Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I finally got around to some plowing last night. I was going to do it Saturday afternoon, but my truck burned up the bearings in one of the center u-joints. This is fairly routine on a plow truck, but the timing sucked dead bunnies. Luckily, the garage was able to fix it by Monday afternoon, so I picked it up, put on the plow, and spent five hours or so moving snow around. This stuff stopped being fun a long time ago.

The up side was that I never left the house from Saturday afternoon until I drove into work Monday morning. It was sweet. I got a lot of work done, including our and Nestina's taxes, and another batch of books on E-Bay. (Hint, hint: lots of really cheap books!!!)

I also started working on another project: collecting up all the stray data I have laying around on diskettes and CD-ROM's and dumping them all into an archive on my Western Digital Passport. I only have the 60G model, but even putting all my MP3's, digital photos, a backup of every piece of data, and pretty much anything I can get my hands on into it, I haven't even filled it half-way. So far, I love this thing. I don't generally have any use for Western Digital drives; every single one I have owned has failed early in life. But I have beat this thing pretty hard and it hasn't lost one byte of data so far. Of course I have at least two other copies of every file on it, because I still don't trust Western Digital hardware. The only thing I need to make this perfect is USB 2.0 ports. My laptop only has USB 1.1, which are much slower. I can add four 2.0 ports for around a hundred bucks, which would not just make the Passport run faster, but would also give me high-speed ports for other neat-o things like a DVD burner.

Well, that's all I have for now.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I need to get some plowing done, but I don't know when I can get to it. I hate plowing in the dark, so either I have to wait until Saturday, or take time off work. I'm trying to save up time off, if at all possible, so I can take some serious time off this spring or summer. Our place isn't too bad, but my parents have a couple feet of snow in their driveway. Eh, whatever. It will wait. If nothing else, it will melt once spring rolls around.

If anyone is interested, and I'm pretty sure that no one is, here is what we should be doing with the hundreds of billions of dollars, not to mention 2,000 lives, we have poured into the sands of Iraq. Within a decade, no one would care about oil, and the Middle East countries would have to either produce something useful, or starve. We won't do it, because we prefer to meddle in the affairs of others. Every branch of government is busy telling all the other branches what to do, the state department tells other nations how to govern themselves and uses our military to enforce their will, they all tell us what to do, and so on. It's the new American way. (shrug)

And speaking of neo-con wet dreams, are we really sure we want democracy everywhere?


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

This weekend, I was able to get our drives, our road, another seasonal road I use to get to work, and my parents driveway all nice and cleaned up. Then it got up in the forties Saturday and Sunday, which almost had everything back to bare ground. It didn't last, of course, so now it looks like I will have to take a day off work to plow again. We got a good six inches yesterday and last night, and enough wind to drift things up pretty good. Is it May yet? At least it looks like we will again get rid of most of it this weekend; the weather liars claim it will be back in the forties again.

Other than that, not a lot going on. We are just hunkered down waiting for winter to be over.

This looks cool. Right now, the graphics are pretty crude compared to what the professionals turn out, but think about the progression in video cameras. Today's $1,000 "pro-sumer" cameras are better than professional cameras costing ten times as much just a few years ago. Same thing has happened in sound equipment: a Mac with iLife can do more than room full of professional equipment could ten or fifteen years ago. I would expect the same thing here. The big studios won't go away, if for no other reason than they own the traditional distribution channel. But the internet is quickly becoming the channel of choice for many people looking for news, music, and literature. There is no reason why video would be any different. Bits is bits.

And I post this without comment. I have nothing to add other than to ask people to think about what you believe, and why.

That's it. Other than to tell everyone to go buy stuff here and here. Please. Our children are starving.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I know I need to stop with the education thing, but this is just too good. In the February 2006 edition of National Geographic, there is an article called "Heartbreak on the Serengeti." The main point of the article is the increases in poaching inside and immediately adjacent to the parks and preserves. However, page 17 has a picture of a new public school in the village of Iharara in Tanzania. The last sentence of the caption reads, "Adult literacy stands at a relatively high 78 percent in Tanzania, where education ends for most after primary school." Contrast this with the sub-50% literacy rate in Detroit after twice the schooling. Our politicians tell us that the Detroit schools suck ass because the district lacks funds and the families are poor. I'm just pulling this out of my ass, but I think I'm on pretty solid ground when I say the average Tanzanian would view a "poor" Detroit family as unimaginably wealthy. And I doubt the teacher in that photo has credentials from one of our esteemed teaching universities. In fact, I am fairly sure that he wouldn't be qualified to even substitute teach in a Detroit school. And you call that a classroom? Several students are sitting on the floor! There are no desks; just backless benches and tables that look like an ergonomic nightmare! No PC's, no air conditioning, not even electric lights! And yet they learn to read at a rate 50% higher than Detroit can manage.

