Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Disaster is only one step away!

Sunday afternoon I went out our front door to take two containers of compost to the bins at the corner restaurant.  One moment I was vertical on our front walk, the next I was flat on my back.  There seemed to be no transition, no feeling of falling.  I felt my head bang against the concrete.  I hollered my wife's name.

The next thing I remember is being inside asking my wife to get the container of sidewalk salt.

Then I remember my wife telling me to sit in a chair and relax.  After a bit I felt fine and got up to put salt on the sidewalk.  When I got outside I saw little holes in the ice.  Somebody had already salted.  As hard as I tried, I couldn't remember being out the first time.  I did remember later, but was that just a reconstruction?

My wife's reconstruction is that our grandson, looking out the front door, said, "Grandpa!" and then she heard me holler.  She went outside and found me in a fetal position and helped me get up and inside.  She said a neighbor across the street watched her, wondering if he needed to help.  She said I wanted to take the compost then and there, but she made me sit down.

Now let's look at the what ifs.

What if instead of my head hitting the sidewalk it had hit the bottom step?  Would I have a broken neck?

What if I had not been wearing a hat?  My winter hat is not very thick, but it seemed to be thick enough to absorb some of the force.  Later I did see the imprint of the hat in the snow.

What if I had been home alone?  Would anybody have seen me in a timely fashion?  Chuck Frederick, Editorial Editor of the Duluth News Tribune, wrote "Duluth didn't watch out for student frozen on porch" 2013-12-12.  My situation could have been similar.  The neighbors on one side are gone for college break.  The neighbors on the other side rarely go out the front door.  Even if they did, the snow banks might have hidden me.  Drivers going by aren't checking every notch in the snow banks for pedestrians lying on the sidewalk.  Pedestrians going by are checking where they walk and will rarely turn their heads to look up a house walk.  Whatever, I doubt if all of Duluth should be held accountable if I were not found in a reasonable time.

Why did I slip?  I had cleared the sidewalk the previous day, there shouldn't be a problem, right?  Not quite, the temperature was around freezing on Saturday.  Some of the snow had melted and flowed in a thin layer across the sidewalk.  Carrying two containers did not give me a free hand to hold on to the railing.  I probably went "charging" down the steps like it was a spring day.  Skid, flop, plop!

Well, all's well that ends well.  I did have a headache later, but that was a sinus headache around my eyes, not on the back of my head.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Quirky romantic thought

No greater love has a man for a woman than to give up his peace and quiet for the visit of a grandchild.

Friday, December 27, 2013

How much corporate nonsense can I take in a day?

I received an email about a sale of Adobe Photoshop Elements 12.  Since my old Elements expired long ago, I decided to give it a go.  I clicked on the button in the message and a webpage opened with an ad for Elements 12.  It required me to sign in before continuing.

When I did so, it said that I needed to use a new password.  They would email me a temp password.  That came in a short time.  I used the temp password and created a new password.  That verification came in a short time.

Finally, I could order Elements 12 and I did.  I went to my cart and was ready to whip out my credit card.  Fortunately, I read the details of the order before I checked out.  It was for a Windows version!!!  No matter what I looked under, I could never get a Mac version.

I was going to give up, but somehow I clicked on Chat Now!  I explained my problem to 'Selena' and after a few minutes, she gave me a link to the Mac version of Elements 12.  Then I looked at the download times and decided to pass.  Besides, the time for this simple chat was almost ten minutes!  Total time trying to order must have been over 30 minutes!

I have been slowing moving my email from one provider to another.  Sometimes we can tell an organization our new email and it is changed in minutes.  Some organizations say it will be updated in 10 days.  Sometimes we tell an organization and our email is only updated for one department; email from other departments goes to the old email address.

And sometimes we get a doozy of a notice:

"Your primary e-mail address has been updated.  Please note that if you deleted your e-mail address, you are no longer eligible to suppress your account statements…"

"Suppress" our account statements?  What country was this task outsourced to?  Didn't they mean "access".  And why so wordy? 

I have a Monster iCarPlay FM transmitter that I use to play podcasts in the car.  Somehow the tuning goes out of whack and I have difficulty finding a unused frequency.  I know I have the instructions buried somewhere, but I could not find them in the car.

I went to the monster.com to look for the instructions, but all I found was a flyer (called instructions or directions).  It described what one could do but not how to do it.

With a few more searches, I found the PDF of exactly just the piece of paper I can't find.  But it was not at monster.com!  I put those directions on my iPhone and will use them next time I want to drive and listen to a podcast.

I think I dealt with  a couple of other websites or programs that did not operate as one would expect, but it has been such a hectic day, I can't remember what they were.  Oh, yeah!  Blogger "crashed" on me while I was posting a blog entry.  At least, it didn't lose any of my text.

Obamacare and careless corporations

I sent the following letter to the Duluth News Tribune.  It was published 2013-12-24.  You can also find it at http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/286844/publisher_ID/36/.

Enough already about Obamacare glitches

Please, enough letters about the computer problems related to Obamacare. A truism of any organization, government or corporate, is that people tell the boss what they think he or she wants to hear.

