Saturday, May 31, 2008

Allstate & State Farm want US taxpayer subsidies

The insurance companies that take a bath after each serious hurricane now want Uncle Sam to "re insure" them. When an insurance company is unsure of the odds of Katrina sized losses, they purchase an agreement with very wealthy people. In return for steady monthly payments the wealthy re-insurers promise to pay off in the event of major disasters. Since the Hurricane Andrew, 9/11 and Katrina losses, private re insurance policies have become very expensive. Now the homeowner's insurance companies and the state of Florida want Uncle Sam to re insure them. Good old generous Uncle Sam will offer lower rates, which will cut the home owner's insurance rates in Florida.
Why Florida? That's the state that gets hit regularly by hurricanes. Up here in New Hampshire, we don't have hurricanes, and our home owners insurance is cheaper 'cause the insurers know they won't have to pay off a Katrina sized disaster. Florida home owners pay more because the insurer's know they will have to pay hurricane claims sooner or later. Now the insurance people and the Florida people want my tax dollars to make it cheaper to live in Florida. The federal "re insurance" will be cheaper than private "re insurance" only because Uncle can pay off with tax money.
It's nice to live in Florida ocean front house. No doubt about it. But, it's riskier than most other places in the country. Let those that enjoy the ocean front homes pay for the risk. Why should taxpayers all over the country cough up money to subsidize Florida ocean front property?

New Walmart up here

Walmart just opened a new superstore in Woodsville, 25 miles from here. Driving back from White River Junction, I just had to stop and see what it offered. It's big, a supermarket joined onto a regular Walmart. The supermarket prices were no better than Mac's Market here in Franconia. The merchandise was about like Walmart's anywhere, low cost, adequate, but unexciting.
Had to wonder about the siting, so close to the Littleton Walmart. It's going to take business away from the Littleton store. Littleton is a reasonable location, right at an Interstate exit, in the commercial center of northern NH. Everyone up to the Canadian border comes down to Littleton to shop. Woodsville is on an obscure secondary road, in a tiny town. The only thing it has going for it is the Vermont border. Vermonters shop in NH 'cause we are a no-sales-tax state. Question, is this new store, only 25 miles from another Walmart, in a thinly populated rural area, going to increase Walmart sales over all, or it is merely going to rob sales from an established store? I'd love to see the internal Walmart studies of the profitability of the Woodsville site.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Global Warming

Ray Suarez on the Newshour did a long piece on a "new" study of global warming. A U of Maryland professor talked, and talked about dreadful consequences. In a good five minute talk he did not mention a single number. Things were going to get bad, but he did not offer any numbers to tell us how bad, how soon, or how certain.
William Thompson, Lord Kelvin once said " When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; "

Ray asked his guest how his team had come to their fairly predictable conclusions. Answer: We reviewed the published literature. That's a real confidence builder. The published literature is vast and supports every conceivable viewpoint. Most likely this team included articles that agreed with their preconceptions and ignored articles that they disagreed with.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull

Just got back from seeing same. Good flick. As good as the original three, after a 20 year lapse. Harrison Ford looks a bit older, but still handles the daring do. The rest of the cast is good too. Lots of good action scenes, lots of good sight gags. It's pulling a good crowd, theater was full on the third night in a small town.
Disregard the negative reviews that have been circulating on the web. This movie does exactly what an Indiana Jones movie ought to do, and does it just the way the first ones did. Much better than the add on Star Wars movies did.
Indiana Jones is his old self. He picks up a teenage side kick who gets good lines, and acts them well. There is an evil villian, played by Cate Blanchett with style and dash. It's a corny role, but she handles it properly. The special effects and stunts are lavish and good.

