Sunday, December 31, 2006

Out with the old and in with the new...

I've been away from the computer and TV for a couple of days, so haven't been following the news too closely, but did I hear that former president Gerald Ford had been hung for crimes against humanity? Come on, inflation was out of control during his term, and he did pardon that crook, Nixon, but why hang him now? Oh, well.

Sorry, that's the last bad joke of the year. Now, I've got to brush up on my New Year's Superstitions over at the Urban Legends page (

For instance, did you know that "The new year must not be seen in with empty cupboards, lest that be the way of things for the year. Larders must be topped up..." I guess that means I've got to go to the market today, as our fridge is quite empty following a 30 hour (+) power outage from Wednesday evening to Friday morning. And, while we were inspired by cleaning out the rotted food from the fridge, we went ahead and cleaned out the cabinets too.

More New Year's Superstitions:
  • Pay off your bills before the New Year.
  • "The first person to enter your home after the stroke of midnight will influence the year you're about to have."
  • Nothing leaves the house on the first day of the year, not even garbage!
  • Do something work related to guarantee success, but don't do too big a project because serious work is unlucky.
  • Wear new clothes on January 1.
  • Make a lot of noise at midnight, New Year's Eve, to scare the evil spirits away.
Learn more about the "rationale" for these, and other, superstitions at

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Christmas Eve, holiday lights in Los Gatos, CA

New Year's resolutions are for sissies!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"I will return!"

Sorry for the silence here on the blog, but I've been busy with family issues. Leslie had a bit of minor surgery on Monday, and my main priority now is to take care of her.

I'll be back with regular postings after the holidays, and hopefully get in a short post or two before then.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Is Global Warming Real? -- Who Cares?

This may come as a shock, but I've decided that I really don't care anymore whether or not the Theory of Global Warming turns out to be a fact or a mistake. Oh, I still care deeply about protecting the environment. I just don't care about global warming. Let me explain what led me to this realization.

Over the past few months a couple of my friends have pointed that while there is consensus in the scientific world around global warming, consensus is not the same thing as proof, and that the proof will only really come over a period of a century or so. Of course, other friends have found this heresy shocking. Shocking, I tell you!

Fact: The average annual temperature of the planet is on the rise.
Fact: Species are going extinct at an increasing pace.
Theory: Human actions have hastened these two events through the burning of fossil fuels and other practices, and we can make certain course corrections to slow down the pace of climate change.

Note, global warming is a theory. The planet's temperature naturally goes up and down over the eons. It has been much warmer than it is now, and it has been much cooler. Any visit to the natural history museum dinosaur exhibit will tell you that mass extinctions have also happened periodically during the planet's long life.

What is unknown, but is presented as fact by well-meaning individuals and groups, is the exact extent to which human actions cause or contribute to these otherwise natural cycles. And, again, I don't care. Here's why:

I think that the focus on global warming has done a great disservice to the environmental movement. By putting all our attention on a problem that we may or may not be able to witness, and may or may not be able to effect, and may or may not be able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, we have lost focus on things we can see, things we can prove, and things we can effect.

We have the data to show the human health toll of burning certain fuels and dumping certain chemicals. We have shown that it is possible to restore habitats and clean the air and water through localized efforts. And we have the data to show the improvement in human (and animal) health when such environmental efforts are put into place.

These local efforts, where citizens can see and feel the effects of their actions - both positive and negative - are where the environmental movement should re-focus their energies. Because these efforts are real. And they add up.

If the Theory of Global Warming turns out to be a fact, then these small local efforts will combine to have the positive impact we need to slow it down. And, if the Theory turns out to have been an unnecessary scare, so what? We'll still know that we've done right by our communities.

Here's another little fact for you: Homo Sapiens will go extinct. It may be in the next ten years through our efforts at spreading democracy or God or whatever else we're fighting for. It may be in the next century by poisoning our planet. It may be in 100,000 years through the natural cycles of the planet. Whatever. But, sooner or later, we all join the dinosaurs.

Till then, the best we can do is to each take care of the little square of earth that we have dominion over. As a very wise person once told me, "Don't pi** in the water supply." Just remember that and we'll be alright.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sleep Clinic - Follow-up

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my first visit to the sleep clinic. Following that night in the clinic I was officially diagnosed with Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea. This last Monday night I made my second visit, this time to test out sleeping with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device.

