The Hitlers of Pickaway, Ohio→

Dr. Gay Hitler, son of George Washington Hitler, was a local dentist, serving our community from 1922 through 1946 from his office on West Main Street.

Jonathan Chait highlights a great local newspaper story about the pioneering Hitler family of Pickaway, Ohio. A significant portion of the town is named after these honest, All-American, salt-of-the-earth Hitlers, and the townsfolk are tired of everyone thinking they’re fans of the slightly more famous Adolf Hitler.


Paul Offit and the Vitamin Myth→

Seven previous studies had already shown that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease and shortened lives. Still, in 2012, more than half of all Americans took some form of vitamin supplements. What few people realize, however, is that their fascination with vitamins can be traced back to one man. A man who was so spectacularly right that he won two Nobel Prizes and so spectacularly wrong that he was arguably the world’s greatest quack.

Ouch. The Atlantic has a brutal book excerpt from Dr. Paul Offit tearing into the vitamin supplement industry. This is the same Dr. Offit who attacked the fake link between vaccines and autism in an earlier book.

I’ve always treated vitamins like a reassuring and benign superstition. “I don’t feel well, I guess I’ll take some vitamins!” “I could use a pick-me-up, I’ll drink some Emergen-C!” “My penis isn’t long enough, I’ll inject some Ostrich estrus!” (Okay not the last one.)

Offit’s article really shocked me.

Rebuttals

There has of course been pushback. Dr. Paul Jaminet, an astrophysicist who writes diet books, has a measured response. He takes issue with the specific studies cited by Offit, in particular an Iowa study which suggested that vitamins increase mortality (ie make you more likely to die) did not adjust for age. It compared older people who were taking supplements with younger people who were not.

The most compelling criticism is that the book excerpt blurs the line between taking a simple multivitamin and overdosing on Vitamin C because you think it’ll help you shoot lasers from your eyes. In an online interview with The Guardian, Offit explains the distinction in less sensationlist terms:

Other people think: “Because I’m not sure I’m getting all my vitamins, let me just take take a multivitamin every day” – which is OK. Multivitamins contain at or about the recommended dose of vitamins for that day. But then there are some people who believe that more is better – that by taking large quantities of daily vitamins they will do even better, live even longer and decrease the risk of cancer or heart disease. But in fact, many studies have shown that the exact opposite is true – that if you choose to take these large quantities of excess vitamins, then you increase risk of cancer and heart disease and shorten your life.

The bottom line: There just isn’t much compelling evidence about vitamins despite decades of study. They make sense on an intellectual level, but the benefits are not clearly visible in repeatable studies. A well-formulated multivitamin is probably benign and not doing you any harm or good either way.


Pacific Rim and the Flat American Accent→

Matt Singer at Dissolve has a sharp post on the rise of Europeans doing flat American accents in blockbuster films:

Bale is from the United Kingdom as well, and variations of his flat, husky whisper—like a guy with a bad case of laryngitis and a mild speech impediment—have become the de facto “American” voice for a lot of foreign born Hollywood action heroes. Scottish Gerard Butler used it earlier this year as a Secret Service agent in Olympus Has Fallen; Australian Sam Worthington deployed it with varying degrees of success in Avatar and Terminator Salvation.

What annoys me most about this particular fake accent is that it robs characters’ voices of depth and subtlety. Pacific Rim is a tremendously fun and goofy film, but its lead character has the vocal range of a robot. Jokes and important moments feel off because the actor is stuck talking like a stoic, Clint Eastwood cowboy rather than like a real person.

I’m not opposed to Brits and Europeans doing American accents, but the Bale voice is simply too flat and dreary to work for most films.


The 1964 Civil Rights Act and Rand Paul Libertarians→

The “respectable” thing to say about people like Paul or the late Barry Goldwater, I suppose, is simply that they are ideologues rather than people driven by some kind of racial animosity. But I think it’s selling free market ideology short to suggest that government regulations meant to undue the outcome of a century long campaign of terrorist violence is just a straightforward consequence of a general support for free enterprise. You need to combine that ideology with a sincere indifference to black people’s welfare to reach that conclusion, just as you need to combine Paul’s ideology with genuine indifference to the history of race in America to reach Paul’s conclusion about democracy’s relationship to Jim Crow.

Matt Yglesias wrote an excellent post last month about Rand Paul’s foot-in-mouth statements opposing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Jonathan Chait covered similar ground in a 2012 post about Rand’s father, Ron Paul.

Ron and Rand Paul are beloved libertarian figures on the internet because they follow libertarian philosophy to some of its more progressive conclusions, like reducing defense spending and decriminalizing drugs. In this and a few other areas, they give loud and passionate voice to sensible solutions drowned out by mainstream politics.

