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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Something Special From Wisconsin

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, one driver in Appleton was involved in four crashes within 7 minutes. Why does weird stuff like this always seem to happen in Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, back in the Big City, Madison's News3 added this shocker to the story, "The State Patrol says alcohol may have been a factor". You think? Let's see, Packers game Sunday, Appleton, I am shocked.

Actually,I'm shocked that this guy stopped after only four collisions,and he didn't hit a single deer. In Vince Lombardi's day, he wouldn't have stopped until his car crossed into the Dallas endzone. Wisconsin was different in those days, when men were men, women were women, and Ed Gein was not a musical, furcrissakes! What next, Jeffery Dahmer, the ballet?



All I can say is WTF?

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I Was An Historical Detective in Fairyland

Last month, DW, DMIL and I went out to Nevada County to do some on sight genealogical research about their gold-digging ancestors. While the ladies dug into the records, I took a walk around town. Downtown Nevada City still has a gold rush boom town look to it. Unfortunately, it also has authentic smells. The city is brimming with restaurants, ye olde this-and-that shoppes and hippy new age crystal and faerie gear emporia. The owner of one of the faerie shoppes allowed me to take a few photos.I have never seen anything like this before.

As you can see in this close up, the indoor trees were filled with faeries.


It was truly weird experience, and I didn't even get a chahkra-charge from the obvious beauty and good intentions of the magical creatures. Dang!

Well I made my way back up to the old library,which has now become a local historical resource. The historical library building is way cool.

I spotted one of the suspect ancestors (The Elusive Mr. Duffy) in a hand typed listing some insanely anal-retentive person assembled in the early 1990s. The listing was taken from the county's 1867 property tax assessment rolls. I showed this find to the librarian (I was bragging since everyone else was spending hours looking through records, and I found this in a few minutes). The librarian took me back into some old stacks, and she gave me the original county property tax ledger. This was so cool-looking. I felt like Uriah Heep or Bob Cratchett, squinting over the ledger open on a heavily varnished molasses-colored 19th century library table.


I found Duffy here, in the listing for some boom town that doesn't exist today:


Duffy didn't appear as a property owner, however the left hand column of the ledger listed men registered for the California Militia. Here is Himself.


Now we know where Duffy was in 1866.

We followed another trail of evidence to Washington, CA an out of the way town which is now a campground that looked pretty residential, and one street of buildings that were doing their best not to collapse. We found nothing useful in the old graveyard, however a few weeks later I read about Washington, CA in Harper's Magazine, and found out the place is a haven for small-time marijuana growers, people who grow under 50 plants per year to supply the legal medical marijuana dispensaries. It seemed like a good location. The town is surrounded by federal land lying in a canyon with only one road into and out of the valley. The road descends from Highway 20, and ends at town.

I stopped in the the town store to ask for directions, and everyone was nice, although no one offered me any marijuana. Dang. In the tradition of DW's ancestors, I didn't find any gold, again. Double Dawg Dang.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Meet Your New Boss

Ben Franklin wrote that "He who goes Borrowing goes sorrowing".

Interesting to hear those words from none other than Cheng Siwei, former vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of China's communist party. Looks like debt impacts international relations similar to interpersonal relations.

When you owe, you are your creditor's bitch. There's nicer ways to say that, but no truer way. You have to listen to moralizing crap like this from your friendly neighborhood commie creditors. Listen to some more of Cheng's rants:

"Beijing was dismayed by the Fed's recourse to "credit easing"" "We hope there will be a change in monetary policy as soon as they have positive growth again." If they keep printing money to buy bonds it will lead to inflation, and after a year or two the dollar will fall hard. Most of our foreign reserves are in US bonds and this is very difficult to change, so we will diversify incremental reserves into euros, yen, and other currencies." "The US spends tomorrow's money today," he said. "We Chinese spend today's money tomorrow. That's why we have this financial crisis."

