Tuesday, March 30, 2010

URGENT poll on Obama Care

"Newsmax.com, one of America's leading online news services, is conducting an urgent national online poll about President Obama and the Democrat's plan for universal health care."

This was at http://news1.newsmax.com/obama%2Dhealthcare/, which I got when I clicked on a banner at U.S. News and Report "Obama Care… Stop Him! Vote Here Now!"  It had a picture of President Obama with a surgeon's cap.

I was going to take this poll even though the ad told me there would be some loaded questions.  There were, but I went ahead anyway.  Then I got down to the bottom and the poll wanted my email address.  Also the "Please note:" turned me off:

"Votes with invalid email addresses cannot be counted. In appreciation of casting my vote, Newsmax will keep me automatically updated on poll results and other breaking news with FREE daily email alerts. I can unsubscribe any time. I'll also receive details of the exclusive Emergency Radio offer that thousands of Newsmax readers have already taken advantage of."

Lowest taxes or best quality of life

Yahoo! Finance had an item on the lowest tax states for retirees.  The more direct link to the article is "The Lowest Tax States for Retirees", Kimberly Palmer, U.S. News, 2010-03-29.

Are low taxes all there are to life?  What about the services that taxes buy?

Will there be enough well-educated health-care workers to care for these low-tax retirees as they get even older?  Not if there are not enough taxes to educate children well enough to become health-care workers.

Will there be good, safe roads for them to drive to the golf course?  Not if there are not enough taxes to keep the roads in good repair.

Will there be enough good clean water for drinking and cooking?  Not if there are not enough taxes to build the infra-structure to bring the water long distances.

And seniors have to get rid of water more frequently than younger people.  Will there be enough clean, safe rest stops as they travel.  Not if there not enough taxes to maintain rest stops.  A low tax state like Arizona is closing rest stops.

Americans love to point out how much higher taxes are in many European countries, especially the Scandinavian countries.  What they ignore is that these countries consistently come out higher on measures of quality of life.

U.S. News also has a page "Find the Best Place to Retire" with a long list of choices.  My choices of size of city, weather, health care, and activities gave cities in Minnesota, Michigan, and Vermont.  Vermont is considered by U.S. News one of the worst tax states, and many think that Minnesota and Michigan are among the worst.  For my money, I'm getting what I pay for.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Compromise reached with flat earthers

The International Mediation Council today announced that a compromise had been reached between the Flat Earth Society and the Global Society of Astronomers. Both sides agreed that the world is a cube.

The Duluth Troubled Views wrote today that a crook and a victim quickly reached a compromise. Crook: "You owe me $100!" Victim: "I owe you nothing!" Crook: "OK, we'll compromise; you owe me $50."

These were inspired by the headline in today's Star Tribune: "[Sen.] Klobuchar: Aiming for the Middle Ground". Sometimes, there is no reasonable middle ground between those who want to do absolutely nothing and those who want to do everything at once, or between those who are completely wrong and those who have incomplete data on something.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes

Because weather, in the sense of clouds and sunshine, is quite variable in Duluth and many other parts of Minnesota, many people joke about it with the title phrase.

On a larger scale, one can see this with the five-day forecasts. Three days out might be sunny and four days out might be snow. Then later three days out has rain and four days out is sunny. This happens because weather systems are chaotic; an upper wind can change direction pushing a weather system further north or further south, or speed it up or slow it down.

Even within a day's forecast, the weather can vary. The forecast may call for rain and the day starts sunny; carry your umbrella, the clouds haven't arrived yet. Conversely, the forecast may call for sunny and the day starts out overcast. Don't cancel your picnic; the skies will probably clear.

We had a sample of this for the last two days. Yesterday, Friday, was predicted to be sunny, and today was predicted to be rainy. When we stopped at Bixby's yesterday for coffee and our lunch for our cabin stay, the sky was gray, gray, gray. One of our friends kidded about the non-sunny day we had ahead of us. I retorted that it would change.

Sure enough, by noon it was sunny in Brimson. I was hauling some stuff down a trail and looked at the blue, blue sky through the notch in the trees. I almost stopped to take a picture to show our friend.

Today was predicted to be rainy, and it was. But not all day and when it did rain it wasn't heavy. We had many times with no rain or just a light mist. We wore rain jackets outside most of the time, but often they remained dry. On the other hand, we didn't notice the rain much until we looked at our jackets.

Surprisingly, we accomplished more today than we did yesterday, even recognizing we worked outside only in the afternoon yesterday, and both morning and afternoon today.

BTW, we do lots of work in brush and tree cutting, but we also take walks and just stand still enjoying being outdoors.

