Friday, August 31, 2007

The Wisdom and Compassion of the Environmental Left

"In Guyana, within almost two years, [DDT] had almost eliminated malaria, but at the same time, the birth rate had doubled. So my chief quarrel with DDT in hindsight is that it greatly added to the population problem." - Alexander King, co-founder of the Club of Rome

"Malaria was actually a natural population control, and DDT has caused a massive population explosion in some places where it has eradicated malaria. More fundamentally, why should humans get priority over other forms of life? . . . I don't see any respect for mosquitos in these posts." - Jeff Hoffman, environmental attorney

What an interesting philosophy, especially for persons who seem concerned for the health and well-being of our planet. Too bad their hand-wringing concern for Mother Earth and her creatures doesn’t extend to human beings.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Violence in America Explained

I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. It was right before my eyes all the time. Heck, I even participated in it as a child. The reason for the increasing level of violence in America is something we started doing at a young age, and something we gleefully did many days at school.

But now, as they used to say, the jig is up; we’ve found the long-hidden influence, and we can now move quickly to right the wrongs of decades of traditional child-rearing theory and put an end at long last to violence in America.

And who do we have to thank for this stunning revelation? Elementary schools.

That’s right; those at the source of this violence-inducing activity actually recognized that it had been right under their noses for generations, and they finally saw this because some children complained they had been chased or harassed against their will. Paying attention to the complaints of children and analyzing what they have been saying has revealed that the culprit is the playground game called “tag.”

So, tag is out at a growing number of elementary schools across the land, while other school administrations have said merely that running games will be allowed, as long as students don't chase each other. By keeping children from chasing each other while playing tag, school officials believe the proclivity of kids to grow up into mass murderers and serial rapists will be reduced or perhaps ended altogether.

A suburban Charleston, S.C., school has implemented a truly ingenious policy that includes not only banning tag, but outlawing all unsupervised contact activities, such as football and soccer on the playground. School officials say that has helped reduce playground squabbles. This policy not only virtually eliminates discord among students, but enables teachers to enjoy recess periods free of the inconvenience of having to go outside to watch over the children.

God bless America!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Greeks Protest Over Fire Response

News reports tell us that 8,000 Greeks have protested in the square in front of the parliament building in the capital, Athens, over the response to forest fires that have killed 63 people and left thousands homeless.

How interesting: It appears that the Greek government also doesn't react very well in a crisis.

And, it also appears that Greek citizens share the idea that government should be able to solve all of their problems, just like many Americans.

Technorati Tags: ,

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Our Fascinating Universe

Demonstrating yet again that man not only has little if any control over his environment, but much yet to learn about it, scientists have discovered a “hole” in the universe larger than any void discovered so far. The story below, from The Washington Post, describes the hole as being as much as 10 billion light years from Earth, and encompassing 6 billion trillion miles of emptiness, distances so vast as to be impossible to imagine.

WASHINGTON -- Astronomers have stumbled upon a tremendous hole in the universe. That's got them scratching their heads about what's just not there. The cosmic blank spot has no stray stars, no galaxies, no sucking black holes, not even mysterious dark matter. It is 1 billion light years across of nothing. That's an expanse of nearly 6 billion trillion miles of emptiness, a University of Minnesota team announced Thursday. The rest of the story

Technorati Tags: ,

Friday, August 24, 2007

Couey to Die for Raping, Killing Child

A Florida judge sentenced John Evander Couey to death Friday for the kidnap, rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, the only fitting sentence for a lowlife scumbag like Couey, at least so far as the law allows.

Based on testimony from the trial, Judge Richard Howard explained how Couey confessed to raping Jessica and spoke of the sexual assault in "crude, vulgar and repulsive comments" made to corrections officers. Howard also recounted in detail how Couey bound Jessica's hands with speaker wire, and after telling her that was how he would return her to her home had her step into one black plastic garbage bag and knotted the bag over her head, and then slipped another garbage bag over the first one, which he then knotted below her feet before burying her alive in a hole dug behind the mobile home he shared with his sister. The increasing weight of the dirt Couey shoveled on Jessica made it impossible for her to inhale or exhale, causing a "slow, suffering and conscious death," Judge Howard told the courtroom.

