Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A prime example of the stupidity of war

You won't get through this with dry eyes: "A Mideast Bond, Stitched of Pain and Healing", Ethan Bronner, New York Times, 2009-12-30.

Contradictory parental advice

As I was walking gingerly on slippery, bumpy, ice-and-snow-covered sidewalks, carefully watching where I stepped, slouched over so that I saw the surface only a few feet in front of me, I thought of the parental advice, "Watch where you walk!"

But as I was slouched over, I also thought of the parental advice, "Stand up straight!"

Momma, make up your mind!

A famous bartender

When it comes to beer, nobody can outdraw Wyatt Burp.

Oh, no! I thought I was so clever to come up with this, but I'm late to the party again. I searched for "Wyatt Burp" in quotes and had about 10,700 hits!!

Monday, December 28, 2009

The title of this blog still holds

When I started this blog, I didn't think I would put much in regularly, and so I called it the Irregular Blog. Then I wrote more and more to the point that I felt compelled to write daily.

Meanwhile, as I grew older, my to-do list got longer and longer. But the blog seemed to come first, and I ignored or never got around to many items on the list.

We went to our daughter's lake place for Christmas; a place with no internet access except by smart phone. Plus the social and physical setting is such that it is difficult to go off by oneself to spend time writing.

There is more about the holiday and my to-do list, but let me just say that the snow storm in Duluth changed my to-do list drastically. I still have much snow to clear from in front of our garage and I have no idea when the city will clear the snow boulders from our sidewalk. I know it won't be me!

Let me see: I should sing next, answer some email, copy some documents, find some lost documents, investigate some software problems, work on income tax, make some reservations, … Nah! I think I'll just read some of the books I got for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More on the changing economy

David Brooks wrote an interesting column on how we are changing from making stuff to creating ideas or protocols, ways of doing things. See "The Protocol Society", New York Times, 2009-12-22.

I checked on the local availability of the books Brooks recommended: "From Poverty to Prosperity" and "Smart World". Neither the Duluth Public Library nor the UMD Library has either book.

Are we changing fast enough? Are we too concerned about jobs for doing the same old things few want to pay for? Shouldn't we be more concerned about opportunities to bring forth new ideas? Is "No Child Left Behind" more about training kids to make stuff rather than to create ideas? Are our politicians more interested about protecting companies and industries that make stuff rather than encouraging companies and industries that make protocols?

Sometimes I think we have more of the prerequisites than any other country to move to a protocol society, and sometimes I think by we are going to let other countries get there first.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Benefits day is coming!

Yep, Tax Day is coming. That is the day in April when our income tax filing is due, as well as any money due. Then there is also "Tax Freedom Day", the day supposedly when the average person has earned enough money to pay all the taxes he or she owes for the year. See also
"The 'Tax Freedom Day' Trick", Dave Johnson, Huffington Post, 2009-01-13. After "Tax Freedom Day", the average person supposedly can enjoy the benefits of his or her work.

What the "Tax Freedom Day" people don't want you to think about is all the benefits you get from government. They want you to think only about the "frivolous" things that government does with your taxes. Of course, they don't mention the "frivolous" things large corporations do with the money you paid for their goods and services, or the money they could have given you in your pay.

We should also celebrate "Benefits Day", the last day of the year, a time when we can look back at all the benefits we have received from government, from corporations, and from individuals. When they all work together for the common good, we all have a better life.

Spam or legit?

I received an eCard from Blue Mountain but no sender name in the subject. I think that Blue Mountain is a legitimate company, but when I looked at the source of the message, I didn't find any name that I recognized.

If it was your card, I'm sorry that I deleted it. If it was really a spam message, then I did the right thing.

A little word play about chords

I am bored with the chore of finding a cord for my electronic keyboard to make a chord, which I'll probably lose anyway.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Whoa to a tale of woe!

