Sunday, November 27, 2016

Ripping an unplayable CD and burning a new one

We bought an audio CD (stop smirking please) on a recent trip, played it once or twice at home, and... now it won't play.
…which reminds me of John Hartford's "Don't leave your records in the sun" but we didn't leave our CD in the sun.

Anyway, I remembered that there was a program that would try really hard to read damaged CDs, but I couldn't remember its name. After some web searching I was delighted to find the name "cdparanoia" but discouraged to read that development had stopped in 2002. Further searching revealed a 2008 update, so I tried this on Debian jessie:

$ sudo apt-get install cdparanoia
Hooray! It was found! Then after RTFMing I typed:
$ sudo cdparanoia -sQ
cdparanoia III release 10.2 (September 11, 2008)


Table of contents (audio tracks only):
track        length               begin        copy pre ch
===========================================================
  1.    27945 [06:12.45]        0 [00:00.00]    no   no  2
  2.    24852 [05:31.27]    27945 [06:12.45]    no   no  2
  3.    33420 [07:25.45]    52797 [11:43.72]    no   no  2
  4.    29895 [06:38.45]    86217 [19:09.42]    no   no  2
  5.    23468 [05:12.68]   116112 [25:48.12]    no   no  2
  6.    14717 [03:16.17]   139580 [31:01.05]    no   no  2
  7.    15945 [03:32.45]   154297 [34:17.22]    no   no  2
  8.    14255 [03:10.05]   170242 [37:49.67]    no   no  2
  9.    16288 [03:37.13]   184497 [40:59.72]    no   no  2
 10.    20465 [04:32.65]   200785 [44:37.10]    no   no  2
 11.    66120 [14:41.45]   221250 [49:10.00]    no   no  2
TOTAL  287370 [63:51.45]    (audio only)
$
NOTE: the first few times I tried that, it told me it couldn't read the drive/disk. I typed random things and then the above worked. Maybe it was just the -s? Anyway, after more RTFMing I decided to rip the CD into separate files, but first I wanted to find a nice place to put the files. Would the home directory be okay?
$ df .
Filesystem     1K-blocks      Used Available Use% Mounted on
/dev/sda6      882859164 174497320 663492076  21% /home
$ mkdir finland-cd 
$ cd finland-cd
$ 
It occurred to me that maybe it wasn't necessary to say sudo so I tried it without:
$ cdparanoia -B -- -11
cdparanoia III release 10.2 (September 11, 2008)

 
Ripping from sector       0 (track  1 [0:00.00])
          to sector  287369 (track 11 [14:41.44])

outputting to track01.cdda.wav

 (== PROGRESS == [                              | 027944 00 ] == :^D * ==)
… you get the idea
$ ls
track01.cdda.wav  track04.cdda.wav  track07.cdda.wav  track10.cdda.wav
track02.cdda.wav  track05.cdda.wav  track08.cdda.wav  track11.cdda.wav
track03.cdda.wav  track06.cdda.wav  track09.cdda.wav
$
Now, about burning: I didn't remember the command for that, either. A web search led me to brasero, whence
$ type brasero
brasero is /usr/bin/brasero
$ brasero&
I clicked on "Audio Project" or maybe "Audio CD", and fumbled around a bit before noticing the "+" sign near the top; this allowed me to add those 11 files to the project. NOTE THAT the order of tracks reflects way the files appear in the dialog box. So if you've got the file selection box set to show newest-first, then track 1 will be the newest file, etc.

I clicked on "Name" to sort by name (I might have had to click twice), and got track01.cdda.wav as the first track, track02.cdda.wav as the second, etc.

Then I selected Project→Burn, or maybe the "Burn" button in the lower-right corner of brasero's window. It worked perfectly; I'm listening to Bach now.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The way of power, and the way of love.

This morning's sermon included some words from Henri Nouwen's book, In the Name of Jesus. I didn't quite start crying, though the words obviously made an impression on me—particularly Nouwen's comments about his powerful self vs. the vulnerable self. The powerful self can produce things, accomplish things, prove things, influence things. The vulnerable self finds itself in feeling loved by Jesus.

That's profound, but where I almost lost it was the story of Henri and Bill's trip to Washington DC, which I'll copy/paste from this page:

Once when asked to speak at the Center for Human Development in Washington, D. C., on Christian Leadership in the 21st century, Nouwen decided that to be true to what he was going to say, he should go in partnership — two by two as the Gospel says — with one of his mentally handicapped friends, Bill Van Buren. So he told Bill, “We are doing this together. You and I are going to Washington to proclaim the Gospel.”

