Friday, December 31, 2010

Should You Accept Mom & Dad's Facebook Friend Request?

Have your parents joined Facebook yet? (Luckily, mine haven't.) Have they hit you with the question yet?

If yes, here is some helpful advice for you. From Mashable:
"Should You Accept Mom & Dad’s Facebook Friend Request? [FLOWCHART]"

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I didn't even realize that these were my favorite animals

This was arguably the best "best of" list I ran across when doing some surfing here at the end of the year. This was really entertaining to read about. From Cracked:
"6 Animals That Just Don't Give A F#@k" by Danny Vittore

Here's why I love the mongoose: "...for one very simple reason: because the mongoose isn't fighting snakes for food, or for territory, or for survival -- it's fighting snakes because fuck snakes. That's seriously the reason why."

How about the cane toad. This guy is sick: "There has been at least one recorded attempt of a cane toad to mate with a long-deceased female that had been completely flattened by a car ... for eight straight hours!"

You have to love the honey badger, though. From the article:

"But the perfect example of the honey badger's inability to give one hot shit comes around 2:15 into the video: One particular honey badger got hungry, so he went to find a nice meal. Now, he could snuffle around in the dirt all night, looking for the safest food source, but that sounds hard, and it might take a while. So instead, he opts to piss all over the very concept of survival instincts, and just eats the first damn thing he comes across. Unfortunately, it happens to be a puff adder -- one of the deadliest snakes in the world.

"The badger stumbles across the snake midway through its own meal, so what's a badger to do? Why, steal the food straight from the death-serpent's jaws, of course, and then sit down to eat the snake's stolen meal right in front of him, while he furiously spits and hisses. When the badger finishes the snake's dinner, he's still a bit peckish, so he walks right over to the still-furious snake and mauls it to death, sustaining multiple bites in the process. Ignoring the deadly poison coursing through his veins, the badger settles in and starts eating the puff adder. Tragically, a few minutes later, he collapses.

"And so ends the story of this honey badger, who died as he lived, spitting in the face of mortalit- what's that? He's back up? Holy shit! Two hours pass, and the badger miraculously resurrects himself from apparent death! He's been given a second chance at life! A second chance to ...

"Go right back and continue eating that snake."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Zuckerberg, Dubois, and your online identity

Here's a fascinating article that poses an interesting question, from zunguzungu:
"The Soul of Mark Zuckerberg: What DuBois can tell us about Facebook"

The broad question is: What is our online identity? Can we have more than one?

Mark Zuckerberg: "You have one identity ... The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly... Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity."

Is there any benefit to having multiple online identities? If so, is it a sign of a lack of integrity?

I happen to agree with the author that sometimes people don't fit into a given category, and that it is beneficial. I also don't think having multiple identities is a bad thing.

Bear in mind that Zuckerberg's personal beliefs have shaped, and continue to shape, the largest social networking site in the world. What are the implications of this? On Facebook all your friends are lumped together. You can't present one image to your co-workers and another to your wild friends; it's all mixed. (I mentioned this, by referring to a great presentation on the subject, in a past post, "Google Me", back in August.)

It is convenient for a public figure like Zuckerberg, someone whose every move is scrutinized, to think this way. It is probably not possible for him to separate portions of his life given his status. He also has the convenience of not feeling the need to present different personalities to the world, which DuBois pointed out.

But just because he doesn't feel the need to have multiple identities, should he impose that vision on all of us, as he does with Facebook?

Furthermore, the article points out, Zuckerberg makes his money this way! The more he knows about you, the more he can monetize that information. Yes, online sites (and banks, credit card companies, cable/satellite TV providers, internet service providers, et cetera) know a lot about you. But you should certainly be able to control how you are viewed by the world, right? You should make that call, not Zuckerberg. I like to think that Google is generally better at this than Facebook but they have made glaring errors (Buzz, anyone?) in this area, too. It is a fine line.

Fascinating article.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Android Market

If you have an Android phone you might have seen the new Android Market. It has a new look and feel, designed to make finding new apps much easier for users. All that is wonderful, but I'm more interested in the policy implications of the Android Market changes.

From Mashable:
"New Android Market Coming Soon"

Notice that in the past any purchase from the Android Market could be returned for a full refund 24 hours after purchase. That refund window has now shrunk to 15 minutes. A simple Google search of "new android market 15 minutes" shows the reaction to this change. It is generally not positive.

Many people have pointed to the 24 hour refund policy as a big advantage of the Android Market as opposed to Apple iTunes. But the relevant question is: Better for whom? The better question is: What is the best time to allow refunds, considering the interests of both app developers and customers?

If there is no refund window, it is more attractive to app developers. If there is a long refund window, it is more attractive to consumers. But if it is too attractive to consumers, too easy to get a refund, that will turn away developers. Developers may feel that it is unfair to have a 24 hour refund window because someone could download a paid game, play it on a 5 hour flight, then return the game as soon as he got off the plane. Basically, people could get all the benefit of a paid app for free.

On the other hand, there are some really bad apps out there. Do you want to have to pay, without possibility of a refund, for an app that you just want to try to see if you like it or whether you'd use it over the long haul?

I think it IS a good idea to have some sort of refund interval. But it is also true that a 15 minute interval may be too short. If you have a spotty network connection it may take the better part of that time just to download the app. Furthermore, some apps (calendars, schedulers, task lists, etc.) might take much longer to properly evaluate. So maybe 15 minutes is too short.

Perhaps the better model is for app developers to make two versions of their apps, one that has embedded paid advertising and another that is ad-free but is not free. Users can try the ad-supported app for free, see if they like it, and then upgrade to the paid version if they like it.

There is a trade-off here, and it affects the number of developers and consumers that will use a market. So the next time you hear that the iPhone has way more apps than Android, think about why. Ask yourself whether hundreds of paid fart noise apps or stupid paid wallpaper apps really make one app market better than another.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Delta Sucks

I have a story to tell. It is a story about how a company can attempt to make your life miserable for absolutely no reason. Delta Airlines, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

My family and I planned to travel to Upper Michigan to see my dad and other family over Christmas and New Year's. We bought tickets to fly on Christmas Day--cheaper price, less crowded airport. We checked in for the flight online the previous day, as I normally try to do. We had a ride arranged to the airport. Everything looked good.

And then the first sign of trouble: We got an e-mail saying our flight was canceled. We were planning to fly to Milwaukee. Delta had canceled our flight to Milwaukee (MKE) but re-booked us on a flight to Minneapolis (MSP), and then a later flight from MSP to MKE. This would cost us many hours of additional travel time and put us into MKE at a time when we probably wouldn't want to drive all the way to Upper Michigan (driving late at night, on Christmas day when nothing was open). We wouldn't make Christmas dinner with my dad.

Why was our flight canceled? There was a storm system moving towards the east coast that was threatening to dump an inch, maybe two (!), of snow on Atlanta. Forget about the fact that the Christmas Day forecast for Atlanta called for weather comfortably above freezing and the rain (not snow) was not expected until evening, possible turning to snow at night. Nonetheless, Delta started canceling about half their flights (based on what I saw on the flight status boards when we got to the airport the next day).

We considered alternate travel plans. It didn't matter to us whether we flew into MSP or MKE, either would work. If we could get a rental car out of MSP, why bother with MKE at all? So we booked a rental car for MSP. It was cost prohibitive to rent in MSP and return in MKE, so we needed to ask Delta to just skip flying us from MSP to MKE (saving them the bother and saving us time) and change our return flight from MKE-ATL to MSP-ATL at any time on 1/1/11 or 1/2/11. Didn't matter to us. We did our research and found that Delta had 11 direct flights from MSP-ATL on both days.

Well, we would have asked Delta this if only they had answered the phone. They didn't even put us on hold and lie to us about how long it would take for a person to come on the line. Everyone must have been calling. Which only meant that the next day at the airport was going to be fun. And by "fun" I mean "hell." Which it was.

Because the person giving us a ride had other commitments early in the morning, we headed to the airport at 5:30a and got there before 6:00a for an 8:30a flight (both the original flight to MKE and the new flight to MSP left at nearly the same time). We didn't have a problem with this given that we appreciated the lift anyway, but in this situation we felt like we would need extra time. And so we did. We needed every minute of the extra time we had.

First thing we noticed were the tons of canceled flights. Due to snow. Yeah right. Flights to Fort Lauderdale, New Orleans, San Juan, and many other sun-drenched locations all canceled due to snow.

We got in line around 6a. We waited in line for almost an hour. Finally, a little before 7a we trudged up to the counter and started what was to be an hour-plus ordeal.

We explained our situation and said that we were not interested in flying to MKE and wasting our whole day in airports. Either airport (MSP or MKE) worked for us. So why burden Delta with flying us to MKE? Let us off in MSP and be done with us, but please set us up with a return flight out of MSP rather than MKE. Turns out that they had plenty of room on those flights, the Delta person at the counter told us so. Seemed like a win-win to me.

