Sunday, January 30, 2011

To fund or not to fund, Public Broadcasting

In principle, a government run broadcaster gives the government in power a mouthpiece to win votes and influence citizens. It has for sure given the liberal greenie leftie segment of the population a place to push liberal greenie leftie ideas. As a conservative this is slightly offensive to me. But, offensive or not, I listen to public broadcasting quite a bit. In fact a lot. The liberal greenie leftie slant is much less offensive than the non-stop barrage of ads on commercial broadcasting outlets.
Public Broadcasting's lineup of shows, Nova, Sesame St, The Newshour, Masterpiece Theater, All Things Considered, is strong enough to stand on their own two feet, to go out and get sponsors just like real TV shows do. On the other hand, having Big Bird brought to you by the number 9 is amusing. Having Big Bird brought to your kids by Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, PopTarts, and Ronald McDonald is distastful.
So, continue to fund PBS, to bring me and mine some decent programming. Keep the pressure up to make it non-partisan, but don't have a conniption when the liberal greenie leftie viewpoint comes thru.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

WashPo reviews the Chevy Volt

Click here to read all about it. The writer is one of those hopeless klutzes who has difficulty changing light bulbs. He knows squat about cars, and spends several paragraphs telling us so. Just what we all wanted to learn. For reading the entire article we learn zip about the Volt. We do learn quite a bit about this guy's feelings about the car (he likes it), the evils of electric power generation, and assorted fluff, but zilch about the car. He doesn't even tell us how many doors it has.

Egypt. Part 2

Some TV newsies have been calling for the US to support the Egyptian rebels. Others have been calling for support of Mubarak, likening Mubarak to the Shah of Iran. The shah was overthrown after Carter withdrew American support, and Iran was taken over by Islamic fundamentalists led by the Ayatollah Khomeni. Iran was converted from a US ally to a relentless adversary in a matter of days. They are still an adversary.
In actual fact, we cannot support the Egyptian rebels, yet. The world is full of shaky regimes, all of which fear an American attempt at regime change will be effective. The US cannot be perceived as a superpower willing to foment revolution in countries that displease it, not if we want to do any sort of business, diplomatic, commercial, cultural, or whatever. Which means we cannot jettison the Mubarak regime just yet.
Plus, we aren't sure we like the Egyptian opposition all that much. CIA has done its usual sloppy job, and we have no idea who, if anyone, is behind today's Egyptian uprising. We ought to fear that the real leaders might be the Muslim Brotherhood. They are an old and powerful Islamic movement that goes back to the 1920's. They got started as anti colonialists. Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak considered them dangerous radicals, outlawed the party, and slung every party member they could catch into jail. Despite this pressure, the Brotherhood was able to assassinate Anwar Sadat and give birth to Al Quada.
At this moment it looks like Mubarak might be able to survive, but he is in his eighties, in poor health, and he isn't going to last much longer. If a halfway decent Egyptian leader were to surface in today's confusion, we could do worse. Unfortunately, we have no good intelligence from Egypt and we cannot tell real leaders from useless windbags. So we have to wait upon events.

Friday, January 28, 2011


The TV newsies have been yakking all day about the uproar in Egypt. What none of them seem to understand is
1. We don't know who is going to come out on top. Might be Mubarak, might be someone else. We won't know until one side wins.
2. We want to be friends with the winners. Which means we don't want to piss the winners off by supporting the losers. And we don't know who is going to win.
3. Given 1 and 2, the correct action for the US is to stand on the side lines until we know who is running the place and then, only then, reassure the government of Egypt, be it new or old, of continued US support.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Whither TV?

TV is facing the Internet challenge. Ever since the switch to digital broadcast wiped out many folks TV reception, viewers have been turning to the Internet to watch programs. For instance at my place we used to get 8 over-the-air channels. After the switchover to digital broadcasting we only get one. Lotta people who don't have or cannot afford cable don't get to see much TV anymore. At my daughter's place in DC they don't have TV anymore. They have three reasonable modern but non functional TV sets piled up in the dining room to form a modern object d'art.
Enter the Internet. has been offering streaming TV right to your computer. Hulu is a joint venture between NBC, News Corp, and Disney and offers TV programs. Hulu is free (right now anyway) but the owners are conflicted over the Hulu business model. In plain English, they cannot figure out how to make money giving stuff away free. Competitor Netflix charges $8 a month for roughly the same thing.
One unsolved problem, at least in my house, is how to get the Internet TV signal onto the living room TV. The main (desktop) computer is some distance from the TV and running a video cable across two rooms under the rugs is un inviting. I could put a wireless card into backup (laptop) computer) and set the laptop down close to the TV. My newer TV accepts VGA (computer monitor) video. Many (but not all)laptops will output regular composite video (standard analog TV signal like a VCR outputs) if your TV is a little older.
Another unsolved problem is internet bandwidth. There isn't that much of it. If you think the Internet is slow now, wait til everyone is watching TV over the 'net. The "net neutrality" scuffle is an attempt by Hulu and Netflix to force the ISP's not to put their streaming TV on the back burner. The ISP's, given a choice between delaying a website from painting, a matter of a few dozen packets, and delaying some of the 4 million packets for a movie, are going to paint the web site first and do the movie later.
Internet TV may force the ISP's to change their billing practices. Right now broadband is billed at one flat monthly rate. The ISP's find that a small percentage of their customers are hogging most of the bandwidth. To make the bandwidth hogs pay their fair share, the ISP's may have to bill by the byte. The more you download the higher your bill. Hulu and Netflix are against that idea.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

