Friday, May 31, 2013

Due to popular demand…

…grammar rules have been changed.  We no longer have to write "because of…"

I have seen "due to" usage in so many press releases that I think the strict grammarians of my school days in the 40s and 50s have lost.

If you think about it, correct grammar and spelling are what people actually say and write, not what some grammarian dictates.  Even French, with the French Academy defending it, is changing and has been changing.  If you listen to French radio you will hear "le weekend" about as many times as you hear "le fin de semaine".

Did you notice another "rule" that I broke?  I avoid putting punctuation between quote marks unless the punctuation is part of the quote.


Did he say, "I don't believe that?"


Did he say, "I don't believe that"?

That is, did the quoted speaker ask a question (first example) or did he make a statement (second statement)?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Change of routine leads to paranoia

When we go to our cabin, we usually make a couple of stops before we leave Duluth.  At the last of these, I plug in my iPhone for a podcast of Wisconsin Public Radio's "To the Best of Our Knowledge".  The podcast lasts about 52 minutes, a bit less than the time it takes us to get our cabin.

Yesterday we planned to go to our cabin with no special stops.  Instead of listening to Minnesota Public Radio until we made our stops, I plugged in my iPhone before I even backed out of the garage.

About ten miles away, I wondered if I had shut the garage door.  My wife said I probably did.  After all, whichever of us is the passenger almost always checks that the driver closed the door.

I didn't turn around, but it kept gnawing at me all the time we were at our cabin.  I had visions of our lawnmower and snowblower being stolen.  I wondered if my wife's car would be broken into.  Around and around rattled these thoughts in my mind.

When we returned today, I forewent a couple of stops that I wanted to make and we came directly home.

Whew!  The garage door was closed.  As it opened I saw that my wife's car, the lawnmower, and the snowblower were all there.

A couple of hours later I'm still feeling the sense of relief!

Moral?  Don't be distracted as you pack and definitely don't be distracted as you lock up.  Have your paranoia about doing all you should before you leave, not after you are on your way:)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Offers you can refuse

As I opened my Frontier statement for our cabin phone, I was shown an ad for High-Speed Internet for "$19.99 No Contract, 3-year price guarantee".  The tiny, grey, fuzzy print is "per month with qualifying phone service".  I have yet to find "qualifying phone service" explained in detail.

Fine print on another page states "Limited time offer to new or current Frontier customers who subscribe to a qualifying package of Frontier local service with features, long distance and new High-Speed Internet with speeds up to 6Mbps."

Ah!  When I clicked on "bundles" then I got a list of packages that include high-speed internet.  The minimum bundle is "Digital Phone Essentials" which includes 30 minutes of long-distance per month, caller iD, and call waiting; all features we do not have and do not need.  The price is $47.98; taxes are not mentioned.  Our basic dial-up service is $18.00 including extended area service* and $16 taxes and other charges.  So, we would be paying at least $64/month for internet and phone we use only one or two nights a week.

I think I'll stick with the poky 25kbps dial-up.

But I may have no choice.  Last time I knew, the faster phone cable hadn't been laid as far as our cabin.  Even faster Frontier service is being provided in the area with fiber-optic cable, but it ends about 1-1/2 miles from our cabin.  I assume any extension of that cable will continue on the main paved road and not come down our gravel road.

* Surprisingly, we can make a local call to our house in Duluth that is 46 miles away, but we can't make a call to Two Harbors about 35 miles away.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Forgetting while remembering

While working at the cabin, I couldn't find my water bottle.  I looked all around the cabin and a couple of workspots around it.  When I asked my wife if she had seen it, she pointed right at the bottle at another workspot, where I had been working most recently.  I immediately said "Tankspridd" which is Swedish for absent-minded.

Although I read a Swedish book or newspaper now and then and listen to a Swedish radio podcast, I haven't really used Swedish as a daily language since we lived in Sweden 1970-1974.  I think I've thought of the word "tankspridd" now and then, mostly in my own head.  Still, it was a bit startling that an older memory popped out while I had to dig for a more recent memory.

