Friday, February 27, 2009


For as long as we've had our digital camera I have been looking for a good way to make panoramic photographs. Some models come with camera-based "stitching" built right in. Others provide software-based stitching. Ours included neither.

Therefore, I have, on rare occasion, made various manual attempts at achieving the same general effect. An opportunity recently presented itself and I decided to have another go.

In January we sustained some material damage to our driveway near the culvert in connection with the flooding in the Northwest. Our culvert was too small to handle all of that melting ice and snow running off of the surface from every property upstream. Ours is the last culvert before the storm water drains into the creek. Every year a little bit of water flows over the top of our driveway, taking just a bit of gravel with it. This time, however, the water was flowing over the top of the upstream driveways as well, meaning we had a lot of water to deal with. The rushing water carried a fair portion of our driveway downstream, leaving it impassible for the Camry.

My first attempt at a panorama of the damage, using a web-based converter. "Just upload your photos and the rest is automatic." So they claimed.

Disappointed, I turned to my old friend, PhotoShop, with much more satisfying results (also much more labor intensive).

Now, however, I have finally discovered the solution I've been longing for: Microsoft ICE (ICE = Image Composite Editor).

It is difficult to imagine a simpler process - you literally just drag-and-drop the photos, 13 in my case, into the workspace. ICE then goes right to work. After my previous experience with a free panorama solution, I really was not expecting perfection - but perfection is exactly what I got two minutes later. Take a look.

ICE is way too easy and way too good to be true - but it is true. I feel like I've cheated and won, only to learn that cheating is not only acceptable, but encouraged. Try it. You'll like it.

**UPDATE 2/27/09 10:04 pm** I'm not sure why I've got itsy-bitsy photos here. Check back next time and I'll hopefully have them fixed so they can be viewed with the naked eye.

**UPDATE 2/28/09 12:01 am** Still getting some odd behavior from Blogger, but I think I've got large enough images now.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Not Authorized to Speak

I scan several news stories every day. Frequently I see something I find very disturbing that has nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the story itself. It is that some person with inside knowledge has divulged a piece of information to the reporter even though they either A) weren't supposed to be talking to the press, B) preempted the forthcoming official announcement, or C) violated an express or implied confidentiality.

If I were the President, CEO, owner or other such stakeholder of any of these organizations, I would make it a priority to root out the offending parties. How could I expect to accomplish much of anything if I can't even trust one or more of the people in my inner circle?

I get the impression that the feeling is if the reporter states that the source was not authorized to speak, there is little damage or risk. It is immunity from responsibility. I am of the opinion that once something has been publicized and documented, whether it comes from an official spokesperson or not, that information becomes a de facto source.

If Madison spills the beans to Sara about a surprise I've been working on for her, what's the point in continuing the charade? If I were to publish information about my company on this blog, that material would become part of the public domain even though I'm not authorized to speak on the company's behalf, or that my understanding of the issues may be incomplete. This is exactly why I specifically do not blog about that aspect of my life.

Below are some examples from recent stories of what I am talking about. Links are to the full text, but my point is in the excerpts.


Defense officials said a one-ton bomb was used to attack Rayan's home, and that weapons stored inside set off secondary explosions. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the media.

Earlier this week, Olmert rebuffed a French proposal for a two-day suspension of hostilities. But at the same time, he seemed to be looking for a diplomatic way out, telling Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other world leaders that Israel wouldn't agree to a truce unless international monitors took responsibility for enforcing it, government officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were confidential.

Jett apparently hit his head on the bathtub, said a police officer who declined to be named because she was not authorized to speak on the matter.

Reid was told by Obama that if Burris had the legal standing to be seated — despite controversy surrounding his appointment by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich — it should be done "sooner rather than later," said an Obama transition aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because the conversation was private.

The Democrats who described the likely reversal did so on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to disclose developments not yet made public.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the president has not yet released his budget, said Obama hopes to achieve his deficit-reduction goal by generating savings as he follows through on three core campaign promises over the next four years.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House had not made public the announcement.