When customer complaints about installing Windows7 came rolling in, did the press call it “Windows Steven” after Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, or Steven Sinofsky, then head of the Windows Division?

Complaints are rolling in about Apple’s latest operating system, Mavericks. Has the press called Mavericks “Cookware” after Tim Cook, CEO of Apple?

Creating software is a messy business; the more that is promised, the less that works right. Way back in the 1960s I was part of a team developing a new, groundbreaking operating system. New releases were never on time and never took care of all the reported problems. Very few customers had a day without crashes. That software was simple compared to what we have today on our computers and even in our smartphones.

President Barack Obama was educated in law, not computer science. He has to rely on others, including all the private contractors, to give him correct and timely information. Do you think Steve Ballmer got as much bad news as he should have? Do you think Tim Cook got as much bad news as he should have? I know we were under a lot of pressure to report good news about that ancient operating system.

The designers of HealthCare.gov were probably behind before they even started. Few, in or out of government, fully appreciate the complexity of the task.

Hah! Funbug!

Whew!  Thanks to all our efforts we have brought the sun back.  The days will be growing longer, warming the earth, and allowing crops to be planted.  Then they will be harvested and stored, ready for the cold season that will follow.  Then when the amount of daylight is at its shortest, we will make our celebrations once again to bring the sun back.  So it has been and so it shall always be.

Oh, but the ways that we observe this annual ritual!  It has almost nothing to do with bringing the sun back and a lot to do with our own beliefs.

For some it is to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  However, many biblical scholars think that he was born in September not December.  Others say that the Roman Church moved the celebration of the birth of Jesus to the winter solstice to compete with the various pagan celebrations.

The church “lost” in three ways.  First, many pagan symbols became attached to it.  Consider the Christmas tree, holly wreaths, and mistletoe, all celebrations of life continuing in the darkest time of the year.  Second, secular celebrations of feasting, drinking, dancing, and singing have proliferated.  Many forget that the Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas because of these celebrations.  Third, commercial interests have taken over much of the attention of the season: buy, sale, the perfect gift...

Ah, gifts!  How greedy I was as a kid.  The department store catalogs arrived and I immediately went to the toy sections.  I would want that and that and that.  What I would give to others was a minor distraction.  Now, it seems that I only consider what I might give to others.  What others might give me is a minor distraction.

We have had a major distraction for the last few decades.   It seems to me that “political correctness” came first and then a reaction to it.  “Merry Christmas” was not considered inclusive because not everybody celebrated Christmas.  We should say “Season Greetings” and “Happy Holidays”; these are supposedly more neutral and less offensive.  Now we have the counter-reaction about the “War on Christmas”.

I should back up a bit.  The objections were not just to the words used; many objected to the manger scenes erected on government property.  If you think about it, this is an indirect “religious Test” that is forbidden in the Constitution for “legislators” and “all executive and judicial officers”.  In order to meet “public approval” city councils had to erect mangers.  Conversely, if they did not erect the mangers, they would receive “public disapproval”.  The Constitution saves them from responsibility for either choice.

Taken together, the vapid greetings and the prohibition of governmental endorsement of Christmas have been seen by some as a “War on Christmas”.  But are they really?  Are those who consider themselves as celebrating Christmas as a religious observance being prohibited from making their own private observances in home or church?  That’s almost like saying that government wages a war on Hanukkah because cities don’t erect Menorahs and greet each other with “Mazel tof!”

One could consider the phrase “Merry Christmas” as a “War on Christmas”.  If you take the Puritan view that Christmas was a time of contemplation of the birth of Jesus and all it meant to Christians, then any suggestion of merriment was counter to that contemplation.  The Puritans saved their merriment for other times; they did like their beer and feasts.

The celebration of Christmas and other winter solstice celebrations have widened to over a month of holidays around the world.  The vagaries of various calendars and the adaptability of many cultures have spread festivals of light from late November until early January.  This year Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of light, was celebrated on the same day as Thanksgiving.  Christmas was once celebrated on the winter solstice.  Then with the Gregorian calendar reform the winter solstice was moved from the 25th of December to the 21st or 22nd.  But somebody neglected to change Christmas from the 25th.  The Orthodox Church didn’t move to the Gregorian calendar and celebrates Christmas on January 6th.

We could say that Christmas has gotten out of control of any one group.  There are those who celebrate Christmas quietly and simply in church or at home.  There are those who enjoy Christmas religious music but don’t believe any of the words.  There are those who attend parties and parties.  There are those who give lavishly to others.  There are those who use Christmas as a time to give to the less fortunate.  There are those who promote the sale of merchandise for giving to others.  There are those who are not Christian but create a whole Christmas culture, for instance, the Japanese.

Whatever, I hope you had a Merry Christmas, and I wish you a Happy New Year!

Also published in the Reader Weekly, 2013-12-26, at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2013/12/26/2665_party_of_one-10.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

iPhone and Google Maps save our marriage

As I drove towards our son's cabin my wife was reading the directions from an old Google Maps printout.  In Aitkin we are supposed to turn right onto County 1.  But there is no sign for County 1.

