Saturday, February 28, 2009

Trip Advisor's Top 10 Dirtiest Hotels

Trip Advisor's 2009 Top 10 Dirtiest Hotels - everything from rats, bedbugs, giant cockroaches, to eye infections from dirty pillows.

It's pretty entertaining to read the titles of people's comments -
"Discover new diseases during your stay - For free!!"

“The Rat Hole”

“Like something out of a horror film”


“Place is a hell hole”

“Motel of Horror”

“Why does this place even exist?”

Monday, February 23, 2009

Plumbers Earn Their Money

I've been doing some do it yourself plumbing on our kitchen sink for the last couple of months. The sink had a Price Pfister single handle faucet that has been a little leaky and loose since it was new 10 years ago or so.

I replaced the cartridge, which I had to order online since they don't carry them locally. Then the hot water shutoff valve. Then the hot water supply line. Today I replaced the whole kit and kaboodle with a new faucet and supply lines.

Working under that sink I can understand why plumbers charge so much. Real life home repairs and improvement projects can be a frustrating experience. In the real world pipe fittings corrode, old pieces break and access can be a challenge - unlike the ideal world you often see on shows like Hometime, This Old House, BobVila, and New Yankee Workshop.

Putting in the new faucet took a couple of hours and two trips to Lowes. Taking out the old faucet took about twice as long because a nut had corroded and was frozen and it was impossible to loosen the spray faucet nut by hand (thank goodness for Vice Grips). They usually skip the prep work on the DIY shows because it's just boring grunt type work. Although when it comes to plumbing if you aren't careful you can break a solder joint beneath the floor or accidently do other fairly disasterous type things.

Those armored flexible supply lines are a life saver for do it yourself work. I'm not too keen on using a blow torch and solder in a good location let alone under a sink near electrical wire and in the basement near nice dry wood beams.

If I was a plumber, electrician or carpenter I'd like to work on new construction rather than any kind of remodel/repair stuff. As a homeowner I'll do that work on my home whenever possible - but you couldn't pay me enough to do it - partly because I'm so slow and partly because if I accidently break a pipe under your floor or start your house on fire with a blow torch - the cost might be prohibitively expensive.

Better to hire a union plumber, electrician or a real carpenter.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

i thank you God for most this amazing day

e.e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes.

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

From inward/outward an ongoing, online conversation sponsored by Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC.

Friday, February 20, 2009

How To Pay A Trillion Dollar Debt in 5 Years

Here's a back of the envelope calculation...

4 million people are unemployed
Assume working and paying 12,500 a year in Fed Income tax
These 4 million people pay 50 billion per year which is .05 trillion per year or .1 trillion every 2 years.
Pay off 1 trillion in 20 years.

Assume a 1 dollar per gallon gas tax
we consume 378 million gallons of gas per day
this is 137,970 million per year
137.97 billion per year
.14 trillion per year
Pay off 1 trillion in 7.14 years

If we combine a dollar a gallon gas tax and assume 4 million unemployed become employed we have an increased revenue of .2 trillion per year. A trillion dollars is paid off in 5 years.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Surviving Debt

The book Surviving Debt from the National Consumer Law Center sounds like it would be useful for people who are facing foreclosure, dealing with debt collectors, or other debt problems.

Another useful tool for people who are being hounded by bill collectors is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. You have the right to stop a bill collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collector telling them to stop. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again except to say there will be no further contact or to notify you that the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action. It would be best to send the letter by registered mail so you have a record that they have received it. If debt collectors violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, consumers can sue for actual and punitive damages.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Frontline - Inside The Meltdown

FRONTLINE - Inside the Meltdown airs Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS. The leader for the show says -
"FRONTLINE investigates the causes of the worst economic crisis in 70 years and how the government responded. The film chronicles the inside stories of the Bear Stearns deal, Lehman Brothers collapse, the propping up of insurance giant AIG and the $700 billion bailout. "Inside the Meltdown" examines what Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke didn't see, couldn't stop and haven't been able to fix."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Prepare to Be Stimulated!!!

I have C-Span2 on in the background and the Senate is voting on the $838 billion dollar Economic Stimulus bill right now.

The final vote is 61 for and 37 against.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Economic Recovery Plans - Big and Small

I just watched a video of President Obama speaking directly to Americans about the need for immediate action on the economy to make it work for all Americans.

He talks about immediate middle class tax relief, upgrading classrooms or laboratories in 10,000 schools nationwide, training an army of math and science teachers, creating a smart electrical grid, investing in broadband, rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, levies and dams, doubling our capacity to create renewable energy, appointing an aggressive Inspector General to make sure our tax dollars are spent wisely and bringing a new website Recovery.Gov online once the economic recovery plan passes through Congress, to let us know where the money is being spent.

Watch the video now:

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine answers questions about the Economic Recovery Plan in this video:


I think we all understand that there is only so much that the government can do to help people find work and that the vast majority of jobs need to come from the private sector. Tim Kaine says the economic recovery plan includes tax relief for small businesses which will help. Barack Obama says that change begins from the bottom. I believe that the entrepenurial spirit, drive and ingenuity of free and diverse American's will once again be what brings this country out of this recession - with some help from the government where necessary and possible.

I saw one example of that today when a little boy, maybe about 10 years old, came to our door today and said his uncle is looking for work and gave us this flyer -

If you live in the Everett, Washington area and need some handyman type work I'd give Howie a call.

Friday, February 06, 2009

From a 401K To Just a 401

Originally uploaded by Jack Crossen
I've got my eye on a sweet potentially-mobile home that I think I can afford with my retirement savings and the 5 magic beans I got for the cow.

