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30.June 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The latest in sales pitches Permalink to this item

Halfway down the story about how faulty capacitors have led to Dell's fall from glory, when they start quoting the things put into emails that shouldn't have been, there's this instant classic from a document "about how to handle questions around the faulty... systems," instructing the sales people not to bring the problems to customers' attention, and to "emphasize uncertainty."

(They don't spell it out, but you have to wonder: was the tipping point that "even the firm defending Dell in the lawsuit was affected when Dell balked at fixing 1,000 suspect computers"?)

Eureka! Permalink to this item

We've had our own to-do with public universities, their foundations, and inappropriate fundraising here in Idaho, so Mrs. Palin's complaint that public disclosure of the fee and perks she collected for speaking in Turlock seem misguided, at least. The candor of the foundation's president is appreciated, though: "We're not here to make a political statement, we're here to make money," he said, and if indeed it was good for a couple hundred grand, good for them. If the donors don't care about the accounting or how their money was spent... um, can we buy a copy of your donor mailing list?

California State University Stanislaus does sound like some sort of public institution though, even though we've never heard of Stanislaus or Turlock before today. The Attorney General's plan to look into the questions seems pretty reasonable to me.

But maybe Jerry should lighten up: this is comedy gold! We've got students diving in dumpsters to retrieve unshredded secrets, a post-political entertainer scolding them to protect the privacy of her first-class airfare and deluxe accommodations, chain link fences put up to keep the riff-raff out, and pro-Palin protesters with signs saying "Support Free Speech." In defense of keeping secrets for a fundraiser. And this:

"Palin has endorsed former Hewlett-Packard Co. chief executive Carly Fiorina in her bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, but a Fiorina spokeswoman said Palin would not be making any stops on behalf of the campaign."

For dessert, a new chapter in the garbled lore of Palin:

"This is Reagan country. And perhaps it was destiny that the man who went to California's Eureka College would become so woven within and interlinked to the Golden State."

Or, perhaps it was just fiction, as Ronald Reagan attended college in his home state of Illinois. Eureka, Illinois.

Three days on the Palouse Permalink to this item

No Traffic Signs. Blaine Road, Latah Co. And two days going and coming makes a vacation. After our wet spring, Idaho is remarkably green from top to bottom in the first week of summer, and the wheat was waving tall Tuesday morning as we took the scenic route home. We helped our daughter with house work, enjoying the reminder of just how labor-intensive a place in the country can be, as a sort of busman's holiday, except for the fact that we don't work that hard looking after our place in the city (and we share the labor).

I had the chance for a couple evening bike rides, another reminder of hard work, pedaling up those steep roller coaster hills, reminding me of the instant conditioning that started my cross-country bike trip in 1976, the hardest 50 miles going from Arny's Trailer Court to Kendrick and Orofino. The grade out of Kendrick was one of the few hills I had to walk up over the course of that summer.

Down along Blaine Road, where the peas are flowering, a farm dog came running out at me barking, didn't seem too scary, so I kept going while he was yapping at my feet. He didn't give up at the edge of the farmstead as I'd expected, and since that stretch of road was pretty flat and worn free of gravel, I decided to see how fast he could go. Not quite as fast as me pedaling, as it turns out.

But he kept dogging me after I'd bested his top speed. I put on another burst of speed, and left him again, but he STILL didn't give up. I stopped and let him catch me, gave him a "good boy" for his trouble. On restart, he was jumping, trying to bite my front tire, kept crossing right in front of me (I hit his butt with my front tire once or twice), I dropped him a 3rd time, but he stayed after me all the way to the end of Blaine Road at the Troy/Genesee Highway, where it felt like time to turn around. I paced him a while, dropped him again off the crest of the first rise, but he kept trotting after me all the way back to the farmstead, and a little ways beyond, stopped only by the the curve that leaves his home out of sight.

Back on Eid Road and turning west, huge cumulonimbus south of the Clearwater were lit up by the setting sun, complementing the blue sky over me and Paradise Ridge. Awesome moments.