Together they flew to Washington, got settled in their hotel, and went to the conference. When the time came for the address, after being introduced, Nouwen took out his handwritten text and began his talk. At that moment, he noticed Bill had left his seat and come up to the podium, planting himself right behind him. Thought Nouwen, “It was clear that Bill had a much more concrete idea about ‘doing it together’ than I did.” Each time I finished a page, he took it away and put it upside down on a small table close by.

When Nouwen began to speak about the temptation to turn stones into bread as a temptation to be relevant, Bill interrupted and said loudly, for all to hear, “I have heard that before!”

When Nouwen came to the second part and was reading the words, “The question most asked by the handicapped people with whom I live was, “Are you home tonight?” Bill interrupted and said, “That’s right, that is what John Smeltzer always asks.”

Then, said Nouwen, “After I had finished reading my text and people had shown their appreciation, Bill said to me, ‘Henri, can I say something now?’” Said Nouwen, “My first reaction was, ‘Oh, how am I going to handle this? He might start rambling and create an embarrassing situation?’”

Bill took the microphone and said, with all the difficulties he had in speaking, “Last time, when Henri went to Boston, he took John Smeltzer with him. This time he wanted me to come with him to Washington, and I am glad to be here with you. Thank you very much.” Everyone stood and gave him warm applause.

On the way back, on the airplane, Bill said, “Henri, did you like our trip?” “Oh, yes,” I answered, “it was a wonderful trip, and I am so glad you came with me.” Bill looked at me attentively and then said, “And we did it together, didn’t we?”

Said Nouwen, “Then I realized the full truth of Jesus’ words, “Where two or three meet in my Name, I am among them” (Matthew 18:20) In the past, I had always given lectures, sermons, addresses, and speeches by myself. Often I had wondered how much of what I said would be remembered. Now it dawned on me that most likely much of what I said would not be long remembered, but that Bill and I doing it together would not easily be forgotten.” (In The Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, Henri J. M. Nouwen, Crossroads: New York, 1989.)

From https://skokiecentralchurch.wordpress.com/2010/08/22/2010-08-22-“all-bent-out-of-shape”-luke-13-10-17/
Love and grace are evident here, in abundance. This story, and Nouwen's words about the powerful vs. the vulnerable self, put me in mind of the words from John 1: and of his fullness all we have received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses [but] grace and truth came by Jesus Christ: truth in the sense of my true self (vs. the powerful yet false self) and grace in particular by being a conduit (not a sink) for the unmerited favor & love I receive every moment of every day. As a conduit of grace, I am called among other things to be gentle: A bruised reed he will not break, as the prophecy says, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Collin reads the 2016 California statewide ballot propositions

Can you believe there are seventeen of these? That's as many as republicans who ran for president this year. Herewith my summary and views.
  • 51 school bonds: YES

    Ever since the disastrous prop.13 from the late 1970s, municipalities and school districts have been strapped for funding. I'm not a big fan of bonds, but there doesn't seem to be any way to allocate construction funds in this state (or probably any state).

    Although the argument against says that Governor Brown opposes, I read recently that he's spoken generally about bonds, not specifically against this measure.

  • 52 medi-cal hospital fees: NO

    This makes it harder for the state to respond to any future changes in federal policies around allocation of health care funds. If this measure fails (I hope so) then the legislature will just renew the existing fee program -- guaranteed! Nobody opposes any renewal because it's free money for the state and for hospitals.

  • 53 revenue bonds: NO

    What is the problem this aims to solve? It may create new problems too. For instance, do you want to vote for/against a revenue bond project in a faraway location in California? Would you want them to vote on ours?

  • 54: Legislature must wait 72 hours after posting measure on internet: NO

    It sounds good, but too much "transparency" in government makes it impossible to compromise. Instead we get deadlock and shutdowns and polarization. See this article in the Atlantic on how US politics went insane.

  • 55: extend taxes on income earners over 250K$: YES

    We want the government to provide services, and we have to pay for them. Those of us who make more money should pay a higher share of our income for at least two reasons:

    1. We can afford it.
    2. We have benefited more from services (roads, firefighters, education) than those with lower incomes.
    And my income isn't over 250K$, but the two reasons are true for me, too.
  • 56 cigarette tax: YES

    Raise taxes on cancer sticks to reduce smoking and reduce cancer in the population.

