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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday Slowly

What comes around...

Dagmar and I set aside a certain amount of moolah every month to simply give away. Sometimes the money goes to a charity, sometimes to a friend in need, sometimes it's split up into several smaller donations, sometimes it goes to a complete stranger. It's not a lot of money, but hopefully it helps someone somewhere sometime.

Yesterday that very same amount of moolah came back to us in the mail from a very nice family we know. It feels like the cosmos are smiling... The money came just in time to help someone else.

Ow! Ow! Ow!

We bought some of those healthy organic "Vinegar and Sea Salt" chips yesterday. Man, those things will twist your face all up! Holy buckets!

Really? I didn't know that.

Pet peeve #4,629: television shows that repeat themselves constantly.

I watch a lot of Discovery, Science and History Channel stuff, and I've noticed a trend... Not only will they show you the same three-second clip 72 times in a one-hour show, but they repeat themselves before and after each commercial.

An example would be Mythbusters. They will use approximately 92 minutes of the 60 minute show explaining that "Jamie and Adam are now going to ride a buffalo off a cliff to see if buffalo really have wings," and that "Last we saw Jamie and Adam they were riding a buffalo off a cliff..." and "This week we explore whether buffalo have wings by having Jamie and Adam ride one off a cliff..." It gets to the point where there's really only 20 minutes of substance and 40 minutes of hearing and seeing the same thing over and over and over again.

Are we really so dense that we need to be told constantly what we're watching? I thought these were supposed to be the "smart" channels. (Of course it's hard to tell what you're watching, actually, because they have so much crap at the bottom of the screen that you can't see the show...)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thank Goodness it's Friday! Oh... What? Oh.

Random Thought #1
It's 5:48 a.m. That's like, in the morning, when Micky Mouse's little hand is pointing to the
"five" and his big hand is giving you a rude gesture. I've been working on updating a web site for the last hour or so, sitting here huddled over a lukewarm cup of instant coffee, dreaming of riding my motorcycle around the countryside.

I'm also listening to the snow and sleet rattle off the window next to me.

Do you think Mr. Snow Miser realizes that it's gonna be April next week? Has anyone told him that we're supposed to be in the 50's and 60's by now -- NOT the 20's and 30's?

Mr. Snow Miser came to visit on Halloween and never left. No offense, Mr. Miser, but golly, it's time for you to go home... Please. No, really. Go.

Random Thought #2
8:30 a.m.; I've been at my lousy stinky rotten day job for half an hour now.

I'm gonna get in trouble for saying this (my wife is more private than I and doesn't like me sharing such things), but Dagmar's been terribly ill lately, and I'm worried about her. I hate leaving her home alone when she's ailing, but my bosses insist that work is more important than my wife. (I shouldn't say such things, but I'm having a hard time not being resentful today.)

Random Thought #3
9:20 a.m.; A good song just came on the radio (I listen to Pandora.com at work sometimes). "The voice sounds familiar," I thought. "I love the melody. Way cheesy keyboard though, I'm surprised they let that in the recording without running it through an EQ, or at least turning the velocity down on the board..." Turns out it was a Buddy Holly song I'd never heard ("Take Your Time"). They probably recorded the thing with one microphone dangling in the middle of the room or something -- no wonder the keys sounded odd. The other big surprise is that there's a Buddy Holly song I'd never heard. I bet it was on the flip side of a record I had as a kid and I just never listened to it, being all entranced by whatever was on the "A" side. (And no, I'm not THAT old -- I just led a sheltered life.)

And, strangely enough, the song before it was a Foo Fighters thing, and the song after was something by Ozzie. I'm trying to figure out what the three have in common...

Random Thought #4
10:50 a.m.; Whoohoo! An e-mail! Human contact! Aw crud, it was junk mail.

Random Thought #5
11:04 a.m.; Two musical thoughts: Frank Zappa plays everything really really fast on his live albums and it scares me. Observation two: Have you ever noticed that the only real difference (sonically) between Dire Straits and Pink Floyd is the amount of reverb on the instruments? I've always liked both bands, mostly for the "deep" sound and quality mix (I could care less what they're singing about; to be honest I kinda wish they didn't sing at all -- it gets in the way of the instruments), but I never really noticed that the mix is nearly identical for both bands -- a nice bass tone, good reverb, and clean percussion. Huh.

Random Thought #6
11:32 a.m.; I've lost all interest in work. All I wanna do is go home and see Dagmar and work on my freelance stuff. I'm down to the "sitting and staring" stage. Must be time for lunch, I guess.

