Thursday, January 31, 2008

Faster Internet

Our fiber optic hookup from Verizon went quite smoothly today. We spent a total of about 1/2 hour talking over where things would go, how to route the inside cable, and moving things out of the way. It took a couple of hours for the technician to get the outside and inside boxes installed and run the cable to the new wireless router.

The technician told me Verizon plans to have digital TV available using the fiber optic cable this spring.

I'm getting 15.5 mbps download speeds which is a little faster than the advertised 15 mbps. I'm really happy about that, but looking at the big picture - the U.S. is lagging behind other industrialized nation in high-speed internet access.

"The median U.S. download speed now is 1.97 megabits per second — a fraction of the 61 megabits per second enjoyed by consumers in Japan, says the report released Monday. Other speedy countries include South Korea (median 45 megabits), France (17 megabits) and Canada (7 megabits).

'We have pathetic speeds compared to the rest of the world,' CWA President Larry Cohen says. 'People don't pay attention to the fact that the country that started the commercial Internet is falling woefully behind.'

Speed matters on the Internet. A 10-megabyte file takes about 15 seconds to download with a 5-megabit connection — fast for the USA. Download time with a 545-kilobit connection, about the entry-level speed in many areas: almost 2½ minutes.

Broadband speed is a function of network capacity: The more capacity you have, the more speed you can deliver. Speed, in turn, allows more and better Internet applications, such as photo sharing and video streaming. Superfast speeds are imperative for critical applications such as telemedicine."
From a June 2007 U.S. Today article, U.S. Net access not all that speedy

High speed internet, faster computers and increased storage capability are not ends in themselves, but they do provide opportunities for people to find innovative ways to share ideas, work on projects and exchange products and services - in ways that we can't imagine today.

That's a good thing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Playing Games

The Ubuntu version of Linux comes with 17 games from the international GNOME: Free Software Desktop Project and there are thousands of other games that will run on Ubuntu/Linux.

I've been playing the chess game a lot lately and have completed hundreds of games in the last week or so. Please note that I said "completed" not won. I'm not much of a chess player, but I've been able to beat other computer chess game - but not this one (yet). The computer just doesn't make mistakes and it becomes really addicting to watch the patterns it plays and see if you can figure out a way to outsmart it.

I am up a couple of thousand dollars playing the blackjack game, so that's some consolation.

I'd venture a guess that if you are hoping to keep your mind fit, playing almost any game beats watching most TV.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Sleep Myth - 8 Hours a Night is "Normal"

It should come as a relief to people who don't sleep for 8 hours a night and think they have a sleep disorder, that contrary to what the sellers of expensive beds and prescription sleep medicine would like you to believe - you may actually be exhibiting "normal" sleep patterns that humans have been following for ages.

Some studies indicate that the idea that the norm is 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep during the night is a product of our industrial society rather than something humans are genetically predisposed to.

Prior to the 20th century - the lack of central heating/cooling, prevalence of illness, animals that needed to be tended to, and absence of artificial light – makes it reasonable to assume that people did not go to sleep and then wake up 8 hours later.

In prehistoric times uninterrupted sleep would have been even more difficult considering the dangers humans had to deal with – sleeping in a hut, or a cave, or on the ground - with some wild animals hanging around who might think a human would make a tasty treat, would not be conducive to sound sleep. Those who slept too soundly when the saber tooth cat, or warring tribe, showed up were removed from the gene pool.

Considering the goal of survival - protecting oneself and one's family from danger and caring for the young - there is nothing from an evolutionary standpoint that would make the ability to sleep for 8 hours without interruption a desirable human trait.

The obsession with the precise number of hours a person sleeps is a relatively recent development. Prior to the 19th century people didn't know if they got 8 hours of sleep a night because they didn't have clocks in their homes. It wasn't until the 19th century that "clock time" became important in developing an industrialized society.

Even though it may not be "normal" at all, there's a steady drumbeat from the makers of expensive beds and medicines trying to convince us that 8 hours of sleep needs to be everyone's ultimate goal. It's interesting to note that some studies show that prescription medications for sleep may not actually give us a better sleep, but rather interfere with our ability to remember – so we just don't recall tossing and turning after we wake up.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Judy Collins & Pete Seeger

Judy Collins and Pete Seeger singing his song "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)"

This song's lyrics come from Ecclesiastes 3

Some other songs on YouTube that I've enjoyed listening to this morning -

YouTube - Where Have All The Flowers Gone - Pete Seeger 1968 Stockholm

YouTube - James Taylor - Sweet Baby James

YouTube - James Taylor - Fire and Rain (Beacon Theatre)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

XH-150 Extreme Hybrid

Combining a car that runs for 40 miles on a charge with a renewable source of electricity like solar would go a long way towards solving the world's energy needs and addressing some of the issues with global warming.

