Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Movie Review: Avatar

I will start by saying that I will talk about the movie in a way that will give spoilers. I will note when I being the spoiler section.

Avatar is a beautiful movie. It's based in a well realized world with a story, that while not new, is told well.

It was intended to be seen in 3D and thus should be seen in 3D. While consumer electronic companies would have us believe that we'll have 3D in the home soon, no doubt it will be years before it catches on, so take this opportunity while you can. I watched it in standard size 3D, as opposed to IMAX. I'm not a fan of watching movies on IMAX. It just doesn't work for me. If it works for you try to see it in IMAX. I'm sure that'll be a great experience as well.

If you fret that the CGI characters will seem lifeless or weird, such as in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within or Beowulf, fret no longer. That was a concern I had as well but you can easily forget that the digital creations/creatures are in fact digital. It's not so much the rendering that has gotten better. It's easy to render very photo realistic digital images now. It's the nuance. It's the little details. It's easy to cut corners with CG, especially given the amount of time it takes to model, place, animate, render, etc. for each little piece, but that wasn't done here. If felt real because they spent the time to flesh it out.

OK I'm going into the spoiler section.

One of the complaints I've heard is that the movie is too long. I disagree for a couple of reasons.
The first is, as I said above, the world is fleshed out and it feels real. You enjoy being there, or at least I did. There is so much to see. It's like watching Planet Earth, in 3D, but with even more fantastic vistas. What made Planet Earth so enjoyable, aside from it being shot in high definition, was the beautiful views of our planet. Views that many of us will never see any other way. Some of the scenes might as well have been on another planet. Pandora, the planet of Avatar is like that. For a film maker to create a planet as beautiful and awe inspiring as our own is impressive. The people who thought the movie was boring or long probably don't like watching nature shows just for the nature either. It's a matter of taste to be sure.

The second reason I think it's OK for the movie to be long is because certain scenes that would have been cut from the movie in a different director/editors hands are scenes that helped blend the real and CG. For example (spoiler): Parker Selfridge, the corporate executive in charge of operations on Pandora is trying to control a holographic map. He struggles with it, then makes the normal operator take over and then gives him hell when he misses the target. It's a throw away scene. It could have very easily have been tossed out in editing without hurting the story one bit. It could have been directed very coldly as well, where Selfridge controls the map perfectly. I believe, the point was to blend the CG elements (the holographic map system) and the actors, to help drive home the blending of the two for the audience. You see the map go all over the place as the executive doesn't really know how to control the map, but because he's a cocky exec, he thinks he can. Many of us have met executives/managers like that. It's a silly scene but again, it is one of those details that draws you into the movie. I'm sure a hour or so could have been edited out of the movie, with the story intact, but the experience would not have been as rich or as enjoyable. Of course that's my opinion.

Another issue that came up, was from Tom Merritt on East Meets West. He didn't like the fact that the Na'vi are tetrapods, rather than hexapods like many of the other animals on Pandora. I see his point and raise it a few more points and then a rebuttal.

The problem with the Na'vi, isn't so much that they have two arms and two legs like humans, but the fact that they are so much like humans and less like many of the other creatures on the planet, that we see. Some creatures we see breath from nostrils on their necks. Yet the Na'vi have their nostrils on their face, much like humans. Why would the vocal cords on the Na'vi, their hearing, their vision, be virtually identical to our own? Much of the planet is florescent, so that suggests that there is a larger presence of ultraviolet light. If that is the case wouldn't the creatures of Pandora, including the Na'vi, be predisposed to seeing light further into the UV spectrum, thus changing how they would see the world? This could have been easily remedied by simply shifting the visible spectrum when we are seeing from the eyes of a Na'vi (only a couple of times during the movie) and then let the rest of the movie play out as it did.

Being a nerd and liking hard science fiction I would have preferred the Na'vi to be more alien. It would have made Jake Sully's defection even more powerful, at least in my opinion. It's very easy to relate to the Na'vi and easy to see why Jake defected. Had the Na'vi been more alien, less like ourselves, it would have been harder to understand, harder to accept, more drama. Just my opinion anyway.

So about my rebuttal to the last couple of paragraphs? OK, it's really simple. Movies are not hard science fiction. There are few hard science fiction movies made, because generally speaking it's not what the general public wants to see. Sci-Fi is well accepted by the masses these days, but they like it watered down and in terms they can easily grasp. Aliens are supposed to be alien, but if we are going to have any kind of relationship with them they have to be like us, at least a little. We have to understand their motivations. We can understand Vulcans. Sure they are logical and show no emotions, but they are not so different. We can see them and say, "We need our emotions or we end up cold like them." Vulcans are just humans without emotion. Klingons are humans who simply embrace a warrior caste system, something we have had some cultures in our human history. The Na'vi are a mixture of native peoples from Earth. Because of that we can easily relate to them. Some of us even wish we could live like they do, just as there are those who'd like to be more like Vulcans or Klingons. If James Cameron had made the Na'vi too alien, viewers wouldn't have related the way he wanted them to. Sure he could have made them more alien, perhaps that would have made them ugly. I think he wanted them to be beautiful looking, and they are. He gave the women breasts, though there was no apparent reason to do so other than aesthetics. It wasn't a sci-fi or science choice but a movie/commercial choice. What is going to draw in more customers? It was a wise choice. It's about entertainment before realism.

Everyone picking this movie apart, myself included, are missing the point. You can tear any movie down into it's base parts and find flaws. Sure the story in Avatar isn't original, but in the context of the rest of the movie, it works. That's what I'd like you all to take away from my review. As a whole this is a very good movie. It's too early to tell how deep it will effect Sci-Fi and Geek culture. The technology behind the scenes is impressive and WILL change how movies are made. The rest is for history to decide.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Thoughts on: Superior Super Earths

I ran across this article: Superior Super Earths and it really got my mind going. Here are some of my thoughts. I recommend you read the article first, then come back and debate my ideas with me.

  1. I find it truly amazing that we are discovering planets around other stars. PLANETS! It wasn't that long ago that we barely knew anything about the planets around our own star and now we can discover and analyse planets light years away.

    I never expected that in my life time and I'm still young. I can only imagine how technological improvements will allow us to see more and more about these planets without having to actually go there first.

    Right now we are only detecting planets that have enough mass to effect their stars in such a way that we can detect with our instruments. As our tools become more detailed and techniques are developed and refined we should be able to see more and more planets, smaller ones too, as well as gain greater clarity to the details of their atmosphere and composition. In theory we could even be able to detect if that planet has life or technology, if abundant enough.

  2. The article talks about how Earth is a tough place for life to be sustained and suggests that these large Super Earths would be somehow better, but the explanations for why are not clearly laid out.

    If a planet is more massive it's going to have a greater gravitational pull and possibly be hit by more asteroids and comets than Earth. If the plate tectonics are more aggressive life will have to adapt to deal with that greater upheaval.

    As the article states, 99 percent of all life that has ever existed on Earth has gone extinct. That's scary on one side, but also note that we humans are a result of that. Sure we can look at it as though we will just end up as part of that statistic, and perhaps we will, but it cannot be denied that because of all that planetary evolution, the human race has come to being.

    Now consider a planet where that evolution may be accelerated. It's possible that these planets got to an intelligent sentient race before the Earth did. It's also possible that due to the upheavals that life there never gets beyond a certain point before it's 'recycled'.

  3. The age of the Universe compared to the age of our solar system is surprisingly short. The age of our solar system is just a little over a third of the age of the entire Universe. As the article mentions it's possible and even likely that other intelligent life in the Universe is on a similar time scale. This suggests that unless other life forms evolved much faster than us and have developed extra-solar space flight, it's likely to be awhile before we meet any aliens. That doesn't mean it can't or won't happen but the likelihood is much slimmer.

    The Universe may be full of life, but to what percentage of that life is sentient. What percentage of that sentient life has developed technology sufficient enough for space travel? What percentage of that space-faring life is close enough to Earth for a visit? What percentage of that alien life would be interested in our civilization?

