Sunday, November 22, 2015

Don't stress out during the holidays

If you're feeling stressed out and maybe even depressed about the upcoming holidays (Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa), I can relate. (I'd include Ramadan but it was in June and July this year.)

If you realize that not a single person is coming to visit you from out of town for the holidays, I can relate.

If much of your family has moved to Florida, leaving you with four or fewer family members for the holidays, I can relate.

If you see those commercials and shows on television where 40 people show up for Thanksgiving and you just want to cry because there's no way your family could get 40 people in one place, I can relate. (Suggestion: Skip the Hallmark channel.)

If you get tired of all the car commercials this time of year because spending $40,000 or more on a car is just not you, I can relate.

If you've just realized you've gained eight pounds in the last month and it isn't even Thanksgiving yet, I can relate. (Start working on your fitness in December; don't wait for January.)

If your work situation seems to be even more hectic and pressure-packed than ever and your boss says, "Holidays? What holidays?", I can relate.

If you feel that the holidays are all about spending money on electronics to replace devices that are still working well, I can relate. (There's little 4K content yet. Just wait.)

If you see a Facebook friend's pictures where her house is all decorated up like Martha Stewart's for the holidays and your house isn't even going to have a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, I can relate. (Remember, she's retired and has time for that.)

If the shorter and shorter days make you pine for those long June days, I can relate.

If your friends are bitching because they just got four inches of snow and you wish that you could have just a bit of snow to cover up your neighbors unraked leaves, I can relate.

If you hate turning on the news because of all the bad stuff going on in the world, including this country, I can relate.

If you wish a real, intelligent, practical, middle-of-the-road businessperson, like Mark Cuban, would run for President, I can relate.

If you're worried that a recession is coming and you might lose 30% in your 401(k) funds in the next few months, I can relate.

If the holidays make you sad because you it reminds you of the grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles who have died and you miss them, I can relate.

If you've lost a spouse, close friend, brothers or sisters or children to death, I can't relate but I do sympathize. I also sympathize if you have a loved one or friend in the hospital or therapy and you really want them to come home before the end of the year.

If one of your pets died this year, I sympathize, even if it was just a goldfish.

There are a lot of things that can make you sad during the holidays. Don't let them. With a blink of an eye, it seems, the holidays will be past and we'll be celebrating New Year's Day with the promise (perhaps naïve) of a brand new year.

If you're really lonely, reach out to a friend. They may not invite you to a family celebration, but maybe you can invite them to lunch and just talk. Go to a movie, sports event or an event where there are other small groups of people where you can pick up some of their energy.

For those who live close to Cincinnati, go to the Vocal Arts Ensemble's Christmas concert. Go to church; if you don't have a church, go to one of the Crossroads Churches. If you're not Christian, look around for a church that fits your beliefs. You can also try my church, First Unitarian Church, which welcomes all faiths. Also in Cincinnati, you can always go to Fountain Square, watch the skaters and pick up good vibes there.

But be proactive. Don't let the holiday season get you down. Try to take the negatives in your life and turn them into positives. That's what I plan on doing.

(Also published on my Facebook page.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Do-it-yourself abortions in Texas

Texas passed restrictions on abortion clinics supposedly to make the procedure safer to women. As a result of these restrictions, the number of abortion clinics dropped from 42 to 18. These restrictions are going to be reviewed by the Supreme Court of the United States. Funny, the rules don't apply to dentist's offices which have similar risks, in my opinion.

But the law of unintended consequences has reared its ugly head. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 240,000 women in Texas have tried abortions on themselves, using drugs, alcohol and, yes, punching the fetus in the womb. It is not known how many of these abortions have been successful and how many women and fetuses have been injured as a result.

Once again, the fanatics of the religious right are doing more harm than good. It's amazing that any woman today would want to have a baby with the increasing restrictions on her pregnancy and the very real chance that she will die in the process.