The judge’s recounting of the last minutes of this little girl’s life was graphic enough to send chills down the spine of every feeling person on Earth. John Couey is a worthless individual who cannot justify the breath he draws.

The most fitting end for Couey would be for him to be placed inside two trash bags and buried alive, like his young, defenseless victim, unless we could hang him by his privates and peel his skin from him over a period of three or four weeks.

Couey is a flawed individual, as most of these perverts are, and the human race will be far better if we eliminate them as soon a possible. Unfortunately, it will likely be 13 years before this schmuck draws his last breath, unless the prison justice system gets him first.

Couey ought to get a couple of appeals, and immediately after the second one upholds his sentence he ought to be escorted from the courtroom and put to death.

Classic TV Series - Rodney Dangerfield

And the follow-up with Johnny:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Searching for an Identity

Some town or city in the U.S. wants to pass a law or a regulation against the recent fad of boys wearing their pants with the belt down around their thighs; low-riders, they are called. One wag has termed this recent foolishness a “crack epidemic.”

This type of law is blatantly unconstitutional, of course; local governments are not empowered to impose dress codes on their citizens and visitors, short of prohibiting indecent exposure. Schools, on the other hand, can impose dress codes on their students, and they should, in order to maintain an atmosphere conducive to learning.

Like many Americans I dislike this “low rider” look, on boys, particularly. I associate it with the “hip-hop culture,” which is another of those unfortunate developments that devolves our culture to the lowest common denominator, and moves us ever closer to the tribal culture from which we evolved many centuries ago.

My reaction to this “fashion” statement is giggling and sometimes outright laughter at the dopey-looking kids that dress this way. They look ridiculous. It's as if no one taught them to dress themselves.

And perhaps that is the way to combat this sad fashion trend: Point fingers at these geeks, and laugh hysterically. Maybe they’ll get message that they look really stupid.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Edwards Continues Mis-steps

I’m not a fan of John Edwards. I think he is far too liberal to be President and I believe his image as an advocate for the poor is a sham. I’m also not a fan of Bill Maher. Maher is a dedicated liberal, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when he replied to a question from Bill O’Reilly that he thought Edwards had the best chance for the Democrat nomination. I’ve never had the opinion that Maher wasn’t smart, but I just can’t imagine that anyone who analyses Edwards’ performance could think he can win the nomination, or should be elected President.

The reality of just who John Edwards is continues to seep out, and his missteps continue to mount.

At a campaign stop in Iowa, Edwards, who made his considerable wealth as a plaintiff’s lawyer, called conservative columnist Ann Coulter a “she-devil,” escalating a feud with Coulter that began when she jokingly called Edwards “gay.” Without defending Coulter’s crude remark, Edwards’ reaction is just not acceptable in a potential President of the United States, a position that requires staying out of the gutter and not shooting off your mouth before you think. Imagine if as President, he responded to the leader of some nation in such an immoderate way. His comment also reveals a deeply ingrained dark attitude toward women, and shows that he is not above using hateful language, exactly the thing he criticized Coulter of doing.

Edwards also erred in sending his wife Elizabeth out to respond to Coulter’s criticism of him, rather than doing it himself, and doing it in an acceptable way. I don’t fault Mrs. Edwards if she wants to campaign for her husband and support his candidacy despite her ill health; that is her decision. And I won’t criticize Edwards for going ahead with this campaign even though his wife has a serious disease; that is their decision. But putting Elizabeth front and center in his campaign looks like a shameful attempt to educe sympathy and turn it into votes. Add to all of that his high-living lifestyle and his pandering to the poor, and Edwards reveals himself to be much less than the image he is trying so desperately to maintain.

If John Edwards really is the man Democrats think should be President, it will clearly show that the party is much further to the left than a lot of us would have imagined.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Monday, August 20, 2007

Another Creep Gets His Just Deserts

As reported last year, Angilo Freeland, who got pulled over in a routine traffic stop in Florida, ended up killing Deputy Vernon Matthew Williams, who stopped him. The deputy was shot eight times. Another deputy was wounded and a police dog killed.

