Thursday, October 30, 2014

Consideration for garlic lovers

I found this note scrap on my desk.  I probably wrote it when the smoking/no smoking battles were at their peak a few years ago.

Garlic lovers like it in lots of different foods.  Others do not like it when they smell it on us.

We like to have the air redolent with the sweet, healthful smell of garlic, but others do not appreciate it on their hair, skin, or clothes.  So, we don’t burn it.

Be Counted! We the People Are Counting on You!

Election day is next Tuesday.  Are you registered?  Have you made your picks?  Please remember to show up.  Without your vote, the candidates you favor least have a better chance of winning.

I’m serious.  Time and time again, candidates have won in a “landslide” because far too many people didn’t show up.  In 1980 many media outlets reported that Ronald Reagan won over Jimmy Carter in a “landslide”.  The “real’ winner was “none of the above”!  Ronald Reagan came in a distant second with 27% of the eligible voters; 47% didn’t bother to show up.

In many ways 2000 was a ridiculous election.  Because of the electoral college system, George Bush won with 47.9% of the votes compared to Al Gore’s 48%.  Some people claim that Ralph Nader gave the election to Bush.  Would those who voted for Nader have voted at all?  Bush had 537 votes over Gore; 2,912,790 to 2,912,253.  Nader had over 90,000 votes, a tiny count compared to the no-shows.

Drat!  For years I’ve depended on the Election Project at George Mason University for turnout figures.  It is no longer available, and even many of the cached pages are no longer available.

According to the Florida Secretary of State’s office, turnout in 1980 was 70.1%.  That is, over 2.6 million registered voters didn’t bother to show up.  The de facto “none of the above” certainly swamped Nader votes.  We really don’t know if the Nader voters would have voted for Bush or Gore or stayed home.

Ah! I just dug deeper and Prof. Michael McDonald has taken his Election Project to the University of Florida.  See  McDonald claims that over four million eligible Florida voters didn’t show up (he’s counting eligible rather than registered).  Both Bush and Gore came in a distant second to “I don’t give a damn.”  That’s a helluva way to run a country.

Are you following the polls?  I say don’t bother because polls don’t determine elections.  You showing up can turn polls on their head.  Think about the 1948 post-election headline: “Dewey wins!”  The papers rushed to publish based on a telephone poll showing Dewey ahead.  However, the pollsters didn’t compensate for many Democratic voters not having telephones.

Even polls that claim to call people on landlines and cellphones may be missing an important clue.  Many people have caller ID; if they don’t know the caller, they don’t answer.  Have you seen any polls that mention the no response rate?

Another classic example of polls really missing the mark was the 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial election.  The polls had Skip Humphrey in the lead, Norm Coleman second, and Jesse Ventura last.  The results were Jesse Ventura winning, Norm Coleman second, and Skip Humphrey last.  I think that Jesse Ventura’s complaint about the auto-emission testing stations and the high taxes on his fancy cars resonated with a lot of drivers.  You can rest assured that somebody didn’t design their poll well.

Many rightfully complain about all the money in politics.  But the high spenders don’t always win.  Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, former CEOs of major tech companies, spent oodles of their own money to run for office in California,  Neither was elected.

Big spenders who lose are not confined to either party.  I had the pages up the other day which gave the spending by each party in the Presidential elections.  Surprise, the bigger spender wasn’t always the Republican candidate.  And when the bigger spender was a Democrat, he didn’t always win the general election, hanging chads or not.

A practice that has really gotten worse in recent years is the attack ads.  Candidate Joe will raise your taxes even mo’.  Candidate Tom doesn’t beat the drum for the military enough.  Candidate Bill didn’t spend enough on infra-structure (never mind that he did vote for a ten percent increase).  The silliest I’ve seen is that Al Franken voted with the President 85% of the time.  Duh!  When Bush was President, how often did Republican members of Congress vote with the President?  I would hope it was not 100% but definitely between 75% and 90%.