    The tobacco industry makes noise about exempting these revenues from the education budget mandate, but that's not the point! The point is that when cigarettes get more expensive, people smoke fewer of them, with positive results.

  • 57 parole: YES

    Allows nonviolent offenders to be considered for earlier release. The "con" argument is flawed: if this passes, we won't release a flood of axe-murderers and rapists! The parole board still makes the decision. This measure allows more people to be considered; that's all.

  • 58 Bilingual education: YES

    Spanish-speaking parents have been frustrated in the past when their children were not taught English. That was a catalyst for proposition 227 (almost 20 years old). But the best research suggests that teaching children at least part of the time in their native language can actually speed acquisition of the majority language (American English in this case). And at least one educator I respect favors this measure.

  • 59 Overturn Citizens United: I plan to abstain.

    California has no authority to compel Congress or the Supreme Court to change its position on anything. Therefore this measure is a waste of time and money and effort. That said, I think Citizens United was wrong.

  • 60 Condoms in "adult films" and lawsuits: NO

    This measure allows a lawsuit bonanza. Condoms are already required for performers (read the legislative analyst's report) so this doesn't change the law's requirements substantively. The anti-60 people are correct in saying that anybody can file a lawsuit against porn producers.

    I have no love for porn producers, but clogging our courts does not strike me as a good thing.

  • 61 pay no more than the lowest price the VA pays: NO

    The lowest price the VA pays may not be knowable by the State of California. And what if a drug company refuses to sell to us at the same price as they sell to the VA?

    This is impractical and actually un-implementable and dangerous.

  • 62 Death penalty to life imprisonment: YES

    Killing a convict doesn't bring the victims back, and sometimes we convict people wrongly. They sure as hell do in Texas! We have better things to spend money on than trying to kill convicts.

  • 63 Ammo sales: YES

    NRA opposes this measure. Enough said.

  • 64 Marijuana: I don't know

    There are reasonable arguments on both sides. I have no dog in this fight.

  • 65 circumvent the legislature on plastic bags: NO

    This measure tries to contravene SB270, the statewide ban on plastic bags. I wasn't completely sure about this until I saw the source of campaign funds: this measure is funded by the plastics industry--money all came from out of state!

  • 66 kill convicts faster: NO

    We sometimes convict people wrongly. This is heading in the wrong direction.

  • 67 plastic bag ban: YES

    The legislature passed, and the governor signed, SB270, the statewide ban on single-use plastic carryout bags for certain stores. The plastics industry is trying to undo that with prop 65.


A few more, if you live in San Mateo County
and especially if you live in Redwood City

  • Sequoia hospital district: Kane (incumbent), Griffin (R.N.)

    The big question about the Sequoia healthcare/hospital district is, should it be disbanded? Richardson, Harrison and Garcia say that the district was established 70 years ago to build and run Sequoia Hospital, which has since been sold. Hence, they say, the district should be disbanded and should not receive $15 million in property taxes annually.

    But the programs currently funded by those millions: what will happen to them? If we agree those are good programs and should be funded, how would they be funded without the sequoia hospital district? This is a classic democratic/republican divide: should there be more government or less? Should charity be the business of private individuals, or should the state be involved?

    Let's be realistic: in this part of California, with some of the world's wealthiest people, the proportion of income given to charity is among the lowest. We are almost not citizens any more—merely taxpayers. In church this morning (Trinity Episcopal actually), the sermon pointed out that voting is an act of prayer (I think it can be an act of worship). And how would my vote for members of the Sequoia health district board be part of "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"?

    Imagine the day of judgment pictured in Matthew 25: "Lord, when did we see you hungry and not feed you, thirsty and not give you something to drink, naked and not clothe you, sick and did not visit you?"

    I do not want to hear the answer, "When you dismantled the Sequoia hospital district and de-funded its programs. For what you did not do for the least of these brothers of mine, you did not do for me."

  • San Mateo County measure K, extend sales tax: YES

    Although I dislike the push polling done by this measure's proponents, and although I don't like the idea of pouring yet more money into the real estate market… yet the county is short on funds ever since the disastrous Prop 13 passed in the 1970s. We want the county to provide services for us, and for county residents less fortunate than we are. Those services cost more than the tax revenues would be without this measure's funds. Therefore I support this.

