is that the accumulated differences between two living organisms marks the amount of change since the two lineages diverged.

I made the change in the message.txt file and ran md5sum against the changed file. Here is the result:

$ md5sum message.txt
ca27c1bb6311517eb3ed51129bec0804 *message.txt

For comparison, here are the two hash codes side by side:

54eb1c5086598e9f925bb3ec30c215f0

ca27c1bb6311517eb3ed51129bec0804

A one-character change in the file made this difference in the hash code. Use of a hash function such as MD5 makes it very easy to detect minor differences between large documents. This works as well for binary images such as photographs.

I have a Canon digital camera, and it has a feature that embeds a hash code into each image. Canon keeps the details to itself, but the company provides a service, if needed, to validate images from their cameras.

Suppose I photograph a criminal act in progress, and later I bring my photo to court as evidence against the accused. The defense attorney challenges the validity of my photograph. I have Photoshopped his client’s license plate number onto the license plate of the getaway car in the photo. I say, here is the RAW image from the camera. Canon verifies this is indeed a RAW image from my particular camera, and furthermore it has not been altered. The criminal is off to the slammer, cursing hash codes all the way.

What makes it hard to defeat hash code verification? Two things. First the mapping is many to one. You could attempt to demonstrate the hash code in question actually represents a different data set. After all, this is a many to one mapping, so this hash code could have come from a different file. Hold that for a moment and go on to the next point. It is very difficult to back out a hash code computation. The emphasis is on the word “very.”

One way to back out the computation of a hash code is to find another data set that produces the same hash code. Good luck. A 32-digit hexadecimal number is a large value, and you really do not have time for the task of coming up with an alternative data set. The nature of hash code functions such as MD5 is that they offer no assistance to anybody attempting to come up with an alternative data set. There is no guidance in the search. The slightest change produces a complete scrambling of the hash code.

But back to the first point again. Suppose you did find (eureka!) an alternative data set. That data set would have to make sense. A nonsense strings of characters would not pass for the claim that the alternative text is valid.

My statement is a bit strong that backing out an MD5 calculation is problematic. But only a bit. That’s the conclusion of further research:

In 1996 a flaw was found in the design of MD5. While it was not deemed a fatal weakness at the time, cryptographers began recommending the use of other algorithms, such as SHA-1—which has since been found to be vulnerable as well. In 2004 it was shown that MD5 is not collision resistant. As such, MD5 is not suitable for applications like SSL certificates or digital signatures that rely on this property for digital security. Also in 2004 more serious flaws were discovered in MD5, making further use of the algorithm for security purposes questionable; specifically, a group of researchers described how to create a pair of files that share the same MD5checksum. Further advances were made in breaking MD5 in 2005, 2006, and 2007. In December 2008, a group of researchers used this technique to fake SSL certificate validity, and CMU Software Engineering Institute now says that MD5 “should be considered cryptographically broken and unsuitable for further use”, and most U.S. government applications now require the SHA-2 family of hash functions. In 2012, the Flame malware exploited the weaknesses in MD5 to fake a Microsoft digital signature.

[Some links removed]

All that aside, MD5 is useful for verification of data integrity internally. In a non-hostile environment, where people are not trying to crack your security, and you just want to verify you have the correct copy of your data set, then MD5 is careful, quick and kind. I have most recently used it to verify the software build I was submitting to automated test was the correct and uncorrupted version designated for the test. Try it. You’ll like it.

Humorous Billionaire

From Google Images

From Google Images

What is it about generating billions of dollars in personal wealth that does not correlate with having any sense? I don’t know. For the answer you are going to have to ask Donald Sterling:

On April 25, 2014, TMZ Sports released a recording of a conversation between Sterling and a female friend, V. Stiviano. In the recording from September 2013, a man confirmed to be Sterling was irritated over a photo Stiviano had posted on Instagram, in which she posed with Basketball Hall of Fame player Magic Johnson. Sterling told Stiviano: “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people”, and, “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want”, but “the little I ask you is … not to bring them to my games.”