While double checking my translation, I came across Tankspriddas Riksförbund (National Association of the Absent-Minded).  According to this site, 99% of us are absent-minded.

Oh, yes!  Forget about the stereotype of the "dour Swede".  The Swedes have a very good sense of humor and tell lots of jokes and funny stories.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Paved surfaces – public vs. private

Because of the freeze-thaw cycle of late winter, pavements all over crack and as vehicles drive over them potholes develop.  This is true of city streets and private parking lots.  Who does a better job of repair?

Some of the streets in our neighborhood have a few small potholes that can be easily driven around.  On the other hand, the Mt. Royal Shopping Center parking lot has many huge, axle-buster holes.  Driving around these is like driving a gymkhana.

I bet the city potholes will be fixed before the shopping center sinkholes will.

Readership is dropping, this might be good

Over the last few days, the number of page views of this blog have dropped considerably.

That might be a good thing!

Possibly the majority of page views are by reverse spammers, especially from Russia.  Although I have not been posting as much as I like, I would think the amount of reverse spam would not drop.  However, the number of Russian page views has dropped by a half, and the page views from known reverse spammers has also dropped.

As I am working a big genealogical project and doing more reading of novels, it might be awhile before I write as frequently as before.

I do thank my real, live viewers.  I may have some items soon from my long list of "Unpublished ideas".

Monday, May 20, 2013

Place, community, and politics

Ross Douthat is a different breed of conservative, and I almost always read his columns with satisfaction.  He tries to cut through all the political grandstanding of either party to get to some basic truths.  One of these was "When Place is not Enough".

I posted the following as a comment to his article:
We've lived in the same house now for 14 years, and we still don't know the names of all our neighbors. We chat with a few, but we either are inside or out and about. We belong to some various groups and form our relationships within them.

I think stay-at-home moms have contributed to neighborhood or town cohesion, but as kids grow up and interests diverge, more activities outside the neighborhood draw people away from their neighbors and towards others with similar interests all over town.

In Duluth we have three choices for getting around - car, bus, and walking. We use each according to conditions. The car obviously doesn't let us connect to our neighbors other than a friendly wave. The bus is less than a block away and there are few people out to meet. We can walk to several places within a mile and do in nice weather, but we rarely meet anyone regularly. It is the people at these various destinations that we know better than those in our block.

I grew up in Cleveland in mostly lower middle-class neighborhoods. In the 40s and 50s I knew only half the kids and no more than 10 percent of the adults on the same block.  My network was through school, community center, and a church, all within a mile of my house but past dozens of houses whose occupants I knew not.

I do laud the Front Porch Republicans and communitarians for striving to make where we live better places.  If more of us do that maybe we can organize better to put the Masters of the Universe in their place!
I highly recommend at least taking a peek at the About page of the Front Porch Republic.  It looks like a good basis of a new political party.  Or at least for independent candidates to use as an inspiration.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

There is more to the U. S. Constitution than the 2nd Amendment

The NRA and others cite the Second Amendment as giving individuals the right to bear arms.  One justification they give is "the people" need arms to protect themselves against "the government".  However, they neglect Article II, Sec 8, of the Constitution:  Congress has the power "to call out the militia to suppress insurrection".

If you use your guns to "protect you" from the government, then you are involved in an insurrection.  If you are in an insurrection, then the Constitution gives Congress the power to suppress your insurrection.  Suppressing an insurrection includes taking the guns from those in the insurrection.

George Washington was involved in putting down the Whiskey Rebellion, a tax revolt from 1791-1794.  See "Whiskey Rebellion", Wikipedia.  The Whiskey Rebellion was quite a complicated affair, but popular support seemed to be in favor of the suppression of the rebellion.  Another interesting point that some make: it was also a conflict between large distillers who paid less per gallon than small, individual distillers who paid more per gallon.

The last great Republican President put the down the biggest insurrection of all, the Civil War.

See also "Is the N.R.A. Un-American", Stanley Fish, New York Times, 2013-05-13.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Wooden-headed woodsman

On Saturday, May 11, I was using a draw saw to cut lengths of downfall into fireplace lengths.  I was working on smaller pieces, three-inches or less in diameter.  Many of these had branch stubs that would make it difficult to lay a good fire.