Or listening to or watching critters. I heard scratching on one of our sheds. Oh boy, has something gotten inside; I thought I had it squirrel-proofed. I walked over to the shed and a red squirrel was splayed out on the vertical service. As I approached, he spun around to face one way looking for escape. Then he spun around the other way. I clucked at him and he dashed down to the ground and ran around the shed. When I got back to the cabin, I heard him making his territorial chatter. So there, big guy!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Small changes lead to a nice piece of change

The day before the series of little events of yesterday, I had a small series of little events that led to an unexpected bit of cash.

On Tuesday we received a flyer in the mail from Northstar Ford about a drawing they were having for a new car, some cash, an ATV, or a lottery ticket. Since I no longer own a Ford I would have normally thrown the flyer away.

However, I was going out to Northern Tools to by a trailer dolly to pull our chipper around at the cabin. I could stop by NorthStar Ford on the way back home. Well, I missed Northern Tools on the way out of town. When I got to Midway Rd. I knew I had gone too far. I did see it on the way back. I missed the humongous sign because I was looking for a smaller sign, plus they had put a wall on the "near" side. It had been a while since I had been there, and so it was unrecognizable to me.

I had called in the morning to make sure the dolly was in stock and was told they had plenty. When I got there I couldn't find them and asked for help. A clerk pointed out where they were but the shelf was empty. He went to a register to check the inventory and found that there was one left. He asked another clerk who was more familiar without the inventory to help me. The second clerk walked to the same area and picked up the last dolly on the other side of the aisle! They had stocked them on both sides.

After all this delay, I could have gone straight home. But I decided to go to NorthStar Ford anyway. I first went to the Service Department to say hello to the service manager whom I had known for so long. I didn't see a familiar face and his office was dark. I went to the sales receptionist and asked about the drawing. She called a sales representative to help me.

It turns out one has to have a small interview with a sales person before one can get a prize. My number was good for a lottery ticket. When I got to my car I scratched the seven ways to win and found the maximum prize was three dollars. Wow!

Yesterday when I bought gas I turned in my lottery ticket. It wound up that the ticket was worth fourteen dollars!! Each of the seven spots counts.

So, my little detour of about fifteen minutes was worth $56/hour. Even if it was only a three dollar win, that would have been worth $12/hour.

Another example of nothing ventured, nothing gained.

If you still have your flyer from NorthStar Ford, the drawing continues through Friday, March 26.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Small things can make a big difference

After my voice lesson today, I decided to stop at the Red Mug in Superior for a mocha.

I waffled over the 12 oz. and the 16 oz., and I decided for the 12 oz. because I would have change for a tip. I neglected sales tax, which would have given me hang for a tip in either case.

I also wanted to access the web with my iPod, but I had to have a userID and password. I could hardly see what was needed because the log-in page was dark print on a dark red background. I did get the info from a barista, but I had trouble because the userID was case sensitive.

I eventually got online, read several articles in The Huffington Post, and drank my mocha. When the mocha was done, I went out to my car. Surprise! Traffic was backed up from the railroad crossing to my car. I wasn't going anywhere until the train was through the crossing and the backed-up traffic had moved forward.

My first stop after the coffee stop was at a bank to get a roll of quarters for our morning newspapers. After I parked my car and walked to the bank, I checked my watch. It was four minutes to five. The bank would close soon. I made it and got my roll of quarters.

What if I hadn't gotten the quarters. I might not have walked to the corner tomorrow for the newspapers but gone elsewhere. If I went elsewhere for the newspapers, what chain of events might have been set in motion.

Consider the ifs that could have changed the whole afternoon:

If I had not stopped for a mocha,
If I had ordered a different size,
If I had not used my iPod,
If Huffington Post had published less or more articles that caught my interest,
If the train had been shorter or longer or earlier or later,
If I had parked at the bank rather than nearby stores, and
If who knows what else.

Think of all the big and little things that have happened because one small thing was changed. What if somebody who became a CEO had started with a different company? What if an inventor hadn't made a certain mistake? What if a guard hadn't been sleepy on a certain night?

We'll never know. The person could have become CEO of one of several companies. The inventor could have done any one of different things that would have led to his invention. The guard could have been sleepy on any other night except that one. Or no matter what any of these people did, their lives might have been humble and uneventful, relatively speaking.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Is the market up because of "Obamacare"?

Very interesting! The Dow-Jones Industrial Average is up for the two days following the passing of the health care, today a whopping 102.94. Of course, many "liberals" will think there is a direct correlation and causation. Maybe there is. Possibly not. For a more balanced view, see "Momentum carries stocks higher; Dow adds 103" from the Associated Press.

Of course, many "conservatives" will deny any connection. I wonder if some of these believe in the traffic-Federal holiday connection. See "Creating an anti-government myth from a single observation".

Creating an anti-government myth from a single observation

Yesterday for the second time I read a letter in the Star Tribune that claimed the lower traffic on certain Federal holidays proved that there were too many government employees.