Clippers president Andy Roeser issued a statement the following day, indicating that Stiviano was being sued by the Sterling family and had “told Mr. Sterling that she would ‘get even'” with him. A month earlier in March, Sterling’s wife had sued Stiviano for the return of a $1.8-million Los Angeles duplex as well as a Ferrari, two Bentleys, and a Range Rover she said her husband bought for Stiviano.

On April 26, 2014, the team held a meeting to discuss the incident. Both coaches and players expressed anger toward the comments, and they briefly raised the possibility of boycotting Game 4 of their series against the Golden State Warriors on April 27, 2014, before deciding against it. Instead, players protested Sterling’s remarks by wearing their shirts inside-out in order “to obscure any team logo” during their pre-game huddle. The next day, April 28, 2014, players of the Miami Heat wore their uniform tops inside-out to show solidarity with the Clippers. LeBron James commented on the situation, “There’s no room for Donald Sterling in the NBA.” The owner of the Miami Heat, Micky Arison, also called the allegations “appalling, offensive and very sad”. NBA’s Kevin Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant also condemned Sterling’s remarks.

[Links removed]

It turns out that Sterling possesses the mental acumen to amass billions through astute business dealings, but he still retains the thought processes of a backwoodsman. Let’s examine this some more. A little skeptical analysis may be in order.

Granted, Mr. Sterling’s income from his ownership of the Clippers franchise amounts to a small fraction of his pocket change. Regardless, the earnings of this franchise spring from the talents and efforts of a number of black people. And he does not like black people? What is it with Sterling? Does he think of these employees as mere vassals on his plantation? Multi-million-dollar vassals, if you will, but vassals nonetheless.

Obviously this is not good for business. Once it becomes public knowledge, that is. Many of these highly-paid employees are now highly-pissed-off, as well. There have been threats of refusing to work. This quickly becomes ludicrous beyond all reason. Somebody is going to skip out on a multi-million-dollar paycheck because they discovered the boss is a jerk. Boss is a jerk? Been there, guys. Took the money anyhow. Of course, once you’ve pocketed several of Mr. Sterling’s millions the specter of standing in the unemployment line becomes less threatening.

There’s more. The National Basketball League (MBA) considers Sterling’s remarks to be harmful to business. Players might not play. (?) Fans might skip the games. (??) Businessmen will lose money. (!!!) That’s not good. The NBA and owners have recourse. They can shed the league of toxic assets such as Donald Sterling. They have a contract. Sterling signed the contract when he acquired ownership of the Clippers. They can force Mr. Sterling out. They can force him to sell to somebody else. For a billion dollars. Some have expressed interest in such a business transaction. Sterling purchased the franchise for just a few thousand 30 years ago.

Breaking news. Donald Sterling says the league cannot force him to sell:

In a newly released recording, embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is purportedly determined to stay at the helm. “You can’t force someone to sell property in America,” says the voice in the recording, which was obtained by RadarOnline.com.

I do not know from whence Mr. Sterling pulled that idea, but disregard for a moment the scene that has NBA lawyers showing up at Mr. Sterling’s office with a sales contract and forcing him to put pen to paper. They do not need to do that. They have likely seen the movie. The NBA can make Mr. Sterling an offer he cannot refuse.

Suppose Sterling just hunkers down, as some have predicted he might do. In other words just do nothing. What can the NBA do? They can also do nothing. They can do a very specific nothing. When they draw up the game schedule for the 2014-2015 schedule they can not put the Clippers in the schedule. The NBA can omit the action of scheduling any games for the Clippers.

Is this going to work? Not so well. Recall those multi-million-dollar Clippers players? No schedule means no paycheck for them. Can they take jobs with other NBA franchises? Recall they are already under contract with Mr. Sterling. Can they break their contracts? Quite possibly the contracts can be voided. Especially if Mr. Sterling fails to pay their salaries.