Border Patrol Checkpoint in I93

Driving down I93 I encounter a big flashing sign "Be Prepared to Stop". The south bound lane is blocked, Blue cop car lights are flashing. So as a good law abiding citizen I slow down and take my place in line. A Border Patrol officer asks if I am a US citizen, I reply "Yes Sir" and he waves me right thru. I must have looked respectable, driving a decent looking sedan with in state plates, and speaking with an American accent.
Wonder what happens to scruffy teenagers in beatup vans? With accents? Is a US driver's license good enough to keep them out of trouble? What happens to passengers without driver's licenses.
This roadblock was a hour's drive south of the Canadian border.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Windows Repair breaks a few panes

Interesting Microsoft knowledge base article about how windows repair works (or fails to work) Symptom of failure is that Windows Update fails to update. According to the Microsoft article the "repair" function merely overwrites all the Windows files on your hard disk with ones from the CD. The files from the CD are old, and have a bug that breaks Windows update.
It also rewrites the registry from scratch, which likely means all your installed programs, Office in particular, stop working.
The knowledge base article has instructions to download updates from Microsoft by hand and get Windows Update (autopatch) to work.
From this description, looks like Windows Repair is as damaging as doing a full windows re install.

Friday, May 23, 2008

How to reduce gasoline prices

Gasoline (and all fuel prices) are outrageous. This is caused by too many consumers of fuel and too little production. China and India, both enormous countries with huge populations, are becoming wealthy enough to purchase automobiles, central heating, hot water heaters, electric lighting, radio and TV, and kitchen appliances for their people. These places now have the money to purchase the good things of life and that doubles or triples the demand for fuel. And yet I saw a US congressman live on C-Span yesterday deny that demand was rising. What world is he living in?
Demand management is distasteful (we call it rationing). But supply management (increasing supply) is possible. America could start drilling for oil in the Arctic and off our coasts. Except, Congress has forbidden it. America could start tapping its vast oil shale reserves, except Congress has forbidden it. America could build more oil refineries, except the NIMBY's prohibit it. America could build more nuclear power plants, except the NIMBY's and the greenies prohibit it.
Until America, the biggest economy and biggest consumer, increases supply, we will face higher fuel prices, rationing by price.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Boston Globe discovers that boys and girls ARE different

Larry Summers please come home. All is forgiven. As you may or may not remember, Larry Summers was driven out of Harvard's presidency a few years ago for thought crime. Summers speculated that the domination of science and technology fields by men might stem from some innate difference between boys and girls, or men and women.
Now the Boston Globe runs an article supporting Larry Summer's speculation. Wow. Conceptual breakthrough. The Globe finally figures out something that any parent knows. Boys like different things than girls do. Boys like gadgets, tools, engines, noise makers, cars, balls and ball games, athletics and sports, running around and general purpose hell raising. Girls like clothes, babies, boys, dancing and nest building. Girls disapprove of fighting, whereas boys enjoy it.
Any parent knows all this. It's obvious to me that boys take to science and engineering as just a grownup extension of their childhood passions. Girls by and large find science and engineering boring. Now this profound wisdom has penetrated the deeper recesses of the Globe newsroom.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Work Force Housing

Coming home tonight from a Republican meeting in Plymouth, I listened to a long discussion of a newly passed "Work Force Housing" law on New Hampshire Public Radio. The discussion would have been a whole lot better if the contributors had described the contents of the law. Apparently "workforce housing" is the new name for "affordable housing", which used to mean housing cheap enough for black families to buy. The law is supposed to, somehow, restrict local planning boards from keeping "work force" housing out of town. Nobody on the panel discussion talked about just how the law would do that.
The usual planning board/zoning board tactic for keeping undesirables out of town is zone out apartments, 'cause renters are untrustworthy, and zone out cheap houses by requiring huge expensive lots. Another good one is to zone out multifamily houses (triple deckers) requiring nothing but single family homes, and, of course, don't forget to zone out those unsightly trailer parks. There are probably some other tricks of the trade as well.