They said no. Any particular reason, I asked? No, just can't to it. It's against policy. Your destination is MKE. Any change in destination requires a change fee of $150 per person.

This didn't make any sense to me. Delta was canceling flights for no reason (weather was partly cloudy, maybe 40 degrees, no precipitation (yet, and not for some time). They were going to spend more fuel and more manpower on their part. It wouldn't cost them anymore to fly us back form MSP than MKE given that they had plenty of available capacity on the MSP-ATL flights (remember, they told us that directly). This would make our lives much easier. And yet they wouldn't do it.

I further explained to them that I don't need their help in determining my destination. I know what my destination is. And in this particular case it was neither MKE nor MSP, but that either one would work to get me to my ultimate destination. I'm not sure they ever fully comprehended that.

So at that point I became "that guy." The guy I always bitch about. The guy who won't just get his damn boarding passes and move on, to keep the line moving. In my defense, I wasn't the only one. We saw several other groups of people having the same problem, for about the same amount of time.

In summary: I literally stood at the Delta counter for over an hour. Arguing, pleading, begging, demanding, doing everything I could think of to talk some sense into them and to find someone who had the authority to make an exception to the mindless policies Delta has.

All this after waiting in line for nearly an hour and on four hours of sleep. Which reminds me, my girls literally fell asleep on the airport floor and took naps while I argued with the morons who work for Delta.

I literally argued with them for an hour. Literally an hour. The original person we spoke with couldn't help us. He explained that he couldn't approve the change of the return trip origin from MKE to MSP. I asked over and over again, "Well, who CAN make that decision?" He called over his supervisor. It took a while but she came over. She said no, she wouldn't do that. It's against policy. I kept asking "Who CAN make that decision?" I was told to call customer service, the same number that wouldn't answer the previous night. I was told that they, at the counter, couldn't change the flights without a "waiver code" from someone with more authority.

So I called customer service, without much hope at this point. I think that the ticket agent at the counter thought we would leave while we made that call. He thought wrong. I told him that I was going to make this call right here and now while we stood in front of him. I wasn't going anywhere until this was resolved.

Now at this point you, gentle reader (as Ms. Manners would say), are probably wondering why I'm being such a dick about all this. My justification: Delta is flat-out lying to us about why they are canceling flights. There is no snow. They are canceling flights to places where there is absolutely no expectation of snow. There is a deeper story here, which we may never know. Maybe a lot of pilots called in "sick" because it was Christmas Day, I have no idea. But it sure as hell was not because of "snow." Furthermore, Delta has in their power the ability to make things right by simply changing my return flight, by putting me on a flight where they have plenty of extra capacity.

I was further egged on by Delta's insipid justifications for their policies. "Well, I'm sure it's for your safety," I was told, among many other lies that I can't remember off-hand. Yeah, right. Remember, they are still flying out of Atlanta. And still flying into MKE. Other people on our flight from Atlanta to MSP were simply trying to get to Washington, D.C. And they were re-routed through MSP. All to avoid "snow." By flying from a non-snowy airport (Atlanta) to a snowy airport (MSP) back to a non-snowy airport. That's right, in order to avoid "snow" Delta routed people through an airport where they had plenty of snow.

My heart sank when they said that it would be 13-19 minutes before a representative would be available. That I could leave my number and I would receive an automated call-back at that time. We were going to have to stall. I have no idea all the stuff I said while I waited. I do remember a couple things, though. At one point I asked the Delta counter person, "I know you have to say stuff like that [that it's for our safety and other such lies], it's your job, but don't you ever get tired of it? Doesn't it wear on you, looking people in the eyes and saying that?" He didn't answer that one.

Ultimately customer service did call me back. So I began the phase of the negotiation (if you can call it that) where I was talking to both the the counter agent and customer service at the same time. After getting bounced around a bit by customer service I did get to a person who approved the change. Hurray!

But all was not roses. It was taking them forever to make the changes. The person at the ticket counter couldn't give us boarding passes until the customer service person made the changes in the computer system. The flight was to take off at 8:30a. But it was 7:45a now. The counter person was telling us that he needed to check our bags quickly or we wouldn't get them on the flight.

Delta customer service said it would be "just a moment" and put me on hold. And then nothing for over 10 minutes (we were watching the clock). Apparently Delta's definition of "moment" is a little different than mine.

There was a moment of truth. They said they would make the changes. I told the ticket agent, check my bags through to Minneapolis. And crossed my fingers that the customer service agent on the phone wasn't lying to me. Luckily we got our bags checked at 7:55a or so. And we got our boarding passes at just before 8a.

We had to run through security (line was relatively short). We ran to the tram. We ran to the gate. We got to the gate just as they announced the final boarding call for our flight. Good thing we did, too, because the flight was full and many people were waiting to fly standby. If we hadn't gotten there when we did, we would have lost our seat. And there was no next flight, not for a while anyway, because many ATL-MSP flights were also canceled.

I was still worried whether our bags made it on the flight, but we were rolling the dice. Luckily when we got to MSP, our bags were also there.

I was happy that we made the changes we did. We got on the road at 11a or so from MSP. Weather looked good so we took the direct route through Hayward, Clam Lake, Mellon, etc. But it started snowing fairly heavily along the way and driving conditions were tough. I had to slow to 30 mph or so for long stretches of time, the car was sliding so much--that's how bad it was. I would have hated to make the drive late at night. I'm very happy we didn't take the flight from MSP-MKE where we would have gotten a much later start and had to drive the treacherous roads in the dark.

In summary, Delta lied and used snow as an excuse to cancel flights. They refused to make a reasonable change. And I didn't take it. I continued to keep saying, if you can't approve this, who can? Let me talk to that person. I worked the counter agent and I worked the customer service agent on the phone while talking to the counter agent to stall him. It was epic. We got approved 30 minutes before flight time. Luggage barely made it on board. We got to the gate just as they announced final call. It was amazing and exhausting. It was necessary, to get here in time. I hope I don't have to go through that again--although I will if I have to. I got them to change and I got us here on time.

In retrospect, my "ask" of Delta is: Just tell me the truth. And make reasonable accommodations when you force changes on people. You canceled flights because it was Christmas day and you had a lot of nearly empty planes. So you dropped many flights. Re-routed people through other hubs. I get that. But when you do that, just allow me to change my plans, too, if it doesn't adversely affect you.

Also remember, this whole fiasco at the airport could have been avoided if Delta had simply answered the phone the night before, when they canceled our tickets. Just answer the damn phone. It's not that complicated.

Post script, January 4, 2011

From the linked article, it said:
"Delta is offering customers whose flight plans may be affected by winter weather across the Southeast and East 'the ability to make one-time changes to their travels schedules without fees. Delta's weather advisory encourages customers to consider postponing or rerouting their travel to avoid possible inconvenience from expected flight delays.'

"Customers 'booked on Delta-ticketed flights to, from or through' several cities 'may immediately rebook for travel before or after their original travel dates as long as new flights are ticketed and rescheduled travel begins by Dec. 29.'"

This is exactly what I tried to do, and they simply would not allow it (not until I really pressed the issue). Delta LIED.

On our return flight we landed about 45 minutes later than scheduled (slightly late departure coupled with having to pull out of the landing because we were "too close" to the jet in front of us because the jet in front of us was going too slow, according to our pilot). And then we had to wait literally an hour and fifteen minutes for our luggage. Way to go, Delta.

Best music videos of 2010

At the end of the year everyone comes out with their lists. I've been reading a bunch of these. Here is one that caught my eye, about the best music videos of 2010. This list doesn't focus on big name musicians but on truly great music videos. Very interesting.

From Nerve:
"The Top Eight Music Videos of 2010" by Max Goldman

There are also links to other "best" lists on lists like this. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

All my phone are belong to me

Remember the old internet phenomenon "All your base are belong to us"? I do. And I think it applies to me!

Here's the story. I am very fortunate to get a bunch of phones due to the generosity of my employer. So I have an HTC Nexus One personal phone ("Nexy") and a Motorola Droid X business phone ("Xy"). The screen size of Nexy is 3.7". The screen size of Xy is 4.3". Why is the screen size important? Read on...

It so happens that I got another phone for Christmas, a Samsung Nexus S. And the screen size of the Nexus S is 4.0".

Will I give away one of my other phones, perhaps Nexy? Hmmm, not so sure. People ask why I need another phone. Here's what I tell them: "Well, there are times when a 3.7" screen is too small. (You can see where this is going.) And there are times when a 4.3" screen is just a little too big. So...."

Seriously. They laugh and laugh. Not sure if they're laughing with me or at me, but they ARE laughing! :)

In related news, I need a nickname for the new phone, the Nexus S. I'm thinking of "Nessie" because "Nexy" is already taken. What do you think?

