Wednesday, December 29, 2010

State of the Nation

Merry Christmas everyone.

As we approach a new year, I thought it might be worthwhile to post some thoughts that have been churning around in my head regarding the state of our nation. I'm afraid this post is going to pose a number of questions and not a lot of answers. But nonetheless I wanted to at least put these thoughts out here to see what others think.

I've been thinking of this post for a while, but was prompted to actually do it today after listening to the NY Times Front Page podcast, and hearing that "retail spending rose 5.5 percent in the 50 days before Christmas." This seemed to fit with what I saw in the past couple months - malls and retail outlets were packed with shoppers. But the story doesn't add up to me. Isn't the unemployment rate still almost 10 percent? How is it that people can afford to spend as much as they did in the same period of 2005?

The Times article quotes Craig R. Johnson, president of the consulting firm Customer Growth Partners saying "In the face of 10 percent unemployment and persistent housing woes, the American consumer has single-handedly picked himself off the mat, brushed his troubles off and strapped the U.S. economy on his back." Let's see, unemployment still high, housing prices still low... maybe if we spend more that will fix it? The economy is slow, let's extend a lot of credit to people who don't really understand (or don't want to understand) the risk of credit card debt? It worked in 2005, maybe it will work again? Am I the only one who finds it strange that this man is applauding the American Consumer for what I can only see as the same pattern of reckless lifestyle that helped get us into this mess?

So that got me to wondering exactly how much money Americans are saving. A couple months ago I listened to the episode "Is America Ready for a 'No-Lose Lottery'?" on Freakonomics Radio. The episode presents an idea worthy of its own discussion - can a lottery be used to encourage people to save? But the story used to setup the episode was what stuck with me. In a survey last year, 2100 Americans were asked if they could come up with $2,000 cash in thirty days. 46% of Americans said they could not. The survey consisted of people from all income brackets, and the result I found most alarming was that of people making between $100,000 and $150,000 a year, 25% responded that they could not come up with $2,000 in thirty days. Now, the sample size is a bit small. So I won't dwell on this too long. But still.

OK, so back to how much Americans are saving. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysts, as of November 2010, Americans are saving about 5.3% of their disposable income. If you look back through the years in that link, you'll see that this is about as good as it has been for the past decade, about the same as the 90's, worse than the 80's, much worse than the 70's and worse than the 60's.
So Americans are saving a smaller portion of their disposable income than they saved in the past.

Is that a bad thing? Taken at face value, one would say yes. But there are other factors to consider. Perhaps Americans don't need to save as much because they're getting more for their dollar. Compared to the rise in inflation, healthcare and education costs are increasing much more rapidly. So, I'd say no, we're not getting more for our money, and yes, the decrease in percentage of disposable income saved is a bad thing.

Why is it such a bad thing? Because all Ponzi schemes eventually collapse. Social Security will, too, and probably before the readers of this blog retire. (OK, there is a lot of debate over when/if Social Security will dry up, but I'll contend that if your retirement plans depend upon collecting Social Security checks, that is a risky plan at best). We all know the story. The magical age at which one qualifies for Social Security is not rising fast enough to keep up with the rising cost of living and average life span. But here's something you may not have known that is pretty frightening: The money that funds Social Security is not sitting in a trust somewhere, safely invested and earning modest interest. The money in the fund is invested in government treasuries. In other words, the the money in the Social Security trust fund has been lent to the government. No kidding. And the kicker? The debt the government owes to the Social Security trust fund is NOT counted in the national deficit. So tack on another $2.4 trillion to the current national deficit. Check out the episode "In Search Of The Social Security Trust Funds" from the excellent Planet Money podcast series on NPR for more info.

All this leads me back to my original complaint: Americans are spending the money they should be saving. If you agree that this is a problem, how is that fixed? Previously in this post I linked to an article co-authored by Peter Tufano, who was also partly responsible for the "$2,000 in 30 days" survey. Tufano suggests that perhaps people should be educated about compound interest and credit card debt, rather than educated about retirement savings. Seems like a good idea to me. I'm all for education on both topics. There is also the option of legislation to "protect consumers against predatory lenders". My knee-jerk reaction is usually to not involve the government and/or that people should be wary enough to know what they're getting into, but I think I'm in favor of this idea, too.

So what say all of you? Do you agree/disagree with what I've said? Like to argue points or add more? Have ideas for a fix or just need to vent a little like I did? I am eager to hear thoughts on this.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hack and Sack

You may have heard recently that a computer worm infiltrated and seriously debilitated two Iranian nuclear facilities. I'll admit that when I first heard about this, my reaction was one of awe. The more details that come out, though, the more it becomes clear (yet again) that the real battlefields are in a virtual world; that the largest military in the world can't necessarily keep a nation from being brought to its knees.

When word first spread of the worm, the popular belief was that the creators of the worm - the "Stuxnet worm" - were those most likely to be harmed by the production of those facilities, the Israelis.  This theory was based on a word found in the worm ("Myrtus"), which may have been an intentional reference to a biblical figure who saved Israelis from the Persians. Couple this with the wide smiles sported by Israeli officials when asked about Stuxnet, and the theory didn't seem that wild. "Oh, those Jews and Persians. They'll never get along, will they?"

I actually had my own conspiracy theory. It wasn't the Israelis. It was the U.S., or the Chinese, or the Russians, and they were merely practicing on the Iranians for a bigger target.

