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Best alternative to Adobe Acrobat Pro?


Today has been a momentous day for me. I spent much of the morning watching a backlit LCD television screen anxiously waiting for updates… on the progress of setup of a Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 PC. I will always remember January 20, 2017 as the historic occasion on which I got my first 2-in-1 device.

This does lead to a question… what is a good alternative to Adobe Acrobat Pro? I subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud, but it works on only two devices and I already have it set up on two desktop computers. The process of an individual adding a third device is simply not contemplated by Adobe (their support folks suggest creating a new email address and then setting up a second Adobe account).

I have never liked the interface of Acrobat Pro anyway. It always seems to take a few extra clicks to find the features that I actually use: OCR, clipping out sections to paste into Word or Google Docs, adding a signature or some other text to an existing PDF.

Is there an alternative to Acrobat Pro that has the above capabilities and can be purchased for a reasonable price, ideally with a more intuitive interface? I’m already paying Adobe about $700/year so I don’t want to go crazy with additional license fees.

Not sure how I am going to survive the next four years…


… said a guest at a party last month in a $5.11 million (Zillow estimate) Back Bay townhouse here in Boston, while drinking 20-year-old Napa Cabernet. Two other guests nodded in agreement.

King Donald the First’s Inauguration


Inauguration Day thoughts…

In terms of their separation from the public and the difference between their lives and that of a commoner, the American president seems more like a king than a citizen.

Surely there was an even wider disparity in the 18th-century days of monarchy, right? Wrong, says Catherine the Great (Massie):

No serious barriers were placed between the imperial family and the public; all parks in the capital and the nearby countryside were open to all who were “decently dressed.” This included the park at Tsarskoe Selo. One day, Catherine was seated on a bench with her favorite personal maid after their early morning walk. A man passed by, glanced briefly at the two elderly women, and, failing to recognize the empress, walked on, whistling. The maid was indignant, but Catherine merely remarked, “What do you expect, Maria Savichna? Twenty years ago this would not have happened. We have grown old. It is our fault.”

How about in the old days here in the U.S.?  Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People:

The president-elect [Thomas Jefferson] walked from his boardinghouse to the newly constructed Capitol as his predecessor, John Adams, slipped out of town. But the occasion was nevertheless momentous: power transferred peacefully from one political party to another for the first time in the history of the young United States. Jefferson had work to do. He was committed to cutting taxes, trimming the military, and scaling down government, but even as he favored a contraction of federal power, he was also committed to expanding opportunities for the country’s independent farmers.

Our own Congresswoman, Katherine Clark, won’t be attending the coronation (Boston Globe). She tweeted that “families in my district are fearful that the anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and divisive promises that drove the Trump campaign will become the policies affecting the health and safety of every American.” As she ran unopposed and “won re-election by default” (Ballotpedia), it is tough to know why she bothered to explain her decision to do something else today. Her constituents were surely not under the impression that she supported a Republican president. Was it to remind people that she is “pro-woman, pro-immigrant, and pro-Muslim”? Or that she is demonstrating her passion for inclusion (and against “divisiveness”) by boycotting an event where people who disagree with her will be present?

Berkshire Hathaway now that Warren’s friend won’t be in the White House?



What do you think of Berkshire Hathaway stock? BRK-A and BRK-B?

The company has a great track record, but a friend who retired from money management about 10 years ago said “there are a LOT of embedded capital gains since Warren never sells anything. If he croaks and the portfolio makes some changes or liquidates, you will generate a boatload of phantom capital gains and get taxed on them even though you never actually got them.”

Are there risks to BRK-A associated with Warren Buffett’s potential retirement or death? If they sell stuff themselves it gets taxed at 35 percent federal plus any state corporate tax (C corporations don’t get a special rate for long-term capital gains) and then if they pay that out to shareholders it gets taxed at about 24 percent (dividend tax rate plus Obamacare tax, right?). Could they do a tax-free spin-off, though, of one of their portfolio companies? Then you have a crazy low basis if you ever sell it?

Since Berkshire Hathaway functions more or less like a mutual fund, would it be smarter to buy a Vanguard fund where any capital gains have been distributed to shareholders and taxes paid on them gradually?

What about political risk? Warren Buffett had friends in the White House for the last eight years. Presumably he won’t have any influence with the Trumpenfuhrer. Are there tax law changes that Congress and Trump are proposing that would have an adverse effect on Berkshire Hathway?

Berkshire Hathaway has done some stuff in the past that perhaps the incoming administration might shut down. See this Washington Post story:

In transactions in 2014 and last year, Berkshire did three “cash-rich split-off” transactions that allowed it to end up with lots of cash and assets while avoiding what I estimate to be a total of about $2.5 billion in capital gains taxes.