If you also have an Android phone, here is some good information from The Official Google Blog:
"Some cool Android tips and tricks"

Finally, here is a picture of my six Android phones, three used by me (Nessie, Xy, and Nexy across the top) and three used by the rest of the family (two Nexus ones and a G1 across the bottom). Is six too many? I don't think so. :)

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Believe it or not, it sometimes snows down here in Atlanta. And when it does, I get to wear my kromer!

What? You don't know what a kromer is? A kromer is a wool cap with a small brim and ear flaps that you can pull down when it gets really cold. It is the perfect winter hat. Warm over a wide range of temperatures (anything 40 degrees or below), while the brim keeps the snow out of your eyes. The height of fashion. (Note: A kromer is cool. Please don't confuse it with an Elmer Fudd had, which is not cool.) And it is very popular where I'm from, in Upper Michigan.

Want to check out kromers, maybe buy one? This is the place, Stormy Kromer Mercantile, in my hometown of Ironwood, Michigan:

The classic Kromer cap is the basic bright red (as pictured above). (That's the color kromer I have!)

A little history is in order. Kromer caps were invented, if that's the right word, by George and Ida Kromer because George needed a warm work cap while working on the railroad in the winter. Check out the History page on the Stormy Kromer website:

I like this part: "Stormy Kromer is a division of Jacquart Fabric Products located in Michigan's beautiful Upper Peninsula." I still have a canvas book bag that I got as a kid in third grade from Jacquart's.

Kromer Cap Company used to be based in Milwaukee. (My Kromer is still a "Milwaukee" kromer, by the way, not one from the new Story Kromer company.) Not sure what happened, but I think that 90% of all kromers were sold in the U.P. (I'm surely exaggerating, I don't know that for sure, maybe it just seemed that way.) When the Kromer Cap Company was going to discontinue the cap Jacquart's bought the rights to make the cap, and to the name. I'm very happy they did.

Couple pictures are in order.  First the big kromer on US 2.

And one of my daughters, wearing my kromer.

Late addendum: Coincidentally, the day after this blog post ran (I typed it up a week or so in advance), I bought kromers for my girls. Here is a picture of them in a wigwam that my dad built for them to play in. Hard to see the new kromers in the picture, but it's all I have for now.

Friday, December 24, 2010

World Map of Social Networks

Social networks fascinate me. And Facebook fascinates me. Here's an interesting map of online social networks from TechCrunch:
"World Map Of Social Networks Shows Facebook’s Ever-Increasing Dominance" by Robin Wauters

Notice that the site shows similar maps from the recent past, documenting Facebook's march to dominance.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Occasionally they tell the truth, part 9: Keith Ellison: "need to create a real crisis"

From MPR News:
"Ellison: Dems must 'create crisis' to force GOP on tax cut"

You may remember Keith Ellison for the minor controversy about being sworn into Congress with a Koran.

I'm not sure where to begin my comments. First of all I think that the need to create a crisis rather than focus on good policy tells you something about the way the left thinks. It's not about doing what's best for the country. It's about creating a crisis to get their way.

More importantly, though, is he blind, deaf, and dumb? Hello, Keith! Obama ALREADY created the crisis. Obama and Bush already ran the economy into the ground with wasteful spending and ridiculous, pork-laden, union-saving "stimulus" programs. Is this not enough of a crisis for you, Keith?

Maybe I'm reading his comments wrong. Maybe Ellison is trying to explain to us why Obama deliberately chose these destructive actions, to get us to this point. Who knows.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

NFL, TV, and Google Maps - A Great Combination!

Here is a page with a nice combination of football, TV, and Google Maps. Interesting to see which NFL games get broadcast to which parts of the country. Looks like I'll be able to watch my Packers lose to New York this week. :(
Everything you need to know about sports on television - NFL

Is that a railgun in your pocket... ?

Very interesting technology here. From Mashable:
"U.S. Navy’s Record-Breaking Electromagnetic Railgun Shoots Projectiles at Mach 7"

So the next question is: Does the second amendment protect railguns? Remember, if you outlaw railguns, only criminals will have railguns. :)

While we're on the subject, here is an interesting link from the Buckeye Firearms Association:
"Politically Corrected Glossary of Terms about Guns and the Right to Bear Arms"

It's a fun, but very useful, read about how to communicate with the anti-gun crowd. It comes across as amusing at times, but this is serious stuff. Some questions on the page are very strong:
Shouldn't we disarm the criminals first?
Why haven't we disarmed the criminals?

Then after talking with an anti-gun person for a while, they recommend this: "You know, after listening to you for a while, you've convinced me that you should never own a gun." :)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bank Bailout or Socialism, you make the call

Amazing how quickly we are becoming a socialist country, where the government picks the winners and losers. Consider this post from
"Federal Reserve Reveals $2.3 Billion Was Secretly Loaned to Harley Davidson"

Is this the role of the Fed? Why is the government interfering in "free" markets? Is this what we thought we were getting when we were supposedly bailing out the banks? Amazing. Our Founding Fathers must be rolling over in their graves.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tax cuts or more stimulus?

So what do you think about the tax deal that might be (or already has been, by the time this is published) rammed down our throats? I don't like it. Yes, it's good to keep the tax rates low. But what about all the additional spending we are committing to? This is a close call but I'd vote no.

I happen to agree with Krauthammer. From the Washington Post:
"Swindle of the year" by Charles Krauthammer

Not much I can add to that. I don't know why or how Obama did this but the fact is that this will benefit him greatly. He will get TEMPORARY benefit to the economy (and re-election, he hopes) at a long term cost to the country (you can't borrow forever), while publicly appearing to distance himself from the radical left (which also benefits his re-election chances).

"In the deal struck this week, the president negotiated the biggest stimulus in American history, larger than his $814 billion 2009 stimulus package. It will pump a trillion borrowed Chinese dollars into the U.S. economy over the next two years - which just happen to be the two years of the run-up to the next presidential election."

"Some Republicans are crowing that Stimulus II is the Republican way - mostly tax cuts - rather than the Democrats' spending orgy of Stimulus I. That's consolation? This just means that Republicans are two years too late. Stimulus II will still blow another near-$1 trillion hole in the budget."

"Obama's public exasperation with this infantile leftism is both perfectly understandable and politically adept. It is his way back to at least the appearance of centrist moderation. The only way he will get a second look from the independents who elected him in 2008 - and abandoned the Democrats in 2010 - is by changing the prevailing (and correct) perception that he is a man of the left."

SPLOST, still a waste

Like many other topics on this blog, I've posted about SPLOST before (SPLOST, Sunday, May 23, 2010). But I can't help myself. I'm going to talk about it again. I thought I was done for a while but I read something the other day that re-opened the subject in my mind.

All links below are from the Marietta Daily Journal.

The first article that caught my eye:
"SPLOST list, dates still unclear" by Katy Ruth Camp

Why did it catch my eye?

"The proposal was presented in September as a six-year plan for the continuation of the 1 percent special purpose local option sales tax, mainly to be used for maintenance and renovations of the county's infrastructure. But the SPLOST was shortened to five years last week, after Commissioners Helen Goreham, Bob Ott and Thea Powell said the project list should only include absolute needs."

Commissioners also want to put a SPLOST to a March vote, at an additional cost of $400,000, rather than let so-called "special purpose" money lapse for 6 months until a regularly scheduled November election. This ought to clearly demonstrate that there is nothing "special purpose" about this tax. It is part of the ongoing funding of leviathan government.

"Some of the projects that appear to be gone after Tuesday's meeting include: renovations and upgrades to the county's public safety training facility ($620,400); room for a new judgeship and corresponding staff and courtroom ($800,000); radio frequency identification for the public library system ($1.5 million); a yet-to-be determined but significant reduction in the $10 million allotted for the Civic Center Exhibit Hall to only fixing water, sewer and electrical problems; a black box theater at Mable House Complex (up to $1 million); a rehearsal hall addition at the Art Place (up to $748,000); additional asphalt runway for model airplanes at Ernie Gilbert Field ($41,000); addition of a disk golf course and access roadway and parking at Pitner Road Park (up to $1.3 million); a new recreation center at Logan Park in Acworth ($3 million); and a Windy Hill/ Terrell Mill connector parallel to Interstate 75 ($14.6 million)."

Are you kidding me? It's great that this stuff is gone, but what does it say about SPLOST that these are the kinds of critical projects that people want to fund with this money? Is this stuff necessary? Of course not, not even close. What a waste!

I also found this online. Makes me sick.
"Tea Party says it will back Cobb SPLOST if it's 3 years or less" by Katy Ruth Camp

So much for the Tea Party being a principled group standing up for the taxpayer.

"Maloy said: 'This issue is all three of those. So why aren't we simply just opposing the SPLOST? That would be much smaller government, much lower taxes and less spending. But there are some practicalities we have to look at, and contrary to a lot of people's beliefs, Tea Parties are not unreasonable. We understand when things have to be a certain way. But we work to try to make long-term changes.'"