    Considering the distances, we may discover an intelligent race out in our neighborhood of the Milkyway, but it could end up being a very slow long distance relationship for many centuries.
I know the human race and Earth is not the only place in the Universe that has life. I have no proof of that other than the fact that the Universe is just too large for Earth to be the only one. Science finds regularly that life exists and even thrives in locations that are surprisingly harsh. So while the life may not seem likely to us, evolution has a way of making life work.

We humans tolerate a specific temperature range, can see and tolerate specific wavelengths of light and radiation. We process food in a specific way with numerous cooperative bacteria and other creepy crawlies that most of us would prefer not to think about or know. Other life in the Universe may look at us and wonder how we are able to tolerate the environments that we do because they are alien and harsh to the life forms observing us.

It's nice to watch Star Trek and Star Wars and think that all these alien races will be pretty much like us and be able to share the same environments without issue, but I suspect that's just a romantic notion that we dreamed up to hide the frightening truth that we really have no idea what life outside of Earths will be like. It's less scary if aliens are like us. We humans don't like 'people' who are different.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Word 2007 to Blogger

So I learned yesterday, thanks to my Uncle Henry, that Microsoft Word 2007 has the ability to publish to your blog for you. This is great because unless I'm writing a very basic blog post I like to use Word, for better formatting, spelling and grammar. All of which I certainly need help with.

The positives:

  1. Real time grammar and spell check. Blogger has a spell check but it's after you write.
  2. More writing space. You can have Word take your entire screen up for writing. Blogger has a small text window that is not resizable.
  3. The text formatting is actually CLEAN. If you've every cut and paste Word text into Blogger before you know that all that wonderful Microsoft HTML is brought in with it. This tool appears to correctly strip down the formatting to regular HTML. (Note: I'm not convinced this will happen in each case and I will continue to test it.)

The negatives:

  1. No pictures. It appears that unless you use Microsoft Live Spaces for your blog there is little support for other image hosting options. Granted this is a Microsoft product but if you are going to allow for posting to other blog hosting sites, give us the ability to upload to Picasa, Flickr, etc.
  2. No keywords. I cannot speak for other blog hosts, but I like that Blogger has the ability to add keywords to the bottom of a blog post. It helps with organization as well as helps search engines crawl your blog.

Overall I think this is a great tool and worth using, especially if your blog posts are long and you want them to be somewhat professional. For quick and dirty blogs it's probably an unnecessary tool. Hopefully with Office 2010 some more image services are added. The keyword function I can live without, but no images is a pain. I like to add images to my blog. It adds interest and sometimes they are simply necessary. I'll have to manually add them every time with this Microsoft Word tool.

I give it 6.5 out of 10. The lack of better image hosting integration and the fact that some bloggers will never find the need to use this tool hurt it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Internet Comment Ranking

There are a number of websites now have comment systems that allow other uses to rank other users comments. I used to get frustrated when a perfectly legitimate comment that I made would get voted down while illogical or factually incorrect comment would be voted up.

Not everyone thinks rationally about certain subjects. I'm sure I've ranted on a topic before only to later realize my comment was poorly thought out. This is what occurred to me. People see a subject and comment based on a variety of reasons. Some want give an opposing view. Some want to just be a cheerleader for the original topic. Some see the trend and follow suit. Some try to logically (or sometimes illogically) debate the issues brought up by the original topic or to others' comments.

The problem is that good comments can sometimes be voted down simply because the comment expresses views that another user doesn't want to read. It's not that they think the commenter was wrong as much as it is sticking their heads in the sand. This isn't always conscious either. Emotion frequently plays into commentary systems and skews perspective. I know I have voted down certain comments before that perhaps I shouldn't have.

There are plenty of comments that fully deserve to be voted up or down. The system itself is not broke. As frustrating as it can be at times it's actually a pretty decent mirror of human behavior. In person we might not make the same comments to each other, but we'd be thinking them.

Monday, November 09, 2009


Our American lives (and likely those of other countries as well) are driven on consumption. Depending on your perspective, this can be a good or bad thing.

Life in general is about consumption. We live to eat, the most basic consumption. We work to get the things in life we think we need. When we are poor those needs are pretty basic. When we are wealthy are basic needs are met so we consume with 'discretion'. In other words, we consume other non-necessary goods to the extent that it does not interfere with our base needs.

I should define base needs as items such as food, shelter, and the items needed to obtain and keep those items.

After writing my last blog post about Social Security I did some more reading and found a study that discussed what would happen if Social Security was simply removed. It's major finding was that discretionary consumption would be reduced, both at retirement and leading up to it. Suggesting that though we'd pay less in taxes we'd have to put more into our personal retirement savings, since it was now solely our responsibility, that we'd ultimately spend less. Additionally it suggested we'd have less money at retirement, so we'd spend less then as well.

Since our economy is based on consumption, this model suggests doom and gloom for our economy. Less consumption, means less jobs, which means less money and more unemployment.

The problem I see, and it's reared it's ugly head twice now in the last decade, is that this creates market bubbles. Economic growth is only sustainable to a point. Things have to level off at some point. If everyone actually looked at their needs/wants, there are a lot more wants than needs. If everyone was happy with what they had then the markets would fail and businesses would drop off because of that. That's what we are seeing now. Unfortunately instead of saying, "Maybe the market isn't strong when we get to a certain height," we try to figure out how to tweak the system so as to get a bit more money out of it, even at the risk of society.

The housing boom is a great example of that. I'm sure there were buyers who bought within their means and bought homes that met their needs, but there were also a large percentage of buyers who bought more house than they needed with the idea that they'd turn around and resell it in a few years and make a large profit. They assumed there would be people continuing to consume. The problem is that once the houses got to a certain point people stopped consuming because the prices were too high. The ones at the top of the heap suddenly couldn't sell their houses. They foreclosed because they couldn't afford the payments. And like a house of cards the market fell apart, because it was based on ever increasing consumption. It was also spurred by mortgage funny business. Chopping up bad mortgages and selling them on the market in 'creative' ways allowed the housing market to see more aggressive growth than would have been the case otherwise. It's not that the market was bad before, but consumption was not growing at the rates that people wanted, so an artificial mechanism was created to spur growth.

Looking back now consumers were duped by great marketing and greed. Though the creative marketing and finances by the banks is part to blame, the responsibility ultimately lays with the consumer who didn't know when to say when.

This is happening in China now too, at the cost of health and traditions. Individually we know what is right and wrong with consumption but as groups we make the same mistakes over and over. The herd is not very smart typically. Yet when individuals stand up against those poor choices they are often ridiculed.

I'm not saying I'm innocent of 'want' consumption. I have plenty I don't 'need'. That is partly why I do things for others now, because my needs are met. I also evaluate my consumption on want vs. need. I didn't always, but I do now. It's not an easy lesson to learn, but one more people should try to learn. I'm also not advocating that people can't have wants or that discretionary spending is a bad thing. I am saying that it needs to be balanced and reasonable. What that means will be different for each person. I'm sure there are some who would argue that they 'need' a yacht. I'd disagree with them but it's also their money.

The "consumption" economy may suffer a bit if we saved more and consumed less, especially at first, but society as a whole would be much better off.

Taxes and the Wealthy

While reading some comments in regard to this infographic, I was given an argument to consider.

The argument was centered around the fact that the wealthy pay less, by percentage of income, than the less wealthy, into Social Security. The arguement for keeping this inequity in place was, "The weathy are less likely to use it, so why should they pay into it? It's punishing the sucessful."

The last part of that is simply a political statement, meant to disarm any counter argument. If you argue against it that means you are against success! But that's just a debate tactic. Granted it works against most of the public.

The real argument is flawed. There are a LOT of programs that people's taxes pay for that they see no benefit or they do not use, yet we pay those taxes. We don't get to pick and choose where our tax dollars are spent. I don't have kids, but my tax dollars help pay for schools. Do I get mad about that? No. Those dollars are worth giving up for the benefit of society. I benefit through an educated society.