To cut these stubs, I placed the pieces vertically in a section of my saw horse to stabilize them and then would cut down.  Sometimes I would hold the piece above the stub, sometimes below.  The latter was more stable.

As I was doing this, I noted that my work gloves were mostly fabric, not leather.  I told myself that I should be careful.  That worked for about five pieces and then the saw hit my hand.  Oh, drat!  My glove had a small shredded patch!

Hm, I better check my hand.  Oh, I have a good cut there and it's bleeding a bit.  I licked at it a bit to minimize the blood flow and went inside to get a bandage.  Hoo boy!  It started bleeding more!  I grabbed three or so pieces of facial tissues to sop up the blood.

I found the first-aid kit and managed to open it without getting blood on it.  Grab more tissues to sop up the blood.  My wife had gone to the Brimson post office.  Should I call the post office where she would be visiting with other neighbors and ask her to come back to the cabin?  Should I call 911?

I managed to get a bandage on just before my wife came back.  She suggested that I also put bacitracin on the cut, and she bound the wound up better than I had.  We changed the bandage(s) often as they became soaked.  By sauna time, there was little blood flow.

Of course, as I sweated in the sauna, the latest bandage loosened up.  No big deal because the bleeding had stopped.

My wife had washed up and gone back to the cabin.  I washed up and started to get dressed.  As I put on a sock I bumped my thumb.  Oh, great!  It's bleeding again.  With no bandages around, I just kept licking the wound.  I got the other sock on with a spot of blood on it.  I managed to get into my pants but no way was I going to put a shirt on with my thumb bleeding.

I put my feet in my boots and grabbed my shirt and jacket to get back to the cabin.  At least it wasn't freezing.

Once back at the cabin, I put another bandage on and could finish dressing.

Over the past week, I've put bacitracin and a bandage on twice a day.  The wound is healing nicely and I can use my thumb for most tasks.  I still bump my thumb with various tasks, but my only reaction is a grunt.

Have I learned my lesson?  Probably not.  There will always be another situation where the most convenient way of doing something is the riskiest, and in the interest of saving time or ...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The company with the computer for the rest of us forgot the rest of us

When Apple introduced the Macintosh in 1984, they dubbed it "The Computer for the Rest of Us".  With its WIMP interface (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pictures) it was certainly a step up from the alphabetic command interface of all the other microcomputers of the time.  Even an experienced assembly-language programmer like me found the interface superior to remembering a whole bunch of commands that had to be spelled correctly with the correct syntax.

Over the decades, Apple has introduced hundreds of ideas that make Macintoshes, iPhones, and iPad even easier to use, mostly.  But sometimes they are devilishly difficult to use.  A case in point is trying to do a simple thing like buy an eBook.

My wife wanted an eBook for a book group that meets this week because she was unable to get it at the library in time.  She has never bought an eBook for her iPad mini, and even though she taught computer classes for years, she would rather have me do it.

She gave me the title, her AppleID, and her password.  I found the book in a few minutes.  I pressed on the price which turned into a "Buy Book" button.  Why not have a separate "Buy Book" button?  I pressed the "Buy Book" button and the price appeared again.  Sometimes the button changed to downloading, but the gear icon for internet use never appeared.  Eventually, for some reason the iPad eventually asked for my wife's password.  I entered that.  The iPad asked if she wanted to select security questions.  I clicked "Not now".  Now we saw the price button again.  Repeat and repeat.

Finally, I clicked that we would select security questions.  I had to enter her password again.  Remember that poking a small screen is more cumbersome than a full-size keyboard.  We selected the questions and gave the answers.

Now, as expected, we had to give payment method details.  I don't remember if we had to enter her password before we could proceed.  It certainly seemed as if we did.  I gave the payment details, and I was asked again for her password.

Now I could click on the price, click on the resulting "Buy Book", and once again enter her password.  Finally we see the "downloading" button stay on and the gear go round and round.  In a few minutes she had her book and her acknowledgment of activity in her email.

