Thursday, May 31, 2012

One damn thing after another

We had a serious thunderstorm Monday night.  Next morning main computer, trusty old Blackbox, a Compaq, was no longer on the internet. Windows claimed the network cable was unplugged.  It wasn't, but the little green LED that indicates connection was out.  After some blundering around, I fired up trusty laptop, and lo and behold, he went right on line by wireless.  So, that means cable modem is alive, and the router has enough life to do wireless.  I'm using one to those wireless routers that puts out a wireless signal AND drives four RJ-45 jacks.  Blackbox is connected to one of the RJ-45 jacks.  Maybe the Ethernet cable failed, or  Blackbox's network adapter got fried.  Or the router got half fried, so the wireless still works but the RJ-45 jacks are toast.
   So I pull out a PCI wireless adapter card and plug it in. But the install CD refuses to run. So I decide to blow away some of the antivirus software that has been bogging Blackbox down.  After a bitter hand-to-hand struggle I get rid of Microsoft Security Essentials and ZoneAlarm.  Neither went easily or quietly.  But after killing them both, the install CD started to work, and the wireless card connected and Blackbox is back on line.
   Joy.  And, I knew that the antivirus stuff was slowing him down, but wow, now he is back in his old form, quick and silent.  Love it.  So I am gonna run barefoot for a while.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Game of Thrones

Netflix delivered the first disc last night.  Episodes 1 and 2 from season one.  Highly enjoyable.  It's a medieval swords and sorcery fantasy.  George R.R. Martin wrote five books set in this universe (I have read them all so that makes me a fan).  We have Sean Bean as Lord Eddart Stark.  Sean has been gaining weight over the years.  As Richard Sharpe, battling Napoleon he was lean and elegant especially in that well tailored rifleman's green uniform. Later as Boromir in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, he was a grown man, on the strong and muscular side.  Now as Ned Stark he looks overweight.  Both roles are set in similar fantasy worlds.  Clearly Martin was influenced by Tolkien.  Martin's world has a stronger flavor of the high middle ages than Tolkien, who is more into elves and Fairie.
   "Production values"  (sets, costumes, special effects and such) are really good especially for a TV mini series. Everything looks right,  no anachronisms.  The camera man knows enough to put the camera on a tripod.  No arty "shake the camera" shots which I find annoying.  The sound man does it right and the dialogue is understandable.  The young Starks (Ayra, Brendan, Sansa) are appealing.  The girls are really good looking and sometimes scantily clad.
   If you haven't read the books you will need to pay close attention to understand what is happening.  Some of the key scenes are glossed over pretty rapidly and  if I hadn't read the book I would not have understood what is going on.
   Anyhow I enjoyed the first two episodes, and Netflix ought to deliver more of them soon.


For today, I made a dump run, and then mowed the rest of the grass.  Then I took a nap.  Seemed like a full and productive day to me. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Car ads

One the those fliers jammed into our mailbox from a Littleton car dealer.  The cover plumps for a Jeep SUV, no price.  Open 'er up, and we have a Dodge Challenger, 6.4 Liter Hemi (403 c.i.) manual transmission and 20 inch wheels for only $44,900.  Nice car, Cadillac price.  Is that manual transmission four on the floor or three on the tree?  Same page we have a big Dodge crew cab pickup with Cummins diesel for $50,999.  Fancy pickup costs more than luxury sedan. Inside we have real Jeep Jeeps for $20K and a Chrysler 200, V6 and a slush box for $17K.
   Then we have Dodge Caravans for $17K and Chrysler Town & Countries (same thing) for $26K.
  Damn, new cars cost a bundle. 

Tools, new tools

The grass was on the warpath, stalks up to a foot high.  Ancient hand mower just wasn't cutting it.  Mowing had become a chore to be dreaded.  I thought about just turning the whole job over to Ken King, my friendly local lawn care guy.  But I have been cutting this little lawn,with a hand mower, for forty years.  Going with lawncare is like admitting I'm getting too old to mow.
   So,  I set off to buy a new mower.  Checked Sears, Home Depot and Lowe's.  Come home with  a brand new Husqvarna hand mower.  $149.  It fit in the trunk of the Mercury, lid closed.  Got it home, read the instruction booklet, (solid boiler plate to repel liability lawyers) put it together and tried it out.
   Outstanding.  Cuts it level, gets every stalk.  It's feather light (lotta plastic).  Before I knew it, the side lawn was all cut.  Pressed on to the front lawn.  That cut like lightning too.  They did something good with the gearing so the reel spins faster than the old style mowers. They replaced the roller with real back wheels so the grass stays upright to be cut, rather than lying down flat and escaping its proper fate.  Puts the honest self satisfaction of seeing a flat level mowed path slicing thru the shagginess back into the chore.
   I could have gotten a power mower for only $30 more.  The guy at Lowes assured me that it would start next spring if I put some miracle additive into the gas tank.  But this baby is so light and pushes so easily and it makes me feel so environmentally sensitive, that its more satisfactory than a power job.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Parade, Littleton, NH

Parade down Littleton NH Main St.      

Littleton NH does a small town Memorial Day Parade.  This is a high school marching band.  I saw one young girl marching by in flip flops.   I hope her feet are good and tough.  Used to be the marching units would toss candy to small children.  The nanny state got loose this year and forbade candy as a safety hazard.  Our tax dollars at work.

Decent turnout, all things considered.  We had our US Rep (Charlie Bass) our selectmen, some of our state reps, a state senate candidate (Debi Warner) and a lot of veterans.