"Those practicalities include keeping residents safe in buildings that could harm others if they are not repaired, by repairing or rebuilding bridges that could become a safety hazard in the near future, and fixing roads that are crumbling and could cause accidents or car damage, Maloy said."

What a load of crap. Maloy is not fit to call himself a member of any Tea Party. This is the justification that people have used for ages. We "need" certain things. Maybe we do, but that doesn't justify taking more of our money. It just means that we need to stop wasting money on things we don't need. As mentioned above.

Here is another example:
"The 'special purpose': Time to put it back in SPLOST"

"Apparently, in the face of opposition not only from the public but a majority of his fellow commissioners, Chairman Tim Lee insists on going for a king-sized SPLOST and a March referendum, more concerned about avoiding a six-month gap in collecting the tax than the very real prospect of outright defeat. Then again, maybe he's looking at that guaranteed low turnout in March and a better chance of winning."

Lee is also one of the commissioners who cannot wait for a SPLOST vote in November, he wants to take our money as soon as possible. Lee is supposedly a Republican. I saw through him from the start. I voted for his opponent, and I can see I made the right choice.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Net Neutrality - Can someone please define it?

There has been a lot of talk about net neutrality in recent years, but what does it really mean? I've talked about this before (Net Neutrality, Part 2, September 2, 2010) and I can't say that I understand it yet. But the following article helps clear things up for me a bit.

From Pajamas Media:
"Just What Do They Mean by ‘Net Neutrality’?" by Charles Martin

Martin makes the point that what was originally understood by the phrase net neutrality has morphed into something much larger. And it is difficult to gain consensus when people are not even using the same definitions.

From Martin:

"The frustrating part: when you examine the arguments closely, it’s clear that no two commentators appear to be talking about the same thing."

"This led to the first push for net neutrality, of a sort that we might call net neutrality of the first kind, or 'content neutrality.'"

"The push for net neutrality, however, was quickly picked up by other people for other political purposes, starting with the idea that 'net neutrality' meant that everyone ought to have equal access to Internet service, whether they live in the borough of Manhattan, or Manhattan, Kansas, or in a cabin twelve miles by road from the nearest human habitation. This quickly picked up other ideas: that 'net neutrality' meant different ethnic groups have equal access — which would mean the government looking not just at the content of the messages, but the race of the person on the wire; or that different viewpoints ought to have equal access to the Internet — so, potentially, Fox News would be limited based on how much bandwidth the Huffington Post consumed, and even that 'hate speech' and 'lies' could be regulated."

"This is what we might call net neutrality of the second kind: not content-neutral, but instead, content 'fairness.'"

"Stated that baldly, a lot of people would object (and rightly, I believe)."

"This, then, is the question I think everyone must ask when discussing net neutrality: do we mean the content-neutral, don’t read-the-postcards net neutrality of the first kind? Or the 'fair access' net neutrality of the second kind?"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Government Paralysis?

Well here is an interesting development. Apparently the Senate is so polarized that it is increasingly difficult for it to take action on certain legislation. Consider this story from the Washington Post:
"Senate having trouble 'doing business in the modern era'" by Philip Rucker and David A. Fahrenthold

This may strike some people as bad new but I'm all for it. The less government does, the better.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Google Zeitgeist 2010: Year in Review

Okay, here's a great video produced by Google. It recaps the top stories of 2010. (Top searches? Is there a difference?) Along the way it highlights many of Google's products and services.
"Zeitgeist 2010: Year in Review"

The video is a lot of fun to watch. Really nice summary of the year, the highs and the lows, set to great music. I particularly like how they work in different Google products. Two of my favorites were: 1) Showing the integrated calling in Gmail by calling South Africa and hearing ... vuvuzelas! 2) Saying "and just like that 2010 flew by in an instant" and then showing off Google Instant (an amazing feature, when you think about it) by searching on, among other things, that Icelandic volcano whose name no one could spell--but it didn't matter because you only had to type the first few letters and you had your result. Perfect!

My girls, by the way, loved the fact that one of the instant searches near the end featured "Angry Birds." They love that game!

What an awesome video.

Don't forget, too, that you can see the most popular Google searches from 2010 here:
"Zeitgeist 2010: How the world searched"

Play with this site a little, it's a lot of fun.

Search on.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In defense of Wikileaks

This Wikileaks story is a good one. It illustrates several key points, and it separates the men from the boys, so to speak. That is, do you really believe in free speech or do you not? I posted about Wikileaks before, about a week ago (Thoughts on WikiLeaks and Amazon, and Censorship and Walls, December 9, 2010) but this is such an important topic I want to revisit it.

First up, and deservedly so, is Ron Paul. From FromTheOld:
"Ron Paul defends Wikileaks on House Floor"

Watch the video and consider these questions from Paul.  I find questions #6 and #9 to be particularly powerful.
  • Number 1: Do the America People deserve know the truth regarding the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen?
  • Number 2: Could a larger question be how can an army private access so much secret information?
  • Number 3: Why is the hostility directed at Assange, the publisher, and not at our governments failure to protect classified information?
  • Number 4: Are we getting our moneys worth of the 80 Billion dollars per year spent on intelligence gathering?
  • Number 5: Which has resulted in the greatest number of deaths: lying us into war or Wikileaks revelations or the release of the Pentagon Papers?
  • Number 6: If Assange can be convicted of a crime for publishing information that he did not steal, what does this say about the future of the first amendment and the independence of the internet?
  • Number 7: Could it be that the real reason for the near universal attacks on Wikileaks is more about secretly maintaining a seriously flawed foreign policy of empire than it is about national security?
  • Number 8: Is there not a huge difference between releasing secret information to help the enemy in a time of declared war, which is treason, and the releasing of information to expose our government lies that promote secret wars, death and corruption?
  • Number 9: Was it not once considered patriotic to stand up to our government when it is wrong?
  • Thomas Jefferson had it right when he advised 'Let the eyes of vigilance never be closed'

Next up is a quote from Glenn Greenwald, as posted by Andrew Sullivan:

"Whatever you think of WikiLeaks, they have not been charged with a crime, let alone indicted or convicted. Yet look what has happened to them. They have been removed from Internet … their funds have been frozen … media figures and politicians have called for their assassination and to be labeled a terrorist organization. What is really going on here is a war over control of the Internet, and whether or not the Internet can actually serve its ultimate purpose—which is to allow citizens to band together and democratize the checks on the world’s most powerful factions," – Glenn Greenwald.

Scary stuff.

This last link is scary. Do I agree with Putin? Okay, maybe I do on this one, but in my defense there is no way that Putin is doing this out of principle. He is merely doing this out of political expediency. Can you imagine he would feel the same way if someone shared Russian secrets? Of course not. From ABC News:
"Putin Blasts West Over Wikileaks Arrest" by Alexander Marquardt

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The "Google Lifestyle"?

Is there such a thing as a "Google lifestyle"? What does that mean, exactly? I don't know the answer, but Mark Cuban has an interesting blog post on this subject on "blog maverick":
"Am I Living the Google Lifestyle ?"

"As I installed my Logitech Google TV box I checked my email, I mean GMail, on my G2 Slide. Someone needed some info, so I pulled up the information from a file stored on Google Docs using my browser of choice, Chrome. Then it occurred to me. I’m surrounded by Google and for the most part, I like it."

Cuban notes one of the best reasons to use GMail. I have also used GMail this way:

"Finally, the best part of GMail is because I basically have my professional history (I haven’t kept all emails for the past couple years for various reasons, but I probably am north of 500k emails in GMail) and can easily search GMail from any device I can get access to information in seconds that I could never get to before.

"True story. I was walking to a business dinner in NYC. Someone told me they were going to start working with a new manager and asked me if I knew him. The name sounded familiar and I thought I had done something with him during the days. A quick GMail search from my phone and I found 2 emails we had exchanged when he was trying to sell a company he was involved with back in 1996. That’s why I use GMail."

He is also smart enough to use Google Voice. I'm amazed more people don't use it.

"I also LOVE google voice. Love it. I have my mobile phone number forwarded to it. I LOVE the transcription and the ability to listen via email . I LOVE the extra phone numbers to give to people I don’t want to give my phone number to. I love that I can save messages easily without filling up my phone. I love that i can respond to texts via email. It is just a stellar product that will only get better."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Waivers needed, despite what they told us

So, how's that health care thing working out? Well, it's just fine as long as you realize that it doesn't do what they said it would do. And if YOU don't realize it, that's okay. Because the government sure as hell does.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (
"Jamie Dupree Washington Insider - More Health Waivers"

"The Obama Administration has quietly granted even more waivers to one provision of the new federal health reform law, doubling the number in just the last three weeks to a new total of 222."

"The feds though have granted waivers from that law, amid concern that certain groups would drop their health insurance programs entirely. Those waivers are good for one year, and can be considered for renewal."

Wait a minute? I thought that Obama said we would all be able to keep our existing plans after the socialist health care bill was passed. Why have so many waivers been requested and granted?