First, is traffic in the Twin Cities noticeably lower on Federal holidays, and if so, what is the actual percentage of any reduction in traffic?

Second, other people besides government employees have certain Federal holidays off. Employees of banks and other financial institutions have the same holidays off as government employees. As the largest of these institutions are located in downtown areas, traffic into downtown areas would be reduced by their employees staying home, or at least not traveling at rush hour.

Third, schools and colleges often are closed on these holidays. Therefore the students will be staying home. College students won't be driving during rush hour. Parents who do not have the holiday off may take a vacation day to be with their children.

Fourth, many government employees and others who get certain Federal holidays off often do not have double holidays like many employees in other lines of work. For example, your local bank and City Hall are open for business the day after Thanksgiving.

The true test of "too many government employees" is do we really have more employees than needed to do the government work that most citizens want done. In some cases probably yes; in many other case probably no.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Love is in the air

This past weekend when I was at our cabin I heard a sound of a motor in our driveway. I went to see who was coming but I saw no car. I still heard the motor sound but suddenly it moved overhead from my right to my left. Was it a bird? Strange bird call! Then the sound moved from my left to my right. And then I saw a red squirrel in the trees where the sound was coming from.

These sounds continued off and on for most of the day. Eventually I heard the sounds on the ground as one squirrel chased another. I have heard squirrels make chirps, clicks, and similar, but never this mix of growling and purring. I figure this "motor" sound must be a mating call.

This fall I will hear many gunshots across the road. A neighbor will be shooting the squirrels that get into his roof. Those squirrels will probably be those produced this spring on my side of the road. My neighbor reduced their competition for space and food last year.

Taxes or Investments

The Star Tribune had a letter today that we should rename taxes as public investments: "Taxes vs. Investments, What's in a word? How we address public needs". I sent in a letter pointing out that Lincoln (railroads), Roosevelt(parks), and Eisenhower(interstate) invested. Oh yes, I mentioned that these were all Republicans.

I also looked at a few of the online comments. They reminded why I don't have comments on this blog. Most of them missed the point, instead writing that it was freeloaders who didn't pay taxes who were benefiting. I wish these people would stay off the publicly financed roads. That was bad enough, but too many also had to call in question the thinking ability of those who disagreed with them.

I really appreciate Yahoo! Finance providing highlights of comments on articles; the editors' selections save a lot of time by providing only the thoughtful comments.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lies, damn lies, and headlines

Jana Peterson, editor of the Duluth Budgeteer, wrote a refreshing editorial in this week's issue, "No tolerance for lying". Her editorial addresses the people who expect her to publish their letters even when they make statements that are not true. The best part of it was quoting a note she has hanging over her desk:
"Giving lies equal access to truth is not balanced journalism."
I sent her the following email. Since I haven't posted anything for a few days and it took me some time to write, I decided I may as well make it a blog entry. Drat, there goes having hundreds of readers over having a dozen or so readers. Ah, but my blog entry will be available to all for years; my published letter will only be freely available to all for a week.

Good morning,

Thank you for your editorial “No tolerance for lying”.

I am really disheartened by the number of people who get coverage for their distortions of facts or even creation of falsehoods. I’m even more disheartened that a once honorable party has been all but taken over by such people.

Unfortunately, “lying”, or more appropriately distortion, is practiced by many who have more honorable motives. You yourself did it with “Working to ensure our children are insured”. Yes, too many vulnerable people do not have sufficient resources to pay for health care. But, how many of them currently need health care? By stressing the former, we make the problem more acute than it actually is. Of course, the cases of immense health care expenses are relatively few, but who’s counting when one of them is you (thanks to Bob Gibson’s “Ski Songs”). Kidding aside, shouldn’t we spend more resources addressing the problems of the few rather than a more expensive “one size fits all” approach?

“Lying” also takes the form of the “narrative fallacy”, the connection of facts when no meaningful connection may exist. For example, “Investors drove down stocks today on the latest oil prices”. One, did all investors drive down prices. Two, aren’t those who react daily to “market conditions” traders rather than investors. Three, weren’t there many, many more factors involved in stock price fluctuations than oil prices. Four, did all stock prices drop or only slightly more than fifty percent. Or maybe a majority of stock prices rose, but those that dropped were greater in sum than those that gained. In other words, a simple headline hides important information, which is another form of lying.

An even worse “narrative fallacy” is ascribing the votes of some to all voters. For example, “Massachusetts voters reject Obama health plan”. For more on this, see “The Party of One has capitulated?”,


I got the term “narrative fallacy” from “The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I think it is a must read for all those who wish to think more deeply about the whole process of thinking. It is available at the Duluth Public Library. I bought my copy at Northern Lights Books, and I hope to read it more times than I read “Lord of the Rings” (3).