ROTC Color guard

Ninth Grader sings National Anthem

John Starr (my brother) delivers memorial address
My brother was the featured speaker.  He is a combat veteran of both Viet Nam and Iraq.  He retired from the guard after his tour in Iraq.  John has done a bit more for the country than I, I just served in Viet  Nam.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Economist's plan to save the Euro

The Economist, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is a weekly news magazine based in London.  It has good world wide coverage, tells it fairly straight, and thinks it knows all the answers. This week they opine upon a fix for the Euro crisis. Here is their solution.
1.  Create an EU bank regulator that would operate an EU wide version of deposit insurance (like the American FDIC), along with setting regulation about bank capital, winding up the affairs of failed banks, and have the money to "recapitalize" (otherwise known as "bailout")  shaky or broke banks.  Give this new agency control of the existing European bank rescue funds.  Hopefully the EU regulator would shield banks from national government pressure to lend to national government favored industries or buy national government bonds. 
2.  Create "Eurobonds" backed by all the Euro countries.  Unsaid, but understood by bond buyers is that Germany pledges to make Eurobonds good.  Use the proceeds from Eurobond sales to make loans to countries that no one else will loan money to, like Spain and Italy.
"All that is required is for over indebted countries to have access to money and for banks to have a 'safe' euro-wide class of assets that is not tied to the fortunes of one country."

As the Economist sees it, German backed Eurobonds would be as good as American T-bills.  Dead broke governments would not have to clean up their acts so soon.  Out of the goodness of their hearts the Germans extend their excellent credit rating to the rest of Europe.  Angela Merkel is the only person standing in the way of this financial nirvana.  Shame on her.

I got another plan.  Let the stupid banks go bust.  Let the dead broke counties reduce their spending now, rather than after they run out of other people's money.

Blogger's new features

The programming staff at blogger has time on their hands and they recoded the user interface,  the interface seen by us blog owners, not the interface seen by you readers.  Now after posting we see a list of all our recent posts with a count of  the comments and views of each post.  Fun, I can see which posts get the most views,  which I hope means the posts most popular with readers.   Going by this I oughta do more posts on movies, at least I have a higher view count on movie posts than on my political rants. 
   Of course I am wondering how this view count thing works.  How does the software know which post gets credit for a view when more than one post is in view at the same time?  Which is the usual case, few of my posts fill an entire page on Firefox. 


Congratulations to the whole Space-X team.  Getting the Falcon to lift off and the Dragon to dock is a huge victory over Murphy's law.  There are a zillion things, some tiny, some large that can break, and it only takes one breakage to scrub the mission, or worse.  The Space-X team  did the required quality control checks, designed out the weak points, worked hard, and succeeded.
    It should be remembered that Elon Musk made a fortune in Silicon Valley, and then plowed a good deal of that fortune into Space-X.  Clearly better use of the money than Uncle Sam would have made of it had Uncle taken it in taxes.  Let's hear it for private enterprise.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pop goes the tendon

Must be getting old.  I was in the kitchen and I just flipped a bit of crud off my fingers into the sink.  They was a faint pop sound and all of a sudden the index finger was off at a funny angle.  It didn't get better so next day I went to see my doctor.  Got there about nine o'clock. Did some Xrays, nothing's broken, got set up to see a hand surgeon in Concord (hour and a half drive).  Surgeon looked at it.  The tendon that runs over the knuckle tore out of its groove.  Only fix is splint the finger and wait FOUR WEEKS for it to heal.  With the splint in place.  Arrgh.
  So now I am learning to do one handed, all kinds of things that I always used two hands to do.   Including typing. 
   Note to self.  Don't wave hands rapidly.  Something might break off.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Words of the Weasel, Part 30

"Growth".  As used by European politicians.
Plain English meaning.
"Germans give us money."

Perhaps Europe can't pull the US economy down

Interesting charts in today's Wall St. Journal.  It shows US exports to Europe to be only 1.2% of US GNP.   That means the entire continent could disappear from the face of the earth and we would only loose 1.2% of GNP in export sales.  To be real, Europe won't disappear completely, worst that can happen is it drops into recession and it's US imports drop off somewhat.
   Somewhat larger, Eurozone banks make loans to the US equal to 10.5% of  US GNP.  If things get bad enough in Europe, and enough Eurozone banks fail, that lending can dry up.  But so what?  We have plenty of banks over here, and we can print as much money as well like to fund loans.
   In short, a Euro meltdown won't hurt us nearly as much as it hurts the Europeans.  Of course plenty of US politicians are already pointing fingers at Europe to explain miserable US growth rates.  How can you tell when a politician is lying to you?   When you see his lips moving.

Words of the Weasel Part 29

Heard this morning on good old NPR.
"The discussions are on going". 

Plain English meaning.   "Nothing has happened" 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What Price pills?

Anything you want apparently.  My doctor has prescribed me seven pills to keep body and soul together.  I had been getting them for free thru Medicare Advantage.  Then all of a sudden, my Visa got zapped for $180 on the last refill.  Ouch.
  So it being time for new prescriptions anyhow, I took the new ones down to Walmart.   After a half an hour (spent browsing Walmart) they gave me a grocery bag full of pills and paperwork, for a mere $81.  For three months worth.  Not so bad. 
    So before I put all the new pills in the medicine cabinet I read some of the paperwork.  Each bottle of pills comes with four pages of paperwork, run off on the pharmacy's laserprinter.  Aside from the name of the pill and a number, the paperwork is all the same.  Boilerplate.  I should be happy that despite this government required cost enhancement Walmart is still cheaper than Medicare Advantage. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

So how bad is it in Europe? Really?