But it’s worth remembering that libertarianism in this country has often been driven by racism rather than ideology. This is not to say that all libertarians are racists or that libertarianism is an inherently racist philosophy, but when I read about Ron Paul’s racist 1990s newsletters and Rand Paul’s aide’s racist, secessionist writings, it becomes harder and harder to square the internet’s hero worship of these men with the actual motivations guiding them.


Google Reader Alternatives

tldr: I Chose Feedbin

Google recently shut down Google Reader, their RSS syncing service. Here’s a quick look at three replacements:

Feedly

Feedly is the most popular Google Reader replacement because it’s free and fast. But a few key problems prevented me from choosing it.

Feedly has a closed API. I have custom scripts and hacks I use for my RSS, and they require an open API.

Feedly also has no clear business model. Free is great, but after Google Reader’s epic flameout, it’s hard to trust a service that doesn’t ask for money.

And finally, Feedly’s website and apps are over-designed and confusing. Feedly seems desperate to become Flipboard, so their default layout is a magazine-style look at your RSS. You can switch to a “titles only” view that looks more like Google Reader, but you still have to deal with bizarre gestures and interactions in their iOS apps.

Despite these criticisms, Feedly is a strong service. If they open up their API, I’ll consider switching to them and just using third-party apps to access the service.

Feed Wrangler

Feed Wrangler is a small, paid RSS syncing service created by iOS developer David Smith.

Several writers and programmers in the tech community sing the praises of this service, but I couldn’t get over two things: No free trial and an ugly, ugly, ugly website.

Feedbin

Feedbin is a small, paid RSS syncing service created by Ruby on Rails developer Ben Ubois. It’s $30-a-year, has an attractive website, and an open API.

Winner: Feedbin

Feedbin is my new RSS reader. For now. The RSS market is changing fast, and I expect to revisit my choice a year from now when it’s time to renew my subscription.


Amazon Fresh Review

Amazon Fresh is Amazon’s new grocery delivery business. They’ve just expanded to Los Angeles and offered Prime customers a 90-day free trial (the regular price is $300-a-year).

I’m interested in the service because I’m lazy and find supermarkets overwhelming. My wife is interested because she likes planning meals and tracking calories.

Here are our first impressions.

The Good

Amazon Fresh promises same day and next day delivery, which is amazing. The minimum order is $35, which is low enough that you can replace a big weekly grocery store visit with two small orders during the week. You can place your order at night after work, then wake up in the morning to find your food on the doorstep in neatly packed bags.

Fresh also offers nutritional information for many items on their site as well as seasonal recipes. You can even order high end items from local specialty shops, like fresh fish from Santa Monica Seafood.

The customer service is great, responding almost instantly to any inquiry or problem.

The Bad

But Amazon Fresh feels like shopping at a Whole Foods connected to a Costco. You want some tuna? Great! You can have this ultra high quality organic brand for three times the price! Oh, you want your regular cheap brand? Okay, here’s a 75-pack of Bumblebee tuna cans for $90!

The economics of home delivery cause the service to offer either high-end brands at high prices or the regular brand in massive quantities, with little in-between.

Fresh.Amazon.com is a bad, sloooooow website. It’s shockingly bad. Amazon isn’t just the world’s biggest Internet retailer, they also operate a massive cloud server and cloud hosting service. But just logging into this site takes 15 to 20 seconds.

In addition to being slow, the website does a poor job of reliably communicating which items are available when. Orders placed for the next morning will often arrive with items missing. There is no notice inside the packaging itself, instead you receive an email which says “The following items were not delivered: “ and then nothing is actually listed. If you’re dedicated you can go to the website, log into your past orders, and see which items were mysteriously left out. The site has no mechanism for rolling over a missing item to a future order. The items are just gone, leaving you to find them again in the search system, re-add them to your cart, and just hope that it works out next time.

Odds & Ends

  • Prices on Amazon Fresh are just okay. They’re not as good as your local market’s sale prices but not as bad as MSRP.
  • Fresh includes same day and next day delivery on over 500,000 Amazon Prime items. It’s only a small subset of Amazon’s usual offerings, but you can buy household items like a surge protector with nearly instant shipping.
  • Amazon failed to deliver half of one of our grocery orders. The customer service not only called me but refunded the entire order, including the more expensive items that they did successfully deliver.
  • Fresh deliveries arrive in charming green tote bags. Oddly, the service doesn’t do a good job combining similar items. So you might have two big coolers arrive, each packed with dry ice and each only carrying one tiny frozen item like a bag of peas or a pack of popsicles.

Conclusion

Right now, Fresh does not feel like the future of groceries. It feels like a side project. Perhaps a hobby receiving only Amazon’s barest attention and focus. While using the service, I’ve already had to hop out to my regular market twice just to replace items missing from my orders. Combine that with the slow website, and Fresh just hasn’t offered me the convenience necessary to justify the increased cost over my local market.