Random Thought #7
1:20 p.m.; Took an hour lunch, have been doing my impersonation of a slack-jawed gawker for the last hour, staring at my computer, vacantly.

You know, much as I like Rush, Geddy Lee still sounds like an angry muppet to me. He's a helluva bassist, but his voice is a bit startling, especially when you're not expecting it. Here's a 1975 video of Rush. They were about 20 or 21 at the time...

Oh, and I've decided that today I like Dire Straits better than Pink Floyd.

The other day I noticed Sioux City smelled odd. Worse than usual. Turns out our 5th District Representative and high school graduate, Mr. Steve Arnold King, was in town that day. Mr. King wants to make cock-fighting legal in Iowa. He got up in front of Congress one day with a toy model of a wall and asked our government to give Mr. King, his son, and his neighbor $1.5 million a mile to build a 400+ mile wall between the United States and Mexico. Then he said they could string electric wire on the top of the wall -- "we do it with cattle all the time." I guess I always thought Hispanics were human beings... Just lately he said that we shouldn't vote for Senator Barack Obama because of his middle name. Strong words for a man named after America's best known traitor. I find the man's politics disagreeable, I think he relies on creating fear to get himself re-elected, and I plan on voting for Rob Hubler in the fall. Unlike King, Hubler is a college graduate (politics, philosophy and divinity), a veteran (he served in the Navy during the Vietnam era and graduated from the Navy's Nuclear Power School), and is a minister to boot.

Random Thought #8
2:55 p.m.; To say I'm having trouble focusing on my work would be an understatement. I think I have a popcorn hull stuck in my teeth. It's maddening. Maddening.

Random Thought #9
3:49 p.m.; Ooh! An e-mail! Contact with humanity! Yay! Oh crud... more junk. I did get a message from my sister earlier today. It made me feel slightly less lonely.

Just over an hour to go until I can go home to check on my beloved Austrian Snowflake and get back to work on my freelance projects. The problem is that after getting up at 4:30 to start working on the computer, then working on another computer from eight to five, well, it's kinda hard to be motivated to go home and work on the computer some more -- even though those are MY customers. I enjoy the work I do at home, but I'm getting tired. The work's gotta be done, though. I need a weekend. Not to relax, but just a good two-day stretch where I only have to work one job instead of two. Whine whine whine.

The ballast in the fluorescent light above my desk burned out about a month ago. I've been sitting in the dark ever since. I can't convince the boss to fix it. I wish I had a lamp.

Random Thought #10
5:11 p.m.; Home now, wearing my happy pants. Dagmar's still feeling ill, watching German movies in the other room. I hugged her tight. Back at the computer now... Why does the cat always wanna sit in my lap when I have things to do?

Random Thought #11
6:20 p.m.; The hell with it. I'm gonna take a break and eat. I am, after all, not nearly pudgy enough already. (I'm going by the theory that if your age is greater than your waistline you're okay. Pass the M&M's please.)

I'm waiting for the day I find myself dipping M&M's in melted butter. It's gonna happen.

Random Thought #12
6:40 p.m.; Hey, when did all the TV stations start covering their screens in logos and promos for the next show and crawlers telling me all sorts of stuff I don't need to know? This is really starting to bug me -- it's getting to the point where there's always something hopping up and down in the corner of the screen... It's hard to watch the show I WANT to watch.

Think maybe we can all band together and send in a petition or something? I think I might write 'em a letter.

"Dear Television Executive: This whole thing about having six logos and a bouncy thing on the TV screen makes me feel frantic and upset. I'll make you a deal -- you tell your people to stop cluttering up my screen and I'll see what I can do about these voices in my head that are telling me to go pay you a visit in person..."

Oops, soup's done. Gotta eat now.

Random Thought #13
7:16 p.m.; Back at the computer. I'm feeling really chained to this thing. I wish I could go ride the bike or take some photos or something. Oh well. Work's gotta be done.

Random Thought #14
9:12 p.m.; The hell with it. I'm gonna go take a nap. My cat just bit me, the big dummy. Good night everyone.

Random Thought #15
4:11 a.m.; Time to start over. Hello computer, hello work...

Monday, March 24, 2008

In Circles We Go

Thought #1
Hey, two people said they like this "random thought" kinda thing. Since two people constitutes a majority, kind of, if you squint a little, I'll blog like this once in a while. It's convenient for me, since I'm having trouble finding time to sit and write...

Thought #2
My pal with the cancer is hoping to make it back to Texas to visit his family there before it's too late. The Legion Riders are gonna be taking donations to try to get him back there... (He's one of our members.) He told us a few weeks ago the cancer had come back, but I was pretty surprised to hear how fast it's growing...