"As for Universal Orlando, a spokesman defended the waiver in an email on Monday evening. 'The new legislation would have left our part-time workers without their medical coverage,' said Tom Schroder of Universal Orlando Public Relations. 'We sought the waiver so that we could continue to provide them with the coverage they need and deserve,' Schroder added."

The list of companies receiving waivers is worth a look.

The final paragraph of the article sums things up pretty well. What good is this legislation if so many waivers are needed???

"The waivers seem likely to draw hearings in the House next year for a different reason, as Republicans demand to know why Democrats would push so hard for health reform legislation, only to see the feds issue several hundred waivers from some of the details."

The Metrodome is a Dump

The Metrodome is a dump. There's really not much more to say. I had the displeasure of seeing a game there back when I lived in the Twin Cities. It might be the worst stadium I've ever been in. There's nothing good about it. The whole experience is stale and artificial. The noise is fake and amplified. So I can't say I had much sympathy when I read that the big, puffy dome had collapsed under the weight of heavy snow a few days ago. The fewer games there the better, I say.

From the NY Times:
"Metrodome Roof Deflates From Snow"

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Government Trains

Why does the left keep pushing trains down our throats? I have no idea. But before they do, maybe they should figure out how to run the trains they have now.

With that in mind, check out this story, from a former Amtrak conductor. There is one part in particular that will make you sick.

"Former Amtrak Milwaukee Conductor Says Train Is A Mismanaged Mess"

Do you still think we should have government-run trains?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Social Networking - Required Reading

Social networking. We've all heard about it, and we know that Facebook is the dominant player. But what does it mean? And what does the future of social networking look like?

For some thoughts on this, consider this article from TechCrunch:
"Social Networking: The Future" by Mark Suster

Note that the article is the third in a three part series, where the previous two parts (linked in the third part) discussed the past and present of social networking.

Without going into a lot of detail about the past and present (the future is what I really care about), the article on social networking's past had some great points that remind us that, as always, "sub sole nihil novi est." Most interesting was looking back on AOL. The article says it best:

"And then came AOL. ... It became the onramp for newbies. The funny thing about AOL is that while you dialed up to the Internet, the goal of AOL was to keep you locked into their proprietary content and thus earned the classification of 'walled garden' because they kept you inside AOL. They had a proprietary browser, their own search engine, their own content, chat rooms, email system, etc."

Does this remind you of any companies nowadays? It should...

"As I like to say, my Mom would call me proudly and say, 'Honey, I’m on the Internet!' And I’d say sardonically, 'no, Mom, you’re not on the Internet. You’re on AOL!' I don’t think she really understood the difference. AOL was controlled by one company and the Internet was distributed. AOL controlled the services, taxed companies to access users and decided what was good or bad. AOL was closed, the Internet was open."

Replace the word "AOL" with, say, your popular social networking site and see if the analogy works for you. Maybe not quite yet but where they're headed...

Suster continues:

"When Time Warner & AOL merged it was widely feared that this would be a monopoly that would control the Internet. Ha.

"As I write these words I’m aware that I could practically change the words AOL and Facebook for much of this section and with a few factual tweaks it might not be noticeable to the reader who I was talking about. More on that later."

I wrote my commentary above before I read this paragraph. If you didn't make the same connection earlier, before you read this last paragraph, you've not been paying attention.

Okay, back to the future. :) Suster makes the following points about the future of social networking.

"Ultimately I don’t believe users or society as a whole will accept a single company 'locking in' our vital information. ... Facebook will succumb to pressure and over time make this available to us ... Either they make our social graph portable or we’ll find other networks to join."

"Since 2006 I have been lamenting what I see as 'the Facebook problem' – they are trying to lump me into one big social network. Nobody exists in one social network. I have the one with my friends where I want to talk about how wasted we were at the party last weekend that I don’t want to share with my family network where I share pictures of the kids with my parents and siblings. I don’t want either of these mixed with the business social network in which I want to maintain the appearance that I’m 'all business' ... Facebook has jumbled these all together and then tried to bandage it by making groups available."

"And young people aren’t stupid ... To get around all of this jumbling of social graphs they simply create multiple Facebook accounts under pseudonyms or 'nom du guerre' for their real discussions and more pristine Facebook accounts for their real names. I wonder how many of Facebook’s 500 million users are created for this purpose? I’ve confirmed this trend with several young people."

"If I were Facebook I would have simply created two places where you could network, Facebook 'private' and Facebook 'open.' The latter product could have competed directly with Twitter and could have had an asymmetric follow model. ... if they would have done it this way they never would have crossed the ethical lines that they did and we could all just love Facebook instead of our love-hate relationships."

"As our social graph becomes more portable I believe that social networking will become a feature in everything we do. You can already see it slipping into services like Pandora where my social graph instantly appears and my friends’ musical tastes are displayed without my knowing this would happen. On NY Times I’m getting recommended articles by friends and I didn’t explicitly turn this feature on. This trend of social pervasiveness will continue."

"One thing that is obvious to me is that while many websites want to have Facebook Connect log-ins to know more about you, they don’t really know what to do with you once they have that information."

"I know that in 2010 it seems ridiculous to say anything other than 'Facebook has won—the war is over' and I know that it feels that way right now. Facebook is so dominant it is astounding. In a complete return to where we all began with AOL—the world is 'closed' again as Facebook has become this generation’s walled garden. When you’re on Facebook you’re not on the Internet—you’re on the InterNOT."

"It is no doubt that the next decade belongs to Facebook. But the coincidence is that 10 years out will be 2020 and when we look back from that date I’m certain that people will also find a Facebook monopoly a bit laughable."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thoughts on WikiLeaks and Amazon, and Censorship and Walls

This is really quite amazing. The WikiLeaks documents are on sale at Amazon. You heard that correctly. From
"WikiLeaks documents expose US foreign policy conspiracies. All cables with tags from 1- 5000 [Kindle Edition]"

Remember that Amazon booted WikiLeaks from their servers just like other companies, such as credit card companies, stopped doing business with WikiLeaks. So for this to show up on Amazon is using these companies' business models against them. Whether you agree with whoever did this or not, you have to admit this is brilliant. Make Amazon look hypocritical and foolish, and pay for it via credit card companies so that they look foolish, too. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

It is also amusing to read the comments and ratings for this product and find out just how stupid people really are. Read what I wrote above. I didn't say that Amazon was hypocritical. I said that they looked hypocritical. It doesn't take a lot of research to find out that authors can self-publish on Amazon. Point is, Amazon didn't do this. An individual or a group did.

So what should Amazon do? Should they remove this product? If they do, aren't we heading rather quickly into slippery slope territory?

After initially refusing to remove a book about pedophilia, Amazon eventually gave in to public pressure. But similar books still remain on sale so just removing one book doesn't really solve the issue at all. Should they police and censor all the offerings on their site? Is that even possible, as people continue to post more self-published books on a regular basis? (I'll give you a hint: The answer starts with an "n".)

And what about the credit card companies? Apparently it is wrong to do business with WikiLeaks but the KKK is okay. From The Inquisitr:
"Ku Klux Klan is okay, Wikileaks is bad, says Mastercard and Visa"

Stop trying to block information, that is a losing battle. Just like building walls (whether in China, in East Germany, or on the U.S./Mexican border) is also a losing battle. Why do people keep doing things that simply don't work, when we KNOW they won't work?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Racist Liberals, Let's Make a Deal, and Other Questions

Tammy Bruce makes a good point in a recent tweet:
"Hey liberals, so many of you are criticizing Obama these days. When did you all become racist? #justwondering"

It's a great question. Because, as you know, when conservatives object to Obama's policies, liberals do not feel the need to respond on the merits (because they cannot). They just claim that conservatives object to Obama because they are racists. Tea Party participants are not acting out of principle, they are racists. And so forth.

But now that Obama has struck a deal, apparently liberals are racists, too. This is obviously true because they are criticizing Obama.

Or has Obama struck a deal? There is something missing here, something important (hint: something from the West Coast, with a hideously stretched face).

It feels to me like Republicans are walking into a trap. Democrats are selling it extremely well. It reminds me of the way Clinton completely outplayed Gingrich, and the press is clearly working with the left here.

The scenario I see is that Obama cuts a deal with Republican congressional leaders (check). The left wing media attack Obama, reading their lines right off of the script (check). Pelosi and Reid reject the deal and demand major changes (coming soon). Republicans stand firm and balk at the new deal (I hope). Press blames Republicans for backing out of the deal, which was portrayed, and will CONTINUE to be portrayed, as a big Republican win (a lie, but inevitable). Press blames Republicans for backing out of the new terms, terms they never agreed to (you know they will). And absolutely NOBODY notices that the Democrats have majorities in the House and the Senate in addition to occupying the White House--point is, if the Democrats want to avoid a big tax increase they don't need ANY Republican support (doesn't take a genius to predict this).