She is now in her favorite chair with her iPad mini, engrossed in her book.  Once I post this diatribe I hope I will be engrossed in the latest hardcover John Lescroart murder mystery.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Opposition to the EPA is just a GOP plot to dismantle public education

Mercury, lead, and several other pollutants are known for reducing cognitive function. If these pollutants are kept at high levels, then many children will not perform well in school. If many children don't perform well, it will demonstrate that public schools are failing. Thus, private interests, which always do "better" will take over. Of course, they can reject those children adversely affected by pollutants.

I posted the above as a comment to "The Latest G.O.P. Temper Tantrum", Robert B. Semple, Jr., New York Times, 2013-05-09.  Temper tantrum is the description Semple gave the walkout by some G.O.P. Senators from the hearings for the confirmation of Gina McCarthy as the head of the EPA.  See also "Lead and 'failing' schools".

E. Nowak of Illinois responded to my comment with

"And the closer people live to factories, the more toxins they breath in. The rich, always live far, far away from the industrial centers."

But we don't even have to live close to factories to be introduced to toxins.  What are all the pesticides used in agriculture doing to us.  What are the neoniconitides used to "kill aphids and other crop-destroying insects" doing to us?  These are nerve poisons that disrupt neural activity.  They are put into seeds and "become incorporated in the tissues of the adult plant".  If we eat these plants what's to guarantee that the neurotoxins won't be affecting us?  See "Honeybee die-off brings 'Silent Spring' back to mind", William Souder, Star Tribune, 2013-05-12.  In other words, are these neurotoxins affecting the performance of school children?

I'm sorry if you think I'm a scold about free markets and Adam Smith's "invisible hand", but we really have to hold to account those who corrupt both ideas to hide their own self-interest against the public good.  Please tell your friends about

"The Invisible Adam Smith" and "Humpty Dumpty and Free Markets".

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Export cones, not drones

Once upon a time, Yemen had rich areas for growing grapes, pomegranates, oranges, and the famed Yemeni coffee.  Then came oil in Saudi Arabia and Yemeni men flocked there for work.  The women cut trees for firewood and the terraces eroded for lack of maintenance.  Water which once could be found at 60 meters is not found until 850 meters or more.  Now Yemenis fight over water.  See "Postcard from Yemen", Thomas Friedman, New York Times, 2013-05-08.

"Trees have the deepest system of root in soil. They evaporate water from sometimes 50 meters deep level of soil. It increase humidity in air and probabilities of rains, dew-sources of water."  Comment by mioffe2000 in response to "Postcard from Yemen".

This comment got me thinking about "The Man Who Planted Trees" about a shepherd who planted acorns over a wide area that had been deforested by charcoal burners.  The land was dry and suitable only for grazing sheep.

According to, the story is a work of fiction.  However, people all over the world have planted millions of trees in many countries to stop desertification and alleviate global warming.  This article mentions a few of these projects.

What would the effect be on world peace if the U.S. exported cones instead of drones to some of the trouble spots of the world.  Well, not exactly cones because evergreens are not suitable for many areas.  Actually, for a small fraction of the military budget, the U.S. could send teams to plant trees of any size, from seeds to semi-mature trees a few meters tall.   It would take a few years to bring better rainfall back to areas where water is scarce.  More available water would reduce tensions among various groups and go a long way to reducing the hold terrorists have on some areas.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

A simple arithmetic proof of global warming

Too many people deny that our atmosphere is warming.  Many of these do so because they are making lots of money contributing to global warming.  They also spend lots of money convincing people of a certain political view that the promotion of the idea of global warming is the plot of people of a certain other political view.

It is relatively simple to prove that there is global warming with one simple assumption: increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will cause the globe to be warmer.

For centuries there has been a certain balance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  People have used plants for food and fuel for eons.  As people use the plant carbon as food, they breathe out carbon dioxide.  As they use plant carbon as fuel, their fires give off carbon dioxide.  Plants, in turn, use the atmospheric carbon dioxide as food to grow.  The balance is such, that even with huge forest fires and volcanoes, the excess carbon dioxide is used up over a few years or decades with the new growth of plants.

