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30.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ed Gillespie, partisan hack Permalink to this item

Such a nice guy, such a political tool. My head spins as I listen to him decrying the Obama campaign "politicizing" the killing of Osama bin Laden, as if... oh my, Republicans would never do such a thing, would they? Celebrating Mission Accomplished (ever so slightly prematurely, but that's another story) with an aircraft carrier positioned for good lighting. But this, it was a "unifying event for all Americans" and "he's managed to turn it into..."

Well, whatever you just imagined it was turned into, I guess. The primary reason Barack Obama "has become one of the most divisive presidents in American history" is because that's the GOP's primary talking point, flogged tirelessly by folks like you, Ed.

It's not a story, it's a meme, a meta-story, anniversary filler, bloviation gas, he said, she said, something deep, deep down really important but now buried under a ton of color commentary and other useless debris.

So, thanks for playing.

29.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Creeks rising Permalink to this item

A mere 5,000 cfs going under the Glenwood Bridge, 2008 The Boise river is running high at the moment, spring changing from hot all-of-a-sudden back to seasonable, now sunny after near record rain on Thursday. An inch in a day is a big deal for this dry part of the world.

The Boise River reservoir system is nigh on full, 89% of capacity according to BuRec's teacup diagram. That estimates "natural flow" at just over 16,000 cubic feet per second, which is well more than double what the river banks can contain going through town. There's the irrigation system taking a couple thousand (2,135 cfs into the New York Canal), and the rest needs to fit in one of the reservoirs, or it'll cause trouble.

Limbering up the old calculator, I see that a convenient mnemonic is that flow in cfs times two equals acre-feet per day. 16k cfs is right about 32,000 acre-feet each day. That makes the just-over 100,000 ac-ft space available equal to about three days flow. More pertinent is the difference between "natural flow" in, and what's coming out of the lowest reservoir, Lucky Peak: 6,785 cfs. At that rate, the system will be "full" in 7.7 days, just over a week.

27.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

In other campaign news Permalink to this item

Gail Collins is back this week, just in time for the (drum roll up to) the End of Newt. She's in good form after her spring break, mining a rich vein of non-news such as the primary turnout numbers (which somehow didn't seem to make the mainstream coverage in the Romney sweeps): Rhode Island, 3%, New York, 6%, and the Delaware dénouement, 16%, "way too big a crowd for the fragile Gingrich candidacy to withstand."

I thought the penguin bite was just a Tom Tomorrow joke but apparently that actually happened.

And in other escaped-from-fevered-imagination news, Mitt Romney is going back to the future for the chairman of his Justice Advisory Committee, tapping the Nixon-era hit man, failed Supreme Court nominee, and freelance "polemicist for ultraconservative ideas," as the NYT editorial board puts it, or unsurpassed ugliness in his own turn of phrase.

26.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Supreme Court gem Permalink to this item

That would be Idaho's Supreme Court, and a gem of clarity: "In this case, Hart was not obligated to do anything but pay his taxes." Which, how many years later, he still hasn't gotten around to doing? The penalty and interest are adding up something fierce. It was September 2008 when he was notified of deficiency for tax years 1996, 1997, 1998 (for which he paid no taxes), 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 (for which he paid less than he owed). He twiddled around for a hearing that was pushed out to July, 2009, a final decision was made in Sept., 2009 and months later, December 31, 2009, "Hart wrote the Commission, stating that he intended to appeal the [Notices of Deficiency] after the Idaho Legislature's 2010 session." Because he thought being a member of the Idaho State Legislature made him special.

"In this instance, Hart is just a taxpayer, with no greater privilege than his constituents."

Imagine that. Other entertaining phrases in the opinion written by Justice Jim Jones include "devoid of reasoned analysis or relevant authority," "not supported by any cogent argument or authority," and "groundless." (Ok, that last one is not a phrase, just an adjective, but still entertaining.)

All that and a cherry on top for the folks who do pay their taxes: the court awarded attorney fees and costs to the state, given Hart's groundless pettifoggery.

Canyon County buying a black helicopter Permalink to this item

RC helicopters are entertaining, so who could fault our neighbors for wanting to get in on the fun? Never mind the normally conservative mindset that decries the federal government, this is a "homeland security" topic, and the feds chipped in $33,400 to buy it. (Not sure who covered the $4,000+ training session in Saskatoon, but taxpayers, for sure.)

As cute and fun as the Draganflyer X-6 may be, we are talking about a black helicopter here (and a Canadian one, to boot. Eh?) Are we sure we want those hovering over SW Idaho?! Even with the captioned offical reassurance that it "will be a helpful device for searches and won't be misused."

The reassurance does have some supporting facts: the FAA-imposed 400 foot ceiling and a 15 minute battery life. It won't be misused much because it's, um, slightly lame? That doesn't show any signs of dampening the law enforcement enthusiasm though. Draganfly features the Mesa County (Colorado) Sheriff in a Spot Light that has nothing to do with spots or lights, or any report of actual utility. There was the time a "felony menacing" occurred and they flew a mission, but we don't know what happened other than "to the best of our knowledge this was the first sUAS deployment by a female in Law Enforcement within the United States."

So that's something.

Arithmetic going postal Permalink to this item

Turns out a fair number of Congressfolk are not so keen on saving money that they want the U.S. Postal Service to do what's needed to staunch the red ink: the Senate passed a bill extending a moratorium on closing post offices yesterday.

Story says the PS loses "$25 million every single day," which sounds like a lot. So does the quantity of work it does, however: Sen. Joe Lieberman extolled "this great American institution which still delivers over 560 million pieces of mail every day" on last night's Newshour. (Did you get your two per capita pieces?)

