Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Absurd Immigration Policies

Helena, Montana is growing like crazy with new businesses opening up right and left. In the window of every store and business are "Help Wanted" signs. Some businesses are having to close or curtail business hours and are losing money because they cannot find workers. Some businesses in Helena are now importing workers from Eastern Europe to fill positions.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14667831

Does this square at all with the Bush / Republican anti-immigration policies? Bush has gotten behind yet another ill-conceived xenophobic right-wing cause and is hurting the country again? Do the right-wingers study demographics and learn a little bit before acting or are they just following the loudest voice they hear yelling in the mob?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

How Many of you Hate Daylight "Saving" Time?

Raise your hands. Better yet, vote in my poll on this topic. (You may want to read this before you vote)

I don't mind the act of changing the clocks to Daylight "Saving" Time. I don't even mind the sleep upsets in order to readjust. But what I do mind, a LOT, is the outcome and effect of Daylight Time. I like darkness and nighttime. I like seeing the fireflies and the stars. It should be dark at 6 PM or so, not 9:30 PM. I would much prefer for it to cool off an hour "earlier" in the evening during summer. Kids should not have to go to school and adults should not have to drive to work in total darkness in the morning. It's bizarre.

Equally annoying is that this is mandated by Congress for make-believe reasons that contradict reality. The main argument used by lawmakers is "energy savings". But no study has shown that any energy is saved. The major consumers of electricity: refrigeration and air-conditioning run 24/7, as does most industrial and office lighting. Any lighting savings at 5 PM are offset by increased light usage in the mornings. Cooking and showering habits will not change because of a time change. The energy saving argument is pure hokum.

Numerous studies have been done since 1974 on this subject and the results show that Daylight Time actually INCREASES overall energy usage because people drive and shop more when Daylight Time kicks in. Shopping and gasoline sales spike up when Daylight "Saving" Time kicks in. Wal-Mart and other consumer businesses benefit from increased sales and the energy companies sell more gasoline.

Now, what do you think would motivate politicians to put Daylight Saving time in place? And what would motivate them to increase it to a present level that nearly erases Standard Time from the calendar entirely? I think you can figure it out for yourself. (Hint: Concern for the environment is not the answer.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

IBM Joins Open Office Org

This is good news. Open Office, the main challenger to Microsoft Office, has now passed the 100 million user mark. Corporations and governments right and left, mainly in Europe, are adopting OO and the ODF document format, and booting Microsoft out of the game. And the latest bit of news is that IBM has decided to join the Open Office Organization, contribute code it has written, improve interoperability with Lotus Notes, and to push Open Office as a product.

As you probably know, IBM adopted Linux as the standard OS throughout the company some time ago, so this is a logical next step.

http://www.openoffice.org/press/ibm_press_release.html

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Journalism in America

This story...

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070920/ap_en_tv/tv_rather_lawsuit

...about Dan Rather being fired over a story he did about George Bush is interesting because it illustrates how the major news sources in the United States, CBS in this case, kowtow to the Bush administration, bowing and scraping in order to curry favor from the government. This is not the function of the fourth estate. The U.S. Constitution was designed so that journalists are free to harass and harangue all politicians. It is their duty to do so. The Founders knew that highly critical journalists with sharp pens and sharp tongues are the only thing that keeps the government honest. If journalists and news outlets align themselves with the government, or give politicians or the government the "benefit of the doubt", or in any way give in to the notion that criticizing the government is unpatriotic, then we are lost.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Why the Iraqi Government Can't "Get it Together"

Why? The simple answer is that the Sunni and Shia factions can't get along, right? Well, that's true, but it's not the whole story There's another issue that's been making a mess of the process of putting a government together in Iraq--an issue that is rarely mentioned in the press. From the start, the U.S. has insisted on certain provisions in the structure of the Iraqi government with respect to Iraq's oil reserves. Namely, the U.S. insists that the new government of Iraq must agree to allow two-thirds of the Iraqi oil reserves to be controlled by a consortium consisting of the usual suspects (Exxon, BP, Shell, etc.) This consortium would have seats on Iraq's governing bodies and have veto power over legislation. Furthermore, the agreement states that if there is civil war or unrest in Iraq, making it too dangerous for Exxon, BP, etc. to operate in Iraq, that they can wait until the problems are solved and then they can jump in, plant their flags, and take over the oil fields. Adding to the complexity, the Kurds very much want to keep 100 percent of the oil reserves they feel are theirs.