I'm thinking about calling it the Yippee Wagon in memory of the 55 Ford Station Wagon I got before I had a drivers license that had the rusted out holes in the floor. The old Yippee Wagon took me and some of my buddies on some good (short) trips around the lesser populated parts of Montana.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Of Trout Steams and Data Streams

“I THINK,” Thoreau wrote in his essay “Walking,” “that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”

Ha! Four hours! Clearly Thoreau did not own a BlackBerry."
The quote above is from Anthony Doerr's essay Am I Still Here? in the January/February 2009 issue of Orion Magazine in which he explores the challenge of living in the real world in light of the allure of living in the virtual world of internet, radio, television, email and other electronic forms of information data transfer.

When we talk about the internet, radio, television and email it's important to distinguish between "data" and "information". Data is a collection of pieces of information that may be true, false, related, or unrelated. Information is the synthesis of data which provides meaning through context and connection.

Meaning, context and connection are hard to find in the barrage of data we receive via email, the internet, television and radio. This datastream is exciting, addicting and often ultimately quite meaningless, which is unfortunate since as humans one of our prime needs is to find meaning, context and connections. The other edge of this sword is that our addiction to meaningless data takes away from our time with friends, family, nature, contemplation, thought, prayer, playing and relaxing.

We can share information (meaning, context and connection) though stories. We live for the stories we can tell - it's how we connect. Stories that provide meaning in life - are centered on friends, family, journeys, life events - not on meaningless or semi-meaningless collections of data gleaned from the datastream.

Stories come from trout streams not data streams.

I recommend reading Anthony Doerr's essay and another by John Landretti called To the Dairy Queen and Back for some insight into how to bring some balance into our wired and unwired worlds.


Sitting here (using my computer, surfing the web and watching TV) I can't help but think of the chorus of John Prine's Spanish Pipedream aka Blow Up the TV. I need to take some of my own advice sometimes...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

NOVA - The Spy Factory

NOVA airs "The Spy Factory" tonight at 8 pm. The show is being promoted as an inside look at the National Security Agency (NSA).

The PBS promo says -
"Three times the size of the CIA and far more secret, the NSA is comprised of top linguists, mathematicians, and technologists trained to decipher all kinds of communications—epitomizing the hidden world of high-tech, 21st-century surveillance. To show how this eavesdropping operates, NOVA follows the trail of just one typical e-mail sent from Asia to the U.S. Streaming as pulses of light into a fiber-optic cable, it travels across the Pacific Ocean, coming ashore in California, and finally reaching an AT&T facility in San Francisco, where the cable is split and the data sent to a secret NSA monitoring room on the floor below. This enables the NSA to intercept not only most Asian e-mail messages but also the entire U.S. internal Internet traffic."
The New York Times review spills the beans on that email from Asia, saying Mr. Bamford sent it from an Internet cafe in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with a few of the key phrases that the agency’s supercomputers are programmed to detect. They aren’t exactly cryptic: “Blow up the White House” is one, another is “Destroy the Capitol Building.”

We never find out if the NSA actually intercepted the message.

The fact that the NSA has computers than can recognize key words and phrases is pretty ho-hum but I'm curious to know how tapping into an AT&T facility in San Francisco enables the NSA to intercept not only most Asian e-mail messages but also the entire U.S. internal internet traffic. Maybe that's why my internet is so slow sometimes...everything goes through a pipe in San Francisco.

The documentary is based on James Bamford's book The Shadow Factory

Postscript - After watching the show and reading a little bit more it's easier to understand how the NSA could intercept all internet communication. The splitters and data analyzers weren't just installed in the AT&T facility in San Francisco. According to Mark Klein the AT&T technician who worked at the San Francisco facility,
"I also discovered in my conversations with other technicians that other “secret rooms” were established in Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego. One of the documents I obtained also mentions Atlanta, and the clear inference in the logic of this setup, and the language of the documents, is that there are other such rooms across the country to complete the coverage possibly 15 to 20 or more."
It's impossible to know for sure but it appears that the NSA during the Bush/Cheney reign wasn't just vacuuming up email, phone and text messages from innocent Americans but branched out into credit card use, financial data and who knows what else. The current (2009) version of the NSA website says they are governed by the U.S. Constitution. The 2004 version specifically says the NSA, "strictly follows laws and regulations designed to preserve every American's privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution."

I'm hoping that we can get back to a society where that statement is true.

One take away from the Nova show was that the NSA, FBI and CIA had information on Al Qaeda and Bin Laden prior to September 11th. The major problem was that the agencies were not sharing what they knew. There was nothing in the documentary that indicated that wide ranging interception of American's communications would make us any more secure - in fact just the opposite is true; we end up wondering if Big Brother is watching and the intelligence and law enforcement agencies end up with massive amounts of useless data.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Coffee The New Health Drink

Studies have shown that coffee seems to reduce the risk of dementia, onset of Type II diabetes and Parkinson's disease, reduces the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain and acts as an antioxident according to an article in the New York Times -

"A team of Swedish and Danish researchers tracked coffee consumption in a group of 1,409 middle-age men and women for an average of 21 years. During that time, 61 participants developed dementia, 48 with Alzheimer's disease.

After controlling for numerous socioeconomic and health factors, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure, the scientists found that the subjects who had reported drinking three to five cups of coffee daily were 65 percent less likely to have developed dementia, compared with those who drank two cups or less."

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Put The Chicken Fingers Down and Turn The Television Up

It was a better game than I expected in this year's Super Bowl. People betting on the Cardinals won since the point spread before the game favored the Steelers by 6 to 7 points. I thought Bruce Springsteen's performance was super. It was sort of weird to see some of those old guys rockin out, but at 59 Bruce still can put on a heck of a show.