Tell me again how all our educational woes are the result of a lack of money.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Another post under the beating-the-grass-where-a-dead-horse-used-to-be category:

Still think your schools don't completely suck? Still think the problem is every other school system in the country, except yours? Really? Go read this, and this. Still think your schools are ok? Still think your kids are learning anything useful? Then check yourself into a psych ward, because you are a danger to yourself and your children.

"The American boy who got the highest score told me: 'I'm shocked, 'cause it just shows how advanced they [Belgian high school students] are compared to us.'"

Yea, dude, I'm sure it is "shocking" to realize you have wasted the last twelve years of your life because you just got beat down by someone that you've been told your whole life was inferior to you. I'd start working on those rickshaw-pulling skills.

In more boring news, our internet connection is a dead stick. It doesn't matter if I dial into work or either of my two ISP's, either you can't connect at all, the connection runs 28K or slower, or you get a 50K+ connection which drops after a few minutes. People we talk to on the phone complain about static and low volume. Last time, I said I was done with Verizon; I should have stuck with that. I know I can get high-speed service through Alltel. I will need an external antenna for the cell phone, and I will have to move my computer upstairs, but right now, my options are somewhat limited. Rural Mexico has high-speed internet, and I have to put up with this crap.


Monday, January 16, 2006

Not much to report. Friday, Debbie and I went to a fancy restaurant here in Traverse City then saw Last Holiday. I wasn't expecting much from the movie, but it wasn't half bad for a chick flick. Guys, if you owe the wife a chick flick because she sat through a guy movie with you, this one won't kill you and you may even enjoy it.

Saturday we watched a couple indoor soccer games in Traverse City, then dinner at Ruby Tuesday's. Sunday, Debbie's mom came up and took us all out for lunch at The Big Easy for our birthdays (mine back in November, Debbie's a few days ago, and Nestina's in a couple weeks). That was pretty much the weekend.

That's all I have. Tonight I need to do some serious data entry for Back Woods Book Exchange on Half.com.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A Million Little Pieces becomes A Million Little Lies. This article is long, but what it reveals is as disturbing as it is damning to the author, James Frey. I'm not expert on human psychology or anything, but this guy just sounds like the classic nobody. He was unspectacular in high school, college, and adult life, so he fabricates this whole-world-is-out-to-get-me-'cause-I'm-such-a-bad-ass back story that has no basis in fact. Now if he wants to fictionalize his own life to fool a publisher and a few million people and make a fast buck, he would just be another mediocre fiction writer. The creepy part is his insertion of himself into the tragic deaths of two teenage girls. Sorry, but that's just over-the-line. Some people have tragic lives. Frey isn't one of them. His life was just insignificant, then slid into pathetic.

What surprises me is that Oprah is clinging to this sinking ship. As long as she has been in the Business, you would think that a) she would have better instincts than to hitch her wagon to such a loser; and b) that she would have good enough PR instincts to cut Frey's lifeline the instant the accusations started. There is no upside for her in any of this; only downside.

Other than that, I have nothing. Such a life of glamour I lead....

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I don't usually plug things on this site, but I noticed from my stats that about a quarter of my readers use Firefox 1.0, but less than 2% use Firefox 1.5. I would encourage everyone using anything other than the current version to get the latest version now! Whatever it is about Firefox that you love/like/enjoy, there is more of it in version 1.5.

Not much else going on, other than just surviving the "brutal" winter weather: 40 degrees and even little sun today. Our road is a sheet of ice with water standing on it, so that makes getting in and out of the property a lot of fun. Yesterday on the way to work, I nearly killed myself and Nestina when the truck started sliding sideways down a steep hill with a curve at the bottom.

I heard of another author who was recently caught lying. He made a statement that his memoir is essentially true even if he did change some stories. A large, clear garbage bag full of bear fat that may have been Oprah (who made this clown's book a best-seller by shilling it on that abortion she calls a talk-show) claimed that his heart-warming story made people feel good, so it doesn't really matter that it was made up and everyone just needs to shut up about it. Nasty things, those facts. They make insecure people feel all icky about their pointless lives. Awwww. I'm getting all choked up. Quick! Let's make up some stories that are "essentially true" before they realize they really don't have anything to offer the world and blow their brains out! Aside: Is there a human on the planet with an IQ north of 80 that doesn't think Oprah is getting massive kick-backs on her "book club" picks? That her picks seems to be books that don't seem to be making as big a splash as the publisher had hoped? Yea, you're probably right. I'm just being cynical again.