No wonder the Iraqi government is a mess. No wonder government officials hardly show up for sessions. No wonder the reception of American soldiers has changed from enthusiasm to where 70 percent of Iraqis feel it's okay to kill American soldiers. They do not want to give away the sovereignty of their country and its resources. I can understand that. It's always good to remember that the U.S. does not have a monopoly on patriotism. Iraqis feel just as patriotic about their country as United Statesians feel about the United States. I have found this to be true in every country I've ever visited, regardless of whether the government was oppressive or not. It must be a human trait.

Below is an article in the New York Times discussing the latest breakdown in passing the "law governing Iraq's rich oil fields", but they don't touch on the details of this law. What's the problem with the law? Now you know what the problem is.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/13/world/middleeast/13baghdad.html?th&emc=th

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bisphenyl A (BPA), Should we be Worried?

I promised my daughter and some friends to write about what I have learned about bisphenyl A (BPA) and I will keep it as brief as I can and still include everything I know. I learned this via Dr. Jane Adams who is a neurotoxicologist at the National Institutes of Health, (NIH).

Back in the mid-90's, Dr. Adams noticed that it seemed like a lot of urine samples coming into NIH were contaminated with bisphenyl A. So they did a quick study and found that 97 percent of the urine samples coming in, from all ages of people, were contaminated with what were, to her, alarming concentrations of BPA.

What is BPA? The chemical bisphenyl A was first synthesized by a German scientist in the 1890s. No use was found for it until the 1930s when it was discovered that BPA made a dandy artificial estrogen. It was used for that for a few years until they discovered DES (diethylstilbestrol) in the late 1930s and BPA was no longer used for estrogen replacement.

Most of you are probably too young to remember what happened with DES. I remember DES and I also remember when the thalidomide nightmare hit. I remember as a 10 year old, reading through LIFE magazine and being totally creeped out by the teratogenic effects of thalidomide. (Teratogenic means "monster making"). Women who were given DES and women who were given thalidomide started giving birth to monsters instead of babies. LIFE Magazine had big black and white photos that I will never forget.

Okay, so when DES was developed in the late 1930s they stopped using BPA for estrogen replacement. Then during WW II and at the dawn of the modern age of plastics and polymers, it was discovered that BPA makes a terrific polymer material. And it truly is terrific, having really no equal still today. You know this plastic as polycarbonate and its trade name Lexan. Polycarbonate is best known as the "bulletproof plastic", and it is exactly that. It's not perfectly transparent or even as clear as acrylic but it is clear enough to see through okay if made well, and yes, this is the stuff you may have seen in the TV ads in the 70's where a guy stands there and empties a .357 magnum at a window made of Lexan. When he shoots at an angle the bullets just bounce off. When he shoots straight on, the bullet gets stuck in the plastic but does not penetrate. Well that demonstration is real, not a trick.

Years ago I had a go at a little demonstration at a security show where they had a window made of 1/8th thick Lexan and you were given a 3 pound ball-peen hammer to do your best to break it. People were swinging on that thing all day for three days and nothing happened. The hammer was provided with a wrist strap that they insisted be used because the hammer would bounce back with as much force as you applied! Not expecting this, people would often lose the hammer and they didn't want a hammer flying across the convention floor.

The windows of the president's car, some bank teller windows, the Popemobile windows, and all fighter plane canopies are made of Lexan. It takes a steel cored armor piercing bullet to get through Lexan. It's still the toughest transparent plastic around. You also find it in industrial filter housings, vandal proof light fixtures in schools and prisons, and lots of other places. It's really cool stuff. And in your daily life you encounter it in those 5 gallon water bottles you set on top of the water cooler, some baby bottles are made from it, and BPA is used to coat the inside of food cans.