The thing I can't figure out is Obama. What is he thinking? Is he getting what he can (another incredible increase in unemployment benefits) while Democrats still have control? Is he smart enough to be setting the trap I described above? Is he trying to do the right thing for the country for a change? Does he realize that raising taxes at this point would push the already-high unemployment figures above 10%? Will he ever have the balls to stand up to Pelosi and fight for his deal or was this all just a show? Is he a completely clueless sock puppet?

I don't know the answer to the above questions, but I would suggest that you can't go too far wrong if you select the sock puppet one. :)

Our incompetent government can't even devalue our currency properly

This story from Yahoo! News is one of those that is sad and funny at the same time:

"Government can’t print money properly" by Zachary Roth

"More than 1 billion unusable bills have been printed."

"It would take an estimated 20 to 30 years to weed out the defective bills by hand, but a mechanized system is expected to get the job done in about a year."

"Combined, the quarantined bills add up to $110 billion -- more than 10 percent of the entire U.S. cash supply, which now stands at around $930 billion."

Honestly, our government can't even do its illegitimate functions (printing worthless paper "money" backed by nothing but a promise) properly. Sad but true.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bar Stool Economics - Tax Cuts

Here's an interesting illustration of how tax cuts work, for the economically illiterate leftists out there.

Here is the link to the Mother Jones chart that the speaker refers to:
"Chart of the Day: Tax Cut Fever" by Kevin Drum

Monday, December 6, 2010

Nexus S!

Great news today! Google just launched the latest Android phone. For those of you, the smart ones, who want a phone without the bloatware that carries insist on loading nowadays, your phone has arrived.

From The Official Google Blog:
"Introducing Nexus S with Gingerbread"

And the official Google site for the Nexus S:

It will initially be available exclusively at Best Buy:

And a review from Tech Crunch:
"TechCrunch Review: Google Nexus S"

"The bottom line is this. If you are an iPhone user this isn’t going to make you switch. If you’re an Android user you will want this phone more than any other. If you’re currently neither, we recommend that you go with the Nexus S."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fighting "Brain Drain" at Your Company

How does a successful business prevent its top people from leaving, so-called "brain drain"? Is it critical to keep individual stars or is it more important to have a system that nurtures, develops, and retains talent? Here is a good article from Harvard Business Review:
"On: Innovation, Creativity, Leadership Getting Smarter about Google's 'Brain Drain'" by Bill Taylor

I have worked at a number of different companies, for a number of different managers. I can say that Lesson 2, "If you want to keep great contributors, develop better managers," is critical. Working for a great manager keeps you energized, you don't even think about leaving. That is the most important thing for me.

I also think that Lesson 3, "Just because people leave doesn't mean they're gone for good," is very important--and almost nobody realizes it! I have found that when I leave a job my newly former employer doesn't want anything to do with me. I always found this strange, because it is inevitable in my experience that they end up calling back a couple years later wondering if I'd like to come back. It has happened to me multiple times, with multiple companies. One of my former employers tried every two years like clockwork to hire me back. They were always a day late and a dollar short--if they had just been serious about it (make the better offer a few years earlier) they would have gotten me.

My former employers never thought they would want me back or laid the groundwork for this. Put it another way: I think that I've always made every effort to leave a company on very good terms (I've never worked for a bad company, so that helps), specifically so I would be return if the right situation arose. But the companies didn't seem to care if they left me on bad terms. As I've grown older I've never understood this. People move around a lot nowadays; they don't stay in one job for their whole career. What better situation than to go back to an organization you already know, with new skills that you could never get within that organization? In my present situation I could come back into my old job and do it a LOT better. I have a much clearer perspective on the way customers (relative to my former job) think, because I am one now!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Can Bullies Manipulate Google?

These are interesting times we live it. Technology continues to change everything. But there are always people who figure out ways to game the system and harm others. Consider this article from the New York Times:
"A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web"

I don't know enough to comment on the technical facts of the article (whether Google can truly be gamed like this, whether they are working on a fix, et cetera).

But I'm just as fascinated by the human aspects of the story. On the one hand you want to knock this guy out for being such an asshole. But there is a (very small) part of me that admires his ability to make accurate observations and design a business model to take advantage of what he sees. He simply does what works, even if it is despicable.

At this point it is probably best to turn the commentary over to Search Engine Land. If you liked the original story and want to hear more details, you'll like this, too. Danny Sullivan was quoted in the original story and continues with more analysis here:
"Google’s 'Gold Standard' Search Results Take Big Hit In New York Times Story" by Danny Sullivan

Interestingly, Bing has the same problem. But as Sullivan points out, "Google’s the market leader and over the past year or so has aggressively pushed that it has great search quality in a variety of ways, such as public relations and blog posts. That doesn’t excuse Bing from needing to do the same improvements. But similarly, the 'Bing has the same problem, too' response won’t wash with me." Nor should it.

Also interesting in both stories is the response (or lack thereof) from the credit card companies. Not very impressive.

It will be interesting to see how Google, Bing, eBay, Amazon, credit card companies, and others respond to this tactic. It certainly appears that there is a lot of room to improve here.

Update, December 1, 2010
From The Official Google Blog:
"Being bad to your customers is bad for business"

"Instead, in the last few days we developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience. The algorithm we incorporated into our search rankings represents an initial solution to this issue, and Google users are now getting a better experience as a result.

"We can't say for sure that no one will ever find a loophole in our ranking algorithms in the future. We know that people will keep trying: attempts to game Google’s ranking, like the ones mentioned in the article, go on 24 hours a day, every single day. That’s why we cannot reveal the details of our solution—the underlying signals, data sources, and how we combined them to improve our rankings—beyond what we’ve already said. We can say with reasonable confidence that being bad to customers is bad for business on Google. And we will continue to work hard towards a better search."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Will Higher Taxes Reduce the Deficit? Really???

A friend of mine in high school and college taught me a lesson about fiscally irresponsible people one day. Just to give you some idea about him: He was a big spender, ran up tons of credit card debt (among many other types of debt), and eventually declared bankruptcy. Anyway, back to the story. We were in college and went up north to go skiing. While there he saw a ski jacket that he simply had to have. But his credit cards were all maxed out already. So he called up one of his credit card companies. He said he had an emergency and needed to increase his credit card limit. His credit card company increased his credit limit by $500, over the phone. After he hung up he looked at me and he said that's $500 of "free money." The credit limit was bumped but his minimum payment stayed the same. I was incredulous that he looked at it that way.

This story is not an analogy for what I want to discuss in this blog post. But I tell the story because my friend's mindset reminds me of politicians. You give them an inch and they take a mile, without giving a second thought to the consequences of their actions.

So with that in mind, let's talk about taxes and deficits. There is a claim now that we can't "afford" tax cuts (as if it's the government's money, which is completely false as I've discussed before, most recently on November 13, 2010, How to be a RINO, courtesy of David Stockman). There is a belief that we need to raise taxes in order to balance the budget. Which is complete bullshit. The simple fact is that if we do raise taxes, politicians will actually raise spending MORE. That is, when they get the extra money they won't run a surplus to pay down the debt. They won't even bother to balance the budget. They will increase their spending faster than the increased taxes they collect.

From the Wall Street Journal:
"Higher Taxes Won't Reduce the Deficit" by Stephen Moore and Richard Vedder

"The draft recommendations of the president's commission on deficit reduction call for closing popular tax deductions, higher gas taxes and other revenue raisers to drive tax collections up to 21% of GDP from the historical norm of about 18.5%."

"The claim here, echoed by endless purveyors of conventional wisdom in Washington, is that these added revenues—potentially a half-trillion dollars a year—will be used to reduce the $8 trillion to $10 trillion deficits in the coming decade. If history is any guide, however, that won't happen. Instead, Congress will simply spend the money.

"In the late 1980s, one of us, Richard Vedder, and Lowell Gallaway of Ohio University co-authored a often-cited research paper for the congressional Joint Economic Committee (known as the $1.58 study) that found that every new dollar of new taxes led to more than one dollar of new spending by Congress. Subsequent revisions of the study over the next decade found similar results."

"Politicians spend the money as fast as it comes in—and a little bit more."

"But no matter how we configured the data and no matter what variables we examined, higher tax collections never resulted in less spending."

Because the Wall Street Journal sometimes removes links, here is an article that references the WSJ article. This article also has some links to better ways to balance the budget. From Reuters:
"Should Republicans refuse any tax increases?" by James Pethokoukis

Here is another link, for the same reason. From the American Enterprise Institute:
"Higher Taxes Won't Reduce the Deficit" by by Richard Vedder and Stephen Moore

Finally, some of Vedder's earlier work, from a report prepared for the 102nd Congress:
"Taxes and Deficits: New Evidence ('The $1.59 Study')" by Richard Vedder, Lowell Gallaway, and Christopher Frenze

Look at the date on this study. It's from 1991. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Here is a portion of the Executive Summary:

"In recent years higher taxes have been repeatedly justified to reduce the Federal budget deficit. This strategy has been based on a self-styled 'pragmatic' approach, pragmatism being defined as what works. Concern about the effect of new taxes on the economy, or on the spending habits of public officials, was given short shrift by pragmatism. The crowning triumph of this strategy was the 1990 budget agreement, which raised taxes $160 billion, supposedly to reduce the deficit. However, the facts contained in this study and elsewhere show that Federal spending actually accelerated after the 1990 tax increases were enacted, and budget deficits have hit record levels. The only problem with this fiscal pragmatism is that it doesn't work.