Too bad for Cheng that, under his watch, China accumulated so much dollar denominated debt that they can't sell out. Cheng even admitted that when they try to swap dollar instruments for gold, gold skyrockets. China is screwed as bad as we are. IMHO, it serves the Chinese elite right for hogging all the wealth their hard-working citizens created rather than spreading the wealth around and developing some markets at home. It always makes me smile to think about how cheap labor is in the workers' socialist paradise.

Mercantilism (look at Japan these days) almost always leads to the same end result; your citizens work like slaves, and once you economically "defeat"your customer-enemies, you end up with depleted natural resources and mountains of worthless currency.

My dearest friend Cheng,

I can understand how you are red with anger at your piles of likely worthless assets. Too bad for you it's too late to unload them. I say to you, in the words of Jim Carroll, "It's too late to fall in love with Sharon Tate".

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Greasy Rider" The Return of the American Male Road Novel

I picked Greasy Rider , by Greg Melville while I was aimlessly browsing through the 10 or 20 new volumes on the New Books shelf in the local library last Wednesday. I was attracted to by the punny title, and I'm glad to say once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. I wasn't sure what to expect, I feared the book might be earnest and scolding as Melville's blog, but I was happily proven wrong.

Although Greasy Rider includes serious discussions about environmentalism and renewable fuels, most of the book is a romping return to the Great American Road Novel, told through a more journalistic than literary prose. Melville is a thirtyish married guy with with two kids, major bad communication with his controlling and scolding wife, and absolutely no mechanical ability. When he wants a second car, he buys a 30 year old Mercedes station wagon and converts it to run on vegetable oil, rather than answer his wife's nagging about the wastefulness of owning two cars. Now comes the midlife crisis that seems to hit at younger and younger ages these days.

He finds his road buddy in a recently divorced compulsive shopper friend with whom he's been pretty much out of touch since college. But, this Iggy guy is brilliant with engines and drives Melville to deepen his research and self knowledge, while often talking in a Gomer Pyle voice until Melville threatens to kill him. Is this a road novel or what?

Their mission is to drive from his home in Vermont to a vegetable oil filling station in Berkeley, California, using vegetable oil he finds along the way for fuel (actually, the greasecar system uses a small amount of diesel fuel at the beginning if each drive to heat the vegetable oil to about 80 degrees F. Melville used four gallons of diesel on his cross country trip).

The trip is a series of misadventures from mechanical issues, summoning courage to ask restaurants for their used grease, and visits to various renewable energy high points. In between the road stories, Melville describes what he learned from visiting various renewable energy hot spots. His visit to Al Gore's place (actually looked around the gate because he wasn't asked in) was great.

What I liked best about the book was the rhythm of misadventures, I always wanted to know what these two chowderheads were going to get into next.

I give this book 4 stars.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Manhattan Through the Bard's Eyes

The Mannhatta Project is on of the coolest Internet "gee whiz gizmo's" I have seen in a while. The project gives you an interactive map of Manhattan today, Manhattan in 1609, and the ability to superimpose the two aerial views. For some blocks, you get bonus material including a photo of what the area probably looked like in 1609 from the ground level and lists of species. Brooklyn and Bronx aren't included, isn't that how these things always work?

OK, really this is Manhattan through Shakespeare's eyes if he would have spent the last years of his life traveling with Henry Hudson. BTW, wouldn't that have made a better movie than "Shakespeare in Love"?

At least give me credit for not gratuitously mentioning John Dowland,who was probably crying his eyes out while Hudson was out seeing this. Did I ever mention I need to get a life? But c'mon, how cool was the Elizabethan period (provided, of course, that you were better at managing Herself than was Sir Walter Raleigh). How cool with pirates, a New World to explore (provided of course, you weren't an Indian), and the occasional spectacle of "hanged until almost dead and drawn and quartered". Oh those crazy Brits with their warped sense of humor.

What the heck was I talking about? Oh, yeah, take a look at the Mannhatta sight. Take time to enjoy all the dense graphics, and you'll find out how fast your Internet connection really is.