A statewide manhunt ensued. The lowlife was found hiding in a wooded area with Williams' gun. When he raised the gun, SWAT team officers fired 110 rounds and hit Freeland 68 times.

Asked why they fired 110 rounds, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, told the Orlando Sentinel, "I suspect the only reason 110 rounds was all that was fired was that's all the ammunition they had." That's a great answer.

So, another idiot sub-human gets what’s coming to him, and there’s no sympathy here at Observations for his death. The tragedy, of course, is that a deputy and a police dog also died.

The Energy Enigma

We have to end our dependence on petroleum-based products to produce electricity and run our motor vehicles because burning gasoline and diesel fuel pollute the atmosphere, right? And besides, we cannot depend upon oil being available because the major oil fields are under the control of nations that are not friendly to the United States and, God knows, we don’t want to do any more of that nasty drilling here in our country.

So, what is the answer to our energy puzzle? Let’s take a brief and superficial look at some alternatives to burning petroleum products to produce energy, and the reasons opponents of these methods cite for why they won’t work.

Coal is abundant in the U.S., but in addition to being a major pollutant when it is burned, is dangerous to mine, as evidenced by the recent tragedy in Utah and other coal mine accidents.

Natural gas is expensive and we don’t have the infrastructure to handle the demand.

Building nuclear power plants is not cost effective and creates highly radioactive nuclear waste that is a problem. Reactor sites and spent fuel pools are potential targets for nuclear terrorism and sabotage. Further, reprocessing used nuclear fuel is extremely dangerous, increases the amount of bomb-usable plutonium, creates additional terrorist targets and encourages nuclear proliferation.

Maybe getting power from the wind will do the trick. Or maybe not, because the same people who decry burning fossil fuels also oppose erecting wind turbines because they pose problems for birds, and they destroy the pristine views of nature. Wind power is very inefficient, critics say, because wind strengths vary, thus it is difficult to guarantee any continuous power.

Hydro-power is also a controversial issue, because large hydro-power facilities have a negative impact on fish and other wildlife in and along the affected rivers.

Well, what about solar power? Negatives there, too: It is not available at night; its effectiveness is diminished by clouds or smog and the amount of sun available depending upon the season. Solar installations are expensive, and not overly effective.

Biofuel is a more recent potential salvation. Biofuel is any type of fuel that comes from biomass (like living organisms or manure, etc.). To get energy from biofuel, it is generally burned. Before biofuel is ready, it must undergo many steps: it must be grown, collected, dried, fermented, then burned, etc., and to complete each step, resources must be used. Also, the gathering of and use of wood (a biofuel) has lead to erosion in some places. And, when corn is turned into ethanol, many say that it takes even more energy to produce it than is obtained from it. (And if we are using corn as fuel, it means it cannot be used as food). Also, ethanol produces nitrous oxides and carcinogens.

Fuel cells are a too new technology, as yet insufficiently developed, and therefore not a viable alternative.

Boiled down to a too-simple proposition, every method of producing electricity and powering motor vehicles has a downside. It’s just a question of which downside we prefer.

And given that every potential alternative has its own set of negatives, perhaps the solution lies in using all of these sources.




Technorati Tags: ,

Sunday, August 19, 2007

How Government Messes Up Your Healthcare

Close followers of Observations and those who read my comments elsewhere might remember my defense of the U.S. healthcare “system,” and my laying much of the blame for its problems on government. I have determined government’s responsibility for the mess we have not from reading the opinions of others, although that certainly has added to my mountain of evidence, but through direct experience as one who has held positions on the board of directors of a not-for-profit hospital and chaired some of its committees over a period of nearly 20 years, and also as someone who has worked in the healthcare industry.

Government regulation and intervention in the healthcare system is, indeed, responsible for a tremendous amount of the problems we face today, and for much of the high costs.

An example: Because of the economy of our area and the age of our population, about 77 percent of my hospital’s income comes from Medicare/Medicaid and other government payors, and only about 20 percent from private insurers. The rest is charity care (free care) or write-offs of bad debts/uncollectable charges. The federal government is constantly changing its formula for reimbursing providers for the care they provide to Medicare patients. The government even goes so far as to tell a hospital how many days a patient with a certain medical condition should be kept in the hospital, which it does by limiting reimbursement to a certain number of days. If the allowed days are 3.4, and the doctor wants the patient hospitalized for five days, the hospital provides the difference without getting paid back for its services.