As the price of oil continues to rise solar arrays will continue to be built in the deserts, and that power will be available on the electric power grid. One issue is storing that electricity for use when the sun isn't shining. Batteries tend to have short life spans, high replacement costs and issues with disposing of or recycling the materials used to construct them.

This car uses a super-capacitor to extend the life of the battery.


MIT Nanotube Super Capacitor - PESWiki

Technology Review: A Cheaper Battery for Hybrid Cars

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Library of Congress Flickr Pilot

The Dupont camp auto is one of over 3000 photographs uploaded as part of the Library of Congress Flickr pilot inviting people to add tags and other identifying information to aid in retrieval of a particular digital image. The Dupont Camp Auto is a photo from the 1910's set. There is also a set of color images from the 1930's and 40's.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I'm Getting a Light Pipe For My House

Verizon's FIOS (fiber optic service) recently became available where I live in Everett, Washington. The version I'm getting is 15 Mbps for downloads and 2 Mbps for uploads. This download speed is ten times faster than my current 1.5 Mbps DSL and two to three times faster than cable internet.

FIOS is a fiber to the premises system which supports up to 30 Mbps internet access and includes digital HD TV in some areas of the country, but not yet in Everett.

This is what I've gleaned from the web about FIOS -

The current copper line to your house, used for the plain old telephone service (POTS) and DSL, will be replaced by a fiber optic cable. The junction box for the copper telephone line will be removed and replaced by a new interface box for the fiber optic cable. The interface box for the fiber needs 120 VAC to operate and has a battery backup so the phone will keep working for several hours in the event of a power failure.

Verizon will run the cable to your house, install the interface box outside, install the power supply inside (near the interface box and a power outlet), and run the network cable (Cat 5 cable) to a wireless 4-port router that is supplied with the package.

FIOS has been around for a few years in certain parts of the country and from what I've been reading, actual download/upload speeds match the advertised speeds quite closely.

Verizon has a variety of packages for FIOS from $42.99/month for 5 Mbps/2 Mbps up to $159.95 for a 30 Mbps/15 Mbps.

The one year 15 Mbps/2 Mbps package I'm getting is free for the first month, $42.95 for months 2-7 and $52.95 for months 8-12...which works out to $43.53/month for the year.

There's a $19.95 activation fee so the cost for the first year averages out to $45.20/month. In other words it's about 5 bucks more per month than 1.5 Mbps DSL with 10X faster download speeds, and has the potential to replace my coaxial cable TV service in the future. Sounds good to me...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed - we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

From Martin Luther King's Address at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (Aug 1963)


It's inspiring to think how far we've come as a nation in 45 years and know that Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy lives on in so many people's work, not the least of them the gifted speaker Barack Obama with his "politics of hope" and vision for unity.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


After some experimenting I've settled on the Ubuntu version of Linux. DSL and KNOPPIX are good, but Ubuntu is really good. It's fast, free, user-friendly, provides access to all sorts of interesting and useful applications, and has a cool name.

Rather than boring you with the details of how I installed it etc. I thought I'd share what I learned about the word "Ubuntu".

According to Wikipedia, the word Ubuntu originates from the Bantu languages of South Africa.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is quoted as saying,
"A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed."

This is a YouTube video of Nelson Mandela talking about the philosophy of Ubuntu -

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Good Work If You Can Get It

From The Butterfly Year | Orion magazine -
"Robert Michael Pyle, a veteran Orion columnist, hung up his word processor at the end of 2007 and set out in his trusty 1982 Honda, known as Powdermilk, to find as many American and Canadian butterfly species as he could in a single year. To keep Orion abreast, Bob promised to mail us tidbits from the trail and occasionally give us a call. Twice a month throughout 2008, we post Bob's notes from the road."

Robert will be 61 years old this July. In this article he writes about his older brother Tom who receives Social Security payments and describes himself as being someone who "inspects trails and the government sends me a paycheck." He also quotes Henry David Thoreau who wrote in Walden, "For many years I was self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms..."


"Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better."

Albert Einstein

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I've been playing with Linux for the last few days. I thought it would be a good educational experience, which it has been - plus it was fun.

So far I've tried two distributions - DSL (damn small Linux) and Knoppix. These are both intended to be run live - that is they are not installed on your hard drive.

