Thursday, April 30, 2015

Marketing for Dummies

Marketing is the art of getting customers to buy your product, rather than your competitors product.   Marketers often put on airs and consider themselves above mere salesmen in company hierarchies.  Which is sorta dumb, you need a lot of face-to-face time with real customers before you know enough to market anything. 
One little known secret to marketing is naming the product.  The product needs a name to distinguish it from the competitor's product, to allow customers to inquire about your product, place an order for your product, recognize your product in advertising, or even to leave a favorable comment on a website about your product. 
   For example Detroit used to give names to their cars, Roadmaster, El Dorado, Impala, Fury, and De Ville.  Now they make do with DTS, CTS, 6000LE.   None is memorable, or easy to remember. 
   Also, a product wants one single name.  Selling the same product under two different names is counterproductive.  For instance Chrysler sold the very same mini van under the Plymouth, Dodge and Chrysler names.  Everybody knew it was the same minivan, Chrysler didn't even bother to change the grille. But it dilutes the advertising, and lowers the name recognition.  If I run three ads for ONE product name, customers are more likely to remember that name than if I run three ads for three different names. 
   Likewise, once you have a decent product name, with some recognition out in the market, DON'T change the name.  Datsun had established itself as a decent car over the span of 15 years, and a reasonably successful racing program.   Then corporate decided to change the name to Nissan, which nobody remembers to this day.   Suits at Ford decided to use "500" for the name of their bread-and-butter passenger car, instead of the long established and well liked name "Torino".  It required  intervention by Allan Mulally, new Ford CEO brought in from Boeing, to put the Torino name back on the car. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Baltimore. Lotta angry people there

Granted, Freddie Gray's death while in police custody was the trigger event, but I think there must be a lot of anger stoked up over many years  to cause Monday's riot. 
  Judging from TV, Baltimore has plenty of blacks in important positions with the city, starting with the mayor.  Ain't like Ferguson where all the city officials were white.
  Then there was that video clip of a mom dragging her teen age boy out of the riot and chastising him.  If there had been more citizens like that, moms, fathers, neighbors, shop keepers, that riot would not have happened.  Either the rioters scared off the decent citizens, or the decent citizens were angry too, and didn't really mind a bit of rioting and the MSM coverage a riot brings. 
   I think a nice big Baltimore auto assembly plant, with plenty of unskilled job openings would go a long way toward preventing riots.  Being out of work, with no prospects of ever getting a job, makes people angry.  Having a job makes people stay out of trouble lest they loose that job.
   I wonder what kind of job the Baltimore public schools are doing. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

TPP Trans Pacific Pact?

Obama is negotiating some kinda deal with all the countries of East Asia EXCEPT China.  We think the deal might have some tariff reduction in it.  It would be nice to know how much, on what (everything? just left handed smoke shifters?  Agricultural goods? who knows?)   We hear talk that it will include global warming stuff, pay and benefits to workers, safety standards, all sorts of lefty greeny union stuff.  Obama is on TV saying it will be good for us.
  Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but since we don't have a clue as to what is in it or might be in it, who knows?
   After a lotta wheeling and dealing with the other countries, they might reach a deal.  At that point, it's a treaty IF the Senate votes it thru.  What the Senate wants to do is amend the deal, changing it unilaterally, and then adopt it.  Trouble is, the other counties will back off, because the deal changes will doubtless be bad for them.  To prevent Senatorial meddling that breaks the deal, the notion of "fast track authority" was created.  Congress passes a special law that forbids amendments and requires a straight up and down vote on the treaty, no  funny business.   As a rule, without "fast track"  a treaty isn't going anywhere.
    The US is the biggest market in the world, the biggest economy in the world, and very competitive. Usually trade deals help us by increasing our exports.  Other countries do trade deals with us 'cause they want access to the enormous US market.  We do trade deals with them 'cause we want to sell our exports there.  
  On the other hand, Obama is the worst negotiator in the world. Look at how the ayatollahs have jerked him around.  He might be able to screw up a trade deal to the point that it looses money for America. 

The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson

A new book, which explores the impact upon history of Winston Churchill. Nicely written, by a Brit, who isn't afraid to use Britishisms (prang, hop it) in his writing.  Without Churchill the Brits probably would have caved to Hitler in 1940.  The British establishment, the aristocracy, the press, the professoriat, the business men, Parliament, the general staff, everyone who counted in England, was convinced that the Germans had overwhelming strength.  They had gobbled up Norway, kicked the Allied intervention force out of Narvik, crushed France completely, occupied all the low countries, and driven the BEF into the sea at Dunkirk.   Germany had  twice the population of England, and a bigger industrial base.  And England was still licking the wounds of the first world war.  Nobody in England wanted to go thru that again, ever. 
   Hitler offered a deal that summer, broadcast it over German radio.  It ran roughly like this.  "I will let you Brits keep your Fleet and your Empire, in return you let me keep control of the continent."  Had Britain accepted, the war in the west would have ended right there.  The Americans were still paralyzed by isolationism, when (and if) Pearl Harbor happened, they would have gone off into the Pacific and ignored Europe.  Hitler would have doubtless attacked the Russians, and without the Brits harrying his rear, the Germans might have crushed Stalin's regime that first summer.  As it was, they nearly did it.  Guderian's panzers got close enough to Moscow to capture a few stations on the trolley line to Moscow.  Just a little bit more, and Moscow would have fallen to the Wehrmacht. 
   Johnson describes the key meeting between Churchill, newly elected as Prime Minister, and his war cabinet, the top five guys in the British government.  Churchill was for fighting on.  Everyone else was against the idea.  Finally Churchill adjourned the meeting until 7 PM, and called a larger meeting of the entire cabinet, some 25-30 people.  Churchill made the case for continued resistance to the larger group.  Somehow, his words caught fire with his audience, the full cabinet applauded.  When the five man war cabinet reconvened at 7 that evening, they proceeded to plan for war.  And the Brit rank-and-file was made of tougher stuff than their establishment, they backed Churchill all the way.
   I think Boris Johnson's analysis is just about right.  If the Brits had caved to Hitler in 1940, the Nazi's would probably still be there, running all of Europe. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Hard Winter

How do I know?  Simple, I have dug down so far in the old newspaper basket that I am starting the fire with old newspapers from two years ago.  And my wood pile is pretty much gone. 

