Friday, February 29, 2008

A Little Prayer - Fred Frith & Evelyn Glennie

If you want to learn more about Evelyn Glennie, the person playing the marimba in the video, there's an interesting talk she gave at TED called How to Listen to Music With Your Whole Body and this NPR piece about her, and the documentary by Thomas Riedelsheimer, Touch the Sound

Evelyn Glennie has been deaf since she was 12 years old.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Greatest Success Of Modern Times

Duke University Ad Access Project has over 7000 digital images of advertisements from 1911 to 1955 and their Emergence of Advertising in America has over 9000 digital images from 1850 to 1920.

Here's a few quirky ones I noticed while browsing through the collection -

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Uncle Sam Needs Your Money - Quick!

I spent Sunday finishing my tax return and two FAFSA (Free Application for Financial Aid) forms for my daughters. It was painful as always...good thing I'm patient and can practice my breathing exercises :-)

The FAFSA forms are a challenge for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that you have to fill the forms out as a student and a parent; using information from both person's tax returns.

Add to that the fact you need a password, a pin, drivers license number and social security number for each person and you can start to see the possibilities.

I've never tried the paper FAFSA, having filled it out online for 4 years now, but I see the paper form is 11 pages long.

There are over 20 pages of worksheets that you are provided to use in preparing to fill out the FAFSA as well.


I have no idea how people who don't do their own taxes, have computers and internet access get the FAFSA done.

It seems pretty discriminatory in that regard.

One of the semi-discouraging things for a middle class wage earner when it comes to the FAFSA is that after you finish all the rigmarole of getting it done, you get the response that "you do not qualify for Federal Financial Aid, but you may qualify for work study or low interest rate loans".

All schools use the FAFSA for determining financial aid so you have no choice but to fill them out to apply for loans, grants or scholarships. "Low interest" rate student loans are a joke - you get an 8.5% APR for a PLUS loan (that's a Parent Loan for Undergraduate Student loan that is supposedly subsidized by the Federal government and available through private lendors). I can get a credit card with an APR of less than 6% so the PLUS loan is not a real good deal and is yet another example of how the current administration and Congress is failing middle class wage earners and their children who want to go to college.

I guess I'm done ranting about the FAFSA for now - this is the last year I'll be filling them out since Rachel and Rebecca will graduate...Yea!!!

After finishing our income tax return I filed my tax form electronically and authorized Uncle Sam to withdraw the money I owed from my checking account. That was Sunday afternoon and by early Tuesday morning Sam had siphoned the money out.

Now that's quick!

I wish refunds were that speedy.

I'm glad I have a job and can pay taxes. I'm proud of the fact that middle American's like me and you keep this country strong and functioning. I'm looking forward to getting Barack Obama in the White House and seeing a change in the sea state in Congress where things like helping people live out the American dream by sending their kids to college become available to everyone who chooses that path and the interests of regular working class Americans become more important than catering to well funded special interest groups, banks and the fat cats who don't pay any taxes at all.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Eulogy of Bobby Kennedy

A very moving and inspirational speech.

Near the end you hear the quote Bobby Kennedy used in a speech to a group of South African students in 1966, from the fellow Irishman George Bernard Shaw, "Some men see things as they are and say Why, I dream things that never were, and say Why Not?"

Bobby Kennedy died at age 42 on June 6, 1968.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

George Bernard Shaw's Definition of Hell

After reading the quote A Splendid Torch at inward/outward I wanted to read some other quotations from George Bernard Shaw the Irish playwright and author.

He is very quotable.

Here are some more quotes from George Bernard Shaw - Wikiquote, that struck me as interesting -


"Written over the gate here are the words 'Leave every hope behind, ye who enter.' Only think what a relief that is! For what is hope? A form of moral responsibility. Here there is no hope, and consequently no duty, no work, nothing to be gained by praying, nothing to be lost by doing what you like. Hell, in short, is a place where you have nothing to do but amuse yourself."


"A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of hell."


"You see things; and you say Why? But I dream things that never were; and I say Why not?"


The following four quotes are from Maxims for Revolutionists. Shaw, Bernard. 1903. Man and Superman -


"Men are wise in proportion, not to their experience, but to their capacity for experience.
If we could learn from mere experience, the stones of London would be wiser than its wisest men."


