Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Post American World Fareed Zakaria

Geopolitics and the future of America. Copyright 2008, or just before Great Depression II started. It's well written, reads smoothly, and contains this newsie's advice to US citizens. He speaks of "the rise of the rest", by which lots of countries that were either bombed flat or still medieval at the end of WWII have rebuilt or modernized and now offer real competition to the US. He speaks fondly of his native India's economic growth since abandoning Nehru's quasi socialism in the late 1980's. He assesses the strengths and competitive advantages of America and finds them strong. The US economy is still the largest in the world, US popular culture is compelling. Unfortunately he doesn't talk about the strength of the US economy after the onset of Great Depression II, because the book went to press before the crash. He doesn't see the crash coming or even talk much about weaknesses that were obvious to more real world oriented papers like the Wall St Journal.
He talks about a dysfunctional US political process, by which I think he means that democrats didn't have the votes to push thru their pet projects. Now that they do have all the votes they need, will the country improve or will the democrats drive the country off a cliff? He also describes the US federal government as "weak", a surprising description now with Uncle owning banks and car companies, and running up a $1.5 trillion deficit in the first half of 2009.
Zacharia's prescriptions for US revival are pretty general and could have served as Obama speeches, heavy on motherhood and apple pie, short on specifics. His hindsight is fairly good but his foresight is no better than mine.
Worth a read, but it's a read once kind of book.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Cyber Security Czar

So we get yet another Obama staffer in the White House, drawing his pay out of our taxes. He is supposed to "strengthen computer security" otherwise known as keeping hackers out of government and corporate computers.
Actually, security does need to be tightened. But I doubt that another Obama staffer will do much about it. What's needed is good stiff penalties for sloppy security. About once a month some company or agency admits that hackers stole lists of names and social security numbers. That would stop if each case was treated as criminal negligence and prosecuted. A few heads mounted on pikes would tighten that up. Follow up with class action suits demanding treble damages.
Then Microsoft needs a clue by four laid up along the side of the head. Windows is totally vulnerable, with gaping security holes in the front, the back, the bottom and the top. A pack of personal injury lawyers ought to be sicced on Microsoft. Better that than more asbestos claims.
Finally we need to get serious about passwords. System managers need to insist on strong passwords, changed quarterly.

There oughta be a Law Pt 2

Against TV commercials overlaying the program. Bad enough we have to suffer thru the unending commercial breaks. But, now the commercials never stop. While the program is running we have network logos, speeding race cars, palm trees and whatever overlaying the program material. It's getting so bad you can't see the program for all the little commercials racing across the bottom of the screen.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Music Labels Zap DVD releases

Who a thunk it. The labels have things so tight in the copyright department that the studios cannot release old TV shows to DVD 'cause the labels want too much money for the rights to the musical score. Apparently the studios neglected to sign air tight agreements with the musicians back when the shows were produced. Some are quite old, say The Fugitive from the '60s, back when VHS and DVD rights hadn't been imagined.
It's so bad that some of the old shows are released with a new score, just to sidestep the copyright tangle on the original score. Which is incredible, redoing the score on a 40 year old TV show has got to be expensive. You would think in a real world it would be cheaper to buy off the labels than redo the score on a TV show.
The labels probably use the same lawyers they sic on file sharers to gouge the studios.
And the studios really really need to get better lawyers and make sure they own ALL the rights to the scores of their productions.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Citizens Against Government Waste & John McCain

A letter came in today, the usual please send money letter, from these guys. As examples of "waste, fraud and abuse" they cited buying 262 C-130's over 21 years, when the Defense Dept only wanted five. That's $13 billion, used to be real money back before the porkulus. On the other hand, the C-130 is one heluva useful airplane. It moves stuff up to the front lines at 300 knots. It can get 20 tons into a 1000 foot dirt runway. This means it can bring rations, ammunition, fuel, spare parts, combat troops, vehicles, artillery, SAM's, radar sets, hot coffee and clean laundry anywhere in the world. After WWII a US general ranked the DC-3 transport plane as one of the great war winning weapons. The C-130 is a DC-3 writ large. In short, it's a very useful thing to have, and it doesn't go obsolete. We might not need all 262 of them, but it's a real weapons system, useful in any kind of war, anytime in the future.
After trashing the C-130 buy, they whined about some nitnoy (small) stuff, dubious sounding program names with tiny price tags in the $1 to $5 million area. They did not mention big ticket programs, F35 fighters, Future Combat System (what ever that turns out to be), littoral combat ships, presidential helicopters, ballistic missile defense, C-27 cargo planes, GPS satellites, C-5 transport rebuilding, and Air Force tankers. Each of those programs is billions of dollars. Compared to that, a million dollars for "atmospheric water harvesting" is nothing.
I decided to put the letter in the fireplace with the rest of the morning's junk mail. If they cannot see the forest for the trees, heck, see the forest for the saplings, they don't need my money. Too bad John McCain let his good name be used by such an ineffectual bunch.