Europe is further down the drain

Than the US is.  This week's  Economist showed a couple of telling charts.  Chart 1 shows the European tax load for each employee.  The Euro average is 30%.  Each employee hired, hikes the employer's taxes by 30% of the new hire's wages.  In short, new employees cost 30% more in taxes that what the company has to pay them.  Pricey.
   In the US the tax load is only 20%. 
   And we have a graph of "protection against layoffs", on an arbitrary scale.  Europe has an average of 2.5, with Portugal leading the pack at 3.  The US is only 0.25.  The Brits are doing better than the European average at 1.0.   Granted it's nice for workers to be protected against layoffs.  But it slows the overall economy if companies know they cannot layoff workers when business gets bad.  To avoid being stuck with  well paid workers with full benefits, companies simply do not hire.  Which accounts for Europe's horrible unemployment rate.     Supporting data for the notion of American exceptionalism.  America's economy is far better than the EU economy because of less tax load on employment and more labor mobility, companies are willing to hire and grow because they know they won't be stuck with unneeded workers in a business slowdown. 
   The Europeans have much cushier social welfare, but the cost is massive unemployment.   Which would you rather have, a job, or cushy government benefits and unemployment for 10% of the workforce?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The surveillance state reaches out

So I bought an HO model railcar.  Inside the box was a slip of paper offering to sell me a $4 decal sheet of different road numbers.  $4, last of the big time spenders. 
  In the upper right hand corner was this:  "Due to banking restrictions, we are no longer able to accept checks or money orders drawn on non-US banks (includes postal money orders)."
Wow!  $4 checks or money orders might aide terrorism.  Or stamp out money laundering.  $4, big money that.  Or US banks want to stick it to overseas competitors?  with Uncle Sam's help? 
Clearly some Treasury Dept snivel servant has too much free time if he can think up Mickey Mouse like this. 

Clothes shopping for Guys

Depressing mostly.  I'm going to my 55th high school reunion shortly and I thought at my age I ought not to show up in khakis out at the knee.  Littleton really only has Walmarts for guys clothes.  I both a few there and then for variety, I drove over to North Conway to shop the world famous outlet stores. 
  Weather was poor.  Overcast, cold, snowing thru Crawford Notch.  Great Depression 2.0 has been hard on North Conway, it shows.  Numerous strip malls and outlet stores closed and empty.  North Conway is a pure tourist town, anchored by the ski area on Mt. Cranmore (home of the eccentric ski mobile lift) and a main street (Rt 16) wall to wall outlet stores.  Granted it is mud season, inbetween ski season and summer season, but still, the number of dead storefronts was discouraging.
   Then it's hard to find stores that carry stuff in my size.  The racks are all full of shirts too small to fit my sons, let alone me.  The slacks are all 34 waist by 36 inseam, I haven't worn a  34 waist since high school, which was 55 years ago.  The shirts are mostly knit tee shirts with collars, the few shirts tailored from real woven cloth cost $50 apiece, a ripoff  IMHO.  Even more depressing are the LL Bean khakis with only the waist size marked.  They expect you to find a tailor to cuff the inseam at the right length.  Great, I'm really gonna get wash pants tailored, even $65 a pair wash pants. 
   Dunno what the chicks see in clothes shopping. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

"Investing" in the Balsams.

For those readers outside of New Hampshire, the Balsams was a big old summer resort way up in northern NH, up in Dixville Notch.  Times were hard, and the Balsams went out of business a few years ago.  Now there is a push to revive the Balsams.  Adding urgency is the collapse of the paper industry in northern NH.  All the mills are now closed, and the northern mill towns like Berlin and Clearbrooke and Lancaster are hurting.  The hurt is so bad you can see it just driving thru town.  So naturally everyone in Coos County is in favor. 
  Trouble is, the developer[s] are saying they need government support to the tune of at least $28 million in cash, and more in loan guarantees.  Money to come maybe from the state, and maybe some from Coos county.  Loan guarantees to come from the State.  Which means the taxpayers cover the developer's risks.  If the project goes belly up in a few years,  my tax dollars make good the developer's losses. 
  The real question is, can the Balsams be made to work?  To make enough money to pay its suppliers, its workers, and service its debt.  Good question, which nobody is asking.  The Balsams is way far north, too far north to attract Boston skiers.  The drive is just too long.  The Canadians don't ski in NH much, they go north to Mt. Tremblant in Quebec.  Tremblant gets more snow and more cold than NH 'cause it's 150 miles further north. 
   I'd like to see a real business plan, one that shows how many skiers, hikers, snowmobilers, and others it needs to cover projected costs.  I haven't seen it yet. 
   I'm OK with spending my tax money to bring some business and employment to hard stricken Coos country.  But I'd like to see that the money has a chance of doing some good rather than just getting flushed down the drain.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Grilling Hillary

The MSM is sure putting up a lotta flak aimed at Hillary.  The uranium thing being the latest.  Could it be that the MSM doesn't like her?  And is any of the flak scoring?  The registered democrats (yellow dog democrats) will vote democratic no matter what.  The registered republicans will vote against her no matter what.  What are the independents thinking?  
I notice that the Hillary camp isn't saying much, or at least isn't getting their side of the story out to TV.  Silence gives assent.  If she doesn't say something, the mud will stick. 
If the flak brings down Hillary, who will the democrats run?  And will he/she/or it be any better? Or easier to beat?   
Inquiring minds want to know. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hiking Minimum Wage