As the worm has been studied, some new information has emerged. Check out this FoxNews article for the details (if you read one linked article in this post, read that one). I don't know about you, but that article blew me away. (By the way, yet another blow to Microsoft's security credibility. And was anyone else surprised to see a nation using Windows as the OS to control their nuclear facility?).

Now, as coordinated and precise as the attack was, I suppose it actually shouldn't be that surprising. I think it's generally understood that governments, militaries and even large corporations have divisions whose sole purpose is to poke holes in the defense of their opposition and infiltrate or destroy. Wikileaks recently let it out that it was the Chinese government that hacked Google in early 2009. There are reports of China and Russia hacking into U.S. electrical grids. Heck, in 2002 the U.S. tried to sell the Chinese a bug-ridden plane for the Chinese President. We even have our own cyber-intelligence division here at TLATL, but it mostly consists of Coovo calling up the authors of our rival blog The Lou and The Loop and pretending to be their mom and asking if they remember her maiden name because she forgot it again.

If our governments and national infrastructure aren't safe, neither are the big banks. So my question to everyone is, how scared should we be? Is it pointless to be paranoid about things out of our control, or are there any, even small, steps we can take to protect ourselves? Friend of TLATL Joel once wrote to me "Paranoia will destroy ya." True, but stories like these still make me feel a little helpless.

Hope that cheered everyone up! And if you get any calls from your mom asking for her maiden name, just tell her it's "passw0rd".

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tea Time?

How about these Brits? I can't pretend to have deep knowledge about the UK budget or politics, but I find it refreshing to see a nation tightening their belts for the good of future generations. Across the Channel, though, more than a million people went on strike in protest of Sarkozy's bid to raise retirement age from 60 to 62.

What do you all make of this? We face the same problems here, but do we have the nerve to tackle them? If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how the UK handles its spending cuts in the next 5 years.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Making Your Own Fun

.....And We're Back!

Google just came out with Google Instant, and it's awesome. I use Google multiple times a day. If Google Instant saves you 2-5 seconds for each search, it probably saves me 30-60 seconds a day. Which is.... not a lot. But I can't help it - there is something so satisfying about seeing the results for your search appear before you even finish typing in your search criteria.

Another search engine feature that has been out for quite some time but also brings me happiness is type-ahead search.

How do you enter search criteria? Do you enter keywords, or just ask a question? For years, I was a keyword searcher. If I wanted info on a topic, I used 2-3 related words in my search. Seeing suggested results in type-ahead search showed me that a lot of people just type their questions into the search box.

For some cheap amusement, type the beginning of a question into Google to see what the most popular endings are to that question. Try "why is my" or "what would happen if" or "how many times can a". Or just start with "why" or "how". Keep adding words and see where it goes.

And just to be fair... I'm pretty sure the George Bush search results are part of some incredibly stupid fight between his detractors and supporters. I recall hearing something about how some group of people were trying to game search results so that if you typed George Bush into a search engine, the first type-ahead response would be "an idiot". His supporters must have come to his cyber-aid and tried to game the system the other way.

Gaming search results for George Bush
Gaming search results for George Bush is funny
Gaming search results for George Bush is a sign you should get a job

I promise to try to be better about posting, if you promise to try to be better about listening.

Hasta pronto,
el rollo

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

News Nits

"All the news that's fit to reprint."

Have you missed us? News Nits has missed you, Dear Reader. What a world we live in, where datetimestamps string together and turn blips into blurbs into twitters into conversations and a month goes by. Going through a month without News Nits is like going through the winter without corn. We apologize, professionally and amateurly, since we don't get paid but we wish we did.

Enough. So many nits to cover. Can you believe this? Ford the auto company is introducing its first Electronic Vehicle to the U.S. (I... like...) Big but, it's not a cute little hybrid like many of the foreign companies have tried to introduce, it's a delivery vehicle. Huh? You mean Ford is trying to do something more than put iPod connections in their vehicles and hire Mike Rowe? Dare I say it? Is Ford leading the way in auto innovation? Well maybe not yet, as it seems Hybrid vehicles are still a luxury item for people who can afford to be cool Green.

Prepare to be totally freaked out, or should I say geeked out. DARPA (the Pentagon's Educational Grant-funding wing) has announced it is partnering with Ridge Global to map the "underground". This includes like sewers and stuff where creepy crawly terrorists like to hide. Next, they plan to map the scowls of Donald Rumsfeld. (We're not the only media still living in the Bush era.)

Anyone else sick of Twitter? How weird is it to constantly talk about yourself? But if it's the only way you can actually find your friends, here's a neat little meta-program that combines all your so-called friends onto one site. It actually could be sort of useful in a situation like SXSW.

Have you been paying attention to how bad our economy is and how great China is doing? Yeah, they own virtually all our debt, which means our citizens' hard work over the next 30 years will be making the government of China rich. Who's your daddy now? I've got nothing against the people of China, I just don't want to work for them. Especially if they still use sticky rice to hold their buildings together. And if you've voted for Gore, Bush, McCain or Obama, then you have supported the policies that have gotten us here. Stinks, don't it? Before you get scared off of some foreign trade policy that might help our country, don't run from "protectionism" as a possible alternative to "free trade" or "offshoring" or "globalism." (This is just awesome.)