I pull over and pull out my iPhone and open Google Maps.  Lo and behold it shows exactly where we are.  I type in Cross Lake MN.  I don't remember whether I fat-thumbed a button or not, but a woman's voice says turn right on to County 1!

I am writing this early in the morning and I can't double check the directions because the sounds may wake somebody.  But we follow our guide's directions.  Well before each turn she tells us we should turn in so many feet.  At the turn she tells us to turn.

We made into Cross Lake without any further problem than the snow-packed roads.

There was more adventure but it is late.  Maybe I'll continue another time.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Disorganized organizations

There are too many bloviators who claim that government stands in the way of corporations, corporations who can nothing wrong.

There are too many alarmists who think that corporations are taking over the world and the 99% will be the worse for it.

As with all human endeavors, the truth lies in the squishy middle.  Or is that the muddled middle?
My dozen regular readers are probably tired of these rants, but then there are all the drop-ins who stumble on this blog because I managed to put in keywords that gives an entry a high search ranking.  Try "duluth minnesota billionaire".

This blog entry is a result of some frustrations that I've had recently.

Because I've been doing so much snow shoveling and snow blowing, my Christmas planning keeps getting pushed back.

I keep getting emails from the Pretty Good Goods catalog because I contribute to Minnesota Public Radio.  OK, our family's tradition has been to give T-shirts or books.  What interesting T-shirts can I find for some on my list?

But when I try using the Pretty Good Goods catalog, I'm told I don't have an account.  What, my MPR ID and password aren't the same.  So, I create an account and place an order.  I received most of the items rather quickly, but one item has been "drop sent" whatever that means.  My credit card has already been charged for that item.  Pretty Good Goods has not responded to my query about this, but then I should give them slack because they are overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, I keep getting emails from Pretty Good Goods at the email address I want to drop.  If I try to use the unsubscribe, I'm told that I don't have an account.  How can I not have an account when I just ordered stuff?  Please excuse me if I'm inaccurate on the details.  Lots of this is becoming a blur.

Geek Squad, owned by Best Buy, sent me a notice that the warranty was running out on my wife's iPad.  The notice offered an extension.  Given all the hazards that were covered, I thought it was a good deal.  I went to the Geek Squad page and requested the extension.

While I was at it, I changed my email address to that which we plan to use over an older one.  That went through without problem.

And then I received one of the many-times-per-week emails from Best Buy at the old email address.  I went to the site and tried to login and change my email address.  I don't have an account at Best Buy!  What?  What about the Geek Squad account?  What about the rewards program account?

After searching some old messages, I found that I had to go, not to bestbuy.com but to my.bestbuy.com!?!?  The email address and password I had in my head worked.  Hey, folks, you work for the same company, and customers use all of your websites.  According to some, corporations are efficient, more efficient than government.  Sorry, I have had government communications that have gone far better than this.

My iPhone was getting low on power and I tried to sync it on my Mac.  "Sync could not complete" or some such.  What the heck!  This has never happened before.  Well, not to me, but certainly many others.  I found an answer in the Apple Community rather quickly.  The first answers were rather complicated and didn't seem to fit my OS level.  But then I found one about shutting off the iPhone, quitting iTunes, and then restarting both.  Voila!  It worked.

I have over fifty years of computer problem solving and can often find the right keywords to get a solution proposed by somebody else (or as in "Helpless help desks revisited" doing it myself).

And of course there are the dozens and dozens of problems that I just give up on.

It's sort of like my last straw of the day.  Some bolts on my snow blower gave way on the speed setting mechanism.  Rather than go to the equipment store to get the exact bolts, I went to a hardware store and got off-the-shelf bolts for 44 cents (and $20 for a ceramic knife for someone on my Christmas list).  When I returned home, I tried replacing the bolts.  Let's just say the positioning is awkward.  Using my bare hands and wrenches (not a good idea when it's well before freezing), I was able to get two bolts in and secured.  But the third was in a very awkward position such as I could not easily get the lock nut started on the bolt.

There is a time that discretion is the better part of valor.  I gave up and went back to the house with a bent back after being bent over so long.  Finishing the fix will have to wait until another day.  I just hope I can get it done before the next snow dump!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Who needs comics? We live them!

Yesterday my wife came back from Japan via Minneapolis.  She was to call me on her cell phone when she was in line to board the flight to Duluth.

That was the first of many delays.  The plane had not arrived yet.  It needed to be de-iced at its previous landing, but the de-icing equipment was broken.  This wasn't so bad, I don't think it left Minneapolis more than 45 minutes late.

When she called, I started off on several errands before I met her, figuring I could do quite a bit in an hour.

The first was to dump food scraps for compost at a neighborhood restaurant.  I did that then went in to pick up the latest Reader Weekly.  It wasn't in yet.  I came back to the car and it wouldn't start.  Oh, no!  I left the lights on?