Oh but I can hear you saying, "Social Security is for retirement help. The wealthy don't need that, so where is the benefit for them?"

The thing is, when we start paying our Social Security taxes, most of us don't know that we may some day be wealthy and not need them. We pay into it hoping that we'll be able to use those dollars later. That said, anyone with high school social studies should have learned that what we are putting in today is going out today, to the current retiree base. We have basically given the government the role of taking care of our seniors. Something that used to be a family task. Now most people just ship off their elderly family members to homes and let the government pay for it, via Social Security.

Sorry, went on a separate rant there. The point is that when we pay Social Security, it's not like a 401k account. That money is not ours. It's taxes, plain and simple. Those tax dollars are being used to fund any number of government programs that even the wealthy may be using.

This is also not about 'punishing' the successful. I've been successful enough with my career that I can work from home. Because of that I don't drive very much at all any more. Does that entitle me to pay less taxes because I use the road infrastructure less than everyone else? No of course not. The same goes for the wealthy.

UPDATE: Here is an interesting counter point to my argument. Not sure I completely agree, but I'm always open to listening/reading a reasonable argument.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Net Neutrality Debate

The FCC has opened up an online blog and comment system (http://blog.openinternet.gov/?p=1) for debate on Net Neutrality, which I think is a good thing, whether you agree or not. The problem is that after reading a few pages of comments there are some bad/scary trends:

  1. F.U.D. – Fear Uncertainty and Doubt. This is an old technique with a newish name. It’s people stating the sky will fall if something happens or doesn’t happen. There is rarely an argument even made. The statements are made to elicit an emotional reaction. The problem with this is that people who do not understand the topic at hand are whipped up into a froth and they get loud and visible. There is no debate, there is no reason. It doesn’t matter what you say to them at that point, they are ‘right’ and you are wrong, even if the opposite is true.

  2. Censorship/Government control – This was mixed in with the FUD. What the FCC proposes are rules that govern all Internet providers (ISPs), big or small. It makes sure that no one uses their power to restrict or censor Internet traffic. The rules are specifically designed to minimize interference, not create it. It doesn’t give the government special access to the Internet to censor information they don’t want the people to see, as some of the commenter’s suggested. We geeks keep a pretty close watch on the pulse of the Internet and any kind of censorship like that would be detected and called out immediately. That is the greatness of the Internet.

  3. It’s not broke, so don’t fix it! – Sorry folks but it IS broke. Things change; it’s the way of the world. The record industry finally figured that out. They didn’t want it to change, but it did anyway. This is the case with ISPs. There are some real problems with our current system. Only because of past intervention by the FCC and the vocalizations of many geeks have we remained OK. Sure most end users don’t see this, but the battles have already been happening.

  4. Innovation and Investment will be stifled – I can see these things being stifled perhaps for the large ISP companies, but certainly not for the Internet as a whole. If Comcast (as an example) decided to throttle or block sites like Hulu or Netflix because they wanted to promote the usage of their own ‘on-demand’ product, how is that good for innovation or investment? Oh sure it’s good for Comcast’s share holders, but it’s certainly not innovative. They just took what was working for someone else and used their network to give their product an unfair advantage. That’s not competition. That’s not a fair market. That’s what Net Neutrality is about. Make sure the playing field is level. If Comcast’s product is superior on its own merits then great, it deserves that market share it takes from Hulu and/or Netflix. If not Comcast shouldn’t be able to artificially weaken its competitors.

    (UPDATE- 10/23) It needs to be clarified that there is an important distinction between Internet Providers and Content Providers. Without the content providers the Internet is just an empty network. It wasn't build like the phone networks with one task in mind. It was specifically designed to allow for the innovations and businesses that we currently see (as content providers). The ISPs (the Internet providers) want a piece of that lucrative pie, which is fair and reasonable. However without regulation what prevents them from abusing their advantage (owning the networks) over the established content providers?

  5. Ignorance – This is forgivable. This is a complex subject and there is a lot of misinformation. Below I’ll cover some important details that everyone who wants to participate in this debate should know.

For consumers frustrated with higher cable rates, there are not many direct alternatives. 95 percent of American homes have only one cable company, while the 5 percent who have choice between two cable companies that compete head-to-head pay about 17 percent less on average. [i]

While that quote is referring to Cable television pricing the point is still valid in this argument. If 95% of the country does not have access to a competitive market for their Internet what power do we as consumers have? The whole point of a market is supply and demand. If our supply is artificially limited (as ISPs would like to do under certain situations) and there is no other supplier that we can call on, we have no choice.

The cable companies have a monopoly on our local markets, so open them up! Not so quick.

"The theory of natural monopoly holds that "because of structural conditions that exist in certain industries, competition between firms cannot endure; and whenever these conditions exist, it is inevitable that only one firm will survive." "Thus, regulation is necessary to dilute the ill-effects of the monopoly." "Those who assert that cable television is a natural monopoly focus on its economies of scale; that is, its large fixed costs whose duplication by multiple companies would be inefficient and wasteful." "Thus, competitive entry into the market should be proscribed because it is bound to be destructive." [ii]

While I don’t particularly like this situation as a consumer, I can understand it. If there were two or three more cable companies in town they’d either have to lease access from the incumbent cable provider or go through out town burying their own cable. Neither of which would be cheap or necessarily a slam dunk win for consumers.

If ISPs, cable or otherwise, strictly provided Internet access, much like a utility, this would not really be a problem. That is not the way our ISPs are structured today. When we all had dial-up there were lots of competitors to the market because they could piggy-back on the phone lines without the phone company being directly involved. Dial-up modem traffic over phone lines is just audio noise. Those squeeks and squacks when a connection was made continued until you disconnected.

While there are still a great many individuals on dial-up still, who frankly will not be affected much by Net Neutrality one way or the other, those of us using DSL or Cable Internet do so through our local cable or phone monopoly. These are the same companies that are seeing their phone and cable TV subscriptions drop in number because consumers are finding better and cheaper alternatives on the Internet. Phone and TV makes these companies a lot more money than Internet access, so they are trying to find ways to keep making money, to reduce their attrition rates.

Numerous cities and municipalities throughout the country have tried to implement local wireless Internet access, for ‘free’, only to run into ‘bought’ politicians and legislation designed to protect the existing ISPs.

I understand protecting a business from being put out by government, but when the people of the city want that service and when that service is frequently less robust than competitive products, where is the problem? If the people of a town vote to have free wireless broadband and are willing to pay the extra taxes to cover the cost, why should the state or federal government have the OK to step in and say, “No, you can’t do that because you are taking money away from X Internet provider.” Why doesn’t that provider just step up and compete instead of crying to their lobbyists? In large part because these local ISPs are all part of the larger ISP oligopoly. We all know the names; Time Warner Cable, Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Charter, Cox, and a few others. They know very well that if one small town does it, others will follow. They don’t want that to be a trend. In some cases they have competed and rolled out new/better infrastructure, but they had to be forced to do that through competition. We the People had to force that competition by using our government. This is why we have a government in the first place; to protect the people. That doesn’t preclude protecting business, but the government should be protecting people first and foremost.

Ultimately the ISPs are trying to maintain existing business models any way they can.

  • AT&T recently has been fighting to keep Google Voice off the iPhone. They claim it’s Apple that is stopping it but at the end of the day what does Google Voice do? It allows users to use the Internet to make phone calls among other related tasks. This takes AT&T out of the loop for services. They only provide the Internet access and that’s it. If a user has WiFi they don’t even need AT&T for Internet! Their conflict of services vs. Internet access is clear. Stop Google Voice and keep users on their networks and on their services.

    This plays into the Net Neutrality debate because one of the proposed rules is that a product/service should not be denied access to the network unless it is harmful to the network (not to the business, to the network).