Sounds like 4½ cents more per piece, and we'd be back in black, eh? Not that most of that freight is paying first class rates, but I'm ok with 50 cents for first class. And more for the bulk rates, sure.

Will it solve the problem of mail being obviated by better media? Nope. I'm not saying I have a long-term plan, just that the short-term plan could be simplified if there weren't so many business constraints already in force, and a bureaucracy whose mission isn't fully focused on the Service's survival, first and foremost.

"Predictable" is not a virtue if you're headed for a cliff.

The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act provided that the rates for "market-dominant products" can't go up faster than the "change in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers unadjusted for seasonal variation over the most recent available 12-month period preceding the date the Postal Service files notice of its intention to increase rates."

Seemed like a good idea at the time, maybe, but it doesn't seem like a good idea to me today.

Corporations are people, my friend Permalink to this item

Will the mystery million-dollar SuperPAC donor for Romney please stand up? The fake names and fake address notwithstanding, and in spite of "not wanting to be real public about being a part of the campaign," Steven Lund has admitted that yeah, those were his (corporation's) $millions.

Another religiously networked multilevel marketing company selling anti-aging creams and vitamin supplements, what do you know? Team Romney!

25.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

More free market magic, in the emergency room Permalink to this item

This is not something your run-of-the-mill socialized medicine arrangement would come up with to be sure: employees of a debt collection business "helping out" in hospitals. The spokeswoman for Accretive Health said "We have a great track record of helping hospitals enhance their quality of care." Where by "enhance quality of care," she means "collect from their deadbeat patients." While posing in roles "indistinguishable from hospital employees." Astounding.

"Employees were told to stall patients entering the emergency room until they had agreed to pay a previous balance, according to the documents. Employees in the emergency room, for example, were told to ask incoming patients first for a credit card payment. If that failed, employees were told to say, 'If you have your checkbook in your car I will be happy to wait for you,' internal documents show."

Pinnacle of presumption Permalink to this item

After "sweeping" yesterday's primaries (what's that, you say you didn't know any where actually being contended?), Mitt Romney's presumption of being the Republican nominee is fully ripe. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and Steve Schmidt, once "senior strategist" for McCain-Palin, and now strategist at large, have at the post-primary analysis, deconstructing Romney's quasi-acceptance speech.

Steve Benen didn't give the Governor's remarks as warm a reception as he says "most pundits" did, as he kept asking himself, "Has Mitt Romney met Mitt Romney?"

"The presumptive GOP nominee went through a litany of predictable falsehoods, including the ridiculous lie that President Obama 'apologized for America,' but just as important was the disconnect between Romney's rhetoric and Romney's stated agenda."

And the preposterous conclusion: that "the only way to have national pride is to give [Romney] power," as Benen put it.

Newt will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today Permalink to this item

After he, um, "[works] out the details of our transition." Hard to believe it takes a week to quit where you so obviously have a fork in you, but I imagine there's some creativity needed to find people willing to pay off his campaign's $4.3 million debt. He'll be "suspending" his campaign, maybe get a mid-afternoon speaking slot at the convention, and how would you like to write a $1,000 check, good friend? $100? How about just $20?

Man, that's going to be a tough sell.

The Speaker who would be King couldn't find the traction among his true conservative ilk, even though he did have a couple of re-rises before the fall. Now we look forward to his lukewarm endorsement of Mitt Romney, and the vituperation against the President. Do you suppose he'll be able to feign enthusiasm for that? (Enough to encourage a few contributions?)

24.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I know you are, but what am I? Permalink to this item

Signal on the sidewalk Ok, I didn't actually hear that coming from the campaign trail yet, but really, is what's filling the news any more nuanced than that? There's only so much you can make out of accusations of using "the politics of envy and division." It's not in Mr. Speaker Boehner's opinion "the right way to run for re-election." But apparently it is the right way to run against the incumbent?

The charming and conveniently unprovable assertion that Obama's economic policies "made things worse" is vapid. The assertion that "America can't live for four more years with Barack Obama as President" on the other hand, is testable, and really, if all the Republicans have is whining and hand-wringing about the sky falling, we're going to show John Boehner how wrong he can be.

I will give him points for acting ability, delivering a cliché as shopworn as "if you have a government that's big enough to give you everything you want..." with statesman-like gravitas. And selling Romney's "personal success" as something "he wants to make those opportunities available to every American." Riiight. If only we rein in the scope of government, prosperity will come down like manna and we'll have a car elevator in every pot.

How could anyone be confused by this? Permalink to this item

Boiling it down to something really simple, and really clear: an ad hoc, insurance company-driven health care reimbursement "system" will waste resources, cost consumers more, and result in financial denial of service. Nina Bernstein's lede is clear enough:

"Despite a landmark settlement that was expected to increase coverage for out-of-network care, the nationís largest health insurers have been switching to a new payment method that in most cases significantly increases the cost to the patient."

Calling the reimbursement benchmarks "unknown or misunderstood by many consumers," makes it sound vaguely as if it were their fault, rather than tightly-held and purposely obfuscated terms of industry art.

"The traditional benchmark was 80% of the [usual and customary rates,] U.C.R., while newer ones mostly range from 140 to 250% of Medicare rates. That sounds like more, but typically amounts to less, and is drastically below charges in large, emergency out-of-network bills."

Here's the punch line:

"Depending on the plan, insurers may cover 60 to 80% of the benchmark sum; the patient is not only responsible for the rest but also for any outstanding balance, to which out-of-pocket maximums do not apply."

The local paper had an AP story about sticker shock for having your appendix removed today: the bill could be anywhere from $1,500 to $180,000 according to a California study. Two orders of magnitude variation. The average cost: $33,000.

"There's no method to the madness," said lead author Dr. Renee Hsia, an emergency room physician and researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. "There's no system at all to determine what is a rational price for this condition or this procedure."