"Hell is paved with good intentions, not with bad ones.
All men mean well."


"Every man is a revolutionist concerning the thing he understands. For example, every person who has mastered a profession is a sceptic concerning it, and consequently a revolutionist.
Every genuine religious person is a heretic and therefore a revolutionist.
All who achieve real distinction in life begin as revolutionists. The most distinguished persons become more revolutionary as they grow older, though they are commonly supposed to become more conservative owing to their loss of faith in conventional methods of reform.
Any person under the age of thirty, who, having any knowledge of the existing social order, is not a revolutionist, is an inferior."


"I said, with the foolish philosopher, “I think; therefore I am.” It was Woman who taught me to say “I am; therefore I think.” And also “I would think more; therefore I must be more.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

New Ways to Interact With a Computer - Compiz Fusion

Compiz Fusion is a set of plug-ins that allows the user to customize how they view and manipulate objects on the computer screen.

You can read about here and here, but the easiest way to understand some of it's capabilities is to search for Compiz Fusion on YouTube.

It has a lot of cool effects that are fun to play with, and has some features that have the potential to improve productivity - particularly the window manipulation tools that allow you to scroll through multiple windows, or put them on a cube to rotate and open up, or treat them like pieces of paper that you can shuffle through and flip over. You can have 4 desktops that are quickly accessible, by flipping or scrolling.

Compiz Fusion comes with the Ubuntu Linux distribution.

These two YouTube videos show some Compiz Fusion capabilities -

Monday, February 18, 2008

Signs of Spring

We've had our first sunny days in quite awhile. The trees are starting to bud, some of the early flowers like the crocus are starting to bloom and the daffodils are starting to peak out.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Three Tips For Buying a Car

Buying a car can be about as much fun as a trip to the dentist, or if you follow a few simple rules a relatively pleasant process.

It all boils down to doing some research to find out -
1. The Blue Book value of the car you want to buy, and what that term means. You can find this at

2. The Blue Book "suggested retail" and "trade-in value" of your trade-in and what those terms mean. You can find those at as well.

3. The new and used car loan interest rates are in your area - considering your credit rating of course. will show you the rates for new and used car loans at the banks in your area.

With information available on the internet, new and used cars have become a commodity - that is they have a known value. This helps you as a consumer and will eventually force car dealers and salesman who can't accept that fact to find other lines of work - or "prey" on the hopefully relatively few unfortunates who don't have the tools to know what fair prices are.

With a little bit of homework at websites like,,, Official Kelley Blue Book Site, NADA Guides or, you will be able to find the car that best suits your needs based on user and expert reviews, reliability ratings, gas mileage, size, power and a target purchase price.

These sites all have pretty similar information, and in some cases are using the same databases. If I had to pick one I'd go with Make sure you read What is the "Kelley Blue Book" Price?.

A simple rule is never pay more than the Kelley Blue Book price. The Kelley Blue Book price is an average "asking price" not the "selling price". This price is the suggested retail price and you may, depending on the car and your location, pay less - or even substantially less. If you are buying a car that is popular because it's a good value; the Kelley Blue Book will probably be close to what you can get the car for - but again...never pay more than the Blue Book price.

Blue Book prices take into account the local market, mileage, options and condition of a vehicle. There are three categories for a car's condition - "excellent", "good" and "fair". Most dealers post the price for a used car that is in "excellent" condition. Which according to the Kelley Blue Book means -
  • Looks new, is in excellent mechanical condition and needs no reconditioning.
  • Never had any paint or body work and is free of rust.
  • Clean title history and will pass a smog and safety inspection.
  • Engine compartment is clean, with no fluid leaks and is free of any wear or visible defects.
  • Complete and verifiable service records.
According to the Kelley Blue Book website less than 5% of all used vehicles fall into this category.

If a salesman can't, or won't tell you the asking price for a car - walk away. Actually if the dealer doesn't post the asking price and Blue Book value in the car window you should probably leave before a salesman approaches - unless you enjoy the game of haggling over the price, which is pretty pointless for you as a consumer given cars have a known market value thanks to the internet and you aren't going to fool a car salesman into giving you some super deal (although if you aren't educated he or she might be happy to fool you once the game begins).