We can avoid many attack ads by not watching TV but they appear on billboards, in the newspapers and even on web pages.  I was surprised to see a silly attack ad on a web page against Stewart Mills who is running for Rick Nolan’s Congressional seat.  It was on a web site of a Wisconsin company!  The web knows whether you have been naughty or nice.

The purpose of attack ads is not to get you to vote for the attacker but to not show up at all.  Gosh!  I thought Sen. Foghorn was a great guy, but I guess I won’t bother showing up to vote for him this year.

So, what’s a poor confused citizen to do with all this obfuscation.

First, find all the neutral sources you can for information.  I know, there aren’t many of those.  About the best we can do is to read the candidates’ own statements in newspapers or on the web.

Second, show up and vote.  The only votes that don’t count are the votes not cast.

If you believe in democracy, you must be part of the demos, that is the people.

Mel hopes that he has to wait in line to vote.

This also appears in the Reader Weekly of Duluth at

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Who decides? The many or the money?

Keith Ellison, U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, wrote a good “Counterpoint” in today’s Star Tribune - “Minnesota Values Deserve Our Support”.

My favorite line is “…the voices of the many, not the money, should govern our democracy.”

If you are a U. S. citizen, I hope you have Tuesday, November 4, 2014 on your calendar to remind you to vote.  In fact, be sure that the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November is on your calendar for every year.  Local and state officials need your electoral support, too.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

For what’s wrong with the world, look in the mirror

“They [shareholders] dream of dividends, and their dividends are the ruin of mankind.

“No, it is we who are to blame. You, Domin, myself, all of us.

“For our own selfish ends, for profit, for progress, we have destroyed mankind. Now we'll burst with all our greatness.”

- Karel Capek, R. U. R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), 1920

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Technology is great! Technology grates!

Technology is great!  Using my computer and the Internet, I can write and submit this column.  I can pay bills online rather than write and mail a check.  I can order a large assortment of goods online and sometimes even track their shipping.

Technology helps me research without buying lots of books and magazines or making many visits to the library.  But unless you make to-do lists on paper or on a computer, it doesn’t help you remember all you plan.  One web-site I forgot to include in last week’s column, “Hunter, know your ground”, was the 2014 Minnesota DNR Hunting regulations:

Technology lets me carry in my shirt pocket symphonies, the Bible, the Constitution and commentaries, Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”, manuals for all kinds of tools and gadgets, hundreds of notes to myself, and many of my Party of One columns.

Technology grates!  It seems the more things I can do on my computer and gadgets, the more things go wrong.

Rather than paying bills, reading books, or listening to music, I am spending an inordinate time trying to resolve computer and other gadget problems.  In this month I have had a keyboard whose return key might not work, Bluetooth earbuds that wouldn’t charge, lots of software that doesn’t work (properly or at all) and a smoke alarm that went off when there was no smoke.

I wrote about some of these problems in “Programmer, heal thyself”; let me tell you about the resolution (or non-resolution) of some of these.

Whenever a smoke detector ceases to work properly, I try to buy the same model again.  Because there is no standardization for mounting that I know of, I buy the same model again so I don’t have to drill more holes in the ceiling.  The model of detector that we use in the cabin has a seven-year warranty.

Being frustrated with the smoke detector that gave false alarms, I contacted the online store that I bought it from.  I thought it was the manufacturer because of the name similarity.  Nope, I have to contact the manufacturer for the warranty.  The manufacturer, First Alert, had no email address for U.S. residents.  OK, forget the warranty because I’ll never get a replacement in time for our next stay in the cabin.  I ordered another one from the online store with three-day delivery.  Yay!  It came the afternoon before we planned to go to our cabin.

I should take some of the blame as the directions do have a warranty procedure.  The address isn’t even the same name as the manufacturer label.  I still have the malfunctioning alarm on my desk.  But why bother making a warranty claim?  If the new one I had already bought works for its warrantied life, then the warranty on the replacement would have also expired.

I have a Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio for my iPad.  It functions as a keyboard, stand, and cover.  I finally set aside some time to research the non-functioning return key.