If you think this rant is suitable for publication, I plan to tie your hands. After I click on send, I will post this to my blog, see below. I think the title will be “Lies, damn lies, and headlines”.

Keep writing. You have some of the attitudes that will make you a “skeptical empiricist”, another term used heavily by Taleb.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Netflix busts Blockbuster, or the Changing Economy

As part of my notion that we don't have a weak economy but a changing economy, I've been thinking about a blog entry about how Netflix is reducing the need for video stores and their employees. Today the Star Tribune had a story about Blockbuster – "Shares of Blockbuster tumble after warning it may need to file for bankruptcy protection". The article states that one of the causes is competition from Netflix. "The company has had to close about 1,300 stores and wants to shut down hundreds more." Shutting stores means letting employees go. Think of all the other video stores in the same predicament. Think of all the other businesses whose reason to be has changed.

All the employees let go by video stores won't be able to get jobs at Netflix or at any other similar service. Think of the idealized Netflix operation. A customer signs up online and is accepted or rejected automatically. A customer places an order online. The computer orders a robot in the warehouse to fetch the DVD, put it in an envelope, print the shipping address on the envelope, and place it in a bin to go to the Post Office. Now humans get involved with a postal employee picking up the bins and driving them to a sorting center. The sorting center is mostly automated and the sorted packages are delivered in another truck or series of trucks. A mail carrier picks up the packages at the destination post office and delivers them to the customers.

Even the postal workers will be cut out of this system. As internet bandwidth gets larger and more people have faster computers, the customers will order movies to be sent directly to their computers ("streaming").

This scenario is being replicated across industry after industry. People not needed. And guess who demands this: people who want lots of goods for the least money and hassle.

I'll stop here and get off my soapbox about the trends too many of us aren't considering.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Who Day?

Today there will be a lot of parades, a lot of drinking of green beer, a lot of wearing some bit of green, a lot of music by Irish composers. I'll be only participating in the last if I happen to have the radio on. Why should I do anything more? Especially drinking green(?) beer. Good God! There is plenty of good Irish beer without adulterating it with green food coloring.

With the name Magree, I must be Irish, right? Well, four of my great-grandparents were born in Germany, at least two in England and maybe a third, and one was born in Brooklyn, New York. That is the one who had the name Magree. I have been unable to find much more about his ancestry other than the 1870 census, which said his parents came from England. Born in England? Took a ship from England?

My mother said we were "orange Irish", but she never knew her grandfather-in-law who left the family before my mother was even born. I think she said that because her family tradition was Protestant, mostly Methodist.

I did poke around a bit in various records and found that all those named Magree or McGree who can trace their ancestry into the nineteenth century can trace it to Kilkenny. I visited Kilkenny in 1979 to see if I could find any leads. Many people were helpful but I found nothing of direct use to me. And guess what my "nationality" was when I was there? American!

We have often enjoyed receiving a St. Patrick's Day card from a distant cousin (I assume we have a common ancestor in the 18th Century). The "Irish sailor" that she supposedly descended from might have been born in Baltimore MD in 1818 and became a ship's master of immigrant ships. My distant cousin has never confirmed that this person is her ancestor. Of course, this John C. Magree could be my great-great-grandfather as he would have been 22 when my great-grandfather was born.

Yes, it is fun to know where one's ancestors came from, but for many of us their origin has little to do with our own personal culture. In fact, we have more Swedish culture in our family than any of our ancestors' cultures; this happened because we lived in Sweden for four years. Furthermore, there is no such thing as English genes, German genes, Italian genes, and so on. Almost any "national group" is an amalgam of people from a wide area.

Enough! I'm not going to have any beer today, Irish or otherwise. My beverage budget is spent for the month. If you are so inclined, I hope you have a fun time on a day that is a good excuse for a party.

May the road come up to meet your feet (and not your face).

Look who's outsourcing!

It is tax time and time to figure out all the labyrinthian details that Congress has charged the IRS with implementing. I must say that the IRS had done a lot of work to make our work easier - PDF savable files for forms, online calculators to determine if you need a particular form, and many other features that often make it easier than wading through all the paper instructions. Oh yes, no more trips to the library to get forms that weren't included in your personal mailing.

I used one of those calculators yesterday. It's fields were to small to enter in the number of digits that I should enter. I found a contact link and filled out a web mail about the problem.

Within a few hours, maybe less, I had a response from IRS Help Desk asking what operating system and browser I was using. I sent all the requested information back this afternoon and within an hour or so I had a response that my info would be forwarded to the appropriate department for review.

Hey, that is speedy government service. Wait a minute! The email address is not irs.gov but speedymail.com. Hm! Who's speedymail.com?

It is AFFINA, a "one-stop-shop solution for customer relationship management." The story doesn't stop there. In 2006 AFFINA joined Hinduja Global Solutions Limited http://www.hindujagsl.com Hm! One guess in what country that company is located.