Narnia, Prince Caspian

If you liked the first Narnia movie, go see this one. It has the same cast (plus a tall dark and handsome Caspian), it follows the plot from the book (mostly), the CGI talking animals are beautifully done. Sets, props and costumes are superb. Susan and Lucy wear floor length medieval gowns that are very becoming. Peter and Susan look much the same, but Edmund and Lucy are noticeably taller and older.
The movie makers sort of assume that the audience has seen the first Narnia movie and/or has read the book. Continuity is a little shakey, if I hadn't seen the first movie and recently reread "Prince Caspian" I might have failed to follow all the plot twists. (The Ring movies had this problem too) . The transition from the London Underground to Narnia happens so quickly, and with so little foreshadowing that the audience is left wondering how that happened. The surprise air assault upon evil King Miraz's castle fails because Caspian goes to revenge himself upon Miraz rather than opening the castle gate to let the main force of Narnians inside, a duty he had been assigned in the pre-mission briefing. Somehow this gross dereliction of duty on Caspian's part is overlooked by all.
The Talking Mice are wonderfully done, the dwarves have a lot of good lines, and there is plenty of action. The evil King Miraz looks the part, complete with pointed beard and a low forehead. Susan gets to kiss Caspian goodby right at the very end, just before she and her Pevensy siblings step thru an interdimensional gate that takes them back the the London Underground station.
I enjoyed it. Today I got a "join Netflix" junk mail. I looked thru the 100 movies on Netflix and decided that "Prince Caspian" was a better movie watch than 99 out of 100 on the Netflix list.

Monday, May 19, 2008

What does "Bush's third term" mean?

Obama has been calling John McCain "George Bush's third term". It's a nice sound bite, but what does it really mean? Cannot Obama name the McCain policies to which he objects? Obama's biggest objection to George Bush is starting the Iraq war. But that is not a reason to object to McCain. There is no way McCain can start the Iraq war, that's history now, the war is started. The issue now is how to end it. McCain stands for winning the Iraq war, Obama has called for retreat ("withdrawal") which will turn the country over to Al Quada or Iran or some bloodthirsty miltia.
The presidential campaign would be better if the candidates would talk about real and specific things rather than meaningless sound bites.

Democrats block US Shale Oil development

The US contains oil shale reserves that dwarf the Saudi oil reserves. The deposits all lie on federal land in the west. With conventional crude oil at $120 a barrel, oil shale is economically competitive. Bringing the vast US oil shale reserves to market could be enough to lower the price of gasoline and home heating oil. Shell Oil company has a process that might bring oil shale to market at competitive prices. They are ready to start making the enormous investments needed to create an oil shale industry.
Shell needs to strike an agreement with the land owner over many things, first most, money. Then come environmental requirements, terms of lease, taxes, permits, and other paperwork. Without agreement on these matters, Shell cannot estimate their return on investment. In simple terms, Shell needs to know how much money they will make from shale oil. Should the landowner (Uncle Sam) demand exorbitant royalties, or make unreasonable environmental restrictions, then Shell will loose money on the project. In short, the project is on hold until Shell can reach an agreement with Uncle Sam.
The Democrats in Congress just passed a law prohibiting the Dept of Interior from "making any new regulations" which is a code phrase meaning "Don't make a deal with Shell". With a stroke of the pen, Congressional Democrats have killed American oil shale development.
The Republicans ought to make a fuss about this. We need to do everything in our power to increase fuel supplies, especially domestic supplies.

Baseball bat makers sued after terrible accident

A boy playing Little League baseball was struck in the chest by a ball. The impact stopped the boy's heart and serious brain damage occurred before emergency treatment restarted the heart and saved the boy's life. The parents are suing the maker of the bat, claiming that metal bats are dangerous. They claim that metal bats drive balls faster than wooden bats and thus caused the injury to their son. And the maker is liable.
The case made Fox News this morning, and the Fox commentators seemed to agree that the parents have a case and the bat maker should pay.
How is this? The bat maker manufactured a standard product, which worked as designed, and is authorized for Little League play. In baseball everything is regulated by the league, the composition of the ball , the gloves, the size of the field, the amount of spit allowed on a pitcher's hands, everything. Metal bats are league authorized, and so the bat maker is making a legitimate piece of sports equipment that met Little League requirements. How does that make him liable for anything?
I understand the parents have suffered a terrible loss and deserve sympathy and support. But does that entitle them to endanger the existance of the sporting equipment company that made the bat, possibly driving them out of business and putting all their employees out in the street? Just defending against a law suit is fantastically expensive, and paying off a damage award is just as bad. Just because the parents are suffering, should they impose more suffering upon totally innocent parties?
You can also bet that the lawyers looked at the other parties that might be liable, the Little League, the owner of the ball field, the sponsors of the Little League teams, whoever, and decided that none of them had any money worth suing for. The sports equipment maker at least has enough money to meet payroll.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Are Polar Bears Democratic?