HoHum State of the Union

Words roll off Obama's tongue so smoothly but they don't mean anything. With the US about to go as broke as Greece, Obama didn't talk about cutting spending on anything. He wanted more spending on high speed rail and education. Oh sorry, it's investment now, sounds so much better than spending.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How cold did you get?

Well, both Franconia and Littleton were 25 below zero yesterday morning about 8:30. Didn't warm up much all day.

Monday, January 24, 2011

New Hampshire's deficit is as bad as California's

New Hampshire is looking at a $900 million deficit this year. State spending will exceed tax revenue by that much. California is looking at a $28 billion deficit. Who is deeper in the hole?
New Hampshire's population is 1.3 million people, California's is 37 million.
Divide New Hampshire's deficit by the population to yield deficit per citizen.
$900 million/1.3 million = $692 deficit per citizen.
Divide California's deficit by the population to yield deficit per citizen
$28 billion/37 million = $756 deficit per citizen

In short, we in frugal New Hampshire are nearly as broke as free spending California.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

NH Republican Annual Meeting

It was cold yesterday morning, about 4 above zero. Trusty car started right up and by 7:30 we were heading downstate to Derry at a sedate 75 mph. Google maps brought me right to the front gate of Pinkerton Academy, whereat the meeting was supposed to be held. Not a sign of a meeting. 30 or 40 other cars showed up at the same place, and everyone looked around and shrugged their shoulders. Some casting about found the event, it was in a theater up the road, only the theater building was signed as the school gym.
Meeting opened at 10 AM. Lots of pep rally type speeches, reports from various committees, and back patting talk soaked up the morning. Business really got started after lunch with the election of party officers for the next two years.
Fun started there. Outgoing party chairman, John Sununu, retired NH governor hauled out of retirement in 2008, had done a smashingly successful job, leading the state GOP to major victory. Supermajorities in the house, the senate, and all five executive councilors. Victory doesn't get much better than this.
The party establishment nominated Juliana Bergeron to replace Sununu for the next two years. The Tea Party backed Jack Kimball, would had run for governor in 2010. Juliana stood for a quiet bureaucratic party leadership that wouldn't rock any boats. Jack stood for an activist leadership pushing for real change. Both sides campaigned hard before the meeting. I got emails and snail mails by the bushel, plus phone calls from both sides. Juliana called herself, in person, not a robo-call. Two old friends, whose judgment I respect, called me on behalf of Jack Kimball.
On the way in, partisans for both sides were handing out buttons. I got a two inch round button that read simply "Jack". The razzle dazzle ran down and just about 3 PM we had the vote for new chairman. After a lengthy delay to count the paper ballots, outgoing chairman Sununu announced the results. 223 for Jack, 199 for Juliana. The house erupted into cheers. Shortly the Kimball folks started a chant going "Jack! Jack! Jack..."
At that, I figured my civic duty was done. I found the car and started the two hour drive back to Franconia.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Going up against the Federal budget

There has been a lot of talk about hiking the federal debt limit, something that will become pressing this spring when federal borrowing bumps up against the limit. If the Republican house wants to use this crisis constructively, they could say "After we pass this year's appropriation bills, so we know how much deeper in the hole we are going to go, THEN we can talk about OKing more borrowing."
The Democrats adjourned last year's Congress without passing ANY appropriation bills. The whole federal government is running of a "continuing resolution", which runs out about the same time as the debt limit will be reached.
In short, use the debt limit as a lever to lower overall federal spending.