The Dems are all in favor.  They think all the people making minimum wage will enjoy a pay hike and vote democratic in return.  But what about all those people thrown out of work 'cause the business loses money when it pays it's unskilled labor $15 an hour?  Well, they probably don't vote.  In fact they are less likely to vote after loosing their jobs.
  What is a just and equitable wage? And how, and by whom,should it be set?  A business has a lot of claims upon it's money.  It has to pay it's suppliers, the rent, the utilities, plant maintenance, advertising, the investors, wages, taxes, new product development, pensions, and lots of other things.  How much should go to wages, as opposed to all those other things?
   Free market thinking is that the business bids for workers against all the other businesses around.  Workers, finding a business willing to pay more than their current employer, change jobs.  This way the business that needs the labor the most gets it, 'cause they are willing to pay more for it.  This works better than the now discredited Soviet communist idea of the state allocating workers to industries as it saw fit.  And setting their wages too. 
   This can be hard on the workers, especially the unskilled workers, when there are plenty of workers and not enough jobs.  In this case, companies don't have to offer much in the way of wages to get all the labor they can use.  There are plenty more workers out there, all needing a job, and willing to work for less. 
   In America, labor unions solved this problem.  Organize the plant, lead the workers out on strike, and management will cave.  This takes some doing on the part of the workers, but it has been done, repeatedly, and it works.  Management has been so terrorized by unions that it will do anything to keep their workers happy enough that they won't unionize.  Non union companies pay pretty much the same as union companies, in order to stay non-union. 
  So, American wages are set by a combination of free market supply and demand, and union activism.  Due to the long long Great Depression 2.0 that set in with the Obama election in 2008, wages have been flat since then.  Companies lack customers, and everyone understands that a wage hike means a price hike which means fewer sales and hence layoffs.  Nobody is very happy about the situation,  but everyone figures it's better than unemployment or going out of business.  So wages stay flat, and except for crazies like Boeing's machinist's union, nobody goes on strike.  Everybody is waiting for the economy to get better.
   So, with things sorta balanced out, but sorta shaky, is it smart, or ethical, to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage that will throw a lot of people out of work?  This kinda boat rocking can tip the boat clean over and put us all in the drink.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How do I get photos OFF the tracfone?

Let's see, I got the Tracfone (LG model 305c) to dial, keep a phone list, speak to the new router via WIFI, and snap a picture.  It's still flaky on answering an incoming call.  But I haven't found out how to get the photo OFF the cell phone.  My two computers won't talk to the phone on USB.  They don't see the phone in network neighborhood.  The phone offered to send the photos but all it offered for destination was telephone numbers.  My real telephone number is a plain old wired phone, which will not do anything with pictures except make funny noises in the earpiece. 
   The secret of connecting to the router is two fold.  Learning how to input an alpha password using the telephone keypad, and replacing the router with a new one to which I was sure I knew the password.  I might had changed the password on the old router and forgotten what it was.  Old router went belly up and refused to connect to the Internet, so I bought a new one and now two computers and one cell phone are talking on it, I think.
  Any suggestions are welcome. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The two wings of the Republican Party

On one side we have the Regular Republicans, present office holders, older voters, conservatives.  These guys are not crusaders, they don't want to change the rules.  The know the rules, they know what can be done under the rules, they know that they need votes, a majority of votes, to get anything done.  They don't badmouth their political opponents, they know they might need their support someday.  They don't believe in feuds and vendettas, they view them as counterproductive.  They view the Tea Party as a bunch of rabid boat rockers who may well capsize the boat.

On the other side we have the Tea Party.  They want serious changes in the rules, income tax reform, perhaps a flat tax, abolition of dead weight like Dept of Education, and IRS.  They want scalps, starting with Lois Lerner's.  They want to keep the EPA from shutting down all American industry, the FCC from taking over the Internet, the TSA from groping them in airports, and the cops from shooting them.  They distrust all government regulators.  They care about getting the economy growing again.  Many of them are parents, worried about keeping their jobs, their kids finding jobs, buying houses, paying for college.  They call the Regular Republicans RINOs.

Both sides need to bear in mind that the Independents are the key to winning elections.  Only about 35% of voters are registered Republicans.  40% are registered Democrats.  Registered Democrats (yellow dog democrats) will vote democratic no matter what.  It's a matter of political faith with them.  They voted to re elect Obama.
 But 25% of voters  are registered Independents. These people will vote for either party depending upon the goodness of the candidates and the badness of incumbents.  Put the registered Republicans together with the Independents and you have 60%, a land slide. 
  Both wings of the Republican party should remember that their beloved wedge issues (abortion, war on drugs, gay marriage) offend Independents. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Internet Crapped out today

Both computers, Blackbox and Flatbeast complained that they could to connect to the internet this morning. I decided to wait a while and see if the Internet would come back of it's own accord.  No such luck.  So some hours later I called Time Warner Cable's help number.  They were actually very helpful and with a bit of troubleshooting we decided that the router had croaked.  So, off to Staples to buy another $50 wifi router.  The dead Belkin router was only three years old, but I guess they don't make 'em like they used to.  So all I have to show for the old dead Belkin is a 12 volt wallwart that I can use on the HO train layout.  All I had to do was introduce the computers t o the new Netgear router with a new WEP password.  I even got my LG cell phone to recognize the new Netgear router. Now all I have to do is get a test photo off the LG cell phone and onto a computer. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Pioneer Science Fiction Authors