On the way home yesterday, we saw the other end of those early summer thunderstorms, dozens of trees pruned, broken, uprooted south of Cascade. Utility crews were still cleaning up the falls in mid-afternoon.

25.June 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Wake up call Permalink to this item

We use natural air conditioning as much as possible, and it seems quite strange to be into late June before finally sleeping with the windows open, but here we are. The bird alarm clock went off about 5:15, cycles through various species I wish I could name by their calls, got to the mourning dove snooze alarm at 6.

24.June 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Thanks again for being so frank Permalink to this item

Alan Simpson, up close and personal is not a very attractive person. He's talking kind of quiet and confidential-like, as if it was just him and this guy with the camera, rather than a couple hundred million (potential) viewers.

He comes across as a nasty, condenscending, profane SOB. How would you like to have him looking after reforming your Social Security?

Oh whoops, he actually is. Sort of.

"You can go through all the sophistry of babbling that you want to," he says.

Turning point: the Reagan Revolution Permalink to this item

Many conservatives celebrate the fundamental changes in politics and economics that came with the 1980s and the two terms of Ronald Reagan. Whether the changes constitute cause for celebration or not depends on your point of view, as the charts that Dave Johnson has collected illustrate. Shifting from a creditor nation to a debtor nation? A dwindling share of the benefits of increasing productivity going to working people? Greater concentration of wealth? Plummeting personal savings and skyrocketing household debt?

Not so good from the aggregate point of view.

I guess that covers the range of scoring Permalink to this item

The phenomenal final match of the round robin, USA d. Algeria, 1-0; preceded by, overlapped with, and followed by the tennis match to end all tennis matches, John Isner d. Nicolas Mahut, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68. The commentators exhausted their repertoire of superlatives well before the end of day 2 of the 3 day match, spanning just over 11 hours. 215 aces between the two of them (almost evenly split, of course). Mahut served to stay in the match, and held his serve 64 times in a row. Just one short.

The football match could have been 0-0, of course, which would have left the USA just one short of advancing in the World Cup. Instead, they've won their round robin group and have a path to the semifinals before them. And the undisputed hero of the USA effort? A perfectly-sized soccer player with steely nerves, 5'8", 158 pound Landon Donovan.

22.June 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Crazy in a good way Permalink to this item

From the ad, an HO? model boxcar My first "real" job, working for $1.65/hour, (the Federal minimum wage that summer before I turned 16) was in the print shop of Wm. K. Walthers, Inc. the company that my grandfather named after himself. Among the pinball memories provided by Erik Gunn's feature piece in Milwaukee Magazine, ChooChoo Crazy, I enjoyed reading about grampa's buddy Al Kalmbach, drawing locomotives, buying a printing press at age 12, starting his own magazine with "the first 12-page issue [that] looked more like a newsletter and sold 272 copies at 10 cents apiece."

The two of them and future Milwaukee Mayor Frank Zeidler teamed up to form the National Model Railroad Association, which is holding its 75th annual convention in Milwaukee next month. The NMRA convention was always the focus of our family vacations, a significant combination of business and pleasure for my dad, all fun for me.

Solstice Permanent URL to this day's entry

Copy that Permalink to this item

KTVB's Sunday Viewpoint provides a sufficiently final word on Vaughn Ward's political career, I'd think. (If you prefer the text version, they have a lengthy article by Jim Gilchriest, covering the "blatant copying" in a key speech of Ward's, not just of Obama's 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention, but of another candidate for Congress. (I guess it's good news for all the Republicans who backed Ward that that source, Pat Meehan, was at least in the same party?)

Ward's failed campaign for Congress illustrates the limitations of a synthetic candidate. The copying is bad enough, but to hear him garble and suck the life out of other people's words is the painful part.

As Agent Maxwell Smart used to say, "missed it by that much."

Coming after our car Permalink to this item

It's a little creepy to have businesses keeping track of what we own so that they can send us "personalized" marketing. And a little comic to see how they try to use the information they obtain. One local dealer started their letter by addressing me as a "preferred customer." I'm sure they'd prefer me to be their customer, but I've never, ever done business with them.