DSL is less than 50 Mb. The version of Knoppix that I downloaded is about 700 Mb. Either one of these systems could be used from a USB flash drive but it's easier in many instances to just boot off a CD - so that's what I've been doing.

I'm using an old Fujitsu laptop with a Netgear PCMCIA wireless card, Knoppix, and Iceweasel to access my blog tonight. It's working fine.

Iceweasel is the equivalent of Firefox for the Debian version of Linux. Knoppix is based on Debian which is why it has the Iceweasel browser. There was some sort of disagreement between Mozilla and the developers of Debian which led to the creation of Iceweasel. DSL has Firefox included. If you take a short dip in the Linux pool this starts to make sense. There are a zillion terms, words and acronyms that are part of the vocabulary of people who are interested in this sort of thing which I imagine is part of the appeal.

I titled this blog Iceweasel because it sounds funny to me.

I can see that having an operating system that runs off a CD or a USB flash drive could come in very handy when a computer crashes, if you want to try Linux before installing it or if you want to learn more about Linux/Unix and computers/coding in general.

I'd highly recommend giving DSL or Knoppix a test drive - I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Thank You For Buying an Extended Warranty

Have you ever wondered how a company, for example Dell, can make a profit selling you a pretty good desktop computer for $349?

The answer can be found in this Associated Press article from this year's Consumer Electronics Show.

Extended warranties were estimated to be a 15 billion dollar business in 2004, with a 50% profit margin, according to

This is of course why corporations are so keen to sell you an extended warranty. It would be very naive to think that Best Buy, Circuit City, Sears, etc., are looking out for your best interests - they instruct clerks to push these warranties because the profit margin is much better than on the item you are buying.

Anecdotal evidence doesn't help when evaluating the cost/benefits of extended warranties. The fact that you happened to have a computer that required a new screen, hard drive, mother board etc. is not a statistically significant sample - all it means is you either got a lemon or you bought some low quality device - and learned to do some more research the next time.

The best thing you can do is be a savvy consumer and understand the reliability of what it is you are buying, the cost of repairs, what you can repair yourself and what it would cost to pay someone to make a repair if the device fails.

You also have to factor in how long you expect to use a device considering your buying habits, the nature of the device and how that particular technology is evolving.

If you are considering buying an extended warranty, make sure you understand what the warranty does and does not cover - keeping in mind that most electronic components are very reliable, particularly if you consider the one year burn-in period covered by the manufacturer's warranty - meaning that failures are more likely to occur because you drop, run-over, step on or submerge a device in water and that damage is not typically covered by an extended warranty.

If you are a consumer who does adequate research before making a purchase and are willing to take the risk that an electrical or electronic device will not fail prematurely, or if it does that it will be covered under the manufacturer's warranty, then you should be thankful for the people who buy the extended warranty plans that help keep your purchase price low.


Read more at -

CBC Marketplace: Extended Warranties

CBC Marketplace: Slim Profit Margins Drive Extended Warranties

Poll: Extended warranties, necessity or shakedown? - Engadget

Extended Warranties - How to decide

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Making Millions - One Hidden Fee at a Time

Bob Sullivan is the author of the new book Gotcha Capitalism that discusses some of the ways that banks and the companies that provide credit cards, cell phone service, cable TV, internet access, mutual funds, rental cars and hotels have found to tack on fees and or otherwise obscure the true price of their product or service.

The average consumer is estimated to be losing somewhere between 1,000 to 4,000 dollars per year as a result of these misleading practices which seem to be totally outside of the Federal Trade Commission's ability to control ( partly due to the fact that the FTC's staff has been cut in half in the last couple of decades).

He was on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross earlier this week, and Marketplace last week.

He mentions that this is a situation where, instead of someone stealing thousands of dollars from one person, companies have figured out ways to steal a dollar or two from thousands of consumers using very sophisticated techniques which are are legal - because we have not put in place the rules and oversight necessary to maintain a true free market economy in which buyers make decisions based on actual prices of products or services.

These hidden costs are a drain on the economy since they are not associated with any real goods or services, which provide jobs and subsequently - wages to drive the economic engine. Banks whose main business should be to profit from the interest on money they lend are depending more and more on fees to make a profit - which does nothing to help the economy.

Waiting for the government to step in may be a long wait, so the best thing a consumer can do is to educate themselves before making a decision to buy a product or service, choose a competitor or go without.

