So now I can read two books at once!

Well, read one and listen to one, on my iPhone. There's a nifty iPhone app called Stanza (with a matching screen reader from Lexcycle) that makes the device a perfectly credible ebook reader. So now I could read a book in Stanza while listening to one at the same time (or even, I suppose, listening to the same one).

Which, of course, I probably won't do, except maybe for a few minutes just to say I did, but it's not so unusual for me to listen to, say, a radio news program while scanning AP or Reuters headlines - a regular media orgy, you might say.

Look, I don't want to get all wimpy here...

...but, I'm just saying, software called Personal Brain sounds a little bit, I don't know, mushy, doesn't it? I mean, ewwww.

[TheBrain.com - Welcome to TheBrain]

Also a little bit WTF? Sure, I understand the idea and yeah, mapping is all the rage, right, but still. Dude, I don't really want to see a map of my brain. What if it doesn't, you know, go anywhere?

Rulings, schmulings

NPR.org, February 27, 2009 · Companies that defrauded the United States and jeopardized American lives received new government work despite rulings designed to stop them from receiving federal contracts, government investigators report.

Payments went to a company whose president tried to sell nuclear bomb parts to North Korea, a company that jeopardized lives on the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy, and a seller of body armor that the Air Force said was defective.

[From Firms Defraud Government, Get New U.S. Contracts : NPR]

Reality check

In case anyone thought the whole concept of Universal Health Care was something cooked up in the 1990's, I'm here to tell you it just ain't so.

Nope, it's been with us forever and attempts to introduce a Universal Health Care program go back to the days just post World War 2. Over sixty years of wrangling, cajoling, hand-wringing and warnings of dire consequences. And strangely, nothing has changed.

[From Who Did You Say Your Doctor Was? | Newstalgia]

Homeland Security: Keeping you safe from slow

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal anti-terror law that requires longshoremen, truckers and others to submit to criminal background checks has ensnared another class of transportation worker -- mule drivers.

Yes, so-called mule skinners -- in this case, seasonal workers who dress in colonial garb at a historical park in Easton, Pa. -- must apply for biometric Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWIC), according to the Transportation Security Administration, which says it is bound by federal law.

The requirement has officials of the Hugh Moore Historical Park perplexed.

"We have one boat. It's pulled by two mules. On a good day they might go 2 miles per hour," said Sarah B. Hays, the park's director of operations.

[From TSA: Mule skinners need background checks, too - CNN.com]

What about that little train that hauls kiddies around at the zoo?

Icy sky

Caught on film the 3rd of June [2006] in northern Idaho, the above phenomenon... is caused by light passing through high-altitude cirrus clouds containing plate-shaped hexagonal ice crystals facing parallel to the earth’s surface.

[From Cirrus Ice Rainbow]


He wasn't and he didn't, it turns out

Jindal had described being in the office of Sheriff Harry Lee "during Katrina," and hearing him yelling into the phone at a government bureaucrat who was refusing to let him send volunteer boats out to rescue stranded storm victims, because they didn't have the necessary permits. Jindal said he told Lee, "that's ridiculous," prompting Lee to tell the bureaucrat that the rescue effort would go ahead and he or she could arrest both Lee and Jindal.

But now, a Jindal spokeswoman has admitted to Politico that in reality, Jindal overheard Lee talking about the episode to someone else by phone "days later." The spokeswoman said she thought Lee, who died in 2007, was being interviewed about the incident at the time.

[From Bobby Jindal's made-up Katrina tale was just standard right-wing MO | Crooks and Liars]

Let's have a show of hands

In his CPAC speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted that conservatives are more “interesting” and “fun” than liberals. Here’s his proof: “who wants to hang out with guys like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich when you can be with Rush Limbaugh?”

[From Matthew Yglesias » McConnell: Hanging Out With Rush Limbaugh is Awesome ]

OK, Bunky, I'm declaring Spring

No. I don't want to hear. I'm doing it and that's all there is. If you don't like it, get over there.