Berkshire did what amounted to complicated trades with three companies whose shares it had owned for years, swapping those holdings for a combination of cash and operating assets. The transactions are treated by the IRS as tax-free trades, rather than sales.

By my count, the three transactions that yielded cash and assets were worth $6.2 billion more than Berkshire’s $1 billion total cost for its stock in the companies, which in the case of Graham Holdings dated back more than 40 years.

At a combined state and federal tax rate of about 40 percent—there is no special capital gains rate for corporations—selling its holdings in those three companies for cash would have triggered a $2.5 billion tax bill.


Bill Murray shows us how to praise Obama


Today’s the last full of day of Barack Obama’s job in the White House. My Facebook friends are falling over themselves talking about how Americans (especially those who voted for the Trumpenfuhrer) have been unworthy of this great man.

If you’re looking for inspiration on how to praise Barack Obama appropriately, I suggest the Good Morning America scene in the movie What About Bob?

Bob: What I’d really like to do, is put the greatness of this man in perspective. I think that there ‘s only 3 names…Dr. Albert Schweitzer, ah, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, probably, and…Leo Marvin

this YouTube clip at about 3:25

Also at 2:10: “It’s this man. It’s the compassion. It’s the dignity. It’s the wisdom. It’s the horse sense of the guy that gets you…” and then “What do I say to someone who has turned my whole life around? Who has given up so of their time and their vacation to make me better?”

Real-world examples of systems of linear equations?


My sojourn in the world of 8th grade math continues. As pointless and repetitive as the exercises are, the feeble attempts by the textbook authors to make the problems relevant are worse. Here’s a “real world” example of linear equations:

  1. You and your friend together sell 58 tickets to a raffle.
  2. You sold 14 more tickets than your friend.
  3. How many did you and your friend each sell?

Even if an 8th grader were willing to consider a world in which this kind of partial information were available (maybe Enron did accounting like this?) and someone cared about the answer, why would it matter?

Readers: What’s an example of a system of linear equations that has obvious practical value, as perceived by an 8th grader?

Victorian Miscellanea


Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire (Julia Baird 2016) contains some interesting miscellaneous facts.

We might have avoided World War I if Kaiser Wilhelm‘s dad hadn’t died of cancer at 56. Wilhelm was Victoria’s grandson. His mom was Princess Victoria, referred to as “Pussy” in her youth.

Wilhelm was a proud, often cruel, and talentless man who harbored a particular kind of hatred for his mother. The painful breech birth Vicky had suffered meant he had to be wrenched from her womb, causing partial paralysis of his left arm due to nerve damage (this is now known as Erb’s palsy). This made his left arm fifteen centimeters shorter than his right, something he tried to disguise for years by resting it on swords or other props. The medical establishment was ill equipped to deal with such a disability, which was considered shameful at the time. The treatments used to try to repair his arm were horrific. One such treatment, first applied when he was a few months old, was “animal baths.” Twice a week, a hare was killed and sliced open; Wilhelm’s limp arm was slid inside the still-warm body in the hope that some of its life force would magically transfer to the baby boy. Willy was also jolted with electric shocks and strapped into a metal contraption that forced his head upright. He blamed his mother for his shame, and for his years of unsuccessful, painful treatments: he would never forgive her.

As a militaristic conservative who favored state rule, Wilhelm believed he was the true patriot in his family. He “fancied himself of enormous importance,” Vicky told her mother. He thought he was more Prussian than his progressive father, Fritz, and was a great admirer of Bismarck and all things associated with “despotism and Police State.” Victoria was so irritated by her twenty-eight-year-old grandson’s haughtiness that she did not want to invite him to her Golden Jubilee.

From England, Victoria regarded his scheming with irritation. Even Chancellor Bismarck recognized Willy was too immature to rule, that he was impetuous, “susceptible to flattery and could plunge Germany into war without foreseeing or wishing it.” It turned out to be a matter of character, though, not maturity, for this was precisely what happened years later, when Wilhelm’s eagerness for war would far outstrip his competence at waging it.

What would have happened if Fritz’s cancerous throat had not prematurely ended his life? Germany would have been under the rule of a liberal, compassionate emperor, a leader who wanted to improve the lives of the working class and who especially despised the anti-Semitic movement. “As a modern civilized man, as a Christian and a gentleman, he found it abhorrent,” wrote Vicky; he tried to counter it where he could. His son Wilhelm was the opposite, stirring up and championing anti-Semitism, writing in 1927 while in exile in the Netherlands that “press, Jews & mosquitos…are a nuisance that humanity must get rid of in some way or another. I believe the best would be gas?

Christians and Muslims couldn’t agree on what was legitimate in war:

The Turkish atrocities were gruesome. The skulls of Bulgarians were carried on spikes or piled on carts, pregnant women were ripped open and rows of fetuses brandished on bayonets, children sold into slavery and harems, women savagely raped, people locked inside churches and burned alive. “Christian heads,” wrote one correspondent, were “tossed about the market place, like balls from one Turk to another.”

