Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Party of One has capitulated?

Well, today I logged on to the Coffee Party. Does that mean I have quit the Party of One? Maybe not, the Coffee Party is more an affiliation of many parties of one. The only common thread is that most members are tired of professional politics as usual and tired of shrill politics from others. My first post was:
Too much is being made of Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts.

First, he came across to many people as folksy and Martha Coakesly (sp?) came across as arrogant.

Second, too many forget that 45% of the eligible voters didn't even show up. So, 52.7% of 55% is about 29% of the eligible voters. That looks like a landslide for "None of the above".

As somebody else posted on this website, "Vote! Vote! Vote!" . I would add that we should vote even if we leave a blank ballot. A blank ballot gets counted, a ballot not cast does not get counted.
I do hope you will consider looking at the Coffee Party and make a thoughtful decision on how much you want to support politics as usual.

As my father-in-law often said, "Throw the bustards out", even though he considered himself a staunch Republican and a proud NRA member.

My own saying is, "Vote for Joe, vote for Moe, or vote no, but vote."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Coffee Party USA, political discourse we can believe in

I was pleased to read in today's Star Tribune that Annabel Park of Silver Spring MD has started the Coffee Party as an antidote to the Tea Party and to the extreme polarization of the two so-called major parties. The actual article was from the Washington Post and can be found at "Coffee Party activists say their civic brew's a tastier choice than Tea Party's".

The Coffee Party hasn't gained the notoriety and participation of the Tea Party yet. Maybe it never will, because too many people would rather point fingers than actually rationally discuss issues. But let's still have hope, maybe this is the change we've been waiting for.

If you do a google search for coffee party park you will get over 20 million hits. Maybe thing are perking along better than the Star Tribune intimated.

Besides Ms. Park's Facebook page mentioned in the article, the Google search yielded

As a Party of One, I am mixed on how much support to give to the Coffee Party. But I will do my best to keep up with its activities and to wish it well in returning us to the country the Founders envisioned.

To paraphrase Walt Kelly's Pogo, we have met the government and it is us!

Lucky us! Carrying pickup cargo in an SUV

In one of this season's heavy snows, one of the branches of the arborvitae in our front yard became badly bent and never recovered. It is too high for us to reach and so we planned to bring back our 14-ft. pruning pole from our cabin.

When we had the pickup truck, this would not have been a problem. Collapsed, the pruning pole would fit in the bed on the diagonal. Now that we have a Trailblazer SUV, no way would it fit.

I took off the saw blade and put it on the back bumper. I pulled apart the two poles and the shorter one fit on the diagonal behind the front seats. The longer one ran the length of the SUV and between the front seats without interfering with the shift lever. Once I got that done I could put in the rest of the gear in the back.

We stopped at a supermarket on our way back. As I opened up the hatch to put the groceries in, I saw the saw blade still on the back bumper! It was slightly stuck to the bumper because of dampness; but still, that it stayed put for 45 miles with a few bounces including over railroad tracks is something to marvel at.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Is "Consumerism" such a bad thing?

So-called conservatives and so-called progressives seem to deal in sweeping generalizations rather than looking at the sweeping scope of ideas and facts.

"Slow Consumption" is a case of looking at one facet of American life and assuming that it holds across all of American life. (Utne Reader, March April 2010)

Yes, there are cheap goods that wear out and that we toss and replace. But there are also many things that last and last.

Among these are the modern automobile. I am so glad that they don't build them like they used to. I bought a new 1997 F-150 truck in May 1996. In the fall of 2009 somebody asked me if it was new. Only a few times in those 13 years did I cancel a trip because of a problem. But it was undrivable only once; it had a flat tire. I traded it in this fall for an SUV and later met the buyer; he was pleased with his purchase.

We have furniture that is over thirty years old. We live in a house built in 1922. We have appliances that are less than ten years old, but mostly because their energy consumption is so much less; that is, the new is truly better.

