Growth, Morality, and economy. A new discussion of programming. UFO or Photoshop?

View 823, Thursday, May 08, 2014


If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war.

Glenn T. Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983


If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan. Period.

Barrack Obama, famously.


“…the only thing that can save us is if Kerry wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us alone.”

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon


“Slow to Cut Prices, Whole Foods Is Punished

“Shares drop to 19%as Investors Worry About Slowing Growth, Competition; ‘We’re Never Going to Be in Race to the Bottom’ ”

I have watched the progress of Whole Foods for years, ever since we discovered that Roberta is allergic to gluten and we had to find a reliable source of tasty gluten-free foods. As I remarked after our first Whole Foods experience, “Whole Foods is a way of life.” Our local Whole Foods is on the Studio City/Sherman Oaks border, which is to say, in prosperous suburban Los Angeles, surrounded by middle to upper class homes and families. Whenever we go there ts has had plenty of customers, and the staff are always alert and courteous. When my friend and neighbor Ed Begley launched a housecleaning product called Begley’s Best he did so through Whole Foods, and one day when I ran into him in the store he pointed it out to me. Of course I bought some (he offered to buy it for me), and in fact it proved to be very good, effective, good smelling, and organic and non-toxic, all you would want in a surface cleaning compound. We generally bought it so long as it was available, but alas it is no longer on the Whole Foods shelves. I presume it was just too expensive.

Whole Foods expanded and the stock soared, but of course that put it under pressure from the “investors” who bought the stock because it would go up. It had to keep going up. The fact that the stores were successful and very profitable serving a niche – a large and rich niche, but nevertheless a niche – market wasn’t enough. It had to “grow”.

Nationwide, sales of natural and organic foods now amount to roughly $50 billion a year. Investors had adored Whole Foods, giving it a market value at times exceeding that of Kroger Co. KR -0.54% , the nation’s largest mainstream grocery chain, which has seven times as many grocery stores.

But its accomplishment drew broad new competition, from mainstream retailers like Kroger and Safeway Inc. SWY +0.04% and upstarts like Sprouts Farmers Market Inc. SFM -3.05% and Fresh Market Inc. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. last month said it struck a deal with Wild Oats to launch 100 mostly organic products that will be priced 25% cheaper than national brands.

Phoenix-based Sprouts, which has about 170 stores, on Wednesday said earnings rose 86% for the latest quarter and raised its forecast for the year, pushing its shares up 6% in after-hours trading. The shares had dropped 12% as of 4 p.m.

Its shares had fallen 45% from their peak in October through Wednesday’s market close amid concerns about over expansion and competition among specialty grocers.Sprouts Chief Executive Doug Sanders credited Sprouts’ focus on affordable prices, which attracted customers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to buy natural and organic foods.

Whole Foods has largely tapped out its core demographic in upscale urban neighborhoods. The company’s solution has been to expand beyond its comfort zone in new areas such as poorer neighborhoods, smaller cities and suburbs. It has recently opened stores in Detroit and West Des Moines, Iowa, and plans to open one in Chicago’s South side next year. To fend off new competition and attract customers in those new markets it has had to lower the high prices—and profit margins—that earned it the moniker "whole paycheck."

Which is a course doomed to failure. I am sure that’s one reason Begley’s Best is no longer offered for sale, even in Ed’s favorite home store. If you’re going to grow you have to get new customers. Whole Foods already had a lot of customers in the Studio City/Sherman Oaks area. Its other potential customers are unemployed and hanging on for their lives, and in this economy there won’t be a lot more people willing, able, and even eager to shop in Whole Foods despite the prices. So cut the prices – and open yourself to competition from someone who will emphasize health, effectiveness, ecological friendliness, organic at any cost and cater to those who believe in that and can afford it.