Here's the thing. I have an extra-big window in my living room, 50-something inches wide, and the storm window for it is jammed and won't go down all the way. So sometime in December when it started getting really cold I found a couple of big wide sheets of cardboard and taped them over the window to help keep the cold out. Maybe it worked and maybe it didn't, but I did it anyway.

Recently it's been sagging - maybe moisture from all the melting going on (it hit 50º today) - and this morning the tape pulled loose from the window frame and the top sheet fell down. And I'm not putting it back up. Deal with it.

I figure the window's still half covered so it can get half cold if it wants to - it's only February after all - but the top half is staying off and from now on I'm expecting at least half warm.

Looks almost as dinged up as my old Ford

Discovery, from a slide show passed along by Charlie in California.
Red ride...

Photo:  Phil Compton

"It would seem an odd move"

WASHINGTON — The request from General Motors last week for billions of dollars in additional federal aid included a curious revision from an earlier application.

G.M. changed the way it calculated projections for the average fuel economy of its fleet in 2012 in a way that made the mileage numbers worse than if the company had been consistent in its methodology.

[From In Aid Filing, G.M. Reduces Mileage Estimate - NYTimes.com]

If this keeps up we'll have more peace than we can deal with

Record 205 nominations for Nobel Peace Prize

[From Record 205 nominations for Nobel Peace Prize - USATODAY.com]

About those craZy, irresponsible...

The FBI has been warning of an "epidemic" of mortgage fraud since September 2004. It also reports that lenders initiated 80% of these frauds.

[From William K. Black: The Two Documents Everyone Should Read to Better Understand the Crisis]

...oh, wait.

In case you were wondering

...all emergency responders in Kentucky are required to swear an oath not only that they will uphold the Constitution, but also that they have not been involved in a duel.

[From Lowering the Bar: Kentucky Prohibits First Responders From Dueling]

Cool tips

If your cellphone loses its battery charge too quickly while idle in your pocket, part of the problem may be that your pocket is too warm.

“Cellphone batteries do indeed last a bit longer if kept cool,” says Isidor Buchanan, editor of the Battery University Web site. The 98.6-degree body heat of a human, transmitted through a cloth pocket to a cellphone inside, is enough to speed up chemical processes inside the phone’s battery. That makes it run down faster. To keep the phone cooler, carry it in your purse or on your belt.

This same method can be used to preserve your battery should you find yourself away from home without your charger. Turn off the phone and put it in the hotel refrigerator overnight to slow the battery’s natural tendency to lose its charge.

Good idea, huh? Sort of redefines "cold calling." Of course you have to have a hotel. And a refrigerator. But hey, other than that...

And check this out:

Suppose your remote car door opener does not have the range to reach your car across the parking lot. Hold the metal key part of your key fob against your chin, then push the unlock button. The trick turns your head into an antenna, says Tim Pozar, a Silicon Valley radio engineer.

I wonder if you can pick up digital TV that way.

Lots more at the link:

[From Basics - Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems - NYTimes.com]

The thing is...

Like its peers, Dell has watched as businesses and consumers have sharply curtailed technology purchases. The decline in sales has proved so severe that Dell’s earnings have fallen to the lowest level since 2002.

[From Dell’s Net Income Plunged 48% in 4th Quarter - NYTimes.com]

...I have some serious trouble with this kind of news because I have a hard time comprehending the 2002 part. I mean, 2002 was like yesterday, wasn't it? 2002 was only seven years ago. If they'd said 19, I don't know, 46 or something, or 58 or 65, whatever, I'd be impressed but 2002?

And then the article reports, breathlessly, "Dell's overall business appears very similar to what it was last year."

This is some kind of crisis we're talking about here? Come on, get a grip.

And don't even ask about the homework

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – Staff at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in California say the trickster who flooded their offices with sea water was armed. Eight-armed, to be exact. They blame the soaking they discovered Tuesday morning on the aquarium's resident two-spotted octopus...

[From SoCal aquarium blames flooding on curious octopus]


Do not mess around with Ohio broads

ELYRIA, Ohio – The 70-year-old wife of an Ohio judge said teens who tried to rob her made her so angry that she whacked one in the head with a sauce pan....