The Logitech web site would not take email address and password, and I never received email to reset password.  I sent email to the address I used for same problem in February/March, and I received a form that I should go to the website.  I eventually called the non-800 number, and reached a non-native speaker of English.  It was more corporate bureaucracy; she was a level one filter. We just went around in circles with no technical help

I went back to the friendlier email I had earlier in the year for the same problem that had a set of steps that would supposedly resolve the problem.  I followed them, but the return key didn’t work!  But as I had done before, I repeatedly pressed the return key and it eventually worked.  Was that all I needed to do in the first place?  The return key didn’t work again a few days later!  I pressed it less than a dozen times and it worked again.  To be a computer user, you really have to believe in magic:)

I had a much friendlier set of email exchange with Jaybird.  I bought a set of their wireless earbuds the same time as I bought the iPad keyboard.  Just after the warranty period expired my earbuds couldn’t be recharged.  Jaybird offered me 50% credit for a new set.  I did need to send the device back before getting credit.  Once they had the tracking number for my package, they told me I could place my order.

I worked on balancing my wife’s checkbook this week.  To help me, I printed out a bank statement.  I couldn’t find a transaction that she had in her register.  I finally found it lost between pages on the bank statement copy I printed.  The bank statement saved as a PDF was OK.  Adobe or Apple lost the item in printing!

I printed out a website form for a mail order, and the result had two pictures that were not on my screen.  Both pictures on the printout covered text!  At least it wasn’t on the part with my information.

I still believe we ain’t seen nothin’ yet on the benefits of technology, but whatever happened to WYSIWYG?  What you see is what you get!

Even with over fifty years of computer experience, Mel feels he is falling farther and farther behind.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tech support gives complex solution; wife gives simple solution

In my article “Technology is great, technology grates” which will be published in the Weekly Reader of Duluth this week, I mention the difficulties that I had with my Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio for my iPad.  The return key didn’t always work.  From Logitech I either got a bureaucratic response from level I support or the advice to reset my iPad.  From my wife I got a much simpler solution.

My email today to Logitech follows:

Earlier this year and again a few weeks ago, I asked what could be done about a return key that didn't work on my Solar Keyboard Folio.  The most concrete advice that I received was to reset my iPad.

I did so both times.  When I did so the last time, I lost a lot of data and settings.  After this last reset, the return key often worked only after I pounded it a few times.  It also seemed to get worse.

My wife suggested that maybe there was debris under it.

Today I took her advice and gave the return key several blasts with a gas duster.

The return key has been working fine every time I used it in this email.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Government too big or too little? Make up your mind!

Republicans seem to be at the forefront in complaining about "big government".  Then they turn around and complain about the Federal government not doing enough.

The attack ads and phone calls from Republicans are overwhelming about the overreach of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare),  Among their statements are the Federal government should not be between you and your doctor.

Now Republicans in Congress are complaining that the Federal government is not doing enough about ebola.  In other words, the Federal government should get between ebola patients and their doctors.

See "Congress Scrutinizes Handling of Ebola Cases in Texas", New York Times, 2014-10-16.

Hunter, know your ground!

’Tis the season for blam, blam, and blam from an unknown distance.  Is it on my cabin property or is it on Forest Service land?  It may be a nuisance on Forest Service land, but I have no right to stop people from hunting there.

Unfortunately, there are a few hunters who think they have the right to shoot from wherever they please.  Some years ago, a hunter shot right down our driveway with a red pickup clearly visible.

A couple of years ago, a pair of hunters shot from the road into our property, entering ten feet from a “No Trespassing” sign, about 100 feet from an occupied building on the opposite side of the road, and less than 500 feet from our cabin.

Last year a pair of hunters shot into our property within 500 feet of our cabin and less than 100 feet from a cabin on the other side of the road.

I guess they have other priorities than knowing the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hunting regulations:
On another person’s private land or a public right-of-way, a person may not discharge a firearm within 500 feet of a building occupied by humans or livestock without permission.
It seems some bird hunters are more prone to ignore “property rights” than deer hunters.  Many bird hunters cruise the roads looking for likely spots along the road and pay no attention to land use. 