Yes, we have gone through many coffee makers. But we wouldn't have to do so if we were willing to accept a little less convenience. We could buy a stovetop percolator for less than $15. If we kept it clean it would last for decades.

Film cameras lasted for years and years. I had an SLR for over 30 years with few repairs. But then digital cameras came along. They are so much more convenient and they are so much less expensive to operate. I can take the equivalent of over twelve rolls of film on a single memory card, over and over again. Think of all the chemicals that are not needed and that do not go into our water supply. I put the photos on my computer and never use prints except for display on a wall. Think of all the trees that are "saved".

Ah! computers! They are not long lasting. Not because they are not durable. I have a couple in my closet that are over ten years old that still work. But I don't want to use them; they cannot access all the information that is out there, including the online version of the Utne Reader.

Why? Because of Magree's first law of computing: the capability of software rises to meet, if not exceed, the capability of the available hardware. And hardware capability will keep increasing rapidly over the next several years.

Why? Because of innovation. What was known about computers in 1984 is a small fraction of what is known about computers now. Ideas build on ideas. We have a precursor in automobiles.

When Henry Ford built the Model T, did he have any idea about windshield washers, turn signals, side view mirrors, electric starters, automatic transmissions, seat belts and air bags, radios, power steering, power brakes, and hundreds of other features we would not be without in today's cars?

Change is a constant in our society. It has many downsides, but change can bring about a better life for all. Without change, many of us would be peasants in Europe working long, hard hours for the lord of the manor.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Learning to sing should be easier than learning the alphabet

As I was driving to my voice lesson, I considered that there were only 25 sounds in a two-octave range: C-Db-D-Eb-E-F-Gb-G-Ab-A-Bb-B-C-… and 12 to the next C. If you work at it, you can memorize a few notes, sing one of them, walk to a piano, press that note, and find you are right on.

Well, why not work on memorizing all 25? Since as a struggling kindergardener you memorized 26 letters in the alphabet, shouldn't you as an intelligent adult be able to memorize all 25 sounds in a two-octave range. Even fewer sounds if you can't manage two octaves, yet!

A trick is to memorize a song and use the starting note as your first "memorized note". I can do it with the first note of Arirang, maybe three out of four times. Only 24 to go!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A sensible discussion about education

Bob Herbert wrote a thoughtful op-ed about Deborah Kenny who has started three charter schools in Harlem, "Where the Bar Ought to Be", New York Times, 2010-02-22. She has achieved astounding results, but even more thoughtful are the highlighted comments. They get into the nitty-gritty of trying to educate students who come from a non-supportive environment.

It was a joy to read these comments. They had none of the mudslinging that makes reading comments a chore. I think the New York Times is to be lauded for making this selection.

I wanted to say more about the comments, but the New York Times seems to be overwhelmed by readers and I can't get pages to come up. I hope you have better luck.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cash is becoming obsolete, will credit cards follow?

Imagine this! You go into a store to purchase something. When it comes time to pay you whip out, not your credit card but your cell phone. The merchant gives you a number, you call PayPal, enter the amount of the purchase and the number the merchant gave you. A moment later the merchant receives a notice on his or her computer that the payment has been made. The merchant wraps your purchase and thanks you for your business.

Far-fetched? No, it is technologically feasible and has been implemented in many parts of the world, see "Mobile Payments". The above scenario is a four-step process. The purchaser calls his or her financial institution. That company approves the sale and calls the merchant's financial institution transferring the money. That company sends a message to the merchant's computer. The merchant sees the message and completes the sale.

Apple has this down to a three-step process for iTunes and PayPal has it down to a seven-step process. I would guess that Apple trusts most of its iTunes users and eliminates the approval process. See "From Credit Card to PayPal: 3 Ways to Move Money", Wired, February 2010. See also the main article, "The Future of Money: It's Flexible, Frictionless and (Almost) Free".