Jules Verne is probably the first author of what we would consider science fiction.  He wrote in the late 19th century, sometime after the US civil war.  His best was "20,000 leagues Under the Sea".  Verne wrote in French, and I still remember the kinda shabby English translation I took to summer camp one year.  Verne's prose was probably only mediocre in French, and was down right miserable in English translation.  But the story was gripping enough to overcome weaknesses in the writing.  Disney made a good live action movie in the 50's, with James Mason as Captain Nemo and Kirk Douglas as Ned Land.  Technicolor, with a fine Nautilus and great underwater shots.  Not for nothing did the US Navy name their first nuclear sub Nautilus.
   Next in line was Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan.  ERB's first published story was "A Princess of Mars" back in 1912.  John Carter's derring do, deadly sword play and beautiful Martian princess set the style for space opera that lasted up thru Star Wars.  Princess Leia inherited a lot from Dejah Thoris.  The sand people riding their Bantha's look pretty much like Green Martians riding their Thoats.  Burroughs followed up with about ten more Martian stories over the next 30 years.  The first three are the best, the later ones are pot boilers.  
   Edward Elmer Smith (EE Doc Smith) first story "Skylark of Space" was published in the 1920's.  It was "super science".  Lots of high tech (for the 1920's) stuff, powerful space ships, resourceful scientist/engineer heroes, pretty girls, evil drug runner bad guys.  EE Smith kept publishing right up to his death in 1965.  I'd rate his stuff good for kids but a little corny for today's grownups.  I encountered Doc Smith as a kid and still like him. 
   There were plenty of other science fiction writers back in the day, but these three are my favorites from the era before John W. Campbell.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Bills vs Begs

The mail man (oops she is letter carrier) brings a lot of both.  I throw them in a pile on my desk and once a month a I sit down and pay the bills, and send a check to the beggars if I feel like it.  This month the pile was of scary height, so I sorted out the bills from the begs and paid the bills.  The beg pile was taller than the bill pile.  And it isn't even an election year.  Lord preserve us next year. 

Thunder Storm went right over the house

Must mean spring.  We don't get thunder and lightening with snow storms.  Maybe spring is not a myth.

Friday, April 17, 2015

How deep can the penetrator bombs go?

Can they go deep enough to take out Iran's nuclear facilities?  Ordinary iron bombs in reasonable sizes (750 to 1000 pounds) punch down 30-35 feet in plain dirt.  Out of a six bomb rack load, we would put a long delay time fuse on just one bomb.  The other five would get instantaneous fuses.  Those bombs would blow up the target.  The long delay fuze would get the repair crews the next day.  After a while the comrades wised up and would wait 24 hours after the raid before starting work to fix the damage.
  Back in WWII, Barnes Wallis in England devised the first deep penetrator bomb.  He called it Tallboy, it weighed 12000 pounds, had a tough steel case with a pointy nose, and it would go down 80 or 90 feet and then explode.    It took out a number of German targets, and was used to sink the Tirpitz in Alta Fiord.  Even Tallboy couldn't deal with all targets.  The British built a bigger penetrator for the harder targets that they called Grand Slam.  Grand Slam was 20000 pounds, which was so heavy that the wings of the Lancaster bomber carrying it could be seen to bow upwards under the load.  Grand Slam seems to be the limit for WWII aircraft to hoist off the ground.
   Twenty first century aircraft can hoist a good deal more than their WWII ancestors.  Little has been published, but Aviation Week once described new penetrator bomb casings  made out of old 16 inch cannon barrels.  Those ought to go down quite a ways. 
  But, little has been published on how deep the Iranians have dug in.  And what they have bug into, plain dirt? sedimentary rock? granite?  NORAD HQ in Colorado was dug under a solid granite mountain and was considered proof against nukes. 
   So, mission planners either IAF or USAF, the question is, will your penetrator bombs penetrate deep enough?  Will even a nuclear penetrator bomb go that deep? 
   One clue, the Israelis have not already bombed out the Iranians.  If they thought it would work, they probably would have done it by now. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

If the radar cannot see you, the fighters cannot find you.

Looks like our air defenses are about as good, or as bad, as the Soviets used to have.  Back some years ago a German teenager flew a Cessna all the way into Russia and landed it in Red Square, right in front of the Kremlin.  The Russians freaked, this was back in the cold war, and they figured if a German kid could make it thru,  SAC could as well.  Some Russian heads were rolled over the affair.
   Yesterday we had a guy land a Gyrocopter (very small one man autogyro) right on the Capitol lawn.  He flew it down from Gettysburg PA.  He probably never exceeded a couple of hundred feet altitude, and the radar cross section of a little, largely wood, autogyro is SMALL.  The radar never saw him, and even  if it had, he would have looked like any other light plane.  The restricted airspace around DC ain't that big, and it was probably only minutes from the time he crossed into the DC no-fly zone and he landed at the Capitol. 
   So, if it can happen to the old Soviet Union, it can happen to us.  The Gyrocopter is too small to carry much in the way of munitions.   You could do more damage ramming an SUV thru the Capitol gates.  It's given us a lot of amusing TV news.  I hope the guy that did it gets off with a scolding.