The judge said his wife is upset that police took the pan as evidence.

[From Woman, 70, whacks intruder in head with sauce pan]

Look! Shiny!

Apple released a beta of its new Safari 4 browser - runs fine in Vista (and presumably XP) too. Very cool.

When we were kids we used to say "bang bang, you're dead"

But now it's "bang bang, you're all icky."

For a while, the U.S. military worked and worked to develop a sticky foam that could stop rioters in their tracks. The goop never quite panned out - despite some rather hilarious pictures...

[From Army Reloads on Sticky Foam Weaponry | Danger Room from Wired.com]

OK, it didn't quite work - but they're still trying.

But they don't have Republicans, so that's not fair

For the record, however, the most-taxed countries on Earth (i.e., the countries where revenue is the highest percent of GDP) are in order:

1. Denmark

2. Sweden

3. Belgium

4. France

5. Norway

In terms of per capita GDP these are, respectively, the 4th, 9th, 14th, 15th, and 3rd richest countries on earth while the United States is 17th.

[From Matthew Yglesias » If High Taxes Led to Growth, the Most-Taxed Countries on Earth Would Be the Richest; Which They Are ]

What are you giving up for Lent?" asks the Sun-Times

"Diet Coke and swearing."

[From For Lent, I'm giving up 'Diet Coke and swearing' :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Metro & Tri-State]

And can't wait til it's (&%&^#* over.

Don't get around much anymore

So I'm just a little bit confused about what unlimited tanning from $32.59 might mean. Does it mean for more you get tanner? Or does it mean for more you get to tan more? And if so, the latter, where exactly does $32.59 end? If I say I want to get tan all the way to $40.00, unlimitedly, what happens then?


Dude, who knew? It's better than Vegas! Put in a bunch of quarters, get an extra sock! Doesn't exactly match, but maybe if I try again...

Right now I'm just sitting around waiting for good old dryer #31.

What happens when people go really, really bonkers

Tip reconsidered

Some wag once said that when a new administration takes over in Washington it's not like you're suddenly eating in a new restaurant, it's just that you now have a new waiter. Unless, of course, the new administration is Democratic, in which case it's a new waitperson.

The Obama Justice Department continues to stand behind a Bush era law meant to prevent lawsuits against telecommunications companies accused of illegally sharing private customer information with intelligence agencies.

[From The Raw Story | Obama administration defends telecom immunity in new brief]

They're not even changing the menu. For example, from the Obama administration's brief:

"The committee was concerned that, without retroactive immunity, the private sector might be unwilling to cooperate with lawful government requests in the future without unnecessary court involvement and protracted litigation."

Do we really have to point out again that if the government requests are lawful they don't need retroactive immunity?

I thought not.

Sewage treatment and food processing?

The Navy's plan to send attack dolphins after enemy swimmers is running into trouble, from the animal-rights crowd. So the sea service is bankrolling an alternative project: an "electrical swimmer barrier... "

Electricty plus water usually makes for a dangerous combination. But this system will be "non-lethal," promises Bedford, Massachusetts' Diversified Technologies, Inc., which recently won a Navy contract to start development on the thing. "Intermittent, spatially-distributed... pulses of short duration" should be able to deter swimmers with a fairly low "risk of lethality," the company says. The firm has already had luck, producing similar "pulsed-electric-field" equipment for "sewage-treatment and food-processing."

[From Navy Looks to Zap Swimming Foes | Danger Room from Wired.com]

Republicans quit investment banking, take up plumbing

CPAC Agenda: Joe The Plumber To Advise Young Conservatives As Panelist

[From CPAC Agenda: Joe The Plumber To Advise Young Conservatives As Panelist]

If you haven't read it yet, this would be a good time

The Warwick prize comes with a £50,000 award. And the winner is: Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: "Chair of judges and author of 'weird fiction' China Miéville praised The Shock Doctrine as a 'brilliant, provocative, outstandingly written investigation into some of the great outrages of our time' which has 'started many debates, and will start many more'."

