Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Thanks to my most eager and vigilant user

If I post two entries within fifteen minutes of each other (sometimes less), it seems that somebody has viewed the first before I post the second.

Thank you so much for your interest.  I hope you can tell many others.

I need as many readers as possible to counter the increasing number of Russian reverse spammers.  I can’t believe that there are five times more people in Russia who are interested in this blog than there are in the United States who read this blog.

Shameless self-promotion

I’ve spent way too much time documenting a problem with Apple software.  I phrased my description in a manner that it was moved from the support people to the programmers.  The latter asked for a bit more information.

To add to my “bona fides” I suggested they do a search for

“melvyn” “magree” computers

The quotes are important.  Without them Google would also search for melvin and magee.  The “melvyn” is also important because there are many Magrees who are better-known than I am, especially in Australia.

Wow! Over 20,000 hits going way back.  Gosh, if I could have gotten $100 for each of those items…

One comedian in the Galactic Empire to another

May the Farce be with you!

Oops!  That is not original with me.

After I posted this entry, I did a search for this phrase.  There are many references to this phrase, including play or musical.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The two most important pieces of stock advice

When selling at a loss, never look at how much you lost but at how much you could have lost.

When selling at a gain, never look at how much you could have gained but at how much you did gain.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

World Peace in Four Easy Steps

OK!  Maybe the following aren’t easy steps, but compared to the money and effort that have gone into weapons, wars, and stock market manipulation, these should be child’s play.

First, invest heavily in the development and deployment of alternative energy, both small-scale and large-scale.  The main benefits are reducing poverty, slowing global warming, and reducing the power of petro-dictators.  This investment is already happening in many places and at many levels.

You don’t have to look hard to find news about a large array of solar panels, a new purchase of wind turbines, or some large-scale energy savings.  Germany gets over ten percent of its energy from wind, and some German states get half from wind.  Overall, Europe gets about eight percent of its electricity from wind, up from seven percent in 2012. I won’t bore you with a long list of statistics, but you can easily find many sites that describe the deployment of wind energy.

Energy is being generated many places on a small scale.  Last week’s Reader had an article from the Christian Science Monitor about Greenlight Planet, a company that is making low-cost solar lamps.  If the article is to be believed, Greenlight Planet’s Sun King lights do better than my solar shed light for our outhouse.  The Sun King light supposedly lasts 30 hours without recharging.  If I leave my shed light on overnight, the batteries drain to the point that they won’t even recharge!  Unfortunately, according to the Greenlight Planet website, you can only buy a sample if you live in India.  Otherwise, you have to find a dealer.

And some renewable energy projects start even smaller.  William Kamkwamba, age 14, of Malawi started creating windmills just to have a light to read by at night, he then provided light for all in his village, and then a water pump.

Second, invest heavily in moving water to where it is needed, either by rain or by moving desalinated seawater.

One of the problems Kamkwamba’s village faced was periodic droughts, some of them deadly.  With his windmills, he was able to pump water from a dug well.  This also saved women from making long treks to water sources.

But we know that we can stress our water sources, from overusing wells to draining lakes.  Remember the Aral Sea that almost dried up.  It is coming back, slowly.

China is working on some huge desalination projects, but these will meet only some of the demand of its large cities.  Israel depends on desalination for half of its fresh water.

Desalination (also called desalinization) works best near oceans and can cost a lot to move inland or to higher elevations.  I don’t know what moving water inland costs, but consider that desalination can cost three dollars for one thousand gallons, but the same amount of bottled water would cost nearly eight thousand dollars!

I often wonder if spraying seawater into offshore winds could induce rain inland.  Will the evaporation drop out the salt sufficiently that it won’t harm the land?  If a lot of moisture is introduced this way, will it cause damaging thunderstorms?  Will we sow the wind and reap the whirlwind?

Third, invest heavily in soil building either by using natural fertilizers or by planting more trees.  Increasing the amount of fresh water doesn’t do us much good if it only washes the soil away.  Dumping lots of chemicals on soil is only ruining it over the long term.  Clear-cutting larger and larger tracts of land is allowing more soil to be blown away.