Many deer hunters occupy a stand and know exactly where they are.  In fact, some of my deer hunter friends do not think much of bird hunters.  Even if they hunt birds themselves, they have disdain for bird hunters who don’t respect property rights.

We’ve always assumed that we had to post our land with “No Trespassing” or “No Hunting” signs.  We’ve found it annoying and time consuming.  Why should we have to post our land?  Shouldn’t the hunters know where they are hunting?

Many counties have plat maps available.  St. Louis County had KMZ files that one could overlay on Google Earth.  The KMZ files contain the property information for every parcel in the county.  Now St. Louis county has gone one step further and has all this information online with Google Earth maps.  See  With this you can “fly” to any area of the county and know which land is private, county, state, or federal.  If you have a computer, there is no excuse for not knowing where you are hunting.

Carlton and Lake Counties have information by parcel, but you need a street address to find this information.  See

You can also get public hunting maps from major sports retailers.

The DNR regulations are a bit ambiguous.  The 2014 regulations state:

“Always ask permission before entering private land. Any entry onto the private property of another without permission is considered trespass.  Land owners may be able to pursue court action against trespassers whether the property is posted or not.”

Two notable exceptions are that a hunter may enter land that is not posted to retrieve a wounded animal or to retrieve a hunting dog.  In the latter case the hunter may not carry a firearm.  In both cases the hunter must be on foot.

But then after the second suggestion that hunters always ask permission to enter non-posted lands, the regulations state the requirements for posting!  Signs must be posted every year, must have letters of a certain height, have landowner name or signature, and be posted at certain intervals.  The intervals are at the corner of every parcel and in wooded areas every 500 feet or less.  But if some hunters ignore signs, why even bother?

Those who ignore property lines or “No Trespassing” signs should be lucky they don’t live in a “Stand your ground” state.  Consider that a cranky old man is sitting with a shotgun hidden among the trees, just waiting for you to step from the road.  Blam!  You’re dead!  Does the cranky old man even have to to be in a “Stand your ground” state?  A sympathetic jury may consider his actions self-defense.

To end on a positive note;

I don’t eat meat anymore, and when I did, I considered hunting an expensive way to get meat.  Others disagree and enjoy hunting, fishing, and the food it gives them.  If you are one of these people, if you know where you are, and if you have permission to hunt there, may you have a good hunting season.  May you get your limit in the time you want to spend.  May you enjoy each meal from your hunting.

Mel can’t complain too much about noise:  He does operate noisy equipment.  But so do his neighbors and all know where the sound is coming from.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Cost of government vs value of government

Too many people complain about the cost of government and the level of taxation, but they never look at any actions of government being investments.

Where would they get enough educated workers without government-provided schools?  Would enough parents or individuals have the time or money needed for the level of education required by many businesses?

How would they get the roads to move goods from manufacturer to warehouse to user?  Would they want to pay tolls for each segment of road, including local roads.

What would our health be without food inspection?  Maybe the food producer thinks regulations are burdensome, but what about the burden on employers who have many employees absent with food-borne illnesses.

Maybe factories think safety regulations are burdensome, but what would their costs be in reduced workforces and lawsuits?

The basic question is shall we have a society of maximum gain for a few or a society that provides for the “general Welfare” as stated in the Constitution.

Or, too many people know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

For a much better consideration of this, see “Our mismeasured economy”, Lew Daly, New York Times, 2014-07-06.

Programmer, heal thyself

The New York Times recently had a link to the Wired story, “Why the New Obamacare Website is Going to Work This Time” by Steven Levy, originally published in the June issue of Wired.  Levy almost gushes how the Ad Hoc team, a small group of young programmers from Silicon Valley and President Obama’s election campaign, greatly simplified the Website.  “[T]hey worked 80-hour weeks to salvage the botched creation of thousands of technocrats employed by 55 different contractors,”

Duh!  A small team can make breakthroughs that a large group cannot.  Think of the original Macintosh team, much smaller and squirreled away in a small building away from all those working on Apple II software.