Defending Middle Earth Patrick Currey

I am a long term Tolkien fan.   My parents gave me the first volume of Lord of the Rings for Christmas back when I was in grade school.  I  read and reread the entire trilogy several times.  I read it aloud to my children years later.  I saw all the Peter Jackson movies. 
   So when I saw this title down at the Littleton Village Bookstore I bought it.  I read it.  Somehow, Currey manages to let the words roll out but never gets around to saying anything that I didn't know before I read it.  "Shoveling" is what my high school English teachers called this style. 
   English teachers, and literary critics have never liked Tolkien, despite or perhaps because of, its enormous popularity.  Tolkien has little "hidden meaning" of the sort that literary types enjoy searching out.  Tolkien doesn't hide any meanings.  He lets his love of trees, the countryside, Anglo Saxon myth and legend  , courage, Elvish languages, and endurance stand right out in plain English.  There isn't all that much that needs teaching in Tolkien.  This might account for the disdain for Tolkien shown by teachers and critics.
   Tolkien creates a wealth of truly wonderful characters.  Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Gandalf, Theoden, Faramir, Barliman Butterbur, Treebeard, Galadriel, Merry, Eowyn, and Pippin.  Tolkien's bad guys are really bad, the baddest ever.  Sauron is more evil, more dangerous than any other villain in literature.  Saruman and Denethor are not far behind in the practice of villainy.  This is in contrast to modern literary style of a single character coping with his psychological hangups.  Sauron doesn't have psychological hangups.  He knows exactly what he wants and he moves directly toward getting it and crushing his enemies.
   Lord of the Rings follows the classic formula for story telling.  The protagonist (a unisex word for hero) is faced with a challenge.  He rises to his challenge, and makes a first attempt to deal with it, and it doesn't work.  At the climax of the story he makes a final do or die attempt to surmount the challenge and either wins or looses.  All the rest of the story is anti-climax.  In chapter 2, The Shadow of The Past, Gandalf explains to Frodo about the ring and shows him what he must do.  From there on thruout the rest of the book, we readers are perfectly clear about the Quest's objective, although we have no idea how Frodo is going to cope with it. At the climax, Frodo fails, he takes the ring for himself, and is saved by Gollum of all people.
   One reason for Tolkien's popularity is the Middle Earth setting.   It's beautiful, it's comfortable, it has dangers lurking in the darker spots that heroes can overcome with courage and cold steel.  It's the sort of place many of us would like to retire to, or perhaps move to tomorrow.  It is solid in our imaginations, so solid that Peter Jackson's movie sets looked just right, first time I saw the movie.  Tolkien's prose is so vivid that Jackson, Jackson's set builders, and I, an old reader, had the very same image of what the Shire and Bag End should look like.
    Since Tolkien, numerous authors have attempted to write fantasy.  I've read some of it and it's not Tolkien, in fact most of it is dreadful.  Somehow Tolkien did it, and nobody else has been able to.  I'm nor sure why, but that's the way it is.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

IRS, crying for funding.

They have 85,000 employees.  Put every single one of 'em on the help desk.  That ought to answer the taxpayers calls.  What do they have to do before the tax returns come in on April 15 (today!!).  Put 'em on the help desk, every single one of 'em, including that snooty commissioner.  After April 15 put 'em to work processing tax returns.
   And, while we are at it, Congress ought to outlaw all those damn worksheets the IRS has socked us with.  Being unable or unwilling to state what the tax is in the instructions for Form 1040, the IRS gives us all these crazy 20-30 step work sheets to calculate this or that.  By the time you have fought your way thru all the steps, you head is so turned around that you have no idea whether you got it right or not.  If they cannot state the basis of the tax, and how to compute it, in plain English in a sentence or two, it's too damn complicated. 
  And, personal income tax would be fairer and easier to compute if we had a rule, income is income, no matter where it comes from.  Wages, dividends, qualified dividends, rents, royalties, capital gains, company cars, social security, pensions, bank interest, company health care, gambling winnings, you name it, it's all income, it all pays the same tax rate. 

Pictures on the Tracfone

OK, I got the phone to take a still picture.  It's grainier and more pixelated than what my Canon point-n-shoot can do, but fair.  The test photo is still in the phone.  I tried plugging the USB cable into my computers, one an antique running XP, the other an up to date laptop running Win 8.  The computers noticed the USB plug in of the phone.  Neither of them had a device driver to talk to the LG phone.  Google did not turn up any LG device drivers on the net.  Best I found was a site that promised to download a driver checker, inspect ALL my drivers and replace any that it pleased.  That was too scary for me.  The drivers presently on the machines work, new drivers sometime don't work. 
  So then I thought I would introduce cell phone to my wifi router.  That did not go well.  The phone asked for the router's password but would not show the alpha key board to allow me to type in "Ridgecut".  All the other magic numbers from the router, which I had faithfully logged,  were mixed alpha-numeric, which I could not type in from the telephone style keypad offered. 
  So, the photo is still in the cell.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Majoring in those other things

Colleges offer a lot of stuff that is neither liberal arts, nor STEM. 
First there is sociology, which wants to be considered a science, but you cannot do experiments, and the observations are all debatable as to what they mean.  Then we have political science, another wannabe science with no experimental basis and debatable observations.  Neither subject is much use in the job market.  You have to question the value of going into debt for either of them. 
  The gender studies, black studies, in fact anything with "studies" in its name, are of little to no use in the real world. 
   Economics is another  wannabe science with at least a little use in finance.  It's a better deal than sociology or poly sci when you go job hunting.
   And the education major.  This at least is a real job course, with an ed major degree you can teach in the public schools.  Too bad the course material is utterly boring and useless.  The teacher's unions have made an ed degree mandatory as a way of limiting entrance to the teaching field.  You gotta truly want to teach to suffer thru the ed major.  

Monday, April 13, 2015

Majoring in the Liberal Arts

The liberal arts are English, modern languages, music, art, history, philosophy, and mathematics.  Even though mathematics is the M in STEM, all colleges I know place the math department in the college of liberal arts. 
   One thing to bear in mind, all the liberal arts departments see their mission as the training of new college professors to carry on the teaching of liberal arts.  You want to do some thinking about that career path.  Although a tenured college professor gets paid reasonably well and the work is interesting and you get to work with students, the openings are few and far between.  Most colleges hire "adjunct" part time professors to do the bulk of the teaching.  The pay is poor, no health care, no benefits, and the competition is fierce, and the chance to make tenure is slim to none.  The pay is barely enough to keep a single guy or gal alive.  The thinking student looks to a job outside of academia, the pay is MUCH better.
   The English major centers about the study of great books, Shakespeare and the like.  The good English writers write about the human condition and people's reaction to difficult/terrible circumstances.  Knowing the literature gives good insight into real people in the real world.  With luck, you can get in some real writing courses, where you write, hand in the writing and the professor grades it and comments on it. 
   Avoid the unreal writing courses where the professor just talks about writing.    Aside from the obvious teaching career, industry needs zillions of words written for advertising copy, instruction manuals, proposals, website text, you name it.  Magazines, newspapers, e-zines always need copy.  Don't plan on a career writing novels.  The publishing business is only buying from  agented writers.  Newbies have to self publish ebooks, which can be fun, but there is little money in it. 
   Modern languages lead to jobs with US corporations operating overseas.  They would much rather have their overseas operations run by a dependable American who speaks the language rather than local hires, who might be Al Quada for all anyone in New  York knows. 
    Music is  good, but you ought to have a little musical talent before you major in it.  Performers do hit it big, but for every Elvis there are ten thousand wannabes who never get beyond doing gigs in nightclubs.
   Same goes for art.  You ought to have some artistic talent before you major in it.  If you can draw there are a zillion people needing artwork for every thing under the sun.  If you cannot draw, employment options are VERY limited.  
   A history major is similar to an English major, except the field of discourse is broader, all of human history, rather than just books written in English in the last thousand years.  You do get some very useful training in the separation of fact from fiction.
   Philosophy is fun, but I cannot think of any career that wants, or even would benefit from a philosophy major. 
   Math is very useful, although you should be aware of the tendency of math departments to concentrate upon the proving of pure mathematical theorems rather than the application of mathematics to solving real world problems.   If you like math, you should look at going for an engineering degree.  At my school the math department was so removed from the real world that the engineering departments all taught their own math courses.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