Breakthru in strawberry breeding

Bought a box of California strawberries at Wal Mart yesterday, 'cause they were on sale and bright red. It was the usual batch of gigantic berries, each on the size of a lemon. But, surprise, for the first time, the monster berries were actually sweet, and had a bit of real strawberry taste to them. Usually the mega berries are flat and tasteless. Some one must have come up with a strain of monster sized berries that actually taste good, as well as being easier to pick.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ham and Potato Chowder

New recipe. Very Tasty. Easy too.

2-3 potatoes
2 carrots
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon tarragon
3 oz (or more) cooked ham
1 can corn
3 cups milk
2 strips bacon
1 onion
jigger of white wine.

Peel veggies. Cut potatoes into cubes, slice carrots, chop onions. Cut bacon into short pieces and cook until crisp on the bottom of a large soup pot. Saute the chopped onion in the bacon grease. When tender, drain off the bacon grease into that grease can everyone has near the stove. Add cubed potatoes and carrots. Add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and then back off the heat to gently cook the veggies. Add the bouillon cubes, wine, thyme, and tarragon. Cook on modest heat until the carrots begin to be tender. About 20 minutes. Add ham, corn, and milk. Continue heating until piping hot. Say another ten minutes. Try not the boil the milk, boiling will make it taste funny.
Recipe is flexible and can be expanded as required. Makes enough to feed one grown up and one hungry college age son. Would feed three or four grown ups. To make more for cheap, increase the potatoes. One potato per person is a good starting point.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Empathy, in Supreme Court Judges

Obama wants judges with "empathy". Which is about the same as "sympathy". Presumably Obama is looking for judges who will render decisions in favor of the poor, the down trodden, the individual, and give the back of the hand to corporations. In favor of personal injury, asbestos and malpractice plaintiffs over companies and doctors.
Not sure I like this. There are two parties to lawsuits. I want judges to decide fairly between the two parties in accordance with the law, not decide that one plaintiff deserves to win 'cause he is so adorable and sympathetic.
Recent malpractice case decided empathetically by the current Supremes. The plaintiff suffered terrible injuries from improper administration of a powerful drug. The court socked it to the drug manufacturer. The court decided the warning on the bottle label wasn't strong enough, even though the label had been approved by FDA. The decided to take money from an innocent party to compensate the sympathetic victim. Which raises the price of drugs and health care for all of us. Court decisions like this cause health care to eat up 16% of GNP. They could have ruled the medical personnel liable for improper administration of the drug, but the medics don't have enough money to be worth suing.

The road ahead

Between Bush's $750 billion TARP and Obama's $787 billion porkulus bill, the credit of the United States has been pretty well used up. The government won't be able to do another big spend, the money is gone and it won't be able to borrow that much more.
Too bad that neither seem to have helped the real economy. The real economy is 70% consumer spending. Until consumers stop worrying about getting laid off, they aren't going to spend on anything except groceries. The car companies are in the tank because car sales dropped from 17 million new cars per year to 10 million new cars per year. Why the drop? Simple. People worried about loosing their jobs don't buy new cars.
With the economy in the tank, require new cars to get 35.5 mile per gallon. That's are real sales killer, pay more for smaller cars.
With the economy in the tank, increase the amount of money going to health care. right now 16% of GNP goes to health care. Offering free health insurance to everyone will jack that up. Health care costs slow the economy, they don't grow it.
With the economy in the tank, propose a giant fuel tax, aka cap and trade. That ought to cut another whacking big slice off the GNP.
The future don't look good. And Obama is making it worse.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Welfare for Watermeters

Just got a letter from my water board about meters. Up 'til last year, nobody had a water meter in this town. There are so many weekend houses that use very little water to matter. Billing was done by dividing the revenues needed to keep the water on by the number of customers. Which makes sense, the water flows out of the wells for free. The cost comes from laying and maintaining all those pesky pipes. The pipe costs the same whether water runs thru it or not. Billing based on metered usage would let all the weekend homes off free, and make the full time residents pay all the bills. The water board is all full time residents so that wasn't going to happen.
Turns out the staties and the feds are in love with water meters. Unless we installed meters thru out the town, they wouldn't lend the town money to replace that pipe. The pipe in question was laid back in the 1930's, and replacement is not unreasonable after all this time. Between increased demand and increased leakage, water pressure in town was getting too low to meet state standards. If water pressure drops below zero, the system starts sucking water back in thru all the leaks, and back out of any improperly plumbed drains, which is a health hazard. The state has been on the town's back to fix this for several years now.
So, in order to get a $3.5 million loan at 2.75%, the town had to blow $750,000 installing water meters in every house. I should buy stock in a water meter company.
The letter from the water board then explained that billing would be done the traditional way, $200 a house, pretty much irregardless of meter readings. I'm so glad we paid for all those meters.