"The program simply downloaded itself" Permalink to this item

Having your platform gain enough market share to attract miscreant coders is one of those good news/bad news things. Having the platform enable virus delivery without user action? Yikes.

"The malware spread through a security hole in Java software that let its creators download a malicious program onto victims' machines without prompting. Users did not even have to click a malicious link for their computers to be infected. The program simply downloaded itself."

Short answer is, your Mac needs A/V software just like a PC does. And an iPad? Given the limited user interface, the impenetrability of the configuration, and the apps ecosystem, it's 100% certain to only be a matter of time. So, add an anti-malware app to the shopping list?

23.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The ongoing iPad fail Permalink to this item

Mail fail: I see that the "mail link" out of Safari has "error-corrected" my surname to "von Allen." Looked for where that might be set to fix it, can't find it anywhere. Mail? Safari? gmail? (no) Settings? Who knows.

Readability fail: app wants me to sign up for an account, Meh.

iBooks fail: the "update" I attempted at the same time the Readability app was downloading left iBooks broken. Tapping the icon shows "Waiting" briefly, then a dialogue "Unable to Download Application," saying it "could not be downloaded at this time." Choice of [Done] and [Retry] which just loops to the same dead-end.

The iBooks FAQ is no help. At the bottom, it wonders if I "need more help?" and suggests "Express Lane is the fastest way to contact Apple. Use Express Lane to connect with an expert in Apple Support. Get started

I REALLY don't want to "get started" AGAIN, but what the hell. Multi-tiered menu, wants my hardware serial number, assuring me that "Finding your serial number is easy." Riiight. I'm sure I've even written it down somewhere. Past that, I made my way to the troubleshooting list; skipped "Update your device software" (to the latest iOS version); "Check for app updates" (since that's what's broken, eh); "install another app from the App Store," no thank you; "Restart the application" didn't work, because the step 3, "Tap and hold the affected app until the red minus appears" failed—no red minus appeared; "Restart your device" was instructive, and I did do, but it didn't fix anything.

Which takes us down to "Reinstall the affected application," which I resisted, since it starts with DELETE and says the application and all of its data. Not that my one and only (free) downloaded book is reason to resist, but really?

"Note: If it is a paid app, ensure you are using the iTunes account you purchased the app with originally. If it is not, you will be charged for the app again. For more information regarding downloading previously purchased items, see this article."

That also is not at issue here, but makes me feel less than warm and fuzzy. Choice #7 is labeled "Report an issue," but it's not the actual means to report an issue, it's another link, to an article on How to report an issue with Your iTunes Store purchase.

Just for future reference, should I have any issues with something I spent money on, it'll be a pain in the ass, and really, just go on to something else, or pay again. Attempting to complain to Apple will only aggravate you further.

So let's go the DELETE route.

Tap, hold, icons all wiggle, tap the (X), and a dialog: Deleting "iBooks" will also delete all of its data.

Yes, Delete.

No, that doesn't work, either! Either choice (Delete, or Cancel) leaves the icon still there, wiggling.

So it sucks to be Apple, I guess. They won't be selling me any iBooks.

Looking back through the details, I noticed that the Express Lane suggested I'd be connected with an expert, which I certainly haven't been so far, just the standard "let our KnowledgeBase keep you from talking to an actual human" interface. A bit more persistence through their web forms (with more routes to the same or similar dead-ends), and I see I can make an appointment for them to call me. OK! Let's say top of the list, one minute from now, 1:30pm MDT.

Phone rings and a robo-connect at 1:32pm, press [1]... and get in a "5 minutes or less" queue. Ok, that's not flat out terrible, even if I wasn't expecting an expert to be like the doctor's office. Hold music is Dire Straits, funny. Noticeably bad audio quality, though, less than you'd expect for hold music.

1:35pm, my expert comes on, calls me "Mr. Von." He listens to my description, says he's going to get into an online chat, makes it sound like they'll fix me right up, got something stuck in the download queue, just needs an extra flush. (I'm paraphrasing.)

1:38, back on hold while he gets someone else up to speed. More really bad audio quality. What I can decipher of the lyric gives me a bit of incredulity, googling up what I can make out shows me this is The Clash, "Train in Vain":

"But you don't understand my point of view
I suppose there's nothing I can do.
Did you stand by me
No, not at all
Did you stand by me
No way
You must explain why this must be
Did you lie when you spoke to me?"

Wow, do they actually make ironic choices for their support line just to amuse themselves? My expert comes back pretty quick says nothing wrong on their end, walks me through the "Delete App" procedure again, I warn him I already did that and it didn't work, but he has me go ahead and try, and

w00t, the delete works this time. Maybe I'll get around to reloading iBooks, maybe not. Since I have no relevant iPurchases in the iCloud being held iHostage, no big rush. The free copy of Yellow Submarine can keep on floating out there on its own.

20.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

With friends like these, who needs voters? Permalink to this item

Our local fishwrap put it under the headline "Recall threat doesn't slow Walker's fundraising roll," but Scott Bauer's and Sean Murphy's piece for the AP sits nicer under The Northwestern's header, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker greeted as Republican rock star at fundraising stop in Oklahoma City. A rock star! Christmas partying with Grover Norquist! And this time it's the real Koch Industries calling, wanting to sponsor a fundraiser.

"As Walker stares down a June 5 recall election, he has used his cachet as a conservative hero to rake in campaign cash never before seen in Wisconsin. And it's put his Democratic challengers at a disadvantage in their effort to make him only the third governor in the nation's history to be ousted in a recall."