Hard to tell.  Germany, the biggest part of Europe is reported to be doing well.  A few small fry like Iceland and Ireland have already suffered financial collapse and bailout.  They are poorer now, but doing OK.  Greece is getting a bailout, but they are bitching about the conditions the bailer outers (Germans mostly) have demanded.  If the Greeks manage to irritate the bailer outers enough, the bailout will stop.  Then the Greeks will run out of money and have to print their own to keep going.  It will be tough on them, but heh, you want to speak politely to those who are giving you money.  Either way,  Greece is a sideshow. 
   Italy and Spain, both much bigger than Greece, are having the same problems.  To many government "workers" and pensioners demanding monthly checks and not enough tax revenue coming in.  Private investors have indicated that they won't lend either country much (if any) more dough.  They have to cut spending (lay off government "workers" and cut pensions) and get their economy growing again. That means scrapping no-layoff regulations, and dropping license requirements that keep the unemployed from taking jobs.  Spain and Italy are too big for anyone to bail out.  Nobody has that big a bucket.  If this doesn't work, they will have to print money or IOU's (which probably amounts to dropping out of the Euro) to make ends meet.
  The financial press and blogs are beginning to cry terror about Europe.  Undoubtedly some banks have been stupid and will get hosed when the defaults begin.  Too bad.  The world would be better off with fewer stupid banks. But the majority of European countries are doing OK (not great but reasonably OK), and having a few losers get flushed won't be the end of the world.

Crusading for Gaia

NPR is deeply into it.  Just listened to the second segment of a rant against a copper mine going into Mongolia.  To hear NPR tell it, this mine is ruining the Gobi desert, polluting the water, corrupting the noble Mongolian nomads.  A third segment is promised for tomorrow. 
  So far, NPR has quoted a few locals bitching and one local who claims the water level in his well has dropped a whole eight inches this year.  And the mine is spoiling the ambiance of the Gobi desert. 
  No mention of how many people are employed at the mine.  No mention that the living standard in Mongolia hasn't improved since Genghis Khan's time. 

No Kidding

"US regional airlines that can weather industry shakeout may thrive."   Title of article in Aviation Week.  Surely those that don't weather the industry shakeout won't thrive, they will be dead.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Longest and strongest or C

The old advice for taking multiple guess tests, like SAT.  The answer with the most qualifications (longest and strongest) is more likely to be right.  "C" comes from the observation that the test makers don't like to place the right answer first (A) or last (D). 
   Heard a piece on NPR this morning.  Someone digitized the last twenty years of the Congressional Record.  They didn't say just how this super tedious chore was accomplished.  Text scanning I hope.  Keyboarding that much pure political drivel  rates as cruel and unusual  punishment in my book. 
  Anyhow, the researcher ran all the congresscritter's speeches thru a school grading program that rated the maturity of the writing on a grade scale (12th grade, 11th grade, and so on).   Back in the good old days, the average speech used vocabulary and sentence structure on the 11th grade level.  In the decadent present day, the average has sunk to the 10th grade level.  Woe to the Republic.
   It was revealed that the grading program looked at sentence length and use of fancy vocabulary, with longer and stronger rating higher.  Funny, they taught me that good writing uses short declarative active voice sentences, and short strong Anglo Saxon root words, rather than the longer and weaker Latin root words.
   Perhaps the Congresscritters are actually getting better at speechmaking?
   Woe to the students whose teachers use that grading program.

Speculators and the Volcker Rule

No English language definitions of speculation or the Volcker Rule exist. 
Buying and selling things when the writer dislikes the deal is speculation.  Buying and selling things when the writer likes the deal is prudent investing.  Like and dislike is personal and subjective.  Deals that loose money are likely to be dubbed speculative.  Deals in foreign currency, derivatives, sub prime mortgages and short sales are more likely to be called speculative than deal in stocks and bonds. 
   The Volcker Rule forbids some bank trading in the stock market and other places.  It permits some bank trading.  The differences between forbidden and permitted trading have never been spelled out in words. Some say that the Volcker Rule prohibits speculation. 

Advice for Parents paying for college

Or, students paying for college for that matter. 
Advice 1:   Don't enter college right after high school.  Instead get out in the real world, get a job (easier said than done today) or join the service, hike the Appalachian trail, hitchhike across the country, anything but sit in classrooms.  After 12 years of solid school,  most student's motivation is exhausted.  With little real world experience to anchor them, college freshmen are suckers for all the weird ideology pushed by college profs.  College will be a much more meaningful experience, and your grades will be much better after a year or two out of school and out in the real world. 
Advice 2:  Pick a real major, one that is of some economic use and that requires you to actual learn stuff.  Engineering, computer science, physics, biology, chemistry, math, business administration.  Avoid gender studies, race studies, sociology, political science, theater, these are of no value to anyone after graduation.
Be aware that majors in Astronomy, English, history, art, and music lead only to careers in teaching.  OK if that's what you want to do.  If you like students, and are willing to put up with the sheer boredom of education classes,  teaching can be rewarding for many.  But  for many more, teaching can loose its allure after a few semesters.  Think over carefully.   Same goes for an education major.  Super boring, but mandatory to get a job in the public schools.  Totally worthless outside the public school system. 
Beware that geology, although a real science, is a favorite with football players because it doesn't use any mathematics.  There are some jobs with the oil companies, but the field is not large.  Think over carefully. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Spending Cuts first, tax hikes later

Congressman Ryan of budget fame was on Meet the Press this morning.  David Gregory and some democratic senator were all over him for dreadful budget cuts, "austerity" and the need for a "balanced" (i.e. tax hike) approach.  Ryan replied that his budget still spent 3% more than last year, as opposed to Obama's budget which would spend 4.5% more than last year.
    Ryan will spend 3% more?  With the economy growing at less than 3%?  Arrgh. 
    Remember that real cuts only occur when we spend LESS than last year.  If we spend more than last year, they are fake cuts.  Ryan is proposing fake cuts and the dems are still trashing him.
    Once we grant a benefit to some one, its nearly impossible to take it away.  So just to prove we can do it, we need to do some cuts.  Only after we cut the Federal budget back to 17% of GNP will I consider raising taxes to balance the budget.  If we cannot do the cuts in Congress, let's allow pure lack of dough to do them for us.  And pure lack of dough is coming. 
   Any tax hike just delays the necessary cuts. 


