Thursday, June 24, 2004

my poor Axim

I picked Laura up at the airport on Tuesday, and in the process of picking her up and loading the luggage in the Jeep I sat my Axim handheld on the spare tire. We drove off and made it almost to the interstate before I realized what I did. We drove around and found it; apparently, it had been run over by a bus a few times. Pictures here and here. I spent $20 on the advance-replacement warranty, which also covers accidental damage, so I called customer support when I got back to my office. After an hour on the phone I got to the correct department and I gave them the story. They were friendly and helpful, and by noon the next day I had a new handheld at no cost to me. Thanks, Dell!

It occurred to me while writing this that I consider only an hour spent on the phone with customer service to be a good thing, that I'm accustomed to customer service being much worse than this. Sad, isn't it? I partially blame Microsoft, who innovated with the concept of charging people $40 per customer-service question. I somewhat understand their decision--if they didn't, they'd spend a pile on answering every dumb computer question on the planet. But, they also are renowned for buggy releases. If they spent the money they earn from customer support on debugging their software, I'd be happier.

Political trivia: For 1997 thru 1999, Microsoft paid NO federal taxes of any kind. The company whose stock made Bill Gates the richest man on the planet for these years, got enough tax breaks and incentives that they didn't need to pay taxes. In 1997 I had to write a check for $1200 to the IRS because the money that had been taken out of my paychecks for my four jobs wasn't enough. And Microsoft paid no taxes.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

platelets and movies

I got up RFE to donate platelets this morning. On Saturdays, donation times start at 6am. Would you believe that those spaces were all taken? I ended up in the 6:30 time slot. They called me last night, because someone I'm a match for was having surgery today. Always glad to help, plus it got my ass out of bed and away from my most recent addiction, the Tom Clancy Raven Shield video game. After the blood center I had breakfast with Dad, which is always a highlight of my day. We ran into Thom Feit, my old drama teacher from Warren; he and his wife are selling their bed and breakfast downtown and moving to Florida. I wish him luck!

I got a free movie ticket for donating blood, and a fashionable hat. I used the ticket to see Supersize Me, a really good documentary. I recommend it to anyone who eats fast food. What surprised me the most was a bit of press it got. One of the things cited as "controversial" was that he assumes that the food industry lobby has something to do with influencing regulations governing health and diet. Gee, you mean that lobbyists actually influence lawmakers? I thought that was their job! My other big fave is the groups that have piped up to counter the claims made in the movie. According to a report at IGN, most of these groups are actually lobbying firms for Coca-Cola, Phillip Morris, and McDonalds.

When I got home, I sat in the garden for a while, then weeded a bit. I'm missing Laura, and weeding is sort of a connection. I hope that doesn't sound weird!

eating food, and politics

I'm eating right tonight, for probably the first time since Laura left. I spent about a week feeling sick, and I spent most of that not eating. I went two days where my complete intake was a can of soup, and a few more days where I barely ate. Yesterday, for instance, was probably my best-fed day, and my diet consisted of coffee cake and coffee for breakfast, and cheese and crackers for dinner. Today, though, it's coffee and cereal and orange juice for breakfast, leftover Ritz tenderloin and cake for lunch, and spaghetti and sauce for dinner. That at least approaches a normal diet.

My political irritation for the day? The 9/11 commission stated yesterday that Iraq wasn't involved with the September 11 attacks, but Cheney is still insisting there's a "strong connection". Most of the administration's previous links were blatantly false. My personal favorite: the administration claimed that a top Al Qaeda fighter who was injured in Afghanistan was fitted with a prosthetic leg in Iraq. That's a pretty tenuous link anyway, but it made my day when they arrested the guy and found that he had both legs, no injuries. That's quality intelligence. The only remaining piece of linkage is that an Al Qaeda operative met with an Iraqi intelligence agent. First of all, that's nothing; Bush I and Donald Rumsfeld both met with Saddam Hussein himself at one time. And, if correlation truly equals causation, then shouldn't Halliburton take some blame here? After all, they were the biggest violator of the trade sanctions during Iraq's time on the UN fecal roster....

Some fun linkage. Here's a piece from the New York Times about the relative security of electronic voting machines, versus the security of slot machines. (To read this, you need to get a free login from NYT. If you don't want to, I cut-and-pasted the article here, in direct violation of copyright. If they complain, I'll take it down.)