Texas financier Bob Perry needed two checks to disburse all the money he wanted to shower onto Walker; half a million bucks. (You may remember Bob Perry from his financing Swift Boat Veterans ads back in 2004. Stand up guy.) $Quarter millions from each of "three prominent Missouri home builders and contractors." Wyoming Republican Foster Friess is in for 6 digits. Oklahoma event, oil patch billionaires, "he's been to California, New York, Texas, Arizona, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida just to name a few."

Hello Wisconsin!

The state is poisted to break all its campaign spending records, well into eight figures' spending on the question of shall the Governor be yanked out of office, yes or no?

"We've never seen this kind of thing before in living memory," [Mike] McCabe [director of the government watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign] said. "There's no precedent for it. We've never seen this much outside money in state elections in Wisconsin."

A Republican state Senator from Oklahoma spells it out in real plain terms:

"I sure hope that he survives the recall in Wisconsin, because that will send a signal to all of us that we can do this and we can survive politically," Holt said.

"This" is carrying out a unilateral and preemptive attack on unionized public employees.

19.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Done did IB8 Permalink to this item

The Idanha at sunset My second, Jeanette's first Ignite Boise, call it a mashup of The Gong Show and Toastmasters for the smartphone generation, without the gong. You get your whole 5 minutes for whatever. And the audience is urged to be nice and just sit on your hands if it's something you disagree with and stuff.

The gal who came out to sing her presentation, I was thinking ok, that's gutsy, are you really good enough to pull that off a capella? Sadly, no. "I diiiiied inside," she sang. "I'm working on my CD." I sat on my hands.

The best part was the intermission, some polished self-promotional videos, and then we decided to bail out before Act II, and the evening light was oo la la, such a beautiful spring evening, redolent with maple flowers and tulips and jonquils and clouds turning into virga.

How to lose customers and alienate people Permalink to this item

It's the Second Notice, don't you know Quicken wants me to send them some money (apparently unaware that their sibling TurboTax has just recently collected their usual annual share of my tax burden), or else. Or else... Online services expire April 30.

The only "online service" of Quicken's that I've availed myself of is to download stock quotes once in a while. Way back when, stock quotes were something you could find in tiny type in newsprint and nowhere else without paying someone, and such an online service would be a grand and glorious thing and worth an affilated purchase, maybe. Now, well, you cannot be serious, can you?

If I were wired up for their bill paying service or credit card or online backup, they'd have my attention in a good way. But no, I've never really liked the idea of cross-wiring financial institutions.

Anyway, my response to the first notice was to email the "spoof" address shown in the grayed fine print, to humorously suggest someone was trying to damage our relationship. No response to that. In the latest (copyrighted, all rights reserved message) it says, just before the concluding copyright notice and street address of Customer Communications,

"If you have any questions or comments about this e-mail, please DO NOT REPLY to this e-mail, because it is not a monitored mailbox."

With no "DO" to complement the "DO NOT." Not so subtly, if you have questions or comments, we don't really care to hear from you. Stuff it on your blog or something.

Now I'm just going to keep on using the 2009 software I bought as long as I possibly can out of pure orneriness. From past experience, I do know to disable updates before the deadline arrives; pretty sure there's an "update" planned that's actually sabotage.

Acting in self defense Permalink to this item

The news of the trial of mass murderer Anders Behrig Breivik in Norway is doubtless not as riveting in this country as it is in the one he terrorized last year, but it is certainly chilling. Jeanette noted the parallel between the justification he offered the court and what the Bush/Cheney administration offered for the war in Iraq. As translated (I assume) in Karl Ritter's piece for the AP:

"The attacks on July 22 were a preventive strike. I acted in self-defense on behalf of my people, my city, my country. I would have done it again."

There are persuasive argument against a death penalty, but Breivik tests them. There is no question of guilt, he admits his acts. Just one of "sanity," as if it could make sense to talk about the coherent mental state of someone who blows up buildings and executes dozens of teenagers in "defense" of ideology.

Back to that "what are we?" question Permalink to this item

The interview of Carl Zimmer on Fresh Air on Tuesday included some remarkable facts about the communities we comprise. Each of us, individually. Or should I say collectively:

"So you and I and everybody else, we each have about 100 trillion bacteria in our bodies. We only have 10 trillion cells, human cells. So you know, we're 10-to-one bacteria. They cover our skin. They line our mouths. They're in our lungs. They're in our stomachs and our intestines. They're everywhere...."

And if you could separate them out and put them on a scale, Zimmer says "you would have about three or four pounds of biomass." On top of that, we've got four trillion viruses, give or take. The good news is that most of these are phages, "they don't care about us," but rather are after those one or two thousand species and three or four pounds of bacteria we're carting around.

Zimmer's authored a dozen books, and this latest piece for Wired: Antiviral Drugs Could Blast the Common Cold–Should We Use Them?

18.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Did not see this coming Permalink to this item

Original cover art, but Bruce von Alten Although I might have, because he's been posting snippets of rap to Facebook for a good while now. My brother's first album: Too Much or Not Enough.

The war on apple pie Permalink to this item

Just guessing what will be next, now that we've finished the war on motherhood, haven't we? If you're not sure, please check to see if you don't agree with me that Maureen Dowd covers the phony mommy war more than adequately, and for every dimension.

"It's important when you act the martyr not to overplay your hand. If you admit out loud to a bunch of people—including [NBC reporter Garrett] Haake, who was on the sidewalk enterprisingly eavesdropping—that you're just pretending to be offended, you risk looking phony, like your husband. (It also doesn't fly to tell Diane Sawyer that your dog 'loved' 12 hours in a crate on top of the car or that it's 'our turn' to be in the White House.)"

And yes to Dowd's rhetorical question of whether the dignity of work only applies to poor moms. Oh my yes.