That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


I'm Not Saying Actuaries are Disgusting. . .

I'm not saying anything, anything at all. Not Anything. Not A Thing. Period.

I will let the Honorable Emmet G. Sullivan, United States District Judge speak for himself, from the transcript of September 15, 2009's ruling in Bruce D. Schobel v. American Academy of Actuaries.

"It's really unfortunate that what's put into motion the series of the sequence of events since July is the undisputed fact that the terms of a confidential arbitration agreement were revealed. That's really -- really unfortunate. It's unseemly. It's disgusting, but that's -- that's why you folks are all here, and I think that when the final chapter is written in this book, I think the world is going to know more about the American Academy of Actuaries than it ever wanted to learn and know about."

"This is a case that cries out for settlement. I said that the first day,you know,and the tears are even louder now. It cries out for settlement,but parties haven't seen fit to settle it,and that's fine. Then I'll settle it and let the chips fall where they may."

"So I guess the crying goes on for another day. Parties are excused."

That is not my story, and anyone who says otherwise is itching for a fight.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I've Become A Commodity

Once of our Hangininsac roving reporters found this in a butcher shop near Los Angeles. I am speechless.


engrish funny steve flavoured
see more Engrish

I guess that's how my story ends, and I'm sticking to the pan.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Lars and the Real Girl

We just rented this 2007 film at Friend E's recommendation. We were skeptical, since she tends to like rather mushy films, and our local film club (K, neighbor and I) tends to degenerate from time to time into a Werner Herzog angst-in-expressionism slugfest.

Check out the trailer, yes, this is a movie about a relationship with a "love doll". But it was great, and had both female members of the film club grabbing for sob towels by the end.



My advice is to see this movie as soon as you can. It was great,5 Stars, two thumbs up and all that! Given the "blurb synopsis", I have to admit I was expecting pure crap. But this movie was absolutely hilarious,although not in the laugh-out-loud way, but in a kind and understated way, gently calling out our delusional tendencies and that Scandinavian outlook and behaviour that is endemic in the northern Midwestern States.

All I can say is, "See this movie".

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dammit, I Want My TARP Mansion Too

Lots of folks have been asking just what our bankers have been doing with their $ Gazillions of TARP funds. Looks like the L.A. times has found the answer, with some help from vigilant neighbors in a tony beach side housing development.

Apparently, our Government's TARP funds have allowed banks to hold onto properties for their Executives to use as party shacks. Don't trust me on this one, ask Wells Fargo Senior VP Cheronda Guyton, I'm sure she'll be glad to talk to you, unless you're one of the poor saps fighting to save your home from a usurious Wells Fargo loan. You can visit our dear friend Cheronda at her LinkedIn page. She must be lonely, she only has three contacts.

I am really bugged by the several repossessed houses in my neighborhood that the vampire bankers haven't put on the market. Sometimes it feels like they want to see these undead houses (their property) slowly rot from poor upkeep. I could see keeping a house off the market to have a personal party shack, but no Bank VP would be caught dead partying in my neighborhood.

I understand the overly permissive and screwy accounting practices that allow banks to forestall losses by keeping houses unoccupied. Once a house is put up for sale, the value of the house must be written down to a market value, that's what you could sell the house for right now. However, current American accounting standards allow the bank to value the house above market value if the house is not currently on the market.

That's what I call CPA, Crazy Postmodern Accounting.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Substitute Clarinetist, and the Money versus Effort Paradox

In the meantime, it’s that part of a hot summer day when I want to pretty much shuts down until later in the afternoon. Although I washed the car this morning, tonight will be busier.

The substitute clarinetist


I am going to a band rehearsal tonight to prepare for a concert on Sunday. The twist is that I’ll be substituting for the principal second clarinet in another band. The place to bee at 6:00 PM Sunday night will be Gibbon Park, with the Capital Pops Concert Band. That’s always a fun thing to do, since I’ll be able to read through the music once with the band tonight, run through and mark up music at home, and then play in the concert. That’s about as close as I get to playing like a professional musician. Good thing there normally aren’t any solo passages for second clarinets. The papers claim this week’s heat will break Saturday. Otherwise, the concert will be outside in 100 degree heat.