  • Comcast blocking bit-torrent traffic. Bit-Torrent is frequently associated with online piracy and while it can be used for legitimate purposes it has gained its notoriety fairly. That doesn’t mean Comcast or any other ISP should be able to block Internet traffic. Packet sniffing and QOS (Quality of Service) is important to corporate networks to ensure that internal productivity is not diminished. In the public Internet that only leads to censorship. Bit-Torrent is deemed ‘bad’ so it’s blocked. Do they block You Tube next because it has videos that may be copyrighted or there may be videos of illegal activities on there? Who decides? The copyright holder, the content provider, the ISP? Net Neutrality rules state no one does because the traffic shouldn’t be blocked in the first place. ISPs should be conduits for our data, nothing more nothing less.

One area that I do agree with the ISPs on is pricing. One of the common complaints is that users are using more and more bandwidth for streaming video and other such high utilization services and products. The problem is that ISPs have been selling access based on speed not utilization. One of the problems that still occurs is that ISPs are claiming Unlimited Access when in fact there is a cap. So ISPs have suggested tiered pricing, where heavy users pay more than low utilization users. The problem is that we run into that conflict of interest issue again. Heavy utilization users are going to be the ones doing online video streaming. If as a user, I dropped cable TV for Hulu and Netflix, then suddenly I could lose the incentive if the price of my Internet access jumped. The cable company doesn’t want me to go to streaming, they’d rather I stay on their normal TV service. If they make the price prohibitively high then suddenly their cable TV plan doesn’t look so bad any more.

To be fair Comcast, who was piloting such a program in Texas, has backed away from it after consumer protest. Additionally they are now looking to compete with their own streaming video service. I not 100% on the details but as I understand it you have to be a cable TV customer to gain access though, which kind of defeats the purpose.

This conflict of interest is something these companies have to address. A pure ISP is a non-growth market. Profits are funneled back into the Infrastructure. My question is, why is this a bad thing? Why must a business show large returns every quarter to be a healthy one?

Where is the incentive to enter the market or invest in such a company you ask? Consumer demand for faster Internet access is there. It doesn’t require digging lines or running another wire on a utility pole these days. Wireless is getting better and better and could certainly supplement and even replace cable and DSL Internet in a decade or two. Traditional (analog) methods of moving data around on wire is not going to just disappear, but the barrier to entry that it creates will diminish, only if rules are made and adjusted to allow for it rather than allowing the artificial propping up of dying business models.

I respect that there are others out there that are against regulations and are against an ever enlarging government. This is one case where I believe something has to be done. This regulation, success or failure will light the path of the Internet in the USA for the foreseeable future. The threat of regulation has kept the ISPs in check. A failure of this proposal will grant them the courage to abuse consumers for their profits.

[i] AS CABLE RATES RISE AGAIN, CONSUMER GROUPS SAY COMPANIES ARE USING MONOPOLY POWER TO UNFAIR ADVANTAGE, Wednesday, January 8, 2003, Consumers Union, http://www.consumersunion.org/telecom/cable103.htm

[ii] Cable Television: An Unnatural Monopoly, March 13, 1984, CATO Institute, http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa034.html

UPDATE: 10/22/09 The FCC has released their NOTICE OF PROPOSED RULEMAKING (PDF) document. This is a valuable document to read and understand regardless of your opinion of Net Neutrality.

UPDATE 2: 10/22/09 Senator McCain introduces Internet Freedom Act of 2009, "that will keep the Internet free from government control and regulation." This is in direct opposition to what the FCC is attempting to do as well as against Net Neutrality.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Review: Where the Wild Things Are

Here is my quick review of Where the Wild Things Are.

First and most importantly, it is NOT a kids movie. The story and themes surround emotions and not simple ones. Lots of kids were in the theatre around me and I heard a lot of questions being asked through out the movie. Additionally it's very REAL. A monster or scary part in an illustrated book is one thing, but there are moments when it gets very real and very scary. In the book a threat to be eaten by one of the monsters is easily dismissed. Not so much in this movie. Additionally the movie paints the place as a real location, not something in his imagination.

For adults it has depth. Max is identifiable for many because many of us went through similar things as a kid. That's where this movie shines. There is an innocence to it but also realness. That realness that would confuse or scare children is also there for adults, but adults can understand it and relate it.

Buy your young children the book and go to the movie yourself first. If you feel they are up for it, take them then.

I know I've already beaten this drum a bit, but the 'realness' also applies to the effects. The monsters and their home look and feel very real. I was taken out a couple times. A dog and some owls didn't look as polished as the rest, but for the most part it was very well done. Good for Spike Jones using monster suits instead of CG.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fancy Flight or Flight of Fancy?

Having just recently had to deal with air travel I can safely say there is room for competition. My thought isn't fight the current crowd of typical airlines, like Delta, United, American. Nor do I think it's a good idea to go up against the budget airlines like Southwest or JetBlue. Why not a new segment?

Many travelers are happy to travel first class, but lets face it, first class today is not the first class of yesterday. You might get a nicer seat and more leg room. Perhaps a premium snack instead of peanuts, but what else are you getting? You still have to hear the baby crying in the back and you might be sitting next to someone who for various reasons, had a coach seat and is now sitting next to you.

I'm not saying people who fly coach are bad. I'm 99% of the time one of those people. I have gotten at the gate upgrades due to over booking before, I've never personally paid for first class.

That said, there are many who would happily pay for the luxury. So why isn't there a luxury airline? Sure there are private jets and the like, but are they enough to make this market non-viable?

Imagine a jet with only nice plush seats, plenty of leg room. Internet, individual movies, good food, etc, all inclusive to the price of the ticket? The current airlines have to nickel and dime us to death because they are trying to compete with the discount airlines who seem to have figured out how to do things well and on a budget. A luxury airline would be immune to that market pressure because it offers something those other airlines do not. Look at Southwest and United. What difference is there in actual product? Not much really. They have to compete.

Having an all inclusive ticket might be a bit more pricey but as the traveler the experience becomes so much more pleasurable. The airports themselves might be a drag still but once on the plane, it could be relaxing and enjoyable instead of stressful.

Flight availability would be less of an issue for a luxury airline as well. If you are going to pay a premimum are you likely to use that airline for a short commuter flight for business? No, of course not. It would be silly therefor for the airline to even offer such a flight.

Seasonal flights from New York City to Denver for skiing or from Miami to Boston for Autumn leaves, and other such travels, where they are truly vacations.

Reservations would be completely different for this type of airline. Because there would be fewer flights you wouldn't be going to Expedia to book your trip. Fewer trips and fewer seats creates demand.

There would be a certain amount of exclusivity of course, but isn't that the point of a luxury brand?

UPDATE: Since writing this article I've found that there are a number of trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific airlines that do provide many of the luxuries I was thinking of above, between $4000 and $5000. But why not specialized domestic flight?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Soap box weaving and bobbing on the waves of the sea of my frustration

I grew up before the Internet. My entire adolescence was devoid of Internet access. That's not to say there were no computers, but getting 'online' was a rarity and was limited to local BBS's. So I knew my bullies face to face. They were often big, dumb and mean. As a geek/nerd in that time, you learn how to face them, without stooping to their level or avoiding them all together (not really so easy). So what happened?

Now with the Internet there are bullies every where. Forums and chat rooms are filled with them. The thing is, they aren't the big dummies any more. They are reasonably smart people that should know better but they either don't care or never learned.

These online bullies, often known as 'trolls', pick on and laugh at the 'noobs', the less Internet savvy. Go to any forum, blog, social site, and you'll see it. I visit digg.com frequently for interesting news. From time to time I read the comments associated with the stories and the amount of trolling and ignorance is astounding. There is rarely respect for thought out discussion. More frequently than not, comments are emotional and based on misinformation.

What happened to intellectual discourse? Did it ever really exist in the general public? Is the lack or respect on the Internet a reflection of the lack of respect outside in the real world?

I wonder if the ease in which someone can post an anonymous comment gives the author the feeling that it's OK to let their thoughts go without consideration for others? Let's face it, most things posted on the Internet would never be spoken aloud in a face to face conversation.

It could be argued that it allows us to be more honest with our feelings. Perhaps, but if that's the case there are a lot of assholes and douche bags out there.

