Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why a shortage of toilet paper?

Toilet paper, like all paper, is made using a chemical engineering process. That means manufacturing is a continuous process that runs 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Raw materials go in one end of the manufacturing pipeline and paper comes out the other. In between there is pulp, liquids, hot slurries and hot paper before rolls of paper come out the other end.

When I was a volunteer firefighter, we had a tour of a local paper mill so that we’d have some familiarity with their facility, in case an emergency occurred. At one end of the building, they took in materials such as recycled cardboard and paper, plus wood pulp.

Paper products went through a de-inking process and another process to break up the fibers. Wood pulp went through another process.

These materials were bleached (to make white paper) through vast vats of chemical processing. Eventually the materials were formed into a wet slurry that was gradually compressed into thin sheets and dried, then rolled on to giant spools.

The huge rolls of paper were then removed and went through a slicer to cut to the required lengths.

This process ran 24 hours per day, 7 days per week and was only stopped, rarely, in case of break downs or required maintenance. Unlike manufacturing of widgets with discrete parts, paper is a chemical process where the liquid parts flow continuously through the system.

To accommodate changes in market demand for their paper products, the entire system would be sped up or slowed down – but never stopped.

From my reading, toilet paper manufacturing is pretty much the same process. Since toilet paper consumption does not vary much, industry has built paper factories designed to meet the normal, on going demand. There is little buffer in the system except for toilet paper stored in warehouses, distribution centers and on store shelves. There does not need to be a lot of buffer because ordinarily, demand is near constant. And we’ve built factories to optimally meet ordinary demand.

The Covid-19 epidemic caught many people off guard. Undoubtedly, those who may have bought TP weekly or twice a month now bought larger packages. Very quickly, the entire distribution buffer was drained – inventory moved from the distribution network to homes.

Additionally, the government’s messaging on “Stocking up” was very confused, inconsistent, contradictory, unclear and generally ineffective. Initially, the government said no one should stock up.

But by the 3rd week of March, the CDC’s official recommendation was that older people and those with underlying conditions (which is 40% of the population, combined) should stock up on supplies and avoid contact with all people. Thus, in fact, much of the population absolutely should have stocked up. Consequently, blaming consumers for stocking up is wrong – many may have figured this out well before the government – those at higher risk did indeed have to stock up and many likely did stock up in advance.

TP continues to be made at the same speed it has always been made – in fact, one maker says they’ve been able to ramp up their factory to about 20% more per day. But with TP in short supply, many consumers will launch a second round of buying, purchasing any available toilet paper.

With a limited ability to ramp up production, it may take a considerable time to refill the buffer – warehouses, distribution centers and store shelves.

I can see this lasting another month or two, unfortunately.

Climate: Eating vegetarian has little impact on your household carbon emissions

In spite of popular claims that eating vegetarian offers a dramatic reduction on your personal carbon emissions , the actual reduction is about 2%. Which means it is one of the last places you should focus your attention, in terms of having a meaningful impact.

I run a separate blog called Social Panic, focusing on how propaganda messaging influences our thinking. One trick to combat propaganda messaging is to practice what the late Dr. Hans Rosling calls “Factfulness”.  That means, basically, verifying what you are told. As he learned, almost everything the general public thinks they know, is actually wrong! (Read his book Factfulness to understand that issue).

We practice “Factfulness” when we try to verify claims. Let’s do it.

From the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan comes this chart showing an allocation for an “average” person:

From this chart, it sure looks like eating “Meat” has a large impact on your carbon footprint. Some in the climate advocacy community take this one step way too far:

which is a straight out lie!

The food pie chart is itself a small slice of a much larger pie. Many people, such as the linked climate advocate,  see charts like the above  and promptly misinterpret the chart, fail to understand that food is only one small slice of the household’s emissions, and falsely believe eliminating meat from their diet has a large impact on their carbon emissions.

Continue reading Climate: Eating vegetarian has little impact on your household carbon emissions

Fixing the Starbuck’s app “No stores nearby available” error

Just a tip to help users of the Android version of the Starbuck’s app. If you try to make a mobile order using the app, but you see no stores on the map view and see the error message “No stores nearby available” or similar, there is a fix for this.

The problem appears to be that the Starbuck’s app requires “permission” to access the Location information on your phone – but the permission to do so was not set.

You can uninstall and re-install the app to get this working again (the re-install should prompt you to set the Location permission), or:

Go in to Android Settings | Apps | Starbucks | Permissions and find the item “Your location” and set the permission “switch” to the right (or blue) to enable access to location information on your phone.

Google tracks your location even when you tell them not to

Google phones track your location – even when you turn Location Services off, even if you use no apps – and surprisingly – even if you have no SIM card and have no cellular service on the phone. (I have an old phone like that which I use as a portable computer for non phone related tasks. I did not realize Google was tracking that phone too.)

Google logs your location internally on the phone, and when you connect to the Internet later on, such as with a WiFi connection, Google uploads the data they have logged to the Google Cloud. Google claims it was part of a feature they never used.