What do I do?  Walk the block back home and get the other car?  Or do I just bring the battery charger?  I opted for the latter.  Then I couldn't get the lid off the charging contact.  Even with the pen knife I had recently bought to replace the one I lost.  I kept trying and eventually got the lid off.  I hooked up the cables and nothing.  I put the ground at a different place, and vroom!

OK, I can go now.  But as I shut the hood, I forgot to take out the prop.  For the second time this year I bent it!  So, there's five more minutes to straighten that out so I can close the hood properly.

Next stop is to mail a bill and a Netflix DVD.  That went OK though the mailbox access was not the best.  And I managed not to get my door banged by other traffic.

Now it is too late to do my next errand.  So, it's straight to the airport.

As I'm on the way to the airport, my cell phone rings.  The best I can do is peek at the caller and see that it is my wife calling.  She has landed.

OK, so I go directly to Arrivals and call her to say that I am out front.  No answer!  I try again and again assuming she either went to the rest room or has it buried in her purse.  After six or seven tries, I loop around to the "cell phone lot".  I try two or three times more.  #%&!  I drive to the pay lot and trudge across the cold, windy, snow-packed lot to the terminal.

What do I do first?  Yell and scream at her for not answering the phone?  Give her a big hug because I'm so glad that she has come back safely.  Of course, the latter.  Then I "yell and scream" and she admits she had turned her cell phone off!

She is ready to trudge across the lot with her big suitcase, our granddaughter, and our granddaughter's little suitcase.  I say no, I'll drive up to the Arrivals and meet you there.

So, I trudge back across the cold, windy, snow-packed lot to our car.  I have $2 out because that is the cost for the first hour.  I present the ticket and $2 to the attendant.  He presses a few buttons, says it's free, and gives me my $2 back.  Second best thing of the day after my wife coming back.

The rest of the day was "normal".  She had enough energy to visit the store I had planned to visit first, to go to two other stores, and to go out to eat at the restaurant that I had stopped at first.

Then she crashed!  Then woke up and couldn't sleep.  Then she crashed and slept to ten this morning.

Maybe in a few days, we'll be back on our normal cycles.

Oh, my wife also suggested that maybe I forgot to press the brake as I started the car with keyless entry.  Did I?  Didn't I?  I vaguely remember both!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

This I Believe

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.”
- Matthew 22:37-38

The Bible quotes I use are from the New International Version as found in www.BibleGateway.com.

Jesus is quoting an earlier text: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
- Deuteronomy 6:5

But who or what is God?  Is he some big guy in the sky?  This is what people of the times believed about God or most other gods they believed in.  Now we can see into the “heavens” and all we see are big rocks and burning suns on and on and on.

Or is God a metaphor of all existence.?  A God that “sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous”?  That is, if we follow the “laws of nature” or take steps to protect ourselves from these laws we can “keep ourselves dry”.

“And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
- Matthew 22:39-40, see also Leviticus 19:19

Leviticus is more narrow than Matthew.  Leviticus limits “neighbor” to “among your people”.  Matthew expands “neighbor” to those outside “your people”, the hated Samaritans.

Rabbi Hillel, who taught from 30BCE to 10CE followed “Love your neighbor as yourself” with “the rest is commentary.” See http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Quote/hillel.html.

Research for writing can take one down many unexpected paths.  The Jewish Virtual Library has an article on Hillel and his “friendly rival” Shammai.  See http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/hillel.html.  What was interesting about this article was that Hillel was often the more liberal and popular of the two whereas Shammai was more conservative with very strict views.

What commentary we have in the Bible.  To me it is a source of myth, fable, propaganda, and wisdom.

The myths are the stories that attempt to explain how things came to be, from the creation stories to the Exodus.  If Adam and Eve were the first and only people, who did their children marry?  The children would have had to commit incest!  Compare Genesis 4 with Genesis 5. They seem to be two very different stories.

The fables are stories to illustrate some larger issue.  For example, the book of Job examines the problem of bad things happening to good people.  A loving, all-powerful God would not put the lives of innocent people in danger just because they were related to one “blameless and upright” man.

The propaganda is justification for deeds that are prohibited elsewhere: “but all the people [the Israelites] put to the sword until they completely destroyed them, not sparing anyone that breathed.” – Joshua 11:14.  And this supposedly is after Moses brought down the Ten Commandments which included “You shall not murder.” – Exodus 20:13

The wisdom abounds.  The prime example is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If we don’t get along and help each other what kind of tooth and nail society will we have. “… for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”  Is a drone the modern version of a sword?  “You cannot serve both God and money.”  We certainly have become a nation that justifies letting money rule while claiming to be a “Christian nation.”

Many of us know “the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the sons, yea unto the seventh generation”.  I tried to find a source for this; I found nothing but others quoting it.  I guess this is a case of popular editing of the Bible.  What I did find was “punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 20:5 and others).  It was an admonition to follow the faith being laid down.  However, it could equally apply to pollution and global warming.  The harm we do to “God’s creation” could punish our children to the third and fourth generation, and beyond!