Animal waste can either be a contaminant or a sustainable fertilizer.  Dairy operations and feedlots can either let the wastes infiltrate our fresh water or improve the soil for other farmers. Even human wastes can be used to improve soil.  The Western Lake Superior Solid Waste District (WLSSD) processes garden waste, food waste and human waste into fertilizer.  The first two are made into garden fertilizer; the second into farm fertilizer.  WLSSD produces over 30,000 tons of the latter every year.  What would our drinking water be like without that treatment?  What would our health be like?  Too many people in the world find these answers the hard way.  How do we ensure that these techniques are scalable all around the world?

The fourth step is that we could probably pay for all these improvements all over the world just with what the United States spends for all kinds of military equipment.  The Nuclear Threat Initiative estimates that the United States could spend one trillion dollars to upgrade its nuclear arsenal.  My guess that such upgrades in other countries combined would be half as much.  Let’s put that in numerals.  My guess of worldwide upgrades would be $1,500,000,000,000!!  Some readers would like to have savings of $15,000; others would be glad to have $150 in savings.  That $1,500,000,000,000 is over $200 for every man, woman, and child in the world.  Some of them would like to have that $200 just to survive for a year.

So, what are our world leaders doing about this over-abundance of killing equipment?  Dithering about cutting back what they have and posturing with it whenever they don’t like what others are doing.  Do we have any grown-ups around to get these big kids to stop playing games with other people’s lives?  This is the hardest step of the four steps to world peace!

Also published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2014/04/24/3274_world_peace_in_four_easy_steps

You can find more of my thoughts at

Must reading for those who believe in democracy

"The time for complaining is at an end. Action must be taken. Accountability must be demanded. Muscle must be flexed. Power must be exercised.

"Ballots must be cast."

–”Lions to the Ballot Box”, Charles Blow, NYT, 2014-04-24

My email to Blow:

"I hope your column on voter turnout is reprinted in every paper across the country. And I hope it is reprinted just before the 2014 elections.

"Big turnout trumps big money every time. Think Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina.

"I have been cajoling people to vote in my little obscure blog and in my column in Duluth weekly for going on fifteen years.

"I hope your bigger platform has many orders of magnitude of influence than my little Don Quixote tilting at political windbags."

My favorite comment:

I have a bumper sticker : "If the 47% vote the 1% won't matter".

Monday, April 21, 2014

Climate change is real; Exxon Mobil says so

Exxon is not going to stop marketing fossil fuels soon, but it does admit that climate change is real.  See “Our views and principles for managing climate change”.

The page includes:

“Effective strategies must include putting policies in place that start the world on a path to reduce emissions while recognizing that addressing GHG emissions is one among other important world priorities, such as economic development, poverty eradication and public health.”

Recognizing that there will be rules and regulations, they would like them to be effective, to scale, and cost-efficient.  Among other considerations, they prefer a carbon tax over cap-and-trade.

Unfortunately, I doubt these admissions about emissions by Exxon Mobil will still the climate-change deniers in print, on the air, or in Congress.

The computer for the rest of us?

Remember that Apple slogan from the Macintosh’s early years.  Sure, the Macintosh is a powerful took as well as is iPhone and iPad cousins.  But as the features improve, the user experience seems to get worse when it comes to trying to figure out why the obvious steps don’t seem to work.

I posted the following in one of the discussions in Apple Support Communities.
I've noticed the iCloud sign on podcast episodes, but I was really upset when I was asked if I wanted an episode from iCloud.  No, not really.  My iPhone plan has limited download and I don't want to exceed it.  This happened at the fitness center, and I clicked OK this time.  When I checked with my provider later, I had almost doubled my usage in a couple of days.

Here is a summary of steps for later readers to ensure that your podcasts come from, and only from, your computer:
Select Podcasts on iPhone.
Select a podcast
Select "Settings"
Turn off "Subscriptions"
Set "Refresh Podcasts" to "Manually"
Repeat for each podcast group
I wonder what Joy Mountford, the founder of the Apple Human Interface Group, thinks of the human interfaces of iOS 7 and Mavericks.  There is still an Apple Human Interface Group and you can find links to Apple's OS X and iOS Human Interface Guidelines at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_interface_guidelines.

These are intended for developers, but I wonder how much Apple follows these for Mavericks and iOS 7.1.  For example, from "OS X Human Interface Guidelines: User Experience Guidelines":

"It’s worth emphasizing an obvious fact: Users view your app differently than you do. Nowhere is this difference more striking than in the performance of common app-management tasks, such as finding and opening documents, opening and closing windows, and managing document state. Although there are many ways that apps can make such tasks easier for users to perform, a more important question is, Why should users have to perform them at all?"