This morning I received the following email:
It is with profound sense of sadness i wrote this email to you. I don't know how you will find this but you just have to forgive me for not telling you before leaving. I traveled down to United Kingdom Yesterday for a short vacation but unfortunately,i was mugged at a gun point on my way to the hotel i lodged all my money and all other vital documents including my credit card and my cell phone have been stolen by muggers.

I've been to the embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all,Things are difficult here and i don't know what to do at the moment that why i email to ask if you can lend me £1,500.00 so i can settle the hotel bill and get a returning ticket back home. Please do me this great help and i promise to refund the money as soon as i get back home.

I look forward to your positive response.
It was with the email address of a cousin. Very strange! One, we are not very close and she would have no reason to let me know her travels. Two, she has others who are closer relatives who would be able to find help. Three, she lives in California and wouldn’t go “down to United Kingdom”. Four, why would an American ask another American for money in pounds? Five, I can't believe that the police and embassy were of no help. Six, I do know that my cousin writes much better than this.

I called her and left a message and then called her stepmother about it. Her stepmother called her and then called me back. Sure enough, her email account was hacked and she is closing the account.

I don't know if I was the first to warn her, but it leaves me feeling better that I know she knows about the problem.

What does bother me is that I could not find any way of reporting this to her email provider. You would think that they would be interested in tracking down crooks like this hacker.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Climate change and so-called bipartisanship

How can there be bipartisanship on any issue when there are more than two sides? Actually, as Stewart Brand writes in "Four Sides to Every Story", New York Times, 2009-12-14 there is a continuum from alarmists who think there is no problem, to those who think caution should be applied to a possible problem, to those who think we should address a given problem, to alarmists who think the problem needs immediate, drastic action.

Brand divides the stances on climate change into the Denialists, the Skeptics, the Warners, and the Calamatists. The real scientists who are Skeptics are often quoted by the Denialists, much to the discomfort of the Skeptics.

This division could be applied to many issues, like health care. We have those who deny there is a problem and even exaggerate the effects of any propose solution and those who exaggerate any problem and deny that proposed solutions will do enough. Then there are all the people who recognize there is a problem, something should be done about the problem, disagree on the severity of the problem and about which solutions are most appropriate.

Unfortunately, the Denialists and the Calamatists too often control the public discourse and make the work of more reasoned minds more difficult. It is even worse when the Deniers and some Skeptics are locked into one political party and the Calamatists, the Warners, and some Skeptics are locked into another political party. With this arrangement how is any real bipartisanship possible?

We would be much better off if we had five political parties: Denialists, Skeptics, Warners, Calamatists, and Referees. The last party would examine the positions of the Skeptics and the Warners, and blend them into politics of the possible. Hopefully, the Denialists and the Calamatists would be marginalized to mere commentators.

Spelling changes from Deniers and Calamitists to Denialists and Calamatists made 2010-01-23.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Is the Web imploding?

Recently have you more frequently received a message like

"Safari can’t open the page “” because the server where this page is located isn’t responding."

Just a few minutes ago I was not able to access a newspaper server with two different browsers. I have been receiving such messages more and more frequently from a wide variety of sites. I know it is not my connection because I was able to receive email between two attempts.

Could it be my provider has not kept up with the number of subscribers it has? Could it be that many sites are not keeping up with the number of accesses they receive. Could it be we are seeing more denial of service attacks? A search of Google for "denial of service attacks 2009" get over 76,000,000 hits!!!!

I do know that a few minutes later I was able to access the News Tribune again.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

How dumb can I get?

When I went to bed last night my nose was a bit stuffed. I looked for the nasal spray in my toilet kit and couldn't find it. I couldn't believe I had left the nasal spray on my dresser at home. I did have an inhaler and used it. Now I could go to sleep a bit more comfortably.

This morning when I was ready to put my contact lenses in I found the nasal spray. It was on the counter where the lens solution should have been. The lens solution was still in my toilet kit! At least the nasal spray is saline solution and doesn't have menthol and other stuff that would make my eyes burn.

I used the lens solution liberally before putting the lenses in. No problem so far.