Agincourt by Juliet Barker

Some light reading for a rainy day. Agincourt was the third major battle of the 100 years war where at Henry V of England inflicted the third crushing defeat upon the French. An English army of perhaps 7000 men slaughtered a vastly larger French army in hand to hand fighting. This all took place nearly 600 years ago (1415 to be precise).
The author read the surprising large amount of documentation that has come down to us. It's mostly English, the French revolution destroyed much of the French records. There are enlistment papers, army payrolls, bills to suppliers of arrows and ships and victuals. We have the names of the ordinary soldiers. The author remarks that most Englishmen bore ordinary names like Tom Dick and Harry whereas many French casualties bore names from Arthurian legend, Lancelot, Gawaine, Tristram.
Out of all this material the author spins a well documented, highly readable and fascinating look at the late middle ages.
Interestingly, Juliet Barker's account matches extremely closely with John Keegan's account of the same battle written back in 1976. Keegan, being a military historian (Juliet Barker is a general historian) concentrates on the issue of HOW the much smaller English army inflicted such a smashing defeat upon a vastly superior enemy. Mrs Barker instead offers a never ending stream of fascinating details, of costume, of finance, of recruiting practices, shipping, the taking and ransoming of prisoners, and the massive victory parade in London after the victory.
I enjoyed it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Obama-Cheney TV speeches

Obama was first on Fox. He spoke at length about closing Gitmo, and how opening Gitmo was a mistake (that he is correcting). He went on to talk about torture, CIA, and some other stuff. For a change, Obama say one thing of real substance. He plans to move the Gitmo prisoners to US "super max" prisons. He claimed that no one has ever escaped from such a prison. We will ignore the urban legends about the guy who escaped from Alcatraz. Actually, the risk is not escape, but some judge turning them loose.
Obama seems to understand the need to hold Al Quada fighters in jail, even though they aren't guilty of crimes. Other than bearing arms against the United States, they haven't done anything that would convince any kind of American court of their guilt. If they were wearing uniforms and soldiering for a real government, they would be prisoners of war. As it is, we need to hold them for the same reasons we hold prisoners of war, but we don't feel like granting them the privileges associated with POW status. Such as freedom from interrogation and Red Cross packages.
Then it was Cheney's turn. He spoke at length and ably defended the Bush Adminstration's war on terror. He made a lot of sense, and it's too bad Bush didn't say these things back when he was president. When Cheney speaks, he speaks about facts, rather than Obama's style of standing fore square for motherhood and apple pie.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

How to gain 3 mpg in your CAFE

Seems like CAFE isn't just the average fuel economy. Make "flex fuel" vehicles and it bumps up your CAFE by 3 mpg. This was in yesterday's Journal, back page somewhere. The US CAFE is not 25 mpg, its more like 22, but credit for the "flex fuel" vehicles pulls it up to 25.
It's super easy to make a flex fuel (alcohol burner) vehicle. Just make sure the elastomers in the fuel system (gaskets, seals, flex tubing and such) can withstand alcohol as well as gasoline. Most such things are OK, as is. You just need engineering to go over the specs of this kind of stuff and add "Shall withstand immersion in 85% alcohol for 10 years". Alcohol resistant elastomers are available and cost about the same as whatever they use now. It's just a matter of telling purchasing to buy the alcohol resistant type. And programming the fuel injection microprocessor to do the right thing, it has to squirt in a good deal more alcohol than gasoline, all things being equal.
Gee, maybe we could make the same kind of "allowance" for hybrids. Each hybrid sold lets you sell a 15 mpg SUV...

NH Gay marriage bill stalls in House

According to the Manchester Union Leader, the House could not muster the few extra votes needed to amend the bill to make it acceptable to Governor Lynch. Lynch demanded language be added to the bill to protect churches and ministers from lawsuits should they refuse to conduct a gay marriage, or allow one to take place in the church. A not unreasonable protection IMHO. The amendment failed to pass last night by just a few votes. Everyone assumes the Governor means what he says and will veto the gay marriage bill with out that amendment.
The issue isn't dead yet. Supporters are maneuvering to try it again.
Jeez, just last year we passed a civil union bill. Now they want to upgrade civil union to marriage. Camel's nose in the tent.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How to acheive 35.5 mpg

It's simple. Henry Ford knew how. Make the car lighter. Less weight means less power to move it. How do you reduce the weight? Again, simple, make the car smaller. Less metal means less weight.
The safety people are already crying that lighter cars are not as safe as heavy ones. They cite laws of physics showing that in a head on collision, the lighter car gets hammered harder. True, but do we really care? Head on collisions are so dangerous that you are in deep yogurt no matter what. Plus head on crashes are relatively rare, 'cause drivers know how deadly they are and do their damndest to avoid them. How often do you go head on with anything, let alone an 18 wheeler?
Real safety comes from good brakes, good tires, good handling, and reasonable engine power that allows you to avoid collisions. Plus seat belts, a roof strong enough to hold the car up in a rollover, head rests, and airbags.
How small is small? The VW Beatle got 32 mpg back in the 1960's, the VW Rabbit did 40 in the 1970's. That's how small cars will have to be to make Obama's 35.5 mpg average. Kiss your SUV goodbye.