Proof of poor education system

From my note pile:

We must have a poor education system.  Just look at the quality of the politicians and at the judgment of the voters who keep electing them again and again.

Fair trade in spying?

If the U.S. believes in fair trade, would it not be fair trade that any country in which the U.S. has covert operations should be allowed to have covert operations in the U.S.?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Rural broadband – where’s the truth?

I thought about a month ago I saw a pro and con about rural broadband in the Duluth News Tribune.  Those two opinions were the catalyst for this article.  But I can’t find them!

As I remember them, one was gung ho that rural areas are underserved by broadband access, and the other was that government should not be involved in providing a frill.  The latter indicated people should move into town if they need Internet access.

Knowing that my dial-up speed in Brimson had been 25kbps, almost unusable for today’s Internet, I was sympathetic to the first view.  As for government involvement, there has been much government activity to insure better access to many modern conveniences now considered necessities.

Are you old enough to remember RFD as part of addresses?  RFD stands for rural free delivery.  Instead of going to a post office for their mail, rural residents could get their mail at the end of their driveway.

Few of us can remember REA, the Rural Electrification Act or Administration.  It both provided jobs for unemployed electricians and it made life more comfortable for rural residents.  This was financed in part by government loans.

Do you remember all the rural gravel roads?  My dad bought property outside Cleveland, probably about 1941.  When my pregnant wife and I visited him in 1962 the last two roads were still gravel.  By the time both our kids were in school, all the nearby roads were paved with asphalt.

On our first visit to Brimson in 1987, many of the roads were gravel.  Over the years many of them have been upgraded to asphalt.  Only the road to our cabin is gravel.

To us as weekend residents, electricity, telephone, and good roads are a plus.  To people who live there, these are a necessity.

And to us who don’t live there, the people that do are a necessity.  Think of all the benefits that we wouldn’t have if some people didn’t live in the country.

Where would our food come from?  Would we be able to grow all our food in our backyards or on our apartment rooftops?

Where would our wood products come from?  Do you think loggers are going to commute to cut trees?

If we go out in the country to hunt, fish, or just loaf, who is going to provide the food and beverages we forgot to bring.  Shall the store owners commute?

What if our cabins catch fire or we have a medical emergency?  Should the volunteer firefighters and first responders commute to help us?  Response time is much better if these people live within a few miles of the fire hall.

Because these people chose to live in rural areas, should they be deprived of good roads, postal service, electricity, and Internet?  How would you like to communicate with the fishing resort you plan to visit?  Internet or carrier pigeon?

Getting back to my search for articles and letters.

As I was typing this in Duluth, I was waiting for my iPad to open up the full-page version of the Duluth News Tribune.  The little gear spun and spun and…  This is “high-speed” Internet in the city?  I turned the iPad off and on and voila!  I wanted to check back issues for the articles I sought.  Unfortunately, the full pages available only went back to March 31.  What I sought had to be before that.

The Star Tribune full-page version was available back to March 15.  The first letter of interest, March 17, was from telecommunications executives complaining about, you guessed it, taxes.

The March 20 issue had an editorial “Grab opportunity for state broadband fund: Greater Minnesota’s future depends on high-speed Internet access”.  It gave examples of people who live outside the metro area and depend on internet access.  These people came to the capitol to “plead for help in improving Internet access”.  They wanted a chance “to survive economically in the 21st century.”

I did gasp a bit when the article stated that one of them couldn’t compete with 12Mbps.  He does have a signage business that will need to send lots of images.  But 12Mbps per second is something I dream about.

One of the resources I wanted to check was the final report of Minnesota’s High-Speed Broadband Task Force.  You can find it at http://www.ultra-high-speed-mn.org/.

Well, well, sitting at my computer in Duluth with a nominal 7Mbps download speed, I watched the download indicator practically stand still for the 3.8MB download.  I then emailed the file to myself to more easily read it on my iPad.  That too was very slow. According to an Ookla speedtest, I was only getting 0.53Mpbs upload and 2.60 download.

According to the Ookla net index, Japan has average speeds of 42.0 Mbps download and 29.3 upload, mobile is 11.7/4.9.  If you live in Tokyo, you can get a great deal – download speed on fiber of 100 Mbps at $30.47 (The Cost of Connectivity – NewAmerica.org).  For mobile it will cost you more for less: 40 Mbps for $33.97!  Oh, yes, Japanese internet is almost completely private with few government restrictions.