To think that Congress passed an enormous bill to rein in the reign of the credit card companies. It could have passed a one-page bill to authorize Federal agencies, including the IRS to accept payments through PayPal.

True capitalists should welcome this creative destruction, which really is the basis for innovation, not behemoth near monopolies. For more on creative destruction, see Wikipedia:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Please pay your bill on receipt

Or if you prefer, you can pay for this column as soon as you read it and receive a five-percent discount.

This little entry was triggered by a wonderful spoof of the health care system by Nicholas Kristof, "I Cost More, but I'm a Specialist", New York Times, 2010-02-20. He writes that "We Americans have the greatest news care system in the world…" His bill for our reading his column is $1,681.63.

He also has a link to another spoof, "If Air Travel Worked Like Health Care", Jonathan Rauch, National Journal, 2009-09-26.

Since I'm only 1/100th as good as Nicholas Kristof, my bill for your reading this column is $16.82. I'm sorry but we do not accept credit cards nor do we bill your news insurance provider.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Report spoof email as often as you can

It seems that every day I get some spam that intimates that it is from a major corporation and that my account has been compromised. I report almost every one of these to the spoofed corporation (if I've found an email address for such) as well as to the Federal Trade Commission ( and the Anti-Phishing Working Group (

Sometimes it is hard to find an email address for a spoofed company. Somewhere on a home page or a help page you might find a link to spam, spoof, phishing, fraud, or security.

You might think that it is a bit of work to report spoofing, but consider it like calling the police when you see suspicious activity around a neighbor's house. Consider also this statement that I received from PayPal after reporting a phishing message:

Every email counts. When you forward suspicious-looking emails to, you help keep yourself and others safe from identity

See also my blog entry Phishing against which bank this week?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

One of those days

We skied a lot today at Bridger Bowl. Not as much as many other people, but far more than we would have done at Spirit Mountain in Duluth. The sore thighs I was developing in the afternoon are no longer bothersome, but getting motivated to do anything is "bothersome".

I should answer my brother's email, I should practice singing, I should write some more meaningful blog entries, I should… Maybe I should go to bed, but 8:00 just seems too early.

One of the minor interesting things is mentally adjusting clocks. I reset my watch to Mountain Standard Time, but I didn't reset our car clock. I reset my iPod to MST but not my computer. Then my iPod's alarm goes off an hour early in the morning. It's back on Central Standard Time!!!

Ah ha! I synchronized my iPod with my Mac and that changed the iPod time again. So now I've set the Mac to automatically adjust the time to its location.

I suppose I should reset my camera clock also, but will the exact time matter on the photos?

Tomorrow is our last big day of skiing. I hope I have enough energy for the half-hour drive back to Bozeman. And enough energy to write emails, to sing, and to write a meaningful blog or two.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


We are now in Bozeman MT while skiing at Bridger Bowl as part of the annual Ski Hut trip.

This morning I had a lesson and my wife chose to stay in town. After the lesson I stopped at a mid=slope chalet for coffee and then went up for another run. I was so tired that I decided to ski back down to the base, have lunch, and then maybe go out again. This was about 11:30.

Some people in our group said that they had seen an avalanche from the lift and heard that people were in the area. Later Scott Neustel, owner of Ski Hut, came in looking distressed. He was on a nearby ridge when it happened and his group was told to stay put for a bit.

He had managed to take a picture of the avalanche and passed his camera around. Imagine the tree tops reaching to the bottom of an "e" in this text; the top of the avalanche cloud reached to the top of the "e". Some people said the snow was moving at 70-75 mph.

As of 4:43 MST, no one had been reported missing, but stories are circulating about close calls. The authorities are still checking by helicopter and snowmobile.

Anybody taking the lift to the high country is required to take a working transponder. But authorities never can be sure that somebody didn't take another route up.