Oh California

Looks like California has more woe ahead. Like all of us, their tax receipts are down 'cause of Great Depression II, and expenses, well expenses always go up. But, I'd like to understand a couple of things.
First, why are tax hikes submitted as referendum questions? I know, and you know, and everyone knows, that voters are not stupid and won't vote to give the government more of their money. The elected representatives of the voters are supposed to get together and wheel and deal until something workable happens. Seems to me that the elected representatives of California failed to get with the program and do something, they passed the buck to the voters, who lit the buck on fire.
Second, why is the State of California hiring grade school teachers? According to the Journal, the Governator threatens to lay off 25000 K thru 12 teachers. Around here, grade school teachers are hired and paid by the cities and towns, not the state.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

35 MPG CAFE? Is this doable?

Heard on NPR this morning that Obama is going to call for even tighter fuel economy standards on new cars, starting a few years from now. Goal is to get the average fuel economy of the entire fleet, including "light trucks" up to 35 mpg by 2016.
Only two vehicles were ever made with fuel economy that good. One was the diesel Rabbit in the 1970's and the other is the Prius hybrid. To get the entire fleet (every car/truck GM makes) up to 35 mpg, means building nothing but small diesel powered econoboxes and Chevy Volts. Families looking for a real family car will be out of luck. No SUV's, no minivans, no crewcab pickup trucks, nothing bigger that a Corolla.
Actually, the EPA is responsible for the death of diesel cars in the US. In Europe better than half of all cars are diesels. EPA felt that diesels smoked too much and tightened up the emissions limits so far that no one could meet them. Starting last year EPA required production of "Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel" (ULSD) for all motor diesel fuels. Presumably a diesel running on ULSD could pass EPA emissions limits. About half the diesel pumps in the country now dispense ULSD, and all of them will be on board by next year.
People who need pickup trucks like farmers and builders and tradesmen will to out of luck. They will have to keep their old trucks running, or buy used ones. Actually, you can keep an old truck running pretty much forever (look at Cuba) if you don't mind putting the money into it. The reason cars get replaced with new ones is economic. It doesn't make sense doing a $4000 engine replacement on an old pickup that's only worth $2000. But if the new one are not made, then the old ones get rebuilt and rebuilt again.
Of course, there is one out. The argument could be made that plugin hybrids used to drive to work use no gasoline at all. The Chevy Volt is supposed to go 40 miles on battery alone. That's enough to get to and from work, anywhere I ever worked. You get home on the last of the battery, plug it in and next morning it's all ready to go. If Detroit was allowed to count plug in hybrids as extra high mileage, then they might be able to make one big light truck for each plugin hybrid they sell.
This deal is really a "kill SUVs and pickup trucks" bill. It surely won't help Detroit crawl out of bankruptcy. But the greenies will love it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why do I have four VCR's?

Well it started out with one. Nice Mitsubishi with S-Video output. Bought it new about 5 years ago. Then one day last year it just croaked. Wouldn't start, the front panel display showed rapidly moving gibberish. Took it apart, put it together, still dead.
Inquired at the local store (WallMart) for a replacement. Sorry, we don't sell VCR's any more. Can I sell you this nice DVD player instead?
Coupla weeks later, I picked up a well used junker in a second hand store in St Johnsbury. It worked poorly, and lasted a few months. That makes two.
Picked up another oldy but goodie at a yard sale last summer. It worked better and still plays. Sometime it decided to stop recording, or at least stop recording the sound. Any one need a Goldfinger tape with no sound? That's three
Yesterday I spurged on yet another yard sale VCR. It's a newish RCA. Didn't have a remote. But, pure luck, a remote marked RCA turned up at the next yard sale. Washed the dust and crud off, hooked it up and it plays. Actually it plays quite well. Found the user manual on the net. Put batteries in the remote and it works too. It isn't quite the right remote for this unit, it lacks a "clear" button needed to reset the ZIP code, but it does record/play/rewind and let me do the auto channel search. So that's four.
Gotta have a VCR strip down party in the shop, salvage all the wheels, gears motors, and fasteners, followed by a trip to the recycling center.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Z1485 IS. Replace Kodak Easyshare with Picasa