Thought #3
I got my bike outta storage! WHEEEE! I got to ride all of about five miles at lunch today, dressed head-to-toe in leather. It's cold out there. And I'm a wuss. But even if I can't ride for another week or two, it feels good to have the bike back in my garage where it belongs.

I always feel bad, though, if I leave it parked for too long. It just sorta sits there, staring morosely at the wall... Maybe I should hang a nice Escher print on the wall in front of it to give it something to look at on chilly days.

Oh, the reason why I'm so sure I won't be able to ride for a few weeks? Simple. By my utterance of the magical words "Hello, bike shop? I'd like to get my bike out of storage today," I have doomed this section of the nation to a minimum of three weeks' crappy weather. It works every time.

Thought #4
I had a bad dream the other day. (I only dream during the day, you know. I'm one of those hypochondrioinsomniacs or whatever. When I'm tired enough to sleep at night I'm too tired to dream.) Anyway, I was running from the monster and I was in a really really big house that was about eight stories tall and had lots of stairs... and I lost my billfold. The monster immediately ate my billfold and then split into two parts -- one part credit card executive and one part insurance agent. The two of 'em chased me around and around, slowly chopping off whatever bits and pieces of me they could reach until all I was was three toes and a head, trying vainly to roll away from them. (The symbolism is obscure. I'm still trying to figure it out.)

So today I have a new billfold. One with a chain on it that hooks to my belt. I ain't having THAT dream again.

Now just you watch -- my next dream will end with my billfold falling out of my pocket and dangling from its chain until it tangles around my legs, thus causing me to trip and get eaten by the credit card monster that chases me.

Thought #5
Is it fat in here, or is it just me?

Thought #6
I just heard on the news that an airline pilot lost control of his firearm in midflight and managed to shoot his own airplane for no apparent reason.

Now, I've struggled with "the right to keep and bear arms" for quite a while. I grew up in a rural community where just about everyone has a couple shotguns and hunting rifles hanging around the house. My dad gave me my first shotgun when I was, geeze, eight or ten years old, maybe. I also have military training, and many of my friends are veterans. I have no problem letting these people own firearms, as the farmers use them only to hunt with, and veterans don't take guns or gun ownership lightly -- they've seen what a bullet can do.

But gosh, I really don't want EVERYONE to have access to firearms! I mean, the gangbanging idiot down the street who can't figure out how to pull his pants up -- him I don't want shooting anything at anything. Nor do I want the little old lady down the street to shoot herself in the foot with her own gun trying to defend herself against the hoodlums. So it's a conundrum.

Let's try this on for size and see if it fits... How about we make it so that you must get licensed to carry a firearm. To get the license you have to take a class and pass both written and shooting tests. Once you pass, yay! you can carry a firearm (or a member of the class of firearms for which you've been tested). Every four years you have to go back and get your license renewed, AND take the tests again. Let's make the penalty for carrying an unlicensed gun severe enough that it would truly deter people from skipping the process -- say, twenty years of labor in the wind turbine factory or something.

I know, I know... it's a pain in the backside to renew constantly. But the advantages would outweigh the inconvenience, at least to me. The waiting period to buy guns would still be in effect, as would the background checks, but I like the idea of people having to go back every few years in person to renew their license. It keeps people trained in firearm usage (I haven't fired a shot in over six or seven years -- I'd like to have a refresher course myself before I go target shooting again), it reminds people that firearm ownership is a heavy responsibility, AND it gives the clerk at the testing station a chance to look you in the eye to see if you've got that whacky gleam in your eye that forebodes something bad happening at the post office tomorrow.

It's just a thought... Oh, Wait! I just had another! How's this one? You EARN the right to own a firearm -- the only people who can carry a weapon are those trained to by the government. You must either be active duty military or police, or have an Honorable Discharge to own a firearm. You still gotta get licensed and renew the license and all that happy stuff I outlined above... Maybe that'd work...?

Okay, I'll quit thinking now. Maybe.

Thought #6
A buddy o' mine sent me a story the other day, one of those where the religious student makes a fool of the atheist professor. It was actually kind of a neat story, and I did like the philosophical meanderings they went through to get to the point where "there is no evil, just the absence of good." Anyway, in a post-reading-the-story discussion with yet another buddy o' mine (didn't know I had two buddies, did you?) I mentioned that the only problem I had was that the story put higher education in a bad light. There's too much ignorance in the world -- the last thing we need is people assuming education is a bad thing... Or that education will lead to Godlessness. Or making a virtue of ignorance and stupidity.