We are paying about $30 for our nominal 7Mbps!

At our cabin where we used to struggle with 25Kpbs, I can get 7 to 10 Mbps with my cell phone.  This weekend I used it as a hotspot and my wife and I each read newspapers with our iPads.  The cost per month?  For the phone and usage charges: $28.50 plus taxes etc.  This is with Consumer Cellular who gives me the cost of each service (except for taxes and fees).

Kyle Ackerman, owner of  Xtratyme Technologies, wrote that rural areas do have access; his article was in the Star Tribune about April 8.  You can find it and reader comments at http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/254447871.html.

Remember my column “Free Market in Telecommunications?”  Guess what? http://www.xtratyme.com/details.html#subscription does not give pricing!

This article is also posted at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2014/04/17/3236_rural_broadband_wheres_the_truth

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Oil companies, Fortune 500, and U.S foreign policy

Another of my old notes: Does the fact that four* out of the top ten companies in the Fortune 500 are oil companies have any effect on U.S foreign policy?

The note reads six companies, but with mergers and the rise of other companies, the fifth oil company is now rated 33 in the 2013 Fortune 500 list. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune500/2013/full_list/

Who has more say on foreign policy?  The people of the United States or the largest companies, especially oil companies?  Do we have democratic capitalism or oligarchic capitalism?  See “Democratic capitalism, revisiting an oxymoron”.

Democratic capitalism, revisiting an oxymoron

See “Democratic capitalism is an oxymoron” for my earlier thoughts.

I finally finished “American Umpire” by Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman.  Her frequent use of “democratic capitalism” inspired the blog entry above.  She uses the term on her final page.

Reading that led me to think that a democracy can lead to capitalism but capitalism doesn’t always lead to democracy.  In a democracy, the implied individual freedom can lead to the raising of capital for various projects.  In a capitalistic society, the power structure can more easily lead to an oligarchy than a democracy.  Unfortunately, the world is filled with oligarchic capitalism.  Will the United States and other countries we call democratic move to oligarchic capitalism?  Your voting in every election can prevent such a change.

See also “Oil companies, Fortune 500, and U.S foreign policy”.

The Fable of Sid Citizen; a vote that "wouldn't count" but did matter

Sid Citizen considered the three candidates for mayor of Wherever - Moe, Joe, and Zoe.

Sid didn’t like Moe because he thought Moe’s views were off the wall.

Sid thought Joe was rather ordinary.

Sid thought Zoe had good ideas but he didn’t agree with her plan for better streets.

So Sid stayed home.  After all, his vote wouldn’t count.

Moe won!  By one vote!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The spinning beach ball and private enterprise

If private enterprise is so efficient, why does it waste so much of my time?

As computers have gotten faster they seem to have longer response time.  I wrote somewhere Magree’s Law:
As computers become more powerful, the software expands to meet or even exceed the capacity of the fastest computers available to run it.
So many times I watch the spinning beach ball or the non-moving progress bar.  It seems Excel takes over a minute to open, even Apple’s Numbers takes time to open.  To start my iPad I have to watch the white apple for more than a minute.

Too often I try to load a page and all I get to see is the spinning gear in Firefox.  Too often nothing happens until I click the x in the URL bar and then click the circular arrow again.  Many, many times, the desired page comes up immediately.  What was the page waiting for before?

Too often, the software designers change the rules without warning.  In February or March I downloaded several IRS PDF forms.  I wanted some of the directions on my iPad so that I effectively had two screens as I updated my income tax spreadsheet.  In iTunes I clicked on “Add to Library” under the File menu, a finder window opened, I navigated to the folder I wanted,  selected the file I wanted, and clicked “Open”.  Poof! The file was in my book list.

Yesterday I tried that with the PDF of a magazine article.  Nothing happened after I clicked “Open”.  The file list was not in my library!!!  I was finally able to load the file via iBooks instead.

Was this the doing of the latest OS, Mavericks, or the latest iTunes, 11.1.5?  I don’t know.

The directions I was following are in the iPad…  Oops! I was using the iPad iOS 6 manual.  I checked the iPhone iOS 7 manual and it says to download the manual from iBooks.  I downloaded the iPad User Guide for iOS 7.1 and it states:

“Read PDFs
Sync a PDF. In iTunes on your computer, choose File > Add to Library and select the PDF. Then sync.”