Sorry, no link fir this event. It looks like the Capitol Pops Band must have forgotten to pay their url registration fee or something to do with those dadburned interfernalnets. In any event, their website is in the thrall of a cyber squatter.

Washing the car - money versus effort

I washed the car this morning. The car always gets covered in a layer of brown dust during our hot and dry summers. The car washes here cost about $20, and a few years back, I figured out with driving back and forth and waiting at the car wash place, it takes nearly an hour to go to the car wash. Oddly enough, it takes about 45 minutes to wash the car myself in our driveway, and it’s fun in a strange way if you don’t do it too often. I have to admit my car wash technique isn’t quite up to Paris Hilton’s level, so don’t say I told you so.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Actuaries are WAY More Interesting Than You'd Think

Thus spake the New York Times:

"Removal of Leader Stirs Anger Over Dealings of Actuary Group "

This article is worth reading. For maybe five minutes reading time you'll enjoy enough juicy stuff to fill a racketeer-style mystery novel. These gems are just a small sample:

"the public face of a behind-the-scenes profession.. . in disarray"

"trying to conceal . . . an unpleasant secret from his past"

"a onetime convicted felon"

"his opponents had tried to use unflattering and irrelevant information to blackmail him"

"Angry and incredulous actuaries. . . proposed a coup of sorts".

Gadzooks, people, you can't make stuff like this up. Trust me, there's even better stuff in the times. I will not reveal any more information here, but the NYT gives you the stark naked details.

Who'd have thought "Actuaries in the News" could be so exciting?

All I can say is, "What a wacky way to run a profession!".

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Don't Miss Gold Rush Days in Sacramento

Although I am usually a curmudgeon about festivals and other phony events, I recommend Gold Rush Days to anyone near Sacramento. Tomorrow is the last day, so get going!

Free admission and the environs of Old Sacramento, along with hundreds of historical recreationist types makes this festival unique. You are likely to meet early Mormon settlers (portrayed by contemporary Mormons), saloon girls (nowhere near the Mormans), cattle drivers, gold miners, Chinese herbalists, a Wells Fargo assayer's office, and everything you'd imagine from the early 1850s. All this with the backdrop of Old Sacramento's original architecture, John Sutter's militia and the U.S. Cavalry.


The dramatic presentations are one of my favorite features. Performed outdoors with real firearms (blanks, of course, but still a little risky), the story lines tend more toward history than Western Romance. The squatters' riot ended with the sherrif's posse shooting the squatters, pretty much as it happened. The saloon fight and shootout offered an extreme lack of romantic revisionism, with a Saloon Girl complaining; "I spent all night on my back and they didn't pay me", and the barkeep shooting an injured cowpoke in the back. Some of the parents standing near us did not appreciate this level of realism, and I expect letters to the events sponsor and the Sacramento Bee to be forthcoming. To be fair to world's fuddyduddies and scolds, I certainly wouldn't want a five-year-old asking me what that "on my back" business was about. A little more subtlety might have been OK.

A woman I know from juggling posted a bunch of pictures that will give you a good feel for the event. Kim manages to be found wherever the fun is happening. If these photos don't make you want to go, you need an emergency course of Gunsmoke therapy.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, September 04, 2009

How Many Afghan Civilians...

..must we kill before someone in the Pentagon figures out wholesale slaughter (whether well-intentioned or not) of residents in the wrong place at the wrong time does not move you toward an objective that is political in its primary nature.

I guess "how many" is a lot more than 100.

The too often quoted Von Clausewitz said it pretty well:

"If war is part of policy, policy will determine its character. As policy becomes more ambitious and vigorous, so will war, and this may reach the point where war attains its absolute form. . . . Policy is the guiding intelligence and war only the instrument, not vice versa."