And really, if you cannot say it in person, but you can online, then it's simply another kind of passive aggressiveness. I should know I am passive aggressive myself. Does that mean human society is becoming more passive aggressive? I doubt it. I'm sure the Internet is just allowing everyone to see the true nature of some people.

The interesting thing is that passive aggressive behavior is often linked to being bullied, in one way or another. It's a defense mechanism. Direct confrontation is one sided. With a physical bully, they are bigger or have some power over you. Since direct is not available an indirect solution is found. Indirect doesn't mean bad, but it can lead to indirect attacks that are really no better than the bully's direct attack. I think that is what we are seeing online. The evolution of the bullied becoming the bullies.

Geek is cool now. That nerd sitting next to you might be the next Michael Dell, Biz Stone, or even Bill Gates. People are attracted to power. But these geeks and nerds are still often less confident in social situations and the big physical bullies are plenty confident. This struggle of powers is creating sides, sides that have been in battle for years but now with the Internet the geeks have a powerful new weapon. The problem is that this weapon has made them no better than the bullies they hate.

Originally I thought to blame all of this on the families that do not spend enough time with their kids. Parents that are so focused on their jobs that their kids suffer for it. While I do think this contributes, they are not completely to blame. Our society as a whole as shifted away from respect, so people are feeling that it's OK to not be respectful, even those who are old enough to have been taught respect.

We cannot discipline our kids, for fear of being accused of child abuse. Teachers are no longer allowed to have failing students. Everyone must be the same. We've gotten so politically correct that real life rules are pushed aside for lame PC rules. You can't lets kids fail, so everyone else has to dumb down for that one dumb kid in class. Sure no one wants to be that dumb kid, but everyone knows were are not all the same. We act like everyone should be able to be a rocket scientist. While I agree that everyone should have the equal opportunity to be a rocket scientist, not everyone has what it takes and that is OK.

Instead schools are judged on on standardized tests and truly gifted children are forced to be bored in classes so that a few less intelligent kids will be able to move forward. I remember kids being held back a grade for failing or having to go to special education classes. These were the kids who became the bullies because they had to make up for their lack of educational achievement with physical prowess. Now that the school says all kids are the same, the smart ones are turning into the bullies because they need to stand out. They need to say, "Hey, I AM smarter than you. When you are online I'm going to call you a noob and not help you because this is MY domain."

It's funny, that we fight so hard to stay away from a socialized economy and socialized healthcare. All I hear from the extreme political right is about how the US is becoming a socialist country, but I never hear anything about our education system which is trying to homogenize our youth. Trying to make them fit into cookie cutter molds. They fight it but don't know why, they just know it's wrong. Is anyone helping these kids focus their energy constructively? It used to be the teachers, but they are over worked, under paid and forced to teach kids how to take standardized tests.

So in the end these trolls and online bullies, who are smart enough to know better, are having to come to terms with who they are and how they use their knowledge on their own. If they are lucky they'll find a positive role model. If not it may take them years to mature into productive members of a society that has forgotten how to respect one another.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Quick Health Care Reform Thought

So why is that if you do not have health insurance the rates are higher than when you do have insurance? That right there is not fair or reasonable.

Rates are too high as it is, but the cost of health care should not matter if you have insurance or not.

I've heard, but cannot confirm, that the reason is that most who do not have insurance will likely default on the costs associated with their health care, especially expensive procedures, so they raise the prices so they can write off more, decreasing their taxes. If this is the case, that should be illegal. As far as I'm concerned that's tax evasion and fraud.

The same goes for the drug companies. There is no reason at all that a drug that costs $200 with insurance should cost $2000 without. All that says is, 'screw you poor people. We are trying to squeeze as much profit from this drug as possible before the FDA makes us recall it because we rushed it out the door or before the exclusive patent dies and generic drug makers can start making it.'

I'm not against a public health insurance plan, but fix the price dependency and a public option may become less needed. Though I'm sure those corporations would find some other way to reclaim that lost profit.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Non-Profit Business Idea

Every time I drive around Lincoln I see some great old houses that are run down and think, how great would it be to fix those up. Flipping houses was profitable for those who knew what they were doing before the real estate bubble and economy, as a whole, popped.

Flipping isn't what I have in mind though. It's more along the lines of Extreme Make Over Home Edition. There are many homes owned or rented by those making minimum wage or less. Now with an unemployment rate at just over 9% there are probably those who were once middle-class hurting.

The problem is that when money is tight there are other priorities than your home, until they become critical. Those are the people I want to help.

Who would be helped would be decided based on requests. A needy family would submit for assistance. Friends or family would also be able to submit for others. An inspector would be sent out to evaluate the specific problem or problems and rate them on a point system. The inspector would also note any other problems that needed to be addressed and rate them accordingly.

The inspections would be evaluated and tackled on a highest need first basis. This would also be highly dependent on resources. Lets face it, there are many needy families and homes out there and one organization, especially just getting started, would not be able to help everyone.

The organization would be highly dependent on volunteers, not only for money, but for time and resources. Asking for labor and experience not only from contractors but skilled DIYers would be a large part of the success of the organization. There would be room for non-skilled laborers as well, but from my, admittedly small, experience with Habitat for Humanity, those individuals are not always needed.

I should note that I have nothing but respect for Habitat for Humanity, but I don't want to build new homes. I'm against urban sprawl and the current trend of cookie cutter homes. There are so many great old neighborhoods with beautiful old homes that just need some work to become great once again.

In addition to the remodeling aspect of the organization there would likely need to be a store-front/warehouse. Asking for labor and even financial donations is great but not everyone is able to give those, so for those who cannot give in that way, perhaps they can give extra materials from their own remodel or even buy needed items, just as others do when they buy extra groceries for donation to the local food bank. Many times during a remodel or even in new construction there are left over or salvageable materials. These could be used in the organizations remodel projects or sold in the store-front. In the past I purchased a window for a basement in just such a store. There were a lot of great usable goods there.

So why wouldn't the organization just use any materials donated to it? Well there are two reasons I can think of and they speak of how I think any of these remodels should be done. First, some donated materials, such as windows, may be old and inefficient. Some people would be interested in them for preserving historic homes, but that's not the goal here. The second reason is simple, time. An organization that is living heavily on the labor of volunteers has to be efficient. Recycling is great and I would want to do so as much as reasonable, but there are going to be times when getting new will save money by saving time.

I think any remodel done should be done correctly from the start. That means doing any and all work to code. That also means doing it with the right materials. As I mentioned, recycling has it's place, but using the right materials will make sure the work done will last for many years instead of a couple years or even months. I don't want to have to revisit a home that has been fixed, not only is that bad public relations, it's just bad. If we can't do it right we shouldn't do it.

That leads me to my main area of uncertainty. What do we do when a house is beyond repair or the repair costs would be so high that it doesn't make sense to fix it. We can't just leave those people high and dry, but as I said before, I don't want to be in the new house construction business. Would tearing down and rebuilding be cost effective? Would it be better to buy another fixer upper for that family, and fix that one for them? Would there be enough financial donations to maintain either of those solutions? From my experience with food banks, it's not so much labor that they are short on but rather food and money. Having to completely rebuild or buy another home for a family would be very costly and could make it difficult to help the others who might just need a new roof or new stove. Those are choices I don't relish.

Perhaps a partnership with other non-profit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, or even local churches is the solution.

I'm certain I would do this locally. Not only because of my love for my town and state, but because there is no way I could help all the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of needy people. That is part of the reason I'm posting this 'business plan' on my blog. I don't care if someone else takes this idea and runs with it. In fact I'd be delighted if they did!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cash For Clunkers? Too boring

So Cash for Clunkers program is in full swing, but reports are estimating it running out of money in Sept.

Will the government feed it more money? I suggest a revamp.

Instead of giving out money to people who probably don't really need it to start with, how about we get lots more cars off the road AND make it entertaining! Think LeMons racing + DeathRace.