That ain’t the way it works!

The manual writers aren’t keeping up with the programmers or the programmers aren’t telling the manual writers what they have changed.  Sounds like bureaucracy is not limited to government.

Enough wasting of your time with my gripes (and mine writing this).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tax brackets – another math puzzle

From when I was in junior high up to today’s Blondie comic strip, people claim that they don’t want to earn more income because they will be in a higher tax bracket.  Because they don’t think through the details, they are throwing money away.

Here’s how.

At the beginning of 2013 suppose you earned $17,800 after all your adjustments (your adjusted gross income or AGI).  Your Federal tax would be ten percent of that,  $1,780.  Remember, your gross income is larger than that.  In the middle of the year you are offered a raise that would take your AGI to $19,580.  But this puts you in the fifteen percent bracket.  Gosh!  Fifteen percent of $19,580 is $2,937.  That’s $1,157 more in taxes for a raise of $1,780.  Even though your math is wrong, you would still ahead being in a higher bracket.

Actually, if you turned down the raise on the basis of tax bracket change, you would have given up even more money.  Remember, the tax is based on a marginal rate.  The income over a certain level is taxed at a higher rate than income up to that level.

In 2013, you would be taxed ten percent on your AGI up to $17,850 and fifteen percent on the AGI over $17,850, not fifteen percent on all of your income or even AGI.

If your AGI was $19,580, you would be taxed $1,785 on the first $17,850 and fifteen percent on the next $1,730 which is $259.50.  Your total tax is then $2,044.50.  You would be throwing away $1,515.50 in order to avoid paying $264.50 more in taxes ($2,044.50 - $1,780).

A simple math puzzle

I would have liked to post this in mathematical symbols, but I haven’t figured out if they even exist on my Mac.  Please bear with me as I put these two problems in words.

Starting with n=2 at what point will summing 1/n be greater than 2?

Starting with n=1 at what point will summing 1/2n be greater than 2?

Hint on the second: see http://magree.blogspot.com/2013/08/unlimited-has-its-limits.html and the links in that entry.

People power can beat too much money power

The Coffee Party posted on Facebook a cartoon of a politician at a podium on a plank out over a cliff.  The only thing preventing him from falling into the abyss is the number of people standing on the other end of the plank.  Except one person who is walking away.  The words on the cartoon are “The people don’t know their true power.”

I posted the following comment on Facebook.  If you have a Facebook account you can find it in context here.

“The problem with too much money in politics is too few votes to counter misinformation.  The cartoon is clever, but the person leaving should be walking to a politician's plank on solid ground.

“Let's show up each and every election day and get off-year turn-outs better than the Afghan turnout.  Too many of us don't bother because it's too inconvenient; the Afghani's stood in long lines at the risk of being attacked!”

If you don’t have a Facebook account or just want to see how often this has been published, search for “The people don’t know their true power”.  You’ll find hundreds of postings of this cartoon going back at least two years.  You’ll find many comments on it, but you will be hard pressed to find who created the original.

As I was adding “money in politics” to the keywords for this entry it occurred to me to have a keyword “people in politics” because the only way to get money out of politics is to get people into politics, even if it only to get more people to show up on election day.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Word play

I am taking a University for Seniors at UMD called “Words Just Want to Have Fun”.

The instructor passed out cards with a word or a phrase.  We were supposed to make a poem using that word.  Mine was “buffalo” and I thought of a haiku and a pair of rhymes.

Buffalo, the town,
Gets lots and lots of deep snow.
It’s the lake effect.

Where the buffalo roam
Is the subject of a poem.
But there are no buffalo on the range
And the bison are penned to cook on your range.

We were also supposed to work in pairs on a cryptogram.  It is from the Oct-Dec. SPELL/Binder.  No pair finished it in class.  I kept making copying errors, putting the letter of the clue in the grid rather than the letter in the clue.  I also had to look three clues, one online (author of “The Razor’s Edge”,  one in the dictionary that began with “syn”, and one in “Hamlet” about what the ghost had to say about Gertrude.

This last was misleading because the clue included “Hamlet’s ghost”, not the ghost in “Hamlet”.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Up to no good about public goods

On April 2, the Duluth News Tribune had an “Our View” titled “Road repairs: Hold on to your wallets” about the report of a task force on the repair of city streets.  Why is it that increased taxes to pay for necessary public goods is a bad thing, but increased prices of things provided by the private sector are just seen as “passing on costs”?