The global warming folk are attempting to get polar bears declared an endangered species. By doing this, they hope to have judges place restrictions upon oil exploration in the Arctic, and perhaps even impose CO2 emissions quotas upon US industry and citizens.
They are pursuing this path toward their objectives because they lack the votes in Congress to pass their program by legislation. They hope a green thinking judge will bypass the elected Congress and impose their policies by judicial fiat.
This is profoundly undemocratic. Under democracy, new laws are passed only by the will of the majority. Right now, a majority for restricting oil exploration and imposing CO2 limits does not exist. In short, the greens don't have the votes to impose their will upon the country. So they try an end run around the Congress thru the courts.

Windows sluggishness, Icon variety

Today my computer came down with the icon slows. The desktop would open after boot but all the desktop icons were trash for a minute or two, and then would slowly paint one by one. Open an explorer window to view your files on disk, and again, the icons for each file painted one by one and slowly.
How does Windows paint all those icons, a different one for each program? The simple way is to put up a temporary icon, and then find the program to which the short cut points, open it, extract the icon pixels and paint them on the screen. This is slow. So, windows keeps a "shell icon cache" file, containing all the icons, so it only has to open one file, in a known place, to fetch every icon. Windows, being Windows, occasionally manages to mess up its own icon cache file. The messed up file do longer works, and so Windows reverts to the old slow "find each icon in the program file" process.
Fix. Run the CCleaner program. This is freeware/shareware which Google will find for you on the net. To fix just icons, select "Start Menu Shortcuts" and "Window size/Location Cache" and click on "Run Cleaner".
CCleaner is a general purpose cleaner upper, and can remove all sorts of un needed files. A CCleaner run can easily free up 100 megabytes of disk space. The program has two modes of operation. Analyze, which finds un wanted files and displays them to you, and "Run Cleaner" which finds unwanted files and deletes them. The cautious user will first analyze and carefully inspect the displayed files just to make sure they really are unwanted.
Some applications choose bad file name extensions which make CCleaner think the files are unwanted when they are indeed wanted. I remember ClearCase (a very expensive professional software source control system) which used the extension ".tmp" for its working files. Disk cleanup people and programs will always delete anything with "tmp" or "temp" in its name.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

So how expensive is a nuclear power plant?

Wall St Journal reports that utility companies (electric companies) are cringing from the $5 to $12 billion dollar quotes on new nuclear plants. The article goes on to say that the existing nuclear plants built in the 60's and 70's cost about $3 billion. Hmm. There's been a bit of inflation since the '70s. In the '70's a new Caddy went for $10K. A 2008 Caddy goes for $43K. If the cost of a nuclear plant is only up from $3 to $12 billion, that's no big surprise to me, and it shouldn't be a surprise to electric companies or the WSJ.
Second, you gotta wonder how much gold plating has been done on the designs. The word "nuclear" raises the cost of things. For instance, the mess tables on nuclear aircraft carriers cost more than the mess tables on oil fired carriers. What with the current population of ambulance chasing lawyers, to say nothing of skittish insurance companies, every conceivable safety device will be incorporated whether it does any good or not. Nuclear safety people make Alice in Wonderland look rational. As you may remember Alice once met a white knight. The knight's horse had spiked steel anklets on all four legs. When Alice inquired about them, she was told that the spikes protected the horse against shark bites. Alice asked how often the knight's horse had been attacked by sharks. The knight replied the horse had never been bitten which meant the spiked anklets were doing their job. I'm sure the new nuclear designs have plenty of expensive spiked anklets protecting against shark bite.
If the plant cost $10 billion, it will take a long time to pay itself off. I pay $0.10 per kilowatt hour, of which half goes to the generating company and the other half goes to PSNH who owns the power poles, transformers and electric meters. A nuclear plant will generate 1000 megawatts. Run the plant for an hour, and you bill $0.05 times 1,000,000 kilowatt/hours, or $50,000 an hour. $10 billion divided by $50,000 an hour means 200,000 hours (about 22 years) to pay off the construction costs. That's a long time, and this back of the envelope calculation ignores operating costs, fuel costs, taxes, and interest on the debt, all of which would stretch out the repayment time. Better go for the low end $5 billion dollar plant.