If something is confidential or you are not supposed to be talking about it - ESPECIALLY to the press - doing so anonymously does not make it okay. You should at a bare minimum be fired, and in some cases you should probably be prosecuted as well where national security or other similarly weighty subject matters are involved.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Not-So-Stimulating Post

When I got my first Palm Pilot many years ago, it had a little "Sim-city" game on it. The idea of the game is to build a city from scratch. The city's growth depends on factors such as amenities, infrastructure and taxation. I very quickly figured out how to game the system and was able to achieve whatever level of success I wished. The key was taxes. If I lowered taxes to some insanely low rate, tons of people moved into my city. I found that I could then hike taxes to some insanely high rate for short periods of time and collect A LOT of money while everyone moved away over the course of several weeks. By then I had enough capital to add features to my city and drop the tax rate once again, attracting even more new citizens than before, only to raise taxes all over again. The game became meaningless for me and I never played it again. 

In reality, citizens would probably not behave in the same manner as the simulation, but the lesson remains the same: there is an optimal balance between a fair tax rate and the public services rendered in return. That balance was boring in my game, as my city only grew at a slow and steady pace, which is what led me to the extreme taxation tactics.

----- defines "stimulus" as "something that rouses or incites to action or increased action; incentive".

We've been inundated with stimulus-related news over the past several days and weeks. Considering only the recent $787 billion "stimulus" package that was signed into law this past week, if the tax burden were spread equally among all inhabitants of the United States, we would each be forking over about $2,600 to fund the cost. I have five people in my family, so that's $13,000. Of course, we all know that the burden will not be shared equally. In fact, many will not contribute anything whatsoever, yet those are some of the greatest beneficiaries of the new spending.

I say "spending" because that is how the bill (now the law) should have been termed. There is very little that is actually stimulating about it.

The Oregonian published a front-page graphic on Wednesday to highlight all of the "help" that we can expect from the new law. This is not a comprehensive list of the package.
  • Tax breaks - $15 less taxes per week, or about $780/year
  • Housing - An $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers
  • Car - New car/truck buyers can deduct sales or excise taxes
  • Energy - Up to a $1,500 tax credit for energy-efficient home upgrades
  • Tuition - $2,500 in tax credits to offset qualifying higher ed. expenses
  • Unemployment - Extended benefits
My assertion that "spending" as an appropriate description is supported by this explanation from the Associated Press:
At its core, the legislation is designed to ease the worst economic recession in generations, and combines hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending with tax cuts. Much of the money would go for victims of the recession in the form of food stamps, unemployment compensation and health care. There are funds, as well, for construction of highways and bridges.

The emphasis is mine. Here comes my trademark rant:

First off, I am not calling into question the need for tax credits or social services or even unemployment benefits. That is not the issue at hand - which is exactly why those pieces should not have been included in a "stimulus" bill - they do not stimulate anything. They are spending programs - in fact, they are existing spending programs with existing funding methods. They do not belong in a stimulus bill. 

Suppose for a moment that the food stamp program were funded such that every single resident participated. Would that help grocers sell more food? Would it do anything at all to stimulate the economy?

Similarly, consider unemployment funding - paying people to not work, not produce, not contribute to GDP.

Every dollar that goes into any of these programs comes out of the pocket of the taxpayer. Take a dollar from me and give it to someone in the form of a food stamp. Almost. You still need to cover the administrative costs of the program. Take a dollar from me and give someone $0.85 worth of food stamps. That is not stimulating.

Next we have the housing, new car, energy and education pieces. I'm still making payments towards my student loan. I was able to claim some tax credits while I was going to school and I can still write off the student loan interest. Why should I now pay up to $2,500 MORE for someone to go to school and ultimately compete for my job? What happened to Pell grants and Stafford loans? Why does the bill incentivize people to go to school and remove themselves from the workforce? Will that artificially drive the unemployment rate down and become a feather in someone's cap?