"This stimulation of higher deficits by tax increases is not surprising. An earlier study by the same authors on the postwar years 1947-86 found that every $1.00 in new taxes generated $1.58 in new spending. Other research as well as practical knowledge about how Congress operates suggests the same general conclusion: new revenues will be spent on more or bigger programs rather than deficit reduction. The hemorrhaging of spending under the 1990 budget summit was predictable and in fact predicted by its Congressional opponents. The only mystery is how anyone could believe that Congress would not spend all of the new taxes, and then some."

I repeat: "The only problem with this fiscal pragmatism [raising taxes to reduce the deficit] is that it doesn't work. ... new revenues will be spent on more or bigger programs rather than deficit reduction."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

More Google Voice Tips!

Have I mentioned before that I love Google Voice? Oh yes, I think I have! Here is another article with helpful Google Voice tips.

From Lifehacker:
"The Most Helpful Ways to Use Google Voice that You're Not Using"

Don't forget to click the many good links embedded in the article, too.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Our Transportation Problems, Solved!

As you know, people with limited intelligence believe that building trains will solve our transportation problems. Whereas people with basic analytical skills know this is not true. In a positive development, it turns out that even the Obama administration is starting to see the light. Consider this video. Could this be the first step towards a new transportation policy?

From The Onion:
"Obama Replaces Costly High-Speed Rail Plan With High-Speed Bus Plan"

What do you think? :)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Why Gold?

Sound money advocates, people who oppose the Fed, often argue that our financial system should go back to a gold standard. This would prevent governments from tinkering with our money as much as they presently do.

But why use gold? Why is gold so special?

From NPR:
"A Chemist Explains Why Gold Beat Out Lithium, Osmium, Einsteinium ..."

This quote sums it up pretty well:
"So we ask Sanat: If we could run the clock back and start history again, could things go a different way, or would gold emerge again as the element of choice?

"'For the earth, with every parameter we have, gold is the sweet spot,' he says. 'It would come out no other way.'"

Gold is NOT some arbitrary choice. There is a reason why it developed into the currency of choice over many centuries.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pimento Cheese

Pimento Cheese. What the f#$%?

Apparently Pimento Cheese is very popular in the south. They actually eat this on sandwiches! They ruin perfectly good cheese.

Here are some images of Pimento Cheese.

And here is a recipe:
Pimento Cheese
1 lb. of the best yellow cheddar you can buy, grated
7 oz. jar pimento, drained & chopped
2/3 c. Hellman's Mayonnaise
Frank's hot sauce
salt & pepper

Fold together the shredded cheese, pimento, and mayonnaise. Add Frank's hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for a few hours in the refrigerator before dipping into the goodness.

Really people? This is the best thing you can come up with for cheese???

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

We Won! Or did we...

Well, we know that the Tea Party (whatever that is, exactly--there is a lot of confusion about that) had a tremendous impact on the recent elections. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion. I happen to think that was a good thing. So I was looking forward to see the freshman class of Congressmen have an impact on Washington. Hopefully then can do better than what I'm reading about now. Consider this article.

From The Daily Beast:
"The Tea Party's Whiny Takeover" by John Batchelor

The article describes the situation very well:

"The pay-off for Boehner arrived when it was time to vote by secret ballot on the leadership for the 112th Congress. The froshers settled down dutifully and, without any doubts or even questions as to why there was only one name on the ballot for each leadership position, they voted for the men and women who had twice approved the Bush administration's TARP heresy in 2008 that began the long fall of the country into bailout nationhood.

"'The Tea Party kept the TARP leaders in power,' scoffed an unhappy veteran Republican. 'The revolution was over the first day.'"

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. I'm not holding my breath for any progress in Washington.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Christie Versus the Unions! (Christie is Winning)

This is a video you NEED to watch. Mish (Mike Shedlock) is a great source for stuff like this, and this is a great find. The video gets even funnier as you get further into it.

From MISH'S Global Economic Trend Analysis:
"Incredibly Humorous Video of N.J. Governor Chris Christie and the President of the Teachers Union regarding 'Death Prayers'"

As funny as this video is, the underlying issues it discusses are very serious. Christie makes illustrates perfectly the difference between the Right and the Left. Really, the difference between decent people and weasels, when you think about it. Furthermore, there is a double standard and Christie calls them (in this case the president of the Teachers Union) on it.

Bravo, Chris Christie!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Federal Income Tax Rates Over the Years

Think taxes are high now? Take a look at historical federal income tax rates through the years, 1913 to 2010.

From the Tax Foundation:
"U.S. Federal Individual Income Tax Rates History, 1913-2010"

Download the PDF file of the report to see the data more clearly.

Notice the initial top rate in 1913 was only 7%. But politicians have always been the same, weasels all of them. It only took three years before they raised the top marginal rate to 15%. And then the following year, in 1917, they raised the top marginal rate to 67%. Sixty-seven-fucking-percent!!! They didn't stop there. In 1918 the top rate was 77%.

Some sanity returned in 1927, when the top marginal rate was lowered to 25% This didn't last long, though. In 1932 we were back up to 63%. And in 1936 it was all the way up to 79%. In 1944 the top marginal rate was all the way up to 94%! And this was for all income above $200,000, whereas the top marginal rate in 1917 (67%) only kicked in at $2,000,000 or above!

Top marginal rates remained above 90% for a decade and a half, and stayed high (70%) for a decade after that.

Top rates dropped to 50% in 1982 and to 28% in 1988, both under Reagan. The economy took off. Our top marginal rate is currently at 35%.

The sad truth is that while our government takes in a lot of money now, our top marginal federal income tax rate today is actually fairly low by historical standards.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Secret Ballot, Anyone?

As you know by now, Nancy Pelosi defeated Heath Shuler to remain the leader of the Democrats in the House, now as Minority Leader. But I was interested by these stories for another reason.

"Why Heath Shuler Is Challenging Nancy Pelosi"

"Congressional observers predict Shuler may get more votes than one might expect, since the ballot is secret and many Democrats might want to express frustration with Pelosi and the party more generally."

"Pelosi Again? Are the Dems Gluttons for Punishment?"

"...Pelosi was elected to the position of House minority leader by 150 Democrats in a secret ballot."

The obvious question is: WHY IS IT A SECRET BALLOT? Why should the Democrats use a secret ballot when they sure as hell don't believe that American workers deserve a secret ballot when voting for or against unionizing? Think about it.

Oh, and back to Heath Shuler for a minute. Heath Shuler lives in Western North Carolina and represents the area where I used to live. I listened to some of the radio debates between him and his opponent (difficult to listen to Shuler's smarmy, condescending tone, but I suffered through it). Shuler is one of those guys who pretends to be conservative to get elected but is anything but. He claims to be a Blue Dog Democrat (fiscally conservative). He's not. His opponent challenged him as being a Pelosi pawn. He claimed he's not. Running for Minority Leader against Pelosi was nothing but a stunt to make himself look more conservative to the folks back home. Amazing to me that people don't see through his act.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Punishment, when there is no crime

Continuing on the theme of overreaching government...

What if you didn't do anything wrong, but you got penalized anyway? (This feels like my hockey game the other night, by the way!) Happens all the time in government.

Consider the Valerie Plame case. Scooter Libby was prosecuted for leaking information LONG AFTER THE PROSECUTOR KNEW HE WAS NOT THE ONE WHO LEAKED THE INFORMATION. Not only that, the person who did leak the information (Richard Armitage) never faced any consequences.

Former President George Bush is opening up about this recently. From Byron York, in the Washington Examiner:
"Bush: 'I never understood' why CIA leak case went forward"

The Martha Stewart case fit this profile as well. People talk about her "insider trading" trial, but few realize that she was never actually charged with insider trading. Prosecutors simple make and allegation in order to start investigating. And then look for any loopholes, any tricks, to try to get a conviction. Even if the underlying charge has absolutely no merit.

From USA Today, March 2004:
"Martha Stewart convicted of four felonies"

"...jurors found Stewart guilty on four counts of conspiracy, obstruction and making false statements."

The following opinion pieces sum up my opinion on the Martha Stewart case, and on similar cases in general.

Cato Institute, March 9, 2004:
"Martha's Mistrial: The Insider Trading Accusation Came from a Cowardly Press Leak from a Congressional Committee"

"Despite the assertions of both jurors and journalists, Martha Stewart was not convicted of insider trading. This misrepresentation is chilling.