Apple, an American company, has been getting some complaints about the reception on the iPhone 4. In fact, Apple seems to make lots of slightly unusual design decisions. That, however, has not seemed to affect sales in a negative fashion. Nor has it stopped them from partnering with mega-companies in fairly cool ways.

Here's some cool stuff on the oldest trees on the planet. Also, since universities became all about big business, you may now take classes on UFO studies. Philadelphia remains the class of the U.S. in fans, and it's not just football or basketball anymore.

President Obama, Friend of the People, softened his stance on off-shore drilling just months before the BP Gulf oil disaster and a couple years after his no-nonsense opposition to it during his 2008 acting role as candidate. He has also decided to take a page from the Bush-Rumsfeld era and is reviving our "nuclear" missile program in ways that made Bush look dumb. Yes We Can! And while many people across our land realize it might only make sense to enter into a voluntary foreclosure by simply halting payment on their mortgages, data is coming back suggesting that the government's intrusion into the real estate market has not only not worked but has slowed down recovery by filling the streets with economic uncertainty. Steve Wynn agrees:

Back to the streets, it is now illegal in three states to record cops doing their jobs. How many old science fiction movies does this validate? Speaking of science fiction, Lou Reed played an entire concert arranged for dogs. What is New Jersey growing in their gardens? Twinkies? If you're looking to attract a new alternative to America's Soccer Moms, it appears that Cougars can't get enough of Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men.

Verizon is claiming they just pushed 1 Gbps through two PCs on their network as well as 10 Gbps through their heavily vested FIOS optics system. Rumors are that Apple will open their iPhone this coming January to other networks. Prepare to be rocked. A bunch of kids discovered a new cave on the surface of Mars. You think your commute is tough?

As the economy continues to cough up blood, the Republicans picked an unusual time to prove their deep philosophical points about welfare and debt. They, however, continue to be effective at pointing out how stupid they are, economically and politically. Around the world, Google struggles with operations in China as China now leapfrogs the U.S. not just as a polluter but as a consumer of energy. Keep your eyes out for headlines regarding cyber terrorism. The Axis of Evil could become a long list soon.

And finally, if you feel like you'd want to help out the editors of The Loop and The Lou but find raw cash tacky, consider a gift that keeps on giving. We broke the story on the problems of running in fancy running shoes, so we'd like to at least get some credit for our media savy once in awhile.

Happy Trails, dear Readers.

Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom. -- Alex de Tocqueville

[Editor's addition: This is the link mentioned in the comments.]

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Big Short

I recently finished Michael Lewis' "The Big Short" and wanted to pass on the recommendation to you all. Probably the best book I've read in the last 2-3 years.

I know many a reader of this blog has read Lewis' "Moneyball", or perhaps his book "The Blind Side" on which the movie was based. One of Lewis' greatest talents is his ability to break down complicated subjects into simple, compelling stories. You didn't have to be a baseball geek to understand "Moneyball", a mortgage-bond expert to enjoy "Liar's Poker", or a Sandra Bullock fan to love "The Blind Side" (I actually haven't read/seen the last one, but have only heard good things).

The Big Short covers not only how and why the sub-prime mortgage market tanked (and took everthing else down with it), but how three separate, small-time investment shops saw it coming, and bet BIG against it. This is about as close as any book about the sub-prime mortgage market can be to being a page-turner. The further I got into it, the harder I found to put it down.

It's an entertaining read, requires little prerequisite expertise of Wall Street and bond markets, and on top of all that, it's pretty educational.

Has anyone else read this book, or have another book they want to recommend?

Friday, May 21, 2010


Discrimination is a word that has taken on a super-charged meaning. At some point in time, it used to indicate a certain sort of sophistication: She has a discriminating taste in music, it's too bad about her taste in men.

Now, it almost always has racial or oppressive connotations, and it carries the same sort of guilty charge that "rape" does.

The good news is that at least in the United States, we still have the free speech to talk about these things. Not every Western nation does. Germany for years outlawed any debate or vocal skepticism over specific claims against the Holocaust. Canada outlaws "hate" speech, where you can't even say anything that might be contrued as hateful -- it's a crime, even if there's no action associated with it. By contrast in America, the KKK can optain a permit to hold a rally and as long as it is peaceful and doesn't incite violence, it will unfold and happen unhindered. I don't mean to single out a white supremecist group, there are plenty of minority-based hate-filled groups too, who all may say whatever they want.

Here is a different example of discrimination. Apple has a policy of not selling iPads to customers with cash. Their purpose is to monitor how many each person buys (via credit card) so that the units can't be smuggled to Europe before their release date there. This story might bother some people to never buy Apple again. Or it might have been staged. Or it might just be too bad. That's up to you to figure out for yourself.

But in a nation dominated by a technically free but mostly homogenous mainstream media and academic institutions, complexity and debate over racial issues is not effectively tolerated, even if they involve other issues as well. Here is an example of a video debate between Rand Paul -- the recent GOP primary winner in KY -- and Rachel Maddow. It's an interesting clip. I had written off Rachel Maddow long ago as a female version of Keith Oberman, but she at least showed some restraint here as she continually bumped her head against the limits of her narrow understanding of what was being talked about. She is definitely going above and beyond what most talk show hosts are capable of, but she finally just ends by shaking her head in disappointment that someone else could possibly allow for a different view or a different solution to an agreed upon problem.