Of dandelions that is.  Growing season is upon us, the grass is in high gear and the weeds are trying to keep up.  The rain stopped and a couple of dozen golden dandelion blossoms bloomed, attempting to attract pollinating insects.  Inside they attracted the homeowner, who plucked the whole plant up by its roots.  About ten minutes of walking and plucking, and the lawn was pure green.  Got 'em all before they went to seed.
No agent orange, no pricey chemical lawn care.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Greeks Mouth Off.

Alexis Tsipras, head of the Greek hard left coalition Syriza, and who may well become prime minister if his coalition does well in the next Greek election, said he sees little chance that Europe will cut off giving money to Greece, but if they do, Athens will stop making payments on its loans. And a financial collapse in Greece will drag down the rest of the Euro zone. 
   Is Alexis that stupid 'cause he's  Greek, or 'cause he's a lefty?
   The Europeans can stop giving free money to Greece anytime.  When the Greeks stop making payments to European lenders, the Europeans can just give the money they were gonna give the Greeks direct to the lenders.  If  the lenders, European investors and banks,  cry hard enough, the Germans will bail them out, just this once.  The Greeks already gave the lenders a 75% haircut last month, what's a second pass with the clippers mean after that?
   As soon as the Europeans stop paying, the Greeks are in real trouble.  They don't have enough tax revenue to pay all the pensioners and government workers and suppliers.  They will have to print IOU's, or drachma's to keep things going.  Any Greek with two braincells firing, ought to be dropping by his bank and drawing all his money out, in Euro's, while he still can.  Because pretty soon the government will tell the banks, you are going to drachmas.  Don't pay out any more Euros to anyone, give 'em these nice fresh crisp hot-off-the-press drachma's instead.  That's what we call a run on the banks, and the Greeks are only two inches away from having one. 
   Greece is a narrow gauge side show.  The rest of Europe can manage just fine without them.  A Greek default on their debts would be an annoyance but not a body blow. The Greeks would do well to understand that.  There is no provision in the Euro constitution, or common Christian charity that compels giving money to deadbeats.

Who's afraid of the big bad algorithm?

Not me.  But some newsie on NPR is afraid one is gonna conquer the world.  She was talking about Netflix and their movie recommendations, all made by computer.  Not that I think Netflix's recommendations are extra ordinary, but occasionally they do steer me onto a good flick.  The newsie feared that  improvements in the the "algorithm" would yield a killer app that could read minds, violate civil liberties, and put Skynet in charge of the world.
  Not to worry.  First of all, the algorithm Netflix uses is trivial.  Algorithm means procedure.  As an example, consider a popular algorithm to find square roots.  It goes like this, guess what the root might be.  Square your guess and compare it with the original number.  If the squared guess is too big, try a smaller guess, conversely if the squared guess is too small, try a bigger guess.  Repeat until the squared guess is close enough to the original number.  Code this algorithm in your favorite computer language, and you have a program to find square roots.
   What Netflix does is ask us viewers which movies we like.  Then it looks to find other movies that are like the ones we like.  To do this you need a list of  all the movies in Netflix, and  to go with each movie , we need some properties.  Such as type (western, war movie, musical, costume drama, animated, etc) cast (actor and actress who play in the movie), director, rating (G, PG, R ...), year released, color or black & white, and so on.  All the computer does is look for movies that match the properties of the movies the customer likes.  This is a database of movies.  The Netflix "algorithm" is merely find movies with properties as close as possible to the properties of the customer's liked movies.  For a computer guy, that's a straightforward bit of coding. 
  What makes it work well is the database.  Especially if we can define some more properties. Amount of violence, and sexiness come immediately to mind, but there must be more.  The more well chosen and well defined properties in the data base, the better the match. 
    But it's the database that makes Netflix work, the algorithm is trivial. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Crossfire Trail with Tom Selleck

If you liked Quigley Down Under, this is more of the same.  It's a western with all the trimmings.  A ranch, a man from out of town with a gun, a nasty well dressed villain, some cattle driving, a pretty widow,  a tiny frontier town way out in the middle of nowhere, a bad guy with a black hat, sixguns, and a fancy rifle in a big leather case, some romance, and of course a big showdown with lots of shooting.  Good fun to watch, few socially redeeming features.  Tom Selleck wears the same big black 'stache and white floppy hat he wore in Quigley Down Under.  He also uses the same understated dialog that is always good for a few chuckles.  Wilford  Brimley  puts on a great old codger role.  The movie is based upon a book by Louis Lamour.
    The movie opens with Tom Selleck promising to look after a dying buddy's ranch and widow.  When he finally gets out to the ranch he finds it deserted and overgrown in weeds, and the widow is living in town.  Everybody in town thinks the buddy died at a different time and place than Selleck knows is the truth.  Things develop from there in directions that any fan of westerns can probably guess.  It's all well done, well filmed (no shake the camera shots) , good sound (all the dialog is understandable), and fun to watch.  Brought to me by Netflix and USPS.
    About the only quibble I have, is the nasty well dressed villain has a bit too much hand rubbed walnut paneling in his office and too much fine furniture including a grand piano in his house for the  fresh built in the wilderness kind of town he is doing bad in.  This tiny burg doesn't even have a railroad yet and the thought of lugging all that stuff that far into the boondocks on horse back kinda breaks into my "willing suspension of disbelief".
   All in all a worthy western.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Solar Power