People argued about the relative legal power between men and women:

As the queen jostled for power and demanded to be heard, British women were also growing more restless and began arguing for the right to their own incomes, to divorce on the same terms as men, to protection from violence, and to shared custody of their children. (For most of the century, men were given full custody of children if they divorced or separated from their wives.)

Until 1870 all of the money women earned belonged to their husbands, and until 1882 their property did too, even after a divorce or separation. According to the centuries-old principle of coverture, English law saw a wife not as a separate entity but a “femme covert,” who was under the “protection and influence of her husband, her baron or lord.

The Second Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 established wives as distinct entities—“femme sole”—who could own, inherit, and rent property and represent themselves in a court of law. Gradually women won more rights to care for their children after divorce; from 1886 the welfare of the children could be taken into account when determining if women could have some (limited) custody over their children.

(See the History of Divorce chapter for an interviewee’s explanation that “Originally fathers got custody because they remained responsible for the child’s support.”)

Excited by CES 2017? A lot changed in the 19th century and during Victoria’s reign (1837-1901):

The world took on a new fascination for Victoria now that she was part of it. In the year she became queen, Charles Dickens began the serialization of Oliver Twist; Caroline Norton published her radical pamphlet arguing that mothers should have some custody of their young children after divorce; and a national antislavery convention was held in America, in which British women were thanked for their support. Inventors patented the electric telegraph, the first daguerreotype was successfully exposed, and the Grand Junction Railway, which ran between Manchester and Birmingham, was completed. The momentum for massive change had begun to gather pace.

Readers: What do you think? Should we date the modern world to 1901, the year Victoria died? We have aviation now, but with a bit of patience it was possible to travel comfortably by train and ship. We have Internet, but they had the telegraph for important messages (and why do we need the unimportant ones?). Is it fair to say that the pace of change has slowed?

More: read Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire.

Economists and the New York Times develop a keen grasp of the obvious


“Higher Minimum Wage May Have Losers” (nytimes) is kind of fun. Economists and the New York Times editors have figured out that when workers are expensive, employers try to hire only the most energetic and productive. (SSDI for everyone else!)

Victoria, Victorians, and Sex


Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire (Julia Baird 2016) takes the position that it was mostly Prince Albert, Victoria’s husband, who made us associate the word “Victorian” with attempts to control sexual behavior.

Baird provides the reader with context:

In the late eighteenth century, when Melbourne grew up, marital faithfulness was not a prized virtue. Marriages were seen as companionable contracts within which one should produce a male heir. Melbourne’s own mother was, as he said himself, “a remarkable woman, a devoted mother, an excellent wife,—but not chaste, not chaste.” She had many lovers, with whom she had several children. It was widely known that Melbourne’s father was not his mother’s husband, from whom he took his name, but one of his mother’s lovers, Lord Egremont. What was surprising was that Melbourne stayed faithful to his own cuckolding wife. According to his biographer David Cecil, a married man was then thought peculiar if he did not have a “sprightly, full-bosomed” mistress. As for married women, “the practice was too common to stir comment.”

[regarding a man that today we might describe as “gay”] No one seriously gossiped about it while he was alive, at a time when homosexuality was not considered an identity but something people occasionally dabbled in, often as teenagers and young men and women. According to Michel Foucault, the beginning of the categorization of homosexuality as an identity did not come until 1870.

Albert laid down the law within the palace:

Punishment was given for “dishonest and sexually loose behavior.” A strict new code of conduct was carefully framed and hung in the bedrooms of maids of honor. Victoria’s name has long been associated with the puritanism Albert championed in her court, but he, not she, was the true advocate of these standards. Melbourne quickly realized that while Victoria “did not much care about such niceties of moral choice,” Albert was “extremely strait-laced.” The prince insisted on “spotless character,” while the queen did not care “a straw about it.” No one was exempt from Albert’s standards. Even his own brother had been a cause of fury due to his sexual licentiousness that had resulted in severe “visitations” of venereal disease. Yet Victoria would do little to stem her husband’s fervor; the Albert era, at least inside the palace, had begun.

One of their sons was fond of an actress:

Prince Albert first heard the rumors of his son’s thespian liaison with Nellie Clifden from Baron Stockmar, then in Germany, who had stumbled upon the story in European papers. The gossip had been swirling about the London clubs for weeks. … Sexual looseness was Albert’s psychological Achilles’ heel: his own family had been destroyed by infidelity, and his only brother had contracted syphilis. Albert was incapable of viewing trysts as casual, inevitable, or meaningless; for him, they could only contain the seeds of ruin. In the nineteenth century, this kind of affair could mean not just scandal, but disease, pregnancy, court cases, and financial ruin.