Why vote Republican this year?

There is one big difference between Republican John McCain and the Democratic yet to be named candidate. The Democrats promise to recall our troops from Iraq as soon as possible (ASAP) where as McCain promises to prosecute the war until victory is achieved. Election day promises don't come much clearer than that.
Elect a Democrat and the troops pull out. Then Al Quada or Iran takes over Iraq, all the Iraqis who have worked with the Americans are murdered, the country dissolves into a Sunni Shia civil war. The entire Arab world gets an object lesson in what happens to anyone who co operates with the Americans, namely the Americans will go home and leave you twisting in the breeze. This will demoralize even the Israelis, let alone any Sunni Arab government. Iran brings their nuclear weapons program to fruition, and pressures all the middle east countries to knuckle under to them. Think oil is expensive today? Wait til Iran shows up at the next OPEC meeting, armed with nuclear weapons, the Americans totally discredited, and demands cutting production and hiking the price. The Saudi's wouldn't dare oppose Iran in those circumstances. If that isn't bad enough, think about where we go if the Iranians carry thru on their pledge to nuke Israel out of existence.
On the other hand, sticking it out in Iraq will deal Bin Ladin's Islamo Fascist movement a mortal blow. Just this last month the Iraqi government finally gained the strength to confront its enemies, the militias and gangsters still holding out. The Iraqi government is the first real democracy in the Arab world. If it survives, Iraq will become the most desirable place to live in all the Middle East. A peaceful and prosperous democratic Iraq would set a powerful example to the entire Arab world. So powerful that the Arab dictatorships (every other Arab country is a dictatorship) would be under enormous pressure to emulate Iraq's democracy.

Full Scale is the best scale for drawings

I did a 1 inch to the foot set of drawings for the coming HO train layout. Took my time, did several trial drawings, copied the best one over on a clean piece of paper. Used squared paper, compass, architect's scale and the resulting A size drawing was nice and neat.
Next step, draw the track work out full scale in the actual layout table. Bought a dozen sheets of white poster board and covered the layout with them. Tacked the poster board down to the foam with drafting tacks and started drawing the track plan out full size. Used a trammel (long piece of board with holes for pencils) to swing the 22 inch, 20 inch and 18 inch curves. The centers of most of the curves are off the bench work out in mid air. I used a yard sale photographic tripod to give me a center to swing the trammel on for the airborne centers.
Partway into all this layout work, I began to change the plan. All sorts of things that looked great on the scale drawing, began to look less than great at full scale. So, out with the powered eraser, and change things around. Lesson learned, always mockup things up full sized.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A single USAF relief plane lands in Burma

The Burmese junta really doesn't want US aid for its uncounted hurricane victims. The hurricane was a week ago, and only now, does the junta allow a single USAF relief plane to land. Reports of 27,000 dead and 41,000 missing should require a Berlin Airlift kind of response. A single C-130 (medium sized turbo prop) isn't going to do much for a disaster on this scale. The junta is clearly doesn't care much for its citizens.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Free AntiVirus for Windows XP