IBM trumpeted it had a thousand programmers in seven cities on OS 360.  We in Univac smirked that we had less than 40 programmers working in one city on EXEC I.  Even then a contractor built a leaner OS (EXEC II) to build and test the FORTRAN and COBOL compilers they had contracted to build.  EXEC II was much more popular among customers than EXEC I and even its successor EXEC 8.

Making deadlines?  Hah!  We were always shifting ship dates later.

What I wonder is if these same programmers from private industry are so great, why are software “user community” boards so filled with questions, often unanswered?  If these programmers are so great, why are reviews often mixed, some love the program, others hate it.

Way back in the 80s when the Macintosh was the latest “hot thing”, I was eager to get the latest version of the software and found the enhancements great.  Thirty years later, I am reluctant to move up to a major new release.  To often things that worked fine are changed to something that is more difficult to use or doesn’t even work anymore.

With each generation it seems that programs run slower and slower.  Maybe it’s because I’m using a three-year-old Mac with one-year-old software.  I have found suggestions for “cleaning up the system”, but they involve a whole day of backing up data and then another day of creating a “clean install” disc and actually running it.

Consistency of design often seems to be lacking.  If my iPhone is asleep and I get a call, the screen only gives me the option of swiping to accept the call.  However, if my iPhone is active, the screen gives me the choice of accepting or rejecting the call.  Buried in the instruction manual, or was it in the “user community”, in the first case I can reject the call by holding the sleep button and the home button at the same time.  Only a bureaucracy would allow different actions for the same result.

In one of the recent releases, certain buttons may or may not appear for starting and stopping a podcast.  The intent is to have a right-pointing triangle to start or resume a podcast and a double bar to momentarily stop it.  When these symbols suddenly started disappearing, I was glad that I knew where they were supposed to be.  And I have no idea why these buttons sometime appear and sometime don’t.

I have a new problem to research: why does the return button no longer work on my Logitech Solar Keyboard folio for my iPad?  I’ll have to set aside some time to check out the Logitech community about this.

I love all this technology because of all it does for me.  I can write this column on my laptop and email it to the Reader.  I can keep notes and to-do lists on my laptop, phone, and iPad and keep them synched.  I can call my wife from the grocery store to remind me what it was she wanted.  I can use my iPhone as a hot spot at our cabin to write and email this column.

BTW, I’m not writing this at our cabin as planned because another simple technology became an irritation.  Our smoke alarm started going off randomly.  Sometimes it would beep and beep, sometimes it would only give off one set of beeps.  I had a lousy night Saturday night!  Could it be too much moisture in the small tight cabin?  Well, I brought the alarm home, closed the battery compartment, and put it on the bed.  Within twenty minutes it gave off a single set of beeps.  We bought the seven-year warranty alarm in March!

Much is made about about government bureaucracy and corporate efficiency, but corporate bureaucracy in GM led to many deaths because of faulty ignition switches.

To err is human, but to really screw up it takes a computer.  Humans and computers are both in corporations and governments.

Mel considers himself perfect; he never makes mistakes.  Oops, the computer won’t let him misspell mistakes as “misteaks!

Also published in the Reader Weekly, 2014-10-09 at

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Constitution á la carte

“Á la carte” is French for “from the menu”.  It means that one chooses various items from the menu rather than being offered a complete meal chosen by the chef.  It seems to me that the writers of the U.S. Constitution provided us a complete meal for governance, but we all seem to pick and choose what we want from the Constitution and ignore much of the rest, even going so far as to go against the intent of the writers.

Let’s start at the beginning: “We the people…”  Just who are “the people”?  The word “people” is used just twice in the original constitution: in the opening and in Article I, Section 2.  In the latter “the People of the several States” choose the Representatives.  The “electors”, presumably of the people, are defined by state law.  Interesting, the Constitution doesn’t prohibit women from voting.  But considering that states had laws allowing only men to vote, then the Constitution indirectly prohibits women from voting.