Occasionally the government realizes that its limitations work to the detriment of both providers and patients and it devises some solution. For example, when the total costs of keeping patients in an acute care setting reached a level deemed too high, the government reduced the reimbursable days of care. After a while it realized that patients who were too sick to be sent home were being kept in the hospital on the hospital’s nickel, or in some cases were being released from the hospital. So, in its infinite wisdom, the government created a new level of care called “sub-acute” care. The sub-acute level was reimbursed at a lesser rate than acute care, and that enabled hospitals to create a sub-acute service (Skilled Nursing Unit/LTACH) for those patients. What actually happened was that the patient was “discharged” from the acute care setting, admitted to the sub-acute setting, all without leaving the building. The main difference was that the hospital got less money for taking care of the patient.

The real-world result of this for my hospital was that when we opened the Skilled Nursing Unit, the government paid us 72 cents for every dollar of cost. But as time went on, in its infinite wisdom (again) Medicare kept reducing the reimbursement until when the decision was made to close the SNU, the hospital was being paid only 22 cents for every dollar of cost, resulting in a loss of $6 million on that care unit in a single year. Obviously, a hospital cannot continue to absorb losses of that magnitude for very long. It was a difficult decision, but a necessary one to stop providing sub-acute care. Many of those patients were left in the lurch, even though the hospital continued to care for the most seriously ill patients, free of payment from Medicare

Another example of how government messes up your healthcare is through regulations that may have good intentions, but which wreak havoc with a facility’s finances. In ORs, the government decrees that unused items in a surgical kit must be thrown away, even though the pieces of the kit are individually wrapped in sealed, sterilized packaging. During a single surgical event, only 80 items in a 180-piece surgical kit may be used, but the other 100 pieces must be tossed in the trash. One estimate claims that some 7,000 tons of unused medical supplies are simply thrown away every day because of this and other regulations.

Have you ever seen a “gurney,” a rolling cot used in ERs and other hospital departments? What do you imagine one of those costs? Maybe $1,000, you say, or maybe $2,500, right? Wrong. Due to government specifications for the components of hospital equipment, some gurneys frequently cost well over $10,000 each.

Another area is over-kill in record-keeping. Our hospital has seven or so positions in its Medical Records Department—about one-third of its staff—whose job is to keep track of information required by the government, information not required for, or useful in, patient care. Seven FTEs at a pay level well above minimum wage, just to satisfy the government’s need for information.

My fierce opposition to turning our healthcare system over to the federal government is a result of watching, up close and personal, how government has made such a mess of it without having total control. Those who believe all Americans should have free healthcare ought to think carefully about that. If you think healthcare is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s “free.” Healthcare is not free, and never will be; somebody has to pay all of those costs. And that “somebody” is you and me, the taxpayers.

If we want less expensive healthcare, we need less government involvement, not more.

Technorati Tags: ,

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Debate is Over

Well, if we are to believe NBC Nightly News, it is a “done deal” on the matter of human effects on global warming. Anchor Brian Williams and the NBC reporter on this story have concluded that there is no longer any doubt that the activities of human beings have a significant negative effect on our environment. The only question as yet unanswered, according to NBC News, is to what degree is man destroying his environment?

However, contrary to Mr. Williams’ and the reporter’s opinion, there are a substantial number of credible scientists who do not agree that mankind’s activities have any measurable effect whatsoever on the earth’s atmosphere, and others doubt that the effect of humans is detrimental to the environment.

But let’s give NBC News the benefit of the doubt: perhaps mankind really is affecting his environment through his activities. Even under that assumption, where NBC News went wrong is in “concluding” that there is no longer any question about man’s affects on the environment. It is not NBC News’ job to conclude anything about whether or not mankind is negatively affecting his environment, it is NBC News’ job to tell us what scientist A—a proponent of the man causes global warming theory—thinks, and tell us what scientist B—who does not agree that man affects his environment—thinks, and let us decide which of them is correct.