That Iranian nuclear deal

Funny thing, we don't seem to have anything in writing.  Just a "framework" what ever that may be. Last time the cookie pushers talked about "framework" was dealing with the Norks, who now have the bomb. The Americans say sanctions will stay on until the Iranians comply with the deal. The Iranians say sanctions stop right now.  The Americans say there will be inspections.  The Iranians say there won't be.  This kind of public bickering doesn't sound like much agreement has been reached. 
  Obama says the deal will block all Iranian paths to a bomb.  Great.  Do we get to remove all their centrifuges and enriched uranium from the country?  Do we likewise remove Iranian nuclear reactors?  Obama hasn't said. All he talks about is "paths to the bomb". 
   Assuming we get to inspect, what happens when we catch them cheating?  Do we bomb the cheating facility?  Arrest the cheaters and put them on trial in the US? or Geneva?  Do we "snapback" the sanctions?  Or do we merely send the Iranians a nasty diplomatic note? And who declares Iran to be cheating? Us, them, the IAEA, the inspection force?  Does it have to be unanimous or will majority vote suffice?
  Is sanction "snapback" even possible?  To really bite, sanctions have to be international, which means the Europeans, the Russians and the Chinese have to join in and refuse to sell to Iran.  Will they?  Iran has oil, which is saleable for dollars, which gives them money to buy stuff.  The Europeans, Russians, Chinese and everybody else would like to make a buck or two selling to Iran.  If only the Americans refuse to sell to Iran it won't hurt them much, Iran can buy from other places.  Money talks. 
  Will Obama cut a deal that just keeps the Iranians from getting the bomb before he leaves office?
  And the $64000 question.  What will we do when the Iranians test their first bomb?

Windows 8 more gripes

Lacking anything useful to do, the Microsofties have degraded Explorer, the navigate and operate tool from its XP days.  First they invented a new undocumented concept of "libraries"  which as far as I can see merely mess things up by displaying the same file icon in multiple places at the same time, making you wonder if you have multiple copies of the same file. 
   The XP explorer would display two windows,  file directories on the left, files within a selected directory on the right, and you could drag the window separator left or right to make room for deep directory structures or long filenames.  Well, the draggable window bar was too much trouble, so the Micorsofties dropped it.  The fixed width directory pane only shows the first two levels of directories.  If you have anything deeper, finding it is a pain. 
   And "Magnifier" has activated itself and I cannot kill it.  Dunno how that happened. 
   Lord preserve us from Windows 10. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Are computer models scientific?

Science is a way of thinking about the world.  The ancients (Greeks and Romans) didn't have it.  It was invented during the middle ages, and put into words by Roger Bacon.  The key notion in science is that facts come from observation and experiment in the real world, and theories have to agree with facts.  For instance the ancient Greeks developed geometry, but it was entirely a construction of the mind.  Theorems were proved by mustering postulates and previously proven theorems into a neat array, never by actually measuring the geometric figure under consideration with a ruler.  Geometry, useful as it is, is not a science, it is pure mathematics, it's truth comes from thought alone, unburdened by any connection with the real world. 
   Science has been incredably powerful since its invention.  Science brought Western civilization from the dark ages to it's current position in the world.  You have to respect the scientific method, it has been enormously successful. 
   And now, we have people, claiming to be scientific, putting forth theories based on nothing but computer models.  These people are active in the "global warming" controversy, claiming that "global warming" is happening because they have programmed a "computer model" that predicts "global warming".  They imply that computer model results have the strength of real world observations and experiment. 
   A computer model is merely an ordinary computer program that calculates what might happen, given rules that relate the effect of inputs to the model to the output.  I have myself written computer models to predict the action of electronic circuits and mechanical systems.  All a model does is calculate answers based upon formulas and equations from the model writer. 
   If the model writer's formulas and equations are wrong, or incomplete, the models predictions will be wrong.  Surely everyone in these days has had some experience with the unreliability of computer programs.
   One test for completeness and accuracy of computer models is to set the inputs equal to some time in the past, run the model forward thru time, and see if the model's predictions match the actual real world situation. 
   The global warmer's models all pretty much fail that test.  None of them come any where close to matching today's weather when started in the past.  And, none of them predicted the past 19 years cessation of global warming.
   So when someone starts in on "global warming" ask them where they get their data.  When they say "computer models", beware.   

More Tracfone

Progress.  I got a few contacts successfully entered into the contact list.  A bunch of random button pushes finally brought up the alpha touch keyboard.  You hit an unlabeled, undocumented button in the upper right hand corner of the dinky little touchscreen and the alpha keyboard appears.  Why it doesn't appear when you hit "Name" is clearly a case of the software guru's deciding to make life difficult for users.  I'm a retired software guru myself and I know contempt for customers when I see it. 