If someone can afford to buy a house, the deal can be done - despite what you may have read about frozen credit markets. Why should I pay someone $8,000 to buy the vacant house next-door? Why should I subsidize my neighbor's new car purchase? or his new air conditioner or windows?

Show me a person that goes out and purchases a new home or car due to the new "stimulus" benefit attached to each and I will show you a fool. Taxpayers paying for their neighbors to have new stuff is not stimulating. Aside from that $15 injection/week of new disposable income from "millions of workers", it is a BIG stretch to call most parts of that shameful bill a "stimulus". 

Economic growth will come about through employment and productivity - not through welfare. When people work, they can afford to buy things like houses and cars and heat pumps. They can buy their own food and pay for their own textbooks.

$787 billion (remember, that is just one of the many "bailouts" thus far) could have been used to "rouse or incite" an unimaginable amount of real stimulus through lower taxes. I don't mind paying my fair share of taxes to live in this country. I'm talking about corporate taxation. Companies employ people. The stimulus could have been used to attract new business to the U.S., to encourage production increases, to employ more people.

Instead we've got anti-business solutions such as Sarbanes-Oxley and carbon credits. Can you really blame companies for outsourcing off-shore or moving their operations to more favorable environments?

If everyone worked for the government, it could not survive one month. For every dollar it pays out in a wage, it receives back just $0.15 from that employee's taxes (assumes 15% tax bracket). This is why government spending programs are not sustainable. This is why socialism always fails. The government must collect taxes from the private sector in order to survive. The larger the private sector, the more taxes there are for the government.

It's just like my Sim game.


I don't really enjoy writing about this stuff. I'm just blowing off some steam after witnessing another huge decline in my retirement account this past week. 

The economy will eventually recover. There are a few signs already pointing in that direction. And when things do return to normal, you can bet certain people will be there to falsely accept the credit for said recovery. But the fact is, economic cycles are a natural occurrence. The government should never have interfered with the free markets. Now, instead of a pothole or two to navigate, we now have to cross Hell's Canyon on a questionable Indiana Jones-like rope bridge.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

We Need a Caddy

Not a Cadillac. 

At Happy Gilmore's first golf tournament, being completely new to the sport, the golf course assigns him a caddy.
Happy Gilmore: Where are you going with those clubs, punk? 
[pushes young caddy to the ground
Happy's Waterbury Caddy: Mr. Gilmore, I'm your caddy! 
Happy Gilmore: Oh, I'm sorry about that. Let me carry these, alright, they were my grandfather's, they're pretty old. 
Happy's Waterbury Caddy: Well, what should I do then? 
Happy Gilmore: I don't know. Why don't you just watch me, and make sure I don't do anything stupid. Okay? 
Starter #1: Mr. Gilmore, Mr. Lafferty will be teeing off now. 
Happy Gilmore: Alright, good luck, buddy. 
Happy's Waterbury Caddy: Get out the way. 
crowd laughs
Happy Gilmore: [to caddy] Where were you on that one, punk*? 

*"Punk" is my word. Original is not suitable for this family-friendly blog.
Madison had her kindergarten class Valentine's card exchange this week. Sara bought her some nice Disney Princess valentines and Madison wrote her name on all of them. She waited excitedly for two weeks until she was finally able to give out her valentines to her friends.

She came home from school with a Halloween-like sack of goodies. Every single kid in her class at a minimum had included a sucker with their valentine. Many gave creative hand-made valentines such as the little airplane made from a stick of gum (wings), a roll of Smarties (fuselage) and two LifeSavers for wheels. A few even gave individual small bags stuffed with candy and toys.

Now, we're not the kind of people that try to outdo anyone. But we also don't want to look like we're skating by doing the bare minimum or taking advantage of others. We would have had Madison give out a small treat and make her own cards - had we only known

This is not the first time something like this has happened. Where's our caddy? Who keeps an eye out for people like us? We're in uncharted waters with Madison a lot of the time. We're figuring it out as we go. Fortunately, Madison is completely oblivious to our sometimes embarrassing befuddlements.