  • Redwood City School District measure U, parcel tax: YES

    I need not repeat what I've said about public services, but $85/year is just not much money to pay to own a parcel of real property in San Mateo County.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Hip rolls and a spiritual exercise

The physical therapist gave me four or five exercises. Six months later, I’m still doing one of them: hip rolls, a set of 30, morning and evening. (This is not a dance move; I do these lying on the floor.)

The other day I thought of how it could be a spiritual exercise, not just a physical one. It would involve slowing down, probably a good idea for a perpetually-in-a-rush guy like me. Here’s the idea: as I begin the first iteration, to remember a phrase or a short passage from the Bible, from chapter 1 of something. On the second, something from chapter 2 of something. And so on. Here’s one possible list:

  1. The word became flesh and dwelt among us, from John 1. This is the astonishing idea that Jesus came to earth and pitched his tent among us. Amazing!
  2. Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man (everybody needs to grow: even Jesus needed to!), Luke 2
  3. Trust in the Lord with all your heart…, Proverbs 3
  4. Jesus was tempted in all things as we are, from Hebrews 4
  5. [A priest] can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset by weakness, from Hebrews 5 (a good reminder, since we are also priests according to 1 Peter 2)
  6. Seek first his kingdom… from Matthew 6
  7. If anyone wants to do God’s will, he’ll know whether I’m speaking from God or just making all this stuff up: it’ important to be willing to do God’s will, from John 7
  8. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? from Mark 8
  9. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all suffiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good work. from 2 Corinthians 9
  10. When words are many, sin is not absent; but he who holds his tongue is wise, from Proverbs 10
  11. He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy conceals a matter. from Proverbs 11
  12. Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind: Romans 12
  13. A new command I give you: love one another as I have loved you, John 13
  14. He who has my commands and keeps them… I will reveal myself to him: knowledge through obedience, from John 14
  15. Remain in me, and I will remain in you, John 15
  16. Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full, John 16
  17. This is eternal life: to know God and Jesus Christ, John 17
  18. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, Prov. 18
  19. The son of man came to seek and to save the lost, Luke 19
  20. Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant… Matthew 20
  21. The king’s hand is in the heart of the Lord… Proverbs 21
  22. A prudent man sees danger and takes cover; the foolish keep going and suffer for it. Proverbs 22
    or My God my God why have you forsaken me Psalm 22. Jesus suffered much.
  23. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want
  24. I always do my best to keep a blameless conscience both before God and before men Acts 24
  25. A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver Pr. 25
  26. As a door turns on his hinges, so the sluggard turns on his bed Pr. 26 (probably there’s a better verse somewhere, but that’s what came to mind)
  27. Do not boast about tomorrow, for you don’t know… Pr. 27
  28. I am with you always even to the end of the age Matthew 28
  29. You will seek me and find me, and I will be found by you Jer. 29
  30. Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to all who take refuge in him Pr. 30
There’s already some variation in the verses I use, and sometimes I just murmur, “23” (or whatever number I’m skipping) but it’s good for me to remember these cautions and encouragements and examples, that is, when I remember to remember them.

Monday, September 05, 2016

If Finder (Mac OS X) is sluggish, maybe it's that memory leak; here's how to fix it

Short version: if Finder is hogging RAM, killall Finder in a terminal window. It'll automagically restart and work much better.
The lovely Carol called me from her desk. "There are stories in this folder," she said, indicating the Finder window, "but they don't show up."

The Activity Monitor showed the finder as consuming something like 698MB of RAM. Firefox had something close to 2GB, so Finder wasn't the #1 hog, but still, over 600MB? After a few futile web searches, I came to this article on howtogeek.com, where I spotted:

Currently, the only way to quit the Finder is by typing “killall Finder” in a Terminal window, which is inconvenient.
Whoa! “You had me at ‘Terminal window’!” so I opened one and typed "ps x|grep Finder" followed by "killall Finder"; my plan was to restart Finder via snarf-n-barf of the full path ps(1) had showed me. But Finder restarted all by itself, performing quite snappily and using only a little RAM. Wow! That was easy!

