Meddle not in the affairs of holiday dragon displays…

I know it’s a bit late for the most popular winter holidays, but I thought I’d weigh in on this one that went viral enough to be featured on at least one national (US) news outlet.

Friendly Atheist (among others) reported on a rather unconventional holiday display involving dragons. Diana Rowland tweeted a photo of the display and a letter from a “holier than thou” type neighbor saying the display would be “only marginally acceptable at Halloween” but “totally inappropriate at Christmas” along with the worn-out line that “[her neighbors wonder if [Diana] is in a demonic cult”. Where this neighbor gets his/her authority to judge acceptable way(s) to celebrate the winter holidays, as well as his/her knowledge on demonic cults, is not mentioned. Diana’s opinion of the neighbor who left the letter is mentioned, though, with the highlight being “judgy-mcjudgyface”.

What I personally would take exception to here, is the assumption that it is Christmas that is being celebrated with this display and not one of the dozens of other winter holidays. (And you know what they say about assumptions. Hint: look at the first three letters of the word.) I mean, I’m pretty sure I can rule out Boxing Day, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, but this could easily be a display for Yule or Saturnalia. Or, Diana could be starting a new trend and observing a day in December (could be the 25th, could be some other day) as Day of the Dragons. That’s how these things start, right? Doesn’t someone have to be first? Does one necessarily have to be in a “demonic cult” just to be a bit different? Isn’t that the reason some of the colonists came over to begin with (persecution, specifically for religious reasons)?

Diana, of course, did the responsible thing: she added halos to the dragons. And added more dragons, too. She also cited a Bible passage about mystical creatures which seems to fit the description of the dragons rather well. I think Diana did rather well given she has no obligation to alter her holiday display to fit some random neighbor’s idea of what a holiday display should be.

The alternative tack is, of course, “Of course this display is not appropriate for Christmas. Neither is, say, a giant menorah and dreidel, or [insert other non-Christmas holiday symbols as desired]. Why do I have to observe all the same holidays you do?” Personally, that’s my style, calling out the assumption out for what it is, and making the person writing an anonymous letter look like the fool (s)he is.  It’s unfortunate that this is the only way some can learn that some people observe different beliefs and different holidays than they do.

On my recent experience with dating apps: Tinder, Bumble, POF, etc

(Most of this article was written in 2017 April but never published. I am making slight edits to reflect this is past reality as opposed to present, and adding commentary at the end.)

So over the past couple of years or so, I was active to varying degrees on the dating apps Tinder, Bumble, and POF (Plenty of Fish), more or less in that order.

I’ve had a few quality conversations. In between, though, there were periods where match after match would wind up being a bot. They ranged from the type that would immediately spam the URL, to the type that would just spit out plausible replies to line after line of text. I know these are bots because I would keep repeating a question such as “What part of town are you in?” and get back a complete non sequitur reply that no decent human being would type in. (I guess there is an outside chance that these are just really, really dumb human women, but I’d still bet that they are bots if I had to put money on it.)

I’ve seen a lot. I know what I swipe right on (like) and what I swipe left on (dislike/skip). It’s actually pretty simple. The following things, for example, usually got an immediate left swipe:

  1. Duckface. I’m surprised I even have to say this. Just Say No To Duckface, please.
  2. Lack of a picture that shows your face without sunglasses or other distractions, or large enough where I can see it. Okay, so you’re not proud of your face for whatever reason. If you’re that ashamed of it that you can only show neck-down body shots, your legs/feet, or pictures of your dog/cat/kids (I’m not dating your dog, cat, or kids), I have almost nothing to really judge by and honestly I have doubts you’re a real person. Same with sunglasses: dating apps are not a Texas Hold’em poker game! Bluffing me into folding (swiping left) isn’t the objective here. Or, maybe it is, in which case, why are you on Tinder to begin with?
  3. Snapchat or similar filters, similar to the previous item. They are cheap. They are cliché. I’m sure you think you look cute as a dog, with worse-than-dollar-store fake flowers on your head, etc. Sorry, I don’t. If you are lucky I might look at your other pictures to see if I can see one that actually shows you as you are. (Even though I never will use Snapchat, I still know what the filters are from seeing them so many times. They really are that cliché. The last thing a woman who is desiring a date from me wants to look like is a dog, yet I see way too many dog-woman-face pictures on Tinder every time I get on it.)
  4. In the same vein as the two previous items, face paint pictures if they are all that is there. (I mean carnival/party/theme park face paint here, not just ordinary makeup.) I don’t mind these as much, some of these face paint designs are just too good not to show off, I totally get that. But if that’s all that’s there and I can’t tell or reasonably guess what you might look like without it, it’s really not any different than Snapchat dog-face.
  5. Invites to be part of a threesome or a polyamorous relationship. No offense to those who practice such things, but they just aren’t for me.

There are a few other things I will swipe left for but those cover the vast majority of cases; I have my own personal preferences in addition to those that I’m not going to detail here.

I’d like to think these are reasonable criteria. Though I wonder sometimes, am I really being too picky? The number of conversations I’ve wanted to take to the next step, I can count on one hand. One of them just up and quit responding one day. Another I thought I was doing well with, and then I wake up the next morning to find myself unmatched. Many other times, I start the conversation, only to get crickets.

I’m sure a lot of happy relationships have begun on Tinder and POF, possibly with Bumble too but it seems to be one of the minor players. (Also, due to Bumble’s “women go first” and 24-hour expiration rules, I have yet to get anything resembling a conversation going.) I have to wonder if maybe these apps are not for me.

I have nothing against Craigslist, but the personals section there is, if anything, much worse. Then again, the last time I tried it, I used it completely differently than I would something like POF or Tinder. I did not post my picture to my profile and used an alias email (not the one I normally use).

Update, 2018 November: As of some months ago I did, in fact, finally decide Tinder was not for me and deleted my profile there. I still technically have an active POF profile but I have not logged in for quite some time. I probably still technically have an active Bumble profile, but again, the app has not been on my phone for months if not over a year. The only dating app I use now is The League, which for the moment hasn’t yielded any decent results.

When I first wrote this in 2017 April, I had not yet fully committed to becoming a professional face painter. That changed in 2018, but my rule regarding face paint pictures still stands (I currently make sure I have at least half of my pictures showing “the real me”, though I may pare this down to two good face paint designs, or perhaps just one favorite, later.)

The WordPress “new Coke” moment is right around the corner, for real

Around this time last year (specifically, 2017 November 24),  I published a post comparing the Gutenberg editor due to be a part of WordPress to “new Coke”. It’s about time for a retrospective on this, since in a couple of weeks, WordPress 5.0 is due out and will have the Gutenberg editor be the new default, and so the true “taste test” is about to become a reality.

First, the serious stuff to my fellow WordPress users out there: If you have tried the Gutenberg editor already and you know it won’t be a good fit, or if you don’t want to be screaming in horror when you upgrade your site to WordPress 5.0 and wonder what the hell happened to your editor,  then you will want to install the Classic Editor plugin. If you have access to the WordPress CLI, you can simply run wp plugin install classic-editorand call it a day. Alternatively, you can install from the plugins menu as normal.

Alternatively, if you’re daring, you can install the Gutenberg editor as a plugin today: wp install gutenberg from the CLI, or you can install from the plugins menu. As I mentioned in my previous post, Gutenberg is a radical departure from the classic editor, and for some, it has already failed the “taste test”. Take, for example, this recent post on WP Tavern (quoted in part):

Testing Scenario: A user has written three paragraphs and decides to add an image to the second paragraph. This user wants the image to be aligned to the right.

[…] [describing the task in the classic editor] Adding media to a paragraph is as quick as placing the mouse cursor at the beginning of a paragraph, clicking the add new media button, selecting or uploading an image, and choosing its alignment.