There’s more the NBA can do. It can create a new franchise. The new franchise can hire Mr. Sterling’s former players. Where will the new franchise play? I understand there will be a nice venue in Los Angeles becoming available for next season. Maybe they can play there.

In the mean time are fans staying away? No way. Are players refusing to play. Are you kidding? This is, after all, about business. This is about money.

So I say. Then I remind myself of something. It’s only a game, people. It’s a diversion from the drabness that pervades our lives. It’s a bit of eye candy. A bit of eye candy that empties our pockets to the tune of a hundred dollars a ticket or so, but eye candy nonetheless.

In this I need to be cautious. My friend and next door neighbor works for the San Antonio Spurs franchise. Hopefully he does not read my blog. In case you’re reading, Jimmy, my apologies. Also my apologies to some backwoodsmen I compared to Donald Sterling.

Texas Pride

 

Aren’t we proud?

In a March 6, 2003 interview with the El Paso Times, Riddle was quoted as saying:

“Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell. And it’s cleverly disguised as having a tender heart. It’s not a tender heart. It’s ripping the heart out of this country.”

That’s Representative Debbie Riddle, state legislator from District 150 in northwest Harris County. Aren’t we proud?

Free education, indeed! Actually, it’s not free. We pay for it. I got a free education—Granbury Elementary and Granbury High School—and since I received my diploma I’ve been working and paying for my education in taxes. I also received a subsidized education at prestigious state universities in Texas, obtaining degrees in engineering, math and physics and putting those skills to work here in this country and in this state and paying taxes.

Cut off publicly funded education? Cut your wrists while you’re at it. This nation would starve without public education. Meanwhile Moscow would be amused.

Texas has a long tradition of caring for people who cannot care for themselves:

The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) is a Texas special public school, in the continuum of statewide placements for students who have a visual impairment. It is considered a statewide resource to parents of these children and professionals who serve them. Students, ages 6 through 21, who are blind, deafblind, or visually impaired, including those with additional disabilities, are eligible for consideration for services at TSBVI. Founded in 1856, the school is currently located at 1100 West 45th Street in Austin, Texas and serves not only the local community, but most of the blind children in other schools across the state. Its teaching curriculum and its website serve most countries around the world as the leading resource in visual impairment education.

This notion seems to have sprung out of our early frontier spirit and sense of values.

Publicly funded health care? We’ve had it since the 19th century, and it did not come from Moscow

Austin State Hospital was the first state facility of its kind built west of the Mississippi. In 1856, the governor of Texas signed a bill providing for the establishment of the Texas State Lunatic Asylum. Construction started in 1857, and the first patients were admitted in 1861. The facility was renamed the Austin State Hospital (ASH) in 1925.

Today, this original building serves as the administration building for a modern, innovative facility providing psychiatric care to a 38-county region in Central Texas. ASH admits over 4000 patients in a fiscal year, with about the same number of discharges, and has an average daily patient census of 292. The focus of recovery is stabilization for people with  acute psychiatric illness and support of their return to the community.

Riddle mentions Moscow and Hell, but I will not dive into the subject of Hell, because I don’t want to involve mythical places in this discussion.

All this makes me wonder: Just how long has Representative Riddle lived in the state of Texas, and just how much does she know about our history and our traditions? There’s more from her Facebook feed:

The rancher, Mr. Bundy, in Nevada who has drawn a line in the sand (without harming one turtle) is a brave patriot. The Feds have no right to come onto state property where he has had grazing rights for decades, take his cattle, act like “jack booted thugs” & attempt to intimidate. If Obama was as concerned about our border security as he is being a bully with Bundy – then we would all be safer & folks would respect our laws & respect us more as a nation. Mr. President, we here in Texas believe in States Rights & we are standing with the Nevada rancher!! As the say in NH “Live free or die!”

ClivenBundy

“Live free or die!” I like those words. Here are some other words from Cliven Bundy:

Washington (CNN) — Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s remarksabout whether “the Negro” fared better under slavery represents the latest in a series of incendiary racial comments from a new crop of folk heroes embraced in some conservative circles.