Monday, February 9, 2009


The big story in the news today was about Alex Rodriguez admitting to having used performance-enhancing drugs several years ago. If you recall my earlier post on this topic, you'll understand that I'm a bit leery about getting into this again.

To me, we - and by "we" I mean society, journalists, congress - we are not focused on the key issue. "We" are mistakenly concerned with cheating and lying and scandals and records and asterisks. 

It's true that Barry Bonds perjured himself to a grand jury and that offense constitutes a crime.

But my question is, why was Barry Bonds made to sit before a grand jury in the first place.

Baseball is a sport. Sport is entertainment. Why not leave it to baseball fans to decide whether or not to buy the product that professional baseball is offering? We vote with our pocketbooks everyday on any number of products. The Dixie Chicks suffered in album sales and radio air time for their anti-George Bush remarks. Tom Cruise is arguably punished at the box office for his occasional bizarre behavior and comments. Kobe Bryant lost tens of millions in endorsement deals due to to his indiscretions. Why then are we not capable of dealing with A-Rod?

I heard a radio interview with the author that broke the story in Sports Illustrated. Her main point was that A-Rod now must explain himself. Why? What do we expect him to say? We already know why any player takes performance-enhancing drugs - to enhance their performance, hence the term. 

Why are we not issuing subpoenas to supermodels? I understand their blemish free physiques may be the result of PhotoShop "enhancements" and plastic surgery.

Is this any different than the high school or college student pulling an all-nighter to cram for finals with the help of caffeine or No-Doze?

The part that really upsets me in all of this is the government's involvement. Does anybody remember the baseball senate hearings several years ago? What a waste of taxpayer dollars! The drug testing in which Alex Rodriguez participated was purported to be anonymous and not subject to discipline. Why then do we know the identities of so many perpetrators? Why then are these individuals being punished? True, maybe they have not been suspended by Major League Baseball. But dragging their names through the press and talk radio and forcing them to testify before congress hardly seems like a reward.

I want my government to focus on the well-being of the citizens of our country. I don't want them conducting federal investigations and televised hearings about a game. Let's assume for a moment that all of the offenders are somehow prosecuted. How do we benefit? Will America then be better off? Will it be safer? Will it be stronger? More powerful? More financially sound?

The responsibility for teaching children about the many undesirable ramifications of drug use falls to parents - not professional athletes. Charles Barkley said it best in an old Nike commercial for which he penned the script, "I'm not a role model." He has long argued that parents and teachers need to be the role models for children, NOT professional athletes. Here's an excerpt.
I think the media demands that athletes be role models because there's some jealousy involved. It's as if they say, this is a young black kid playing a game for a living and making all this money, so we're going to make it tough on him. And what they're really doing is telling kids to look up to someone they can't become, because not many people can be like we are. Kids can't be like Michael Jordan.
See Barkley's Wikipedia entry for the full details. 

Let's let the free markets decide the outcome of this debate. Assume responsibility for instilling strong values in your children. If you can't support the behavior of certain professional athletes, then don't. Don't attend games. Don't buy hats or t-shirts. And for heaven's sake, Congress, before addressing the critical issue of steroids in baseball, could you please look at things that are actually important to our sovereignty and security?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Problems with the Pink Princess

Madison, Brookie and I were reading a bedtime story last night, as we always do. We were snuggled side-by-side like sardines in one of their twin beds, as we always are. Madison selected Sleeping Beauty for her story, as she always does. It is well known within our home that Aurora is Madison's favorite Disney princess by far and without question. We read Sleeping Beauty a lot. We also read a spin-off book about "the glade" where Aurora and the prince first met. We also read yet another book about the prince's horse. When Madison's kindergarten class goes to the library, she brings home still more books about Sleeping Beauty. It's a disease, I think. Maybe just a disorder.