We could express this as


That is, carbon burned minus carbon used by plants equals zero.  That is, we have a long term balance.

Then people took coal, oil, and gas from under the ground.  Now are equation is


where CG is carbon from underground: coal, oil and gas.  That is, the carbon from coal, oil, and gas is not used up by the existing plants.

To make matters worse, human activity doesn't increase the amount of plant life to absorb the extra carbon.  To the contrary, human activity reduces the volume of plant life.  Humans cut down huge forests without replacing them with plants of equal volume.  Sometimes they replace the huge forests with sugar cane, coffee plants, or corn.  Sometimes they don't even replace the plants but cover the same ground with highways, parking lots, and mammoth buildings.  Now our equation becomes


where CL is carbon uptake lost.  CB, CG, and CL keep getting bigger, and CU keeps getting smaller. 

If you assume the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide doesn't cause global warming, consider that  residents of many cities are having breathing problems because of all the pollutants, including carbon dioxide, that are in the air because of the cities' dependence on fossil fuels.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Different rules for private and public pensions (and organizations too)

I recently received the annual funding notice of a company pension plan, a large company I worked at for almost twenty years.  Among other things, a new federal law allows companies to use more favorable interest rate calculations, thus having a smaller projected funding shortfall and a smaller minimum required contribution to the pension fund.

This is called the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act ("MAP-21").  To me it looks like progress for corporate bottom lines and regress for retirees' pension security.

For example, my former employer would have a funding shortfall under the older law of $1.3 billion.  Under the new law the shortfall would be $0.6 billion, less than half.  The required minimum contribution would have been $152 million.  Now it is $56 million, almost two-thirds less!

On the other hand Congress has really socked it to the Postal Service.  Search for

"post office" pensions

One I read was "Background on the $15.9 Billion Loss by the Postal Service".  Be sure to read the comments.

The Postal Service was required to significantly increase its reserves in its pension fund.  The Postal Service may only put those reserves in government securities, which pay significantly less than the securities corporations may use for their pension fund.

In short, the best Congress money can buy gave its supporters a big break on pension funds and threw stones at its favorite scapegoat.

One of the commenters to "Background" pointed out that the Postal Service is a Constitutionally-mandated organization.  I would add that the Constitution doesn't even mention private corporations.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Business-friendly is often people-unfriendly

Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, is famous for his desk sign: "Open for business".  But somehow, his attitude seems to be more "closed for people".  Wisconsin has already severely curtailed the rights of government workers to organize and bargain.

The explosion at the West fertilizer plant in Texas was definitely people-unfriendly.  It was indirectly caused by a state government that likes to consider itself business-friendly, that is, low taxes and few regulations.

"It's rare for Texas to require insurance for any kind of hazardous activity.  We have very little oversight of hazardous activities and even less regulation."
Randy C. Roberts, one of the plaintiff lawyers, quoted in "Texas plant that blew up carried only $1M policy", Christopher Sherman, Associated Press, Duluth News Tribune and others, 2013-05-04 and 2013-05-05

Because of the explosion, the company will likely file for bankruptcy.  An ounce of prevention is worth millions of failure?

Where does Texas rank in taxes, regulation, and business-friendly indicators?

For taxes, Texas is sixth lowest, with 7.9%; New York is highest with 12.8%. See

Surprisingly, Freedom in the 50 States ranks Texas 24th for "regulatory freedom".  Freedom in the 50 States is a web page of the Mercator Institute of George Mason University.  Most of its rankings seem to be predicated on the freedom of businesses to reduce costs to the detriment of people and the freedom of people to make themselves nuisances to other people.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Quote of the day: Our Education System

"Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
- Albert Einstein
Posted by a relative on Facebook from "Everyday Humor"

On the other hand, sometimes we are our own worst enemies for learning.  How many people do you know who say, "I was never good at…"  Consider most Americans image of their foreign language ability.  If you ask them what a Mexican calls a hat or an afternoon nap, most can correctly answer (fill in the blank).  Or how the French say "goodbye" or what a Swedish buffet is called, or …  I guess that most Americans know at least ten words in each of at least ten languages.  Da?

See "You can speak foreign languages".