He must be too quaint to be taught in general School anymore.

Working in London on the early 1990s was rarely privileged as an American to have enjoyed the benefits of liberation you can only get from a bombing campaign. The London Bridge Station bombing, injured 28 people in a men's room I used probably half the time. On that morning, I was working in the suburban office, so the emerald Butchers missed me. If it was on the previous day, I might have become an embarrassing international incident, as well as an amputee.

Although I have always sympathised with the issues the IRA claims to address, this experience taught me an important lesson. I cannot support anyone whose actions are intended to kill me or my neighbors by using explosives and putting me in the "collateral damage lottery". Although you don't have to to have the Betazoid empathy of Commander Troi ti figure this out, it appears neither our President nor his minion of generals have that ability. Our military forces are doomed to failure until these folks figure out that this is not a good way to make friends. The certainly forthcoming military investigation and resulting pronouncement that it's OK to bomb a village when you see a stolen vehicle will be certain to increase the damage.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.





Thursday, September 03, 2009

Linksys Wireless N Bad, Netgear Wireless G Good

After a week of tweaking with the Linksys Wireless G WRT160N router, I gave up and returned it to our local Best Buy store.

The folks at Best Buy were nice about it, even though I lost the receipt. They swiped my credit card and their system produced a shiny new sales slip. When the clerk at the return counter saw the box she said, "yeah,we get a lot of those, sometimes they just don't work". On both my visits to Best Buy, the employees were pretty knowledgeable and helpful. If you must buy cheap Chinese-manufactured electronic crap, I recommend you consider Best Buy.

The "hiccups" in the Linksys router refused to yield to my fix attempts. I suspected I was in real trouble when I researched Linksys's help forums and read sagas of woe and despair like these. The real kicker was that the SNAFU usually slows down and occasionally cuts off all computers, even the one I had wired in. This model works about half the time, in my conversion scale, 50% reliability =100% crap. Interesting and a little disturbing that Linksys is Cisco's brand of wireless routers. This is not very far from what should be the core competency from a corporation who claims to "power the Internet".

Anyway, now more about me. In the intermittent periods when the Linksys router was working, I checked the signal and found it was performing at 54mbps, which is well in the range of the previous and now more stable Wireless G technology. So, I was putting up with all these reliability issues, and my slow computers weren;t even using the extra speed.

Side comment, when I took programming classes in high school, our modem handled about 35 bps. 54mbps is approximately eleventy gazillion times faster. Seriously, the factor is near 1.5 million.

So, after I got my money back I bought the Netgear WGR614 Wireless G router. It was about $40 cheaper than the first router, and, did I mention it works? I had almost bought this last week, but, alas, I fell to the allure of the newest technology.

The set up disk for dummies had a very cool feature, after each step, it ran a diagnostic and sent the user back to repeat the step if necessary. Everything worked the first time,and as I write this I'm streaming Zappa Radio on one machine, and youtube silent movies on the other. No problems, no hesitations.

For the sake of fairness, the Linksys model was only version 2, and the Netgear model is version 12. All I know for sure is that Netgear got it right on the 12th try.

I guess the lesson learned is that in our modern world, it takes more than two failed attempts to finally get it right. The usual Baseball analogies don't apply here.

Now that's all straightened out, can continue evolving toward my greatest potential.



That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Actuaries are More Intersting Than You'd Think

I don't want to comment on this, but you can read about claims of racketeering and blackmail in the highest eschelons of the actuarial stratosphere in this week's National Underwriter. For the uninitiated, NU is a venerable insurance industry rag.

If you like the Readers Digest Version in the NU, check out Tom Bakos's collection of relevant documents. The plaintiff's complaint is the most entertaining part of this.

I'd pay to be on this jury!

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Read This Anonymous Posting

Hey, loyal readers, this comment on my last posting is way better than the original posting. I am honored.

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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.

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