When I drove back down, almost every turn out had people stopped and looking up at the mountains. I don't know what they could see other than a helicopter circling around.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The scourge of drunk drivers

Ralph Doty wrote an interesting column in last week's Budgeteer News. I've have often thought about writing something similar but haven't done the research. When we lived in Sweden from 1970 to 1974 I had heard that even a member of Parliament was sentenced to prison for driving drunk.

Ralph's column led me to do a search on
Sweden "drunk driving" prison
giving over 60,000 references. An item led me to Vägverket's site (Swedish Highway Administration) and I did a further search to find a relevant document in English. If you want to read it, go to

and click on "Ladda när document". This will download "National cooperation against drink and drug driving in traffic according to the Skellefte model" into your computer. The Skellefteå model is a very comprehensive program to combat a very serious problem.

BTW, if you read Swedish, you can also find some documents that relate some really sad stories about the consequences of drunk driving.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Don't throw out the sports section!!

When we get the Sunday Duluth News Tribune, we separate out the glossy ads, the classifieds, and the sports section and put them into the recycling pile. We've been doing it for years, pausing at the sports section only if there is a human interest story on its front page.

For some reason a week ago I paused and said I should check for the Outdoors section on the last page of the sports section. Goodness, gracious, there was an article about Wes Neustel, former owner of Ski Hut and organizer of the annual Ski Hut trip to Bozeman MT. We know Wes, like thousands of others, and look forward to this trip.

Yesterday, I paused again before tossing the sports section on the recycling pile. On the Outdoors page was an article about Tim Bradach finding locked moose horns near his property in Brimson. Gosh, his and some friends' property is right across the road from ours. And double gosh, on Saturday I was musing on how long it was since we saw any moose tracks on our trails. The moose hadn't disappeared; we just hadn't looked hard enough.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

I tried to cut my leg off

Well, not really, but I came close.

I was cutting stumps flush with the ground. I was working on the last for the day and in a rather awkward kneeling position. I knew that I should be careful and shifted my legs to be farther away from the chain saw.

Then I shifted again and the chain saw came out and caught in the knee of my jeans, ripping a small part. I looked closer and it also ripped the knee of my long johns. I thought I felt a small cut on my knee. I put the saw down and walked into the cabin to look at it.

I pulled down my pants and long johns, and sure enough there was a bloody streak across my knee.

My wife got out the first aid kit, swabbed the cut with an antiseptic wipe, put a gauze pad on the cut and fixed it with adhesive strips, and for good measure she wrapped it all with an elastic bandage.

My knee is not as good as new yet, but I am quite ambulatory. In fact, we went snowshoeing later. Not very far; we had to cut a lot of snow-laden brush bent over the path. Afterwards, the brush cutting made my shoulders hurt more than my knee did. Also the cut knee hurt less than the other knee which has been sore for over a year.

However, as I write this, my cut knee is reminding me that it is damaged. My next step is to take a shower, see how it looks, and have my wife redress it.

Interestingly, I'll be seeing a dermatology nurse practitioner on Tuesday for some other skin problems, some of which are on the cut leg. Will she be surprised!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Clever trailer hitch cover

As a pickup passed me the other day, it was hard not to notice the cover on the trailer hitch – a pig riding a motorcycle, a hog on a HOG!

For those not in the know, HOG is a nickname for Harley-Davidson motorcycles. For the origin of the nickname, click here. You'll find in the same article more than you ever thought you wanted to know about the history of Harley-Davidson.

Interesting connections and challenges

Stonyfield Farms, a yoghurt maker, had an offer for "Anticancer, A New Way of Life" by David Servan-Schreiber. I had seen references to the book before and had noted the author's name. When I saw the offer today, I wondered again if the author was related to Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, the author of "Le Defi Americain" ("The American Challenge"). Sure enough, Wikipedia has David as Jean-Jacques' eldest son.

I should reread "Le Defi Americain". The elder Servan-Schrieber was worried about the U.S. swamping Europe economically and culturally. Ironically, his eldest son immigrated to the U.S. And even more ironically, the U.S. is becoming overwhelmed economically by China.