This is the slowest economic recovery in the history of the nation – assuming that you believe we are recovering. The signs of recovery are faint, and if you count the number of permanently unemployed and thus not part of the work force and thus not officially unemployed at all, the economy is a disaster. I think this demand for growth, for income through capital gains rather than from profitable return on investment – taxed as income – is a key. It is no longer enough to have a company making good profits on its investments. Now it must have capital growth as well. This doesn’t serve the customers very well. I could give a hundred example of old staid merchant enterprises that sold things I like at a profit who have experienced the Growth Phenomenon, peaked, crashed, and now no longer exist, or exist in a truncated condition – and no longer sell what I wanted. Woolich Silvertan shirts is one such casualty. Ah well.


I found this interesting. It may be relevant to the Whole Foods thing:

Sexual assault on campus and the curse of the hookup culture

Jonathan Zimmerman

Survey students about the problem. Train victim advocates. Urge bystanders to intervene.

You can find these suggestions — and other equally sound ones — in the report issued last week by a White House task force on sexual assault at U.S. colleges. But here’s a recommendation that you won’t find in it: Challenge the hookup culture that dominates undergraduate life.

Although about 40% of female college seniors report that they are virgins or have had sex only once, many others are engaging in sexual activity. At colleges nationally, by senior year, 4 in 10 students are either virgins or have had intercourse with only one person, according to the Online College Social Life Survey.

The culture is marked by a lack of commitment and especially of communication between partners, who rarely tell each other what they actually want. So it has also brought with it an appalling amount of unwanted sex.

Consider a study of 2,500 college students published last year by Donna Freitas. She confirms what we already knew: Many students engage in casual sex. More than that, though, the book shows that students feel a great deal of pressure to keep the sex casual; that is, to remove themselves emotionally from it.

"It’s just something that I feel like as a college student you’re supposed to do," one woman told Freitas. "It’s so ingrained in college life that if you’re not doing it, then you’re not getting the full college experience."

Of course this says nothing that many haven’t been saying before, including Tom Wolfe in I Am Charlotte Simmons, but Zimmerman has data to back up his statements. Of course Arthur Clarke way back in 1952 in Childhood’s End postulated that the invention of reliable contraception and positive paternity determination would change the world’s sexual habits from inhibited to uninhibited, and this would turn out to allow us to grow up and join the aliens, hidden among us, in some kind of new maturity. The changes in sexual mores duly took place after the technology was developed.

Decoupling sexual practices from emotional commitment has probably been the goal of a vast majority of young men both in and out of college for hundreds of years. Traditional moralists pointed out there would be costs to this. Charles Murray in Coming Apart shows that the ruling class in America continues to profess religion, work ethics, industriousness, and family, although “they no longer preach what they practice”, while those who do not participate in those values generally tend to be part of the lower classes with noticeably poorer economic success. Of course there remain well known libertines within the wealthy classes – Mr. Sterling of the Clippers fame being a recent example – but then there have always been such exceptions among the very rich and in the entertainment world.

Zimmerman doesn’t say that we have sown the wind and may expect to reap the whirlwind, but many would. And yes: I am very aware that hypocrisy is the fee vice pays to virtue. So is Charles Murray.


Substandard Programming Practices and Their Effect on Our Daily Lives and the Catastrophe Waiting Just Around the Corner


I think that it is time to reopen the discussion of Best Programming Practices and the ultimate costs to us as individuals and to our Society and the Future of the Human Race.

I don’t know what is being taught to today’s Computer Science Majors and who is making Corporate Decisions about Best Programming Practices and the appropriate tools to use. What I do know is that the quality, reliability and security of our Operating Systems, Firmware and Application Programs has been steadily declining for more than thirty years.

There are a host of standard excuses regarding complexity and other nonsense. The reality of the situation is poor choice of programming tools, coding starting long before a complete specification is available, (The are we coding yet syndrome.) and little or no stress testing ala the website.

Firmware for communications devices such as wireless routers seems to be tested superficially with no long term tests to uncover problems such as memory leaks and improperly handled exceptions.

As our Society becomes more and more dependent on these shoddy interconnected Systems it will not be too much longer before what, years ago, was local power blackout and has now graduated to a Regional Blackout becomes a National Blackout.