If you end up going to a dealer and have to ask for the price and get a response like, "what price range are you looking for?", "what monthly payments are you looking for?" or something like "we can get you in this car for $459 a month"..walk.

If the salesman doesn't know what the asking price is (or won't tell you) and can't communicate to you what makes a particular car a good value, there's really no point in dealing with him or her. If you want to talk about the price and technical merit of a car and the salesperson would rather discuss what color you want, you are wasting your time - unless color is more important to you than cost, gas mileage, reliability, in-service history and whatever else makes a car a good value (of course since you did your research before hand you already know all these things - but it's reassuring and a lot less of a hassle to work with a competent sales person.)

The last car I bought the salesperson was very knowledgeable and helpful, there was no pressure and she suggested I use to check on cars and go to other dealerships. That dealership posts their asking price and the Blue Book suggested retail price in all their cars.

Another dealership down the street had monthly payments in the windows of their cars, the salesperson didn't know or wouldn't say what they were asking for the car. He went inside to check with his boss (always the same thing...sigh) who came out and told me he was a liquidator - whatever that is. He wouldn't tell me the asking price either and wanted to know what sort of monthly payments I was looking for...or alternately what my price range was. He finally told me what the lease value of the car was (I don't know what that means) but it was $6,000 dollars over the Kelley Blue Book price for this used car. I just calmly told him, "I'm not going to do this" and walked away. I do feel sorry for people who get caught in that trap - but hopefully with the internet, which these shysters hate, it will be less and less common.

Another important item is knowing the value of your trade-in. There are two values for a used car, "the suggested retail" and the "trade-in value". The "trade-in" value is what you expect a dealer to give you for your used car and is less than "the suggested retail" that you would receive if you sell the car yourself. The dealer incurs the cost of safety inspections, reconditioning and other costs of doing business. If you decide to sell your used car yourself you may get some more money for it and you will have to decide if the hassle of dealing with strangers off Craigslist is worth the additional money. I sold a used car a year or so ago, which I posted on Craigslist. I got all kinds of responses (no one actually showed up with cash) - some promised to come and didn't, others had reasons why they needed me to give them the car. I ended up selling it to someone at work, who saw the ad on our internal classifieds. It's really a case by case decision.

After you've decided on the fair purchase price, value for your trade-in, and a good loan rate all you have left to do, is reject all of the add-ons that dealers will offer you. These will be items like extended warranties, upholstery treatment/protection plans, paint sealant/clearcoats, undercoating, window tints and insurance to pay off your loan if you kick the bucket.

Although generally not the case there may be cases where an extended warranty makes sense depending on the age, manufacturer's warranty and reliability of the vehicle. If you are buying a used car that is coming off a manufacturers warranty soon - it might make sense.

If you think you want any of the other optional features (like undercoating or window tints) it pays to shop around to see how the dealers price compares.

I personally think the best car deal is to buy a slightly used car that has depreciated for a year or two and still has plenty of time and miles on the manufacturers warranty. It's nice to have a brand new car but you pay a premium.

Buying a new (or new for you - used) car is a big purchase and should be a good experience. Do your homework and try to avoid the "I've got to have this car now" feeling that you get and that some salespeople will try to encourage. Try to go out to just look, sit in and test drive cars you may want to buy before you actually decide to pay your hard earned cash.

Happy motoring...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Running Faster and Storing More For Less

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly computers speed up and memory prices drop. has a HITACHI 500GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive for $100.99 with free 3 day shipping.

Newegg also has 2GB (2 x 1GB) of Kingston 200-Pin DDR2 SO-DIMM DDR2 667 (PC2 5300) laptop ram for $39.99 plus $4.99 for 3 day shipping.

I can't keep up with the latest in memory and computer advances but I think Intel's current top of the line microprocessor for consumers is the Intel® Core™2 Extreme Processor QX9775, a quad core that runs at 3.2GHz and uses a 1600MHz front side bus.

My first home computer computer had 64 KB of memory and a microprocessor that ran at 1 MHz. This isn't exact but to give you some idea of what that means - today's home computers can process information 300 thousand times faster, and have about 8 million times the memory, compared to that computer from 25 years ago.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

I think Google picked a really nice image for today -

It's Okay to Make Mistakes

Lying about them is a different kettle of fish.