At a glance through history, it seems that both Christianity and Islam has, throughout the ages, tried to either control education or ban it outright. This seems to me to be a fairly transparent ploy to gain and retain power. And it's easy to do -- all you need to do is tell believers that education will strip them of their beliefs and they'll go to hell (or the equivalent) if they read a certain book or go on to higher learning. And that's too bad -- look where that path has led the fundamental Islamic countries. Christianity has been there as well, just look at the "dark ages."

The last few days I've seen this sort of thinking (or lack thereof) numerous times. I even saw a comedian, Ralphie May, talk about it on TV. His routine was based around the premise that society has been trying to make ourselves stupider through drugs and alcohol for years in order to try to prove the old "ignorance is bliss" adage. "Wanna 'nother six-pack of dumb-dumb?"

Do we really want to do this to ourselves? I posit the belief that higher education is NOT the enemy of religion, nor is willful ignorance something to be proud of, as seems the case in some facets of today's society. By downplaying the importance of education we're putting America at risk in many ways.

Oops, time to go home. Later!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

More Burblings

Yet more randomness...

Usually when I blog I like to sit down and hold only a thought long enough to at least finish the sentence I'm on, but I've not been able to do that recently for a variety of reasons. Yesterday I just kinda kept Blogger sitting on a corner of my desktop all day and jotted down whatever caught my interest. It worked well, sorta, so I'm gonna do that again today. Lucky you.

Random Thought #1:
If they told Florida and Michigan their votes wouldn't count if they moved their primaries up, why do Florida and Michigan suddenly feel jilted. It was their decision, and they knew the consequences of their actions when they made their decision. Be adults. Take responsibility. You broke the rules, now you have to pay the consequences.

The big sillies.

Random Thought #2:
Are chipmunks bigger than Smurfs? I wonder if they ever get into territorial battles.

Random Thought #3:
Just heard bad news about a friend with cancer. Three months, maybe six? That's not long enough. I'm having trouble not crying. Hope there's time for one more ride through the hills before you go...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Utterly Random Thoughts

Things That Have Crossed My Mind Lately

Random Thought #1:
Senator Barack Obama gave a speech yesterday. Jon Stewart on the Daily Show pretty much nailed it when he said something like: "A historical day. Tuesday, 11 a.m. Eastern daylight time, a prominent politician talked to the American people about race as if we're adults."

There are several video clips HERE that are worth watching.

Random Thought #2
I want one of these wind turbines to put on my house. I'm grumpy that I have three minutes to look at their web site and I can't find any prices. I want three, actually -- two to power my house and one on my garage to power my (as yet mythical) plug-in hybrid car. In fact, why don't hybrid cars come with wind turbines -- kind of a package deal. You buy the car and some guy comes and installs a wind turbine on your garage.

Random Thought #3
Try as I might, I just don't have time for that FacePlace or FaceBook or whatever it's called. I set up a little page in there because someone told me it was a neat thing to do. I suppose it is, but I get requests all the time to log in to MyFace or FaceSpace or whatever it's called because "so-and-so poked you" or "so-and-so wrote on your wall." It's all fun stuff, really it is, but I just don't have time for it. I'm too busy ranting about being busy.

Random Thought #4
Why do people bring things to a print shop they don't want printed? Example -- I got an e-mail today saying, "Here's a photo for the newsletter. Ignore the other five attached photos, and the three small animated GIF's attached to my e-mail. All you need is PCD847312." Five minutes later, "Please ignore my last message. Use PCD847313 instead, and ignore PDC8747311 and PDC8747317, which are also attached to this message."

Why not just send me THE ONE PHOTO YOU WANT ME TO USE? No. Instead send me 42 nearly identical photos with nearly identical file names, then holler at me when I get the wrong one in your newsletter and demand that we only charge you half price.

Another customer sent me six identical files with different file names. I called to ask if they really wanted us to print 575,000 (or whatever) copies of all six files. "Oh, no. They're all the same. I just thought you'd like extra copies in case one didn't work." They came THIS close to having their order multiplied by six, and of course they'd reject the other 2,875,000 copies (in full color of course) and would refuse to pay for them, at which point my boss would turn red and I'd get hollered at.