Had another go round with photo management software. First thing was trying out the memory card slot on the front of my Compaq Presario. Wonder of wonders. Pull the memory card out of the camera and stick it in the slot. Presto, Windows Explorer can see the card pretending to be a plug in disk drive. Just drag and drop the .jpg files off the memory card into the disk folder of your choice. Even cleverer. In Windows Explorer set View to "Thumbnails" and instead of random number file names you see thumbnail pictures. With that turned on, the odds of finding the pix you want are greatly improved, and sorting the photos into file folders (e.q. graduation, wedding, party, children, cat, model trains) is trivial.
So, using the memory card slot completely replaces the need for Kodak's Easyshare.
I then downloaded Google's freeware photo management tool Picasa. It will resize, crop, do slide shows, red eye reduction and other simple photo edit tasks. It has excellent instructions and help functions, it's only 6 megabytes. Loads in a flash. Only uses 38 megs of Ram. Whereas plump Easyshare eats up 150 megs of disk and 500 megs of Ram and takes for ever to load or do anything.
Big breakthru in Picasa. It supports disk folders. You can sort your pictures into folders using Explorer or Picasa. It sticks. You can back up a disk folder to CD with your ordinary CD burner.
EasyShare only supported "albums" and the albums are internal to EasyShare. Moving a picture into an EasyShare album doesn't move it on disk. Backup of the photo folders does not retain the "album" information. You can sort your pix in Easyshare, but all that sorting is lost when you roll in the backup CD to a new machine.
With Picasa, the sorting happens into real windows disk folders which can then by backed up, copied, emailed, whatever using ordinary Windows tools like Explorer.
And, Picasa can download photos from the Z1485 camera over the USB cable, should your computer lack the handy memory card slot.
My recommendation. throw away the Easyshare CD that comes with the Z1485. Download and use Picasa. It's faster, more dependable and less aggravating.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Who needs 38 special design cargo planes?

The Air Force is buying 38 C27J cargo planes. It's a nice looking twin engine turboprop military transport. This is a new aircraft going into the inventory. That means we will pay the one time costs, "non recurring engineering costs", buy the tooling, set up the production line, write all the unit test procedures, write all the technical orders, buy spare parts, develop training for air and ground crewmen, and then train said crewmen. That's a lot of money. And we only get 38 airplanes for spending all that money.
What do we get in the C27 that we don't get in the tried and true C130? We get half the cargo capacity and half the range. Whereas the already in the inventory C130 can haul twice as much stuff, twice as far, and land and takeoff on just as small, maybe even smaller airfields than the smaller C27. Take off distance is a little bit variable, depends upon load and willingness of the aircrew to take risks, but the specified take off roll of a C130J is 1950 feet, loaded. The C27 takeoff roll is 1903 feet. Plus, the C-130 can do considerable better than specified. Back in the 1960s a C-130 made repeated takeoff's from, and landings on, a Navy aircraft carrier, and those things are only 1000 feet long.
So we are spending serious money to buy a few, new, cute little airlifters that aren't any better than the C-130. Serious waste of taxpayer dollars in the estimation of this taxpayer and Air Force veteran.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How many people die of flu? Swine or ordinary?

Good question. Today's WSJ shows the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimating 36,000 flu deaths per year. But, only 849 death certificates list "influenza" as the cause of death in 2006. CDC's estimates are way way over reported influenza deaths. CDC clearly thinks that doctors all over the country cannot diagnose properly. On the other hand, who do you believe, front line doctors or research guys on a sunny campus in Atlanta?
So how dangerous is this month's media darling disease, swine flu? Compared to regular flu? If you believe CDC's estimate of 36,000 ordinary flu deaths a year then the handful of swine flu deaths is lost in the noise. If you go with reported flu deaths of only 849 the handful of swine flu deaths becomes a bit more meaningful, although still not much.
Every death is a tragedy, each human life is precious. But life is full of risks, and if the risk is small, we shouldn't get too bent out of shape.

Monday, May 11, 2009

New Star Trek Movie

Just got back from seeing it. Pretty good. whole new crew of actors, most of them pretty good. Lots of action, explosions, starships ramming each other, car chases, etc No real love interest. We have Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Chekhov, and Scotty from classic Trek. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are plausible as younger versions of the classic Trek characters. Uhura, Chekhov and Scotty are less convincing. The over all plot is the standard save the universe one. If you are any kind of Trekkie or have children, you (and they) will enjoy it.

Health Care is expensive 'cause of crooked bills

Last year I was buying my prescription drugs at Walmart. Cost $48 for three months. This year they added a prescription drug benefit to my medicare advantage plan. According to the plan my prescriptions had an Average Retail price of $1002.50 for three months. Plan discounts brought that down to $119.31, which the plan paid.
In short, the plan claims an astronomical average retail price, twenty times the actual retail price. Then they claim to have achieved discounts (kickbacks) bringing the drug cost down to $119.31, only twice retail price, and then "paid" for it all. Right.
Imagine the billing scams possible under Obama's yet to be announced, health care plan.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Weep for the Chevy Impala SS