"Our records indicate you are one of the few individuals that still own a vehicle in good condition," they write.

I see plenty of cars newer than the 9-year-old Prius they seem to be after, most of them in fine condition. If they're so wrong about something so obvious, it makes you wonder what else they're wrong about, eh?

The other letter is printed with a faux handwritten font and further personalized by "Mike" telling us that "It has come to [his] attention that [I] own a 2001 Toyota Toyota."

You don't say.

19.June 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Half a century of spilling oil Permalink to this item

The people of Nigeria can empathize with those experiencing catastrophe in our Gulf Coast, but forgive them if they're not more sympathetic. They've been living with an Exxon Valdez worth of spilled oil every year for the last 50 years now, and not very many people have cared.

All in a game Permalink to this item

The Idaho Statesman's editorial page editor, Kevin Richert, recently expressed his fanatic enthusiasm for soccer (or as it's known in the Rest of the World, football), and made the remarkable prediction that the USA side would reach a 1-1 tie with England. Prescient!

Today's Sports section made the case that the Statesman's news and editorial sides are completely separate, quite convincingly, by limiting its coverage of yesterday's 2nd round robin match for the USA to a whiny opinion piece, telling us all that we shouldn't complain about being robbed, since gee, they shouldn't have let themselves fall behind 0-2, so who do we have to blame, anyway? It was on the front page of Sports, at least, down at the bottom, with the actual score an afterthought of a smaller subhead. 5 million people watched, ho hum.

They had the decency not to put Nancy Armour's commentary on their website, but then they put John Leicester's equally useless opinion up instead. Just part of football, don't you know. The referee doesn't have to explain his execrable call, and there's no recourse for his interjecting poor judgment to decide the outcome of the match. Hey, get over it!

At least Simon Haydon made the call explicable, even though we have no idea where this explanation came from. Watching replays? Does the ref ever have to explain his action to anyone? So at least it wasn't a made-up call, for as terrible as it was.

17.June 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Scale of gas Permalink to this item

With our new high-efficiency gas furnace (and not so new, not so high-efficiency gas water heater), we used 40,000 cu ft. of natural gas in the last 12 months. The Oil Drum blog's latest update notes that along with what oil they collected at the Deepwater spill, they flared (as in "burned off for convenience, because how would we collect it, anyway?) 25.1 million cubic feet of natural gas on June 15th.

One day. One well. 627 years' worth of heating our home and water.

Shorter World Cup Permalink to this item

I watched England v. USA last Saturday, of course, all 90 plus stoppage time minutes. But just in case you missed it, the 60-to-1 compressed Lego version pretty much covers the highlights. (Thanks for that, JQT!)

And yes, there's more. Much, much more, including the trailer.

I've watched a couple of the other games, including Brazil vs. N.Korea. Those teams were ranked 1st and 105th, respectively, but kept the outcome in doubt much of the way to Brazil collecting its expected victory by the unexpected margin of 2-1. I can't think of another sport where #1 and #105 could end up so close.

Ready to double dip Permalink to this item

Back when Japan was having its Lost Decade and the U.S. economy was having its dot com bubble, I used to wonder what was wrong with those unfortunate people that they couldn't pull themselves out of their malaise by their bootstraps or something. Now here we are, feeling around in the dark for where did we leave those bootstraps, anyway.

On the one hand, we have the prospect of a $trillion in stimulus—a trillion!—which would cost us, oh, less than one tenth of one percent of GDP to service at current rates. On the other, we have... a lot of history that we might have learned from, including our own.

Ezra Klein spells it out:

"The point of the money is to get the economy moving faster, to give people cash to spend. This isn't like health-care reform, where you're purchasing something and you should pay for it. When you're trying to expand the economy, you need to use debt to put more money into it than would otherwise be there. If you're just moving a dollar from one purpose to another, you may be using that dollar better, but you're not expanding the total amount of demand in the economy by very much. You're just moving it around. It would be like bailing water from a boat, but throwing it into another part of the boat."