Some may complain that the U.S. Government should not be exporting jobs. But I can't say that it is. I don't know where the work of AFFINA is conducted. Besides, the idea of where jobs for a government are done often gets down to we can export our stuff but you can't export yours to us.

When I worked in Europe, for an American company, I was called in for software assistance to the French Army, the Swedish Police (Rikspolisen), the Swedish Auto Registry (Bilregistret), and a few other government agencies. They all had bought American-made Univac computers.

And even more crazy, many European customers thought the American programmers knew more than the local programmers. On some things this was true and on others just the opposite.

Back to speedymail.com, the writing of the messages was straightforward. None of the elaborate "It is my pleasure to serve you today" or turns of phrase that almost shout "Non-native speaker".

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Accidental learning

I was entering some data in a spreadsheet and wanted to repeat the contents of the cell above. I thought I typed CMD-" but the current time appeared. With a little bit of playing around, I figured out that I had typed CMD-; instead.

OK, how do I get the current date? I went to Excel Help and after searching for several combinations of keyboard, enter, and date I found that one enters CONTROL-;

Now, how often I will use my new-found knowledge is another question.

Warning: I use Excel in Office 2004 for the Mac. Other versions may have different combinations. Software developers are not known for consistency across versions.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Facebook makework?

I have had a very small number of friends and relatives invite me to Facebook. I have declined in all cases considering tending to my page as one more task.

Yesterday I began to reconsider being a holdout when our son sent a transcript of a conversation on my brother's Facebook page. My brother has several health issues that he mentioned on his page. Relatives that I rarely hear from or even hardly know responded. Should I get on Facebook to keep in touch with my own family?

I think not. I have a growing to do list and it would be one more thing to compete with reading, writing, and singing, all of which I spend less time than I would like. I had this feeling reinforced when I got email from Ancestry.com touting some feature or other. I started following through with submitting a family tree. Then I thought if any other relatives respond, then I'll have to respond, and to respond I'll have to do more research, and …

As for keeping in touch with my brother, we do exchange emails every so often, and I knew just about everything he had posted on his Facebook page. The only really new information was the number of relatives who are on Facebook.

Wimping out on my civic duty

Today I received "Official Court Business - Response Required" mail from the Minnesota Court Administration. I didn't think it would be a notice of suit filed against me, so it must be a call for jury duty. I don't want to go to jury duty even I think it is a civic duty. Last time I was called I just sat waiting for a case that was ultimately settled without a jury.

I scanned through the registration form and saw a box for opting out if one is over 70. Hallelujah! I think I'll take that option. I filled the form out checking the box for opting out and returned it.

My rationale is that I'll probably fall asleep, and I know that I won't pay sufficient attention to make an informed decision.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Has spring sprung in Duluth?

As you know, we gave up on skiing for the season this past week because it has been too warm.

Yesterday we went to our cabin with the expectation that the temperature might be in the high 40s or low 50s. I packed our snowshoes just in case the snow was still to deep to trudge through.

When we got there, there was more bare ground as expected, but the snow that remained was not as deep as we expected. We trudged around our usual path without snowshoes without problem other than my wife's boots not being as waterproof as advertised.

I had intended to use the chain saw to cut up some wood or cut down some trees, but I discovered that the chaps that I just bought should be washed before use!! (See "I tried to cut my leg off!" http://magree.blogspot.com/2010/02/i-tried-to-cut-my-leg-off.html)

OK, I'll use a handsaw to cut the smaller stuff. But where was that nice draw saw our son gave us for Christmas several years ago? It wasn't in any of the places that it should have been. Well, last week we had cut overhanging branches along the drive. I checked and there it was on the ridge of snow along the side, the sheath sopping wet. I pulled out the saw and it was still shiny! Talk about not making things like they used to. To shorten the story I did use the saw yesterday and today to cut up several small trees and large branches next the saw horse.

We looked at the thermometer on the side of our wood shed a bit before noon. The temperature was at 64 F!!!

I looked at the snow around the chipper and saw that it was almost gone. I had decided there was too much snow around it yesterday. I had brought the battery from home and installed it. Set the choke and throttle and push start. Vroom! I got rid of two piles of branches and did three cartloads of chips. They lengthened the "paved" section of a trail by almost 20 feet.

Oh, yes! I should mention that the predicted overcast skies for Duluth were blue with big puffy clouds in Brimson. I should mention that on our drive back I did see rain showers way off to the south and west, but we only got a few drops on our windshield.

Black swans and other unexpected events

I've been reading "The Black Swan" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a very interesting book on how often the "highly improbable" occurs. I hope to write more about what I've read, but I just had my own "Black Swan" that was unexpected in both a good and a bad sense.