The greatest problems with the Bible are the selection of what is included, how accurate are the generations of transcriptions and translations, and how much crept in that was a belief of the time.  One example is just who went into town after Boaz scooped grain into Ruth’s shawl?  Boaz or Ruth?  See http://biblehub.com/ruth/3-15.htm for many variations of Ruth 3:15.  Did “he” go into town or did “she” go into town?

Does it really matter?  What really matters is that we seek a moral compass to help us all achieve a prosperous and just world.

M. Imran Hayee, a regular Local View contributor to the Duluth News Tribune, wrote that he considers the United States an Islamic nation: “Freedom, cleanliness make US the world’s most Islamic nation”, Dec. 8, 2013 (http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/285407/publisher_ID/36/).  He differentiates between Muslim countries where the majority consider themselves Muslims and Islamic countries where most Islamic values prevail.  He considers the Islamic values in the U.S. as cleanliness, charitable giving, and religious freedom.

Now if we could only have a Christian nation too; one where we “do unto other [nations] as we would have them do unto” us.

Also posted on the Reader Weekly website at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2013/12/19/2635_party_of_one-9.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Politics can change

If you really want to be informed, you have to have multiple news sources.  I have a lot of news sites on my devices, but I don’t access many of them very often.  Gosh, when was the last time I accessed The Daily Star of Lebanon?  That probably has a lot more news on Syria than we get in Minnesota.

I often access the Huffington Post and get some different views.  But the HuffPost often borders on the sensational.  I accessed Al Jazeera a lot during the Arab Spring and watched more online TV than I had in the previous two years.

In a moment of not knowing what I wanted to do, I accessed Al Jazeera again.  One of the headlines was “Socialist in Seattle: City councilor expects not to be a rarity for long” at http://alj.am/1aLZUlH.  What was interesting was how an “outsider” gained a seat on the city council.
Kshama Sawant, an immigrant from Mumbai and an economics professor, overturned many of the expectations of the establishment.  She did it mostly with individual donations and an organization of people hungering for something different.  Are voters who normally don’t show up desperately seeking candidates who are not the same old, same old?  Apparently so, one of her volunteers said, "People who have never voted before not only voted but also volunteered for this campaign."

I have been unable to easily find final results, but what I’ve been able to figure out, Sawant’s win was extraordinary in that her party is Socialist Alternative.  Otherwise, it was not really a spectacular win.  Turnout was less than sixty percent and she won by about one thousand votes of the less than 170,000 votes cast for that seat.

She and her campaign project a Tea Party attitude with a different agenda, that is, we’re right and everyone else is wrong.  It will be interesting to find out if she works with the other eight councilors to get things done or if she is marginalized or disruptive.

If you read only local papers you probably missed the story.  The Star Tribune had two stories in mid-November.  The Duluth News Tribune had no stories.  And even that liberal rag, the Reader Weekly has no finds for Sawant.  Oh, well, I do like writing “scoops”.

You can find two different editorial views of her in the Seattle Times and TruthDigger.

Thanh Tan of the Seattle Times asks “Can Kshama Sawant move past rhetoric, work with City Council?”  See http://blogs.seattletimes.com/opinionnw/2013/11/22/kshama-sawant-seattle-city-council/.  She thinks having “an immigrant woman of color join the Seattle City Council is a powerful, symbolic feat.”  But she warns that Sawant’s partisanship may get in the way of making “policies work for Seattle.”

Alexander Reed Kelly of Truthdigger writes about Sawant as the “Truth digger of the week”.  See
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/truthdigger_of_the_week_kshama_sawant_20131123.  He writes, “Sawant’s victory over a 16-year Democratic incumbent by a difference of more than 1,000 votes provides evidence that their abandonment of common people has created opportunities for different political ideas to take hold.”

I am of two minds about this.  One, it is about time that some change come to our “two-party system”.  Two, will this election only be a minor disturbance of the status quo?  Think back to Jesse Ventura’s upset for Minnesota governor in 1998.  He made speeches that resonated with many who felt the state government wasn’t working in their interest.  And the polls completed missed his appeal, predicting that he would come in last in a three-way race.  Remember though, he did not get a majority of voters supporting him.  Once he left the governorship, we went back to the “flip-flop” status quo.

Lori Sturdevant wonders pessimistically if “America’s alienated apoliticos, disgusted pragmatists and people-without-a-party moderates will find each other and turn themselves into a political force potent enough to compel politicians to compromise.”  See “New politics won’t come easily, but come it must”, Star Tribune, 2013-12-08 at http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/234823611.html.  She highlights the “No Labels” group whose issue is “make government work again.”  I wonder if that slogan will catch on and get some candidates elected.  All the anti-government slogans in the blather-o-sphere seem to have gotten more people to stay away from elections, leaving the field wide open to anti-government politicians.

I am reading a pessimistic book, “The PARTY Is OVER: How Republicans Went CRAZY, Democrats Became USELESS, and the Middle Class Got SHAFTED” by Mike Lofgren, a former Republican Party congressional staffer.  An example of how the Republicans manipulate the voters that he points out is that Republicans know how to use emotional words, Democrats use bureaucratese.  Think of PATRIOT Act versus Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  Skipping ahead to the end of his book I found that he is optimistic that the Millennials will turn to a politics of “what will work.”