Update: creating the "Quit Finder" menu item

Now, to make it easier for the lovely Carol to fix a sluggish finder herself, I decided to create a "Quit Finder" menu item. The method described in the above article or this one doesn't quite work—at least it didn't for me today:
defaults write com.apple.Finder QuitMenuItem -bool YES
This following works fine, though; it's the same thing except with a lowercase "f" in "finder":
defaults write com.apple.finder QuitMenuItem -bool YES
It's shown in these postings:

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Open letter to Amit

The other day, someone at work asked me if I had regrets over choosing a career in tech. Here's my response.
Updates 2016-08-11:
  1. Last night, Kesavan (the unnamed guy below) said it was fine to name him.
  2. This morning, I realized that I'd forgotten to mention something really important, perhaps the most important fact about me: I've been extremely lucky. More on this is in the addendum.

Amit,

Thank you for asking about regrets over choosing a career in tech; your question honors me, and I hope my answer doesn't disappoint.

I think I mentioned that my career began over forty (40) years ago, which is a source of great amusement and sometimes astonishment. A few years back I was in a hackathon with Mohit and Katiyar and Narver and one other guy who I won't name… trying to do something in javascript, which I still don't know. And I was mumbling about how I wish I'd learned it in grad school. "But wait," I said, "when I was in grad school, javascript hadn't been invented yet."

The unnamed guy in our hackathon team said, "I wonder how many of us were even born when Collin was in grad school?" and it turned out he was the only one... which is why I don't include his name here :)

But to your question: do I regret my career choice? Well, after my bachelor's degree I needed to do something to pay for rent and groceries. I wasn't good at anything in school except math and circuits and programming. Maybe I could have gone into statistics or become an actuary or something, but frankly the path into a tech career seemed more straightforward.

I have been thinking recently about something Garrison Keillor said in one of his "Lake Wobegon" monologues: "I wonder if perhaps we are less than our parents, and have given less to our children." I think of my dad, who ran out of money and didn't finish college. He got drafted and taught electronics for a while. He got a radiotelephone license and was engineer at a radio station. He was a sales/support guy for IBM and worked under some pretty unpleasant conditions. He switched to working for the FAA, and had to spend months at a time away from home for training. He went out and found work to do on the side: he fixed and built and invented things. He knew how to learn stuff and made the effort to do it. Car repair, electronic equipment repair, remodeling—he did it all. One day when he was in his 60s, he called a plumber for the first time in his life.

In contrast, I've had an easy life. I've had two professional employers—essentially two professional jobs since college. I haven't had to reinvent myself, I haven't had to take a lot of initiative. Have I had to work long hours debugging something? Sure; everybody has. But that's not the same thing as having to invent myself or figure out my next step in life.

I think what I'd say is that I did the best with what I had and with who I was. Sure, sometimes these days when I speak with our friends who go to Mexico and do medical work, I wish I had gone into that field so that I could help people in a more direct, intense, meaningful way. Given my constraints at the time (private college was expensive, even in the 1970s), I needed to finish quickly and start making money soon.

Could I have switched at some point? Maybe, but things got a lot more complicated with a mortgage and children. Shoulda, coulda, woulda—but I'm no hero or sage; it was enough effort to keep all the balls in the air, without also thinking about making a major change. Like many, I never got dissatisfied enough to consider a career change seriously, until getting laid off in 2002.

At that point, I briefly considered becoming a teacher. However, as I have since learned (from teaching Eng101), it would be a YUGE effort for me to become suited to classroom instruction. Also, with two college educations still ahead, it just didn't seem practical to take a significant drop in income.

So as I think back, my career in tech has been a good fit for me. It's a good fit for my personality and my talents. and has enabled my kids to graduate from college with no loans. My wife has been able to spend a lot of time at home when the kids were growing up, and she's now working on a novel and a collection of poetry. We've had some extra money to give to those less fortunate than ourselves.

Now the content of the work hasn't been really significant in itself. It's not like inventing dwarf wheat (Norman Borlaug did that and saved literally over a billion people from starvation); it's just solving problems and writing stuff.

What has been rewarding in my view is learning stuff and helping others. It's like what does a plant do? It grows, it reaches for the sun, it pulls carbon out of the atmosphere, it drops seeds, it provides shade. In doing that stuff, it brings glory to its maker. I don't know if plants know they're created by God, or if when they do what they do they "feel his pleasure," but I certainly do. Feel God's pleasure I mean. The stuff I do isn't grand or terribly significant in a dwarf wheat kind of way, but when my code works, or when I can help somebody learn something, or encourage someone to try one more time, that's a good feeling.