[From The Sideshow February 2009 Archive]

The "Massachusetts plan"

Massachusetts members of the Physicians for a National Health Program released a report today [Feb. 18] faulting the state's experiment with health reform for failing to achieve universal coverage, being too expensive and draining funds away from safety-net providers.

The doctors' punch line is that the reform has given private insurance companies more business and power without eliminating vast administrative waste. In fact, it says, the "Connector" in charge of administering the reform adds about 5 percent more in administrative expenses.

In summary, nothing less than single-payer national health reform will work, according to authors Drs. Rachel Nardin, David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, all professors at Harvard Medical School.

[From The Health Care Blog: Massachusetts doctors say single-payer or bust]

$400 billion sounds like a stimulus-grade saving to me

Dr. Oliver Fein, Atlanta Journal-Constitution - However well-intentioned, the Obama/Baucus/Kennedy approaches share a fatal flaw: they preserve a central role for the private health insurance industry.

To varying degrees, they would mandate that everyone buy private health insurance - the private insurance that is failing us today. ...

Administration consumes about one-third of every health care dollar in the U.S. By contrast, in countries with nonprofit national health insurance, administrative costs consume only half that amount. . .

Eliminating the private insurance industry would save $400 billion annually in administrative costs, enough to ensure that everyone is covered and to eliminate all co-pays and deductibles.

At this critical juncture, a single-payer plan is the only medically, morally and fiscally responsible path to take.


Will this be on the test?

I would ask Northern No Trust: If you’re totally solvent, why are you taking my tax dollars? If you’re not totally solvent, why are you giving my tax dollars to Sheryl Crow?

[From Op-Ed Columnist - I Ponied Up for Sheryl Crow? - NYTimes.com]

Maybe they should build a wall

Turns out smuggling across the US-Mexico border isn't just a one-way thing.

Mexican authorities have long complained that American gun dealers are arming the cartels. This case is the most prominent prosecution of an American gun dealer since the United States promised Mexico two years ago it would clamp down on the smuggling of weapons across the border. It also offers a rare glimpse of how weapons delivered to American gun dealers are being moved into Mexico and wielded in horrific crimes....

Drug gangs seek out guns in the United States because the gun-control laws are far tougher in Mexico.

[From U.S. Is Arms Bazaar for Mexican Cartels - NYTimes.com]

Ooooo, kinky!

Frito-Lay Tries to Enter the Minds (and Lunch Bags) of Women

What's going on here?

[Frito-Lay] has researched women’s feelings about snacking and guilt to produce new packaging, new flavors and a new ad campaign, all in an effort to get women to eat Frito-Lay snacks.

[From Advertising - Frito-Lay Makes a New Pitch to Women - NYTimes.com]
Neuromarketing! Seriously. Women, it seems, have a big hippocampus (sorry, babe, I'm just telling you what it says here). Which means women want to read froo-froo snackfood ads about healthy good-for-you while men are perfectly satisfied with Yum! Good! Eat! Or something.

Hey, sounds right to me. Pass the chips.

The bashful ones

UBS was sued on Tuesday in a Swiss federal court by wealthy American clients seeking to prevent the disclosure of their identities as part of a tax-evasion investigation by the United States Justice Department.

[From Group of Rich Americans Sues UBS to Keep Names Secret in Tax Case - NYTimes.com]


Won't you be my neighbor?

"Bobby Jindal apparently believes it's appropriate to address the citizens of the United States in a tone that suggests we're all nine years old."

...and another hundred and thirty or so comments at: http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2009/02/jindal_speech.php

Be the first on your block

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Anybody want some top-secret seagoing vessels? The Navy has a pair it doesn't need anymore. It has been trying to give them away since 2006, and they're headed for the scrap yard if somebody doesn't speak up soon.

[From The Navy Has a Top-Secret Vessel It Wants to Put on Display - WSJ.com]

Already they're thinking about not fixing potholes

[MIT] students invented a shock absorber that harnesses energy from small bumps in the road, generating electricity while it smoothes the ride more effectively than conventional shocks. The students hope to initially find customers among companies that operate large fleets of heavy vehicles. They have already drawn interest from the U.S. military and several truck manufacturers.