Polycarbonate (BPA) is a bit on the expensive side so it's not used unless you really need it. Refillable water bottles and baby bottles are two examples where it's a good choice. However, you also find bisphenyl A used as a plasticizer in certain uses of cheaper plastics like PVC. Mixed in with PVC, small quantities of BPA improves the feel and quality and makes PVC much "nicer". So BPA is not everywhere but it is more common than just water bottles, baby bottles, and food cans. And, just because a plastic bottle or other object is marked PVC (in the little recycling triangle on the bottom) does not mean that it contains no BPA. It might contain BPA as a plasticizer and it might not.

That's all fine and dandy except for one thing. Bisphenyl A leaches / dissolves into the water or food in small amounts and we consume it. This is the source of the BPA that Dr. Adams discovered in urine samples ranging from babies to the elderly.

Okay, but is it dangerous? Well this is where it gets interesting and a little complicated so read carefully. The teratogenic effects of DES were discovered in rats long before the problem appeared in humans but it was argued that rats and humans are very different, and you cannot make direct comparisons, and this is true, more or less. It turned out that to create monsters in humans, the concentration of DES had to be 1,000 times higher than the concentration that causes problems in rats.

DES and BPA both mimic estrogen in the human body and are capable of creating all sorts of problems besides monstrous babies including obesity, heart disease, cancer, mental problems, neural problems and who knows what else. Bisphenyl A creates problems in rats at a concentration even lower than DES. The concentrations of BPA found in humans today is over 1,000 times higher than the concentration of BPA needed to cause problems in rats. Does this mean anything? I don't know. Nobody else knows either.

No proven link to a problem has been found yet in humans but Dr. Adams is concerned because the parallels with DES are striking, to say the least, and the amount of BPA found in humans increases every year. We don't know all the problems that can occur. It is possible that the epidemic of childhood obesity and unexplained precocious puberty is caused by BPA. It's possible that BPA is causing mental problems that we have not tracked down to BPA yet. She argues that these chemicals that mimic estrogen are very dangerous things to play with and this one is in general distribution to the public. It's even found in baby bottles and we really don't know much about what it might be causing.

NIH is just now assembling people to begin to study it, but for the moment it's up to you to decide whether to be concerned or not. Nothing much is known except the above. The parallels with DES are creepy. You must make your own judgment.

Now if you couldn't follow the point I'm making above, let me compress it down to a short story:

Back around 1930 we develop a chemical which I'll call Chemical A. Chemical A functions as a synthetic estrogen. Chemical A is found to cause horrible birth defects in rats. Later, we discover the hard way that at a concentration 1,000 times higher it also causes horrible birth defects in humans. Chemical A is banned. Around 1930 we also develop Chemical B. Chemical B is very similar to Chemical A and also serves as a synthetic estrogen. Chemical B also causes horrible birth defects in rats. It turns out that a very useful plastic can be made with Chemical B. Chemical B is thus found all around us in our daily lives and the concentration of Chemical B in our bodies has now grown to about 1,000 times the concentration that causes birth defects in rats. However, harmful effects in humans has not yet been shown. Should we be worried about Chemical B?

Edit: More info has come out that I wrote about in this blog post:
http://shuttersparks.blogspot.com/2008/02/bisphenol-or-bisphenyl.html


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Pride of Lions has a Bad Day

Here is one of the most amazing videos I have ever seen. It's eight minutes long but it's well worth watching the whole thing. There are several different events that take place throughout the video that will astound you. Any one of those events would make a stunning video clip by itself. A pride of lions, a herd of cape buffalo, and two big crocodiles get into a rumble, and you'll see who's boss. The lions are young and foolish, and have not yet learned to respect the cape buffalo. But they learn.