But NBC is not the only journalistic organ that has acted badly on the topic of global warming. Robert J. Samuelson, a contributing editor at Newsweek magazine, has sharply criticized his own publication for what he calls a "highly contrived” cover story about the global warming threat and what the magazine terms the "denial machine” that disagrees with it.

Says Samuelson: "As we debate it, journalists should resist the temptation to portray global warming as a morality tale–as Newsweek did–in which anyone who questions its gravity or proposed solutions may be ridiculed as a fool, a crank or an industry stooge.” And, "unfortunately, self-righteous indignation can undermine good journalism. Last week’s Newsweek cover story on global warming is a sobering reminder. It’s an object lesson of how viewing the world as ‘good guys vs. bad guys’ can lead to a vast oversimplification of a messy story.”

According to Samuelson, the Newsweek cover story is a "well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry [that] has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate chance. This ‘denial machine’ has obstructed action against global warming ... The story’s thrust: discredit the ‘denial machine,’ and the country can start the serious business of fighting global warming.”

To quote Mark Twain: "If you don't read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed." With numerous examples like the NBC News report and the Newsweek cover story, it is difficult to argue that the American public is badly served by the American media.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Monday, August 13, 2007

Obama Implosion

Democrats like Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) say immigration reform is a divisive issue, but contend that lawmakers should work collectively to assist immigrants living in the U.S. Sen. Obama recently addressed the annual meeting of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic organization, and talked about realities at home, remarks that got little public attention. Regarding the population of illegals in our country today, the Illinois Senator assured the crowd that "I will never walk away from the 12 million undocumented immigrants ..." There seems to be a disconnect on the part of Senator Obama. He apparently does not understand that the President of the United States is not charged with the responsibility of looking out for illegal immigrants, let alone making it a campaign promise.

Mr. Obama apparently sees these folks as immigrants, not as the lawbreakers that they are, and for a Harvard-trained lawyer that is a curious misapplication of judicial reasoning. To Barack Obama they are just "undocumented immigrants," people whose papers are simply not in order. Is this a serious problem for a presidential candidate? Well, yes, it is a huge problem for a presidential candidate. The President of the United States takes an oath to preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States, and that includes providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare and securing the blessings of liberty to “ourselves” and our prosperity. Notice that there is nothing there for persons who enter our country illegally.

And, as if that is not enough, in an address before an audience of about 2000 members of the National Council of La Rasa, Senator Obama compared last year’s massive immigration rallies held by Hispanics to the civil rights marches of blacks in the 1960s.

Before, the rub against Barack Obama was that he didn’t say anything of substance. Now, the rub is that the substance of his remarks is unacceptable in a President of the United States.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Perspective on Freedom

The following quote by Henry Lamb should give us all something to think about.

“A substantial number of Americans, perhaps a majority, believe that government should dictate where people live, what their housing structures should look like, and how they should be constructed. They believe it is right for government to dictate what curriculum children should study in school. They believe it is right for government to dictate which land should be cultivated, and which land should not be touched by humans. They believe it is right for government to dictate the kind of automobiles that are available for people to purchase. Simply put, a substantial number of Americans believe it is right for government to dictate how people should live. They believe that government should ‘engineer’ society. How different is this modern attitude from the belief system that led Americans into war to defeat the Nazis’ efforts to engineer society.

"How different is this modern attitude from the belief system that led our founders to declare that the Creator, not government, endowed people with equal rights to ‘, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ How different is this modern attitude from the notion that legitimate government is empowered only by the consent of the governed. Society has been successfully engineered to believe that the goal is no longer freedom, but the control of government, which means the control of society, to fit the agenda of the controlling party. The idea of entering public service as an elected official in order to limit the power of government, and maximize the freedom of individual citizens, is an obsolete concept.” —Henry Lamb.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization and chairman of Sovereignty International. The Environmental Conservation Organization has as its mission “to advance the principles of freedom and public policy at every level of government, especially in the formulation and implementation of legislation and regulations that affect the environment and private property rights.” Sovereignty international “exists to promote the belief that best government is empowered only by the consent of those who are governed. The consent of those who are governed can only be expressed by free and open elections of officials who are exclusively responsible for enacting public policy.”