So what do you think? Is Rand Paul a racist because he doesn't exactly support the federal government dictating the terms of business for private companies, even if that discrimination is on racist terms? How would Ms. Maddow vote on a bill (not to mention a 45 year old law that is not really up for debate) that she agreed with 90% but disagreed with 10%?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bananas about Bananas

I'm not much of a cook. I do appreciate a really well-prepared meal, but when I prepare my own meals I usually opt for something that requires minimal preparation. (As I write this, I realize that I'm setting up this post to be something like "The Boring Meals of a Bad Cook". I'm sure we'll get a ton of hits off this one.)

What I really want to talk about today is bananas. I have two very simple meals that can be made much better by adding bananas. The first was apparently The King's favorite meal, and the second is the title of a Jack Johnson tune

We all grew up eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Some of us even make them for our kids now. But do any of you out there eat PB&J anymore? I don't. I don't think it would be bad, but why eat PB&J when you could eat PB&B? Get yourself a piece of some kind of good, hearty, grainy type bread. Slather a bunch of CRUNCHY peanut butter on one piece. Lay some banana circles on top of that. Pour yourself a big glass of milk. You now have an incredibly delicious lunch. And filling, too. This isn't the kind of thing you want to eat everyday (and I don't recommend the 2 tbsp of butter in Elvis' recipe either). But when you need to make something fast, it really hits the spot.

Anyone else out there like to cook pancakes for themselves or their family? That's one of my favorite weekend morning activities. Now, I don't do anything fancy here. We have a big bag of pancake mix, and I mix that with the appropriate amount of milk (I prefer mixing with milk over water). Pour your pancake on the griddle and start cutting very thing banana slices on top of the pancake. When you make banana pancakes, it's best to pour only one pancake at a time on the griddle, because you want the bananas to sink into the batter as much as possible, and if another pancake has already been cooking while you bananafied the first one, the bananas won't sink as far into that pancake as desirable. I do recommend giving each banana slice a slight nudge down into the batter after you've placed it on the pancake. When you flip the pancake, the bananas will fry a little, and that enhances the banana flavor a little; much like how toasting bread enhances certain flavors in bread that you don't taste when it's not toasted. I recommend a little bit of butter on your banana pancakes, but no syrup. All syrup does is mask the great banana pancake flavor.

So those are my two simple banana recipes that I recommend you all try. Anyone else out there have any banana dishes they want to share? Or just easy-to-prepare but delicious dishes? Let's hear 'em.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tough As Balloons

I keep having this vision of a commercial for a really tough pickup truck. Only in the commercial, instead of dropping yards of top soil into the bed of the truck, they drop multi-colored party balloons.

Instead of making quick turns through thick mud with no spinning tires, they'll show someone slowly yielding to a hybrid in merging traffic.

Instead of showing the truck towing another truck with yet another truck in its bed, they'll show two trucks towing this truck. All while the driver sleeps.

I'm just saying, I think that would make a great ad.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Adult Videos

I've always found it strange that pornographic films are often euhponised as "Adult Films" or "Adult Videos". Don't worry, I'm not here to judge anyone or second guess the natural instincts of men when thrown through a perversion, I just find it strange that "adult" can reference both maturity and immaturity.

In any case, welcome to Adult Videos here at TLATL. Sometimes (often), I get sick of reading and it's nice to be able to watch and listen. In fact I often find myself challenging people who seem to live in books or who hold the act of reading even above the act of living itself. Why aren't videos a good way to learn?

First off, to get your juices going, here is a video of a freely elected Congressman from the 4th district of Georgia, expressing his concern that some military decision to shift troops around might run the risk of capsizing the island of Guam.

Fear not, dear Viewer, we are not all equally paying a share of this man's $174,000 salary. Some are paying more of it than others.

Hilarity and insanity aside, far more "normal" Congressmen say slightly less dumb but far more harmful things all the time, and we vote for them too. But not every person in Congress is saying dumb things. Some are saying truly interesting things that not everyone agrees with and that certainly not every Congressman will go for, in spite of its possible necessity or even moral righteousness. Congressman Ron Paul dishes out some harshes through an Elmer Fudd facade to make sure that our folks on Capitol Hill don't get too congratulatory for their job well done. This little ditty was given in support of a bill that temporarily suspends the automatic annual payraises given to our friends (like our friend, Rep Hank Johnson, above) in Congress. You'd think not giving yourself a raise would be a slam dunk, feel good in Congress, if for nothing else the political symbolism.

Dude, quit harshing my mellow.

Finally, make some popcorn. Here comes a real Adult Video. This woman's name is Elizabeth Warren. You may have heard of her already, she's an Obama darling. She is currently the Czar of something in our country (the Congressional Oversight Panel) and is a very smart cookie. Rolling Stone did a decent number on her a couple weeks ago. This video is of her presentation some time ago at Berkely about the statistics describing the disappearance of the middle class. It's a long Adult Video, nearly an hour. I recommend skipping to minute 6, unless you like introductions and fluff. Sorry for the pun.

Three things strike me from this video. 1) It's a very interesting story, though it appears to be a story of symptoms rather than causes. 2) She appeals to her audience at the end to justify her work by linking it to the plight of poverty in our country, as if the disappearance of the middle class wasn't an alarming enough thing to arouse the elite academics in the room. 3) Would regulations, even well-guided ones, really prevent stuff like this from happening again? As she points out in her RS interview, and as I certainly believe, the only way anything will carry any weight is to sever the tie between Private Risks and Public Insurance.