17.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

When shareholders say no Permalink to this item

View of the Boise front from the Idaho Water Center In an exceedingly rare show of collective disgust, Citigroup shareholders put away the rubber stamp and rejected the bank's proposed pay plan and its $15 million for the chief.

Before you shed any tears for Vikram Pandit's dire straits, having to make ends meet with his $1.67 million salary, $5.3 million bonus, and $40 million retention package from last year, rest assured that "Citi doesnít have to act on the vote, which isn't binding." Whew.

Let's hear it for Tax Day Permalink to this item

Maybe I should unsubscribe from these emails from the Idaho Republican Party, they're rather like having a fly in the house. Not horrible, but annoying, generally. Chairman Norm Semanko pipes up on Tax Day to ask one question:

"Would you like to pay more of your hard earned money to the government next year, or would you like to pay less?"

Well, let's see. This year I paid more (a lot more, as it happens) than last year, but not because of anything politicians did or didn't do. There was the nice 2% discount on the OASDI side of FICA, and the continuing low, low tax rates out of the "let's spend the surplus" Bush-era that spent the surplus, what, 10 years ago now? On alternate days, Norm and his pals decry the debt, so they've got fine whine covering every side of government finance.

The simple matter is that our income taxes were higher because we had more income. Which is a Good Thing. Being as rational an economic actor as I can be, my answer is therefore that yes, I would like to pay more of my hard earned money to the government next year rather than less, because it will mean there'll be more for me, too.

gmail outage Permalink to this item

When I posted to the G+ thread started with the question

"How many users of Gmail are receiving Temporary Error 500 (numeric code 93)? Anything to do with Google's big network infrastructure move today? I've no access to my gmail account."

it was "tens," and now up to "hundreds," and going on 15 minutes, which isn't a lot later to try again, but it seems like a long time when your infrastructure has been yanked out from under you. One cry of desperation from Mr. AASACV:


Google Apps status notes it as a "service disruption" as of 10:42am MDT, "We're investigating reports of an issue with Google Mail. We will provide more information shortly."

12:05pm MDT Updates showed them getting back to "no issues" in just over an hour, and the claim that it affected "less than 2% of the user base." (It was 50% of our household's user base, but yeah, we're a small sample.) After fretting a while, I went back to reading the fascinating papers in the Appendix of Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, before I have to turn the book back to the library on Thursday.

16.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Heard on the street Permalink to this item

Mitt Romney's next high-dollar fundraiser may be held in a conference room without windows, after reporters reportedly "could hear from a public sidewalk below" the backyard of a private Palm Beach home what the candidate plans to provide for high-rollers, with "a level of detail not usually seen by the public." Nice touch on the family legacy:

"Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later."

Given all that business acumen he carries in his head, this brilliant deconstruction:

"What I can tell you is, we've got far too many bureaucrats. I will send a lot of what happens in Washington back to the states."

Outsourcing! Because state bureaucracies are inherently better than the federal one. And our 50 laboratories of democracy can bid against each other for prisons, postal delivery, healthcare plans and stuff. The nice thing about the semi-nonsensical meme is that it's utterly untestable, an article of faith that the "true believers" watching Fox News never seem to tire of.

Hooray for torture Permalink to this item

First glance at the headline, I thought it was Cheney shows no signs of "timing" in his hour and a quarter, "I'm still here" speech delivered to a few hundred of the GOP faithful in Cheyenne, Wyoming on Saturday. But no: it was no sign of tiring in his tiresomeness.

He said the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is going to do a "whale of a job," but of what, we have no idea. And for a moment when you could only hope a heckler would shout out something suitable from 2nd grade, our darkest ex-Veep opined that Obama "has been an unmitigated disaster to the country," a meme the Republicans are hoping grows in popularity through repeated assertion.

This is a man who knows something about unmitigated disasters, we have to give him that. And something about bald-faced lies supported by undisclosable, just-trust-me evidence.

Nearly all of the talk traced the more than 40 years of Cheney's political career, including the controversial waterboarding and other interrogation practices the Bush administration employed to extract information from terrorist suspects.

"It produced a wealth of information. Don't let anybody tell you the enhanced interrogation program didn't work. It did," he said to the loudest applause of his visit.

What could possibly go wrong? Permalink to this item

Not quite as retrospectively delusion as oil revenues paying for a war with an order of magnitude cost overrun, but I could not have guessed the last two words in this headline: Iraq Emerges From Isolation as Telecommunications Hub.

The country's big step "into the digital world came when its telecommunications system was linked to a vast new undersea cable system serving the Gulf countries," a feat involving "more than 100 oil and natural gas pipelines to cross," and dealing with the occasional unexploded ordnance.

The more the connections, the merrier; redundancy in networks is a good thing, because damage is ubiquitous and inevitable. If you like that precept in dry understatement, here:

"Given the varied risks in the region, from errant anchors to political tensions like the saber-rattling over the Iranian nuclear program, it is important to have a diverse range of options for routing traffic, executives say."

And the problem mapped out in its political geography:

"If you want to go from Saudi Arabia to Europe, you either have to go through Iran, Iraq or Syria Which is the most stable of those countries now? Iraq has emerged as the least bad of all the options."

15.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Laws of political motion Permalink to this item

This is nice, in Alex Seitz-Wald's Romney flashback: "For every Romney action, there is an equal and opposite Romney reaction." It's not so much flip-flopping, as comprehensive coverage. Pretty much any position you like (or don't like) can be mined out of his archives.

After this past week's firestorm over Hilary Rosen's politically incorrect expression of Ann Romney's lack of work experience (or shall we say "work outside the home experience"), enjoy the GOP atmospherics of candidate Romney extolling the "dignity of work" [outside the home], "even if you have a child 2 years of age," because lord knows, 2-year-olds so love it when their caregivers disappear for 8 or 10 hours at a time.