The CPAP is a machine that basically forces you to keep breathing by putting a continuous flow of air into your nose by way of a small mask (see picture at top right). Fun, huh? Here's the comparison of the data:

Full Stops: This is now many times I completely stop breathing during the night (apnea). Sleeping "normally" I had 228 full stops. With the CPAP only one.

Partial Stops: Sleeping normally, 65. With the CPAP, one.

Oxygen Saturation: The lowest reading on my blood oxygen level during the night. Normal, 74.5%. With CPAP, 94.6%.

"Respiratory Disturbance Index": The average number of apnea and hypopnea incidents per hour. Sleeping normally, 42.4. With the CPAP, 0.3.

So, obviously, a dramatic difference. By wearing the silly mask and air pump I sleep like a normal person and have a chance at actually experiencing a day without walking around like a freaking zombie from exhaustion.

I was given my CPAP machine today and will start sleeping with it at home tonight. (For those who know and care about these things, my setting is 10).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Somebody Likes Me & The Lord Likes Visa

Well, I may never make WIRED magazine's list of the most influential bloggers, but Pam Ashlund of Boxter Heaven, the Nonprofit Eye, and others has called me her favorite blogger and written a very nice review of my various sites, including an incriminating link to a parody of a Prius jingle I wrote last summer. Thanks Pam! (And, yes, I'm a fan of her blogs too).

Are you tired of having to bring cash with you to church for the collection plate every Sunday? Well, a new company called SecureGive wants to change all that.

The idea started with Pastor Marty Baker of the Stevens Creek Community Church in Martinez, Georgia. A while back he installed A.T.M.s, or "automatic tithe machines," in the lobby of his church. "It's more than an A.T.M. for Jesus," says Baker. "It's about erasing barriers."

Erasing barriers and building funds, that is. Since the machines went in, donations have gone up 18%, with an average credit card gift of $100.

The machines are building funds for Baker and his wife, as well. They've started the SecureGive company to install the machines in churches nationwide - for $2-5,000 a pop, plus the monthly maintenance fees, of course.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Change One Thing

This is a story about about how the Internet brings people closer together. This is an example of why political borders are becoming increasingly insignificant. This is a demonstration of how a web 2.0 community like YouTube can be used to aid an individual or a family without the help of intermediary organizations or governments. Enough of an introduction, let's get on with it.

It begins more than six months ago in Australia, when the daughters of Ben and Amanda (YouTube username "Orbvious") were abducted by their birth father. He has kept them apart from their mother and step-father ever since. They've been running into roadblocks in the Australian legal and family court system, unable to find assistance. Amanda, of course, is wreck over this.

Ben wrote an email to Scottish singer-songwriter (and YouTuber) Peri Urban telling his tale. Peri was inspired to write a song for Ben and Amanda, which he posted on YouTube. This cheered Amanda up considerably.

That's when I stepped in and said, "If one song can cheer her up that much, what would fifty songs do?" And so, with Ben, Amanda, and Peri's permission, I started the "One Tube Group" on YouTube. We got our fifty songs, poems, and well wishers. We also got people from all over the globe to write letters on Ben and Amanda's behalf to the Australian authorities. And, we managed to raise a few dollars for their mounting expenses.

The video below is the latest part of this effort, and represents a great collaboration of the members of the OneTube group. Peri and I co-produced it, I wrote the bit of dialogue at the start, together we solicited clips from about thirty other members, and then Peri did the amazing work of writing and producing a new song and editing the entire thing into a cohesive whole.

Please take a look at the video, and if you are moved to join us, or read more about the situation, please visit us at The OneTube Challenge (on

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Are you a one-percenter?

What's the 1% rule? It's that in a web 2.0 community, 1% of the users will take leadership roles in creating new content, 10% will "interact" with it (comments, ratings, responses), and 89% will just sit back and enjoy the show.

Yahoo's Bradley Horowitz applies the 1% rule to Yahoo Groups:
"1% of the user population might start a group; 10% of the user population might participate actively, and actually author content, whether starting a thread or responding to a thread-in-progress; 100% of the user population benefits from the activities of the above groups."
All 100% benefit, but the work of the community is done by a very few at the top, and a small circle around them to offer encouragement and motivation.