So the country is divided into regions, based on population of 'Clunkers' as currently defined and older cars because the fuel efficiency ratings won't matter. More on that in a second. Have a series of local races. The drivers have to own their cars for a minimum of one year, as the rules are currently written for C4C. The owners forfeit their auto insurance (of course most of these cars probably only have liability coverage) and have to drive their cars on a track with 100 other clunker drivers for 12 hours. The estimated MPG wouldn't matter because the cars are given based on driving not a number that is questionably calculated.

Depending on the total number of races, there might need to be additional races, but the basic idea is that the winner (or top three if you are feeling generous) get brand new cars. Even a cap of $20,000 for that car, would be reasonable or the winner can add their own cash to buy a nicer car. Those are just details.

And just think of the TV coverage. All the networks would be lining up to broadcast these amateur smashup races. Hell some sponsors might even decide to give a car to the audience favorite or something. I know I'd be watching it!

Ok so there are some downfalls to this. People could get hurt for sure. Most of these people would have little to no real race experience. The cars would not be designed for racing and thus would be more prone to bad accidents. It's unlikely that you're going to put a roll cage in a car, just on the off chance you might win a new one.

The incentive to put your crummy daily driver into this situation would have to be high. If it's your only means of transportation you won't be so likely to risk it. Unless you are dumb, cocky, or actually a talented driver.

That brings up another downside, for the drivers, but perhaps an upside for society. There would be a lot more people without cars afterward. Public transit isn't great in many cities, but that's partly due to the fact that so many people have cars and prefer to drive. No car? Bus ticket! On the upside, that's less gas guzzling broken down heaps driving on the road. You know the ones I'm taking about.

So put them on the race track. Let them fall apart there where there will be ambulances and tow-trucks standing by. Let some fools spend money to upgrade their breaks or wheels or some such. It stimulates the economy!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

32 bit vs 64 bit OS leason - Photoshop

I just upgraded to Windows 7 RC1 from the Win 7 beta. In the beta I had the Adobe Creative Suite CS2 installed. Everything worked fine but as I recalled during the install, it barfed on the "(x86)" part of the install path.

Last time I simply removed the parenthesis and everything worked fine. This time I thought I'd be clever and just remove everything just leaving, "C:\Program Files". That was my mistake.

Under 64bit Windows, the OS is expecting 64bit applications to be installed under Program Files and 32bit applications to be installed under Program Files (x86). Since CS2 is 32bit only, it royally borked my install, forcing me to completely uninstall and reinstall. This time I'll install into "C:\Program Files x86" which will work just fine.

Lesson learned? Don't install 32bit applications into the 64bit Program Files folder.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Kitchen - Before and After

So here is what our kitchen looked like when we bought the house:

And here is the after shot, from the same location:
What a difference a few months can make!

Kitchen Remodel - DONE!

Finally done! Here are some pictures.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Kitchen Remodel - Backsplash!

Click for larger view

Well hopefully this is the final weekend! The sink went in on Wednesday and I put on all but two handles on yesterday (Thursday). Tonight we started on the tile back splash. We'll have to get more tile because we changed our plans. We were going to use 2 inch tiles, but we changed to the 6 inch tiles. I think it was a wise choice. They look great. (note there is another row that is missing in the picture. The tile will go all the way to the bottom of the wall cabinets.)

After the tile there is just a bit of trim work and it's done! We are both really happy how things turned out.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kitchen Remodel - Update

We are still waiting for the counter tops to be installed. Hopefully this week!

We got the appliances back in place. It's pretty clear that when we get a new refrigerator that we'll have to measure it to fit a closely as possible. The one that came with the house fits very loosely in the hole and just looks odd.

I need to finish installing the handles. It's been easier this time with templates. No measuring. Just find the holes that line up with your handles, mark them with a Sharpie, then drill. Much safer than measuring yourself and risking a misaligned hole. The cup style handles for the drawers are more work than expected though. Not just one bit to drill there. I also have to trim about 1/8 inch off the end of the attachment bolts. Nothing hard, just time consuming.

We also got the rest of the trim for the first floor. That'll make things look SO much more finished. So along with that I need to install the toe kick in the kitchen. I should be able to get most, if not all, those projects done this week.


It's in the works for Oracle to acquire Sun. While I don't really care about these two specifically it's reminded me of something that irritates me.

Why must companies acquire one another?

I'm not saying Oracle and Sun (or other companies) don't have good reasons to merge. I'm also not saying there are never times when it makes sense. However, I am saying that too many companies seem to do it these days.

There is often market consolidation as that market grows. Initially there will be a lot of players, with the weaker ones dropping out or being bought out. Then things level off. Sun and Oracle have been loosing market share to IBM and Microsoft for years, but they are important to the market. Perhaps they feel they have a better chance together than alone.

Is the technology market uniquely built to funnel business into two or three large competitors? Who does this make the most sense for? Businesses who use the technology, the customers or the businesses that make the technology, or the investors? In other markets I'd say the customer looses, but in technology, having fewer competitors makes for better interoperability. Does it need to be this way?

There are standards for technology. Philips head screws, standard/metric bolt heads, common dimensions for lumber, standard light bulb sockets, etc. All of these things could have been proprietary and thus we'd be stuck with a few manufactures who controlled them. Since they are registered and open standards anyone can manufacture those items. It makes the market larger and more competitive giving customers choice and lower prices.

When it comes to computer technology there are some standards, especially in hardware, but software is really still up in the air. In large part because the standards are not standard. Microsoft has a choke hold on the Word document format, even it's new, 'open' .docx format. There is an open standard document format but Microsoft doesn't want to adopt that because it could hurt Word's dominance. If an open source application worked with their documents as well as their own, suddenly there is competition again. That's good for customers, bad for Microsoft and it's investors.

The same could be said for Oracle buying Sun. Last year Sun acquired MySQL, the open source database engine darling loved by many Internet businesses. Because it uses standard SQL it is enterprise friendly. Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM each have their own database engines that they sell, for a premium. MySQL cuts into their bottom lines. They can compete against each other based on many other propritary software packages and the like. It's a lot harder to compete with free. So if Oracle buys Sun, it could crush MySQL, start charging for it, or change the code to be more compatible with the Oracle database engine, breaking the openness that MySQL currently enjoyes.

Again the customer looses.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Counter Status

The counter guy, decent dude, took measurements for our new counter top but because of the way Home Depot does it's processing we might not get our counter top for 2-3 weeks.

Here is the deal. At Home Depot we paid for the counter tops based on my measurements. I was a accurate as possible but it's not exact. Now that the actual measurements have been made they have to be sent back to Home Depot to determine if I have to pay more or get a refund. If I have to pay more, I have to pay that difference before the order is released for manufacturing.

So far no biggie. However, it's Tuesday today and the materials are only ordered once a week and the order is made at the end of the day Wednesday. That really only gives us 24 hours for all the paperwork to go through, be approved, pay any difference, and the order made. The likelihood of that happening is slim.

Let's assume that the order does not go through until the following Wednesday. Then the counter tops will be manufactured late in that week or that weekend, and then installed the next week (the week of the 20th). We will have to wash dishes in the bathtub for two more weeks, minimum. Whoopie!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Kitchen Remodel - Day 8

Kitchen Remodel - Day 8, originally uploaded by TNVWBOY.

The tile is down! It took about 8 hours, including lunch, to complete but it's done.

The counter top guys are supposed to be here today (Monday) to take measurements and create the template. Hopefully they will be able to create the counter tops quickly. We are anxious to have a sink again.

Yesterday (Sunday, Day 9) we mostly just cleaned up. Put away tools that were no longer needed. I sanded a patch that we didnt do before the floor and painted that wall. So all the painting is done now too.

The end is in sight. There are lots of little details that we still need to do, but the functional parts of the kitchen are nearly done!

More pictures and updates will follow but not on such a regular basis, only when there are major things to update.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Kitchen Remodel - Day 5

Kitchen Remodel - Day 5, originally uploaded by TNVWBOY.

Took the night off. We did do a rough dry fit of the tile layout. We both really like how this is looking.