And, the text of a speech Bill Moyers gave about class war. A must-read for those who are losing, which probably means you.

And, David Corn of The Nation provided us with a list of 66 things we should be remembering about Reagan's presidency. The list is from 1998, when National Airport was renamed Ronald Reagan Airport, but it's as pertinent today.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

High-quality film

Because Laura's gone, I rented a bad action movie for tonight. The first four words on the back cover of the box are: "Former Special Forces Operative". 'nuff said.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Strawberry festivals

Last week I went to the strawberry festival downtown on Monument Circle. After ChocolateFest, it's my favorite food-oriented downtown event. They have some live music and other entertainment, too. It's great--you get a heaping pile of strawberries, ice cream, shortcake, and whipped cream for $5. That was all I ate all day, partially because it was filling, and partially because I didn't feel well. So you know, I wasn't feeling well before the strawberries; I don't blame them!

My mom used to take Mike and Cindy and I down to the strawberry festival when we were younger. She bought Mike and I each our own pile of strawberries, and she and Cindy split an order. We had fun and wandered around downtown a bit, and one or two years we even went up the spiral steps to the top of the monument. I have lots of happy memories of the strawberry festival.

The summer I was in Europe with Mike was the first year in a while that I was going to miss the strawberry festival. So when I got off the ferry in Ireland and saw a flyer for the strawberry festival in Enniscorthy in County Wexford, I decided I had to go. I wasn't meeting Mike in Dublin for a few more days anyway, so I had some time to kill.

It turns out that the strawberry festival in Enniscorthy is radically different from the one in Indy. For one thing, it lasts a week. People from all over Wexford come in for the festivities, which include drinking, live bands, big parties, and drinking. The strawberries themselves were okay; they're fresh, unlike the five-gallon buckets of strawberries-in-syrup we have in Indy, but they're smallish and served plain or with sugar. No ice cream or shortbread. But the beer flowed freely, and I saw one of my favorite live music shows ever. A Scottish band called Bog The Donkey did some fun Celtic/rock/thrash music, and they were really entertaining to watch. The drummer told me later that three of their last five concerts ended with the singer being arrested on stage. I don't know that I believed him, but they were great.

Before I got to Ireland I had just spent five days in a row sleeping on trains, so I was ready to relax a bit. Enniscorthy is a beautiful small town, full of friendly people. I splurged and got a room at a bed-and-breakfast, partially because there wasn't a hostel in town. My hostess was sweet, and a fabulous cook. The festival was mostly in the evenings, so I spent my days loafing and reading and wandering the hills around town. I met a nice college girl from Wexford who was interning at the town's historical site, and my prudishness was the only reason we didn't have sex. And I quickly made some friends to hang around with when I wanted company.

I had made it through the rest of Europe without drinking much, but Ireland changed that. I went to a pub to pass the time before the train left for Enniscorthy, and when the barman found out I hadn't ever had a Guinness, he poured me one on the house. For the rest of the trip I probably had two or three pints a day, and I had a good time doing it. They take their drinking seriously; more than once I saw someone stagger out of a pub, vomit in the gutter, and stagger back in to drink more. And everyone I met in Ireland was nice and friendly, even though I was American.

Enough reminiscing. Bedtime now.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Nice day, good bad movie

I had a great day yesterday. Our friends Carl and Joanna came over and helped me put new brakes on my car. I did pads and rotors in about an hour and a half, for around $70. By comparison, Midas quoted me a minimum of $500 for the job. Thanks, Carl!

We also went to the Indy Vintage Wine and Food Festival, where we wandered around and sampled wine and food. I had a really good barbecue sandwich from some random restaurant's tent. I got unlimited free soda, since I had a cute fluorescent yellow Designated Driver wristband, and I had a really great time.

Then we went to see The Chronicles of Riddick, a completely entertaining movie if you lower your standards enough. I liked the salon.com review: "A thoroughly enjoyable movie, but not because it was any damn good." (The Salon review made me laugh over a brief description of the movies you'd rather pick up in the video store than A Man Apart). The main redeeming features are creepy production design, Vin Diesel's body (yah, I be envious), former model Alexa Davalos's minimal screen time as the Generic Badass Chick, and Dame Judi Densch as the Generic Mystical Seer. The movie was directed by David Twohy, the guy who directed Pitch Black. He also directed a movie called Below, which is my pick for Best Creepy Movie You Never Heard Of. But, yeah--I enjoyed Riddick. If the trailer appealed to you, so will the movie. And if you don't like bad sci-fi/action movies, you won't like this one either.