How it works elsewhere:
  • 50% of all Wikipedia article edits are done by 0.7% of users, and more than 70% of all articles have been written by just 1.8% of all users.
  • On YouTube each day there are 100 million downloads and 65,000 uploads - or 1,538 downloads per upload.
I suppose all this makes me a one-percenter. I have created Yahoo Groups (as well as participated in others). I have both edited Wikipedia articles and written new ones. And, I have posted over 50 original videos to YouTube. Oh, yeah, and I'm an active blogger.

The conclusion, and lesson for would-be web-entrepreneurs? "Certainly, to echo Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. The trouble, as in real life, is finding the builders."

Friday, December 08, 2006

Are you a terrorist loving scum?

Have you taken the test yet? How much do you hate America and support the terrorists? I apparently, I support the evil-doers 96%...

Your 'Do You Want the Terrorists to Win' Score: 96%

You are a terrorist-loving, Bush-bashing, "blame America first"-crowd traitor. You are in league with evil-doers who hate our freedoms. By all counts you are a liberal, and as such cleary desire the terrorists to succeed and impose their harsh theocratic restrictions on us all. You are fit to be hung for treason! Luckily George Bush is tapping your internet connection and is now aware of your thought-crime. Have a nice day.... in Guantanamo!

Do You Want the Terrorists to Win?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Covering all the bases

I don't know exactly why, but I really found this marquee amusing.

(The Century 24 Theater, Winchester Blvd., San Jose, showing "Borat" and "The Nativity Story")

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mary's baby and the hypocrisy of the right

To the fundamentalist right wing, Vice President Dick Cheney can do no wrong. He has championed all their causes, and fought all their foes - including those who would grant equal marriage rights to all or allow homosexual couples to adopt children.

Cheney has gladly led the anti-gay parade, despite the fact that his daughter, Mary, is a lesbian in a long-term relationship with another woman. Mary describes her partnership with Heather as "a marriage" despite the fact that they live in Virginia, which has a state law and a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage or civil unions.

With today's news that Mary (37) and Heather (45) are expecting a baby, the VP gets to again talk out of each side of his crooked mouth. Yes, Mary is pregnant (no word on who the father is, or how the pregnancy came about - insert your own David Crosby joke here), and the VP Dick and his wife, Lynn, have issued a statement saying that they are looking forward to their 6th grandchild.

Has Dick shown any leadership or daring by making a statement about how it's the fault of the religious right that this baby will be born out-of-wedlock? Any word on the hypocrisy that gives Heather no legal rights regarding her partner's child? Any plea to recognize the legitimacy of this 14-year relationship and their partnership in preparing to raise a child? Of course not.

Dick always has to have it both ways. He openly supports ands loves his daughter - as he should - all while playing political footsie with those who would damn her to Hell.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cell phones and the end privacy

A couple of weeks ago we saw a great example of how the prevalence of cell phone cameras can be a great equalizer between the people and those in power when a UCLA student caught a video of campus police repeatedly tazing a student.

Of course, this is really nothing new. Think of the video of the Rodney King beating, and other examples going back at least a decade. The number of video capable devices in ordinary people's hands has grown by leaps and bounds since then, making these types of incidents all the more common.

We all now carry electronic devices that we can use to turn on others, and others can use to turn on us - both for good and bad results. That three members of the Kim family were rescued earlier this week (unfortunately, the father, James, was finally found, dead, today) from a frozen Oregon wilderness was in great part due to the ability track in on their cell phone when a friend sent them a text message.

The flip side of the same piece of technology is shown in this article: FBI taps cell phone mic as eavesdropping tool. I bet you didn't even know this was possible - that your cell company could flip a switch that would turn your phone into a bug even when you are not making a call.

The article shows how this technique was used to put surveillance on organized crime figures. I know, you're not a mobster, so you're not worried. But, in this age of national security paranoia, when the president can declare anybody he (dis)likes an "enemy combatant" and have them held indefinitely, it gets a whole lot scarier.

Then, just as I was finishing that article, I received this question by email:
I've been thinking.