Happy watching, dear Viewers.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Money, Ball

With the nation still dry-heaving its way through this economic hangover, nothing palliates the soul like the beginning of baseball season. We've already seen a 20 inning game and the first no hitter of the season. Even the Astros have finally won a game. Good times, good times.

If you're not lucky enough to be at the game in your town, I'm lining up some reading and listening, dear Reader, for your spring leisure. These articles are loosely related to each other. First is the news that the government is coming after Goldman Sachs. This gives me a glimmer of hope. However, we'll see if it goes anywhere for a couple reasons: a) most of the high ranking gov't financial officials are from Goldman Sachs, and b) with all the shenanigans that clearly happened, how much of it was actually and more importantly, provably illegal? (sort of begs the question if regulation would even work?) Not sure of the implication of this being a civil vs. a criminal type thing.

This next link was forwarded to me the other day by a friend about a hedge fund that was very active in the creation of the financial mess, though again, it's questionable if they did anything illegal. The first 40 minutes of this mp3 are very interesting. Although it may unfairly imply that Magnetar was the main culprit or main agent that caused this whole thing, it at least explains very clearly how some of the worst aspects of it happened. Though, don't forget that none of this could have happened without the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates far too low or without the implicit backing that the Fed and Treasury have given to Wall Street in the event of past and future failures. In other words, the implication is that if we had regulated Magnetar, we could have prevented this, however, the very people we would supposedly trust to regulate Wall Street not only failed to regulate it or themselves but financially encouraged these types of behavior. But a very well done and informative show.

Finally, and this one may be harder to swallow, but it is some commentary by William Deresiewicz about the disadvantages of an elite education. The reason I offer this for consideration is related to the tight link between the Ivy League and our government financial institutions (e.g., Goldman Sachs and the Federal Researve). Do we not give passes to too many people simply because they are "smart" and went to a top school? Perhaps we would change our perspective if we considered that Harvard may be producing more crooks every year than Harlem.

But back to baseball. At a recent game in Milwaukee, I was dismayed to find the triangle nacho chip had infiltrated Miller Park as well. Is nothing sacred? A couple nice reads about the Boys of Summer. First, is an interesting ranking of the organizations of baseball. Boston and St. Louis top the list, and I'll let you find out for yourselves who is at the bottom. Then, a nice little blog about the latest, greatest pitching prospect in the game, Stephen Strasburg, last year's number one draft pick. This also calls to mind that even if you can't get to a Major League ballpark, there is plenty of good baseball in the minors and independent leagues. In fact, in some ways, they offer a much better baseball experience.

So whether you're more interested in the ivy at Cambridge or the walls of Wrigley, take heart! Spring is taking us into summer, one pitch at a time.

[April 22, Editor's Addition: Here's a link for those interested to a speech given by the same William Deresiewicz about Solitude and Leadership.]

Monday, March 15, 2010

March- The Greatest Tease

As someone who nearly totally despises Winter and totally loves Spring, March is a difficult time of transition for me. Every year, without fail, I begin to think that Spring in all its glory should be here on March 1. I start pulling out shorts and sandles. I start thinking about going to the pool. I literally start going out to the garden and looking for flowers to bloom. I am 35 years old and I know that March 1 does not bring Spring with it. Yet, I get fooled every year.

I have been thinking about an analogy for what March is like for me and I have found it. For those of you who have ever driven from St. Louis to Denver on Highway 70, you will know what I am talking about. March is Colorado.

When you are driving West on Highway 70 and your destination is Denver, all you can think about from the start of trip is seeing the Rocky Mountains. Your mind can focus on nothing else- Rocky Mountains. I have made the drive at least five times and everytime I watch the mile markers count down as I cross Kansas, knowing that Colorado and the Rockies are only 200 or 150 or 50 or 10 miles away. Every time, my sense of anticipation begins to build that Colorado is just a mile away. Then it arrives- the border and I cross into Colorado and look around and see.... nothing. Nothing at all except the same crap I have been staring at for the approximately 6000 miles it takes to cross Kansas. Eastern Colorado has to be one of the most disappointing places on earth. Flat nothingness- much worse than Kansas and the thing that makes it much worse is that at least in Kansas, you didn't kid yourself that you were close to your destination.

March treats me the same way. I go to bed at night on Feb. 28 thinking, "Thank God that tomorrow is March 1. Spring will be here tommorow." Then, in general, I wake up to a day with a high of 33 degrees and I realize that I have been fooled again. Now March is not all bad by any means, just like Colorado is not all bad. As soon as you hit the Rockies, Colorado is the most beautiful and majestic of states. March is the same. Later March is often glorious and exactly what I have been expecting it to be.

Once I started to think about it more, I realized that the analogy worked well for Kansas as well. Kansas, of course, is February. Gray, dreary, monotonous and it seems to go on forever.

I tried to see if I could come up with any other state/month combos and I only came up with one more. Nevada is December. When you think of either one of those, they are both pretty non-descript places/months dominated completely by one location/date of great celebration and decadence. Feel free to toss in any further month/state combos that you can think of.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

News Nits

"All the news that's fit to reprint."