16.June 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Local Gasland Permalink to this item

From Bridge Resources presentation, 'Idaho Gas Demand' slide After listening to Josh Fox on Fresh Air earlier this week, I checked the map and noted with some relief that there was nothing in Idaho. But then the voice of Butch Otter, coming to us from his trade mission in China, talking about a million cubic feet a day of sweet gas. The press release from Canadian Bridge Resources last month talks about higher production rates, with only "natural flow." But "higher production rates are anticipated with future use of non-damaging mud and minor stimulation."

Let's hope the "stimulation" is minor enough not to contaminate local water supplies while they fast-track production to achieve near-term strong cash flow.

At the risk of being cheesy Permalink to this item

I've never been to a World's Fair, although I've visited remnants in Spokane, Seattle, San Francisco (from 1915!), at least. Growing up in the second half of the 20th Century, and studying architecture from time to time, those remnants were beacons for the history of technology to me, starting with The Crystal Palace from the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, through the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Space Needle, Biosphère. There's doubtless an interesting story to be made in stitching together expositions, circuses, and amusement parks. (In addition to Marge vs. the Monorail, that is.)

Cynthia Schneider and Hailey Woldt pick up the narrative with their recent Center for Public Diplomacy blog post, Shanghai'd, or the USA pavilion as a corporate theme park.

"[W]hile it might be a stretch to match the brilliance of past publicly funded exhibitions, notably Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome at the Montreal Expo of 1967, the lamentable form and content of the USA Pavilion could have been avoided if someone had taken this important opportunity for cultural outreach seriously. Creative products number among the U.S.'s top three exports; American architects, filmmakers, writers, artists, dancers, musicians, and actors are global leaders in their fields, yet none were enlisted. The varied dimensions of America's story are examined in ways entirely consistent with the country that stands for freedom of speech in film, theater, visual arts and other forms of expression, and yet the USA Pavilion says nothing about what makes America unique.

"The Pavilion in Shanghai is just the most visible example of the outsourcing of America's outreach to the world.... Whether it was cynicism, other priorities, or an active dismissal of the importance of crafting a message for the Pavilion (beyond its mere existence) does not really matter. The result is $61 million dollars spent, and an opportunity lost."

For counterpoint on the CPD blog, Jian Wang looks on the bright side:

"For many Chinese visitors, the greetings by President Obama and Secretary Clinton, projected on giant movie screens, are considered a highlight. The two American public diplomats, popular celebrities in their own right in China, appear personable, engaging, and respectful. This is poignant, because in the Chinese context people do look up to leaders and authorities, and in terms of communication style, Chinese leaders are, in contrast, often seen as remote and removed."

And the "student ambassadors" are a hit, some of our college students who can speak Chinese.

15.June 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Pet . ti . fog . ging Permalink to this item

That is, quibbling over insignificant details, paltry, shabby, niggling, abject, contemptible, piffling. It comes to mind reading Phil Hart's lawyer's work, trying to buy his client some free time to stretch out Hart's state tax (and penalty and interest) liability going back to the mid-1990s, and repeatedly delayed for Hart's insistence that being a state legislator makes him specially privileged.

Betsy Russell reports that "Hart has sought delays from the IRS and the state Tax Commission four times in the six years he's served as a state lawmaker."

I was a bit surprised to see the Deputy AG citing a dictionary in his memorandum, but gobsmacked to see Starr Kelso telling the Board of Tax Appeals about what he couldn't find in the 2010 Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary. Yo Starr, the Ada County Sheriff can instruct you on "civil process." Hundreds of thousands served. Lots of experience. This ignorance thing is an act, right? If so, when you're done with the state, you can talk to the U.S. Marshals Service about their understanding of civil process.

Kelso continues his pettifoggery by arguing that Hart's promise to pay somehow constituted "security acceptable to the the tax commission," because they didn't say it wasn't. And I'm sure he'll gladly pay us next Tuesday for a hamburger today.