Friday, April 10, 2015


Under pressure from my children I went out and bought a cell phone.  The kids wanted to be able to reach me on the road to see when I might be getting in.  So, on advice of my brother, who has one, I bought a Tracfone from Walmart.  Cheap, phone was only $28 for a phone with a screen, a 60 minute card was only $19.88 getting me on the air for only $47.88.  It has a touch screen, built in camera, and a bunch of other stuff I haven't figured out yet.  No contract, no monthly bill, just buy more minutes when ever you run low.  Minutes are good for 150 days then they evaporate unless you buy more. 
   Shoplifting appears to be a problem.  Walmart had the hanger upon which the Tracfones hung locked, I had to get a clerk to unlock the rack so I could buy it.  Packaging is the ultra tough transparent stuff that required my Swiss Army knife to open.  Package contained the phone, battery, and charger/USB cable.  Following instructions I inserted the battery and plugged it in to charge the battery.  Phone refused to do anything else until it was fully charged.  
  Then it wanted to be "activated".  I logged into a website and answered a buncha questions, and after a couple of tries, the phone activated.  I placed a test call and it went thru.  I have cell phone coverage in Mittersill. Yeh!  Wasn't too sure about that since all the children's cell phones had had trouble connecting from here.  Progress. 
  Then I started thru the on-line instruction manual.  Step one was to identify which of 50 different models of phone I had.  I looked on the phone, and all it said with "LG"  A Korean outfit with a pretty good rep that used to call itself Lucky Goldstar, back when it got going making VCRs.  They changed their name to LG when they hit the big time and decided that Lucky Goldstar sounded too frivolous to American customers. But, LG had neglected to put the model number on the product, a major marketing goof in my book.  You always mark your company name and the product name or model number on the product.  Fortunately the model number was on the cover of the instruction booklet.
  Next trick is to enter important phone numbers into the phone's memory.  I'm stuck on that step as of now.  The only way to enter letters involved a telephone style keypad with three letters on each key.  Just hitting keys gives a gibberish name field, which doesn't work for me.  I'm researching this hiccup right now.
  And, more research required.  It rang, but I couldn't find my way to the "answer the call" button.   

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Plastic corks, This is progress??

They got everything now.  Plastic corks for champagne bottles.  They appear to work, the Andre (real quality brand that) champagne held pressure.  They come off with just fingers.  They go back on and the champagne holds its fizz over night in the fridge. 
  Gone is the loud POP and the flying cork which yielded so much entertainment at Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners.
  The price of progress can be heavy.

Game of Thrones Season 4

Just came in from Netflix.  Episode 1, Two Swords.  Time Warner cable  doesn't carry HBO so I see everything a year later.  It's still good.  The sets and costumes are elaborate, expensive looking, and convincing.  The multiple story arcs (Jon Snow in the Black Watch. Arya on the lam, Sansa Stark married to Tyrion Lannister, Jaime Lannister and Brienne fumbling along, Bran struggling to get beyond the Wall, Theon Grayjoy getting tortured, Joffrey Baratheon/Lannister being obnoxious) can get confusing.  It's surprising that we can have so many story arcs after killing off so many likeable major characters (Lord Ned Stark, Rob Stark, Cat Stark)  However each surviving story arc still retains its interest. 
   They have improved the sound track.  I could understand everything that was said.  Last season they had some really bad episodes where I could not understand a word.  One of them with Jaime Lannister and Brienne sharing a hot tub would have been more fun to watch if I could have understood what they were saying to each other. 
  I liked the scene toward the end where Arya has somehow fallen in with big, old, and ugly Sir Gregor Clegane ("The Hound").  It opens with Clegane and Arya riding double and Arya is chewing out Clegane 'cause she lacks a horse of her own and has to ride double with him.  They come upon a tavern, with five bad guys inside  it. Arya drags Clegane inside, whereupon the bad guy leader tries to get Clegane to join his gang.  The conversation gets frostier and frostier until swords come out and Arya and the Hound wipe up the tavern floor with the bad guys. Arya gets two of them.  She has done some growing over four seasons and is bigger and taller than she was in season one.  Anyhow we see the unlikely pair riding away from the scene of the carnage, Arya has her own horse now, having slain its previous rider in a hand to hand sword fight.  Good scene all the way. 

Rand Paul is mean to media says WashPost.

My heart bleeds for the poor innocent abused media.  Bunch of ignorant, biased, back stabbing trolls. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Dried, State of California that is

I heard that Jerry Brown wants to put a limit on the length of showers Californians can take.  That oughta be a hoot.  First I want to see the official state policy on how long a shower oughta be.  Then I want to see the enforcement mechanism.  Do they station state troopers in every home with a stop watch?  Or just in the homes of Jerry's political enemies? 
    Not a problem in NH.  We are just entering mud season, and will have plenty of water for a long time.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Isolationism and Rand Paul

In America, isolationism grew up in the years between the wars, 1919 to 1939.  People who were horrified by the casualties of WWI or dissatisfied with the outcome of the Versailles Treaty began to preach that America should  stay at home, build up business, and let the rest of the world sink or swim. A luxury permitted to a continental power with abundant domestic natural resources. Isolationism prevented the US from joining the League of Nations, allowed Hitler to do what he liked, and prevented the US from entering WWII until the Pearl Harbor attack
   WWII discredited isolationism, and the Anglosphere, led by America, set up the post war world and has run it ever since.  It's been a fairly decent world, far more decent than a world run by the Communists or Islam would be.  We have insisted upon the sanctity of international borders, free trade, freedom of the seas, liberating colonies, reasonable stability in international currency exchange, self determination, i.e. no messing around in the internal politics of other states, and human rights.  The Pax Americana has been successful, it outlasted the Soviets, avoided WWIII, and has not been unduly expensive for us to maintain.  The bulk of the world has been happy with it.  They trust the Americans to uphold international order and not take them over. 
   Counterexamples, Putin in Ukraine, ISIS, and others serve as horrible examples of what could happen without the Americans. 
   And now we have Rand Paul running for President and preaching a return to isolationism.  Let us hope the American voters have a better grasp of modern history than Mr. Paul has. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