I was typing "Has spring sprung in Duluth?" when my computer suddenly quit! I hadn't plugged it in after returning from the cabin and it I had rebooted it a couple of hours ago. Oh, great! There goes all that I had typed!

I plugged the computer in and rebooted. It said it had 27% charge; that shouldn't have caused it to quit. With heart in mouth, I restarted TextEdit, the program I use to write the drafts for this blog. I selected the file for this month's blog expecting to see nothing since yesterday.

Surprise! Somehow the last character I had typed was still there! Is this a White Swan?

Hidden Evidence

After all that chipping in "Has spring sprung in Duluth?" I sat on the steps of our cabin to rest. For some reason I raised my hand and saw its shadow to the northwest. To the northwest! It's four o'clock in the afternoon. The shadow should be to the northeast. The sun must have gone backward or I slept overnight on the steps.

Well, some important evidence was hidden from me. I had a billed cap on and a tree was between me and the sun. The explanation was that the sun was reflected off a window behind me and cast the shadow in the "wrong" place.

Unfortunately, too many of us take little bits of evidence like this to prove outlandish ideas. Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers, progressives, atheists, religious people, business people, laborers, just about everybody including you and me.

This is what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls hidden evidence in "The Black Swan. One example is the story about the people who prayed and were saved from a shipwreck. The people who prayed and drowned were ignored as well as those who didn't pray and were saved from the shipwreck.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Did I or didn't I?

Yesterday I decided that I had enough skiing for the season; it was just too rainy. I drove to Spirit Mt. to take the rest of my gear out of our locker, leaving only our skis. We thought that leaving the skis in the locker would be better for them. It would be drier than in our basement.

On my way out I looked at our locker through the window and thought it looked locked. I thought about going back in to double-check, but I didn't want to get involved in conversation again.

When I got home I convinced myself that it would be OK. If I didn't lock the lock, somebody else would. Then in the middle of the night I started worrying about it again. I couldn't specifically remember closing the lock. I couldn't get the thought out of my head. I took some valerian to go back to sleep and it worked.

I still worried when I woke up in the morning. I didn't want to worry all summer about this. I decided I would leave at a time that would let me get there after the doors were open but before the near parking lot filled up. I did get there earlier than I normally would, but the near lot was already half-full. It is Saturday, but it is a drizzly, warm Saturday!

Sure enough, the lock was locked and both sets of skis and poles were still in the locker. I put the lock back on and pushed it closed.

As soon as I was outside again, I wondered if I did. Should I go back and double-check? Well, this time I had a clear memory of pushing the lock closed. Or was that a memory from another time?

Follow up on potluck frittata

The "cayenne" was cinnamon, but my wife liked it. She liked the potatoes with skin. I used a whole can of tuna for the half-recipe but it didn't seem like too much. However, the smell of tuna was quite strong.

We ate half for supper that night and the other half for lunch yesterday. The full recipe does serve 6-8.

Now that I'm a frittata "expert", what shall I try next?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I tried a new potluck recipe

The New York Times printed a recipe for "Baked Tunisian Carrot, Potato and Tuna Frittata", by Martha Rose Shulman, 2010-03-02

I gave it a try this evening as a half recipe. I didn't cut the olive oil in half because I used the same size skillet as in the recipe. I didn't use parsley because we had none. I used cayenne, I think, instead of the harissa. I think it was cayenne; it was red and finely ground in a bag with only the co-op PLU numbers. I used fingerling potatoes unpeeled, only flicking off the sprouts. We had only albacore tuna packed in water, and so I added a tablespoon of olive oil after I drained the water.

Many Americans probably won't be too happy with mine; I sort of waved the salt shaker over the mix.

Since it was only a half recipe, I baked it for a bit less than 30 minutes. It was firm when I poked it with a table knife.

My printed copy of the recipe didn't include the picture. When I revisited the page to get the URL for this blog entry, I saw that it was served in the pan. I had flipped mine over on a plate thinking the browned crust would look nice.

I hope my wife gets home soon from her meeting so we can taste it.

Jobs: The Times They Are A-changin'

As I drove up Central Entrance in Duluth I was struck by how many billboards were LED billboards. Those that weren't were often a set of big panels screwed to the supports.

What are all those who pasted up great rolls of paper doing now? The panels are probably placed up in a fraction of the time needed for the rolls of paper. "As for changing [an LED billboard], it's as easy as clicking with a mouse button, rather than sending out a crew to pull down and replace a billboard message." - LED Billboards: Outdoor Advertising in the Video Age

But this kind of change is happening throughout many businesses; jobs are going away because of changes of business practices and technology. They won't be coming back and those who think they will are deluded. We have to change our whole education system to train people to adapt to change.