Sunstorms, sudden solar flares, jets of ions swirling past the earth at relativistic speeds.  They pile into the earth's geomagnetic field and make it move.  The resulting moving magnetic fields induce humungous currents into the the electric power grid, transformers melt, circuit breakers pop, and the lights go out and stay out.  This horror story made today's Wall St Journal.  Page three, not the front page. 
   Oh really?  The power grid is harder and tougher than it used to be.  Back when I was a child, lightning from ordinary summer thunder storms put the lights out on a regular basis.  That doesn't happen anymore.  Only thing that puts the lights out now-a-days is a tree falling on the wires and breaking them.  The grid is hardened against lightning bolts (no mean feat).  And, it is hardened against over-current, otherwise known as short circuits. It has to be.  Plenty of ordinary accidents will short hot circuits to ground.  The resulting currents can melt expensive and hard to replace equipment in milliseconds.  To preserve such equipment, overcurrent protection devices sense excessive current and can switch expensive alternators and transformers off line faster than short circuit currents can melt them.  This sort of equipment is composed of tons of solid iron and copper and it takes time to heat that much metal hot enough to endanger the electrical  insulation, let alone melt metal.
   Granted, there have been scary solar events in the past.  The 1859 Carrington event caused the new fangled electric telegraph wires to shower sparks into telegraph offices across the world.  Impressed the bejesus out of the operators.  We have never seen a solar storm that strong since. In 1989 the province of Quebec suffered a blackout that was blamed upon a solar storm.  However no important equipment was damaged and the lights came back on within 9 hours.    

Trip to Harvard Square

Favorite Daughter  and her boyfriend came up to Boston to attend her high school reunion.  I drove down to spend a day in Harvard Square with them.   Going south thru Franconia Notch we have a repaving project in full swing, spending money.  That road was in fine condition, no potholes, before they started repaving it.  It's nice to have spare money to give to road contractors.  Then drove thru the road widening project on I93 south of Manchester.  That bit of four lane highway has been a pain-in-the-tail bottleneck for at least 25  years.  About a third of it is "widened" .  Except that the "widened" portions are still only four lanes wide.  Granted the lanes and shoulders are wider and the curves are gentler,  but we really needed to get six lanes in return for spending all that money. 
   Picked up Daughter and boyfriend and did both the Museum of Science and Harvard Square, both old sentimental favorite places for Father and Daughter.  Virginia bred boy friend was OK with them.  Wound up drinking Ballentine Ale at Charlie's Kitchen (about the oldest joint left in Harvard Square)  and telling stories.  Good time was had by all.

Words of the Weasel, Part 28

"Evolve".  We used to say "flip flop".

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Congressmen need to "get things done"

This from John Hoeven (R-NorthDakota) on C-span.  We have to get things done.  The two things he wants to get done are the transportation bill and the farm bill.  Both of these are pure pork. We could dump them both and save $30-50 billion, just this year. None of this ten year savings baloney, we could save $40-50 billion THIS YEAR.
  The transportation bill sends maybe $15 billion a year of federal gasoline tax money to the 50 states for road building and commuter rail projects.  Better to let the states fund just the projects they need.  Let the federal gas tax expire. If the states need more money, let them raise the state gas tax.  We would be better off with out a federal transportation bill.
   And we would be better off without a farm bill.  Maybe family farmers needed federal price supports back during the Great Depression, but  not anymore.  Farms are mostly run by corporations like Archer Daniel Midlands, and corporations don't need subsidies.  Plus, why should farmers get federal payouts?  Why not retailers and manufacturers and loggers and miners and telephone companies and airlines and truckers and everyone else in the country?  Why should farmers get something that nobody else gets. 

   With luck, a bunch of new Congressmen will turn up in Washington and refuse to "get things done".

AdvertisementFail 2

TV commercial now running.  Woman comes into the kitchen and opens the refrigerator.  Inside is solid ice.  Solid ice fills the door trays, the shelves, everything.  The woman, barefoot and dressed in a filmy nightgown, takes a broom handle and starts chipping ice out of the the middle refrigerator shelf.  If the lighting had been a little better we could have seen thru the filmy nightgown. 
   Ah, this is an ad for frost free refrigerators.
   Wrong, they are selling jugged ice tea. 

Meet the Press does gay marriage

David Gregory assembled a fine panel of lefty newsies and they talked about gay marriage this morning, Obama and gay marriage, gays and gay marriage, never heard so much talk about gay marriage.
  Does anyone (voters in particular) really care?  Especially as marriage is a matter of state law anyhow? The president doesn't have much control.  Unless he wanted to lead a crusade to amend the Constitution.  Which probably would fail, cause Constitutional amendments need a super majority which just ain't there this year. States are split on it, some have recently legalized it, others (North Carolina!) have recently outlawed it.
   This voter cares about jobs, the economy, and the deficit.  Gay marriage is a distraction from the important issues.  