Our transportation systems are becoming more and more dependent on complex systems to provide control. How long will it be before we have a National Transportation Paralysis.

Something needs to be done. Perhaps the first thing is for Decision Makers to have some insight into the possible consequences of their decisions.

Several years ago some folks at BP made a decision to hurry up the abandonment of the Macondo test well and save perhaps 20 million dollars. The actual cost of that decision was 11 Lives and more than 20 billion dollars and the final bill is not in.

Last year some one at Target made a decision not to do anything when the Computer Security Group warned of potential security threats. The cost to address the problem would have been, more than likely, an order of magnitude less than the 70 Million dollar cost so far as well as the severe damage to Target’s reputation.

A new premium Wireless Router was released over nine months ago by a vendor I choose not to name. It was released with a great many of its premium features not working and firmware that needed to be restarted and/or reset at frequent intervals to restore basic functionality. The situation is essentially no better today than it was at release because the vendor’s software engineering department is scurrying improve functionality without examining bug ridden foundation. This product is seriously damaging the reputation of the Vendor and in the end will cost the Vendor many times the cost of delaying the product launch.

Bob Holmes

Long time readers will remember that I have always been an advocate of readable, understandable source code programs as opposed to the impervious assembler codes like C and its descendants. In particular, the use of tricks with pointers is convenient for those who understand the process, but can be enormously confusing to anyone trying to maintain or modify the code later. Opaque source languages generate faster programs, but in this tenth generation of Moore’s Law that’s no longer a primary concern.

COBOL was a first cut at a comprehensible language, but it had obvious defects. Niklaus Wirth of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich invented Pascal as a program instruction language. It was later used to generate working code, and there are still many programs written in one or another flavor of Pascal. It was once a rival to C, but for reasons I won’t go into lost out to BASIC and then Dbase Ii as the “popular” programming language. Wirth later devised “production” languages meeting his criteria of internal consistency, strong requirements for type declarations, and restrictions on tricks programmers could play to save memory or code lines at the sacrifice of future readability. I recall Marvin Minsky describing me as one who wanted to put on a straight jacket before coding; Marvin of course preferred LISP but also employed APL.

The Department of Defense tried to get into the act with its invention of ADA but like all projects operated by committees, it grew and added features and never quite got there.

But the time computers had become powerful enough to make code comprehensibility more important than code efficiency, the battle was pretty well over: Microsoft had gone the C route and despite the security problems (buffer overflows and other hacks) was stuck with supporting a huge customer base using an operating system just comprehensible to those who wrote it. And when an opposition to Microsoft developed wide support it turned out to Linux, an open source duplicate of UNIX, which requires C. UNIX notoriously required an on site guru until Apple cleverly came up with its operating system: usable by grandma but deep inside is the all powerful UNIX.

But there was never a popular comprehensible highly structured language/operating system that put maintainability ahead of code efficiency. Wirth’s theory was that programmer are better off with languages that will not compile mistakes (such as statements that take one type as input and return an entirely different type as output, or accepting overflow from data input buffers as program commands). Such programs catch programmer errors. That means that it takes longer to compile the program, compared to programs like FORTRAN and C which notoriously will compile almost anything. Back when computers were slower, compiling an enormous program like Windows took a very long time even with C, which is why comprehensible languages were unpopular with program managers.

The advantage of highly structured and strongly typed program languages were that once you got the program to compile, it generally did what you expected it to do. Most of the bugs were caught by the compiler, and it was not necessary for the programmer to simulate the compiler in his head in order to understand what the program was doing.

Wirth continues to work on his projects, but the fervent discussions of languages that took place in the 1980’s don’t take place any longer. I suspect that may be a cause of the problems you see. Program source code is now readable only by those who have spent time learning the languages they are written in, and it become much harder to figure out what they actually do.

Certainly something must change. I’d hate to see Launch Control at Minot put under the control of a computer network…


It’s lunch time. I have more in the stack.   I’ll be back.