Consequently, I've spent a bit of time over the months and years pondering Disney's version of Sleeping Beauty, including her predicament and its resolution.

The plot revolves around a curse pronounced upon a baby Aurora by a sorceress who, understandably so, was not invited to the birth celebration. It seems to me the bulk of the problem and the blame lies with the three benevolent faeries that devise the plan to protect Aurora during the 16 years until the curse reaches its statute of limitation. [Said curse stating that Aurora, at some point between the birth celebration and her 16th birthday, will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die as a result.] 

Aurora's dad, the king, immediately orders all spinning wheels in the kingdom destroyed. Makes sense. The faeries' plan is to hide Aurora inside of the hollowed out tree where they live, deep in the forest. The evil sorceress has a pet crow crony that can detect magic as it is performed, so the faeries vow not to use their magic during those 16 years, to prevent discovery of their whereabouts. Makes sense, too.

Everything goes well for 15 years and 364 days, then falls apart spectacularly. On that fateful day, which is the LAST POSSIBLE DAY that anything can go wrong, the wise faeries throw all caution to the wind and decide to do some magic, and, as luck would have it, the crow learns their location and tells his mistress. The faeries spill the beans to Aurora about everything and come out of hiding to journey back to the castle, still on the last possible day that things could run amok. Upon arriving safely at the castle, Aurora, a royal that has not been seen by her family for 16 years, is left completely unattended. No welcome by her parents. No ladies in waiting. No guards at the door. You know the outcome.

The faeries are, I believe, unjustifiably glorified within the Disney realm. Their plan was severely flawed from the start, but could have been perfected with one very simple modification.

What would have been the harm in allowing Aurora to believe her birthday was actually on the following day? Everyone could have gotten another good night's rest. The faeries could have sent Aurora out to pick berries AFTER she was already 16. They could have made their trek to the castle without fear. Surely the prince and Aurora's parents would have waited just one more day in order to insure her safety. 

Of course it all works out in the end, but why tempt fate?


While we're on the subject, I also question some of the instruction given to Aurora by the faeries. Case in point - when she meets the (unbeknownst to her) prince in "the glade", Aurora refuses to give him her name. She tells him she shouldn't be talking to strangers. Then, the very next instant, she gives this person, who is only a few seconds less strange, her address and invites him over that evening to where she lives with three little old ladies. That's poor upbringing. 

Come to think of it, I think maybe a better solution from the very beginning would have been for the faerie Merryweather to bestow the gift of steel fingers upon the baby Aurora, thus negating any power once held by the sharp needle of a spinning wheel.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Where There's Smoke...

I've stumbled across the solution to all that ails our country, economically speaking. Here goes:

If President Obama can somehow be allowed to continue nominating candidates for his cabinet indefinitely - ignoring the traditional and theoretical limitations of cabinet size - in so doing he will eventually expose the identities of all U.S. tax cheats. As those individuals settle their debts with the IRS under the pressure of the public eye, Federal coffers will be bolstered and strength once again restored to the American financial system.

In addition to new Treasury Secretary Geithner's previously publicized indiscretions, two more tax-evading public servant nominees surfaced today. 

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was to be the new Health and Human Services Secretary. Ironically, he used to serve on the senate's tax-writing committee.

Nancy Killefer was supposed to be the first "performance czar", but will now be dealing with the IRS lien against her house instead.

To Daschle and Killefer's credit, they at least had the good sense to withdraw their names from consideration due to the public embarrassment they've brought upon themselves and their colleagues. That's in stark contrast to the arrogance we've seen recently from Geithner or Portland's admitted pedophile mayor, Sam Adams.


The official web site of the White House lists 22 Cabinet/Cabinet-level positions. If the same ratio holds true across the entire population, that means 14% of us aren't paying our fair share of taxes. It follows that, speaking generally, for every $100 owed in taxes, only $86 is collected. How many of us would like a 14% raise in salary? How many companies would still be in business or could have avoided massive layoffs had they generated 14% more income?