I learned 30 years ago from a very good friend who was a lifelong African big game hunter that the lion has the reputation but the real king of the hill in Africa is not the lion, it is the cape buffalo. My friend spent several months every year in Africa, for 40 years, hunting. He taught me that lions have the reputation of being a predator with no natural enemies--top of the food chain. Not true, he told me that while they are at the top of the food chain they definitely have a natural enemy. He said that herds of cape buffalo will hunt lions--not to eat them but simply to kill them and rid themselves of a pest. According to him, cape buffalo will raid dens of lions in an organized fashion and kill every one they can get. Groups of buffalo will locate and set up ambushes on each of the escape routes from the den, and then another group will attack the den in a frontal assault. The lions scatter only to run straight into buffalo that are waiting for them. The attack group then goes in and kills all the cubs. So the cape buffalo know all about lions. In this video you will see behaviors that I'm sure you've never seen before. Just one cape buffalo is a very dangerous animal, but as you will see they can also act in concert. Talk about scary.

It's easy to lose your sense of scale in this video. Remember that cape buffalo are enormous creatures, weighing over a ton, and the lions are 400 pounds or more. One of the lions discovers just how strong a cape buffalo is, the hard way. Ouch!

Prepare to be amazed again and again.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU8DDYz68kM

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Food is Not What it Used to Be

Over the past 50 years, iron levels in meat have dropped from 47 to 80 percent. Iron levels in milk have dropped by 60 percent! No, this is not a joke and I'm not making this up. The AAAS (American Associate for the Advancement of Science) held a symposium on this problem not long ago.

Our high-tech farming with fertilizers, chemicals, etc. will make crops grow fast and look good but it's "all show and no go", as we used to say in the car racing biz. High-yield crops grow faster and bigger but fail to accumulate the nutrients we need. Nutrient levels in fruits, vegetables, and wheat have declined dramatically over the past 50 years. The concentration of some vitamins, minerals, and protein, including calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and ascorbic acid have dropped by from 5 to 38 percent.

And get this, especially you women, the iron in 15 varieties of meat decreased an average of 47 percent. Some meat products fell as much as 80 percent.

Copper has fallen by 60 percent, magnesium by 10 percent. Both copper and magnesium are essential for enzyme functioning.

Here's a link to get you started for info:
http://www.utexas.edu/opa/news/04newsreleases/nr_200412/nr_chemistry041201.html

Monday, September 10, 2007

My Ideal Notebook Computer

Back around 1992 there was a notebook computer called the Panasonic Business Partner P-180. It was a lightweight, rugged, clamshell notebook computer with a nearly full sized keyboard that you could type on all day, a 9 or 10-inch monochrome LCD display with no backlight that was very readable in ambient light and sunlight, a single 720k floppy, and a small 12 volt gel cell battery that ran the machine for 8 hours. The CPU was a CMOS 80C88, OS was DOS 3.1 and it was an outstanding "text mill". With a Wordstar clone and a PIM called Tornado installed, I had everything I needed. I could sit at a picnic table and bang out text documents all day long, make and refer to notes instantly. It was silent, no fan, no hard disk, no heat, and the keyboard was quiet, perfect for taking notes at a meeting or in college. It had an external 12V power input so if I brought along a little 4 Ah gel cell (size of a soda can), I could run for 30 or 40 hours without recharging. Today I wish I still had that machine.

Fast forward to 2007 and there is NOTHING like this machine on the market. We have battery technology today that is light years better than gel cells but every single notebook computer made is jammed with power hungry devices that give a battery life of 2 to 3 hours, which is FAR less than acceptable. With today's technology one could design a machine just like the P-180 with a transflective display and a backlight that can be turned off and only used in darkness. Replace the 720k floppy with a pair of 2 GB SD memory card slots (giving 2,500 times the memory capacity of the old Panasonic). VIA makes an x86 CPU that runs on about 1 watt of power. Add WiFi that can be powered down when not in use. Perhaps add a USB port or two. Run Linux on it, and you've got it made. There's plenty of memory to install Linux, Firefox, and Open Office and have 3 gigabytes left over.