I wear old felt boot liners as slippers in the cabin. One seemed to catch as if I a carpet square was up. I'd move my foot and it wouldn't catch again. But this kept happening. Finally I saw that there was a thread coming out of the liner. I pulled the thread up. It was stuck under a box. I moved it out from under the box. It was wrapped around a chair leg. I untangled it from the chair leg. I followed the thread. It was under another chair leg. I picked up the chair and the thread; finally I had found the end. I pulled off the slipper. The sole and upper were not joined from the big toe to the arch! The thread wouldn't break; I had to cut it with scissors. I hope my wife can fix the liner; they are cozy in the cabin.

This morning as the inside temperature dropped quite a bit, I started another fire. But why was it so smokey? Ah, yes, the air intake was partially closed and the damper was shut. Smart people pay attention to details.

Oh well, I took a walk this morning on a trail we haven't kept up for a few years and I remembered all of its twists and turns. I exaggerate a bit. It was the third time I've been on that trail this fall. A few weeks ago we walked it with some friends. Even though several landmark trees had fallen; deer and other animals had used the trail enough to give me a sense where the trail was.

Last week my wife and I walked it and placed yellow flagging tape at several places. Today when I walked it, I couldn't always see the next bit of tape. That was because I had walked forward to pick a place for the next bit. I could see where we had placed the last bit, but I didn't think we might not be able to see the next one from the previous.

I did spend a bit of time noting how the landmarks had changed. For example, I knew we had gone through a thicket of alder, went past a couple of large balsam, stepped over a fallen tree, and then bore left into a grassy area. Animals had changed the path to go above the alder, and the two balsam had been uprooted. Today I was able to identify that place by spending a bit of time looking around.

Am I an expert woodsman. Far from it. But when you do certain things over and over again, you can retain memories long afterwards. Now if I can only find the old trail that went east from where this trail turned west.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Vertical farming: down to earth or pie in the sky?

The Reader Weekly had an article in its 2009-12-03 issue on vertical farming; that is, farming in an agricultural skyscraper. Vertical farming will supposedly solve a lot of agricultural problems, including scarcity of land and cost of delivery to market.

The Reader Weekly article was taken from I thought I had accessed the original article but can't access it again. It may be in response to a question in the 2009-11-06(?) issue.

One constant reference is to The Vertical Farm Project. This seems to be nothing but design projects, no demonstration projects. I did find "Vertical Farm Built in Iqaluit". but the article is about a nearly completed project and was written in 2008-04-01. Unfortunately, note the date! The story goes on to tout the wonders if the story were true.

I have a hunch that many people took this story for gospel. Hm, something more akin to the "The Age of Unreason". We believe uncritically what we want to believe.

I've lost my way in all the twists and turns of my search for more info on vertical farming. Supposedly there was a vertical farm demonstration project at Cornell University, but a search of the Cornell web site gives nothing on vertical farming.

If the benefits were so great, one would think there would be hundreds of demonstration products by now.

The Age of Unreason

Sarah Palin quit as governor to become a celebrity. Sarah Palin is a Republican. Therefore all Republicans want to become celebrities.

Bad reasoning? Yes, but it is exactly the type of reasoning Sarah Palin uses in her recent article, which I saw in yesterday's Star Tribune. The original article is "Copenhagen's political science", Sarah Palin, Washington Post, 2009-12-09.

She maintains that some scientists in England supposedly falsified data. These scientists are proponents of the idea of global warming. Therefore all scientists who are proponents of the idea of global warming have falsified data.

If you have time, follow the links from the Washington Post. You might be able to find the posted emails, judge for yourself if they all are real, and determine how much they "disprove" global warming, if at all.

For a more balanced view, see "Whose war on science?", Michael Gerson, Washington Post, 2009-12-11.

You also can find many interesting comments by following almost any link.