[…] [describing the task in Gutenberg] In Gutenberg, each paragraph is a block and each block has its own toolbar. This is important because after writing three paragraphs, you can’t click on an add media button. Instead, you need to create an image block.

[…] select[] an image [and] move the image block above the paragraph block where you want to insert it. […] [T]ry[ing] to drag and drop the image into the paragraph […] doesn’t work. […] [U]se the up and down arrows or drag the block into position.

Once the image block is in the correct location, click the align right icon. […]

[For now] the Classic editor wins this use case.

Translation: for some simple tasks like this one, the “new Coke” tastes terrible. I can see new users getting frustrated at this, until and unless they figure out how to go back to the classic editor. Or, they may well give up WordPress completely and move on to something like Drupal (hopefully not), Joomla, etc.

Perhaps even worse is the WordPress Accessibility Team’s assessment of Gutenberg (as detailed in another WP Tavern post):

The [WordPress accessibility] team, largely a group of unpaid volunteers, collaborated on a detailed assessment that publicly challenges Gutenberg’s readiness for core in a way that no other WordPress team has done through official channels to date. After a week of testing the most recent version of the plugin, the team concluded that they cannot recommend Gutenberg to be used by anyone who relies on assistive technology.


The mistake of not having consulted accessibility experts in the design phase cannot be easily rectified at this point, but the Classic Editor is still available for those who need to preserve their same workflow. […]

Either the accessibility and usability issues the team identified are not as bad as they purport or this document is a last-minute clarion call that could prevent WordPress from shipping an editor that excludes users who rely on assistive technology. Due to the gravity of their claims, the accessibility team’s statement on Gutenberg demands an official response.

It is my hope that the accessibility issues in Gutenberg can be fixed sooner rather than later. I find it quite difficult to believe, as a website platform intended for the masses, that the developers of WordPress would not have thought out accessibility issues in Gutenberg earlier in the development process.

As for me, I do plan to use the Gutenberg on one of my sites (a business site, not one set up as a blog, though I may use the blog feature as a “news wire” at some point down the road). For straight-up blogs like this one and SKQ Record Quest (my pinball/videogaming blog) I see myself sticking with the classic editor for the foreseeable future. My biggest concern is what the move towards Gutenberg will do to the time-honored method of editing blog posts using an external editor (such as I did for many months using GVim and Vimrepress, though I should note as of last time I tried, it was too broken to be usable.)

One nation, circling the toilet, with prison and injustice for too many

Before I get into the topic at hand, I want to set something straight. The five months since I’ve last posted to this blog have been bad. I mean, really bad. The election of DJT by a minority of the people, thanks to this outdated means of electing a president called the Electoral College, has been a disaster for this country.

I saw a campaign fueled by hate of those of different races and religions, and by ridicule of those with differing abilities. I held out hope that decency would prevail, and as much as I really didn’t want her either, that Hillary Rodham Clinton would be our 45th President and 2016 would be a history-making year as the first time a First Lady was elected to be president herself. (I really wanted Bernie Sanders. A lot of those who wouldn’t dare vote for Hillary, from what I have heard, would have voted for Bernie.)

I made a fully informed vote, as much as voting Democrat in Texas could possibly matter, and voted for Hillary. Unfortunately, DJT was seen as the protest vote by way too many for that to possibly matter, here in Texas and the other states that traditionally lean red or swing.

The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, in spite of his predatory history and his demeanor on the stand, is the most nauseating and infuriating failure of the Senate I have seen in my entire life. The votes of John Cornyn and Ted Cruz in favor of confirmation honestly make me a bit ashamed to be a Texan (the latter is, by the way, up for election this year, and you can help vote him out if you live in Texas).

I’m ashamed to be an American when we have a so-called president that the other world leaders at a UN meeting actually laughed at. The President of the United States should never be in a position to be laughed at by other world leaders. To do that, (s)he should act like a world leader. Clearly, DJT didn’t do that at this UN meeting. Clearly, the people that voted for him, whose votes actually counted to swing the ass-backwards Electoral College vote in favor of him (despite Hillary clearly being the popular vote winner), didn’t think this through and did not realize just who DJT really was prior to the election (and still is today).