There is a 10% improvement in overall vehicle fuel efficiency by using the regenerative shock absorbers.

[From Green Energy TV Blog - MIT Students harness energy from Bumps in the Road]

Cartography makes a comeback

Thanks to satellites, surveying, and ever-increasing computing power, mapping has become geographically accurate beyond the dreams of a medieval mind. But many of those same technological advances have also brought us full circle: Maps have increasingly become vehicles not just for telling us how the world looks, but for organizing and representing all sorts of information.

[From A cartography boom offers new ways to see the world - The Boston Globe]


Dead Celebrities: What Would They Drive If Alive Today?

I'm seriously bummed. Nowhere is there any mention of an underpowered Jeep Wrangler with a banged-up left fender (from a close encounter with a deer on a country road; RIP, Ms. Deer) which is what I would be driving if I were a dead celebrity and alive today. But you can waste a lot of time here.

[See Dead Celebrities: What Would They Drive If Alive Today?]

-Paul Knue

Deficit scorecard

More here.

"Deep emotional bond" with orange juice carton?

The PepsiCo Americas Beverages division of PepsiCo is bowing to public demand and scrapping the changes made to a flagship product, Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice. Redesigned packaging that was introduced in early January is being discontinued, executives plan to announce on Monday, and the previous version will be brought back in the next month.

[From Advertising - Tropicana Discovers Some Buyers Are Passionate About Packaging - NYTimes.com]

Rebuild the grid

More than 127,000 utility customers in Maine remained without electricity last evening after wet, heavy snow snapped tree limbs, power lines, and utility poles.

The Maine Emergency Management Agency said about 15 warming shelters had been set up around the state. Bangor Hydro Electric urged residents who lacked power to prepare for the possibility that it might not be restored until tomorrow.

[From Snow knocks out power and shuts schools in northern New England - The Boston Globe]

At the end of his rope

Photo: Phil Compton


Today's moment of Zen

Late this afternoon, as I was sitting on the beach keeping a sharp eye out for breaking news and reading Magical Thinking, by Augusten Burroughs, I was approached by a woman with a questioning look on her sunburned face.  “Can you tell me anything about the point of rocks?” she asked.  I suppose she was referring to the Point of Rocks, which is presumably some obscure landform here on the west coast of Florida.  But still, what exactly is the point of rocks?

I wish I had been quick enough to answer “Rocks are completely pointless,” or better yet “Well, in sufficient numbers they make mountains.”  But those answers always come to mind after I say something dull like “Sorry, no idea…”  Which is what I said.

She continued down the beach, asking others the same question, and hopefully getting more useful answers.

-Midwest Bureau Chief Phil Compton (who has been sitting, Zen-like, in the sun lo these many days.)

More fun than - well maybe not that, but pretty close

First thing I did this morning was drop my iPhone. Not very far, landed on a rug, no harm done. Sort of like getting a first scratch on a brand new car. Wouldn't want to make a habit of it but still, it's kind of nice getting that over with. Then, I broke my ice scraper on some particularly nasty ice on the windshield. And this afternoon I found out the washing machine is broken and won't be fixed until sometime next week. (Wait - next week?)

And by the way, don't you love it when Vista asks "Are you sure you want to restart your computer?" No, I don't want to restart it but you just told me I had to, you *&%&^*%$$.

Oh yeah, and the fun part. I had an Excel class this morning in the lab with the smart board and it is freakin' awesome, I want one - no, I want two - I want one in every room. Great big board, you can click by tapping with your finger, drag stuff around, use a virtual keyboard, write all over it with marker pens, it's like magic. I'm not kidding. Think, a giant tablet computer screen mounted on the wall. Geek bliss.


Change you can't really believe in all that much

The Obama administration, siding with former President George W. Bush, is trying to kill a lawsuit that seeks to recover what could be millions of missing White House e-mails in a stunning reversal of Obama's rhetoric about Bush secrecy on the campaign trail.