Before you judge "conservatives" too harshly, consider that many "liberals" take facts out of context to make a point. Sixty some million people do not have health insurance. Sixty some million people are in imminent danger of a health crisis. Sixty some million people will suffer greatly because they don't have health insurance. Yes, there are many people who will suffer because they don't have health insurance, but let's find other justifications for health care being available to all who need it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Racing to the top to reward the top

Bank of America is rushing to repay its government bailout funds, not because it has more money, but it doesn't want a government cap on CEO pay ("Bailout Refund Is All About Pay, Pay, Pay", Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times, 2009-12-08).

BofA and other large corporations want to pay their executives "competitively" to attract "top talent". My question is what has happened to "rising through the ranks"? Wouldn't people inside the company know more about running the company than an outsider? And if someone inside the company who was a real contributor, feeling shunted aside in favor of an outsider, quit to go elsewhere for a top job. This person would be contributing to the company's competitors and speeding the upward spiral of executive compensation.

Of course, if the board hires an outsider at a "competitive" salary, then they will have to pay themselves a competitive salary. I often think a board should work only for the long-term benefit of the personal investment they made in shares.

I think this behavior belies the myth of capitalism and free enterprise. Many corporations are run for the benefit of the top executives with employees, small shareholders, customers, and communities coming in a distant second.

See also my columns "Talk about Boards with Conflicts of Interest!", Reader Weekly, 2000-04-27 and. "Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander", Reader Weekly, 2006-04-27.

But for the real clincher, see "Why Changing the CEO May Not Change the Company", Jason Zweig, Wall Street Journal, 2009-12-01. Hm! this sounds like a liberal opinion coming from the Wall Street Journal:) Note that the link may be temporary.

Smoking is not a private act

I went to the car wash today with a nice-smelling car; I left with a stinky car!

The prep guy is a heavy smoker and in this very cold weather he keeps the overhead doors closed. Just opening my window to give him the sales slip let so much smoke residue into my car from the air and from his clothes that by the time I got home the car still smelled of stale smoke.

See also "Smokers are a dying breed".

Monday, December 07, 2009

I'm not transitioning, prioritizing, or strategizing with neologisms

As you know, I'm not the world's best writer and I don't always write clearly. But I have been jolted by grandiose words that could be replaced with simpler words or more elegant phrases.

When I have time, I report phishing emails to the appropriate authorities. Today's phishing email purported to over four million dollars in accrued interest for me at Abbey Bank in London.

I tracked down Abbey Bank's web site and found the page on reporting spam. It said that one should send details to and then followed it with
The emails are then made available to our colleagues who liaise with the various law enforcement agencies and ISP's.
Argh! Can't their colleagues work or co-operate with law enforcement and ISPs?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Reality in dreams, dreams in reality

Last night I had a dream about wrapping presents. One of the presents was food and we had to hide it from the dog. I suddenly woke up with the thought that we had no dog. We haven't for about nineteen years.

I went back to sleep, probably had some other dreams, and then one in which a salesman was trying to get me to sign for a car. I was reluctant and woke up with the realization we didn't need a car; we had recently bought a car.

I find it interesting how often we have dreams that we think are the real world.

But then in the real world we have dreams about what we will do. Some will come true; some won't.

I long had a dream of visiting Europe again and visiting friends I have living there. Now I've given that up because I don't want to fly again. The last trip to Japan was too much sitting still for too long. And all the security hassle at either end makes the sitting still even more burdensome.

I have all kinds of dreams about what we will do with our Brimson property. We long ago gave up on building a house there. Now it's a lot to fix the floor insulation of the cabin; something I keep putting off every year as we have more squirrels with silicosis. I have a dream of opening up all the trails I once had cut. Will I spend enough time there? Even with the new chipper, it takes about four hours to sixty feet, what with the gathering of the brush and branches to stuff into the chipper. Four hours is about all the time I spend on this activity each two-day stint; there are other tasks to be done, including walking and loafing. I probably had at least two miles of trails.

I have all kinds of small dreams of becoming a better singer. I can't do that if I keep writing these blogs:)

So which is reality? The dreams when I'm sleeping or the dreams when I'm awake?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Healthy choices equal healthy life, always?