“They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton,” Bundy said to reporters, according to The New York Times.

“And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom,” he was quoted as saying.

Bundy, 67, a rancher whose much-publicized land dispute with the federal government endeared him to conservatives, defended his comments as idle thoughts.

“Idle thoughts?” If those are his idle thoughts I yearn to know what Cliven Bundy is thinking when he is thinking seriously.

Since Mr. Bundy’s idle thoughts have come to light, a number of conservative politicians and pundits have started to back away. “Stand by your man” is just a collection of words from a song. It’s not the way to win elections or to soak up public respect. Those backing away may not include Debbie Riddle. Her more recent Facebook posts show her upping the ante on Cliven Bundy:

Today I sent an official letter to President Obama letting him know that folks in Texas take property rights & states rights seriously. Any idea the Federal BLM has in taking land along the Red River is not well advised. This administration seems to have no problem walking on citizens & trampling our rights. Next legislative session I will be introducing legislation regarding private property rights giving belts & suspenders to what we have to protect the folks in Texas. What the BLM is doing shows they are out of control. We know how to draw a line in the sand that people respect – Obama just draws red lines people ignore.
Texas, at least District 150, can be proud.

High-Pocket Pickpocket

Roll 'em, roll 'em, roll 'em. From the Bundy Ranch Web site

Roll ’em, roll ’em, roll ’em. From the Bundy Ranch Web site

Woody Guthrie was a favorite of my father’s. They both suffered through the Great Depression, and Guthrie’s music struck a sympathetic chord. Given the chance, I would vote this one to be the national anthem:

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

This land really was made for you and me.

Only some of us have taken to much to heart the “my land” part.

Showdown on the range: Nevada rancher, feds face off over cattle grazing rights

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Sat April 12, 2014

(CNN) — A 20-year dispute between a Nevada rancher and federal rangers over illegal cattle grazing erupted into an Old West-style showdown on the open range this week, even prompting self-proclaimed members of militia groups from across the country to join the rancher in fighting what they say is U.S. “tyranny.”

What began as a legal fight between longtime rancher Cliven Bundy and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has escalated as Bundy kept his cattle on the federal land, and the government has responded by beginning roundups of the livestock.

A confrontation teetered on violence Wednesday when Bundy family members and dozens of supporters angrily confronted a group of rangers holding Tasers and barking dogs on leashes near Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Federal officials say a police dog was kicked and officers were assaulted.

Bundy’s family has been grazing cattle on the disputed piece of public land since the 1800s. The government allows private entities to use public lands for commercial purposes on a fee basis. The trouble with Bundy began in 1993 when the government changed the rules for grazing in this area, and Bundy quit paying the fees in protest. From all appearances, Bundy is getting a lot of support from locals and from out-of-towners who share a disdain for government regulations:

This week, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval told the bureau of residents’ criticism of the roundup.

What Sandoval said he found “most disturbing” was the BLM’s use of a “First Amendment area” that confined protesters to a designated area.

Such an area “tramples upon Nevadans’ fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution,” Sandoval said. “No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans.” 
In response, federal officials are allowing the protesters to gather on public lands as long as they don’t impede the roundup, said Lueders, the BLM’s director in Nevada.

Bundy is digging in for a long fight.

I did a short Internet search on the Bundy Ranch to get an idea of the financials involved, but there was not much in the top three inches of the search area. Lacking complete details, I fall back on the sums in the public record. Bundy has not paid grazing rights in 20 years, and the unpaid bill now amounts to $1.2 million. This makes for an interesting business model. Like all other ranchers, Bundy sells his cattle on the open market, and in this free-market world he goes head to head against other business operations. Only, Bundy has an edge on the competition. His operating expenses for the past 20 years have been reduced by $1.2 million.

And this money is your money, this money is my money, from California, to the New York island. This money was meant for you and me. But Bundy has kept it for himself. He’s a corporate pickpocket. He’s got hundreds of people supporting his case, and at the same time he’s picking their pockets. What a guy!