You're near the beginning of your career, a career that I hope will bring you as much stimulation and challenge and learning and joy as mine has. I suppose I could try to tell you to take more risks than I did, or try more new things, or push yourself upward, but I obviously didn't follow that advice, and I'm not sure it's good advice anyway.

No, what's really important in life, in my view anyway, is to be home for dinner, to play with your kids, to manage your boss's expectations so you can live a balanced life. Because really, who's gonna hold your hand when you die? It's not gonna be your boss, or if you're a manager/director/VP, any of the dozens or hundreds of people below you in the org chart. It's your family and your close friends. The patents, the certificates, the quarterly recognition awards, etc. will be forgotten.

OK, that's way too long. Thanks for reading this far. I'd love to hear your story and your thoughts on all this.

      -collin

Addendum: the role of luck in my story
If when you read the above, you think, "he sure was lucky," I'm here to tell you that you are 100% right. Did I work hard? Sometimes. Did I get good genes from my parents? The smartest thing I ever did was to pick the right parents at the right time in history.

Because all the talent and grit and determination and hard work in the world won't get you far if bombs are constantly falling outside your house, or if there's no electricity and you can't go to school because you need to help your parents gather food, or if your parents died in their 20s from AIDS or ebola or something. Robert Frank made a terrific case for the role of luck in this article in the Atlantic. And in the latest Hedgehog Review, Frank quotes David Brooks:

You should regard yourself as the sole author of all your future achievements and as the grateful beneficiary of all your past successes.... As you go through life, you should pass through different phases in thinking about how much credit you deserve. You should start your life with the illusion that you are completely in control of what you do. You should finish life with the recognition that, all in all, you got better than you deserved.... As an ambitious executive, it's important that you believe that you will deserve credit for everything you achieve. As a human being, it's important for you to know that's nonsense.
The Credit Illusion NY Times 2012-08-02 link

Monday, August 08, 2016

Corporate Benevolence and Investment Strategies?

In the 1970s, a company called Merck discovered a cure for "river blindness," a disease that afflicted thousands (millions?) of people in the developing world. The disease was carried by a certain fly, which bites people, introducing bacteria that create tremendous itching and, in severe cases, blindness.

This wasn't an accidental discovery; Merck had another medication that they thought might work if suitably modified. Long story short, they had to spend millions of dollars to develop and test the medicine and prove it safe and effective on humans. There had been some hope that someone (charities, the World Health Organization, somebody like that) might help defray the costs of manufacture and distribution, but it never happened. Merck has given out some hundreds of millions of doses and impacted millions of lives, and never received a penny for this miracle drug.

It wasn't just this one drug, either—that was an extreme example, but Merck were not in the habit of maximizing income to the detriment of patients. In an interview on American Public Media's Marketplace radio program, a former CEO commented that the purpose of Merck was to relieve suffering and cure disease; if they did that, they'd get some money. This CEO did not think it reasonable to raise the price of any medicine any more than the rate of inflation. In his view, it was okay to "leave money on the table," since Merck could get a reasonable return while fulfilling their mission.

What would happen to such a CEO today? Would activist investors take over the board and replace the CEO with someone that would raise prices and stop the giveaways? How can Merck continue to give away medicines in today's climate of fear and greed?

And what, if anything, can I do as an investor to help companies like Merck continue to do acts of benevolence?

One theory of investing says to forget about benevolence and invest for maximum return. But wouldn't that tend to discourage, even extinguish, corporate benevolence of the "river blindness" variety?

One could imagine creating a stock fund concentrating on socially responsible investments, but if the returns aren't there, there won't be enough investors. The system of capitalism tends to concentrate wealth, as many have pointed out—perhaps most notably Professor Piketty in his Capital in the 21st Century; trying to counteract this tendency is like trying to fight the laws of physics.

Yet we must at least think about trying. Philanthropy on the scale of Merck's giveaway of the "river blindness" drug would be exceedingly difficult to get with individual donations or government subsidies. If Merck were of a mind to make money on the drug, no amount of government subsidies would be enough to supply the drug to all who need it. (Government subsidies can barely keep our 20th-century Caltrain system afloat financially.)

So I'm stumped, at least for the moment. I'm sure others have given a lot more thought to this, and from my understanding, Merck are still giving away the "river blindness" medication. So it appears that there's still hope. But a comprehensive answer? I've no idea.