UFO bombarding the Taliban?



Roland Dobbins

  Holy moley.  I have watched that four times, and it sure looks authentic.  I suppose the origin has been verified?  Clearly it would not be all that hard to Photoshop, and the flashing lights prior to the bombardment look a bit odd, but since we have no idea what they were we can’t know what they should look like.  And the rest of it doesn’t look faked at all.  Of course most fakes don’t look faked or at least try not to.  If this holds up it will be interesting.

I hasten to add that my eyes aren’t what they used to be.


Burning Food


There is at least one good thing that burning food has caused.

With the high price of Corn caused by Ethanol mandates, the price of high fructose corn syrup is at or a bit higher than the domestic price of beet sugar.

If prices stabilize at this point we might hope that high fructose corn syrup is removed from our food supplies and the Obesity Epidemic starts to recede.

I am convinced that High Fructose Corn Syrup is a major cause of Obesity. This is based on my personal experience. About 30 Months ago I stopped drinking Soda Pop. I didn’t drink a lot, only one or two cans a day. Over the 40 plus years since I quit smoking I had gained more than 50 pounds. Since I quit drinking soda pop I have lost most of that weight gain without any attempts at dieting. Admittedly, a sample size of one has no statistical significance, but…..

Perhaps the high fructose corn syrup inhibits or kills tape worms and my infestation is now flourishing. (Said with tongue in cheek.)

Bob Holmes


Interesting point.  If we burn it as fuel we don’t eat it/  Seems an odd way to accomplish the result, but devious enough to be true.



I am going to a lecture at JPL Tomorrow (Friday) with John de Chancie and Larry Niven, and I’ll probably not update this until nightfall.  Saturday Morning we’ll go to a movie theater for the live performance at the Met.  Roberta likes those.



It is still Pledge Time at Chaos Manor.  If you have not subscribed, this is a great time to do it. This site operates on the Public Radio model: it is free to all, but it stays open only if it gets support from those who come here. We do not make fund appeals often: I time them to coincide with the KUSC pledge drives; JUSK is the LA good music station.  I don’t bug you about money otherwise. If you have  subscribed but it’s been a while since you renewed, this would be a good time to do that.




I have to go to the lecture shortly, but lest you think I have really gone mad:

UFO vs. Taliban

I think the video is of an AC-130 or USMC KC-130J Harvest Hawk which is out of picture (high left would be my guess) attacking insurgent forces with 105 and 40 mm rounds (AC-130), or Hellfire/Griffin or small dia bombs (KC-HH). One of the munitions is detonated in the air by debris contact at about 18 seconds. The UFO is photoshopped.

Chris Spratt

ufo bombarding Taliban?

It’s a Photoshop (or video equivalent) job. They reversed this and added a fuzzy image:

Kit Case


I’m sure you’ve gotten a hundred emails about this already, but the ufo video is a "real" airstrike or artillery barrage with a fake ufo added in. This used to be called "special effects", some are calling the ufo "CGI", but it’s not even all that good of an effort.

But the foundation of the vid looks an awful lot like a real artillery barrage, including at least one airburst where an incoming round fused off of airborne debris instead of the ground. It doesn’t take much effort nowadays to add some fake grainy graphics to an old video, and this one is not nearly as good as some others I’ve seen recently.





I haven’t played with Photoshop in years, but of course that was the obvious explanation. Ah well.  If the aliens do intend to manifest themselves this is a very unlikely way for them to do it.  And no, I haven’t gone mad in my old age.  It was very well done, I thought, but I warned you my eyes aren’t what they used to be.

Clearly if there are aliens with that kind of gunship, there is no rational reason why suddenly they would reveal themselves there and in that way, so the picture was always to be regarded as an illusion of some sort.  Apparently it wasn’t done as well as I thought it was. 



The UFO side shot ( is vague, but clear enough: it’s the Millennium Falcon coming out of its strafing run.


Not fair. You’ve known me far too long…




Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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