If you're wealthy, household work is more dignified, apparently.

Beyond swinging both ways, there is the deeply patronizing attitude Mr. Romney demonstrates (consistently, at least? And in keeping with the religion he affirms) when accepting reporting "reports" from his wife to demonstrate that yes, he understands the better half of the electorate. As Economist blogger E.G. writes, the bigger problem is the opportunity cost of what we're not going to talk about as a result of the fracas:

"Women still earn less money than men, for example... They pay more for health care than men do, a situation that would not be improved if, for example, America's leading provider of family-planning services was in fact shuttered. They face higher poverty rates than men, and in old age, women are among the groups more likely to be wholly dependent on Social Security than men—a fact that gives entitlement reform a feminist dimension, as it means that the looming shortfall will disproportionately affect women. Mr Romney doesn't need to invoke his wife to discuss any of those issues. He could just invoke data, logic and analysis."

Strange ecosystem Permalink to this item

Year upon year when I thought about getting a Mac but never quite got around to it, I was convinced that I was missing out. My decades of experience with unix systems and PCs have ingrained ways of doing things that may be clumsy and inelegant, but they're effective enough for most things. I wasn't thinking different, was I stuck in a rut? I had pretty high expectations for this new iPad, and each time I try to expand its and my repertoire, I'm astounded at how much seems to be wrong with the design.

Not big, huge things, but big enough, and fundamental enough, that I just have to wonder, what were they thinking?

It was a month ago that I opened the box, and wrote about the awful experience of getting started. But the very most basic entry hurdles have been cleared, and I've been to bits and pieces of the brave new world. I haven't yet been through the whole iPad Users Guide because of various distractions, and coming back to chapters 3 ("Basics") and 4 ("Safari") today, I kept running into the fact that there seems to be no way to save this 16MB PDF that should have come preloaded but did not.

Neither Safari nor iBooks have saved it, nor appear able to save it. I thought I found it in chapter 4, under Safari's "Reading List" feature, but it turns out that's a useless synonym for "bookmark." You don't add readable things to your Reading List, you add links to things, which have to be retrieved each time you re-open.

The Apple Store tout sheet for the iPad is nearly a work of art, celebrating "Your new favorite way to do just about everything." Once you know what's missing, you can read through the ad copy sprinkled among gorgeous, larger-than-life photos and detect that yes indeed, this and that piece of basic functionality is indeed not claimed. The four things featured under Safari, are not highlights, they're apparently a comprehensive list of all that it does:

But say you have one device... and just want to, um, save something. Sorry, that's the part of your new favorite way to do just about everything that's not included.

But hey, there's an App for that! You can buy Instapaper or Goodreader for $4.99, or maybe get a real browser, Chrome, for $24.99. (Which I'm guessing, because how would I know, actually does enable saving? But maybe not.) Surely something as simple and basic as "Save" would have a free app, wouldn't it?

There's Adobe Reader, and since the iPad universe seems to want to tie filetypes tightly to apps, maybe that would give me a "save" function? Nothing to lose to find out, so after browsing the iTunes app store (not to be confused with... the Apps store as seen on the iPad), which doesn't open in Firefox but instead fires up iTunes, and finding Adobe Reader, I go to the iPad, and the app store (having to enter my Apple ID and password), find it, and say "install" and... it wants to verify my account realio, trulio, and I have to enter my password again, and answer three questions... except no, I can't answer three questions, because I haven't selected any to ask, so first I have to select three questions to ask and give it answers. In order to download a free app that really should have been installed from the get-go, don't you think? I think.

PC Guy is looking kind of smarter than he used to, and still has regular work on The Daily Show. I'm a Mac hasn't been seen much lately. Maybe he's hiding out of shame or something. Or having umbrella drinks on a south sea isle.

Later... having seen on the PC iTunes that I could sync Apps from PC to iPad (which didn't make much sense at the time, because why would I put iPad Apps on my PC?), it occurred to me that maybe I could get what I wanted more easily from a real computer, and then "share."

Indeed, upon downloading the Adobe Reader app (which did require another reiteration of my apple ID and password, but PC iTunes said it would save it for me, and didn't get into the crazy three questions routine), my iPad woke up on its own (wth?) and said hey, you downloaded an app, and if you turn on automatic downloads, you wouldn't have to sync and stuff, and after unlocking it was right there in store/settings, and showing me the on/off switch. So woo hoo.

For next time? If it synched, it didn't show me, there's no icon on the home screens, and the App Store still shows me sitting on the details about Adobe Reader with the "Install" button going to insist on my ID and password and those blasted questions and answers needed for my sooper dooper security.

Nonsensical iTunes confirm dialog for synching books So I wired it up, and synched the App, and now I have it, with its "Dummies" quality self-introduction, and nothing else. How do I get something else in it? I have no idea. There is nothing like a File Menu, just a list that doesn't include the one thing I want. Even though PC iTunes' view of my iPad shows what I want listed there in Books. Maybe I have to sync books? Giving that a try produces an even more gobsmacking bit of UI fubaritude. Am I sure I want to sync books? All existing songs, movies and TV shows on the iPad will be removed.

It's crazy, and might be more work, but I don't have much to lose, so I said "ok." And it didn't do anything that I could see. Still lists all the music I've ripped from CDs, and the three PDFs, as if they're on the iPad (which they might be, how would I know?), but which I can't see how to get at from the iPad. I could always fetch those 16MB ONE MORE TIME. Guess there's no point in fighting the stupidity. I downloaded the PDF on my PC 2½ weeks ago (and gee, it worked on the first try), I can just read it from there.