JP Morgan takes a hit

On Friday  Jamie Dimon, honcho of JP Morgan Bank, admitted to taking  a $2 billion dollar loss.  That's quite a chunk of change.  The Washington regulators, itching to take control of all banks, are howling for yet more regulation to go on top of Dodd-Frank.
  Why?  You would think loosing $2 billion would sting anyone hard enough to prevent them ever doing it again.  Why turn our banks over to the tender mercies of federal bureaucrats?  Anyone think bureaucrats are smarter or more honest than bankers?
   Still secret, is just how Morgan lost all that money.  Presumably they were buying and selling things, and the price moved against them.  Either things they bought dropped in price, or things they sold short rose in price.  But we don't know what those things were.  Stocks? Bonds?  Greek bonds? derivatives?  credit default swaps?  Mortgage backed securities? Sub prime mortgages? something else? 
    Jamie Dimon turned up on Meet the Press this morning talking about it.  He admitted to still being a democrat, which made me wonder about his judgement.  David Gregory was too clueless to ask Mr. Dimon just what things Morgan bank took that loss in.
   Then Gregory turned the show over to some regulators who urged a total take over of banking "to prevent systemic risk".
    By which, they probably mean the risk of a huge bank failing and tipping the economy into depression.  That happened in 1929 and again in 2007.  In 1929 Keynes had not published yet, and the Federal Reserve and the rest of the government let the stock market crash unhindered.  In 2007  the government rushed in, spent $1 trillion to support the losing players, and the market still crashed and we haven't gotten out of Great Depression 2.0 yet. 
   If you really think this is a problem, the answer is simply to break up the biggest banks into smaller banks.  Pass a law saying that the big banks have to pay extra taxes.  Pretty soon all the big banks will spin off enough divisions to make themselves small enough to become virtuous small banks exempt from the extra tax.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Went to see it last night.  The Jax Jr theater was pretty full even though this is the second weekend the Avengers has been in town.  For a Marvel Comic movie, it's not bad.  There are some good bits, like the incredible Hulk grabbing the snooty villain by the shirtfront and proceeding to pound him into the floor, wham , wham,. wham.   SHIELD's  flying base looks pretty good when making like a naval air craft carrier and floating in the ocean.  Then the lift fans turn on, water cascades over the hull and the whole thing becomes airborne.  So far pretty convincing.  Then the bad guys attack at 30,000 feet and blow off one of the four lift fans.  You would expect the thing to list into the missing fan, but it doesn't.  The 3-D is OK and it runs for a couple of hours. 
  Not bad, better than the Fantastic Four movies, but I'm not sure why it broke box office records on opening week.  It didn't seem THAT good to me. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Downton Abbey At the beginning

I missed the early episodes on cable, but trusty Netflix just delivered a DVD with the first two episodes.  I watched one last night.  Pretty good.  Great sets, costumes, scenery.  Mediocre sound recording.  Dialog from a number of characters was unintelligible to me, due to mumbling mixed with strong Brit accents.  Makes the story hard to follow when you can't follow the dialog.   Some plot points totally obscure.  The Grantham's, or perhaps the Abbey, are burdened with "entaille"  some kind of medieval legal deal that causes unhappiness, gets talked about a lot, but I have no idea what it actually means.  Mary Grantham has an unsuccessful date with a young Duke of somewhere-or-other.  Lots of footage of the couple tiptoeing around the third floor servant's quarters in the Abbey, for reasons unkown, unless the Duke is looking for a spare room to have sex in.  Which seems out of character for 1912 upper crust Brits.  The romance doesn't work out, the Duke leaves early, to the annoyance of Earl Grantham, but the reasons for the breakup remain obscure to this Yankee viewer.  Doesn't seem to bother Mary too much. 

Hobbit Movie to play at 48 frames/sec

Way back when, say Thomas Edison's time, movies were taken at quite low frame rates, as low as 12 frames/sec.  That's what made the real oldies move funny.  You must have seen Charlie Chaplin walking funny.  The movie film back then was slow, insensitive to light, and needed a 1/12 second exposure time to get a good image.  By the late 1920's Kodak had improved the film, and the movie makers had improved the lighting and frame rate standardized at 24 frame/sec for theater grade movies.  You need standardization because the same movie is played at thousands of different theaters, each with its own movie projector.  All those projectors need to run at the same speed unless you want the movie to run too fast or too slow as it moves from place to place.  
   The eye is a biochemical device, and by electronic standards, it is slow.  It takes many milliseconds for an image to fade away.  If a fresh image is flipped up on the screen before the old image fades from view the eye sees it as a continuous image.  It was found by experimentation, that if the movies ran at 48 frames/sec  a smooth flicker free movie resulted.  Then some genius experimenter discovered that the projector did not have to advance the film at 48 frames/sec.  He set the projector to advance the film (change the projected image) at half the rate the shutter ran.  Test audiences loved it, and it saved a lot of expensive film.  Speaking as one who has enjoyed thousands of theater movies over the years, I can say the motion illusion from 48 frame/sec flicker and 24 frame/sec film advance rate is very good, realistic, and enjoyable.
   In the constant search for a new gimmick to draw bigger movie audiences,  Peter Jackson is going to try filming at 48 frames/sec for the new Hobbit movie coming out next year.  Stand by for a lot of advertising hype about how much better it will look on screen due to revolutionary technical advances.  But I ain't gonna believe that hype.  I'll go see the flick, 'cause I am a Tolkien movie fan, not 'cause of running more frames per second.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Underwear Bombers

Lots of talk about the latest underwear bomb (no bomber, just the jockey shorts).  Looking at it on TV, I don't believe that little amount of explosive could bring down an airliner.  Not enough bang.   It would do grievous harm to the bomber's reproductive organs,  making it impossible to enjoy the legendary 72 virgins in Paradise, but it ain't enough to bring down a Boeing.
   TSA will doubtless use it as an excuse to feel up more passengers.   If you have time to spare, go by air...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Roger Clemens

Why is Roger Clemens  back in court?  Far as I know he is accused of using drugs to improve his baseball playing.  I don't approve, but why is this a matter for the courts?  We have a commissioner of baseball, who can  enforce major league baseball's rules against "performance enhancing drugs".  
  Let baseball enforce it's rules against drugs, by itself.