It is estimated that a thirty percent increase over two years in property taxes is necessary to pay for the needed repairs.  This is partly required because Duluth can no longer count on the money it had received from the Fond-du-Luth Casino.  In other words, the “tax” paid by gamblers will now have to be paid by all the citizens.

The oldest real estate tax record I have is from 2002.  Our 2014 Duluth property taxes are 2.28 times as much as 2002.  Assuming the proposed 30 percent increase, our 2016 taxes will be 2.97 times as much in 2002.

Now lets compare this to the price increase of Duluth News Tribune.  When I first came to Duluth in 1999, the DNT costs 50 cents.  I’m not sure whether it first went up before or after 2002.  It now costs $1.25 for a single copy.  That is 2.5 times as much.  That’s “worse” than the increase in my Duluth property taxes up to now.  Will it go to $1.50 by 2016?  If so, that will be 3.0 times as much.  Where’s all the shouting about the Duluth News Tribune not living within its means?

How about food prices?  The price of Stonyfield yogurt sticks in my mind from years ago as 54 cents for an eight-ounce container.  One can now get it online for about $1.42 for a six-ounce container.  That is 3.5 times as much per ounce!  Can’t Stonyfield and the grocers live within their means?

The lowest I remember gas prices being in Duluth was 99 cents a gallon.  Now the price per gallon has been around $3.59 per gallon.  That is 3.6 times the low.  Can’t the oil companies live within their means?

What are some major costs in repairing streets?  Asphalt, gasoline, and diesel fuel!  Maybe we can keep our taxes at the 2002 level if we can keep the price of oil and the derivative products at the 2002 level.

But this year, the city took a big hit on fuel expenses.  Lots and lots of snowplowing.  Should the city cut back on the snowplowing to “live within its means”?  How loud would the howls be from the public if the city “lived within its means” for snowplowing?

The same goes for street repair.  It seems many expect city streets to be built to Interstate standards, but they complain both about the potholes and the taxes to fill the potholes.

We could go back to an ancient custom of every road being a toll road.  Barons and other large landowners charged everybody to use the roads across their lands.  This was a big drain on commerce.  In fact, some writers say that the British economy in the 1700s did much better than the French economy because of internal tolls.  The British had practically none.  A French merchant couldn’t travel 20 miles without encountering an internal tariff.  Add that to the super-rich in France ripping off the peasants even more than the super-rich in Britain did.

Ah, toll roads!  Some think that the toll prohibition on Interstates should be lifted.  Actually, there is no blanket prohibition as anyone who has driven I-90 in Illinois or the Ohio Turnpike knows.

As the need and costs of repairs to the Interstate system increases, so does the talk of charging tolls for use of the system.  See “Agreement on Interstate Repair Needs, but Not on How to Pay for Them”, New York Times, April 3, 2014.  Interestingly, some of the big shippers like FedEx and McDonalds object to the tolls.  Many smaller businesses such as restaurants and convenience stores object because they think people will avoid the Interstates to avoid paying a toll each time they exit for a short stop.  Another consideration is what will be the cost to add on the infrastructure to collect tolls?

I bet you dollars to donuts that many of those who want and even demand public goods such as a highway system also object to almost every single tax that makes them possible.

In many ways, taxes are a good bargain.  If we didn’t pay taxes for fire departments, we would be paying a lot more for fire insurance.  If we didn’t pay taxes for an extensive sewer system, we would be paying a lot more for hospital bills.  If we didn’t pay taxes for snowplowing, we would be paying a lot more for auto insurance and maybe even lawyers.

Yeah, I was grumbling as I filled out my state and federal taxes and robbed my bank account to pay what’s due.  And I’m grumbling as I try to figure out how to better spread out payments for the 2014 tax year.  But then I think of the words of George Washington and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

In his “Farewell Address”, George Washington wrote, “that towards the payment of debts there must be Revenue; that to have Revenue there must be taxes”.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. supposedly wrote, “I like taxes; they buy me civilization.”

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Making systems work: The psychology of business systems

This is the title of a book by William C. Ramsgard, Wiley, 1977-09-29 and the quotes that follow are from various scraps of paper that have been gathering dust on my desk.