13.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

With friends like this Permalink to this item

Screen shot of the WSJ sidebar teaser Interesting piece on the WSJ, on the eve of Facebook's sure to be mega-billion $ IPO, about how they're Selling You on Facebook. It says "Subscriber content preview" for me, and shows all of the article outside the paywall, including the interactive sidebar graphic, How grabby are your Facebook apps?

I've pretty much avoided apps for the very reason that it turns "my stuff" loose to who knows who. I'm not really sure I can trust Facebook, so its fellow traveling app developers less so. I thought I had none, in fact, but when I took a look found that I'd somehow acquired two. I kept the one for the New York Times, but throttled its permissions a bit (via Privacy Settings / Apps and Websites). The WSJ looked at 100 of the most used apps (all with millions or tens of millions of users) and catalogued the information traffic. The top 10 include a bunch with traffic in your friends' information (the gray boxes), which seems just completely wrong. The most egregious app, MyPad for iPad (3.2 million active users), can mine friends' relationship preferences, relationships, religion and politics, "about me," activities, birthdays, check-ins, current location, education history, events, groups, hometown, interests, liked pages, notes, online presence, photos, status updates, videos, website URLs and work history.

Gee, what could possibly go wrong? As commenter Kemal Cabuk wrote, Facebook "is essentially a public space no matter how much you pretend it isn't." From the article:

"The 'app economy,' which includes Facebook as well as smartphone apps, is estimated to have generated $20 billion in revenue in 2011 by selling downloads, advertising, 'virtual goods' and other products, according to estimates from Rubinson Partners, a market researcher.

"By virtue of its size and user base of 800-million-plus people, Facebook is at the heart of the personal data economy. Popular apps can quickly go 'viral' there and gain millions of users—but can also flame out just as quickly. This explains why some apps seek to cash in by gathering as much data as possible and hoping to find ways to make money from it."

12.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The business miracle Permalink to this item

Robert Reich has a handy primer on the question of how Mitt Romney made so much money (and paid so little taxes). Something to distract ourselves from finishing those tax returns, due next Tuesday. (Hip hip for Emancipation Day#Washington.2C_D.C., by the way.) $Twenty-one million, just last year. That's some magic that needs explaining, more than any working stiff will make in five lifetimes. And a low, low tax rate to boot!

Step 1 of the 8 step program is the most important, I think: use other people's money. Helps cover the downside risk, too.

"By the way, the 'other people's money' that private equity fund managers (as well as other so-called 'hedge' fund managers) play with often comes from pension funds that contain the savings of millions of average Americans."

Timothy Egan is closer to brass tacks with a line by line comparison of his tax return and Romney's. Just a few lines, but 7, 13 and Schedule C are enough to explain the tax incentives against work. Being an "independent artist, writer or performer" is not so attractive as swimming in capital gains.

10.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Political incorrectness Permalink to this item

There are some things you just can't say without repercussions. In south Florida, expressing love for Fidel Castro is right out. After Miami Marlins' manager Ozzie Guillen blurted that emotion "during a typically stream-of-consciousness oratory," everybody's backtracking. According to the Miami Herald, the team said "the pain and suffering caused by Fidel Castro cannot be minimized, especially in a community filled with victims of the dictatorship." Especially in a community filled with the ex-pats who had things quite a bit better before Castro took over.

Ozzie is very, very, very sorry. And suspended for 5 days.

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz is without a doubt on his last legs, after more than a half-century's run of making trouble for right-wing governments and dictators, and surviving everything the U.S. has thrown at him, from invasion to assassination attempts. (Lucky him, his time came before cruise missiles and drones.) The Wikipedia entry for this "controversial and highly divisive world figure" makes interesting reading, with the coverage a lot more equivocal than anything you'll find in Ozzie's neighborhood.

"[L]auded as a champion of anti-imperialism, humanitarianism, socialism and environmentalism by his supporters, his critics have accused him of being a dictator whose authoritarian administration has overseen multiple human rights abuses both at home and abroad."

So, take your pick. Down toward the bottom, the allegations of wealth section shines a brighter light on corruption and cronyism in the superpowers that used his country as a pawn than his own, I think. A KGB officer imagining "a personal guard of more than 9,700 men and three luxurious yachts," and none other than Forbes magazine figuring he must be among the world's richest people, based on... the estimated net worth of all Cuba's state-owned companies, assuming Castro controls it all. Yes, if they had all that power, there'd definitely be "large cash stashes in Switzerland."

9.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

TMI Permalink to this item

Stephen Wolfram takes narcissism to new heights of geekdom as he deconstructs the personal analytics of his life. It's fascinating, mostly because the minutiae are apparently so fascinating to him when they're so utterly banal and uninteresting to (me, at least, and I imagine) the rest of the world. A timeline of his keystrokes, for god's sake?

"At first it all may seem quite nerdy (and certainly as I glance back at this blog post there's a risk of that). But it won't be long before it's clear how incredibly useful it all is—and everyone will be doing it, and wondering how they could have ever gotten by before. And wishing they had started sooner, and hadn't 'lost' their earlier years."

Just as his New Kind of Science has yet to strike the broader scientific community as being as close to sliced bread as he imagines, I'm not seeing his brand of self-analysis through data-mining catching fire.

We can't all be six (or is it seven?) sigma geniuses, so I'm ok with having lost a few things along the way, and with unmined personal archeology of paper going back to the 1970s, certainly, and digital traces going back to the early 1980s, not all of them readily readable (or worth the trouble to examine).

6.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Moneyball Permalink to this item

Excerpt of Washington Post infographic, 2012 Republican candidate fundraising Not exactly breaking news, but WaPo's campaign finance explorer shows the hopelessness of Rick Santorum's case more graphically than a delegate tally could. The good news for the economy (and the Democratic competition) is that almost every bit of the $140 million raised between the two of them has been spent.