I spent a couple of hours watching Roger Clemens and trainer Brian McNamee testify before Congress yesterday. It was a circus of stupidity, disingenuous good ole boy talk and corruption.

Roger Clemens has ties to the Bush family and it was obvious that political influence had been used to skew the questioning and comments from some of the congressmen and women.

It's hard to figure out who's doing the most lying. McNamee has obviously done his share, for example this 2006 Sports Illustrated article where he denied any involvement in the use of steroids by baseball players.

McNamee is an ex-police officer which makes the whole thing even more sordid. We can't help but wonder if his ready-access to the drugs he gave players was a result of connections he made while working as an undercover policeman. His days on the police force may also explain why he has kept evidence (syringes he used to allegedly inject Clemens with steroids) for years.

Roger Clemens came across as someone with a huge ego and a short temper, willing to blame anyone and everyone rather than admit to any mistakes on his part.

Andy Pettitte, whom I admire, admitted he used performance enhancing drugs in early sworn testimony and that Roger Clemens had also used performance enhancing drugs.

Roger Clemens was right when he said, "No matter what we discuss here today, I am never going to have my name restored.''

He hit the nail on the head on that, but unlike Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch who admitted what they had done and can move on, Roger Clemens has to deal with the fact that his own, and other's, testimony points to him as being a liar.

If he is lying, and I doubt if we will ever know for sure, then shame on him and shame on the members of Congress who for political or partisan reasons played along with that sham yesterday.

I hope some good comes out of this whole messy affair. If nothing else I'd hope this would be a lesson that honesty is the best policy. We're all fallible humans and should refrain from passing judgement, but we only add to our misery when we refuse to be honest with ourselves and others.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Keeping Microsoft on Their Toes

Dell PCs Featuring Ubuntu

Dell has some pretty sweet deals on desktops and laptops with Ubuntu.

The suggested retail price of the Dell Inspiron 1420N with the Ubuntu operating system is $729.00, which is about 10 bucks less than what you could pay for two pieces of Microsoft software (no computer just the software) - Microsoft Office Professional at the suggested retail of $499.95 and Windows Vista Home Premium at $239.95. It's hard to imagine how that software pricing scheme could be sustainable considering the functions most users are looking for in a computer.

The tiny ASUS Eee PC also has a Linux operating system. A laptop with wireless capability and a browser can do everything many people use computer's for - surfing the web, watching YouTube, listening to music, email, and chat. The Eee has Open Office included if you need to do some word processing, spreadsheets or presentations.

For around 300 bucks you could have a neat little micro-laptop, or get a bargain on Microsoft Office 2007.


I've used MS-Dos and Windows products for years and I'm not a Microsoft basher, but competition is healthy. I find that Linux and various other open source applications are as good as, and in some cases better, than some very expensive software.

I have to laugh when I read or hear heated discussions about what computer, application or operating system is good/bad. They aren't good or bad - they are just tools and some are better for certain tasks than others. Pick the one that works best for you - but I wouldn't make up my mind about a Mac, Windows or Linux based machine without at least giving them a fair try.

Bill Gates talks about competition in this 2005 interview with the late Peter Jennings on ABC -

JENNINGS: I read an article coming up here on Firefox (Web browser) and its perceived ability to do this better than you. Is that fair?

GATES: Well, there's competition in every place that we're in. The browser space that we are in we have about 90 percent. Sure Firefox has come along and the press love the idea of that. Our commitment is to keep our browser that competes with Firefox to be the best browser -- best in security, best in features. In fact, we just announced that we'll have a new version of the browser so we're innovating very rapidly there and it's our commitment to have the best.

JENNINGS: Are you going to have to push your browser faster because of competition?

GATES: "Well, competition is always a fantastic thing, and the computer industry?

JENNINGS: I knew you were going to say that (laughs).

GATES: (smiles) ... is intensely competitive. Whether it's Google or Apple or free software, we've got some fantastic competitors and it keeps us on our toes."

I think we benefit if Microsoft is competitive and hope that they figure out a way to not repeat the Vista and Internet Explorer 7 fiascoes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gasoline Prices Are Pretty Low In The U.S.