In the last two months several letters in the Star Tribune and the Duluth News Tribune have stated that if people would make healthy choices they would lead healthy lives and we wouldn't need a health care system for all. If this were only so.

A doctor once told me the secret to a long life was to not smoke, drink in moderation, exercise regularly, and pick healthy grandparents.

Granted there are many people who don't follow the first three rules. We see them all the time. These people do make up a large portion of those who need medical care. But should those of us who didn't pick healthy grandparents and didn't pick something else important to our health be left to our fate as described by some of these letter writers.

I have a heart murmur that has raised false alarms a few times. Should my ability to obtain health insurance determine if I get care to be sure the problem was not more serious?

I just read an entry on a Caring Bridges site of a person that almost died at the age of four. Did he have a choice then of a healthy life style?

There is a lot to the "wisdom" of "picking healthy grandparents". Many conditions are genetic and may be detected at a time early enough to prevent more serious consequences. Should this detection be based on the ability to pay or obtain health insurance?

The "something else important to our health" is to pick a good environment to live in. The problem is that we may not know our environment is unhealthy until it is too late.

A school in California had an abnormal number of students and teachers getting cancer, some of who died. See "Is Dirty Electricity Making You Sick?" Prevention Magazine, December 2009. Maybe there is another cause besides excessive radiation, but did those who became ill have any way of knowing they would be in an unhealthy environment.

Minamata Bay in Japan had excessive mercury that poisoned many, including giving children severe birth defects. Did the residents know that their bay was a dumping ground for industry? Did they have sufficient knowledge to relate the health problems to the pollution? Did they have the resources to stop the pollution or to move away?

Over two hundred people contracted pneumonia while attending an American Legion Convention in Philadelphia in 1976; thirty-four of them died. We lived in the area at the time and remember how baffled authorities were. It wasn't until January of the next year that it was determined that the bacteria came from the cooling tower of the hotel. According to Wikipedia there have other outbreaks of Legionnaire's Disease in Europe with fatalities; all traced to problems with the air conditioning. Does this mean that we should all stay away from air-conditioned buildings to stay healthy?

Even if we stay outside or only in our own homes, we don't know what harmful substances may be in our environment. Doctrinaire "free enterprisers" think any control on industrial pollution is bad for business. But sick and dying customers are bad for business. Sometimes we don't know if a product we use in our home is harmful until too late.

I guess the only way to have a guaranteed healthy life is to live in a cocoon. Oh, wait a minute! What is the cocoon made of? What are the nutrients being given to us from the outside?

I guess that leaves the only way to stay healthy is to never be born.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Bureaucracy and email

I had a contact at the Duluth News Tribune to report problems with the DNT and Star Tribune boxes at the corner. Problems like running out very early, missing sections, wrong price settings, and on and on.

Things had been going smoothly until last week. Supposedly the Saturday Star Tribune has the funnies included; they weren't last week. One day this week there was no Variety section in the Star Tribune even though it was mentioned on the front page.

On that day I emailed my contact at the New Tribune, which prints and delivers the Star Tribune in the Duluth area. A day later I got an email from titled "Delivery Status Notification (Failure)" with a copy of the message I sent to my contact.

I assume my contact has either quit or been laid off. In either case, that's too bad because she was a friendly person to work with. However, instead of just bouncing email to her, shouldn't the company forward email to whoever is doing some of what she did? Or, give some notice of an alternate email address?

This just doesn't happen in large corporations like Forum Communications. It happens in small companies, too. I sent email to a salesman that I had bought a computer from; I never received a reply. The next time I went into the store I was told he had left. Shouldn't somebody have received his email? But employees who are still at this company don't always answer their email. I've bought other computers from same company and my current favorite salesman doesn't always answer his email. Maybe I should just go to the Apple Store in Roseville next time instead of buying local.

See also "Bureaucracy can exist in any economic model".

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Inclusiveness is exclusive

Sometime in the fall, I started reading "The Gospel of Inclusion" in UU World, the quarterly magazine of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I started gnashing my teeth part way through and couldn't continue.