A while back, I posted about how all government schools suck. Now we have this. Any questions? Note the money quote: "McKeesport officials have hired a lawyer to investigate whether the school district should fire two fourth-grade teachers who had sex in a classroom several years ago while other teachers stood watch at the door, officials said Thursday." The school is spending money on a lawyer to determine whether these jerks should be fired? Here is a little thought experiment. What would happen if everyone involved in this were students. Do you think the school district would have to hire a lawyer to investigate whether the students would be expelled? Exactly. Yet another data point in favor of my theory that the average IQ of the adults in any school system is a standard deviation below that of the students they are "teaching."

I gotta go.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Nothing to really report today. I worked late last night installing the updates for the 2005 1099 forms at work. When I got home, Nestina called from Kalkaska and asked if I could pick up her and a friend so the other friend she was with wouldn't have to drive on our nasty road at night. By the time all that was done, it was close to midnight. Of course that meant that I wasn't tired, so I sat up for a bit, then fell in bed around 1:30AM or so.

I also did some reorganization of this sight. I had previously had several pages of off-site links that were hold-over's from my old web site. A lot of the links were dead or sites I hadn't visited in years. After some sorting, I had whittled them down to a list that would fit on the side bar of this page, which makes them easier to maintain as well as more convenient.

The big news is that Back Woods Book Exchange is back on line at half.com. Hop on over and take a look. I only have a dozen books set up so far, but there will eventually be over a thousand titles. The data entry is a bit slow, so don't expect to see everything there all at once, but I hope to get a big chunk up this weekend, then slow, steady progress on the rest. I will also be tossing stuff up on our ebay account as well. The two sites are both ebay sites, but half.com doesn't allow me to list old books without ISBN's or multi-book sets as a single item. Those will go on ebay, along with a lot of non-book odds and ends.

Tonight, I'm hoping for an early night in bed, and not much else.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I'm starting to think that the presidential two-term limit is unnecessary. Every two-term president in my lifetime has crashed and burned at some point in their second term. Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and now Bush. But even Bush's wiretap problem seems to be taking a back seat to a very big wrecking-ball; namely, The Abramoff Affair, which seems on-course to make wiretapping seem quaint and semen-stained dresses downright provincial. I say that not because the idea of politicians being bought and sold like cattle is in any way stunning. That's been going on so long and so openly, you would have to be incredibly naive to be surprised. What I think will shock people is the realization by Joe Sixpack that what happens in the voting booth makes no difference at the Federal level. The same group of people from both major parties floats in and out of elected office, political appointments, lobbying firms, advisory committees, etc., working an agenda that is provably not in the interest of the average voter.

It's looking more and more like it will be Hillary in 2008. It looks to get interesting, as in the Chinese curse.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Happy Belated New Year!!!

I've been preoccupied with ripping CD's and doing other file maintenance. The laptop is starting to have some free disc real estate for the first time in years. It feels good to have a little over 1G free instead of crossing my fingers every time I transfer photos from the camera to the laptop. What that means is that I haven't spent much time updating things here.

We didn't really do anything for New Year's Eve. We just watched the ball drop and messed around playing board games and watching movies until 4AM or so. I know; we lead very exciting lives.

Anyway, just to start the year off right, I'll beat one of my favorite dead horses: our lousy public education system. This doesn't just come out of left field; Jerry and his readers started it here, here, and here. I can't think of anything to add to that. We used to teach every single kid to read. Now all there are is excuses for why we can't. And don't feed me any crap about the "epidemic" of dyslexia. First, about 99% of kids so diagnosed provably are not. It just a convenient excuse for the failure of everyone from the teacher in the classroom up to the federal education bureaucrats to teach a basic skill that every human with above-room-temperature IQ can learn. Second, I attended school with a seriously dyslexic kid from second grade through graduation. He was never given special treatment. He sat in the same classroom and did the same work as everyone else. Yes, Randy was the last one to turn in his test; the rest of the class just sat quietly and read while he finished. So even truly dyslexic kids can learn to read well enough to get by in a normal classroom setting and graduate high school with usable skills (Randy's father owned a chain of restaurants; Randy graduated high school both able to read and with the training he needed to step into the family business).

At this point, I'm going to go out on a limb here. Anyone sending a kid to a public school is committing child abuse. Yes, that includes you. No, your schools are not different than everyone else's. I don't care what a fine Christian the teacher in your child's grade is. I don't care what the per-pupil spending is (districts like Washington DC spend more than almost anyone else, yet have the worst schools in the nation). I don't care if you are in the big city, the suburbs, the exurbs, or small town. Your district may be able to afford shiny new buildings and shiny new computers, but I can almost guarantee that your kids are not learning one bit more in the classroom than the black kid in the worst school district in downtown Detroit. I'm sorry to be the one to have to tell you this, but it really shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. A commission from the Reagan administration stated that if our educational system was imposed on us by a foreign nation, we would rightly consider it an act of war. Nothing has improved (and in fact much has gotten worse) in the two decades since. If you care about your kids, Get. Them. Out.

I'm sure that will piss off enough people for one day.