Random Thought #5
Arthur C. Clarke died yesterday at the age of 90. He's the one that wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey and about a zillion other science fiction books, but more importantly he's the one that conceptualized how a satellite in geosynchronous orbit might be used as a communication device. (That's when you place an object in an orbit such that it falls around the earth at the same rate the earth rotates, thus appearing motionless in the sky -- perfect if you want to point a satellite dish at it.) Please note that he had this all figured out on paper in 1945 -- twelve years before the Soviets launched Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the Earth. It was the 1960s before Clarke's computations were proven and the first telecommunication satellite was launched in what is now known as a "Clarke Orbit."

Not only was he a well-known science-fiction writer and theoretical physicist, but he served in the Royal Air Force in World War II, had degrees in math and physics, ran his own scuba school in Sri Lanka, and was active in underwater exploration.

The world needs more thinkers like Clarke.

Random Thought #6
Why does beer taste better in a bar than at home?

Random Thought #7
When the drought hits, will anyone remember that it was Carter that put solar panels on the White House and Reagan that took them back off? Will anyone remember that Clinton warned of the impending oil and environment crisis and that Bush did nothing? Does anyone remember that the United States Government had a massive surplus at the end of the Clinton era, and that prosperity ruled the land? Does anyone know how much money $3 trillion really is -- that's how much the War in Iraq has cost us. Our government has, in the last seven years, spent our money so fast it makes my head spin. And now it's time to pay the piper -- us taxpayers owe a LOT of money for what our government has been doing, and the bill will come due. Whomever wins the next election is, unfortunately, going to get blamed for a lot of stuff our current administration is doing -- AND we still have terrorists to catch... And our bridges are falling due to lack of funding. And the homeless and poverty rates are too high. And our educational system is faltering. And our health care system is losing ground. And it's too expensive to get treatment. And, and, and...

There are a lot of problems to be fixed.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Very Interesting Day

Elk, Eagles and Garbage

It was an interesting day. After work Dagmar and I tootled ten miles north to a park we frequent. We like to go look at the elk. We like to think the elk like to look at us, too, but they're probably just bored. As we were playing with the elk I happened to look over my shoulder to see a bald eagle soaring overhead. I got lots of blurry pictures. (If you want to see them a bit larger, you can go HERE.)

So we thought that was way cool and went home. As we walked from the car to the house Dagmar started picking up some soggy garbage that was laying in our yard. After she'd gathered a handful she went to dump it in the garbage. "How odd," she said when she came back around front. "Ve have dat green garbage can ve never use -- the top had blown open, so I vent to close it und there's a purse in it."

How odd indeed.

So I called the police and they sent a nice policewoman over who very patiently went through the garbage... Turns out the purse had been stolen somewhere across town last November. The thief probably dumped it in our "spare" garbage can months ago, where it's patiently sat waiting for someone to notice it... The policelady was really nice. I hope they find the thief, though the odds are pretty slim they will.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's all so simple

What we oughta do...

This being an election year and all, a lot of people are talking about what ought to be done to fix the problems and myriad woes that face our fair country. I have some ideas of my own.

1. Either regulate or ban insurance, one or the other.

I don't know why they call it "insurance" when it really isn't. They should call it "excuses." There should oughta be a law that in order to call what you're selling "insurance," you must actually insure something -- not just take people's money in exchange for a buttload of excuses buried in fine print. That's always bugged me, but my main problem with insurance in America is the level of control they have over people's lives, and the stranglehold they have on our government. Insurance companies are, to a large degree, ruining the financial fabric of the United States.

Here's an example of what I'm babbling about... People around here often have two jobs -- one for the income and one to pay for health insurance. Health insurance can easily run $800 a month, provided you've never been sick. So you pay that money (for me, that would be two week's take-home pay) to the insurance company every month for years...

Then you get sick. You go to the doctor with a pain in your side. What's the first thing they do? Make you comfortable? Ask you what's wrong? No. The first thing they do, before they even ask for your name, is to ask about your insurance. Once you get the paperwork filled out you finally get to take your pain to the doctor. After examining you, the doctor decides the best thing to do is to operate and take what's paining you out.

Great! You get to be fixed -- the pain will be gone! But wait... First the doctor has to call a person in a cubicle thousands of miles away to ask permission to do the procedure. The insurance companies, you see, tell the doctors what they can and can't do. If the nameless insurance agent in Atlanta tells your doctor that your symptoms do, indeed, warrant a procedure, the insurance company will then tell the hospital how long you can stay in their care and what kinds of drugs you can take.

So we expect our doctors to be highly trained, well educated people with the best judgment available -- and we pay them a ton of money for their skill -- only to have an insurance agent with a high-school diploma telling the doctor what to do.

This should oughta be illegal.