It used to be that if you were going to do something wrong, the only people you had to worry about busting you were the police.

Now that every cell phone comes, inexplicably, equipped with a camera, ordinary citizens are doing a lot of the busting and going public with their videos on YouTube.

Is this constant threat of exposure a good thing?
My reply:

Double-edged sword -- It can be a great tool for democracy and people power by keeping the authorities in check -- But it can also be used by less upstanding people to destroy any concept of privacy.

Welcome to our brave new world.

Inequality grows - The middle shrinks

The election season is over, and we're well into the holiday gift buying frenzy. But here's a little food for thought while you're out there going further into debt to purchase landfill fodder for your loved ones.

Courtesy of Mother Jones magazine and the MoJo blog, a few statistics:
  • In 2005, there were 9 million American millionaires, a 62% increase since 2002.

  • Since 2000, the number of Americans living below the poverty line at any one time has steadily risen. Now 13% of all Americans—37 million—are officially poor.

  • Only 3% of students at the top 146 colleges come from families in the bottom income quartile; only 10% come from the bottom half.

  • Since 1983, college tuition has risen 115%. The maximum Pell Grant for low- and moderate-income college students has risen only 19%.

  • Bush's tax cuts give a 2-child family earning $1 million an extra $86,722—or Harvard tuition, room, board, and an iMac G5 for both kids.

  • Bush’s tax cuts (extended until 2010) save those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 an average of $10 a year, while those earning $1 million are saved $42,700.

  • 63% of federal housing subsidies go to households earning more than $77,000. 18% go to households earning less than $16,500.

  • Inner-city grocery stores sell milk for 43% more than suburban supermarkets.

  • If the $5.15 HOURLY minimum wage had risen at the same rate as CEO compensation since 1990, it would now stand at $23.03.

  • 10 former Enron directors agreed to pay shareholders a $13 million settlement—which is 10% of what they made by dumping stock while lying about the company’s health.

  • Poor Americans spend 1/4 of their income on residential energy costs.
Happy Holidays!

Sources: Income Inequality in the U.S.? Nah., Poor Losers, and A Look at the Numbers: How the Rich Get Richer.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Updates... YouTube, Highway 17 Music, & Apnea

Yesterday I had my first "featured" video on YouTube. A feature is when the YouTube staff chooses one of your videos to run on the front page of the site. With the thousands of videos posted every day, it's pretty much of an honor to be chosen, but it's hard to say what their criteria are.

I've done some videos there that I'm kind of proud of, and that I thought had a chance to be featured. No such luck.

The video of mine that they chose, in contrast, was a quickly thrown together joke. A Three Hour Tour - The Professor's Story is a Gilligan's Island parody in response to another 'Tuber's video. The last thing I would have expected them to feature.

And yet, it's not had over 112,000 views in the last 30 hours or so, and has increased my subscriber list from just over 240 to just under 300 (and still rising).


Update two has to do with my Highway 17 Music site. About a month ago I redesigned it as a guitar oriented blog, with lessons, tips, and resources for aspiring guitarists. I'm including a lot of videos and articles from other sources (with permission) for the expertise.


The results from my polysomnogram (overnight sleep study) are in...

The official diagnosis is that I have "severe obstructive sleep apnea." During my night hooked up to all the monitors I stopped breathing completely 228 times, and "nearly stopped" another 65 times, for 42.4 "disturbances" per hour, during which my blood oxygen levels fell as low as 74.5%.

Another problem is that even the sleep I did get, was not "the right kind." I spent 75.1% of my sleep in stages one and two (should be about 55%), 11.4% in stages three and four (should be about 25%), and only 13.5% in REM, or the deepest dream sleep (should be 20%).

I go in again next Monday for another overnight, this time to test the C-PAP - a machine and mask that essentially pumps air, forcing me to keep breathing. It turns out that the apnea may actually be contributing to some of my other complaints, such as reflux and tinnitus.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Round 14

Welcome to Round Fourteen of the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Blogging 'till the secret police take us away.

Carnival of the Decline of DemocracyFirst of all, I lied. I said I was going to take a break and not post the carnival again till after the new year... but the entries just kept on coming... and they were good... so, here we go again....