On November 16, four days after he heard the rumors about the affair from Stockmar, Albert sat down to write to his son. It was a strikingly harsh letter, especially as it was not unusual for aristocratic men to dabble with women before marriage. It began: “I write to you with a heavy heart upon a subject which has caused me the greatest pain I have yet felt in this life,” the discovery that his son, a prince, had “sunk into vice and debauchery.” Bertie had always seemed ignorant and weak, he wrote, but “depraved” was a new low. His father warned him of nightmarish scenarios: this “woman of the town” could have a child—and take him to court if he denied it. She could offer “disgusting details of your profligacy” and Bertie himself could be cross-examined, mobbed, and humiliated. Bertie, shamed and guilty, begged his forgiveness. Albert told him nothing could restore his innocence. Victoria shared her husband’s disgust: “Oh! that boy—much as I pity him I never can or shall look at him without a shudder.”

Sex and cash were, um, intimately linked:

“Fast” women were blamed for many things in Victorian England: a loosening of moral codes, the masculinization of ladies, and an epidemic of venereal disease that had crippled the British defense forces in the Crimea, in India, and in England. By 1864, almost a third of all British troops were admitted to the hospital for syphilis or gonorrhea. Because it was not the soldiers who were blamed but the women they slept with, the solution decided upon was simple: the army and navy needed clean prostitutes. In 1864, the first of the Contagious Diseases Acts introduced official brothels for the military.

the Victorian double standard under which women were punished for sexual behavior while men escaped scrutiny and condemnation. Still, many men regarded prostitutes as essential to the social fabric. Tolstoy, for example, could not imagine London without its “Magdalenes.” “What would become of families?” he wrote in 1870. “How many wives or daughters would remain chaste? What would become of the laws of morality which people so love to observe? It seems to me that this class of woman is essential to the family under the present complex forms of life.” Divorces were still rare, and men were supposed to delay marriage until they were financially solvent. Unemployment created a swath of single men. Prostitution was the subject of much speculation but little rigorous research in England at the time. Estimates of the number of female sex workers in London at midcentury ranged between 80,000 and 120,000, out of a total population of 2.3 million men and women.

The 1871 Royal Commission on the Contagious Diseases Acts, for example, declared there was no comparison to be made between prostitutes and their clients: “With the one sex the offence is committed as a matter of gain, with the other it is an irregular indulgence of a natural impulse.” Yet, as one sex worker said after being imprisoned, “It did seem hard, ma’am, that the Magistrate on the bench who gave the casting vote for my imprisonment had paid me several shillings a day or two before, in the street, to go with him.”

Have you heard about a politician and women willing to have sex if the price is right?

It is not clear when Gladstone’s fetish for “fallen women” began, though it is clear that the period of greatest activity was around 1850, when he had been in Parliament for eighteen years. … He spent hours talking to sex workers he met in the streets, trying to persuade them to choose another life. He read them Tennyson and Thomas Malory, arranged for them to have their portraits painted, and grew deeply attached to them. The tall, somber politician was particularly drawn to beautiful prostitutes, something that did not escape comment. In 1852, he described one of his great interests as “half a most lovely statue, beautiful beyond measure.” … Concerned colleagues tried to warn Gladstone about possible ramifications of his behavior, but he refused to stop. Sex workers called him “Old Glad-eye.” He tried to rescue somewhere between eighty and ninety prostitutes over the five years following 1849, but he had little success. He admitted, “There is but one of whom I know that the miserable life has been abandoned and that I can fairly join that fact with influence of mine.”

After Albert’s death things lightened up a bit:

[Victoria] allowed women thought to be innocent parties in divorce cases to join the Jubilee; she even contemplated extending this privilege to such women from other countries, although Lord Salisbury counseled her against it “on account of the risk of admitting American women of light character”). It was a time for leniency—across the empire, prisoners were set free, except those who were cruel to animals, a sin Victoria considered unforgivable.

More: read Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire.

Sometimes it is bad when the science is settled


“Big Sugar’s Secret Ally? Nutritionists” (nytimes):

When it comes to weight gain, the sugar industry and purveyors of sugary beverages still insist, a calorie is a calorie, regardless of its source, so guidelines that single out sugar as a dietary evil are not evidence-based.

Surprisingly, the scientific consensus is technically in agreement. It holds that obesity is caused “by a lack of energy balance,” as the National Institutes of Health website explains — in other words, by our taking in more calories than we expend. Hence, the primary, if not the only, way that foods can influence our body weight is through their caloric content.

When scientists agree on climate change, science is good and the process of inquiry is one of pure intellect. When scientists agree on calorie consumption and weight, science is bad and the process of inquiry is tainted by “dogmatic belief.”

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