It was about a black Pentecostal bishop who became Universalist in his thought, was ostracized in the megachurch he was active in, and brought some of his followers to a large Unitarian church in Tulsa OK. That's OK, but some of the underlying thoughts in the article bothered me.

One was the statement that the only problem with the Unitarian church was that it "was really, really white." Is that a problem? There are churches that are really, really black, and there are churches that are really, really mixed. In fact, the megachurch the bishop came from had four white ministers.

The other was that the new congregants transformed much of the Unitarian church to be more active in the services, saying "Amens" and "Preach it, brother". That's OK if that's what most of the existing congregation wants.

However, what about the people who want a quiet, contemplative service? What about the people who don't want somebody clapping or shouting in their ear? They are being excluded in the name of inclusiveness.

I lay awake much of the night after I read this article thinking about what I would write. I told myself to get up and make some notes. But I didn't want to disturb my wife. In the light of the next day those thoughts just didn't come back to me. But the thought of writing a blog about those thoughts has been hanging over my head since.

I have this feeling that much of the inclusiveness of UUs is more a guilt feeling than a true inclusiveness. All groups by their nature are exclusive. They are made of people with some common interests. If you share those interests you are generally welcome; if you want the group to have other interests, please go elsewhere. For example, would a social bridge club really be interested in having poker players who bet?

Unfortunately, our society has a false division for many things on black and white. On the other hand, for a variety of reasons, cultural interests tend to follow this division. But, color divisions aren't the only divisions. Would these "inclusive" churches welcome practicing Catholics who wanted to bring the mass and cross into their churches. If so, it would be quite a turnabout for churches that have taken crosses out of their sanctuaries and taken "God" out of the hymnals. They were excluding the ideas and words they didn't agree with. "Joy to the world, the word has come…" The "word has come"??? That's not the way I learned that carol.

My own feeling is that inclusiveness is a guilt trip. Some people feel guilty about being white and that having more contact with black people will do their consciences good. I resent this! Not because I think the races should be separate, but because I don't share in their guilt. My contacts with others have been made by circumstance and they are not exclusively white.

The inclusive people don't know the neighborhoods I've lived in, the friends and acquaintances I've had, who I've shared meals with, who my subordinates and my superiors have been, who I've done favors for and who has done favors for me, who I've proven wrong and who has proven me wrong.

So, please, be inclusive in accepting people who share the beliefs of your organization, but don't exclude them on things that are irrelevant to those beliefs.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Coffee, tea, and you

After dinner tonight, my wife asked if I wanted coffee in the dining room or wanted it upstairs at my computer. I responded that I would rather have it in the dining room with her. After all, we may have only forty years more together.

Actually, she would have had her coffee at her computer, but having coffee face to face is better than having it back to back.

Bureaucracy can exist in any economic model

Many people complain about government bureaucracy as if it went away everything would be so much better. Unfortunately, bureaucracies occur in organizations of all types and sizes. They occur in government, in non-profits, and in profits.

We should also note that some employees have flexibility in almost any type of organization. I had a water inspector accept on my word that our usage dropped because I replaced a washer, not that something had happened to our meter.

The incident that triggered this blog entry was an automated call from a non-profit medical center reminding me of an appointment in two days. Some hours earlier that department had called me to move the appointment to next week. Left hand, please meet the right hand!

A couple of weeks ago I had sent an online problem report to a well-known computer manufacturer. I received a boiler plate response about checking that I had the latest version of the operating system and the latest version of the software with the problem. That information was automatically included in my report.

Today I discovered there was a work around to my problem, but it was not obvious. There were several non-intuitive steps involved. I sent a report to the agent who had initially responded to my problem report, including the suggestion that what I wanted should be a menu item. She thanked me for the report and suggested that I send the manufacturer a feedback suggestion. Duh! Couldn't she and shouldn't she do that herself? Shouldn't somebody in the call center be looking at the reports and extracting trends?

See also my "The Federal Government has no corner on bureaucracy", Reader Weekly, 2008-01-03.