Try this on for size -- a new law I just made up myself. If you pay the insurance company, they must, by law, COVER YOU -- no matter what the doctor prescribes or does. It is the doctor, after all, who has the medical training -- why not let him decide what's best for the patient? If you pay the insurance company for medical insurance, the insurance company has to insure you. No pussy-footing around.

"But the insurance companies will lose money if they have to pay for everyone's medical bills." No. They can save money by firing half their staff -- the half that they pay now to come up with excuses why they aren't responsible for paying.

Let's take this a bit further. Let's make it illegal for insurance companies to wiggle. Let's give them one page to explain their policy in plain English. The rule is that your average junior-high student should be able to understand the contract and it must fit on one page (with the type set at 12-point so you can read it easily). If you buy insurance for your motorcycle, the insurance company must then insure your motorcycle -- no matter what happens to it. If the neighbor's kid whangs it with a baseball bat, you're insured. If the tornado hits your garage, you're covered. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Okay, now just a little bit further. Let's make it illegal for the insurance companies to make more than a certain amount of profit. The thought of someone living in pain because the insurance companies won't cover them, or have already taken all their money, while the CEO of that same insurance company makes $12 million a year -- well, that makes me sick.

Let's outlaw, as much as we can, corporate greed in the insurance companies. These should be compassionate corporations, not greedy, bloated money mills.

Think of how nice it would be if you could go to the doctor and be secure in the knowledge that you'll be treated. Or that if you're in an auto accident your insurance company will actually cover the cost of repairing your car. Think of how it would be if half your income didn't go towards corporate greed.

Our health-care system isn't broken, but it's really, really sick. Its arteries are clogged with the accumulated crud of the bloated insurance industry. If we don't watch out, it's going to die of its own greed.

2. Election reform.

This is getting to the point of stupidity. We, as the United States of America, bastion of freedom, defenders of democracy, cannot hold a fair election. It's getting ridiculous.

New law I just made up -- all elections, all ballots, all polling places will be run the same way everywhere in the United States, and all elections shall be monitored and witnessed by the United Nations. Let's pick one method and stick with it -- no hanging chads in Florida whilst people in Iowa struggle to draw circles and arrows in one county while the neighboring county has some pushbutton device while California has touch-screens.

Let's pick one method, and let's realize that no method will be perfect. If it were me, I'd go with touch screens with receipts and hard copies.

Again, my law of "it's gotta be written in plain English" applies. No legalese allowed.

Voting in my world shall take place over a two-day period starting at 6 a.m. Friday morning and continuing on to 10 p.m. Saturday night. That should be enough time for just about everyone to get to the polls regardless of what shift they work, will eliminate the long lines, and will lessen the factor weather will have on turnout. The press shall have full coverage and full access to every polling site, but they will not be allowed to report anything until after the last polls close in Hawaii Saturday night.

Some people are emotionally bound to the caucus rather than a straight primary, but I really think that the primaries should be held over a two-day period just as described above -- none of this six-month-long primary with states jostling for position... If you want to have a town-meeting style caucus, that's fine -- do that to elect the sheriff if you want, but not in national elections.

The electoral college shall hereby be disbanded. Lets go with the popular vote, dammit. One person, one vote. Simple? Thought so.

National elections have identical rules in every state. That's another new law I just made up. A candidate from ANY party should be allowed on the ballot nationwide if he meets certain non-monetary requirements -- say, 50,000 signatures. When a candidate meets the requirements to get on the ballot, the government hands him, oh, $25 million to use for his campaign. This money can be used ONLY for the campaign, and candidates are not allowed to take any other money for their campaign from any source whatsoever. In other words, all candidates start on equal footing, no matter what their party, no matter who their parents were, no matter what. They all have the same financial resources to mount their campaign. May the person who handles it the best win. No person, organization or corporation can simply "buy" a candidate.

Elected officials shall be paid the median income for their constituency, and will get the same benefits. If we have to live on peanuts, so do they. If we only get one weeks vacation after working with the company for two years, that's what they get. Fair's fair, ain't it?

Oh well. It's my dream world.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Bright-Eyed and Feverish


I'm on day three of a Ny-Quil haze. Whatever this is, don't catch it. I'm finally approaching coherence. I'm at least close enough to rational thought to poke at it with a long stick, anyway...

Don't Worry, There ARE No Consequences

Have you guys noticed that there are a TON of commercials on TV these days offering to let you pay your credit card debt "for pennies on the dollar," or telling you that you don't really need to pay that $20,000 in back taxes you owe? Doesn't that strike you as being, well, wrong?