Gasoline prices in the U.S. are actually pretty low compared to what people pay in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe. Even in an oil-rich country like Norway gasoline approaches 5 dollars per gallon.

According to the D.O.E. on February 4, 2008 the average retail price per gallon of premium unleaded gasoline in U.S. dollars was:

$8.32 in the Netherlands
$7.78 in the UK
$7.72 in Belgium
$7.69 in Germany
$7.59 Italy
$7.44 in France
$3.21 in the USA

Other interesting energy cost data at EIA - International Energy Data and Analysis and CNN/Money: Gas prices around the world

Monday, February 11, 2008

From The "We All Live In Glass Houses" Department

1999 video of Senator Larry Craig admonishing Bill Clinton for being a "naughty" boy and then saying he is going to speak out for the citizens of Idaho who think Bill Clinton is probably even a "nasty, bad, naughty" boy.

People who live in glass houses (which I think includes all of us) shouldn't throw stones, or as Jesus told the Pharisees, who wanted to know if they should stone a woman charged with adultery, "Let he that is without sin among you, cast the first stone..."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Kiro 710 Featuring Evening Comedy Shows

I'm glad that Kiro changed their format from the "try to be contentious" political talk they had in the evening to the more light hearted comedy of Luke Burbank and Jen Andrews at 7 pm and then the goofy, sometimes fairly outrageous comedy of Phil Hendrie from 9 pm to 1 am.

If you've never listened to Phil Hendrie, you might want to check him out. He does some hilarious fake characters and then has fake (or real?) people, who are usually upset - calling in to voice their opinion on some outrageous bit he's dreamed up.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Democratic Caucus - Saturday February 9th

The Democrats hold their caucuses this coming Saturday at 1 pm. You can find your local caucus location at the Washington State Democrats website.

Washington state's legislature mandated a primary on February 19th, at an estimated cost of 10 to 11 million dollars, however all of Washington's delegates to the Democratic National Convention are selected via the caucuses.

I expect we will see Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Washington State before Saturday. It's really encouraging to see the interest that this campaign is generating.


"We will remember that there is something happening in America, That we are not as divided as our politics suggest, that we are one people, that we are one nation, that together we will begin the next great chapter in the American Story with three words that will ring from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea - Yes We Can."

Barack Obama

Monday, February 04, 2008

Super Bowl XLII - Ad Showdown

You can view and vote on the advertisements from yesterday's Super Bowl at

Right now the Bud Light Ad - "Rocky" is in first place. I thought there were a lot of good ones - including the "Death Match", Pepsi Max "What is Love?" and the T-Mobile "Hi Chuck" ads.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Send in the Clowns - Bicycle Nomads and Utopian Dreams

Send in the Clowns written by Mark Svenvold for Orion magazine is an interesting look at bicycle nomads and utopian dreams.

He spends several weeks with David Santos, author of WHEELIAD, and several other people riding bicycles from Austin, Texas into Mexico.

It's not a spandex and carbon fiber sort of bike ride. They are riding what might be called art bikes and living off the land, or sometimes the waste-stream, drinking soup made from boiled chicken bones, with some roadside grass added for flavor - from a leaky used styrofoam takeout container.

Five people start out on the trip, but can't quite get along with each other - so two drop out and later a third (the author). There are some interesting thoughts about utopian visions and why they fail; the fact that the five people on this particular trip couldn't work it out adds credence to the arguments for why humans have so far found it impossible to live in a utopian society. The main point being we are individuals with a drive to express our selves, rather than being assimilated into a collective.

Still makes for fascinating reading...


Some semi-related links:

Friday, February 01, 2008

Milkshake Watch -- New York Magazine

There's a scene at the end of the movie There Will Be Blood where Daniel Plainview, the oil tycoon, is ranting at the minister Eli Sunday. Eli asks Daniel for money in exchange for giving Daniel the right to pump oil from one of his church member's land.

Daniel gives a scary wacked-out explanation of how he has already pumped the oil out from under the land using the analogy of a long straw and the phrase "I Drink Your Milkshake!"

People are predicting that "I Drink Your Milkshake" is going to become one of those movie quotes that enters our lexicon - like, the Godfather's "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse.", Dorothy saying "Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." or Humphrey Bogart's "Here's looking at you, kid.".