14.June 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

This changes everything Permalink to this item

"This" being vast riches of minerals in Afghanistan. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of iron and copper; tens of $billions worth of niobium, cobalt, gold, molybdenum and on down the periodic table.

You can't eat any of that stuff, so the opportunity is predicated on trade, as well as industrial development. And trade means getting along with people.

Come on baby light my fire Permalink to this item

Josh Fox demonstrates lighting tap water on fire Josh Fox, Living in the Middle of a 'Gasland' on Fresh Air last week.

"Some of these people were showering with the lights off, because they were afraid if they turned on the light bulb, if there was a spark... they'd blow up the shower."

Instead of taking a natural gas mining company up on their offer of $100,000 to lease 19.5 acres of his land, he made a documentary about the effects of natural gas drilling on communities and homeowners. His film, Gasland, will premiere on HBO on June 21. He's touring with the film as well, showing it in affected communities.

"We're talking about 65% of Pennsylvania... What the gas company is saying is, 'You can live where this is happening. You can go to camp where this is happening.' If watersheds are not off the table, schools are not off the table, summer camps are not off the table—your hospitals are not off the table. You have close to 15,000 wells in the downtown Fort Worth area—in the urban area, in the country, in the city. This is everywhere. So it stands to reason if you can put it next to somebody's house and the gas company says that's OK, you can put it in the middle of a summer camp. You can put it in the middle of a lake. You can put it right on the banks of the Colorado River, which supplies all the water to Los Angeles. This is what we're seeing."

Angel art Permalink to this item

Thumbnail of my niece's 'Angel Saint Folk Art' painting One of those interesting connections facilitated by Facebook: our niece finding my brother's Wikipedia entry and me finding her artwork on offer on eBay. I signed up for eBay once upon a time but have never bought or sold something in one of its auctions. Still, feel free to (try to) outbid me in the next 3 days. :-)

What if you spot a weed? Permalink to this item

Pest of the month, May 2010: invasive mussels Fun story featured in the Idaho Statesman today, about enlisting geocachers in the war on noxious weeds. They're an attractive group because they're out and about and able to report precise locations, I guess, but the method of communication made me think of Tom Sawyer getting the fence painted. First you find this not-so-hidden treasure we've planted along the Greenbelt or in the foothills, and inside there's instructions...

The Statesman didn't quite get in the spirit and offer clues to where the caches were, but if you look around, you can find the coordinates. And you can find an open house at the Ada County Weed, Pest and Mosquito Abatement Department 10am to 2pm Tuesday and Wednesday, at 975 E. Pine Ave. in Meridian. also has an illustrated collection of noxious weeds found in our county, with an easy "what to do" shown in all of these: If you spot a weed, send the location information to weedandpest @ or call 577-4646. (The rollout was part of "Noxious Weed Awareness Week," which was last week, but it's definitely not too late to play.)

They haven't put up a pest of the month for June yet, but last month's will do: quagga and zebra mussels (yikes, an 11MB PDF!). Some of our pests are animals, and some of these animals were just found at one of our border patrols.

11.June 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The escalating hysteria Permalink to this item

Thanks to Sisyphus on 43rd State Blues for the YouTube embed of Sam Seder's hilarious "That's Bullshit," illustrating the alarmism gathering on the Mexican border, in spite of what, hello? violent crime down 30% over the last two decades in the border states? San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin our safest big cities?

(If you don't like FBI statistics though, you can always tune into Fox News, or Arizona Republicans, and thrill to the sound of illegal immigrant crime waves. "It's just — it's been outrageous," Arizona Governor Jan Brewer told them, and no, not with intended irony. The problem's out in the country rather than in the cities, the Sheriff says.)

There's always something to be afraid of, and I guess this can take your mind off the oil spill.