This would be the ultimate machine for students taking notes in classes. They could run all day and into the night without recharging. Use it in the library for research without constantly worrying about running the battery down. Relax, use it all you want. Set it on your lap and not burn your legs from the heat since there IS no heat. It would also be excellent for news reporters / journalists in the field, just like the old Tandy Model 100 once was. It would be great for authors, lawyers, or anyone who would like to sit under a tree and write all day without the least concern about using up that precious little 3 hours of battery life, and it would be rugged since there is no delicate hard disk to worry about. In fact, this machine has no moving parts at all except for the keyboard contacts. It would be ideal for travelers and backpackers since it would be lighter than an average notebook and far more rugged. World travellers / backpackers / sailors use their machines mainly to compose and post blog entries and to do email. This machine can do that, much more, and run for 25 hours on a battery charge.

If I were designing this machine I would make the battery pack easily replaced so one could have two packs--one charging while the other is in use. Come home at night, swap battery packs, and you're ready for another day. If this machine could be powered and charged directly from a 12V automobile cigarette lighter it would be fantastic.

And a machine like this can retail for $300. Why doesn't it exist? I don't need this machine to store 8,000 mp3 files, and six episodes of "Lost", and play the latest video games because I don't use it for listening to music or watching video. I have other machines for that. I would use this little machine for practical work: referring to and making notes, and writing. Isn't this what people do all day in school and in meetings? Yes it is! And the machine I describe supports a browser and WiFi so web research can be done and one has access to things like Google docs and so forth when connected to the net.

Such a machine would be simple and straightforward to design, yet year after year I wait for a machine like this to come along and it never does. What's more, I run into applications that other people have, situations that are described to me where this machine would be the perfect solution, so I know there is a market for it. I recently became friends with a well-known columnist at eWeek magazine because his "holy grail" machine is very much like what I describe here, but there's nothing out there in the marketplace. We had hopes for the Palm Foleo but the project was canceled a couple days ago. Just this evening I spoke with a friend who is traveling in Vietnam and this machine would be ideal for him.

Are any of the manufacturers listening? Do they do any market research? Do they realize that not everybody wants a power-sucking super wowee-zowee dual-core turbocharged racing laptop that leaves second-degree burns on their legs if they use it as a laptop? All I want to do is type some text and do an email okay? That's it. A Celeron 433 from 1999 is plenty of compute power for this machine.

I am just astounded that nobody makes a machine like this. It would sell like crazy to the right audience.

NOTE: (Added April 15, 2008) I wrote a follow on blog entry to this post that discusses the new Asus Eee:
http://shuttersparks.blogspot.com/2008/03/my-ideal-notebook-computer-part-ii.html

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Americans are Getting Shorter

Average height of a population is related to health and quality of diet. This has been known for a long time. In colonial times, Americans were the tallest people in the world. When traveling in Europe, Americans were accustomed to towering over the rest of the crowd. This makes sense because the average American had a healthier lifestyle, healthier environment, and better diet than his European counterpart. But that's all changed over the last 50 years. Americans are becoming shorter (and fatter) and Europeans are becoming taller. The average Dutch male is now 5 cm taller than the average American male and the difference is growing. The difference in women is even greater. The average Dutch woman is 5.9 cm taller than her American counterpart. Despite the fundamental importance of this trend, this gets little or no press coverage in the United States for some reason.

Why is this happening? An article in Social Science Quarterly says "... we can conjecture that there are differences in the diet of U.S. and European children that could affect human growth. For example, U.S. children consume more meals prepared outside the home, more fast food rich in fat, high in energy density, and low in essential micronutrients, than do European children."