Rumor has it that Chevy is going to drop the "SS" trim level on the Impala sedan for 2010. Currently Chevy offers the Impala in 4 different trim levels (LS, LT, LTZ and SS) There is little to no difference between the 4 trim levels, they all have same standard equipment, same engine, same transmission. The top of the line models get a few frills like leather seats and a fancier radio, excuse me "audio system". Cruising the Chevy website shows no visible external differences, no extra chrome strips, no two tone paint, no bigger grill, nada, zip.
Chevy marketing asks $24K for the bottom of the line LS and $32K for the top of the line SS.
And marketing expects customers to pay up to $8K more for just a badge on the trunk lid? I don't think so. In actual fact, customers are going to pay the same price for all four trim levels, cause they all look the same. Customers will walk into the dealer and ask for the bottom of the line LS cause it's cheapest. If the dealer doesn't have one, he is going to sell them the "higher priced" LT, LTZ, or SS models at bottom of the line LS prices. Especially this year when the dealers are so desparate they will do anything to make a sale.
What any sensible marketing department ought to do is simplify things for production. An Impala is an Impala, with one list price. Deal with the frills as options.
Unfortunately Chevy marketing is stuck in a time warp going back to the 1950's. Back then they offered Chevy's as 110, 210, and Bel Air. 110 was the plainest model, sold to fleets, 210 got some extra chrome trim, and Bel Air got a lot of extra chrome trim. In those days you could tell the difference between the cheap body 110 and the flossy Bel Air from 200 feet away. Not any longer, the 2009 Impala's four trim levels look exactly the same from 200 inches away. But marketing still wants to charge extra for invisible non-differences.
Well, the enthusiasts are all crying 'cause Chevy is dropping the SS trim level for 2010. Somehow I don't think those enthusiasts have ever tried to sell a real car to a real customer.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Torture IAW written legal opinions?

I don't think so. The CIA agents were interrogating important sources in accordance with written legal opinions. That's not torture, that's legal. Now that Obama foolishly published John Yoo's memos, the CIA agents are off the hook. Can't prosecute a man for complying with written policy.
The author, John Yoo, was trying to be a useful lawyer at the time. He provided a readable and understandable guide to what was legal and what was not. He answered the question "How far can we go?" (Useless lawyers, of which there are many, furnish bafflegab that can be read both ways) They are after John Yoo, but probably can't get to him 'cause his superiors OK'd it (at least they didn't trash can it). Plus there is a small matter of statute of limitations. John Yoo apparently doesn't think it's illegal torture unless blood is drawn, marks are left, or the subject's health is impared by the interrogation.
Personally, I have no problems with making Al Quada terrorists hurt a little bit.
Some NPR talking head kept raving on and on about "Torture is illegal." So it is. But CIA wasn't torturing, they were interrogating terrorists in accordance with written legal advice.

HP Boot Optimizer HPBootOp, Infests HP Computers

Those of you with HP or Compaq computers may find a curious piece of software with the name HPBootOp living happily in your RAM. What is this fellow and what does he do? Well, he loads various services and drivers at boot time. He makes the computer boot appear faster by waiting until after the login screen appears. Most of us measure boot time from pressing the power on button until the login screen appears. Sluggishness after the login screen doesn't count.
Why do we care? Simple, hpbootop was loading a couple of drivers/ram_eaters that I didn't want loaded. In particular it was loading ctfmon, a plump Microsoft slower-downer that supports voice entry, Braille, and pareplegics tapping on the keyboard with a stick taped to their foreheads. And it eats up megs and megs of scarce RAM. There is a Microsoft documented procedure to prevent ctfmon from loading. I executed the procedure a couple of times with no luck. Ctfmon popped right back into RAM. That was a while ago, and I let the matter drop.
Yesterday, on the track of something else, I stumbled across an HPBootOp key in the registry. It had subkeys Delay1 and Delay2. Those subkeys had names of programs, including my old buddy ctfmon. Ah hah.
A bit of web surfing turned up this and this from HP explaining how to get rid of HPBootOp and how to restore him if you might want him back.
HPBootOp is persistant, and when you kill him he plants keys in the registry to start all the things he used to start. I used the StartManager program to turn off all the ones I didn't want, starting with ctfmon. This time ctfmon stayed dead.
Did HPBootOp speed up my boot? Not much, if at all. Timing with a plain wrist watch, boot time with the optomizer was 46-48 seconds. Without it I get 49-51 seconds. And without Ctfmon and his other sluggish friends, the computer runs faster.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Words of the Weasel Part 11

Invest. Obama speak for spend.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Health Care is expensive because it's free