I don't hold out much hope for this. It was in 1963 that Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-changin'" was introduced. In the same era Pete Seeger wrote "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" with the line "When will they ever learn".

The times are are still a-changin' and we still haven't learned.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Investment or tax

Clive Thompson argues that we should have more public transit to reduce the incidents of texting while driving: "Clive Thompson to Texters: Park the Car, Take the Bus". He decries the fact that in the U.S. we are so car-dependent that we increase the number of textures driving; in other countries young people don't even consider getting a car as soon as they are eligible because public transit is so convenient.

Can't you just hear the "no-taxers" screaming about the cost of better public transit? Of course, most of them drive on tax-supported roads. They never stop to think that more public transit might reduce their travel time. Of course, fewer cars on the road also means fewer accidents, which are a cost in themselves. Fewer texters on the road means even fewer accidents. And fewer accidents means fewer court cases, which means less taxes to pay for courts. And fewer accidents means more money in all of our pockets to spend elsewhere.

Many cities even find that it pays to have free bus service: Bozeman MT, Steamboat Springs CO, and Park City UT. Park City really wins the prize with every 10-minute service on its mainline from early in the morning until late at night. Park City parking is very limited; I wonder how much acreage and dollars would have been used if there had been no free bus service.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Little things can save our empire

I saved a few articles about education that take a different tack from all the grandiose schemes that are current and was going to write a summary. Then today's Star Tribune had several op-ed pieces that stressed some of the same old, same old ideology: blame the teacher's unions or put the schools under control of mayors.

As usual, I keep reading new stuff that takes time from writing about old stuff I had read. As I went through the list of articles for today's Yahoo! Finance, I was struck by the title "Collapse of the American Empire: Swift, Silent, Certain".

I think our national arrogance ("leader of the free world"), military overreach, and short-term ideological thinking do contribute to the possibility of our soon being surpassed by the likes of China, India, and Brazil.

One thing that can keep us going for a long time is our history of innovation, innovation that is often falling victim to ideology. As long as we run our schools on ideological principles like "No Child Left Behind" and control from larger and more remote political entities, innovation may be stifled.

To get more innovation, we have to educate children for creativity, not passing tests.

I finally finished Eric Booth's "The Music Teaching Artist's Bible: Becoming a Virtuoso Educator". The more I read, the more I understood he was talking about education in general. If we don't engage students in creativity, all the rote learning in the world will only turn out automatons. See "Teaching: putting in or drawing out?"

Then I read three revolutionary articles on education: "Scholar's School Reform U-Turn", "Building a Better Teacher", and "Why you should read Diane Ravitch's new book".

The first is how Diane Ravitch, a respected education historian who was in the first Bush's Department of Education, has changed her mind on some of the conservative standard views on education, including No Child Left Behind. If you want to get some idea of her independence, read her "The Language Police".

The second is a long New York Times Magazine article centered on a charter school founder who learned that teachers aren't being trained in the little things that really matter. The most striking paragraph was:

"When Doug Lemov conducted his own search for those magical ingredients, he noticed something about most successful teachers that he hadn’t expected to find: what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise. “Stand still when you’re giving directions,” a teacher at a Boston school told him. In other words, don’t do two things at once. Lemov tried it, and suddenly, he had to ask students to take out their homework only once."

The third is a short review of Diane Ravitch's "The Death and Life of the Great American School System". The review gives a good summary of the ferment that is going on in education circles, a ferment that could give us a truly Great American School System.

More "We ain't seen nothing yet!"

I've repeated the above mantra many times with regard to computers. And several times a year, some new software or hardware is introduced that is a "game changer".

I started out programming a cards-in/cards-out computer in 1959. I now carry two computers in my pocket that have more power than that: a cell phone and an iPod. I added a 5MB hard drive to one of my first Macs. I now have a 500GB hard drive accessed wirelessly by two Macs. The first modems I used on mainframes were 110bps, and on microcomputers 1200bps. I thought moving from 56Kbps to 256Kbps broadband was a big step. Now 1.5Mbps seems slow. The highest currently available in Duluth is 20Mbps, but Google is looking at providing some city with 100Mbps.

Then I saw this about Cisco's CRS-3 router: "It can handle 322 terabits of traffic per second, or simultaneous video calls for every person in China, Cisco said." - "Cisco to introduce new heavy-duty router", Yahoo Finance/AP, 2010-03-09.

Oh, yes, it costs only $90,000. My DSL costs $22 (exclusive of $12.95 ISP charge) for 1.5Mbps. Let's see, my bps cost based on the monthly cost is $0.0000147; the Cisco router bps cost is $0.000000000280, or my bps cost is about 50,000 times the router bps cost.

Of course, I'm comparing apples and oranges here in more than one way, but the order of magnitude differences are mind-boggling.

The sobering thought is that moving all this data so fast for so many people may increase the world's knowledge, but will it make us any wiser?