Kitchen Remodel - Day 4

Kitchen Remodel - Day 4, originally uploaded by TNVWBOY.

Productive evening of work.

Test fit the dishwasher and it's connections. All is good there. I cannot hook it up yet until the tile is in.

Ran the water line for the refrigerator. I'm a bit concerned about it going behind the stove, especially since the line is plastic, not copper. I know ovens are insulated but still. I'm probably worrying over nothing.

Got the microwave installed! This was a big deal for me because it helps the kitchen look more 'finished'. It also gave us an idea about how the black appliances will look (we've always had white). I like it a lot.

Like the 'counter top'? It's one of the old pantry-closet doors. It makes a good temporary counter top.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tile Patterns

We are tiling the kitchen. Here are three tile patterns we are considering.

#1 - This is our first choice. We have 12" and 6" tiles for this pattern. The concern is that it'll be too busy.
#2 - Simple but a good look.

#3 - Simplest look. It works but it's kinda boring. It IS a classic look though.

I'd love to hear comments.

Kitchen Remodel - Day 3

Kitchen Remodel - Day 3, originally uploaded by TNVWBOY.

We didn't get as much done tonight, but it was only a couple of hours. Dean came over again to help me move the final cabinets into the kitchen. So all base cabinets are up, but not secured.

I had to drill and run lines for the dishwasher, only to realize the water line and drain lines were both too short. Back to Home Depot!

Tonight (Day 4) I'm going to run the water line for the refrigerator. I forgot about it and had already set the corner base cabinet so I'll have to unsecure it and drill for the line.

Hopefully on Wednesday we can get the final measurements for the counter tops. Wonder how long it'll take? Two weeks probably. Good thing I have some closet doors that would make good temporary counter tops. Too bad we wont have a sink though.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Kitchen Design

KitchenDesign, originally uploaded by TNVWBOY.

This is what our wall of cabinets will kinda look like when we are done, at least in terms of design. The colors are a bit off.

Kitchen Remodel - Day 2

Day two started with floors. My childhood best friend came over to help early and we put in the 1/4" WonderBoard floor. This took longer than expected. There were a lot of screws to put in. We ran out of board and screws with only a small piece left to fill. Still need to get to the store and get more. Maybe at lunch today.

Once we got the floor in we started bringing up the wall cabinets. We put 2x4s up on the wall to help us hold the cabinets in place. We are putting up a tile back splash later so the holes were not an issue. The first cabinet, in the corner, is the most critical and we had a little trouble getting it right but we did eventually. Dean had to run out for a bit but another mutual friend of ours, Chad, came over and gave me a hand too. We got more of the wall cabinets up and before long Dean was back. It was slower going than expected. Cutting holes for the microwave and making sure all the cabinets lined up right takes time. They started going up quicker though. Once you get that corner right things line up nicely. Then it was just clamp, drill, counter sink and screw together.

After a bit Chad had to go. Before he did he helped Dean and I move the pantry in (2x2x8). It was a beast but it's going to be really nice. We also got the corner base cabinet in. That was tricky. The door was barely large enough.

Dean and I really were only able to get the corner and the sink base in before he needed to head home. That sink base was a pain. Making sure all the holes lined up right with the plumbing was difficult. The worst part was that the water shut-offs come UP from below, not out of the back, so getting the cabinet in while getting the pipes in the right holes was a trick. I ended up having to cut bigger holes than I really wanted to, but it was either that or do some plumbing, which I really didn't want to do. Been there done that. That would have taken a couple hours easily for minimal gain.

Melody and I got one more small base cabinet in before cleaning up. That was a 10 hour day and I was pooped! I wanted to have all the cabinets in but no dice. I need to rent a table saw too so I can rip some spacers for a couple of spots. Maybe that'll be day 3.

Lunch: Godfathers Pizza. Dinner: Cold Godfathers Pizza. (I don't have the microwave up yet.)

Kitchen Remodel - Day 1

My Uncle Henry came over and lent me his back and his muscles tearing out the old kitchen. It was more work than you'd expect, but the worst was the floor. Since we are doing tile we needed to get down to the sub floor. Well they had glued and nailed (a lot of nails) 1/4 inch sheets of board down. It was a serious pain to rip it all up.

So after day one, all the dishes and food are on shelves in the den (to the left of this picture) along with the appliances. That refrigerator was a lot heavier than some I've had the displeasure of moving.

Jimmy Johns for lunch and Arbys for dinner.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

So it begins...

So, we closed on our new house on Wednesday afternoon. The last few nights we've really not done anything over there. We moved a few things into the garage but that is it. The main reason for that is the work we are doing prior to move in.
  1. New carpets in the basement. One room only had linoleum and that wasn't going to work. The other room, well, I'll explain that in #2.
  2. Opening up the main basement room. There are two large rooms in the basement. One is going to become a bedroom, the other is going to be my theater room. However it was apparently a bedroom in the past, with a closet and door. Since neither are really right for a living space we started taking them out. There will be some drywall repairs needed but the end result will leave the room feeling larger and more open. This needs to be effectively complete by Wednesday. That's when the new carpets are going to be installed.
    The carpets need to be installed this week so we have some place to move stuff. Why not upstairs? That's #3.
  3. New hardwood floors through out the entire upstairs (minus the kitchen). We are having bamboo floors installed through the entire upstairs. We elected to do the carpet removal ourselves. I'll have to get jumping on that after #2, but I think that'll be ok as we have a couple weeks before the floors can be installed.
  4. Last but not least is the kitchen. It's not as significant of a remodel as our last kitchen but it's still pretty big. Luckly the cabnets are perbuilt this time so I won't have to spend so much time building them first. Even the doors are prehung so they should go up pretty fast. We'll be tiling the floor. The bamboo seemed a bit too soft for a room where metal objects could potentially fall.
So there is a LOT of work to be done. Today we started. We painted the bedroom downstairs. It wasn't bad but it was a rather cold and boring gray color. It's now a nice cheerful pale blue. We used the same color in our master bedroom as well.

The master bedroom was a bit more work. We had to remove all the base board (for the bamboo floor) and reove the carpet, carpet pad, tack strips and staples. It was actually easier than expected.

Finally, in addition to all the painting, we started removing the closet from the basement 'den'. That was nearly completely removed when we left for the night. I still have about a 4 foot wall section to remove (don't worry it's not load bearing) and I have to relocate the light switch. That is for tomorrow.

I have tomorrow off so I'll finish opening up the room and then get the drywall and mudding going. Wall patching will go easy enough, but the 'pop corn' ceiling will be a pain to repair. I need to do some homework on that. Then I should be able to pull that old carpet and prep the room for the new carpet. I probably won't get to paint, as the drywall mud always seems to take forever to dry and of course there is the sanding, however, I'll probably pick up some paint. I saw some returned paint that might work in there. If any of the colors work, then I'll be set. If not, meh, paint is cheap.

I'll try to remember to take pictures tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Let the people decide

I found this article (GM, Chrysler suing taxpayers with taxpayer money) via Twitter and DIGG today and I felt that it was worth more than a quick response on either site.

Rather than react directly to the article I'm going to respond to the many various comments I've read regarding the auto industry as a whole lately (especially the big three US automakers).

Domestic Automakers Vs. Domestic Autos – There is a big difference between these two, a difference that is often overlooked or ignored. I happen to prefer driving Volkswagen cars. I like the way they drive, among a number of other reasons. I don’t however buy ‘forgien’ to stick it to the US automakers. It’s also not un-American of me to prefer and drive a German car.

The reality is that there is no such thing as foreign vs. domestic cars any more. It's a joke to think otherwise. For example, GM owns Opel, a European automaker and has been bringing over Opels, rebadging and selling them as Saturns, an American brand. Many of the BMWs sold in the US are built in Georgia (the state not the country). There lots of examples of this situation. Lots of 'foreign' automakers have large offices and factories here in the USA, just as Ford, Chrysler, and GM have factories all over the globe as well. It's just how it's done. Buying a Toyota takes no jobs away from Americans. Buying a Ford doesn't take jobs away from non-US residents.

