Monday, August 31, 2009

Señora Jimena

Turns out there's a Category 4/5 hurricane in our general vicinity. It looks like Hurricane Jimena will pass by us without too much ado, but we're already feeling some of the side effects. The usual 2-4 foot waves out back are expected to possibly reach 12 feet tonight. Just in the last couple of hours they have grown to about 6 feet. It's going to be an especially noisy night.

It also turns out that Google Earth can track hurricanes - I had no idea.

The star is where we're staying in Puerto Vallarta. The two middle red dots on Hurricane Jimena's plot represent her approximate locations at 2 AM and 2 PM Pacific today - Monday.

Jimena's course also happens to intersect with our flight path tomorrow night. I hope we go around it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lightning in a Bottle

Every night in Puerto Vallarta thus far has brought with it extreme lightning storms. It's weird, the days are sunny and gorgeous, but when night falls, the lightning begins all over the place. Don't believe me? I took this picture on our pocket point-and-shoot no less than 20 minutes ago - 10:30 PM local time (read: it was pitch black except for the lightning). 

That's not a screencap from a video. I just happened to snap the picture at the same time as one of the many lightning flashes.

I've got a great video of the lightning for you as well, but I'm having trouble uploading it to YouTube from Mexico, so it may have to wait [all done now that I'm back in the USA]. It gives you an idea of just how much lightning is coming down. It feels other-worldly. Like something Captain Kirk and crew might encounter on some inhospitable planet. And the video just shows one small section of the sky. Each flash is a lightning bolt visible somewhere in the surrounding sky - but not necessarily in the view of the camera.

Frankly, I'm surprised we still have power and an Internet connection.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

YouTube Gems - Mex vs. BC

In honor of our current sojourn beyond of the Rio Grande.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Buenos Dias

Good days indeed. Sara and I are fortunate enough to be vacationing on the beach in Mexico for the next week and a half.

I couldn't begin to describe the scene. Here's a short video of the house where we are staying. Our bedroom is the left half of the balcony. The little rotunda/turret is above our bathroom. Photos to follow.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Showdown at Sunriver - A Madison Smackdown

Madison has foreseen the future and it is good. According to her description, this is me putting the hurt on the guys in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 in a few weeks at Sunriver. On in one, with a two-foot putt to follow for birdie.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Continued From...

I've been pondering a blog entry about this for awhile. Finally, I ran across a sample that was simply more than I could resist.

Over the years I have subscribed to a few different magazines. Wired, Popular Woodworking, Family Handyman, Portfolio, and Popular Mechanics are what come to mind. I find I can generally keep up with about two simultaneous subscriptions. Three is too many and I end up with a backlog of severely outdated periodicals, which defeats the purpose.

At some point I caught myself obsessing about "continued on" page numbers. I think it finds its roots in too many articles that sent me to the wrong page near the back of the magazine, leaving me to search out the article's ending by thumbing through adjacent pages until I found it. The now-defunct business magazine Portfolio annoyed me to no end. It wasn't uncommon to find the endings to 8-10 articles all cobbled together in the back of the magazine. It got to the point where I didn't even go to the articles' endings straightaway, but simply read through in order and then, if the first part of an article had interested me enough that I still remembered it, I would brush up and read the ending when I got to it. I found myself skipping most of the endings.

Family Handyman is a relatively new magazine to me. It seems like it is trying to be a real magazine, when really it's just a wooden puppet. It will print a "continued on page..." at the bottom of a column. Then the next numbered page is an advertisement or a full-page photograph. And the article resumes immediately thereafter. I find that amusing, as though the editor thinks I won't know that I need to turn the page in order to continue reading. 

As I was gearing up to bash Family Handyman, I discovered a much more severe offense in the final issue of Condé Nast's Portfolio. The publication went out of business with its May 2009 issue. 

In an article about philanthropist Jeffrey Sachs, Portfolio, in my mind, paid it's readers a heavy insult. See the composite image I prepared below. The miniature page in the upper-left is page 105, and in the lower-right is 106. Click to enlarge.

These are two adjacent pages. If for some reason I had thought the article ended on page 105, I would immediately discover otherwise as soon as I turned the page to start the next. The very next text is the continuation from the previous page. Are readers so stupid? The publisher? Frankly, I'm surprised I ever got to page 105, since the requisite instruction at the bottom of 103 telling me to turn the page was missing.

No wonder they went out of business.

It's just as well, anyway. While I found the subjects of their articles quite interesting, there was always a heavy liberal bias in Portfolio that I quickly grew tired of. 

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

YouTube Gems - Sing Forever

I cannot find the words to describe these lads. If you don't get goosebumps you might want to check your pulse.