Due to the porous nature of Windows all sorts of malware (virii, adware,keystroke loggers, spam senders) can slide right into your computer from the Internet, from file sharing, from thumb drives, and just plain out of the air. There must be a malware magnet deep inside Windows. If you want to call your computer your own, you have to do something the keep the bad stuff out.
New machines come with something, usually Norton Anti Virus or McAffee Antivirus pre installed and pretending to be free. After some months, the free wears off and the programs beg for money to "keep them selves up-to-date". I used to run Norton Antivirus, but when it begged for money, I took a hit to my credit card but the program still refused to update and shortly just stopped running. Unless kept up to date the program quickly becomes useless. Scumbags from all over the world are constantly writing new malware, and unless updated, the anti virus program won't recognize the new malware when it strikes.
After the Norton failure to update, I started using F-Prot, an old DOS antivirus. So, starting up son's new laptop, I put F-Prot on it and ran it. Surprise, F-Prot only scanned 300 files and declared the computer virus free. That can't be right, even a virgin Windows computer has tens of thousands of files on it. Some googling on F-Prot and "long file names" revealed that trusty old DOS programs , raised on short filenames (8 character name plus three character extension), have trouble with Windows file name that can be of any length and even contain embedded spaces. So much for trusty old DOS antivirus.
Some more googling put me intouch with AVG antivirus. It's free, it updates itself, and it is a real Windows program in which the mouse works. It's 45 Megabytes to download, but broadband makes that happen with ease and grace. It is painstaking, examining file after file.
So if you want to save the maintainance fees of the commercial antivirus programs, try AVG.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Future of Freedom by Fareed Zakaria

"Illiberal democracy and home and abroad" is the subtitle. Interesting book, published way back in 2003, but I just saw a copy in our modest Abbie Greenleaf public library. The author is an Indian guy, editor at Newsweek magazine, frequent contributor to Wall St Journal op-ed pages, and talking head on the TV Sunday pundits. He is reasonable guy, smart, well read.
He uses language in non standard ways. For instance to Zacharia, democracy means any regime with universal suffrage. Limited suffrage, as we had in this country in the 18th and 19th centuries doesn't count. Regimes that hold elections count, even if the voters don't get much choice, like Eygpt or Hamas controlled Gaza. In normal usage democracy is any regime with a reasonable degree of personal liberty and an elected leadership even if the suffrage is limited to men, or property holding men.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Roadbed for the HO model railroad

The model railroad in the down stairs guest room is progressing. I have the benchwork up, and a layer of 2 inch blue insulating foam down, all around the room. Roadbed comes next. The foam is too soft to take track nails or spikes, and the only commercial roadbed is cork, which isn't much better at taking nails and spikes. Most folk using cork on foam glue all the track down with latex caulk.
This works, but it is unforgiving. If you make a mistake and get a kink in the track (an easy goof to make) repair is hard. The glue is unyielding. More repairable is to fasten the track down with nails. Should you need to realign the track to make changes or get rid of kinks, you just pull up t he nails with long nose pliers and press on.
To nail down track, (or hand lay track) you need a roadbed that takes and holds nails and spikes, like basswood or white pine. Local lumber yards have plenty of pine, but it comes 3/4" thick. Roadbed wants to be 1/4" thick to look right. No problem, I got a band saw off Craig's list. With a new sharp 1/2" blade, and a home made fence, I can resaw pine boards up to six inches wide. The re sawn surfaces are smooth and flat, and with a home brew fence that is truly a right angle and clamped to the table, I can resaw to 1/4" and the stuff looks good. Progress.
So all I have to do, is bandsaw all the curved trackwork out of resawn pine and stick it down with latex caulk. So. Ho, to the stationary store I go, and buy poster board to cover the whole layout. Draw the track plan out full scale on the poster board and cut each piece of road bed out on the band saw. This should keep me out of trouble for weeks.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Computer Cleanup