Maybe the next book on my list, “Electoral Dysfunction: a Survival Manual for American Voters” by Victoria Bassetti has some good ideas of getting “We, the People” to take our country back.  She does have an afterword by Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote.

BTW, you did vote in the last city election, didn’t you?  And all the elections before that?  If not, please don’t complain about the results.  Who knows, if more people who shared your views showed up, the results might have been very different.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.  We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  We are the change that we seek.”
- Barack Obama

Well, maybe next time.

Also posted on the Reader Weekly website at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2013/12/12/2595_party_of_one-8.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Exodus Decoded: separating myth and reality

I watched "The Exodus Decoded" the other night, produced and narrated by Simcha Jacobovici.  It had lots of fascinating facts and conjectures, but it was overproduced with complicated sets and some overreach.  It is fascinating to consider how some unusual natural phenomena are attributed to divine intervention.

In this case, it was the explosion of the mega-volcano Santorini or Thera in 1628 or according to some as late as 1500.

"Santorini" from Wikipedia gives some interesting information and further references on both the Exodus and Atlantis connections.

"The Exodus Decoded" has been disputed by many but others corroborate his general outline.  One is Barbara J. Siversen's "The Parting of the Sea: How Volcanoes, Earthquakes, and Plagues Shaped the Exodus Story.  Another is "Thera and the Exodus" by Riian Booysen.

One of my own conjectures is that the Thera eruption may also be the basis of the Biblical flood story.

So many books and so little time!!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Don't touch that phone!

Those of us who grew up on radio remember the admonition "Don't touch that dial!"  It was said to keep you listening for the next program.

Now "Don't touch that phone" is an admonition to not answer a robo-call or other unsolicited message.  We had started to not answer the phone between 5 and 7 in the evening.  We had learned that almost all the calls were unwanted calls.  Now we don't answer the phone at all.  These calls come at almost all hours of the day.  I just had one at 9:30 in the morning!

We wait for the caller to leave a message; if the caller is legitimate, we pick up the phone and apologize for not answering immediately.  Almost all these callers are understanding as they suffer the same at home.

Quote of the day: military spending

"A dollar appropriated for highway construction, health care, or education will create many more jobs than a dollar appropriated for Pentagon weapons procurement: The jobs argument is thoroughly specious."

The PARTY is OVER: How Republicans Went CRAZY, Democrats Became USELESS, and the Middle Class Got SHAFTED, Mike Lofgren

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Computer glitches? What's new?

Many, especially Republicans, are complaining about the computer problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.  What did they expect?  Version x.0.1 to be ready on day one?

They should look at the software on their iPhones.  Everyday I seem to receive an update to one of the apps that I downloaded.  What is the main reason for the update – bug fixes!

Many think of Germans as being superefficient.  Consider one of the reasons for the latest update for the Die Zeit newspaper app update: “Generelle Stabilitäts-Updates!”  In other words, the previous version of the Die Zeit app crashed.

We often do our own screwing up.  I received a letter from my bank that they had moved money from my savings account to my checking account.  On my first try to access my account, the bank’s system was unavailable.  When I finally got on, I found that there had been yet another transfer made.  As I reviewed the online statement, I found that I had transferred money from checking to savings instead of the other way around.  At least I have an account that makes sweeps rather than overdraft charges.

That grand and glorious new iOS 7 for the iPhone and iPad is now at version 7.0.4!  Apple’s customer help forums are filled with questions on how to fix this problem or that problem, many of the questions unanswered.

I have been using Microsoft’s Outlook and Apple’s Address Book and iCal for years.  Outlook for email and events, Address Book for other purposes such as envelopes, and iCal for events.  Supposedly they should sync with very little effort.

Some time ago I found that I was getting more and more duplicated events and two items for every person in my address book.  If I remember correctly, my daughter’s birthday was duplicated 800 times!  After I cleaned that mess up, I stopped using Outlook’s calendar.
I also had duplicate names in my address books.  As with the calendars there was a sync that went bad long ago with the Outlook and Apple address books.  I gave up on syncing them and kept updates to each manually.  This past week I cleaned up the Apple address book on my laptop with Contact Cleaner.  It eliminated all the duplicates.  The duplicates were eliminated on my iPhone but almost all the names disappeared from my iPad.  There was only one entry for each of a dozen or so letters of the alphabet!  Needless to say, I did not sync my address book to my iPhone.

Then my iPhone would not turn on!  Off to the Apple Community.  Rather quickly I found a customer comment that said to hold the power and home buttons at the same time.  This is now happening on my iPad!  Could it be iOS 7.0.4 for this and the disappearing contacts?

My bluetooth keyboard would not sync with my iPad.  It had been working fine and made life much easier than typing on the screen.  Off to the Apple Community.  I had to “forget” the keyboard and then look for it again.  Thank you, Apple Community.

On top of all these other problems, I spilled coffee on my laptop keyboard recently.  I tried holding too many things at the same time.  Now the shift key on one side wouldn’t work and neither option keys worked.