"Martha Stewart has been convicted of conspiring to cover-up a crime she was not accused of having committed -- insider trading. She was convicted of 'lying' but never charged with perjury.

"Martha Stewart was also convicted of 'obstructing justice' without any explanation of how the prosecution of anyone but herself could have been obstructed by her first attorney's explanation of what motivated her to make a perfectly legal sale of ImClone stock."

"Judge Miriam Cedarbaum prohibited the defence team from mentioning the fact that it was perfectly legal for Martha Stewart to sell on her broker's advice, regardless what Doug Faneuil may have said or why. Either his explanation or hers may be correct, and they are not mutually exclusive. But the jury would surely have wondered why the motive for selling ImClone stock mattered so much if they could have been told the sale itself was no crime."

Here's what Stephen Moore had to say in the National Review:
"What’s Wrong with Insider Trading? The railroading of Martha Stewart."

"Throughout this trial, what seemed to be forgotten was that Stewart's original crime, an alleged insider-trading deal with ImClone stock, can hardly be considered a crime at all. (I know that Stewart was convicted for lying to federal investigators, but the 'lying' and obstruction-of-justice charges were all related to this one sale of stock that occurred 24 hours before the market tanked.)

"Libertarians have long argued that insider trading should not be a crime, because 1) there is no victim, and 2) because everyone who makes money in the financial markets is engaging in some degree of insider trading — some just have better information than others. Being a good stock picker involves having more information, and knowing how to get it, faster than other traders. What is the difference, really, between a hot stock tip, and insider trading? The line is so murky that it makes the enforcement of insider-trading laws inconsistent and capricious."

And, saving the best for last, we turn to the Mises Institute, with commentary both before and after the trial.

Mises Daily Article, Friday, June 21, 2002 by William L. Anderson:
"The Attack on Martha"

"While the view that all society must be egalitarian is evident nearly everywhere, perhaps it is no more prevalent in the business world than in how we regulate capital markets. As Ilana Mercer has written, the law requires information to be socialized. If one party knows more than others regarding information about a particular firm or industry, then the SEC is perfectly able to rule that possessing--and acting upon--that knowledge is a crime."

"This sharing of and acting upon such 'inside' information, the SEC and Congress solemnly declare, is a crime, since the general public was not aware of it at the same time. Somehow, the government does not consider it to be a breach of the law when its own officials act upon 'inside' information to protect themselves. For example, after receiving warnings that terrorists might hijack U.S. airliners, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft began to fly on private aircraft. Some members of Congress grumbled, but no one was sent to Ashcroft's office to place him in handcuffs and chains."

"The issue of insider trading seems to be straightforward, but it is not. First, as Paul Craig Roberts has pointed out, the law is purposely vague, something the SEC says is needed since a specific law would then rob prosecutors of their ability to pursue such charges. In other words, when acting upon information in the securities markets, one cannot be sure if one is committing a crime or not. However, the local U.S. attorney--and the courts, which have upheld this legal abomination--will be happy to inform you afterward that such activity is indeed criminal.

"Second, this is a law aimed at a certain group of people. Since people like myself do not deal in large amounts of money, it is doubtful that government prosecutors are likely to care if I buy a hundred shares of Acme because someone 'in the know' gave me a good tip. The folks that prosecutors love to go after are those who are wealthy and high profile, such as Martha Stewart. No doubt, Stewart's scalp would look mighty fine on the pole of a career prosecutor seeking political fame or future legal fortune."

"Third, the principle of 'insider trading' is in itself fundamentally flawed. Information that is worth anything in a market setting at all by definition must come from 'the inside.' There is no way to make information public in the way that the government wants it to be done without making all relevant information useless for the purpose of economic decision making."

Mises Daily Article, Monday, June 09, 2003 by William L. Anderson:
"Martha Stewart: Political Prisoner"

"For all of the vows by Stewart's attorneys that Martha will 'vigorously' contest these charges, she truly faces an uphill battle. Unlike the typical set of criminal laws that exist to protect innocent people (i.e. laws against murder, assault, and theft), Stewart has been indicted under a set of laws that exist for one and only one purpose: to gain convictions. Given the hard and unpleasant facts of federal criminal law in 2003, it will be a miracle if Stewart is able to beat these charges. Too much is at stake politically for the government to back down now. To put it another way, Martha Stewart is likely to be a political prisoner."

"Furthermore, by not bringing criminal charges on insider trading, which was the original issue in this case, the government is demonstrating that it is more interested in gaining a criminal conviction—any conviction will do here—instead of having to deal with the real issues of whether or not this truly was a criminal issue in the first place."

"Further proof that the government was stretching the legal envelope in order to charge Stewart was the charge of 'securities fraud.' According to Comey, by publicly saying she was innocent, Stewart was guilty of trying to illegally manipulate the stock of her company. While observers have called this a 'new legal twist,' in reality, it is fraud of the highest order, demonstrating that the real criminal here is Comey, who is trying to manipulate the law to read that if someone tries to mount any kind of defense at all, that person has committed a crime."

"The obstruction of justice charges that Stewart faces are going to be tougher for her, and it is at this point that she is most vulnerable. In their most literal sense, laws against 'obstruction of justice' basically say that individuals, once accused by the federal government of 'wrongdoing,' cannot defend themselves. That is because by definition a defense is a claim that prosecutors are wrong, and in the modern world of federal courts, telling a U.S. attorney that he or she is wrong is by definition to engage in 'obstruction of justice.'"

"Because they have not been able to gain enough information to charge Stewart with insider trading—no doubt, in large part because she had no fiduciary relationship with ImClone—they are doing what the feds did to Al Capone 70 years ago when they were able to have him convicted of income tax evasion. The obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and fraud charges that she faces exist only as a tool by which to gain a conviction—any conviction—when the investigation into the original 'crimes' becomes a dry hole."

Mises Daily Article, Monday, February 23, 2004 by Christopher Westley:
"Martha Stewart's Surreal Ordeal"

"So the Martha Stewart trial has come to this. Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum ruled that the government cannot introduce testimony about how Stewart’s statements to the press asserting her innocence of violating insider trading law affected investors of her firm, Martha Stewart Living.

"As a result, the government has effectively lost. The New York Times reports that this development is the nail in the coffin in the prosecution’s case, noting that '[a] person involved in Ms. Stewart’s defense said the ruling "renders the securities fraud charge dead on arrival," although other material might be introduced by prosecutors themselves.'

"This statement highlights what this trial is about—not insider trading, but the right to declare one's innocence, even when the government later agrees with the declaration. Surely if others attempted a similar defense in the face of a Kafka-esque judicial machine, the bullying Justice Department would be seen for what it is, forcing it to assume a lower profile and move somewhere behind the front line of the government’s funding trough."

"Second, the notion of an independent judiciary in a democracy is a myth. The judicial system is every bit as susceptible to the corrupting influence of the power, perks, and prestige that can accrue in the private sector."

"The Stewart trial should serve as a reminder of Murray Rothbard’s criticism of the notion of an independent judiciary in Power and Market (1970, p. 195):
"If the judiciary is really independent of the popular will, then it functions, at least within its own sphere, as an oligarchic dictatorship, and we can no longer call the government a "democracy." On the other hand, if the judiciary is elected directly by voters, or appointed by voters’ representatives…then the judiciary is hardly independent. If the election [or appointment of judges] is subject to renewal, then the judiciary is no more independent of political processes than any other branch of government."

"Finally (and most importantly), the gall—the heroic gall—to fight such absurd charges is crucial for a free society. We should be thankful that Stewart, whatever her faults, was willing to stake her reputation and wealth to fight this surreal ordeal in court. We can be sure that, post-Martha, the DOJ will be more careful where it picks its fights. We can hope that the Stewart trial will be viewed as a harbinger of things to come in the fight against an activist federal judiciary."

Mises Daily Article, Saturday, March 06, 2004 by William L. Anderson:
"Wealthy Beyond a Reasonable Doubt"

"The post-trial comments of one juror, Chappell Hartridge (Juror Number Eight), say it all: 'Maybe this is a victory for the little guys who lose money thanks to these kinds of transactions. Maybe it's a message to the big wigs.'

"Remember that this was not a trial about 'insider trading.' The judge said so, the prosecutors said so, the pundits said so. Even the New York Times declared that it was not an 'insider trading' charge."

"No, Stewart apparently committed the 'crime' of being wealthy and well-connected. Furthermore, she sometimes was short and impatient with people, which is a trait that one of us in his brief career as a news reporter found to be endemic in people who were associated with the New York Times and other 'elite' news outlets.

"Had she instead been a journalist or a politician, she would have had a chorus of supporters among the political classes. Instead, she made the mistake of being a self-made billionaire, and now the journalists and the political classes are making sure that she is railroaded into a prison cell."

Welcome to the United States. We used to be governed by the Rule of Law. We are now governed by the Rule of Men, where you may be considered guilty at any time.