“The successful information system provides all the related and general xpj requirements for operating personnel, based on normal organizational activity.  New information requirements are always modifications to the existing information system and are fulfilled by a minimum caretaker staff without disruption to existing informational and organizational structure or substantial additional resource allocations.”

From a note in ABC Stenoscript and http://books.google.com/books/about/Making_systems_work.html?id=RkBZAAAAMAAJ

From another note on this book

“Peasecod’s Parameter
When the time recorded in the maintenance log approaches the original systems development time, the existing system is dying and the systems cycle should be repeated for a complete new development of the system.”

From another note in ABC Stenoscript

“Systems should be built not to solve problems but to provide opportunity.”

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Jesters and columnists, clowns and politicians

Another note from my helter-skelter, written whenever pile is headlined:

Re Molly Ivins + Mark DePaolis,

and followed by a comment about jesters and one about clowns.

1) The purpose of the jester was to say things nobody else dared say.

2) We have lots of clowns in public office.  Why not have some who have something to say instead of mere posturing?

I wondered was this something they wrote or something I pulled out of my own thoughts.  After a search for their names, jester, and clown, I assumed it was something I wrote one day after reading them both in the Star Tribune years ago.

Ivins was noted for her acerbic wit; she did not suffer fools gladly.  The “left” loved her and the “right” hated her.  She died too early of breast cancer.

Although I haven’t seen anything in the paper recently by DePaolis, he is still practicing family medicine at Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in the Twin Cities.

I did find some books by DePaolis available online; I’m sure you can also find Ivins’ books online.

A note from the past

I have quite a pile of notes going way back.  One really old one was “(M)agreeable liquidation plan”.  It is a list of all the steps to close down my one-person company, (M)agreeable software, inc.  I did that in 1998 and 1999.  One of the items is “Jan 1999 File final taxes”.

(M)agreeable software was one of the many things I am glad I did but glad I am not doing it now.

Democrats elect Republican Congress

Come on!  Diehard Democrats won't vote for Republicans!

They don't have to vote for Republicans to elect them to Congress.  All they have to do, is they have so often in the past, is to not show up on Election Day!

See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/01/us/politics/democrats-scramble-to-stave-off-midterm-disaster.html.

Stop crying about money in politics and voter disenfranchisement.  Show up and vote!  If you don't, you may find yourself disenfranchised in the future.

Serendipity and corporate stupidity

I picked up an old note off my desk:

“You are a wise person if you do not make mistakes;
you are  clever person if you make a mistake but do not repeat it;
you are a stupid person if you make a mistake and repeat it.”

It is “an ancient proverb” quoted by Effy Oz in “When Professional Standards Are Lax: The CONFIRM Failure and its Lessons”, Communications of the ACM, October 1994, Vol. 37, No. 10.

Professor OZ was a professor of Management Science and Information Systems at Pennsylvania State University.

I have long thrown out most of my copies of the Communications of the ACM (Association of Computer Machinery), but I did find the article online.  For a PDF copy, look up “EP23_Confirm”.

CONFIRM was an ambitious project to bring together the registration systems of American Airlines, Budget Rent-A-Car, Hilton Hotels, and Marriott Corporation.  A subsidiary of American Airlines proposed it to Marriott in 1987, by 1992 the project was disbanded.

The article details much of the finger-pointing for the failure, but I think it is higher management not understanding what is possible and middle management trying to sugar-coat the problems.

Isn’t ironic that despite the glitches of the Affordable Care Act, the far more complex system is working in less than four years?

Monday, April 07, 2014

Politicians kiss what?

Once upon a time, the running gag about political campaigning was that vote seekers were out kissing babies.  Now it seems that politicians are out kissing rich old men and not on their foreheads.

The latest kowtowing was the parade of Republican hopefuls to visit Sherman Adelson to seek his blessing on their quest.  The worst groveling was when Gov. Chris Christie apologized to Adelson for a remark about Israel.

This obscene parade is a sign of how much we have moved from a “democracy” to a definite plutocracy.

Have we become like Iran where the ayatollahs have to approve the candidates?

I can’t say it too much.  The best way to stop this trend is to be sure to always vote in every election.  We have too many elections where the “winner” comes in a distant second to a de facto “none of the above”.  A majority of the registered voters don’t show up for the primaries.  More people don’t vote in the regular elections than vote for the supposed winner.

Too much money or too few voters?

The best antidote to too much money in politics is larger turnouts.  If you don't show up, you are increasing the power of too much money.  If you don't show up and vote then you are increasing the likelihood you will be next on the list to be disenfranchised.