Related story - The Hidden Economy - The Boston Globe

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Find Happiness

From an article "Maximum Joy - 14 Ways To Feel Lucky You're Alive" at -
"According to happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, of the University of California, Riverside, life circumstances only account for 10 percent of happiness. Half depends on our genetic 'set point,' which is kind of like the weight our body bounces back to after that crash diet. About 40 percent of our happiness is influenced by what we do deliberately to make ourselves happy."
The 14 ways include, "notice what's right", "be grateful", "remember the kid you were", "be kind", "spend time with your homies", "don't overdo it", "savor every moment", "move", "rest", "put on a happy face", "pursue your goals", "get into the flow", "play to your strengths", and "find your calling".

A related article What Makes Us Happy? sums it up with this -
"After studying depression and gloom for all these years, psychologists have started to figure out what makes people happy. And the answer is simple: family, friends, meaningful activities, and the ability to forgive."

Saturday, January 05, 2008

"Quick Jolts of Wisdom For Busy Professionals"

The blog/website Friday Reflections subtitled "Quick Jolts of Wisdom For Busy Professionals" is created by Anand Shah.

From the website,
"Anand Shah is originally from India, earned his Masters in Engineering Administration from Stanford University and his Masters in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California. He has been an executive and consultant for successful start-ups and major corporations in Silicon Valley for over thirty years."

The site has interesting and informative stories and quotations broken into these categories -
1. Keep on learning new skills
2. Assume Responsibility
3. People and Relationships
4. Flexibility
5. Passion
6. Take Risks
7. Performance and Results and ... Humor in the Workplace

Friday, January 04, 2008

Schott's Almanacs and Books of Miscellany

I saw an interview with author Ben Schott, author of several popular almanacs and books of miscellaneous information, recently that makes me want to check out his books.

Amazon has these excerpts from reviews, and a short description, of Schott's Almanac 2007 -
“Genuine practical value…elegantly designed…a vast [collection] of informational flotsam and jetsam.”—New York Times

“If we live in an information age, then Ben Schott has become something of a maestro, or perhaps a master chef, ranging over the whole of knowledge and seasoning his…books with a pinch of this, a drop of that.”—Chicago Sun Times

Schott’s Almanac presents a delightful mix of useful information and more whimsical fare that makes it both a reference resource and a source of entertainment.”—Kirkus

“A meticulously researched and rather addictive annual compendium of facts and figures by Ben Schott, clever creator of the best-selling Schott’s Original Miscellany.”—

“One of the oddest and most addictively readable reference books in print.”—Boston Globe
Book Description

"In the modern age, where information is plentiful but selection and analysis elusive, Schott’s Almanac presents a unique biography of the year: from Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s historic presidential runs to George Bush’s continued infatuation with “the Google,” from marriage and crime statistics to the incidence of shark bites worldwide, and from the Nobel Prize for Literature to the Bad Sex in Fiction award, Schott’s Almanac distills information and opinions critically, giving readers an accurate biography of the year past.

Practical, entertaining, and utterly compulsive, Schott’s Almanac eschews endless lists and tiny type to present an elegantly designed and utterly compulsive selection of the year’s events."
Here's a couple of links to interviews with Ben Schott from the International Herald Tribune and Radar Online, as well as a link to his website


Thursday, January 03, 2008

NPR : Hotel Maids Challenge the Placebo Effect

The NPR report by Alix Spiegel, Hotel Maids Challenge the Placebo Effect, should be good news for Moms or anyone who has a job that involves a lot of physical activity.

It may be that a simple change in perception can turn everyday housework into a great workout that improves the way a person's body looks, decreases weight and lowers blood pressure. No additional work required - just a change in how a person perceives what they are already doing.

Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychologist, performed a study of hotel maids that challenges how we traditionally view the mind-body connection.

The majority of the maids perception was that they did not exercise, even though in the course of their daily work they exceeded the surgeon general's recommendations for daily exercise. She also noted that their weight, blood pressure and body shape were not consistent with someone exercising daily.

She split the maids into two groups - one group had the exercise they were already getting, by doing their jobs, explained to them in terms of the health benefits it would provide - the other group continued to do their daily work with no additional information.

At the conclusion of the study she found a connection between the perception of exercise and increased health. The maids who perceived that what they were doing had health benefits exhibited those benefits in terms of lowered body mass index, decreased weight, lower blood pressure, and positive changes in body shape.

There are skeptics of course, but I think most people would agree that the mind-body connection is not well understood. We may end up finding the old saw - "perception is reality" has more merit than we have been led to believe.

The report mentions another study done by Howard Brody director of the Institute for the Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch and the author of the book, The Placebo Response : How You Can Release the Body's Inner Pharmacy for Better Health.

In this study a group of patients with asthma were given a medication that makes asthma worse, but were told it would make it better. A significant number of patients reported their asthma got better and had measurably improved lung function.