Like a bobsled through your brain, news nits comes back with a bumper crop of new years nits. Lots of little happenings in the news these days, from business to politics to technology to women owning giant rodents as pets (doesn't this charming couple, more than a little, look like each other too?). So let's push off, jump in and see if we can count the curves.

In an alarming move, Google has announced they're leaving China. This strikes me as more than just a little odd. Google does anything they want to, and they tend to do it well. What does this say about them? More, what does this say about conditions in China? We know Chinese companies are competing well here (everything we buy is Made In China), but are we competing there?

Well, maybe we can keep inventing stuff for the Chinese to build for us. A professor at North Carolina State University has invented a kind of metal foam that can compress up to 80% of its original size and retain its structural integrity and bounce back.

The Middle East is still a big bag of doorknobs. How would you like to be Israel? Hamas is now floating bombs up to Israeli shores. Of course, this unusual tactic and attack is in response to Mossad "allegedly" killing one of Hamas's top dogs while he was on a trip to Dubai. Dubai police have identified 26 suspects in the poisoning, there's a lot of footage of this on TV, Mossad agents walking around the hotel, dressed in tennis gear and other normal looking clothes. Anyone else find it odd, that Israel is so effective at fighting wars on terror? They send 26 after a guy, we send 100,000? Another thing to ponder is that Israel is surrounded on all sides by people who hate them, and they have never had an airplane hijacked. Before we start doing naked scans in airports of each other, maybe we should ask if there are other ways?

News Nits loves new forms of transportation, when it's economically and technologically feasible. There's a proposal on the table for a 220 mph train between San Francisco and Los Angeles. California seems like an ideal place to build a high speed train, the ultimate trip should run 2 hours and 40 minutes. If they could figure out a way to provide continuous wi fi access, that would change the nature of much of west coast travel. Oddly, a similar measure has been proposed between Madison and Milwaukee, WI. Somehow, that doesn't seem like the right fit, but who knows. It would be cooler and maybe more fitting for WI to build a giant log flume or water slide between the two cities that are only an hour away by car anyway.

I keep waiting for Microsoft to use their considerable fortune and market share to buy the time it will take to redesign their OS from the BIOS up. But they don't. They seem to continually just try to remarket and reposition without any willingness to rebuild. The results of kludging your products ahead can end up with unpredictable results. Window 7 is apparently not only draining batteries but permanently altering their ability to function. I do not even have a theoretical explanation for this (and I am usually willing to hazard a guess about anything!).

Here comes the economics geek in me. In case you are crazy enough to try to follow the economic tax swindles perpetrated by our elected leaders, then this video might be for you. Looks like the "TARP pay backs" we've been hearing about aren't quite the whole truth:

If you've been getting into some of the raw economics behind the thinking of most modern economists (like Paul Krugman), then you've probably heard of John Maynard Keynes and probably never heard of FA Hayek. This video is a fairly clever and funny recap of an historical debate that came to pass between these two rival economists, with two very different ideas about proper ways to think of large economies. Keynes justifies government management of the economy through fiscal and monetary policies on the justification "in the end, we're all dead," meaning, let's get paid today, screw tomorrow. Hayek bases his theories on personal behavior and safe guarding free markets and risk vs. reward. Odder still is that if you choose to major in Economics in college, you still probably won't hear anything about Hayek and the Austrian School of economics. Why? Because Keynes won the day. He was a charming, flamboyant bisexual who out-witted Hayek, the nerdy one, at every turn. And the path of economic history has been set ever since (we're seeing some of the results). Well, here's the vid:

Wall Street is having buyer's remorse. After buying off Obama and teh Democrats, they want their Republicans back! This should be a true sign that the GOP has learned nothing from their recent demise. Is the Boy Scouts on the decline? We sure hope not. I just don't think that Xtreme Skateboarding has really been an adequate substitute for what the Boy Scouts teach.

Is anyone else getting dizzy following the Global Warming-->Global Climate Change-->Global Cooling "debate" going on? What a circus. Where's Bob Richards when you need him? [Editor's Note: News Nits searched high and low for a picture of Bob Richards and came up blank. Any help out there?] Speaking of weather, Sun's demise has finally come in the form of Oracle buying them out. Not many people ever worked on Sun Stations before, but I have and thought they were great machines. The never really evolved, but at least they weren't shoddy. Nevertheless, they have paid out gobs of money to their execs for failing. Still can't figure out how that makes sense.

For those with iPhones, check out these top-10 apps. Some are pretty funny, pretty novel, etc. Speaking of iPhones, rumors are saying the new iPhone 4G is coming out in June, maybe May. That might be my time to upgrade from 5 year old flip phone to the future! But man are these things expensive (along with the plans you need to make them useful). Netflix is considering streaming their service directly to the iPhone (and iPad), which is starting to make me reconsider the expense of cable, which I don't really watch anyway. Bad movies are better than bad TV. As for screen quality, apparently Apple has it right with their LCD beating out the new OLED screens appearing on many Android phones.

The U.S. Military just help to validate a process of Green Power, Inc, that turns trash into fuel. I guess there was some concern this was nothing more than a fancy facade over a simple incinerator, but it seems to be a legitimate technology. Cool.