For the moment, Americans are still doing well on average in terms of lifespan but this may be due to the oceans of drugs we consume to treat illness. It's better not to get sick in the first place so this lead will probably disappear as the current "short and fat generation" ages.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

How Bush Gets Away With It

“If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier,
just so long as I’m the dictator.”
-George W. Bush, December 18, 2000

When observing Bush's actions since 9/11, people wonder how he gets away with blatantly violating laws such as those regarding domestic spying. Have you wondered why Congress does nothing about it, even with democrats in control? Breaking a law is a criminal act and grounds for impeachment, and yet nothing happens, nothing is said. And nothing is ever going to happen either. Bush and his associates will never be prosecuted for any of these crimes. Why? Because the Office of Legal Counsel (probably the most powerful organization in the U.S. that you've never heard of) approved all of Bush's actions. The blessings from the Office of Legal Counsel gave permission for these activities and confers immunity from prosecution on anyone who acts on their recommendations. The Office of Legal Counsel's decisions carry the same weight as a Supreme Court decision and cannot be challenged in any way.

Last night I listened to a great interview. Terry Gross interviewed Charlie Savage, author of In Pursuit of the Imperial President. Savage gives a complete explanation of what has happened in a clear concise manner, including how Bush managed to co-opt this all-powerful Office of Legal Counsel. There's a concrete reason that the president can do what he does and get away with it and there's nothing we can do about it. If you've wondered about this mystery, wonder no more. You can listen to the interview here:

http://www.npr.org/templates/rundowns/rundown.php?prgId=13&agg=0&prgDate=09-05-2007&view=storyview

The above link is to NPR's show called Fresh Air, September 5th, 2007. It will be 39 minutes well spent. When you get there, click on the "Listen" button.

Americans Get Half Their Calories From Sugar!

Did you know that today's average American gets half of his or her calories every day from sugar? It's true. The average American today consumes 160 pounds of sugar per year. A hundred years ago, this figure was 10 pounds per year. This is great for the sugar companies but also explains the explosion in obesity.

Americans have become sugar addicts. Besides Coke and soda pop that's loaded with sugar (Coke contains something like 10 teaspoons of sugar per can) read the labels in the fruit juice aisle at the market. Nearly all of them are labeled as "fruit drink" or "fruit cocktail" and are loaded with corn syrup. It's hard to find a bottle that contains just plain fruit juice. Look at the calories on these fruit "juices". It's shocking.

Three years ago I was living in a warm climate and took to drinking lots of "fruit juice". I thought I was doing myself a favor. After all, it said Vitamin C right on the label. But I noticed that I began to gain weight rapidly. I discussed it with a friend and she asked me to do a complete diet inventory, so I did. I discovered that I was consuming 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day, every day, just in "fruit juice". I stopped that cold and switched to water. For the next two days, my vision was not quite right. A lifelong diabetic friend explained that this was normal because I stopped the huge constant sugar intake so suddenly. He explained that it would take a couple days for my pancreas to adjust to the new sugar levels. He was right. Since then I have limited my fruit juice intake to only real juices, not spiked with sugar or corn syrup, and 8 to 10 ounces per day, maximum.

I was a prime example of the statistic I mentioned above. By quitting the "fruit juice" I dropped nearly 20 pounds, back to my normal weight.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Olive Oil that Ain't

I just listened to a piece on NPR about adulterated Olive Oil. This prompted me to do some research and reading.

Condensing it all down, basically, adulteration is not something that happens now and then. It's very common. So common that most of the oil labeled Extra Virgin Olive Oil in your supermarket isn't. It is soybean, or canola, or hazelnut oil with coloring and flavoring added. Some of it is olive oil that is misgraded or diluted with other oils.

The bottom line is that real EVOO is expensive. If the oil is inexpensive then it's very likely fake.

Apparently there is a lot of fraud and little enforcement in the U.S. Operators will set up in a warehouse, mix up and bottle 10 or 20,000 gallons of oil, and disappear, all in a few days, leaving no trace to track them down.

The Italian flags, quaint Italian names, the "Product of Italy", "Produced in Italy" and all that on the label is bogus. And on top of the outright fraudulent olive oils, that aren't olive oil at all, that are mixed up in an abandoned warehouse in South Philly, there are operators who are actually located in Italy, who import olive oils from all over the world in bulk and bottle it in Italy. So it actually was "produced" in Italy but it is not Italian olive oil.