Mr. Lamm has identified one of the most serious problems facing America today. Many of us lament the number of politicians and elected officials who are determined to infringe upon the rights of the American people, however, what many or most of us do not understand is that many of the American people also feel this way. Rereading the first few sentences of Mr. Lamb’s quote, many things which Americans see as innocuous are in reality infringements upon our freedoms.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Sunday, August 12, 2007

New Stuff

Impatiently awaited and long overdue, a big update to A Little Levity has been posted.

If you need a chuckle, go check it out.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

Those lines from the Bob Dylan song are on my mind right now, as I look out over the Observations universe, small and unimportant as it is, and contemplate the changes that have occurred over the three years of its existence, and those that are occurring right now.

I commented a while back that many of the old visitors had moved on to other interests. That happens; we all have our priorities and fascinations, and they tend to change as we go through life. I regret losing contact with those folks, because though our correspondence we became friends to varying degrees. But new ones have come along to take their places, and relationships have grown with them, too.

Unfortunately, several of the more recent gang have experienced, or are experiencing, things in their lives that take them away, either for good, or perhaps for just a while, or maybe they just visit less often.

Most of my blogger friends are friends at a distance, meaning that I don’t know them personally, and have never laid eyes on them, which I expect is the case with most blog relationships. Exceptions to that general rule are Kenna Amos, a writer/reporter who lives nearby and just got too busy to keep his site going, and visits here occasionally, but seldom comments. Then there’s The Windjammer, who used to write a column in my newspaper, and was a friend whom I saw pretty often and corresponded with almost daily through email. He contributed columns to Observations for a while. The Windjammer related to me that he had some health problems, but didn’t tell me the truth. I got word from his son that he had succumbed to cancer earlier this year. That was a shock, and a great loss, as I said in a post right after his death.

I have had direct contact with two other blog friends, first Brad Barfield, who called my home one day in an attempt to play a joke on me. I don’t know Brad other than through this phone call and our interaction on the Net, but the phone call was a nifty experience. He spoke with my wife, Diane, first, saying something she didn’t understand, and then ending the call. She commented about that to me, and handed me the phone. Unbeknownst to Brad, the caller ID listed his name, so when he called back, I answered, “Hey, Brad. How are you?”, or something like that. Incredulously, he said, “How did you know who it was?” He thought he was calling from a “blind” number; he was wrong. Anyway, we had a good, though not lengthy, talk.

Earlier this year a visitor calling himself “Winfred Mann” came upon the scene, and became a frequent commenter. At one point I mentioned that the family was vacationing in South Florida, and “Winfred” (Rick) emailed me asking where we were. I told him and ask if he was nearby, to which he responded that he was only a few minutes away, and asked if I would like to get together with him for coffee, which we did. We met, drank some coffee, and talked for an hour or so, and then went back to what we were doing. We continued communicating on each other’s sites, until earlier this month when Rick sort of just “went missing” (a truly ridiculous phrase). He hasn’t posted on his site, commented on mine, or answered emails seeking to find out what is going on. I am worried about Rick.

There’s JL Pagano, from Ireland, who once was a frequent visitor, who still has his site going, but doesn’t comment very often here, and there’s Texas Fred, who has a very active site, and will drop by once in a while or send an email, but apparently isn’t a regular visitor.

And then there’s Buffalo. He and I have disagreed on just about everything for nearly three years, both on the Web and in emails. I have developed a great respect and liking for Buff, despite his mistaken political philosophies. I got an email from Buff, telling me that he was going to stop publishing on “Buffalo’s Path,” but might start a new blog later on. That is a true disappointment, and I hope he continues to visit and keeps trying to set me straight.

So, I’ve lost a few valued blog friends recently, and that is an unpleasant aspect of the blogging experience. But, on the bright side, I still have Brad, Nuri, and Lord Nazh, Steve and Jules, as regulars, and (every so often) Fred, and I hope they don’t go away, for, as the song says, the times they are a-changin’.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The New Computer

Well, after a short period of mourning I had to replace the recently deceased laptop. I shopped around and found a nice HP Pavilion 17-inch model that wasn’t nearly as expensive as I had expected. Two problems: 1. It (and all others, as well) came loaded with Windows VISTA, and I had heard many negative comments about VISTA, and 2. It came loaded with few really important programs, as is the way of the world these days.