Roundup: The FBI is getting involved in a case where school administrators spied on students using the little cameras built into the school-issued laptops. Thing is, the kids were at home. Nasty. Here's a concept car/thing/trike that Honda has built, and it just makes me wonder... why? And finally, air travellers at JFK airport in NYC learned a whole new meaning to the bring your kid to work day concept.

Machines take me by surprise with great frequency. -- Alan Turing

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Van-Coovo 2010

Hello everyone. Due to my former blogging partners meetings with investors, I have been asked to fill in for the time being.

The Vancouver Olympics are winding up. I wanted to pass this along last week at the beginning of the Games but I, like a true TLATL shareholder, am just getting around to it now. Partially inspired by today's events. The USA won their first Gold Medal in Four-man Bobsleigh in over 62 Years.

Most of you have probably read this before, but I have had the occasion to forward it a few times of late and thought I would share my trip down memory lane with you, the entire galaxy. It was by far the most complimented of the e-mails I sent out 8 years ago and is kind of relevant to these games, for both tragic and historic reasons.

This e-mail was sent January 2, 2002 from the soon to be Olympic Village in Salt Lake City, where I was working at the time:

Yesterday, as the ball dropped here in Utah (on a 2-hour tape delay), someone echoed the popular sentiment, "Man, I can't believe it is 2002!" I was like, "It's not 2002, If it was 2002 that would mean the Winter Olympics were like less than a mon----OH CRAP!" Yeah if you haven't picked up the notion from the first couple e-mails things are busy and that is what leads me to work to type you this e-mail hear on New Years Day while my scheduling system attempts to schedule the volunteers. Technology rules.

The subject number may seem a little odd two you. Well, let me add two more to the mix. 0, 200. Making any more sense. Probably, if you've spoken with me since Saturday, December 29. You see that was the day when my Olympic dream came true and burst at the same time.

0 is for how many limbs I lost in getting to accomplish my dream, but 200 is how many dollars it cost me.

52.30 was how many seconds it took to accomplish the dream, and 81 MPH is how fast I was going when it was accomplished.

That's right contestants, I went down the bobsled track, or bobsleigh track. For clarification, Bobsleigh is the event and bobsled is the device used. Details I know, but what details they are.

I know $200 is a lot of money to spend for 52 seconds of fun, but the price is high for a couple reasons. One is that there are only two places in the US that have bobsled tracks (Lake Placid and Salt Lake) and only 16 in the entire world. The opportunity to do this extreme sport is very rare. Secondly, is that they do it at night and have fully operational scoreboards, equipment and staff to assist you. The bobsleds are specially designed to hold non-experienced Bobsledders. The brake has been moved from the back to the front and ropes line the inside of the bobsled for us to hold onto. In short, $200 was well worth it.

We arrived at 7:00pm and went directly to Men's Start house at the very top of the hill. I had no idea how steep a track was. I am no altitude expert, but I would say it was at least a 400 ft. drop in altitude from start to finish. We were able to drive all the way up to the top of the track which spectators won't be able to get near during the games. From there we checked in, signed our waivers, and received our pins and lanyards that identified us as participants in the ride-a-long program. We then had a brief introduction of staff and the format for the evening. We did a "draw" to determine who would go down on what sled. I was on sled number three. We then watched a video detailing our instructions for when we got in the the sled. There was some repetition but the information was very specific and thorough. One of the things that they told us is that we would be traveling at a peak speed of 80-82 MPH. The Gold medal winning team in Nagano reached a peak speed of 76 MPH. This track was built for speed. It also helps that its elevation is one of the highest in the world.

Now it was time to venture out to the start house and send the first sled on its way. We were divided up into groups of three for the draw so I was paired with two dudes from San Diego (I went with a friend form the Village but we were split up do to the numbers game). We got fitted into helmets as the first sled was being pushed from the start gate. No, we did not get to push and jump in though I would not have been opposed to it. In case your wondering I needed a XXL helmet. We only had two sleds and two drivers so when one went down, it was brought up by the sled truck then positioned in the starting gate. They assigned us where to sit and I was given the fourth seat. In that seat you sit higher than any of the four but you also get whipped around more, but I was yet to realize that. We sit in the sled and wait for an all-clear from the track. Once that is given, three of the staff gently shove us down the track and we are on our way.

You know how in car commercials they tell you how this car can go from 0-60 in 5.2 seconds. I'd like to know how fast we we went from like 10-70, because before I knew it we were cruising. They told us to try and count all 15 turns. Come on. Now way was that possible. Really before you know it, it was over and it basically put every roller coaster I've ever ridden to shame. We received a card with our time and top speed, along with a Polaroid of the sled and crew. We then got to go to some of the turns and watch other sleds go down. Surprisingly, the railing for spectators to watch are right up against the track leaving you like two feet from the actual ice on the track. And when that sled rumbles by you it was almost as intense as the ride itself.

That was it. My dream has come true, to ride an Olympic bobsled. However, I also realized that bobsledding, is indeed a sport and any faint fantasies I might have had a pursuing this sport are now history. I mean really you push a sled and jump in. These drivers though were built like brickhouses and you need to be to control a sled going that fast. I think most of the ride-a-long dates are booked but this will continue next year and most likely for years to come. So if you're out here, got some spare change and an interest, call Utah Olympic Park and you will be able to take the ride of your life.

Happy New Year.