More Polarization

In addition to the vast democratic majorities in the "good old days"  (50s-60s) the United States faced an existential enemy, a communist, nuclear armed, superpower bent on world domination.  "We will bury you" quoth Nikita Khrushchev.  Communism is about as left as politics can get.  Communism stood for ownership of the means of production (companies) by the state.  In practice that meant liquidation of company shareholders, owners, and for good measure anyone else who stood in the way. 
   This was opposed by all the targeted groups in the US, and by American labor.  Coming out of the 1930's, American workers had organized strong unions and collectively bargained some pretty decent contracts.  The rank and file figured that they had things under control, and any move toward state ownership of the means of production would break their contracts and leave them worse off.  The Democratic party was (and perhaps still is) the party of organized labor,  the Republicans were (and still are) the party of businessmen, who were as hostile to communism as the union men were.
   Which meant that the lefty impulses in the body politic could not move too far from center if they wanted to win an election.  In fact both Democrats and Republicans supported the Cold War, with such effect that the existential enemy suffered political collapse by 1991.
    Now, with communism being pretty dead for the last 25 years,  it becomes possible for American lefties to say things and do things that would have gotten them tossed out of the party in the old days.  "You want to share the wealth don't you," would have branded Obama as a commie back in the day.   In short, the fall of Soviet Communism allows the modern US democrats to go way farther to the left than would have been possible during the Cold War, when communist sympathizers were branded as traitors.  The Republicans have pretty much stayed in place, ideologically.  You don't hear any modern Republican going farther right than good old Barry Goldwater did in 1964. 
   In short, defeat of Soviet Communism has allowed the lefties out of the box and into the body politic where they attract flak.  

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Polarization of US politics.

I've seen countless whines on this subject.  No bipartisanship, too much bickering, gridlock, yada yada.  Usually by democrats.  And, I gotta agree with them.  Over my memory span, the Congresscritters have grown meaner and nastier, far more likely to do ad hominem attacks upon the other party. 
  How come?
  Well, back in the good old days (50s,60s) the Democrats had an overwhelming majority just about everywhere, Congress, state houses, city halls.  You don't squabble with members of your own party.  And if you are a real small Republican minority party you know you have to get along with the majority Democrats if you ever want to get any of your stuff passed.  So things ran a bit smoother, and with more politeness under a one and a half party system. 
  Starting with Newt Gingrich's Contract with America in 1994, the Republicans finally gained enough strength nationwide to draw level with, or even ahead of,  the Democrats.  When you have the votes to push thru your program, you don't have to be polite to the opposition, you just vote it thru.  The opposition hates that, but that's democracy for you. 
   So, the "polarization" so decried by the democrats is actually a sign of the return of two party politics. 

Friday, April 3, 2015


Obama's murky deal with Iran does some talking about inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities to report when Iran starts building an atomic bomb.  Apparently we don't get to do no knock inspections. 
But, the question is, should the inspectors catch the Iranian cheating and bomb building, do we, the US, have the stones to do anything about it?  Obama probably doesn't. 
   I have been reading Winston Churchill's "The Gathering Storm".  After WWI the victors disarmed Germany and set up an inspection regime to make sure the Germans didn't cheat.  Well, the Germans did cheat, and when they created a new Army and new Air Force, completely in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, the French and the British lacked the stones to do anything about it.  The Americans were into isolationism and coping with the Great Depression.  And WWII happened. 
   I fear that only military action will keep the Iranians from the bomb. 

Pease Flap

NHPR ran a story this morning about pollution at Pease Tradeport (the former Pease Air Force Base).  I never heard of this pollutant before (PFC's I think they were talking about).  NHPR did admit that there were no human studies proving that the stuff was harmful.  Actually, running such a study has severe ethical problems but never mind. 
   The stuff had been detected in the water of test wells drilled to look for it.  NHPR, continuing its tradition of innumeracy, didn't mention how much had been detected.  Modern laboratory technique is sensitive enough to detect a little bit of anything just about anywhere.  No mention was made about tests on tapwater.  They were hot to trot to test the blood of residents, workers, and former workers, but nobody had volunteered to pay for all this medical work. 
   Could it be that the greenies are out to shut down Pease by inventing a new hazard?  I mean the greenies invented Bicknell's Thrush just to prevent skiing on the Mittersill trails. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Retail Politics in the North country.

George Pataki came to Littleton this morning.  Despite a couple a hundred emails announcing the event, turnout was light.  We had nearly as many people from the local papers as we did voters.  George Pataki was looking and sounding good.  His hair hasn't turned gray yet, he is tall, erect carriage, looks good speaking.  In reply to my question "What should we do to get GNP growth up from 2-2.5 percent to 3.5-4 percent, the governor mentioned income tax reform to bring off shore corporate money home, scrapping Obamacare, and reducing government regulation.  He asked the audience how they felt about the future of America, received equivocal answers, and then went on to say that that government meddling was the cause of universal American pessimism.  He is against Common Core.   He wants stronger American armed forces.  He wants to control the borders, but expressed pride in his own immigrant roots.
Crowd was sparce.   Judy Clews and Silvia Smith in the front row.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Bob Menendez, Senator, DOJ target

All I know is what I see on TV.  But the charges against Menendez sound like constituent service to me.  You take care of your constituents, your voters, your donors, your friends.  People only donate money to your campaign 'cause they want something from you.  There is little difference between campaign contributions and bribes.
   Anyhow, the Obama administration has decided to prosecute a democratic senator on shaky grounds.  Maybe they want to silence a critic.  Maybe some DOJ people have a grudge.  Who knows?  But life in the United States is becoming dangerous when even US Senators can be attacked by their government.