That’s not to say that the software that came resident on the machine wasn’t interesting, useful and even neat, in some instances, only that it didn’t have a word processor, spreadsheet, etc., other than MS Works, which if that’s all you can get will work, but which is woefully deficient. That meant I had to buy MS Office 2007 if I wanted reasonable productivity.

So I bought Office, too, and off I went to set it up.

The basic machine is very nice, and has some great features, mostly due to the advances in technology over the last five years. And, honestly, I’ve had far more trouble from the “upgraded” and “improved” Office 2007 Word than with VISTA. For example, without warning Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, took all of the familiar commands and hid them where you can’t find them, replacing the old and very user friendly menu system with a mystery system. As many of you know, I have degrees in education and taught many years in secondary and post-secondary classrooms. One technique taught to prospective teachers is the “discovery” method, where students are left to learn things on their own without too much guidance from the teacher. This is a great mechanism in the classroom; it isn’t a great mechanism with computers, causing much frustration where frustration is neither needed nor called for. One wonders precisely what it is that software designers have in mind when they update programs and make radical changes like this.

I have yet to dive into Excel or PowerPoint yet, so who knows what nightmares await?

And, VISTA had a big surprise that I just stumbled on today. When I was shopping for the computer and Office, I came across some voice recognition software, and was intrigued. This is something that I’ve been interested in for a few years, and seeing the software reawakened this urge. Given that VRS would cost $90 to $190, I wasn’t moved to buy it. But guess what? While looking in the Control Panel, there for all to behold was an icon titled “Speech Recognition.” So, even though today was Newsletter Thursday, I couldn’t resist the temptation to dive into it.

It takes a little getting used to, and it is somewhat cumbersome, in some respects, but for me, the way I work and the way I write, it will be helpful.

So, despite the idiocy in the new Word version, and despite the irresistible allure of speech recognition in VISTA, the newsletter was published on time, and with not much more difficulty than usual. And the new computer … well, let’s just say that so far, the transition has been fairly painless.

So far, that is.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Monday, August 06, 2007

Spoke Too Soon

Well, my celebration, a fairly glorious moment of triumph, was short-lived.

The preceding article dealt with my happiness when my laptop, soaked in a rainstorm that was not forecast or expected, came back to life after 36 hours of worrying about it. This machine, those of you who read the first piece will remember, was put back in use after a newer one failed. However, it was not without its own problems, notably that the battery port had been damaged so that it could not use battery power and had to be plugged in.

Just before dinner time Saturday I shut down the computer so that I could move it outside to play music while we had dinner on the deck. When I tried to start the machine up, it would run for a couple of seconds, and shut down again. It did this several times. The magic of the reset button that had been so effective after the water torture event did not work any magic this time. Nothing made any difference.

The computer is dead.


Technorati Tags: , , ,

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Newsletter Thursday

I am the Webmaster and the editor of the newsletter for an organization I belong to, and every Thursday I spend the better part of the day writing up the week’s program and updating the Web site. This week was an especially frustrating experience.

When the weather is nice I take the laptop out on the deck and work on the outdoor table that has an umbrella over it to keep the sun off me. This week, as with many summer days, there was the possibility of a late afternoon/early evening thundershower, but when it was time to write up Tuesday’s program, the sun was shining. After lunch I went back outside and went to work finishing the write-up, and around 2 p.m. completed the task. At that point I had to go inside to the office at set up the Web pages and upload the newsletter and other updated pages to the Web host. After about a half-hour, I realized that there was some information that I needed that I had left on the table outside.

When I climbed the stairs from the basement office I could see sunshine on the hillside out back through the door to the deck, but when I got to the top of the stairs and could see the deck itself, I realized that it was also raining. I didn’t get too excited, since the rain was more of a sprinkle than a downpour, and the computer was, after all, under the umbrella. But I couldn’t see the table from where I was and when I went out on the deck and made my way over to the table, I saw that the papers I had out there were soaked, and I realized that while it was only sprinkling now, it apparently had really poured before that. When I got to the computer, its screen was dark and water droplets covered the screen, the keyboard, the mouse pad … everything on the table was soaked and the computer had gotten wet enough to have shut down.