Health care is sucking up 16% of GNP. That makes everything we buy, cars, food, fuel, clothes, houses, cost 16% more just to pay the workers health care. It makes American exports cost 16% more than our international competitors. It makes imports cheaper because no other country in the world pours 16% of GNP into health care. The rest of the world spends no more than 8% on health care. Public health in the other industrialized nations is every bit as good, and in many cases better, than in the US.
Why is US health care so expensive? Because health care providers charge as much as they want, and the patient never complains, because he has insurance. And the the health care providers do charge like crazy. A straight forward gall bladder removal cost as much as the house I had just bought. Which is ridiculous, an hour or two in the operating room and a few days in a hospital bed does not cost anywhere as much as a three story house. No problem, Blue Cross Blue Shield paid it all.
Most of us have insurance that pays for everything. So everything gets done, whether it needs to or not, and the bills go up and up and the insurance company pays them.
If we had to pay for health care out of our own pockets, a lot less money would go to health care.
Suppose nobody had health insurance? That would reduce the number of doctor visits, hospital stays, and the total share of GNP going to health care. Everything would cost less, and the average citizen would stay even.
Trouble with this is the catastrophic illness. Some things cost so much that no one can afford the bill. Even the unpadded bill. Suppose we buy insurance to cover real unpredictable catastrophes and pay the ordinary stuff out of pocket?
That would stimulate the economy far more than having Uncle Sam pay health insurance premiums for everyone.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

It isn't Windows fault (this time)

I fixed the computer that would not remember passwords. It turns out to be something inside Firefox, at least Firefox 3.10. Just this once, Windows is not guilty. Here's how to fix passwords.
On the Firefox Menu Bar click Tools->Options. Click the Privacy tab. Make sure cookies are enabled and "clear private data on exit" is UNCHECKED. Remove any cookie EXCEPTIONS that might block sites you care about. Do Show Cookies and then delete all of them. Sometimes cookies get corrupted which confuses Firefox. Wiping them all out will force the websites to create new, clean cookies next time you visit.
Next click the Security tab. Check "Remember Passwords". Then click on Password EXCEPTIONS. Remove any Exceptions blocking sites you care about. In my case an Exception was blocking Facebook. I have no idea how that Exception got planted, but there it was.
Clearing it allowed me to click right into my facebook page without having to hand type my password each time.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A tale of two computers.

One computer shows a clever parchment texture behind website text and gets me into websites withOUT demanding I type in a password. Those are good things. It chokes up on YouTube video, and it doesn't change the color of web links when I visit them. Those are bad things.
The other computer shows plain white behind the website text, and demands I type my password to get to my Facebook page or log me into other websites. Those are minor annoyances. But it plays YouTube and turns weblinks into a reminder color after I visit them. Those are good things.
Both machines run XP service pack 3, patched right up to yesterday. Both browse with Firefox 3.10. Both show no malware using AdAware, Spybot, AVG, ZoneAlarm, and Malicious Software Removal Tool. Both have better than half the disk free, Both have 750 Megs of RAM and the same set of speed up tweaks. Both internet using the same router & cable modem.
Beats me. I'm sure the reason is buried somewhere inside Windows, but where? I don't feel like re installing Windows just to satisfy my curiosity.

Arlen Spector turning Democrat

Despite all the hot air and venting about Arlen Spector switching parties, no one has commented upon the real meaning of Spector's switch. Namely, Pennsylvania is turning democratic, or at least Spector thinks it is, and he has a lot of experience in PA politics. More than I do for sure.
Republicans should be asking themselves "why are we loosing Pennsylvania?" rather than "Why did Spector abandon the GOP?"
So why is Pennsylvania (and a lot of other places) going Democratic? Certainly the GOP's poor record on spending ($750 billion TARP was a Bush bill), pork, and earmarks, association with, and bungling of, the Iraq war hurt. Great Depression II happened on Bush's watch and is blamed upon the party in power. A Democratic media, and a Democratic education establishment are doing their best to raise the new generation as Democrats. GOP support of the record companies against the downloaders of music alienates the young but doesn't bring any voters into the party. The record companies don't vote. Republican concentration upon hot-button wedge issues looses more votes among the new generation than it gains among the older generation.
What should the GOP do? Certainly it needs to pull up its socks on spending, pork, earmarks, campaign finance/bribery, and corruption. It needs programs to reduce the scandulous amounts of money (16% of GNP) spent on "health care". It needs to advocate Wall Street reforms to prevent Great Depression III from occuring. Outlawing credit default swaps, outlawing the secondary mortgage market, requiring stock holder approval of bonuses, and cleaning up the accounting "profession" would be a good start.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Portraits, on Facebook

Funny thing is, very few portraits posted on Facebook are any good. Or at least, I'd never recognize the person in the real world (as opposed to cyberspace). Lots of pictures taken from 50 feet away. In a 1 inch portrait, the face is about four pixels wide and just four fleshtone pixels don't give enough detail to recognize a face. Or, the person is wearing a funny hat , silly glasses, sunglasses, or something else that makes them unrecognizable. Bank robbers used to do that stuff to disguise themselves on the job. Or, somehow in this day and age of supergenius point and shoot cameras, they manage to overwelm the camera's microprocessor and post a picture that's over exposed, under exposed, out of focus, or blurry. They must be working at it, 'cause the cameras are very clever, and take flawless pictures under the most demanding situations. Or they take the portrait with an awful background.
The pro's post good portraits. For instance the executive counselor from this district for the last quarter century, posts a professionally shot portrait that's sharp as a tack, and I recognized him immediately.