One thing leads to another. New laptop for youngest son arrived via DHL yesterday. Son was overjoyed, but he is off at college, 7 hours away by road. So son asks if I could start it up, make sure it truly has XP and not ugly Vista. And then could I do some of my Windows XP speedup magic to it?
So, first thing is to port Zone Alarm (free firewall) over from my desktop, so new machine can go on the internet without instant virus infection. According to the trade journals, a new Windows machine will be infected within 10 minutes of going on the net without a firewall. So I gotta burn a CD to move all the goodies off my desktop (Blackbox by name) over to son's new laptop (InlineSkater) It's been a while since backup to CD, so let's kill two birds with one stone. I'll backup and then install Zone Alarm and other goodies from the backup CD.
So, to save time and CD's I always do a bit of disk cleanup before backup so as to avoid wasting CD space on trash. And avoid confusing myself if I ever have to restore from the backup CD. For disk cleanup I still use an ancient piece of freeware/shareware called EZCleaner. The ancient version is free, the programmer, a young kid in Finland, is now charging money for his handiwork. Being a cheap bastard I keep running the freeware version to save a couple a bucks. It's good stuff.
EZCleaner zapped a 100 megabytes of stuff, and I blew away a backup of daughter's laptop and few DVD movies by hand. Freed up four gigabytes of disk. Then I started up my freeware/shareware CD burn program (DeepBurner) . Loaded the last burn script, and Deep burner informed me that I needed a 1 gigabyte CD to fit everything on. Hmm, plumpness has infected my 200 GB hard drive.
Some time later, I managed to fit everything I cared about one two CD's, 0.6 Gigabytes apiece, Saved two new burn scripts, and two freshly burned CD's.
Now that the urge to clean is upon me, I ran my freeware antivirus, F-Prot. It's an old DOS program, it's free, and it even automatically downloads new virus definition files. DOS programs run like lightening compared to Windows programs. I got into F-Prot after Norton Antivirus expired some years ago. I tried to renew Norton, but all that happened was my credit card took a hit, but Norton never worked again. Later I ran into a weirdo bug caused by old dead Norton .dll files left on my disk. Although some googling was able to fix the bug, I have sworn off Norton for the duration.
So, last trick, run Lavasoft Ad-Aware, a freeware anti malware program that specializes in ad programs that slip into your machine via the net. Step one for any malware scan program is to update the malware definition files that drive the program. After clicking on "update malware definitions" the program trundled along and after a decent interval announced that the download failed. So I tried the alternate manual update procedure listed in the help file. No dice.
Some googling revealed that "Ad-Aware SE" was now obsolete and no longer supported, but "Ad-Aware 2007" was now free and supported. A direct attempt to download Ad-Aware 2007 thru the Lavasoft site led into a cul-de-sack that required me to sign up for expensive junkware in order to get the anti-malware software I started out for. Fortunately more googling got me to a site that let me just download "Ad-Aware 2007" and run it.
The Ad-aware run proudly discovered 343 tracking cookies (fairly innocuous items) and I duly zapped them all. Program reminds me of my cat, which proudly brings back every mouse, chipmunk, and bird that she catches to show them to me.
Thus endeth computer cleanup for today.

Monday, May 5, 2008

16% of GNP, but still hospitals claim underfunding

Cspan has Rep Henry Waxman chairing a hearing about adequacy of emergency medical care if we get hit by terrorists again. If Al Quada blew up a subway or something, would the local hospital emergency rooms have enough beds to hold all the casualties?
There were a series of hospital people pleading for more funding to enlarge their emergency rooms. And deploring "funding cuts".
With 16% of GNP being poured into health care, surely we have enough hospital beds within a reasonable ambulance distance of nearly everywhere. And if we don't, why don't we? Where is all that money going? Remember a mere 8% of GNP funded all US health care back in 1980. Doubling that portion should be more than enough.
Then the hearing got steered off to immigration when a Congresscritter opined that illegal aliens (aka undocumented immigrants) were clogging the emergency room beds. And then further off topic when witnesses started testifying in favor of universal health care, aka Uncle pays all doctor's bills.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Barack Obama on Face the Nation

I had a choice between Hillary on Stephanopolis' ABC and Barack on Tim Russert's Meet the Press. I decided to watch Obama, 'cause he promised to be more interesting than Hillary. Russert gave Obama 50 good minutes of TV exposure without every asking Obama to say anything of substance. Russert spend some 15 minutes with Obama rehashing the Jeremiah Wright disaster. This didn't tell me anything I don't know. Jeremiah is not a bullfrog, he is a toad, who has hurt Obama, no one knows how badly, but badly enough.
For the rest of the time Obama was extraordinarily evasive. Lots of smooth, good sounding answers that don't mean anything. For instance Russert asked Obama where he stood on nuclear power. Obama said he was in favor, after safety problems and nuclear waste problems had been properly studied. What does that mean? Would an Obama administration grant construction permits and operating licenses or would they demand lengthy "studies"? Who knows?
Obama still pledges to pull US troops out of Iraq, but he might take 16 months to bring them all home. If a genocidal disaster threatened then he might change his plans, somehow. He promised to support Israel against Iranian nuclear attack by preventing the Iranians from obtaining the bomb. He failed to explain how he planned to work that miracle.
In short, the policies of an Obama administration might be anything.