How farsighted are suits? Part 2

On the radio this morning, Travelocity and Orbitz no longer display American Airlines flights. That will increase American's market share. At least that's what the suits running American think. Good luck to them.
If I worked at American I would be getting my resume in order.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dr. Strangelove rides again, on NHPR no less

NHPR this morning had an anti fluoridation speaker on. He explained how fluoride in your drinking water led to all sorts of horrible health problems. He did admit that fluoride was good for your teeth, and he allowed that fluoride toothpaste was OK, but putting fluoride in the drinking water is dangerous and unAmerican.
Last time I heard such a strong anti fluoridation rant was from General Jack D. Ripper in Doctor Strangelove. Anti fluoridation had mostly died out by the 1980's. I wonder why NHPR decided to revive this mostly dead issue in 2011?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

So what if they don't hike the federal debt limit?

The TV pundits get very dramatic and call it "shutting down the government" and "defaulting on our debts". Would it really be that bad?
Hard to tell. According to the usual sources Uncle Sam is borrowing 40 % of federal outlays. If we hit the debt limit, that borrowing will have to stop. That cuts Uncle's cash flow down by 40%, and he would have to reduce the check writing by 40% to avoid bouncing checks.
That's pretty drastic. But 60% of government activity could proceed as usual.
So what government activities would be in the unlucky 40%? Government suppliers and contractors should fear for their lives, they won't get paid on time, and perhaps never. Payments for projects like fighter planes would be put on hold and the contractors told to just freeze the program where ever it is. "Non essential" government workers would be furloughed. Say the departments of education, energy, agriculture, health and human services and transportation. Maybe even the obnoxious TSA.
Farm subsidies, highway subsidies, unspent porkulus money would all be frozen.
That all probably ain't enough. The next cut would be medical. Medicare and Medicaid payments would be "delayed". This would cause a firestorm among the patients and the medical business but it probably isn't as bad as the firestorm that would occur if social security checks stopped flowing.
All this turmoil will create irresistible political pressure to do something, anything. The path of least resistance would be to cave in and raise the debt limit and let the spending go on as before.
I notice the new Republican leadership in the House has wisely kept their heads down on this explosive issue.

Friday, January 14, 2011

WSJ writer is no engineer

The story headline was OK, "Toyota tries to break reliance on China." with a sub headline "Company seeks to develop electric motor without costly, tightly controlled rare earth metals." So far so good.
Then we get to some statements indicating this writer is fundamentally ignorant of things electrical. "All electric motors rely on magnets to make them work". Not true. Most electric motors, including the ones found around the house, don't use magnets at all.
Then we have "induction motors found in such devices as kitchen mixers". Not true, kitchen mixers use universal (AC-DC) motors. Induction motors are used to power fans and vacuum cleaners, not kitchen mixers.
In actually fact, very satisfactory electric motors, which used no magnets, were developed to power trolley cars better than 100 years ago. Such motors could power electric or hybrid cars.
Another type of motor, the AC induction motor, is nearly as old and, with clever solid state controllers would work fine. The clever solid state controllers would take DC from the batteries and turn it into AC for the motors. The clever controller would vary the frequency of the AC power to control the speed of the AC motor. Large railroad locomotives use this scheme today. The new AC locomotives are somewhat more powerful than the traditional DC locomotives that make up most of the world wide locomotive fleet. They are also more costly which accounts for the survival of the older DC locomotive design.
In short the writer thinks Toyota is working on a break thru technology. I think Toyota is doing a routine research and development project, drawing upon well known technology, to design a motor which will be optimum for their electric and hybrid cars.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Web site clock running slow?

Last couple of my posts are time stamped 28 minutes EARLIER than the time on my wrist watch (or the Windows time display on my desktop). I guess the clock used by blogspot is running about a half hour slow.

GSI Java Press

Been getting tired of the taste of instant coffee. Real coffee, made in a French press, is good enough for me to drink it black. The instant stuff needs milk and sugar to kill the bitter taste.
So I bought a miniature french press from Lahout's Littleton sporting goods shop. It works. It's light, all plastic with some kind of clever heat insulating fabric cover which keeps the coffee hot and your hands cool. The coffee tastes OK, but not quite as good as the coffee from my big glass french press. Viewed as camping equipment, it's light enough and it nests together into a cylinder about the size of a small coffee can, a little big for backpacking, but not beyond the pale. Viewed as kitchen ware, it's OK. The rubberized grippy bottom tends to stick to my formica counter tops, leaving black marks when peeled loose. The fabric covers absorb water making washing up awkward. But it doesn't overfill the sink the way my big glass one does.
So I use it, most days. It isn't bad, but there oughta be something even better out there, somewhere.

How farsighted are suits?