Another prominent noun is “person”, again without gender stipulation.  All of the uses assume a single human individual, free or otherwise.  For census purposes the qualification “free” is added.  So, although the States didn’t allow women the vote, did they allow free Blacks and Indians taxed to vote?  The Constitution is mute on this.

The sticking point nowadays is the use of “people” and “persons” in the Bill of Rights.  The “people” can peaceably assemble, bear arms, “be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects”, retain rights not enumerated, and have powers not in the Constitution or “prohibited by the States.”

We seem to have a real “á la carte” on these amendments.

Some think peaceably assemble means they can have marches or demonstrations that block entire streets.  Others think that a small group of people, especially Blacks, is not a peaceable assembly.  The Twin Cities has a case that assumes one person sitting on a publicly-accessible chair is not peaceable assembly.

Bearing arms has been a contentious issue for ages, but most Supreme Court cases until at least 1939 interpreted it as militia-related and not personal.  After all, it is a right of the people, not of persons.  Now there are persons who insist that they have a right to have a gun wherever they feel like.  Interesting, that there were lots of sheriffs and marshals who made gun toters check in their guns while in town.

Many Southern States conveniently overlooked and resisted the Federal authority to override state laws regarding “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Election for … Representatives.”  See Article I, Section 4.

Many complain about federal regulation, but Article I, Section 8, leaves two questions wide open.  “The Congress have have the power to lay and collect Taxes…and provide for the … general Welfare of the United States.”  Are a highway system, an air traffic control system, and clean air and water “general Welfare”?  There seem to be many who think clean air and water are over-regulation.  Some of these same people want to have an extensive highway network to move themselves or goods, but they don’t want Congress to “lay and collect Taxes” for them.

One of the current ironies is that the Postmaster General is trying to overturn Congress’ responsibility “to Establish Post Offices”.  Is getting a Netflix DVD the next day a Constitutional right?  It is ironic that the Postmaster General’s actions are an attempt to promote corporate interests over public interest but that one large competitor to the Postal Service depends on USPS for the “last mile”.  UPS sends many small packages for the “last mile” via USPS.  Can you imagine UPS stopping every two blocks or so to distribute a package that fits in the mail box?

Some corporate interests are working overtime to redefine “limited time” for “exclusive Right to “Writings and Discoveries”  They hope to retain film and book rights forever long, long after the creators have died.  I can see a family retaining the rights but not for generation after generation.  I remember that some decades ago the Verdi family lost the rights to royalties for Verdi’s operas and other works.

Has Congress abandoned the spirit of no appropriation for Armies should be for longer than two years?  This was written because the writers of the Constitution disliked standing armies.  Not only do we have a standing army but a globe-straddling army.  I am glad that all the signers of the Constitution are not buried in the same place; the spinning in graves would be deafening.

Their backup plan was the state Militias which “may be employed in the Service of the United States.”  Many may complain about the multiple deployments of the National Guards, but they are Constitutional.

On the other hand, Congress was “To provide and maintain a Navy”.  It apparently doesn’t have the appropriation limitations that the Armies have.  After all, the Navy has to support Congress’ power to “punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas”.  Does this also apply above the high seas?

All of the above is mostly my opinion and interpretation of the Constitution.  I tried to frame most of it as questions rather than fixed-in-stone assertions.  Unfortunately, there are those who believe they can deduce the Founder’s intent by reading the Constitution.  Sorry, but consider all the words written in the Federalist Papers to “sell” the Constitution.  Also consider how few Supreme Court cases are decided by unanimous opinions.  These are judges who have spent life-times studying the Constitution.

Mel has long been fascinated by rules and regulations, and like many others, tries to interpret them to his advantage.

Also posted to the Reader Weekly, 2014-10-02.

See also
"Foreign policy foreign to founders"
"Constitution, Rights, and secretive Congress"
"Quote of the day: Stealing the Constitution"
"The right to bear Canons"