Monday, March 08, 2010

For some, spring is a sad time

The snow is melting, the closing of Spirit Mountain is nearer, what will we skiers do when the snow is all gone?

My wife thinks the season is over. Rain is predicted for Wednesday and Thursday with highs in the mid-40s and lows above freezing all week. What will the snow be like on Friday?

Should we head north for Lutsen? Head back west for more Rocky Mountain skiing? Knowing us, we'll probably stay put.

Time to start at the fitness center with a full program to be ready for next season.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

An irony in politics

It is rather ironic that the party that claims it is for individual freedom supports corporate interests more heavily than its opposition and punishes its members who do not follow the party line.

On the other hand, the party that has some semblance of balance between individual interests and community interests follows suit with members having many different ideas on where the balance is.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

I'm glad they don't build them like they used to

People often complain about the quality of cars, even before Toyota's fiasco. However, few stop to think how much more reliable and long-lasting cars are. One of the many features that is more reliable is the speedometer. We have had several cars in the last two decades that have had much more accurate speedometers than previous cars.

In the late 70s when the 55mph limit was opposed, many people gamed the system because a few court cases ruled that a driver could not be ticketed for going less than 10mph over the limit. I regularly drove my Fiat 124 Sport Coupe between southeastern Pennsylania and New York City at 70mph. Oops! That's 15mph over the limit. Not really, my actual speed was 63mph. I went right by at least one patrol car parked under a bridge while my CB crackled with a warning that there was a smokey under that bridge. It was also fun to watch those who had previously passed me slow down to less than I had been going.

When we bought our first Ford Escort I couldn't understand why so many people were passing me when I was going 55mph. I took a few measurements and discovered that I was actually going 47mph!! The dealer wouldn't do anything about it, making some noise about tire wear, blah, blah. Tire wear on a new car?? Once I began driving a true 55mph, I passed a lot of Escorts driving much slower than I was. I guess the Escorts were wearing their tires out within a few miles of the dealers.

The 1997 Ford F-150 I bought later had a much more accurate speedometer. I think it was correct within one mph at highway speeds. It did fairly well at lower speeds; I went past many a radar sign registering 30mph just like my speedometer.

Our 2002 Prius is just about as accurate.

On a recent trip we timed our Chevy Trailblazer at 70mph on a six-mile stretch of I-35W. If our speed was exactly 70mph we would have covered the six miles in 308.57 seconds. We covered the distance in 308.9 seconds, and so our speed was 69.926mph.

Of course, our measurements weren't that close because of reaction time, plus it is difficult to set cruise control right on the line on the speedometer. I think I had it slightly under, but I couldn't be positive without reading glasses.

Even that is damn good. If one were to allow a one percent error, the range of time would be slightly outside 306 to 312 seconds. That is a whole lot better than the 17 percent error of the Ford Escort or the 10 percent error of the Fiat 124.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Look who's buying Congress

Barbara Streisand wrote an interesting column on fair elections, "Elections Should Be Won -- Not Bought", Huffington Post, 2010-02-23.

She argues that "Under [the] Fair Elections [Act], candidates would raise a large number of small contributions from their communities in order to qualify for Fair Elections funding."

I wonder how many communities she lives in. I checked OpenSecrets for her contributions. Giving her address as California, she gave $1,000 each to Thomas Howard Geoghegan, John Hall, and Howard L. Berman. Looking these gentlemen up, I found that they are all Representatives. Geoghegan is from Illinois, Hall is from New York, and Berman is from California. Is she buying elections in New York and Illinois?

Closer to home, I looked up donations by ZIP code. I found that a neighbor gave two $500 contributions to Maureen Reed. I haven't heard of any Reed running for office in Duluth. No, she's running against Michele Bachmann in the Sixth District around the Twin Cities. I would dearly love to see Michelle Bachmann replaced, but I can't vote for either candidate. And if I can't vote for these candidates, is it fair for me to contribute to either?

The new Red Menace!

Those who want power often use scare tactics to get people to support them. Even in democracies - Joseph McCarthy, 9/11, Iraq and WMD. Now we have those who want power and lucrative government contracts have declared that we are in a cyberwar!!

"There is no cyberwar and we are not losing it. The only war going on is one for the soul of the internet." "Cyberwar Hype Intended to Destroy the Open Internet", Ryan Singel, Wired, 2010-03-01.

The trouble with politics. We have met the enemy and he is us!

A must read is Charles Wheelan's "The Real Problem in Politics? It's Us", Yahoo! Finance, 2010-03-01.

As long as we vote for Representatives who allocate Federal money for local bike trails or who advocate not participating in the Census.

If you object to this behavior, don't vote for these candidates, even if the opposition is worse in your eyes, and don't stay away. Show up and leave a blank ballot.