I understand credit card debt. I've been fighting it my entire adult life. I can't get out from under it. I think credit cards are evil incarnate. In fact, if we could only get out from under our credit card debt, I'm sure life would be peachy indeed! But as soon as we get within spittin' distance of getting them paid off, the car breaks, someone has to go to the hospital, the water heater blows up... something happens. We've paid hundreds and hundreds of dollars a month to the credit card companies for years, and are no closer to getting them paid off than we were seven years ago.

Boy, I'd sure love it if someone made it a law that they can't charge more than eight percent interest. That would truly turn my life around! But that ain't gonna happen.

Push comes to shove, I used the credit cards knowing what I was getting into. I needed the funds, and was desperate enough to use credit. Am I happy to pay them? No, I'm not -- I think the amount of interest they charge is criminal. But, like I said, I went into this with my eyes open. I signed on the dotted line. It would be immoral of me to break the contract now.

This is the point where my natural Libertarianism comes into conflict with my innate sense that "someone should oughta do something."

On the one hand, if people overborrow, they should be held responsible to pay their debts (as I'm attempting to do). On the other hand, shouldn't there be a mechanism in place to limit corporate greed -- someone to tell the credit card companies, "you've bled Joe Schmoe dry, he can't pay what he owes -- quit offering him more credit"?

It's a quandry, see?

Normally I'd be in favor of saying, "Well, if Joe Schmoe borrowed too much money, that's his own problem. He knew the consequences borrowing, now he must pay those consequences." But it's starting to affect ME, and that changes things.

Sidebar -- a few years back a guy I know bragged to me that he never paid property taxes. He was pretty smug about it, and was awfully surprised when I started hollering at him. "So you think I should pay YOUR way?" I yelled. "My taxes have gone up yearly, and I pay them because I like driving on paved roads and having my poop piped away, but I don't want to have to pay for YOUR sorry situation! If you don't pay your taxes, it's like you're stealing from ME. Either pay your taxes or quit using the roads, the sewers, the emergency services and the schools."

It's like that with debt now. It used to be that I was paying a zillion percent interest simply to keep the bankers and credit card people in caviar. The problem is that now there are so many people taking advantage of the "Oh, don't worry about your debt, we'll help you get out of it" commercials that the bankers and credit card people have to charge the honest borrowers even more interest to maintain their rich and fabulous lifestyle, and that really bothers me.

Why do I have to pay my taxes and credit card bills while the other guy doesn't? That's the factor that throws the law of consequences into the rubbish bin -- the fact that some people pay no consequences whilst the rest of us have to shoulder our burden AND theirs.

The guy who defaults on his credit card debt, who skirts taxes, who files frivolous lawsuits, who cheats his insurance company, who shoplifts... That guy is stealing from YOU -- you're paying for his actions.

Are there legitimate reasons for ducking debt? Well sure there are. There are legitimate tax breaks, legitimate lawsuits, legitimate insurance claims... I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the people who defraud the system. As a society, we need to tell these people to PAY UP. I can't afford to carry them any more.

The Decentralization of Computers

Where do you think this is going? What is the general trend? Where should you invest your money?

When I first started mucking about with computers in the mid-80's, there were two distinct kinds of machines: mainframes and PC's. The PC's (or Microcomputers, to be more exact), however, were different than what we think of today -- they had no memory.

No memory at all.

They had two big floppy drives, you see. You carried the entire operating system with you on one floppy disk, and you kept your data on another floppy. In order to turn the computer on, you had to insert the OS disk and boot it up that way. (Keep in mind that the 5.25" floppy disks held a whopping 720k. Yes, the entire operating system took less than 500k at the time.) Needless to say, the Microcomputers were rather limited. So we mostly used the mainframe.

The difference between a PC or a Microcomputer and a mainframe is simple -- PC's and Micros were self-contained, while a mainframe was one big computer in a central location with numerous "terminals" that people use to input data. In other words, twenty people could be sitting in twenty different locations using twenty different terminals (which were nothing more than keyboards and screens hooked to a modem) using the same computer at the same time.

This worked well. The college I attended had students who worked at the Computer Center, maintaining the mainframe and doing all the "dirty work" -- debugging, coding, keeping the computer running, etc. But after a few years, PC's started to be affordable. Real PC's with hard drives and memory, just like we have today. People flocked to the PC's because you could actually BUY one, and never have to wait in line to use a mainframe terminal again.

So, from about 1988 or 1990 to the recent past, PC's have ruled the computing landscape. Instead of companies buying one big powerful mainframe, they'd buy 100 cheap PC's and network them together. This has worked relatively well, but...