Europe is much more strict about EVOO but even so, Italian growers watch their crops like a hawk, they escort their olives to the pressing mill, they watch their olives pressed and their oil loaded into their trucks and they take it home to bottle it. It never leaves their sight because of potential fraud. They go through that much trouble even in Italy.

All this is really a bummer for me because I like olive oil. For me, it doesn't have to be Italian but it does have to be real and as fresh as possible. The fraud problem explains why some bottles of "olive oil" I've purchased were odd tasting and odd behaving. Unrefrigerated OO tends to go rancid pretty quickly but this stuff doesn't. It sits on the shelf forever and lasts and lasts. Now I know why. It's fake.

For more about the problem:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12571726

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Living in the Internet Third-World

My Time-Warner / Road Runner Internet service here is your typical "high-speed" cable connection found in the U.S. -- 6 megabits down and half a megabit up. It's up pretty reliably although Road Runner has some router problems that cause portions of the Internet to be unreachable to me, and I am unreachable to them. Road Runner denies that it's their problem even though their own upstream / backbone provider points the finger at them as well as every routing expert I've spoken with and shown the traceroutes to. But that's another issue. It's the speed I'm talking about. Long ago, 6 megabits seemed fast. And it is fast compared to 110 baud that I used in 1972.

I recently spoke with a friend in Sweden. He has your average Internet connection in Sweden, for which he pays $15 a month. But he gets 100 megabits up and 100 megabits down with no limits! Last month he uploaded nearly 5 terabytes of data. (That's Terabytes, with a "T", 5,000 gigabytes.)

We're living in the technological Third-World here in the United States.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Skype Bashing

It's interesting that so many IT pundits are eager to pounce on Skype's recent outage. I've been a full-time Skype user since October of 2003. My business relies heavily on the telephone and I switched all my business operations to Skype as soon as the SkypeOut and SkypeIn services became available, 2-1/2 years ago or more, and I got rid of landline telephone service. In that time Skype has served me very well, has never missed a message, provides great convenience, especially with the call forwarding function, and has saved me an enormous amount of money.

Skype suffered a "two-day" outage recently. First of all, the outage was not two days, it was 28 hours. I know because I was on top of it the entire time. I suppose that since it was more than 24 hours, it becomes "two days". Two days of outage in four years of flawless operation of a brand new and extremely robust technology that nobody ever tried before is pretty darn good. In 30 years of running businesses I've had a lot more outages of landline telephones than Skype. Furthermore, Skype has been forthcoming about the exact cause of the problem. (A bug in their network allocation algorithm that was revealed when a Microsoft "Patch Tuesday" triggered the rebooting of millions of computers) The problem is fully understood.

In an eWeek commentary, Andrew Garcia makes the point that Skype gives no special consideration to businesses. He says, "[this failure] has conclusively proved there is no separation of services when it comes to business-class versus individual accounts using the Skype service." This is news? How is it relevant? Since when does standard telephone service differentiate between business and non-business service when it comes to restoring service after a failure? Either the lines in your area are up or they're down, either the CO (central office) is up or down. Once that twisted-pair of wires is up on the pole, there's no difference between business and residential. If any special consideration is given, it is given to hospitals, emergency services, and "lifeline service" (residential service to persons with medical problems).

The bottom line is that given the thousands of dollars I have saved so far by using Skype, one 28 hour failure doesn't concern me in the least, especially since the cause is fully understood and fixable.

I Love Winter !