The movie did contain one of my favorite sci-fi pet peeves: the assumption that a solar system with five planets in it can contain five habitable planets. The guy who played Eomer in LOTR sports one of the worst mullets ever. And Vin Diesel uses some really impractical cutlery. But I enjoyed. And, for your enjoyment, a movie still of Vin Diesel and Judi Densch together.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Are your neighbors rich enough for you?

When I was Googling for the local household income I quoted Monday, I found an irritating trend. Have you noticed that real estate agents are now selling houses based on average neighborhood income? We never heard about this when we were buying our house, though maybe that's because we live in the 'hood. But I found a lot of it on the web; if you're not sure a neighborhood is good enough for you, your real-estate agent can look up the average income there and see if your future neighbors are too scruffy for you. Personally, I think we should expand this concept--I think neighborhood associations should be able to look at potential home buyers' financial data too, to see if they're good enough for the neighborhood. Let's sharpen the other side of that sword!

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Fully jaded.

I think I'm now fully jaded. I was walking downtown and didn't even notice two panhandlers until I was standing right next to them. It was weird; I stopped at a crosswalk, and when I looked down and saw the bums I almost jumped. I literally didn't see them as I approached. I might blame it on the fact that I'm sick and feel like crap today, but it was still odd. I'm used to tuning them out, but I usually am at least aware they're there.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The Joke Show

I once again missed the Prairie Home Companion's annual Joke Show. But if you have a high-speed connection, you can listen to it here. And all the jokes are available in text format here. A sample joke:

A woman was buying airplane tickets for herself and her five babies. The ticket agent said, "Are those quintuplets? If they are, the tickets are complimentary under our free quint flyer program."

Monday, June 07, 2004

Public debt, private debt

I have a bone to pick with Ronald Reagan. Since he died, we've heard nothing but wonderful things about how wonderful he was and all the wonderful things he did. I don't give him grief over the whole arms-for-hostages thing; we've sold arms to worse people for worse reasons. And his whole "if you've seen one tree, you've seen them all" environmental policy pales in comparison to George's. My big issue with him is debt. In 1980, right before Reagan took office, the United States was the world's largest creditor. When he left office, we were the world's biggest debtor. And, I think his economics contributed to what I think is America's biggest problem today: personal debt. In a democracy, people determine the government. But the government also schools the people. Not just in formal education, but by example. If the government holds itself to high ethical standards, people can look up to that. If the government is corrupt, people don't feel as guilty over personal corruption. And, if the government's unsecured debt is greater than it's annual budget, people learn from that too. Reagan gave us our first trillion-dollar debt with his first budget. From Reagan's first day in office to Bush I's last, unsecured personal debt (that's credit card debt, mostly--auto loans and mortgages are secured debt, in that you have some actual property you use as collateral) increased by 60%; during the same time, the national debt rose by 475%, to almost 4.5 trillion dollars by the end of their final budget cycle. Clinton gave us another $2 trillion dollars in debt over his eight years, but he had balanced the federal budget by the time he left office and even had a forecasted surplus. Compare that to George W., who gave us $2 trillion in just three years. Think about that, two trillion dollars in three years. That works out to spending more than you earn by 1.8 billion dollars a day. Is it any wonder that Americans have taken this somewhat to heart in their personal finances?

Some more scary numbers: credit cards account for 40% of personal debt in America, and the average household owes $8940 in credit card debt. Compared to the local average pretax household income of $40,051, that's a bad trend for individuals.

It's also a bad trend for America. One of the reasons we've been able to get away with so much unsecured debt is that the dollar is the worldwide currency for trade. Now that there's another viable option in the Euro, and now that American foreign policy is giving people good reasons to distance themselves from us, we might be in a lot of trouble sooner than we think.

Just for reference, numbers and statistics were from cardweb.com (an industry website for credit card providers) and city-data.com, and from various government websites, including the public debt fact sheet from the treasury department.

Because 93.5% of unattributed statistics are made up.