Raptors Rapping, F22 Hypoxia mystery

For mysterious reasons, pilots of the new F22 Raptor are suffering from hypoxia in flight.  Hypoxia severe enough to have caused one fatal crash already.   Since then the Air Force reports 11 more events, not quite as severe, but way out of line. Investigations of cabin air supply have not detected any toxins.  Now they are looking at ill fitting survival suits that might be cutting off circulation.   No solid cause, let alone a fix, has been found to date. 
   I never heard about anything like this ever happening on any other aircraft.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


So I'm looking thru a slick paper blow-in for Nikon camera's which fell out of yesterday's Wall St. Journal.  I like cameras, and would love to upgrade my worn plastic point-n-shoot to a big black Nikon with a lens the size of a manhole cover.  So I open the flyer and we have a Nikon point-n-shoot in five designer colors, with color coordinated carry cases.  Instead of a good zoom lens, which covers all bases, this little fellow has interchangeable lens, which is pretty fancy for a point-n-shoot.  The lenses are even color coordinated.  Pretty fancy price too, $700 for the camera.   There are just a few simple things the ad doesn't tell you about.  Such as batteries, cost of, type, recharger, battery life.  I'm guessing the viewfinder is electronic, but they don't say.   Nor do they give the number of pixels.  Does this baby have that really convenient automatic lens cap so you can jam the thing into a pocket without worrying about scratches and dirt on the lens?  My cheapy Kodak can do that, what about this really pricey Nikon?
  Next page they have some  $100 point-n-shoot's, fixed lens, 16 Megapixel.  And a total of eight different models, at various prices, but far as I can see, roughly the same performance on each model, despite a three to one range in prices. 
  Last page we get into the big iron, black, leatherette covered, professional grade camera's with thru the lens viewfinders.  These guys start at $549 and work up to $3000.  Wow, I could get into these babies for less that the color coordinated lady's model point-n-shoot.   They have a selection of mean looking lenses.  But the catalog doesn't say which lens fits which camera's, nor does it say the lenses have a universal mount that fits all camera's.  No word about batteries.  Nothing about the size and weight of these babies.  It's probably sizable but it would be nice to know how sizable.   No word about speed.  Digital camera's need a bit of time to digest each shot before they can take the next shot.  Would be nice to know just how much time is involved.  These boys can all double as video camera's, high definition video no less.   The flyer neglects to say if they do sound as well as video, and how the video comes out, VGA? HDMI?  USB?  some new interface that my computer lacks?
   In short, this flyer raises as many questions as it answers. It would be nice if there were some ad guys who knew something about cameras.

Read the charges aloud

The Guantanamo defendants were not co-operating at their arraignment.  One tactic was to demand that the charges against them be read aloud in court.  Not unreasonable really.  That took two and a half hours.  Wow.
Apparently the lawyers thought they were being paid by the word.  The charge sheet was 87 pages long. The ten Commandments themselves can be typed on a single A sized piece of paper.  Who needs 87 pages to say "this no good nick planned 9-11"?   Frankly having to sit around for another two and a half hours serves all the lawyers, and the judge, right.
  The reason to try KSM and his buddies, is to convince the rest of the world that they are guilty and they deserve every bit of what we are going to give them.  87 pages of  legal malarkey won't convince anyone, not even a bunch of Army officers serving as jury, let  alone the Arab street.  It only takes a few words to spell out why we want to execute these scumbags, and the arraignment is the place to say those few words.
  I'd say the prosecutors need to find some real lawyers, and the judge oughta be replaced on account of terminal stupidity.

Monday, May 7, 2012

"Austerity isn't working" sez Euro Lefties

Euro softies, (Greece, Spain, Italy, and now France)  are whining about "austerity".  Socialism has run out of other people's money.   The Softie countries are spending, and want to keep on spending, a good deal more than their tax revenues.  Since they joined the Euro, they can't print money, unlike the US.  More and more they cannot borrow the money, 'cause nobody in their right mind would give them a loan, for fear the loan won't get paid back.  The Germans are the only Euro country with real amounts of money, and the German taxpayers see no reason to give that money away to the softie countries. 
About the only things left are to issue IOU's like California did, or drop out of the Euro so they can print  the money they want to spend.  Nobody is talking about those alternatives.  So far, the citizens of the softie countries like the Euro because it holds it's  value.   They know that savings in lira or drachma or francs are worth less and less as time goes by, whereas savings in Euro's will be worth the same in the future.  What the future of IOU's is nobody knows, they don't talk about it.
   So,  the softie governments have to cut spending or run out of money.  This means laying off "workers" from the government payroll, canceling cost of living hikes, freezing wages, and squeezing down pensions.  Nobody likes this much.
   And nobody is talking about economic growth, which is the only way out.  Was I running a country (I'm not) I'd make a list of all the industries in my country and rank them by size.  Start with the big ones and see what could be done to make them grow.  Things like removing export restraints (ITAR regulations for instance), issuing needed permits, rationalizing the tax burden, making well educated labor available, encouraging research and development,  fostering competition,  improving transportation, lowering electric power prices, and publicizing quality control measures (things like Appellation Controlee and ISO 9000)