And, for the moment, he’s winning:

Feds end roundup, release cattle after tense Nevada showdown

By Ralph Ellis and Michael Martinez, CNN

updated 10:54 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014

(CNN) — A tense, weeklong showdown appeared to end Saturday between the federal government and supporters of a Nevada cattle rancher battling the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over grazing rights on federal land.

The BLM stopped rounding up rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle and returned about 300 head of cattle to the open range to avoid the potential for violence, according to the BLM and CNN affiliate KSNV.

The Old West-style controversy — centering on a family that has been ranching in Nevada since the 1800s — drew armed militia groups from across the country to the cattleman’s side this week, especially after a YouTube video captured a tussle teetering on violence between rangers and protesters.

So, for the moment, Bundy has the money ($1.2 million) and the cattle. And I’m left wondering, where’s my share. After all, this land is your land, this land is my land, and Bundy has left the game with my 0.4 cents. What do I need to do to get it back? I may just have to write of this loss and skip my vacation trip this year.

Fronting The Brand

Chick-fil-ASandwich

I am sure I just now coined this phrase.

When you have a business, when you have a product, you want a public face, a brand. Brand identification gives your product, your service, your business an association in the public mind. You want customers and potential customers to think of a need and to associate your brand with it. Well established, your brand becomes a valuable piece of property.

“Fronting the brand” comes about when you use your brand to front a personal advocacy. You are putting your brand out front, not to represent your product, but to represent your advocacy. It’s double-edged.

On the front side your brand gives your advocacy additional sway, a momentum your advocacy would not have on its own. The other edge is that fronting the brand can cut backwards. Here are some examples:

Chick-fil-A is a privately held corporation founded by S. Truett Cathy in 1946. The current CEO is Dan Cathy. The Cathy family hold sincere Souther Baptist beliefs, and the restaurants are traditionally closed on Sundays and also on Christmas and Thanksgiving. Beyond closing on Sunday, which founder Truett Cathy attributes as much to practicality as to religious inclinations. There has been more, however.

In January 2011, the media reported that the American fast food restaurant chain Chick-fil-A was co-sponsoring a marriage conference along with the Pennsylvania Family Institute (PFI), an organization that had filed an amicus brief against striking down Proposition 8 in California (see Perry v. Brown). PFI had also lobbied against a state effort to ban discrimination in Pennsylvania on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Responding on its official company Facebook page, Chick-fil-A said that support of the PFI retreat had come from a local franchisee, stating “We have determined that one of our independent restaurant operators in Pennsylvania was asked to provide sandwiches to two Art of Marriage video seminars.”

The WinShape Foundation, a charitable endeavor of Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy and his family, stated it would not allow same-sex couples to participate in its marriage retreats. Chick-fil-A gave over $8 million to the WinShape Foundation in 2010. Equality Matters, an LGBT watchdog group, published reports of donations by WinShape to various anti-gay organizations, including $2 million in 2009, $1.9 million in 2010 and a total of $5 million since 2003, including grants to the Family Research Council and Georgia Family Council. WinShape has also contributed to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Exodus International, an organization noted for supporting ex-gay conversion therapy.

The Marriage and Family Foundation received $994,199 in 2009 and $1,188,380 in 2010. The Family Research Council, an organization listed as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Winter 2010, received $1000.

Tax filings for 2012 showed that Chick-fil-A created a new foundation, the Chick-fil-A Foundation, to grant to outside groups. It funded only one previous group, Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Other filings for WinShape Foundation showed no funding for groups opposed to LGBT rights.

There has been considerable stir over these events. Conservatives and conservative groups have cheered the company’s stance, but at the same time advocates for tolerance and sexual equality have lashed out at Chick-fil-A. My reading of Facebook friends over the past two hears has shown conservatives advocating throwing their business to the company, while liberals have been talking boycott. This is something that would be problematic for a publicly-held corporation.