American Airlines has been making the newspapers about conflict with the computer ticket sellers, and back of the cheerful internet faces of Orbitz and Travelocity, the massive Sabre reservations system. American wants passengers to buy tickets off American's website so that American doesn't have to pay the Interneters their commission. Passengers want to buy tickets off the independent websites so as to see which airline offers lowest cost tickets, so American's scheme seems sorta counterproductive, but heh, what can you expect from suits?
The real internet player is Sabre. They own and run the heavy duty computer systems that keep track of every airline seat on the planet. Orbitz and Travelocity get their seat information and make their reservations thru Sabre. Sabre charges 3% to 5% commission for the service. In retaliation for American's attacks on their commissions, Sabre has reprogrammed their computers to display American's flights last, behind every other airline's flights.
The joke is, American used to own Sabre. Way back in the 1960's, American wanted computer assistance to sell tickets. They built Sabre to keep track of every seat on every American flight. ASR-33 teletypes at travel agents allowed inquiry (what seats are available) and sales (soon as a seat is sold it is no longer available), all in real time. This was heavy lifting for 1960's computers, like the IBM 360, linked together with 300 baud telephone modems. Somehow the computer programmers managed to do it, and the computer trade press would carry stories about how clever the Sabre programmers were and how powerful the Sabre hardware was. Everyone in the computer business back then had heard of Sabre, one of the wonders of the mainframe computer world.
Sabre was a great success for American, so good that other airlines began to pay American for the privilege of listing their flights too.
Then in 2000, the suits at American sold off Sabre, set it up as an independent company. I suppose American got some cash out of the deal. But they lost control of the backbone of their ticket sales.
And now in 2011, American is complaining about the commissions they have to pay the independent Sabre. Somehow I don't think the cash American raised for selling Sabre, matches the commissions they have been paying Sabre for the last ten years.
Most suit's idea of long range planning is 48 hours into the future.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tax Reform, Federal Income Tax that is

Interesting article here. Author says the current tax code is so unloved that it might be politically possible to toss the whole damn thing and start over.
Good idea. Here are a few thoughts of mine on how to do it.
1. KISS. Keep it simple stupid. Every word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph of the tax code makes it harder for us average Joe's to do our taxes. And offers more welfare to lawyers. Entire US tax code should be no longer than the US Constitution.

2. No exemptions, deductions, credits, for anything. Tax is a straight percentage of your income. That ought to get rid of 10,000 pages of tax code. Scratch exemptions/deductions for children, mortgage interest, marriage, oil depletion, and God knows what else.

3. Income is income. Doesn't matter if it comes as wages on a W2 or from selling stock, it's income and pays taxes at the same rate. That will clear out another 10,000 pages of the tax code and put an end to fruitless squabbling about ordinary income versus capital gains.

4. Everyone, no matter how poor, pays something. The tax rate for the really poor can be really small, but they must contribute something so they understand the government bennies they enjoy have to be paid for by someone. No free riders.

That's for the personal income tax. Corporate income tax is another bucket of worms, too complex to deal with here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

People killing people

The horrible incident in Arizona has provoked a lot of distasteful bloviating on TV and on the Internet. Left wingers blame the crime on "hate speech" by right wingers. Right wingers blame "hate speech" from left wingers. Gun control advocates blame inadequate gun control laws. All these ideas are phony.
What really happened is a mentally unstable individual (aka homicidal maniac) acted out his insanity. It's like the school shooter cases, only this shooter fixated upon a Congressman rather than upon his schoolmates.
This guy Loughner should have been confined to an insane asylum years ago. That didn't happen because most states don't have insane asylums anymore, and the American belief in individual freedom prevents us from confining people against their will.
Plus, laws tough enough to put the Loughner's of the world in custody would also put a huge number of teenagers who dress funny, say dumb things in public, and act out in custody with them.
Sorting out the truly dangerous nut cases from the run of the mill teenage rebel would require wisdom far beyond mine.
Everything has a cost. American belief in individual liberty allows young homicidal maniacs to kill large numbers of innocent people. Deplorable as this is, I am not ready to curtail individual liberty enough to put potential shooters in the booby hatch. Yet.
It is too bad that the chattering classes use this terrible case to grind their axes and fail to recognize the real problem.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tucson Arizona shooting

My sincere condolences to the families of the slain, and my prayers for speedy recovery of the wounded.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

When is a public company not a public company?