It's a new Masterpiece Mystery Theater offering.  I watched the first episode on PBS last night.  This Sherlock Holmes is right up to date, operates in 2012 London.  Trades the magnifying glass for a smart phone.  Watson is a blogger.  It was disappointing.  Holmes  talks funny (too fast) and comes across as a terminal nerd who dislikes people, the detective business, and is rude to every one.  We open with Holmes dispatching Watson to a crime scene with a laptop.  Holmes remains at Baker street and surveys the clues thru the laptop's webcam.  Weird. Irene Adler makes her entry in the nude, and even after putting on a few clothes she just doesn't click as femme fatale.   Why Holmes would want to get involved with her remains a mystery.
   I won't make any special effort to catch the following episodes.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Treasure Island

Just yesterday I caught a favorable review in the WSJ.  So I watched it last night.  It's a made for TV miniseries on the SyFy channel.  It's good.  We all know (or ought to know the story) so I won't say much about it.  The cast were all pretty good.  Jim Hawkins was a bit older ( looked to be 18 or 19) than is traditional, but well acted.  Long John Silver gave up his traditional long greasy locks for a whiffleball haircut.  The pirates were convincingly villainous.  And best of all, this version of the great sea story actually went to sea.  So many Treasure Islands are filmed on dry land, with nary a wave slopping on deck, or a sail being hoisted.  For this one they have a real sailing vessel, a big top sail schooner, just right to be the Hispaniola.
   All in all, a fine production.  Keep an eye on SyFy, they ought to rerun this if you missed it.  It didn't get much publicity or netbuzz,  I only heard about it yesterday in the Journal, after the first episode (with Donald Sutherland as Captain Flint) had aired.    

"Corporations are not People" sez Obama

I heard that this morning on NPR.  I forget the exact wording, but Obama made it plain that he detests corporations and will play catchup on their backsides any time he can.
   The bulk of us Americans are stakeholders in America's corporations.  We work for them, get paid by them, hold their stock, build up our retirement savings thru them, and get our health care from them.  Corporations provide food, clothing, shelter, fuel, transportation, entertainment, and all those material things that make American life what it is.  American wealth, power, prestige, and well being come from our corporations, they sure don't come from the Obama Administration.  American corporations are a powerful force for good in the entire world. 
   And our president hates them.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Are We Selling Ipads or Infinitis?

Hard to tell.  The Infiniti (it's a Japanese SUV) ad shows a guy using voice recognition to speak with the car's computer.  He has forgotten his anniversary and the computer makes amends by  making reservations for two at a fancy restaurant.  While on the move.  Pretty slick.  I'm not sure if an Ipad is that clever, surely my XP running desktop ain't that smart.
   But, we are selling a car in this ad, not super smart smart phones.  If that kind of electronic smarts is commercially available, I don't want it built into my car.  I want it in a portable, fit under the arm package, that I carry into work.  I don't want to leave that clever an electronic assistant out of doors in an unheated company parking space.  I want it with me. 
    And, the Infiniti ad didn't talk about engine displacement, brakes, handling, cargo capacity, fuel economy, fitting skis or bikes or plywood onto the roof,  rear seat amusements for kids, you know, real car stuff.  Does any one still sell cars? 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Farewell to American honor

A Chinese dissident, let's call him Shades,  breaks free of house arrest, makes it to the US embassy for protection.  Pusillanimous US diplomats turn the poor slob back over to the Chinese.   That's probably a death sentence for him and his family.   We need to rewrite our national anthem.  Strike out that line about the home of the brave. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Motor Tricycle

The Can Am Spyder Roadster.  It's getting heavy ad play on Fox.  It's not a product that I would touch with a ten foot pole.  When I get the urge to sample the breeze on the road, I want a real motorcycle.  On a cycle you can lean into the turns, and with good rubber on a dry road, you can out turn anything else on wheels.  No way are those tricycles going the lean into a turn, corner one too hard and it rolls over.  Which is hard on the head even wearing helmets.   Despite the heavy ad play, I have yet to see one on the road around here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

$2K is cheap for health insurance

The TV newsies have finally caught on.  Under Obamacare, a company is better off paying the $2000 per worker penalty to Uncle rather than paying $12000  to buy that same worker a family health care policy.   This has been obvious to everyone but newsies since they passed Obamacare 2 years ago.   Companies would be able to offer the workers $10000 extra in pay, give Uncle $2000 and come out even.  Workers could arrange to put the extra money into a tax free Health Savings Account and use it to pay for private health care
   I heard one TV newsie speculating that companies would keep offering health care in order to retain valuable employees.  Right.  With 8 to 10 percent unemployment, any company can fill any amount of openings in a couple of days. 

Blowing and raining pretty hard

We have a storm moving thru the Notch.  Lot of rain, and the wind is really howling around the house.

WSJ Op-Ed gets it right

"How Big Banks Threaten our Economy" title of an op-ed by Warren A. Stephans in the Monday WSJ.   Stephans says that a mere FIVE banks hold half of all the bank deposits in the entire country.  Wow.  Should one of those babies fail, an humungous amount of tax payer money would be required to make the depositors whole again.
   There is no reason to have banks that big.  Big banks get into trouble and go broke just as often as ordinary sized banks.  In fact, big banks are more bureaucratic, move slower and are more apt to have empty suits running them.  Smaller banks are leaner, faster, and more careful.  Problem is, when a really big bank goes down, a lot more people get hurt.
   And when you get to something as big as AIG, it's just too big to manage.  AIG was put together by a very capable banker named Hank Greenberg.  Hank was a financial genius and managed to keep AIG running pretty much single handed.  AIG did well until New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer targeted Greenberg in 2005.  Spitzer made a lot of wild accusations in the press, finally filed some charges, which he later dropped.  But Spitzer  panicked the board of AIG into firing Greenberg.  After Greenberg left, AIG spiraled down into catastrophe.  Just before the end, AIG was playing the credit default swap market (pure gambling) hoping for a big win to bail them out.