Panic ensued.

This laptop had survived a few crises, and had been replaced by a new one when it developed a problem accessing the Internet that I couldn’t solve. What good is a computer that can’t access the Internet, after all? So I replaced it. Not too long thereafter, the new laptop developed a problem I couldn’t solve, so I reactivated the one that was now soaked, and found and cured the Internet access problem (weird how necessity creates solutions you couldn’t find before the crisis, isn’t it?), and have been using it for a few months. Efforts to get the computer to run failed; it just sat there, doing nothing.

Well, I didn’t immediately go out and get a new machine, although that prospect did enter my mind. Who wants to have to spend a thousand bucks that you don’t have on a new laptop that has Windows Vista on it that isn’t compatible with most of your non-Microsoft software, and which comes with almost no programs pre-loaded? So, I put the laptop in a position that would drain the water out of it, and let it sit for a few hours. I tried to fire it up a few times at various intervals without success, sometimes hearing “frying” sounds that gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, and then left it until this morning, figuring that both it and me would benefit from a night’s sleep.

This morning I plugged the cord into the wall, only to find that the light that indicates that the computer is plugged in was flashing like it should be, which it always did, and that the light that indicates that the computer is on was flashing, too, which it should not be, but which it had been doing since the ill-fated, un-expected and un-forecast rainstorm. I had just resigned myself to having to buy a new laptop, when one of those little flashes of insight flashed in my brain. I remembered the reset button on the bottom of the laptop, stuck my mechanical pencil in the little hole and reset the machine, and, eureka, it started working.

So, to borrow from my friend Buffalo, life is sweet – when things work out and you don’t have to contemplate buying a new computer.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Driving Me Crazy

We took a short trip Wednesday, about two hours and twenty minutes away. Most of the trip was Interstate highway, so it’s not a bad drive, unless there is a lot of traffic, which there was, or if there is a lot of construction, which there was. We encountered no fewer than seven areas where the Interstate was narrowed to one lane in first 85 miles of the trip. Seven. And some of them had absolutely no work being done.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

One of my pet peeves is people who drive in the passing lane, but who are not passing. They aren’t going faster than traffic in the right lane, and sometimes are going slower than traffic in the right lane. It’s as if they feel they have special dispensation to use the passing lane for their personal convenience, and other drivers are expected not only to know that, but to give them free use of that lane, despite all of the problems that result from their apparent disregard for normal driving etiquette, and their lack of concern for the plight of other drivers (or even the recognition that there are other drivers). Other cars pull up behind them, expecting them to move over … they don’t. The drivers most often go around them in the right lane, and you might figure they would get the message that they should move into the right lane. Sometimes they do, but often, they don’t.

A single driver behaving so arrogantly is bad enough, but what I encountered on this trip was far worse.

I have learned from experience that you can drive a few miles above the posted speed limit without fear of being stopped, and many or most drivers also know this. I know that in a 70 mph zone you can drive 77 mph and police officers just watch you go by. It is not unsafe, in most situations, to do so. On this trip there was a “convoy” of motorcyclists, nine of them, and the group was driving the speed limit or perhaps two miles per hour faster. That’s slower than I usually drive, and slower than most of the traffic on I-77 was driving. Now, I don’t object to drivers/riders going only the speed limit; that is their choice, and perhaps it is safety thing for bike riders. But I object strenuously when in doing so these bikers ride parallel in both lanes and refuse to move over to allow faster traffic to pass. It probably took a good five minutes to work my way through this bunch of yahoos, and if safety happened to be some part of this mindless behavior, it occurs to me that they defeated their own purpose by forcing cars to maneuver in and out of their formation to get around the obstacle to smooth traffic flow that they created.

It was inconsiderate and dangerous, and if there are any bikers reading this that indulge in this asinine practice, I hope you’ll reconsider it.

I should add here that this is the first time I've encountered this phenomenon, and I hope it is the last.

Technorati Tags: , ,