The pictures of me, my riding mates and our sled, but they are on my old computer which is boxed up in my storage closet. A real blogger would get that puppy out, extract those jpg's and do this right. I, am not a real blogger anymore.

This link has information on rides should you you find this something that you want to do.

Happy sledding!

Friday, February 12, 2010


It's cold out there, folks. Not just in The Loop or The Lou. I saw one of TLATL's readers buzz about the temperature in his city...

(Inevitable tangent - do you like Google Buzz? I've stated before that I've intentionally avoided the "social" scene. It may be that I'm missing out on all the fun, but for whatever reason I just don't like my name and info all over the place. But, I understand the draw.

The funny thing is that as a result of the buzz launch, all my friends started following my Shared Items on Google Reader, which is what I've been trying to get everyone to do for years!

But I digress... )

It's so cold that the Mississippi River froze! No kidding. A good friend of mine sent me the link to some great pictures of a frozen Mississippi. I bet you could catch some great driftwood if you were to ice fish on our muddy rio.

And speaking of ice fishing, has anyone ever gone ice fishing? I'm not much for fishing myself, so I can't imagine ice fishing would be much better. But that's just me.

Friday, January 29, 2010

You Smell That?

File this under: IIIIIIIII knew it!!

Have you ever had your wife/girlfriend/mother/sister/daughter/another female in the human race complain of a scent, and you have no idea what they're talking about? It's a little embarrassing to admit, I suppose, but I have. Many times.

Sometimes it's a complaint that I smell. Sometimes it's someone else. Or something else. Heck if I know - I can't smell it.

But 60-Second Science has attempted to explain this olfactory oddity: Women smell better than men. That's probably true in many ways, but I find it comforting to know that there's a scientific explanation for my inability to know that I stink.

So to the few women who read this blog, it's not just that we don't care we stink, it's that we don't know we stink, either.

And for the men who read this blog, if there's any doubt in your mind as to whether or not you stink, you probably do.

And if you found the 60-Second Science story amusing, subscribe to their daily podcast! It's quick and informative. I've been enjoying it for a couple years now.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Happy New Year from TLATL

As usual, our punctuality is impeccable. Happy 2010 everyone! By the way, do you say "twenty-ten", "two-thousand ten" or something else? I like twenty-ten myself.

While our title pays homage to two great mid-Western cities from which a lot of our writers and readers hail, our content rarely covers news from our namesake cities. So I thought it would be nice to kick off the year with a review some news coming out of The Lou.

About a month ago, Highway 40 re-opened after a two-year long closing (the first year it was closed from I-170 to Kingshighway, the second year from Ballas to I-170). Although massive traffic delays and economic catastrophes for businesses were predicted by some, the project went about as smoothly as could be expected. I have to admit that I was pretty surprised when a large-scale government infrastructure project actually finished slightly ahead of schedule. From The Lou's KSDK:
MoDOT leaders are calling the project, which involved demolishing and completely rebuilding a 10 mile stretch of Highway 40, a huge success. It was finished three weeks ahead of schedule and $11 million under budget. It is the largest single construction contract in MoDOT's history and cost more than a half-billion dollars.
Dude, MoDOT is making AfghanistanDOT look like a bunch of chumps.

How do you know if someone isn't from the Lou? They refer to the highway as I-64, not Highway 40. They're like, "Yeah, so I was heading down I-64..." and you think to yourself, "I-64? Oh, man. Did he really tell me he's from Indianapolis? 'Cause I just pegged him for Parkway Central. Aw, snap."

Anyway, take a spin on the new central corridor and I'm sure you'll appreciate the job they did. In all seriousness, it's a great improvement.

And while you're out on the roads, check out the billboards. You may see some advertisements for a smoke-free Ballwin or Kirkwood coming near you.

I've long been disappointed in my state for not being as progressive as our eastern neighbors and others, but it appears that the barriers to smoke free public buildings are slowly coming down... or should I say, drifting away. The argument that making Ballwin, for example, smoke-free will cause patrons to flee to neighboring towns, negatively impacting Ballwin restaurants/bars and thus Ballwin tax dollars just doesn't hold water with me. There are enough people nowadays that will actually drive the extra mile (or miles) to a smoke-free establishment.

That said, there will undoubtedly be some bars that will go under if the neighboring towns don't also follow suit. Hopefully the trend continues quickly, or their patrons are loyal enough to smoke outside.

Speaking of outside... it's cold!! Remember that incredibly mild summer we had? Well, we're paying for it now, as predicted by the Farmer's Almanac.

And lastly, a former Cardinals first baseman made the news recently from his home in Southern California: Gregg Jeffries is coaching high school baseball!!

I'm sure everyone is aware of Mark McGwire (finally) admitting to steroid use. The announcement was necessary and long overdue. We've covered McGwire and the era before, and I don't think McGwire's announcement changes the opinion I posited in that post. It's good for baseball that he took this step, and I hope his tenure as the Cards' hitting coach is long and successful. I haven't seen his interviews yet, but read some transcripts. I think McGwire is a good man, and I think he's genuinely remorseful for what he did, but he did seem to be using injuries to excuse his actions just a little...  Oh well, it's just a game.

I do recommend you check out Bernie Miklasz's interview with McGwire. Bernie has now been the lead sports writer in St. Louis for 20 years, and I think St. Louis sports fans are lucky to have him here.

God bless everyone in 2010!