This will probably give you a "Embedding has been disabled" error. That's okay, just follow the link through to YouTube and watch it there.

Click on some of their other songs on YouTube. These boys are absolutely fantastic.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Showdown at Sunriver

Each year my entire side of the extended family makes a long weekend getaway at Sunriver. In anticipation of said weekend, I have acquired the following, along with full equipment for four players:

I'm calling you out, gentlemen. No equipment advantage (that's for my brothers-in-law). No creative scoring (that's for my brother). No red tees (that's for my dad). No excuses (that's for me). Mano e mano e mano e mano e mano. (Is that cinco manos?)

As if Nintendo's motion sensor technology were not already impressive enough, the new Motion Plus is an experience to behold. Every successful platform or technology needs a "killer app". I'm convinced that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10with Motion Plus for the Wii is it. What the Wii gives up in video quality to Xbox and PS3 is MORE than made up in the true-to-life quality of play. Prepare to be amazed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

YouTube Gems - Snuggie/Blanket

I'm not sure which is funnier, the original, real commercial...

...or the fake commercial that makes fun of the original.

I, for one, think those crimson Snuggies look rather creepy. Like druids or something.

Only $49.95. Get yours today.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Now What?

The New York Times reports that the first group of extended unemployment recipients are due to exhaust their benefits in the next few months. Lo and behold, the same hurdles that existed previously still remain - no job, looming home foreclosure, destitution.

I'm not saying that the unemployed shouldn't receive financial assistance. I'm saying that the strategy of sweetening the incentive to NOT work was doomed from the start. The government has thrown billions of dollars at a symptom and failed to treat the cause. Mr. President, these people need jobs, plain and simple - not handouts. 

Government cannot create jobs directly as you are attempting to do. Reason being - its source of revenue comes from taxes on income, which is generated through employment. Every government worker's salary is paid from the taxes received from non-government workers.

For simplicity's sake, let's say that each worker, public or private sector, earns $50,000/year and is taxed at a 10% rate ($5,000/year for taxes). It takes taxes from 10 workers to pay the salary of one public worker. This is a 10-to-1 ratio in for our purposes. Current anti-business and big government policies are altering this ratio in an unsustainable manner. There are now fewer workers and more public employees. Is the ratio now 9-to-2 or 8-to-2? Everybody can't work for the government or there simply won't be any more money coming in to fund the operation. If you have to employ and tax 10 government workers in order to pay for one, that means you then have to employ and tax 100 workers to pay for the 10 whose taxes pay for the one, and so on. The math will simply never work in government's favor. Without private sector taxes to subsidize the public sector, it will always boil down to net tax revenues being equal to or less than the taxes paid by that "one" person, the last one in the chain. 

Grow the private sector and you will solve all of the financial problems of the nation.

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cash for Clunkers Exposed

These are too poignant to not share. These are excerpts from real cash for clunker consumers - both those that bought new cars and a couple that did not. The full CNN.Money article is here.
Julie [from 15 mpg to 21 mpg]: I never could have afforded this without the rebate programs, nor would I have purchased a brand new car. And it's not lost on me that this program is funded by taxpayers. Does it make me part of the financial problem [D: Not really. If you didn't accept the money, someone else would have.]

Pete: I mourned a bit for the old cars that might have some useful life left. But we would've never been able to sell the Town Car [from 18 mpg to 27 mpg] for as much as the trade-in.

Sterling: Is my 1983 van [11 mpg; denied] a classic, Congress? Maybe they consider it too classy to be scrapped and think it should still be running up and down the highways.

Michael [19 mpg; denied]: It's unfair that a 3-year-old Hummer gets the trade-in while a 26-year-old car doesn't qualify. It's just frustrating. I volunteered for President Obama at the phone banks. I got my transparency, but I don't particularly like what I see.

John [from 15 mpg to 28 mpg]: I'd like to thank all the other people in the country who helped my daughter get a new car.

And I'm sooooo tired of hearing the politicians tout the huge rise in new auto sales. They say Cash for Clunkers is 'priming the pump' for sustained sales when the program ends. Cash for Clunkers is expected to subsidize the purchase of approximately 750,000 new vehicles. I would argue that the vast majority of those sales would occur regardless of the program. Cash for Clunkers merely provides a strong incentive for consumers to move now during a very small purchasing window. Only now, those people aren't going to be in the market for a new car later on, placing additional downward sales pressure on future periods. 

Once you start on the hard drugs you have to maintain your high so that you don't feel the pain of the crash. We've been seeing this for awhile already. Cars used to simply cost what they cost. Then we started seeing some dealer incentives. Then we saw cash allowances direct from the manufacturer. Then we saw 0% financing for 60 months. Then we saw employee pricing. Then we saw lifetime warranties. Then we saw buy-back guarantees in the event of job loss. None of those 'hits' has proven to offer anything more than a brief 'high' to the industry. Now we've added a $4,500 involuntary subsidy from the taxpayers and I predict we'll see just another spike before falling to an even more depressing low. 