But I’m glad that Amazon Fresh has a 90-day trial. If my trial were ending today, I would not renew the service. But I have nearly two months of free grocery delivery left, and I think a lot of these problems are fixable. I’d love for this service to work out, and I’m going to continue to send feedback to Amazon’s excellent customer service in the hopes that they’re out there listening.


Why Man of Steel's Action Sucked

I did not like Man of Steel. If you want to know why, I recommend two posts about the film:

But I do want to touch on one idea that I haven’t seen explored much in reviews of the film.

Good Action Requires Consequences and Character

A common defense of Man of Steel is that it has “good action.” The movie has huge special effects sequences, featuring superpowered fist fights, flying dragon-butterfly monsters, laser eye-battles, etc… In short, superhero battles on a level never before attempted.

And all of that action is boring.

Man of Steel lacks original or inventive ideas for its superhero fight scenes. Characters line up and punch and hit each other through building after building. “Pow! Superman crashes into a bank vault!” “Blammo! Zod plows through a gas station!” The spectacle entertains for about fifteen minutes, but the movie never finds a second gear. Superman and Zod are invulnerable. There are no consequences to each punch or each moment in any particular fight scene. Perhaps sensing this problem, the movie tries to blow up bigger and bigger buildings.

The action scenes also lack character. We rarely understand the personal stakes in each fight. Superman has an elaborate brawl with three Kryptonians that destroys his home town of Smallville and at the end… Nothing. The villains just fly away because they got tired of fighting. That’s because there is nothing at stake in the scene for them. The characters simply fight to fight.

What’s so sad about this is that fun goofy action shouldn’t require you to turn your brain off or ignore the story. Just look at the batpod sequence in The Dark Knight:

The Dark Knight batpod sequence is much, much smaller than even the opening action scenes in Man of Steel, but it feels grounded and visceral. Harvey Dent, a character we’ve spent significant time with, is in mortal peril after bravely standing up to the Joker by claiming that he is Batman. If the Joker kills Harvey, the city will be thrown into further panic and chaos. Also in the audience’s mind: Harvey and Batman are competing for the same woman, Rachel, so Batman saving Harvey will have significant personal consequences.

But forget all that character shit. Isn’t this sequence fucking fun!? Batman reveals his batmobile can turn into a crazy sideways motorcycle, races across Gotham, drives through a mall, plays chicken with a semi-truck, swoops under the truck, flips the truck AT-AT style, then drives up a wall to turn around? HOLY SHIT THAT WAS COOL.

I defy anyone to find one sequence in Man of Steel even half as unexpected and entertaining as this Dark Knight sequence.


  1. You can read Hulk’s article using my DeHulkifier bookmarklet.


Mac OS X Stuck Registering Updated Components

I recently tried to run software update on my dad’s aging Macbook Pro (Snow Leopard, Unibody). Unfortunately, the process stalled during “Registering Updated Components”, leaving the computer stuck in the install for 30 minutes.

Here’s how I fixed it:

  • Once you’re sure the install is stuck, hold down the power button to forcibly shut down the computer.
  • Restart the computer and open Finder.
  • Type ⇧⌘G to bring up the “Go To Folder…” dialogue.
  • Type /Library/Updates and hit enter.
  • Delete everything in the Updates folder.
  • Run Software Update again.

As far as I can tell, the security update dad’s computer was trying to install was somehow corrupted. Redownloading it generated a fresh copy. I hope this is helpful to someone out there with the same problem.


Access the iOS 7 Developer Library without a Developer Account

Apple makes their developer libraries freely available online with one important exception: Prerelease libraries can only be accessed by registered developers.

Why would a non-developer want to read these? Well if you’re like me, you might be tech-savvy and curious about iOS 7 or Mavericks but not want to spend $99 to become a registered developer. Luckily there’s an easy solution.

Become a Safari Developer

Simply sign up to become a Safari extensions developer. It’s a free program that carries some of the same benefits as a paid iOS or Mac developer membership.

Simply by providing your address and an Apple ID, you gain the ability to read prerelease developer documents and learn details about Apple software months before it’s released.


Rounded Rectangles Deprecated

They Used to Be 'Everywhere'

I was reading through the pre-release documentation for iOS 7 and came across this gem:

The rounded rectangle button has been deprecated in iOS 7.

Why is this amusing? Because rounded rectangles were one of the big user interface innovations of the Macintosh and were demanded by Steve Jobs himself:

Steve suddenly got more intense. “Rectangles with rounded corners are everywhere! Just look around this room!”. And sure enough, there were lots of them, like the whiteboard and some of the desks and tables. Then he pointed out the window. “And look outside, there’s even more, practically everywhere you look!”. He even persuaded Bill to take a quick walk around the block with him, pointing out every rectangle with rounded corners that he could find.

Nearly every button on the Mac and on iOS has been a rounded rectangle for the past thirty years. So there’s something charmingly radical about a modern day Apple engineer calmly stating that they’ve been discontinued.