Remember that the aim of most political attack ads is not to get the viewer to vote for a given candidate but to get the viewer to not show up.

If you want to make a difference, don’t watch TV, always vote, and always vote what you believe.

Also, remember that the turnout in Afghanistan was over 50%.  Many of those people showed up at the risk they might come under a terrorist attack.  Can’t we do much better in the U.S. where our only risk of going to the polls is an auto crash?

Friday, April 04, 2014

Too soon old, too late smart

Each season it seems I can do less than I did in the same season last year.

My skis are as fast as ever but it seems each year I make fewer runs than I did the previous year.  Flying over bumps is no longer a thrill but a chill.  Cross-country skiing on an un-groomed trail is too much of a chore.  Snowshoeing on fresh deep snow has become a very slow process.  I only do one-third of the trail before I head back to the cabin.

I can get up out of deep snow if I fall, but I might have been lucky the last time.  My foot came out of one snowshoe.  The loose snowshoe became a "crutch" to push myself up with.

Snow shoveling is no longer a one-session job.  Shovel out to the garage. Shovel half the apron between the garage and the alley, maybe both halves if the snow is light.  If the snow is deep or the city grader has been by then I might use the snow blower.

My next session (or first depending on circumstances) is to clear around the house to the front, clear across the front yard and up the porch for the mail carrier.  Next I clear a shovel width to the street and both ways on the sidewalk.

I long ago gave up running.  I wasn’t getting shin splints as I was in high school and college, but I stopped running around a track or on the street.  I do walk the “4.4” mile Brimson Sisu, but even there my times seem longer than the previous year.

I can still stand on one leg to put my pants on or as an exercise, but I often wobble.  I used to think nothing of standing on a step stool to change a light bulb or to climb a ladder on to the roof of our cabin.  I can still remember going up and down the ladder to get a bat out of our chimney.  Now it takes a long time to move one foot from the ladder to the roof, even worse to move the other foot.

We buy juice and wine by the case and store them in the basement.  A few years ago I thought nothing of going down the stairs with a case, glancing only a few times to let me know when I got to the bottom.  Now, I either take a few bottles at a time or go down backwards dragging the full case one step at a time.

For a long time I’ve spouted the mantra: We should never listen to our parents.  They tell us to act our age.  If we do that, we grow up.  If we grow up, we get old.  If we get old, we die.  So, why act our age?

I am doing my best to not act my age.  Instead of playing with all these “big kid” toys, be it skis or yard equipment, I now play with words.

I write this weekly column, which is both playing with words and ideas.

I have all but given up on writing letters to the editor of any major newspaper; too many times what is published is not what I intended.  In fact, with two different papers what was published was exactly the opposite of what I submitted.  But I find that I spend too much time leaving comments on facebook or on a New York Times article.  Leaving comments is not a bad idea, but I rarely come back to see what others submitted after me.

I do post all kinds of ideas to my blog, but I get the feeling that lots of them are read by more spammers’ bots than live people. I think I get more live readers in Duluth of this column than I get live readers in the whole world of my blog.

I do think I’m getting smart in the sense that I see through fancy, deceiving language more quickly than I used to.  Political language, no matter the source, is too often either promising more than possible or putting down opposition more than justified.  Commercial language, no matter the product or service, is filled with hype or misdirection.  This new software makes beautiful documents if you only want to do something simple.  This car gives you carefree driving if you can find the wiper switch in the dark.

Still, I have a long way to go to be smart.

A smart person would not start a snow-filled chipper on a cold day.  The flywheel is frozen in place and the belt gets hotter and hotter until it catches fire!  A smart person would remember to put the cover on before snow got in the hopper.

A smart person would always check for hat and gloves before leaving an event.  A smart person would look under a chair at home for a pen before thinking that he or she left it someplace else.

A smart person would listen intently to a speaker, remember all key points, and not fall asleep.

A smart person would keep a desk neatly ordered instead of spending lots of time looking in every stack and every file drawer.

A smart person would remember to submit an article by the publisher’s deadline.  Aha!  I am redeemed.  Now to be a really smart person and submit this article to the right email address!

Except for the last, italicized sentence, this also appears in the Reader Weekly of 2014-04-03 at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2014/04/03/3172_too_soon_old_too_late_smart.  This particular issue is also called the Northland Enquirer.