I took my laptop to Best Buy to find out if the Geek Squad could repair my keyboard with little time and no charge.  I found out that I still had a service warranty that covered all hazards.  The agent recommended that I take my laptop home and back up everything.  He wasn’t sure if my laptop would be repaired or scrapped.  I’m glad that I backed most of the stuff up because I could then use my wife’s iMac to do all the computer tasks I’m accustomed to, including writing this column.

On Friday the Geek Squad called me that my computer was back.  Now we’re seeing some corporate efficiency.  Instead of the “safe” promised one month, the Geek Squad did the repair within a week.

It often seems that if one has a problem, one hears of others with the same problem.  Pamela Jaskoviak, a Swedish writer, spilled coffee on her MacBook Pro late at night working on a past due deadline.  She did worse than I did; the computer quit and she had to have her hard drive copied to a new computer.  If you understand Swedish, you can find her “Godmorgon, världen” monologue at http://sverigesradio.se/sida/default.aspx?programid=438

So many companies cannot be satisfied with their websites.  They seem to regularly roll out “exciting” new sites, sometimes they provide some useful new features, sometimes they are no big deal, and sometimes they are major screw-ups.  Recently Yahoo Finance did a major makeover of its website.  To me, they removed some clutter and replaced it with other clutter.  It took me awhile to figure out how to get quotes for a list of stocks, but once I did Yahoo Finance provided the request data in the format I was accustomed to.

Then, poof!  It didn’t work at all.  Every time I clicked the return button, it added a string of nonsense to what I had copied or typed in the quote box, and it told me it couldn’t find what I requested.  Off to “the community” to seek answers.  Hoo boy!  The critics of ACA should see the long list of bitter complaints, and some of these complaints come from people who make their living with timely stock quotes!

All those complaining about the ACA rollout should remember two bits of folk wisdom:

Murphy’s law: If something can go wrong, it will.

To err is human; to really screw up it takes a computer.

Also posted on the Reader Weekly website at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2013/12/05/2582_party_of_one-7.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Corporations: sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander

"But now critics are pushing back [at proxy advisers], accusing the firms themselves of conflicts of interest and secrecy. Corporations are aiming to limit what they see as inappropriate influence."
– "Proxy advisers face challenge from corporate critics", Jim Spencer, Star Tribune, 2013-11-30.

Proxy advisers are firms that advise large institutional shareholders about voting for or against the management and boards of corporations.

I think the irony of this push back is that the large corporations don't consider being members of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) or any of their own lobbying efforts or political contributions as "inappropriate influence" on "the government of the people, by the people, and for the people".

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Does the Apple of my eye have a black eye?

I've been using Macintoshes and other Apple products since September 1984.  Maybe for the first 20 years I was eager to update to the latest releases.  Especially when I was a Certified Apple Developer so that I could make sure my software ran on the new release.

Then I started getting "burned" by new releases.  One time the migration from one computer to another crashed.  Many times software that should have worked on the new release had new problems.  Often it seemed like I was an unpaid debugger of software (not just Apple but Microsoft and other software publishers).

One of the latest was the introduction of iOS 6 followed by iOS 7.  Many were the problems that I had with each, and Apple's "Community" web site was filled with similar complaints or others that often were never answered.

The latest was the new release of Pages, Apple's supposed challenger to Microsoft Word.  As I would like to move away from Microsoft Word, I was interested in Pages.  Especially so since the rumors are that Apple will be providing Microsoft "competitors" free, even for new versions, in the next year or so.

I looked up Pages in Apple's App store.  Hoo boy!  Many users were angry! Over half of those rating Pages gave it only one star.  A representative comment is:

"But the fact remains that Apple removed so much functionality from what was once a decent, viable and affordable option for desk-top publishing for the Mac platform."

Oh, yes, on top of all those problems, Apple, which pioneered cut and paste, does not allow copy from its App Store!  I had to retype the above comment.

This is another case of the "Corp giveth and the Corp taketh away".

Watch also for "Computer glitches? What's new?" that will appear in the Reader Weekly of Duluth later this week.  It's about how computer problems are not limited to the software for the Affordable Care Act.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

First blizzard of the season

We've had a few snowfalls in Duluth this season but all of them have been minor snow shoveling jobs.  Now we are on day 2 of a three-day blizzard.  Then the temperature will drop to 0 F to 15 F.  What snow isn't cleared now will be cement later.

This has been problematic to us for two reasons.  One is that my wife flew to Japan this morning.  Two is that I told Denny's Lawn and Garden that I would bring in my chipper for maintenance today.

So we were up very early this morning so that my wife could be at the airport two hours before takeoff.

But before we could go, I had to shovel the walk to the garage and then at least half of the apron to the alley.  I had already planned to take the SUV because I would go direct to Brimson to haul the chipper back.  Good choice.  With four-wheel drive it was easier to maneuver into the alley. Done!  Onto the side street.  Oops!  Intersection was blocked by ridge made by snowplow on through street.  Back up in snow.  Don't hit parked cars.  Back into alley and go another way.  Hurray!  No ridge on the other through street.  All streets were packed snow, even plowed streets.  Three cheers again for SUV with its super-duper tires that are skid-resistant.  Drive 5-10 mph under the limit.