The trend I'm seeing now is a slow migration back towards the mainframe way of working.

It's easy enough to buy a PC today; they're cheaper than ever. The problem is that in the last 20 years the complexity of the software has gone through the roof. The applications and programs we use now are so incredibly complicated that no one really understands them any more. (If you don't believe me, try reinstalling your printer sometime. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don't, and no one can ever tell you why.) And, of course, the price of the software has gone up exponentially. Adobe's Creative Suite is $1,799.00. If you should happen to want their "Master" edition, that's $2,499.00. MicroSoft Office can run you up to nearly $700.

Is there an alternative? Sure! Use online software. Now that the Internet has reached a certain level of maturation we can reliably connect to software at a remote source without having to buy or download anything ourselves.

Google is a prime example. Instead of buying MicroSoft Word, PowerPoint or Excel, you can use Google's online software for free. It's a bit slower, as one might expect, but the benefits are myriad. Not only do I not have to pay for the software, but they maintain the upgrades and security, and they even keep copies of my documents on their servers -- I can access my documents from any computer that has Internet access. It's a thing of beauty!

Personally, I think this is the wave of the future -- or at least a significant ripple. I can imagine a certain segment of the population who would be happy to have a relatively cheap PC or laptop with minimal capabilities and hardly any localized software, but has a fast Internet connection. Instead of keeping (say) your photos on your own hard drive, you'd use your computer as a throughput device -- bring your photos in from your camera to your computer, then upload the "keepers" directly to Picasa or Fliker without keeping a copy on your machine at all. Let the pros handle the backup problems. If you need to type a letter, log into your Google account (much like we used to log into the mainframe), and access your library of documents as well as have the capability to create a new file. Same with speadsheets. Heck, I'm using an online word processor to write this blog.

Will this extend into the professional-level user? Maybe. I already use some online tools at work as a graphic designer, and I've used online design tools to create a few web sites. I doubt that anything will come along in the next month or two that will replace PhotoShop or Gimp, but I'm sure that someone, somewhere is thinking about it... It wouldn't surprise me if there are online graphic manipulation and layout applications available on the web in the next five years.

If I had any money to invest, I'd probably look at this sector.

Them's just my Ny-Quil-induced thoughts.


When I was a kid growing up in the last century, the only person I knew with a goatee was Bluto -- the guy who made a career out of tormenting Olive Oyl and Popeye. If anyone had a beard, it was a full, untrimmed bushy beard. Goatees were for evil people like Bluto. (If I remember right, there was a brief resurgence of the goatee right about the time the original Star Trek hit syndication with the goateed Klingons, but that lasted for about six weeks and was over as most people who try to look evil just look rather more like a guy with a goatee than a Klingon.)

I didn't see another goatee until the 1990's.

"Bell bottoms," I thought when I first saw one. "Goatees are popular this summer. In two years they'll be gone. Who wants to look like Bluto, for gosh sakes?" I promptly grew my beard out "Riker" style. This isn't because I wanted to emulate Commander Riker (to be honest, I thought his character on Star Trek was a pompous ass, though the actor, Jonathan Frakes, seems to have a good sense of humor), but rather because that's just the way my beard grows. I mean, why fight nature? If that's the way my beard wants to be, who am I to argue? I had a goatee for twelve minutes, and it looked kinda silly.

So, from the time I got out of the Army National Guard in 1993 until, well, now, I've had my beard pretty much the same.

The problem? Well, much to my consternation, my beard is telling my age. I'm going gray. *sigh*

This in itself doesn't overly bother me; I'm at the age where it's gonna happen. I'm just disappointed in the manner of the graying. Instead of my beard going academic salt-and-pepper, or simply gradually turning gray, it's going gray in two streaks down my chin.

I look like I have an inverted skunk clinging to my chin.

Near as I can tell, I have several options. The first is the inverted goatee -- let everything else grow, but shave my chin. The world famous professional chicken-wing eater Steakbellie pulled this look off successfully... But I don't think I can.

Another option is to shave. I did this once a year or two ago, and my wife made me grow it back. Turns out I have a good face for beards.

The two options I'm leaning towards are -- growing it out in ye olden shaggy biker beard, or grimacing and bearing it. I like the idea of having a shaggy biker beard, actually. Maybe I can grow it out enough so I can braid it. That'd be cool.

I've toyed around with the thought of dying it. "Just for Men," you know. But I don't really like that thought much... I earned the lines and the gray honestly.

Most likely, I'll just leave it the way it is... A baby skunk dangling from my chin. It is mine, after all. Why not?

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