Just a little sidebar to the main story, that federal "ethics" requirements (or is it ethics "requirements"?) somehow allow Richy Rich to maintain near total opacity of his financial wheelings, dealings, and holdings. "Obscure exception," you say? Now how did that get in there?

"In 48 accounts from Bain Capital, the private equity firm he founded in Boston, Romney declined on his financial disclosure forms to identify the underlying assets..."

(48 accounts?! More fuel for the economy, the team of accountants keeping track all those buckets of wealth.)

"Several of Romney's assets—including a large family trust valued at roughly $100 million, nine overseas holdings and 12 partnership interests—were not named initially on his disclosure forms, emerging months later when he agreed to release his tax returns. ..."

"Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the disclosure 'completely and accurately describes Governor Romney's assets as required by the law.'"

Which is not to be confused with a complete and accurate description. The megaload-sized loophole is that you can take your sweet time in disclosure of investment accounts that have "a legally binding confidentiality agreement." Good old Bain Capital routinely asks its investors to sign one of those. "Proprietary business reasons," don't you know.

Must be quite the burden to have such a great success story that you can't actually tell anyone about. Other than repeating how much experience in business you have, and how you've spent your life "in the private sector." And, um, as a Governor. And spending too much time at Harvard.

What little of his tax returns he has released turned up a few tidbits: "holdings in a Swiss bank account, a real estate trust and nine offshore accounts not named on the public disclosure reports. In addition, 12 Bain accounts described as 'fund' investments on the disclosure were identified as 'partner' investments to the IRS." Just "a few trivial inadvertent issues," his spokesman noted.

5.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Priceless Permalink to this item

Just the headline is enough: Newt Gingrich's Think Tank Files For Bankruptcy, resulting in a slightly different sort of transformation for The Center for Health Transformation. They transformed a $37 million investment for "access" into... well, it's hard to say, but the think tank is 7 or 8 figures in the hole.

Market-based non-solution Permalink to this item

Andrea Louise Campbell is an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the sister-in-law of a young woman who has gone down the health insurance rabbit hole.

"On Feb. 8, she was a healthy 32-year-old, who was seven and a half months pregnant with her first baby. On Feb. 9, she was a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down by a car accident that damaged her spine. Miraculously, the baby, born by emergency C-section, is healthy."

Good fortune, bad fortune, now, no fortune.

"They must meet the Medi-Cal asset test: beyond their house and one vehicle, they can hold $3,150 in total assets, a limit last adjusted in 1989. They cannot save for retirement (retirement plans are not exempt from the asset test in California, as they are in some states). They cannot save for college (California is not among the states that have exempted 529 college savings plans from their asset tests). They cannot establish an emergency fund. Family members like me cannot give them financial help, at least not officially. If either of them receives an inheritance, it will go to Medi-Cal. Medi-Cal services that my sister-in-law uses after age 55 will be added to a tab that she will rack up over the rest of her life. When she and my brother die, the state will put a lien on their estate; their child may inherit nothing."

Mylar morning Permalink to this item

It was yesterday, but the story's durable enough, just like the metallized polyester film I ran into with my car. Given its ubiquity, from the days of 8-track tapes, to cassettes, and VHS, it's surprising we don't find more of the stuff on the side of the road these days. But while waiting for the light at Cole and Overland, something sinuous flashed through the intersection, bringing to mind the Nexus, but without the full-on wrapped-in-joy feeling.

It was windy, and there was a lot of trash on the loose, and I figured I didn't need to worry about whatever it was. When the light turned green and I proceeded south, I discovered I was "it." Or my car was, now festooned with fifty feet of magnetic tape, hung up on my right-side mirror and radio antenna and swirling around and behind me as I turned onto the freeway ramp. I gave a thought to reaching over and untangling the mess on the fly but decided that wasn't smart, gave up to go with the flow, 65 mph and flapping with abandon. Seemed vaguely reckless, but I couldn't think of a reason not to drive on. It couldn't hurt me, right?

Just about the time I was thinking even so, I should get off at the next exit and remove it, and how much later I'd be for my 8am appointment, it was gone! See there, not a problem. And five seconds later, the van that had been behind me eased by in the next lane... now carrying the party streamer to amuse its occupants and the rest of the morning commuters. Nice.

A few miles later, back on the arterials, I realized there was a rather hideous scraping sound coming from... yes, my car. It started when I rolled, and stopped when I stopped. Had some of the tape gotten wrapped around an axle or something? When I had space to pull over and inspect, I found it was just a tumbling mustard jammed between undercarriage and roadway, easily dispatched to its new home.

4.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Hacking healthcare insurance Permalink to this item

Somehow, being mostly Catholic has not endeared the men in black to Maureen Dowd, who sees the Roberts Court "well on its way to becoming one of the most divisive in modern American history," and led by a man whose "benign beige facade is deceiving; he's a crimson partisan, simply more cloaked than the ideologically rigid and often venomous Scalia."

"It has squandered even the semi-illusion that it is the unbiased, honest guardian of the Constitution. It is run by hacks dressed up in black robes."

3.Apr.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

An iris, in 2004

D'oú Venons Nous
Que Sommes Nous
Oú Allons Nous

Painted in an island in the middle of the world's largest ocean, words in the upper left corner, carried around the world, landed in Vancouver, set to music and taken for a boat ride in the harbor.

Where do we come from?

What are we?

Where are we going?

It's a round. With an answer:
Mystery. Mystery. Life is a riddle and a mystery.

And here we are in the midst of it again, springtime up here where there are seasons.

E.O. Wilson has a new book out, The Social Conquest of Earth. He used Gaugin's painting for the cover. Looks to be an interesting read.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Tuesday, 01-May-2012 07:47:31 MST