Arrive at airport with plenty of time before my wife's flight.  Haul out her humongous suitcase and place on dry part of sidewalk.  Give her a long hug and wish her a good trip.

Drive on plowed roads at 40mph because they had packed snow.  As I was outbound in the morning I don't think I had a single car behind me.

The snow kept falling and falling as I drove.  I had visions of having to get the cabin snowblower out of the shed, fueling it, and getting it started by hand rather than electrically.  Should I abandon this chore.  No, I told Denny's that I would bring the chipper in today.  After all, they had called me last week that my service request had come up and I had said I would bring it in today.

When I was in the Brimson area the snow seemed to be less deep, in fact it looked like there was three inches or snow or less on the side of the road.  As I drove the final road to our cabin, I thought I might be able to just pull in.

No such luck!  The snowplow ridge was just to high to plow through with four-wheel drive.  I'll have to hand shovel an opening.  Oops!  I didn't put a snow shovel in the SUV!  Trudge through the ridge and walk down the drive to the cabin.  Oops!  Where's the snow shovel by the stoop?  Ah! There it is covered by snow, but at least I can still see its outline.

Trudge back to the road (we're talking about a football field length).  Clear snow from end of drive.  That really was enough exercise for the day, and I had already cleared about 200 sq  ft at home that was fluffy.  This wasn't!

Take lock off driveway cable.  Oops!  I dropped the lock.  I don't see it.  Whew!  With enough foot scuffling I found it.

Drive in close to chipper.

But first check sheds for mice.  Oops!  One shed has an open lock.  How did we not check it on our last visit?  Good news for me and for the mice; none were in any of the traps.

Get trailer hitch out and insert it with the correct ball up.  It has to be the one with the most wear.

Drag chipper to car.  Thank goodness for the wheeled hauling bar I bought.  But the increased leverage won't get one wheel over a frozen ridge.  Great!  Pull this direction.  Pull that direction.  After too many minutes I get the chipper moving.  Then another ridge.  Pull!  Puff!  Pull! Puff!  Finally I get chipper's trailer tongue near the hitch.

But the hitch won't fit over the ball!  I try and try.  I clean out debris from the hitch.  To do this, I let the chipper go back on its feed end (which is about five feet high).  Check the ball, check the hitch.  This has to be the right ball.

Oh, no!  I can't get the chipper upright again.  Am I going to have to abandon the project?  After several tries, I get the chipper upright again.  This time, the hitch fits over the ball and I can latch them together.

I had a few more details to tend to, but you've probably read too many already.

Finally I am ready to leave.  I drive out, lock up the cable, and turn onto the road out stressing the hitch or hitting the SUV with it.

The drive to Denny's Lawn and Garden was slow but uneventful.   The speed limit for the trailer the chipper is mounted on is 45 mph.  Because of the packed snow I generally went 35-40 mph.  Still, the chipper bounced around a couple of times that made me wonder how much it could take.

When I arrived at Denny's the place was packed!  More than I had ever seen it.  It was lots of people in to buy snowblowers or get parts for snowblowers!  The manager asked me why I brought my chipper in during a blizzard.  I replied that I had said I would bring it in on Tuesday when they called last week that they could take it in for maintenance.

After a couple of other stops, I finally got home about one o'clock.  I knew I should go out and shovel and blow snow, but not just yet.  The snow had really piled up since we left at seven.

When I checked for mail, I saw a neighbor shoveling a path on our sidewalk. I thanked her but said don't bother, I'll do it later with a snowblower.

After a leisurely lunch I put long underwear on under my shirt and jeans.  It was a-blowing and getting colder.  I better clear the snow before it set.

I got out, fueled, and started our Duluth snowblower without too much difficulty.  I got most of the snow off our apron including the ridge made by a grader while I was out there.  I also cleared the ridge for a neighbor.

After I finished that, I brought the snowblower around the garage to the walk to the house and the front sidewalk.  It kept riding up over the snow.  I looked at the blades and they were packed with snow.  I cleaned them out, but the same thing happened again.  And again.  And again.  Finally, when I got to the house, I did a more thorough check.

One of the blades wasn't turning or would catch on the housing.  The blade was bent and the shear pin was broken.  Rather than looking for the shear pin, I put the snowblower away

So much for doing the front walk with the snowblower.  Off I went with the shovel.  Even shoveling smart, that is, lifting snow in layers rather than from the sidewalk up, it was a lot of work.

Finally at about four (was it that late) I called it quits.  I'll need to do it all again tomorrow.  At least, I hope, it won't be a 12-15 inches deep.

Now I'm wondering how I managed to reheat some of the food my wife had left me.  I do know that I was so tired, I didn't even want to have wine.  That would have put me to sleep and you wouldn't be able to read this long tale, if you did get this far.  Thanks for reading!