In the past, Google’s Street View mapping vehicles logged all Wi-Fi communications as they drove around, including all data being sent – which could include private but unencrypted communications with web sites. When caught doing this, Google claimed that logging enormous terabytes of data was inadvertent and never intended. Which I always thought called into question their software quality assurance program.

We already knew that Google uses artificial intelligence methods to literally read our emails and build up a database of information about us that they can use for marketing and advertising purposes. A few weeks ago, we learned that Google also reads all of our Google Docs located in the Google Cloud. Literally, Google has implemented the machine equivalent of someone reading our emails and documents – and making notes about our writings.

Starting in September, a phone that is not mine,  which I have never owned, running on a cellular service provider I have never used, became associated with my Google account. I never received any security alerts from Google about this but discovered it on my own when reviewing my account log. I changed my account password and set up 2-factor authentication. In spite of that, their logfiles show this mysterious phone “sync’ing” to my account once more – again, with no security alerts. Google’s log file says “unknown location”. Attempts to locate the phone using “Find my phone” said the phone was not connected to the network. I originally sent “Lock this device” commands to that phone and today went ahead and said “Erase and reset” that phone.

Because of these security problems with Google – and more I have not described such as their logging all web access when you use Chrome – I am abandoning Google services, including the use of Chrome. Changing your email address is very time consuming as you need to log in to every account you have used anywhere (think of e-commerce retailers) and update your email and password information.

But what else can we do? There is no way to contact Google to ask anyone about this mysterious phone said to be synchronizing to my account. There is no explanation from Google how a phone can continue to log in to my account when I have changed the password and requested 2-factor authentication alerts – unless due to a security vulnerability in Google service, their 2-factor authentication for that phone, is going to that phone – and not my actual phone.

This is a massive breach of customer trust and I can no longer rely on Google. I no longer have confidence or trust in Google and you should not either.

 

San Diego’s minimum wage experiment accelerating adoption of automation

San Diego raised its minimum wage very rapidly. Data suggests that while the wage hike benefits those with minimum wage jobs, it is also rapidly eliminating low wage jobs all together. Read the entire (and long) story for the details.

This blog has long noted that while automation is going to happen regardless, rapid minimum wage hikes accelerate the adoption of automated systems, eliminating jobs more rapidly:

And California’s decision to speed Darwinian selection also encourages automation. McDonald’s is rolling out ordering kiosks, Starbucks is testing robotic baristas, and hamburger-making machines are nearing production.

One local restaurant owner told me that all his future locations will allow customers to buy and pour their own beers.

A 50-handle system costs $1,800 per handle. That’s well above $1,000 per handle for the bartender-based system, but it pays off in a year by eliminating one or two workers per shift. Presumably someday robots will listen to our problems, too.

Rising productivity is good for the bulk of consumers, because fewer workers equate to lower bills.

Source: Is San Diego’s new minimum wage already hurting its poor? – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Eliminating jobs through automation is not necessarily a bad thing. ATM machines, self service gas, self service check outs are all examples of recent semi-automated services that we take for granted. Throughout history, many jobs have gone away – elevator operators and telephone “manual switch” operators all went away.

If automation frees up labor to be put to more productive uses, this is a good outcome. However, there will be some who are not able to transition to higher value added work and may be come unemployable.

How to move a self hosted #WordPress blog to WordPress.com

I migrated my coldstreams.com blog to coldstreams.wordpress.com and the old web site automatically redirects to the new URL.

In theory, this process is simple – but getting it done right was complicated.

The hard part was getting the redirection to work for all cases. If you just want to redirect coldstreams.com to coldstreams.wordpress.com – that is easy!

But that redirects all references to coldstreams.com to the new URL.

  • What do you do if you still want to access other directories on your old web site like coldstreams.com/thesis or coldstreams.com/public?
  • If you have links on other pages that point to the old self hosted blog like coldstreams.com/?p=11074 you want those to still point to coldstreams.com and not the new URL. How do you do that?

The solution was to edit the .htaccess file on the Apache web server and implement a set of RewriteRules to translate some URLs but not others. Sounds simple but I am not a RewriteRules guru (never even looked at them before!) There is a lot of bad documentation available online plus forum Q&A that is wrong or insufficient. Getting the RewriteRules to work for me took hours of plowing through bad documentation plus trial and error.

Here I explain what I did. I  hope it is helpful for your WordPress migrations!

Step 1 – Migrate your content

After you set up your account at WordPress.com, migrate your content from your self hosted WordPress blog. Log in to your Dashboard (wp-admin) control panel and find Tools | Export and under Choose what to export, select All content and then Download Export File (to your computer).

Step 2 – Import content to new WordPress.com blog

Log in to your WordPress.com account, click on My Sites if needed, to see the options listed down the left side. Select Settings and then on the tab at the top, select Import. Click Start Import on the WordPress import item to import your content from a WordPress export file. You’ll specify the file you downloaded from your own web site.

ImportProcess

WordPress.com suggests it may take 15 minutes to import your site. In my case, it took about 3 1/2 hours! During the import process, WordPress.com fetches all of your referenced media files (like images) and copies those to WordPress.com.

Step 3 – Adjust any direct http references

Continue reading How to move a self hosted #WordPress blog to WordPress.com