[From The Raw Story | Obama administration backs Bush, tries to kill 'lost' White House emails lawsuit]

Diving for dinner

Photo: Phil Compton

Memo to cheaters: Getting caught is not a 'mistake'

Well said.

What is a mistake? Consider these examples: If you believe it's raining outside and tell someone that it is, when in reality it's not, that is definitely a mistake. If you turn down Orange Avenue when you truly meant to take Mills Avenue, that is a mistake. In other words, you honestly thought the action you took represented your intentions, and it didn't.

Now, if you have a tryst with a prostitute -- and get caught -- you can't say it was a mistake. If you inject yourself with steroids -- and get caught -- you can't say you made a mistake. If you carry a concealed weapon -- and get caught, whether you shoot yourself in the leg or not -- that also cannot be claimed as a mistake. If you lie under oath -- and get caught -- you can't say you made a mistake.

Do you see a common thread here?

[From Memo to cheaters: Getting caught is not a 'mistake' -- OrlandoSentinel.com]

(Read the whole column: Click on the link.)

-Paul Knue

Making a choice...

Photo: Phil Compton

I never make it past "Best Lighting Design in an Animated Film With More Than Three Gerbils" myself

You’ve been invited to the 81st Annual Academy Awards. Actually, it’s a scribbled note your movie fanatic neighbor dropped in your mailbox. (“Why waste money on a stamp?” you can hear her saying.) Turns out she’s having some people over for the broadcast (Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC). Sure, it’s BYOB, but she’s making her special nachos, her wide-screen hasn’t been repossessed, and there will be an Oscar pool, with a hokey improvised trophy for the winner. Wow, life doesn’t get any better than that these days.

[From The Oscars - The Contenders, the Pools and the Show and the Hopes - NYTimes.com]

So I won't know until tomorrow how this really turns out (don't bother waking me). Except for Leger's brilliantly creep Joker and Wall-E I haven't seen any of the nominees anyway, and only a couple of them are even in the queue.

Battle of the bands: "amoral"

TBILISI, Georgia — Having suffered a battlefield bruising from Russia last August, Georgia has taken the fight with its northern neighbor to the disco floor, with plans to present a tune that jabs at Russia’s pre-eminent leader, Vladimir V. Putin, at Europe’s premier song contest.

The title of the song, sung in accented English, is “We Don’t Wanna Put In,” a barely successful play on words involving the Russian prime minister’s name....

“In my opinion, this is amoral,” Yana Rudkovskaya, the Russian producer for Dima Bilan, last year’s Eurovision winner, told the Echo Moskvy radio station. “I think that the Eurovision board and the heads of Channel One should forbid this song because it insults our country.”

[From Georgia Offers Sideburns and a Disco Beat as Payback for a War - NYTimes.com]

OK, cut it out

President Obama disdains sound bites, and he does not have Bill Clinton’s talent for reducing the abstruse to aperçus.

[From Op-Ed Columnist - Dark Dark Dark - NYTimes.com]

An aperçu is "a comment or brief reference that makes an illuminating or entertaining point," sez my book.

MSNBC, NYTimes top online news list

MSNBC tops the list in January with 44 million uniques. The top newspaper Web site in the list is The New York Times at 21 million uniques.

Other sites that experienced big increases include the N.Y. Daily News Online, up 150% to 7.7 million uniques. The Telegraph in the U.K. increased its monthly unique visitors 139% to 5.1 million.

[From Top 30 Global News Sites, By Unique Visitors ]

Meanwhile 76003.1414 has rocketed to 968,606 on Technorati's list.

Peppermint Patty moves to Mexico

Production of York Peppermint Patties and other candy brands is coming to an end at The Hershey Co. plant in Reading.

After 23 years in Reading, the chocolate maker is closing the plant Friday and moving production to a new factory it has built in Monterey, Mexico. Hershey says it will mean the loss of about 260 jobs in the southeastern Pennsylvania city.

[From PhillyBurbs.com: Hershey Co. closing Peppermint Patty plant in Pa. ]