Computer Resurrection

After adjusting to life on a laptop, I had to do something about the flaking desktop. As frequent followers of this blog remember, the Compaq Presario SR1750NX started doing sudden death incidents. It was sudden, no blue screen of death, no error messages, it just stopped, monitor blank. Fearing total loss of email, bookmarks, check book, letters, plans, software, and you know it all, I backed everything up to CDs and moved operations to a laptop.
But, the Presario was still cluttering up the desk, with monitor and wires and computery stuff hogging too much space. It was either fix it or scrap it.
A new motherboard ought to do the trick, since everything is on the motherboard. So, I took the ailing machine to the workshop and did a motherboarderectomy, looking for part numbers, model numbers, dimensions, hole patterns and anything that might help me find a new board cheap. The Presario had a slather of look alike cables going to lots of wierdo connectors all over the board. But with some handwritten cable labels made from masking tape, and a sketch, I figured it would all go back together.
While I had it apart, I took the shop vac and sucked humungous dustbunnies out of everywhere. I copied down every number I could see. The maker (Asus) didn't bother to put his name on the board (poor marketing) but did put his model number A8AE-LE on it. Two thoughts crossed my mind. The works (all the hi-tech) of this American desktop were designed and manufactured in Taiwan. Americans only do sheet metal work. Second thought was only another A8AE board was gonna fit the casework without a lot a sheet metal butchery. The motherboard carries connectors for VGA, USB, keyboard, mouse, mike, headset, LAN, and Firewire, and the connectors all fit neatly into matching holes in the case. Chances of finding another make of motherboard with the same connector arrangement are slim. From web surfing I knew the A8AE board was special to Compaq and not sold to anyone but Compaq. Getting a new one thru Compaq might be pricey. Very pricey.
So, I put it back together, while I still remembered how everything went. For grins I used a Pink Pearl pencil eraser to polish the gold fingers on the RAM sticks. With it all back together, I plugged it in, just to see. Sun of a gun. She powered right up, just like new.
Damn. Is this for real, or is the mystery crapout just biding its time? I left it running for two days, and it keep right on ticking.
This morning, I backed up last months work off the laptop and loaded it back onto the Presario. Everything looks good. It may be that a simple remove and replace has fixed it for good. Stay tuned for further developments.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Follow on to Horror Story

Apparently the electronic medical records business is in as bad shape as I feared. Yesterday's WSJ had a story about the electronic medical record system used by the Veteran's Administration. The system is public domain open source and very-low-cost to free. VA has been using it for twenty years. One hitch, the VA merely offers the source code. The hospital has to employ some computer geeks to compile it and install it and do maintainance (bug fixes). The VA software is good except for one thing. No billing functions (VA doesn't bill veterans). The hospital computer geeks will have to find or write a billing module, but this has been done.
The article went on to say that competing commercial medical records programs cost heavily and are not compatible with each other. This means that electronic patient records created by system X cannot be read by system Y. So change hospitals or doctors or health plans and your medical record is in jeopardy.
You might have known.
Looks like a business opportunity for some computer geeks to set themselves up in business offering the VA program to hospitals.

NYT presents a 1920's idea as new technology

Good old NYT, life would be boring without them. They ran a big spread on ocean thermal power, presenting it as the answer to the energy problem and a promising new technology. Of course the highly educated Times men didn't know that ocean thermal power was pioneered in the 1920's by Georges Claude, a wealthy French scientist. Claude built a test plant on the shore of Cuba in 1929 which worked but produced little power. He built a sea borne ship mounted unit in 1934 which didn't work much better. In the end Claude gave up and scuttled his ship in a place where the ocean was especially deep.
The concept of ocean thermal power is fairly simple. You build a steam engine that runs on a fluid that boils from the heat of the warm surface water, and condenses in the coolth of the deep bottom water. This requires a long pipe reaching down to the cold bottom water layers. This pipe has been the bane of ocean thermal power experiments. Either it breaks in a storm, or the feed water pump uses up most of the output of the plant. Heat engines work off a thermal difference. The greater the temperature difference the more power the engine will deliver. Old fashioned steam locomotives worked off a temperature difference of 300 degrees F.
Warm tropical ocean water might be 80 degrees F. The cold bottom water is never colder than 32 degrees F, yielding a temperature difference of only 50 degrees F at the most favorable locations, like the Carribbean. Off the New England coast, the ocean water never goes above 50 degrees F, reducing the temperature difference to a mere 20 degrees F.
Since Claude's experiments 70 years ago, other's have tried, but no one has been able to squeeze enough power out of a 50 degree temperature difference to make the effort worth while. We are talking steam engines here. Steam engines have been well understood for better than a hundred years. It is unlikely that some intrepid inventor will make a great breakthru in steam engine technology.