Jake Danger of Lunatic Wisdom presents George W. Bush - Forgive Him, For He Knows Not What He Does - Jake's analysis? Dubya does it all to impress Daddy.

Laura Young presents Is There a Buddha in the White House? - A kinder, gentler way to learn from the President.

Michael John Bertrand presents How to be a really terrible leader - "Any resemblances to people living, dead, or currently in power under dubious auspices is intentional."

Charles H. Green, the "Trusted Advisor," presents John McCain, Trust and Politics - "Can you, or can you not, speak truthfully and be elected?"

Madeleine Begun Kane (MadKane) presents Hack This Limerick - A small, but potent, description of the state of electronic voting.

As always, thank you to all who submitted excellent posts, and thank you for joining us on our semi-regular look at the decline of democracy (and occasionally hopeful responses to it).

Now... this time I really am taking a break... The next edition of the Carnival will be posted on Monday, January 8th,, 2007 with entries requested by Saturday, January 6th, at midnight. Submit your blog post for the New Year's edition of the carnival of the decline of democracy using our carnival submission form. More information on future carnivals can be found on our carnival home page.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Too late to learn cockfighting

I know you had your hopes up. I know you had dreams of being an international cockfighting star. I've seen you there, crying in the poultry aisle at the local supermarket, muttering to the packaged birds, "You coulda been some chicken. You coulda been a contender. Instead of a fryer, which is what you are."

It's too because the last remaining cockfight teacher in the U.S. is closing his school. Personally, I was surprised that there even was a cockfighting school. But, alas, I found out too late. 82-year-old cockfighting master Mike Ratliff is retiring. But, he claims that while the school may be going away, the sport is alive and well - despite laws against it in 47 states and complaints from the ASPCA.
"The whole world likes it. All of the South Pacific likes it. It's been a sport since the beginning of time. The Humane Society has pretty much knocked it in the head in the United States but they can't stop it in Mexico, Central America, the South Pacific and Hawaii. It's the national sport in those countries. You aren't going to get rid of it in the United States as long as you have Mexicans and other Latin Americans. They love it.

"The whole world wants me to teach them. I've had the pleasure of teaching every nationality in the world. I'm the only man in the history of competitive cockfighting who's ever taught a class. For 40 years I tried to find someone else to teach classes. It's so competitive that nobody else will share their secrets."
And, yes, he does mean competitive. A good cockfighter (the trainer, not the bird) can earn $10-20,000 in a single night. But, damn, who'll teach me how now?

(NOTE - Before you leave nasty comments, I'm kidding about wanting to be a cockfighter. It's cruel and disgusting. I just found the story interesting.)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

What's your terror risk assessment?

No, I'm not asking for your assessment of the risk of terror, I'm asking what the official assessment of the risk that you are a terrorist.

Don't know your risk assessment, or ATS (Automated Targeting System), score? The government does. Well, at least, they do if you travel into or out of the U.S. Your assessment computed based on such factors as where you are from, how you paid for your tickets, your motor vehicle records, your history of one-way travel, your seating preference, and what kind of meal you ordered.

So, if you paid cash for your one-way ticket, asked for a seat up front and a Kosher meal, you might just find yourself stopped at the gate, pulled out for extra questioning, and possibly barred from traveling completely (the new system covers air, land, and sea transportation).

This is different than the previous lists we've heard of, filled with miss-spelled names of "known" terrorists. These watch lists have kept infants with suspicious names from boarding flights in the past. But to barred from flying now, they don't need to already know your name. You just need to match the correct profile.

And don't bother asking Homeland Security for a copy of your assessment. You're not allowed to see it. It's a state secret and a matter of national security. Your score is available, however, to any government agency or private contractor who's thinking of hiring you needs to persuaded not to. But they don't have to tell you that the ATS assessment is why you lost the job. That would be a breach of national security.

"Never before in American history has our government gotten into the business of creating mass 'risk assessment' ratings of its own citizens," said Barry Steinhardt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, in the under-statement of the year.

Oh, and we may be just learning about the ATS assessments now, but they're nothing new. The system was developed in the 1990's, and all airlines and cruise companies have been required to "send the government electronic data in advance on all passengers and crew bound into or out of the country" since 2002.

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