Words of the Weasel: Alternative Energy

It sounds so virtuous and green that everyone is in favor of it. Alternative energy will replace $120 a barrel oil, clean the air, and reduce acne, cellulite and halitosis. Users of the phrase just let it roll of their tongues and then quickly change the subject.
So what is this wonderful energy source? Well obviously it is not the workhorse conventional fossil fuel sources that keep the lights burning, houses heated, and the traffic moving by air, sea, road, and rail. Could it be nuclear?
Actually nuclear works. Nuclear plants have been running for 50 years and produce 20% of US electricity. Nobody has ever been hurt by a US nuclear power plant. The cost is competitive with $120 a barrel oil. Spent fuel rods have been stored on plant sites for 50 years without a problem.
How about solar? Trouble is solar power only works when the sun is up. Dunno about you, but I want my electrical to work after dark, that's when I truly need my house lights to light.
And wind? Nice stuff, fields of huge windmill blades whirring over the wheat and corn. Cool. What happens when the wind stops blowing? Even mountain top sites have calm days. Of course when the price of bunker C gets high enough we could bring back the sailing ship...
Biofuels? Wood is good, and wood stoves will heat your house. Of course if you go away overnight the stove will go out and then your pipes freeze... Ethanol is going full tilt, due to heavy government subsidies, but it takes nearly as much fossil fuel (tractor fuel, fertilizer, and heat for the still) to make the ethanol as you get back for burning said ethanol. The energy gain from making ethanol is disputed with figures running between 0.5 and 1.5. No one is claiming gain as good as 2.0. Energy gains of less than one mean a loss, making the ethanol consumes more energy than it yields.
Hydrogen fusion? After 60 years of R&D, no one has created a fusion reactor that stays lit for more than a second or two, or that yields more energy than the reactor machinery consumes. There are two promising efforts under way, the multinational $13 billion ITER in France, and the shoestring Bussard Polywell in the US. Neither project has lit a break even fusion reaction yet. Wish them well, but a lot of very smart people have been working on the problem for 60 years without success.
Next time someone says "alternative energy" ask them what they mean.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Should we do a gasoline tax holiday?

The idea sounds good, like everyone else in the world, the price of a fillup is shocking, and anything that would bring it down is a good thing.
Question. Would a gas tax holiday reduce the price at the pump? The outrageous pump prices today are "rationing by price". There isn't enough gasoline to go around, so the sellers are raising the price to slow sales to prevent running out. The price at the pump has little to do with the cost of production, it's a scarcity price. Actually a lot of the gasoline price comes from the equally outrageous price of the raw material, crude oil, but the crude price is sky high for the same reason, not enough to go around.
I think the pump price will stay up there after a gas tax holiday. So, why not channel some of the money from a scarcity price into tax revenue rather than giving it to the oil companies?
If we want to do some thing about price, lets build a couple of new refineries in the US, and allow drilling off shore and next to the Prudhoe bay field ( the so called Arctic National Wildlife Refuge).
Funny, with the entire Arctic to choose from, the wildlife just happen to need refuge in an oil field. If I didn't know better, I'd think the wildlife refuge was established to stop oil exploration rather than to help out the caribou.

Hillary does fine on Bill O'Reilly's TV show

Like many others, I watched the O'Reilly interview of Hillary last night. It was a good performance by Hillary. She came across as serious, well informed, and a decent human being. Far from being a hostile interviewer, O'Reilly asked good questions and let Hillary answer at length and get her points across. For this viewer/voter the forum let Hillary tell us where she is coming from, and the questions were serious and actually gave us some real information about what a Hillary administration might do to us. Compared to most of the TV debates, this one was good, good for me in that I learned things I didn't know, good for Hillary in that she got her views across to the voters.
Fox News did a good job.