Untrodden

I
can't wait for winter to get here! By that I mean temperatures at or below freezing. Yes, really I do. So I thought I'd come up with a top-ten list of reasons I like winter. I wondered if it would be difficult to come up with ten things. It wasn't. I came up with ten reasons as quickly as I could scribble a list with a few keywords for each one. Here we go:

1) When it's warm and humid I feel tired and slightly ill. I don't feel motivated to do anything because everything is an effort. My brain runs slowly. As soon as the temperature drops into the low 70's or below, I feel energized and alive, brain and vision are sharp. The colder it gets the more energized I feel. And don't suggest that I haven't tried the "dry heat" of Arizona. Yes I have. I lived in the southern Nevada high desert for seven years, in Guatemala for five years, and Florida for three years. I know all the types of heat and I don't like any of them.

2) I enjoy cooking and eating what I cook. When it's warm or hot I have no appetite and certainly no desire to cook. I get through the day on one sandwich and a hard-boiled egg. It's great for losing weight but I lose one of my favorite recreational activities: cooking. When autumn comes, I find my thoughts again wandering to food, recipes, stews, soups, baking, making bread, yumm!

3) Yes, springtime brings some nice smells of wildflowers and nice smelling trees, but the first thing I notice when winter thaws out is the return of the smells of all the molds and biological processes of nature. Every spring there will be that one day where I step outside and say, "Oh yeah. There's that stink again." Winter air is crisp, clean, and dry. There are no funny smells because there are no molds, spores, no flying insects, no fleas or other vermin, no rotting garbage because everything is frozen dead, dead, dead. I do miss the songbirds singing but there are always crows who are undaunted by the cold and continue to squawk and argue with each other in the winter silence.

4) I work with paper quite a lot and I like to write, and in winter the air is dry and paper feels and acts like paper should and not like a damp dishrag as it does in the summertime. My fountain pens write much nicer in winter than they do in summer when paper is limp and full of humidity. My laser printer is also much happier and feeds paper better in the winter.

5) In winter I enjoy feeling clean after a shower and becoming completely dry afterwards so that clothes slide on smooth as glass. In summer, one steps out of the shower and never becomes completely dry because the humidity prevents complete drying and sweating resumes immediately after showering. Clothing feels sticky and drags on the skin when compared to the smoothness of winter.

6) I live in a college town and on Frat House Row. My street should be renamed Animal House Street. When winter comes, the yelling, screaming, partying, 3 AM lover's quarrels in the middle of the street, and crazy driving stops. Traffic drops way down. Everyone is huddled in their homes, hopefully doing their schoolwork, and I can go take a peaceful walk on the crunching snow in peaceful silence.

7) Nobody likes winter here where I live in West Virginia--nobody. I bring it up all the time with people I meet and everyone I've met here says they hate it with a passion. I did meet one single soul here who said she likes the idea of snow but hates the cold. Fine, then why do I like winter? Because you don't! Yes, I'm a cranky old contrary curmudgeon.

8) My cat is like me and is much happier and active when it's cold. During the summer she is lethargic, uncomfortable, sometimes sitting forlornly with her mouth open and tongue hanging out with a look on her face that says "Make it stop, please!" On those rare summer nights that cool off, she sits jammed up against the window screen, straining to encounter the cooler air.

9) I like to wear clothes, not fancy clothes, just clothes. Sitting wearing nothing but my undershorts is not my idea of comfort but when the temperature goes above 85F with humidity of 50 percent, undershorts is all I can bear to wear.

10) Crawling into a clean cold bed at bedtime and warming it up is one of the finest pleasures known to man.

11) Ice and snow are beautiful things with endless variation in their form and appearance and they evolve from moment to moment, melting, freezing, growing, shrinking, always changing shape. Each day of deep winter I am greeted with a landscape that looks completely different from the day before. The decorative icicles change on a daily basis. Yes, I hate slipping on an icy sidewalk but it's a price I'm willing to pay and another reason I like lots of snowshowers because snow provides good traction and prevents slipping on the ice below.

12) The holidays! There's no need to explain the joy of the foods, decorations, music, spirit, and fun of the holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year are the most special times of year and they all come in the WINTER!

Oops, that's twelve. Oh well.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Are You Happy Now?

Here's the latest video of my daughter performing "Are You Happy Now?" by Michelle Branch