To me, it says everything that we haven’t even seen his tax returns yet. Honestly, I’m starting to think we never will, and that is unfortunate. The vast majority of candidates for president have had no issue with this. The swing state voters elected a pig in a poke. And we still have, from a financial standpoint, a pig in a poke sitting in The White House, at least the nominal leader of our country (though, clearly, he has done a very poor job of behaving like a leader).

I know a lot of people do not like to talk about politics. But there is simply too much at stake in the elections this year to not talk about politics. The Republicans have had their chance, and they’ve blown it. I hope as many of you as possible can join me this November in sending them a message they won’t forget, by voting Democrat for every seat where there’s a Democratic candidate. Together, we can get our country back out of the toilet bowl before it completely goes down the drain.

A cancer drug’s new side effect is a thinning wallet

This recent Ars Technica article showcases a textbook example of the perils of mixing profit with medicine. While the headline of the article is a bit dramatic, the underlying storyline is clear-cut: Pharmaceutical company makes expensive cancer drug (Imbruvica, generic name ibrutinib, at $133 per 140 mg pill, with a dosage of 140 mg to 560 mg or one to four pills). Doctors experiment and find out that one pill instead of the typical three is usually enough for effective treatment, which is important because of the side effects. Pharmaceutical company changes manufacturing to four different dosages but prices them all at three times what the old pill cost, effectively tripling the price for those taking just one pill.

If this sounds outrageous, you’re not alone in that opinion by any means. To a lot of people, including doctors, patients, and others (its mention in places like the People For Internet Responsibility mailing list has helped raise the awareness of the issue), this looks like the companies, Janssen Biotech and Pharmacyclics, Inc., went for a quick cash grab, possibly after noticing that they weren’t selling enough pills at the already obscene original price.

This edition of Cancer Letter, a newsletter about cancer research and treatment, decries at length this absurd change made by the manufacturer. It is very technical, making it a bit difficult to understand if you aren’t a doctor or nurse. The part that’s pretty easy to understand, though, starts with this quote:

It is worth comparing the prescribing information for ibrutinib with that of warfarin, which has been called “the most dangerous drug in America”.[10] Warfarin is formulated in nine strengths ranging from 1-10 mg daily. However, prescribers have complete discretion to select the dose strength most appropriate for each individual patient, and may choose to prescribe a 2 mg strength for a patient whose daily dosage requirement ranges from 4-6 mg daily. Prescribers also choose to use every other day dosing on occasion. Needless to say, it would be not be possible to safely use warfarin if the prescriber had to order a new tablet strength for each and every dosage change.

In contrast to warfarin, we do not believe that physicians and patients will be able to prescribe and self-administer ibrutinib in accordance with the prescribing instructions without the ability to prescribe 140 mg tablets regardless of the daily dosage. When dose reductions are required and substitute tablets are not readily available, physicians will need to choose between continuing the higher dose (a major safety risk) or interruption of the dosing for as long as two weeks, which could potentially impact efficacy.[9]

But what do the manufacturers care? It’s all about the money; if they cure a few people of cancer, that’s all the good PR they need, and it’s better for the bottom line to take in $400 per pill regardless of dose than $133 per 140 mg pill, at least while it’s legal to do so.

The problem with this is that it says the drug itself costs only a knowledgable amount and what the patient (or actually, in the US, the patient’s insurance company) is paying for is the manufacturing. I know the cost of actually making the pills didn’t triple overnight. If the manufacturers have to do this just to cover their costs, then they are doing it wrong, but I really don’t think that’s the case.

The Cancer Letter goes on to urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to review the change being made to how this drug is being priced. I’m surprised that the manufacturers were allowed to change the pricing like this without getting prior FDA approval. If a pharmaceutical company can hike the price like this on a whim, that’s a huge gaping hole in our prescription drug regulations that needs to be plugged stat. I’m not holding my breath, though, given who we have in both Congress and the White House.