What's happening? Permalink to this item

Our wild roses, on June 11th I feel like some explanation is needed for the lack of posting this month, although my universe of regular readers who might wonder about this question is undoubtedly tiny. Oddly enough, I'm not sure I have an explanation. Perhaps that I'm getting less sleep this time of year as our northern hemisphere rolls toward solstice and it's light deep into the evening and then waking me up early. Been busy with managing the FCAI board transition, Music Committee, the volunteer webmaster stuff, tennis, Senior Sages, moderating the HP Alumni Association finance discussion group, the non-HPAA hp_misc, some of my paying work, too.

With all the rain we've had, and cool weather, the neighborhood is just a riot of flowers and greenery, and maybe it's just been time to stop and smell the roses a while.

8.June 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Old school Permalink to this item

China's concept for deprogramming computer addicts: military-style "total immersion and physical training" with traditional Chinese philosophy and calligraphy classes for good measure. Just imagine how well your surly adolescent would appreciate having his or her gadgetry taken away in favor of that program.

Some of the inmates made a break for it but they were quickly rounded up.

"The 14 patients, aged from 15 to 22, hailed a taxi to take them to a nearby town in east China's Jiangsu province—but were uncovered when the driver took them to the police station instead, suspicious of the identically-dressed young men who were unable to pay the fare."

7.June 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A very interesting question Permalink to this item

Have we discovered evidence for life on Titan? If so, the form of life would be interesting, too: organisms consuming hydrogen, acetylene and ethane, and producing methane as waste, living at 95K (-178°C).

It's not the most likely explanation for what's been observed, but it's a possibility.

3.June 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ocean Intervention III Permalink to this item

Saw cleanup of the sheared Deepwater Horizon riser, 3.June 10:45am MDT Along with trying to manage 2,000 or so people, three drilling platforms, a dozen ships and as many as 16 ROVs on site, BP is pushing out an amazing amount of information about its simultaneous operations in the Gulf. Watching them try to trim off a side appendage at the base of the riser with a 24" circular saw this morning. It's flat-out amazing stuff, a mezmering combination of disaster, disaster response and "hands on" mechanical engineering.

The plan for the beautiful flat cut with the diamond saw didn't pan out, and it appears they've chomped off the 21" riser with the shears, leaving a pretty funky pipe to try to connect to at the top of the blowout preventer on the wellhead. And as forecast, the flow of oil and gas out the top has "improved" by the removal of the bent and twisted steel pipe left after the blowout.

Thanks to my buddy Rick for a timely pointer to which of the many live feeds from the ROVs to pay attention to. (Screen shot from the Ocean Intervention III ROV2 feed.)

Update: Here's a BBC news report on the riser trim. The ROV2 feed from Enterprise has a view of the LMRP cap being lowered down and prepared for fitting to the well.

1.June 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The optimism of engineering Permalink to this item

In the midst of gathering gloom over the prospects of governments, financiers and management getting anything right, it's nice to hear from the engineering department, with yesterday's technical update from BP's Kent Wells (video), describing the work going on under the Gulf of Mexico to fix the leak.

"Our response to this tragic incident is a tremendous challenge, there's no question about it. The one thing that hasn't wavered is the commitment of BP to bring this to a successful conclusion and the commitment of our people. It doesn't seem to matter what challenge is thrown toward the teams, they respond. Whether it's the BP engineers, the BP operating people, all the people from the rest of industry that [are] helping us, the government scientists... everybody pulls together and rises to the occasion. I know it's been a struggle, I know we're all wanting this to end quickly, no one more than these folks; they've worked endless days and nights... It's not a matter of 'if', but 'when' we'll bring this to a successful conclusion."

Moral hazard Permalink to this item

Turns out it's rather easy to get out of the habit of making house payments; there are so many other things one can spend money on. Since "they're all crooks," being crooked is now OK, apparently. The lawyers are working wholesale:

"About 10 new clients a week sign up, according to Mr. Stopa, who says he now has 350 clients in foreclosure, each of whom pays $1,500 a year for a maximum of six hours of attorney time. “I just do as much as needs to be done to force the bank to prove its case,” Mr. Stopa said."

Ben Franklin and Poor Richard must be resting uneasily.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Thursday, 01-Jul-2010 10:45:35 MDT