Under SEC rules any company with more than 500 shareholders is a public company and is required to furnish quarterly reports of gains and losses, liabilities, debts, sales, and so forth. That's for openers, in fact the SEC requires public companies to jump thru a large number of expensive hoops.
Facebook is a private company with less than 500 shareholders. They want to remain a private company. They also want to raise capital by selling stock. According to the Wall St Journal, one of the 500 Facebook shareholders is brokerage house Goldman Sachs. Goldman, having a lot of cash, bought a lot of Facebook shares. Goldman has now created a "special investment vehicle" backed by the Facebook shares, and is selling "special investment vehicle" shares to eager investors. Goldman salespersons say that owning shares in the "special investment vehicle" is as good as owning real Facebook shares.
In short, Facebook and Goldman Sachs have discovered a way for a private company to sell stock and avoid SEC reporting requirements (and doubtless much burdensome SEC regulation as well).
I'm of mixed minds about this scheme. The SEC, created after the 1929 crash, is supposed to prevent 1929 from happening again. I think most people will agree that the SEC has failed to do so. So, perhaps much burdensome SEC regulation should be abolished.
On the other hand, investors really need to know if a company is making or losing money, which is the purpose of the quarterly reports. Companies would not disclose such information unless required to do so by law. It isn't fair to let one company avoid reporting when it's competitors are required to report.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Whoppers heard on NHPR

I'm in the car, and the radio is on, NHPR with the Diane Rahms show. She has a couple of public sector union people on, who are trying to explain that public service unions are all that bad. One union guy says "the two major economic problems facing the country are the federal debt and the very low wages paid to workers.
Wow. a union guy and he doesn't mention 10% unemployment? He thinks a pay hike for his members is more important that keeping them employed? Scratch him.
Then the other union guy says "unions promote economic growth and right to work states have less economic growth than good old closed shop union states."
Wow squared. The 2010 census shows that the right to work states have gained population at the expense of closed shop states. All the states that lost US representative this census were closed shop states and the states that gained representative were all right to work states.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Bills in the NH legislative hopper.

There is a good one in there. HB1485 will allow construction of new houses withOUT fire suppression sprinkler systems.
Some back ground. Firemen and fire departments nation wide have been pushing for years to make home sprinkler systems mandatory in new construction. They have managed to get the national fire and building code to require home sprinklers. They are now pushing to make the newly stiffened national code binding upon New Hampshire.
Home sprinklers are expensive, $5000 to $7000 when installed during construction. If the firemen get their way, all new homes in New Hampshire will cost $5000 to $7000 more. For all that money, the home buyer gets those tasteful chrome sprinkler heads sticking out of his new living room ceiling. Good homey atmosphere, just like at the office.
The fire insurance companies are neutral on the issue. They figure extra claims from accidental sprinkler activations will cost them as much as the sprinklers save them by putting out fires.
Me, I've lived all my life in wood houses without sprinklers. I've never experienced a house fire. I have experienced an accidental sprinkler activation at work. Damn things came on in the middle of the day and filled the company computer room with water. That was costly.
We ought to pass HB1485. We shouldn't raise the cost of all new homes to mitigate a not very likely danger. Compared to the number of fatalities in auto accidents, few people perish in house fires.
It used to be a free country. Which means freedom to install, or not install a home sprinkler system.

Things I learn from NHPR

Salvia, a readily availible and legal herb, gives a rocketship high and out of this world hallucinations. The on-the-air piece raved on and on about the quality of the high, the clarity of the hallucinations. Miley Cyrus uses it the radio went on to say.
Damn, this is the first I ever heard of the stuff. Must be getting old.
The NHPR piece was allegedly about new wonder drugs that might be developed from salvia, but it really was a three minute advertisement for the joys of smoking the stuff.
Should NHPR be hyping a new "substance"? There might have been some teenagers out there who haven't heard of salvia.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sunday TV Pundit Whoppers

Discussion of last weekend's snow storm, and its political repercussions. Lots of pix of snowy car clogged streets. NO discussion of the NY sanitation worker's job action, a slowdown on snow removal. That story has been all over the blogs and Fox, but NBC didn't mention it once. Could it be the sanitation workers threatened retailiation if the story was aired?
Then I heard NH state rep Terrie Norelli (sp?) claim that last year's state budget was only $60 million in the red. In actual fact, the deficit was far worse, and the Feds gave NH $400 million of Porkulus money to fill the gap.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

So how to end Great Depression 2.0? Pt 5

Stop wasting money on windmills, solar cells, ethanol, and battery powered cars. Jobs are occupations that produce something of economic value, that can be sold, to pay the wages. The green's pet "alternate energy" projects just consume money, they don't make any. Heavy taxpayer subsidies are used to entice people into buying "alternate energy", gasohol, and battery cars. These projects do not create wealth, they consume it. The money would be better spent on real economic development.