I'd love to be wrong.


I think the real loser in this whole thing - other than us - is the entire infrastructure of the used car industry. The government has 'bricked' 750,000 used cars. How many repair shops will now go out of business? How many people that can't afford a new car would have liked to buy one of the quality used cars that was permanently disabled?

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

YouTube Gems - Angels

This is from a show called Last Choir Standing on BBC. This group, Only Men Aloud, was the eventual winner. It's easy to see why.

My favorite part is at 1:35 when the whole group comes in strong and starts jamming.

If you like these guys, stay tuned. There is another one from this group that I like even more.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

Can anyone explain this Cash for Clunkers program to me?

Here is what I know:
  • If you trade in a "gas guzzler" (18 mpg or less) vehicle on certain "fuel efficient" (better than 18 mpg) new models, the US government will give you between $3,500 and $4,500 in cash. $3,500 for new vehicles bettering your fuel economy by at least 4 mpg but less than 10, and $4,500 for better than 10.
Here is what I don't understand - why?
  • The US government is funded by the taxes of US citizens; why should the money the IRS collects from me be given to my neighbor so that he can drive a new car?
  • Dealers are required to "permanently disable" the trade-in; why? I'm sure it costs more money and more carbon and more energy and more resources to manufacture a new "fuel efficient" automobile than would otherwise be consumed by the "gas guzzler". Couldn't somebody trade in a 9 mpg vehicle for an 18 mpg "clunker" headed for the scrapyard and effectively double their fuel efficiency?
  • One possible scenario: Consumer trades in a "gas guzzler" that gets 18 mpg and purchases a "fuel efficient" new car that gets 22 mpg. Assuming an average of $4.00/gallon for fuel, it would take more than 7 years for the fuel savings to pay back the $3,500. And that doesn't take into account the impact of producing the new car (from 2nd bullet). 
  • If I trade in a "gas guzzler" and purchase a qualifying "fuel efficient" vehicle, and if this vehicle also happens to be a hybrid, can I then receive both the $4,500 PLUS the $8,000 hybrid rebate?
  • I gave my red 1990 Jeep Cherokee to the nuns and got a lousy $500 tax write-off last year; where's MY money? C'mon, Barack. I got involved in my community just like you wanted. I gave of my personal resources to help a charitable organization in my local community to help support rescue missions and soup kitchens, just like you asked. Where's my reward? You're giving my neighbor $4,500 to help the environment, but I only got $500 under that chump Bush to help actual people. I was a fool.
  • This will generate a phony auto industry recovery for a short time. President Obama and congress will point to the popularity of the program and the surge in auto sales. But they have not addressed the core problem: matching supply with demand. In other words, manufacturers are, in general, selling their cars for more than consumers are willing to pay. Consumers might choose to buy another make or model, buy used, or not buy at all (10% unemployment anyone?) for the time being. This $4,500 cash back is effectively lowering the pricetag of a new vehicle. That is why people are buying cars. Not because they want to help the environment. Those people bought a Prius a long time ago. If you're in the market for a new vehicle, you'd be silly not to take advantage of "free" money, right? If the government really wants to sell more cars, it should focus it efforts on lowering the cost of manufacturing cars, thereby allowing cars to be sold for less.

Does anyone else find it highly suspicious that the government took over two of the three major US auto companies using taxpayer dollars - companies that were failing because they weren't producing products that could sell well enough to sustain them - and now the government is again using still more tax dollars to persuade consumers into buying their cars? I do.


I think lawmakers should have spent more time on the substance of the bill instead of the development of a clever acronym. The Cash for Clunkers program is officially known as the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act, or CARS Act.


The White House is already touting its Cash for Clunkers program as being responsible for Ford's first monthly sales growth in nearly two years. It is probably correct in its assertion, but that is precisely my point: when vehicles cost $4,500 LESS, more will be sold. Duh! It has nothing to do with consumers wanting to rid the environment of their "gas guzzler". It's all about money. It's always about money. All else being equal, who wouldn't want to get 50 or 100 mpg? Unfortunately, all else is not equal. With few exceptions, hybrids and electrics are a lot more expensive to purchase than their dinosaur-powered brothers. They are also less powerful, smaller, less crash-safe, and cannot haul as much cargo. Plus they look funny. While individually us humans may be stupid, as a whole - as a free market - we tend to gravitate toward things that give us the most bang for our buck. But this Clunker of an idea is letting other people get the most bang from my buck - and that's not right. 

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