If you want to stick it to the US automakers because of their politics, that's fine, but don't use it as an excuse for buying a Honda or a Volkswagen. Some auto workers who are losing their jobs because the US automakers screwed up and because the market is down are mad at people driving cars they didn’t make. They have a right to be mad, but the reality is that in many cases those cars they are growling at were probably manufactured, at least in part, here in the US.

(On a personal note, I know my car was not made in the USA, but Volkswagen is building a new factory in Chattanooga, TN to build a sedan specifically for the US market. VW is bringing in lots of jobs, helping the schools and the city as a whole. Hard to argue how that is bad for the US.)

Auto Regulations vs. Free Market – The article I reference at the beginning of this post talks, largely, about how California wants to set its own, stricter fuel efficiency standards, other states also want this, though I suspect they’d back down if California failed.

Arguments against it are that it creates an unfair environment for automakers and that only some automakers can meet those demands. I have to wonder, how is it unfair? Was it unfair that seat belts had to be installed or that airbags should be standard? The difference there is that those are safety regulations. It’s easy to quantify lives saved. It’s also easy to find people who have been directly affected by the lack of safety equipment to lobby for it.

Fuel efficiency hits our wallets and not equally. A $75,000 car is going to have roughly the same mileage as a $20,000 car, so the wealthier are less affected. When gas goes up to $4.00 per gallon, lower and middle-class people start getting pinched hard, especially those who had to move an hour, or more out of the city, to find affordable housing. The upper classes are considerably less affected. However, they are the ones who often have the control. Right or wrong, the wealthy are the ones in politics. Do they listen to the lower classes who want more fuel efficient cars? No. Why? Because doing so puts pressure on the automakers, who: 1) have powerful lobbies and 2) would not make profits for a short run, while they engineer new motors. That affects their stocks, their value and ultimately that has a greater impact on the wallets of the wealthy than $4.00 fuel. It’s more effective to try to make fuel cheaper than it is to make cars more efficient.

So why not let the market decide? If people want fuel efficient cars they’ll buy them from who has them, forcing other automakers to compete. Isn’t that what the Prius has done? It’s more or less created the Hybrid market. Hybrids are in hot demand these days, however so are Trucks and SUVs still. When the fuel prices were in the $4/gal range last summer demand for large gas guzzling vehicles went down. As soon as fuel prices dropped, the demand for large vehicles rose again. That shows that while there is a large portion of people out there looking for fuel efficient cars, there is still a very large group of buyers who really don’t care and just want as much size and utility as possible. Some of these buyers live in rural environments and really need and use those large trucks, but there is still a large percentage of {pick your favorite SUV driving stereotype} that loves a big vehicle though they have little to NO need for it.

Conclusion - Let the markets decide. I was against the auto bail-out and still am. I was against the bank bail-outs too (and look how the banks have abused it!). If a company cannot stay in business by its own business practices it should be allowed to fail. If there is enough consumer demand for a product or service either the remaining competing businesses will pick up the slack or a new player will be able to join.

The argument that if Chrysler failed that it would take down a bunch of parts makers seems a bit dubious to me, given the number of other manufactures still in business. The market falling out has done more damage than what one automaker would have done, in my opinion. The other automakers would have picked up the slack or the parts makers would reduce in number to match demand.

Market demand for fuel efficiency would also dictate the direction automakers would take. Companies like Toyota, which have fought to compete with US automakers in the large vehicle market, would (and do) focus on the smaller car market where they are already strong. This makes companies like Ford and GM compete or get out of that market. Where there is a need there will be someone to fill it. Companies like GM however seem to try to fill all needs at once, poorly. That business strategy is coming back to bite them now.

The market should be allowed to work, allowed to kill companies that are failures and reward those who made the right choices. It should be allowed to dictate how efficient our cars are. Let the people vote with their dollars on what car they want. The government should step away from this one.

“Green” note – Cars make up a minor percentage of the overall pollution problem here in the US. I’m not suggesting that nothing be done but over regulation on autos will do much less than reasonable regulation on power plants and factories that spew tons and tons of particulates into the air.

Follow up note - I was a bit American-centric in my posting and failed to consider how auto pollution effects other countries, especially those without strong regulations. I remember now the pictures of the Beijing skyline before the Olympics, due largely to the number of cars. Also LA is pretty smoggy, so perhaps I underestimate the impact of auto pollution.

Monday, January 26, 2009

New Kitchen

Well we are probably less than 2 weeks away from closing on our new house. Well new to us. The kitchen needs some updating so we are going to remodel it right away. Here is a look at out colors and materials.
One change already has come to be. The floor. We are doing caramelized bamboo floor through much of the house but after doing some testing with a sample piece of flooring we decided it was too soft for the kitchen. I dropped my keys on the sample from about 4 feet up and it dented the flooring pretty badly. Last thing we need is to drop a can of soup on the floor and have a ring stamped on our floor. So we'll look at tile.

Everything else should be about right. A warm putty color on the walls, spice colored maple cabinets, nice rich brown laminate counters, and neutral tile back splash with bit of brown glass in the accent tiles.

We elected for laminate counters because our neighborhood is nice but not that nice and honestly we don't care for the hardness of granite. We'll have a bullnose edge on the counters so it'll have an appearance of stone without the cost.

Though not pictured I think we are going to go with bronze fixtures, knobs and pulls for our metal finish. It should go well with the other browns and warm tones we are working with.

I'm not excited about the construction but the end result will be nice and it'll be done early so we won't have to worry about dealing with it later.

Monday, January 05, 2009

House Hunting

We have begun the hunt for new house. We've been looking online, checking out open houses and even working with a Realtor. It's been about three weeks or so now and we've learned a lot.

1. Don't go by what the bank says you can afford. Even with tighter lending practices the bank will let you borrow more than you really should borrow. We could buy a very nice house, move in ready, in a great neighborhood, but then the house would be our prison. We'd have little money for going out, vacationing, etc. The house would rule all. That's no fun at all.

2. Evaluate the whole cost of purchase. We have a decent amount of money in the bank for a down payment but once you factor in moving costs, closing costs (yes I know you can probably get the seller to pay those these days, but still...), breaking our apartment lease fees, and other unexpected initial move in expenses, we'd not have as much to put down on the house as we initially expected. That means save more or pay points/PMI. There is a point of diminishing returns with saving more money VS paying the points, especially with interest rates so low, but right now time is still on our side.
3. Buy a house for the right reasons. Sure it's nice to move into that nice neighborhood and show off to your friends and family but will they really think so little of you if you move into a neighborhood that is more realistic for your means? If you answer is yes, reconsider your friends. The family is more complicated but I say give them the finger and live your life as it makes sense for you. And give yourself the finger if you were trying to show off by buying into those more expensive neighborhoods.

4. Don't be ashamed of your price range. There are a lot of houses out there that are over-priced. A LOT of people bought into those homes for the wrong reasons and are now in trouble or have been foreclosed on. If they bought more realistically they wouldn't be there right now. There are a lot of great homes in the lower price points that have been neglected because everyone was buying 'up'. These houses are still great but need a bit of work. If you can buy a $150K house, put $20K (out of pocket, not credit) into it over a few years and end up with a $200K house, then you've done a LOT better than someone who bought the $200K house.

5. Buy a house that will not tank you financially if one of you looses your job. In our case we both make decent money and we have looked at a mortgage financed only by one of our jobs. If one of us looses our job, and in this economy it CAN happen, we can still afford to pay the mortgage. Sure we could have pooled our income and financing and probably buy a VERY nice house, but then what happens when one of us looses our job? That's when the bank starts knocking on the door that THEY own.

There is so much more that I'm still learning about myself and what I want VS what I need in a house. Sure we might have to remodel the kitchen and rip up some floors. The positive thing is that we'll end up with a nice house in the end, but still have enough money to do the things we enjoy in life. One's quality of life shouldn't be determined by "The Jones'".