Suppose you are the CEO of a big (or not so big) corporation, and you have a personal agenda, and you see some benefit to throwing the weight of your brand into the fray. Not so fast. At the next stock holders meeting there are going to be a bunch of share holders raising their voices. “Who gave you permission to use our equity to sponsor your pet project?” Besides that, if the bottom line suffers there will shortly be a new CEO to replace the one who forgot that the business of business is business.

But, in the case of the Cathy family, there are no stockholders to face each year. And with the Chick-fil-A business model, there may not be as much push back from franchise owners. The Chick-fil-A business model is fairly unique in the chain restaurant model. The company builds and owns the restaurants. An operator pays in the order of $5000 for a franchise—the right to operate the restaurant.

If you’re a McDonald’s franchise owner you possibly paid $2 million for the franchise, and you own the business. On the other hand, if you hold a McDonald’s franchise your restaurant is grossing on average more than $2 million a year. But if the McDonald’s CEO starts pulling some shenanigans that chew away at that $2 million a year you’re going to be thinking law suit. So a company like McDonald’s has more than just its stockholders to worry about.

As grim as Dan Cathy’s actions in the past few years have appeared to his opponents, it is not all that dark:

In September 2012, The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA) announced that Chick-fil-A has “ceased donating to organizations that promote discrimination, specifically against LGBT civil rights.” According to the TCRA, Chick-fil-A officials stated in an internal document that they “will treat every person equally, regardless of sexual orientation.” In a letter from Chick-fil-A’s Senior Director of Real Estate, the company states, “The WinShape Foundations is now taking a much closer look at the organizations it considers helping, and in that process will remain true to its stated philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas.”

According to Chicago Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno, Chick-fil-A has a statement of respect for all sexual orientations in an internal document called Chick-fil-A: Who We Are and has promised that its not-for-profit arm, WinShape, would not contribute money to groups that oppose gay marriage.

According to Focus on the Family web site, CitizenLink.com, “Chick-fil-A and its charitable-giving arm, the WinShape Foundation, did not agree to stop making donations to groups that support the biblical definition of marriage in exchange for being allowed to open a franchise in Chicago.” Mike Huckabee stated that he “talked earlier today personally with Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick Fil-A about the new reports that Chick Fil-A had capitulated to demands of the supporters of same sex marriage. This is not true. The company continues to focus on the fair treatment of all of its customers and employees, but to end confusion gave me this statement.” The statement provided by Chick-fil-A was posted on Huckabee’s website.

In March 2014, new tax filings from 2012 showed Chick-fil-A stopped funding all but one organization which had been previously criticized. The company also created a new foundation, the Chick-fil-A Foundation, to fund outside groups. WinShape Foundation’s 2012 tax filings showed funding only for its own programs, a Berry College scholarship fund and Lars WinShape, a home for needy children in Brazil.

[Some links removed]

Once again the other edge of fronting the brand has started to cut:

Of all the right-wing reactions to Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s quiet step back from the marriage equality debate, Scott Lively’s might just take the cake.

In a post on Matt Barber’s BarbWire today, Lively writes that although Cathy has not yet taken the “Mark of the Beast,” his decision to back out of the gay marriage debate “suggests he might be willing to take it if faced with that choice.”

“I am convinced that God is using the homosexual issue as a test of believers all over the world,” Lively continues. “What would it profit Mr. Cathy to gain the whole world (or a few more restaurants on college campuses), if his compromise of Biblical truth today makes him less able to resist the real Mark of the Beast tomorrow?”

“In my mind’s eye I used to see the Mark of the Beast as a black dot on the back of the hand,” he concludes. “Now it looks more like a Chik Fil A [sic] sandwich. I’ll never buy another one, and I hope you won’t either.”

Full disclosure: I am of older than the brand and have yet to eat at Chick-fil-A. This is not out of opposition to the company’s stance on religious and political issues. It’s just that whenever I have had a hankering for a chicken sandwich, such as right after getting out of church, the neighborhood Chick-fil-A always seems to be closed.