Here's the Bloomberg article this post is based on.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Businesses: Use Nextdoor for free advertising

Nextdoor is a social media platform for people living in your neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods. Their terms and conditions (also see below) block businesses from joining but they don't appear to be enforcing this. A business in my neighborhood has now posted for the third time. I reported them to Nextdoor the first two times for violating the guidelines but apparently Nextdoor doesn't care, just like they didn't care about the unlicensed car dealer selling cars on Nextdoor. The third time I got a post from the business, I just "Muted" them so I won't see their posts any more (and I "Muted" the unlicensed car dealer as well).

So, until Nextdoor gets its act together, it can be used by your business for free advertising. Don't post too frequently, though, or people like me will get upset with you.

Nextdoor Guidelines FAQ

(Annotation added.)

Friday, September 4, 2015

This Norwood (Ohio) Middle School Choir fundraiser has upset me

Thursday, September 3, the teachers and parents connected with the Norwood (Ohio) Middle School Choir made me feel bad and I don’t like it.

A student, whom I don’t know, knocked on my door and asked for $15 to buy a cup as a fundraiser for the Middle School Choir. But he wanted the $15 now for a cup to be delivered later. This put me in a bad position: If my cup didn’t show up, how would I find him again? I really didn’t want to ask him his name and address as that didn’t seem appropriate. So I explained to him that I wouldn’t pay without a cup and that wasn’t an option for him. I had to say, “Sorry” and he went on to the next person. I noticed that he hadn’t sold any cups. After he left, I felt terrible for turning him down, especially if he lives just down the street from me.

But it irritates me that the teachers and parents created this situation in the first place. When the Norwood Marching Band went door to door, they often went in uniform and in groups of three or four. There was an adult nearby who could vouch for them. I had no problem giving them $20 (which helped with their band camp fees). (Full disclosure: My son was in the band and I was a band parent.)

I know that learning how to sell and dealing with the inevitable rejection is a good learning experience, but this goes too far.

If I gave this student $15, how much would go to the choir? $3? $4? I’ll make the Choir a deal: If a teacher or parent contacts me by Friday, September 11, I’ll write a check for $15 for the Choir and they don’t have to provide me a with a cup. If there is a contest to see who sells the most cups, I’ll try to identify the student so he gets credit for a cup sold. I'll update this post next weekend with the outcome of this.

Update September 20: It's been over two weeks since I made this post and I didn't hear anything from the Middle School Choir about their fundraiser.

(Note: I posted this on Nextdoor for the Norwood neighborhood (my mistake; just one of three Norwood neighborhoods) about 12:45 a.m. and only got one "Thank" through 6 p.m. I'm thinking that this isn't resonating with anyone. I've deleted that post.)

Saturday, August 1, 2015

"I'm special and I don't have to obey the law"

Eight "protestors" were arrested in Downtown Cincinnati last night. Yes, you can peacefully protest but when you try to use the cover of the protest to break the law, you may get arrested. And if you mess with the police trying to arrest someone, you will definitely get arrested. You will get no sympathy from me.

What I'm seeing today is a segment of the population, African American and White American but not Hispanic (as far as I can recall), who think they're special and that laws don't apply to them. Throw their fast-food bag out the car window? Sure, why should they care? Run a stop sign? No accident, no foul! Drive around with a broken tail pipe dragging on the ground? Man, where's the problem in that? None until it breaks off and ends up in someone else's radiator!

And then they get all indignant when a cop pulls them over. They're like, go get that drug dealer instead of me 'cause I'm special. Well, where I live here in Norwood, Ohio, the cops go for the drug dealers, too. As long as some people believe they can ignore the laws of society, we're going to have problems.

Background: Earlier this week, University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing was indicted by a grand jury for murder following a traffic stop where he shot an unarmed driver and killed him. This protest, which started peacefully but appeared to be turning violent when the arrests occurred, was in response to the shooting. The family of the victim expressed their displeasure that the event was turning violent and disassociated themselves with the march after the vigil. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The McKinney Pool Party Fracas — The rest of the story (Guest blog)

A guest blog by Daniel Artz

Where is Paul Harvey when we REALLY need an honest journalist to tell "the rest of the story?" Nowhere to be found among modern "journalists!"

I keep reading the stories and viewing the videos of the McKinney Pool Party Fracas that is threatening to become the North Texas version of Ferguson or Baltimore, with Black teens now staging protests both at the residential subdivision where the fighting/mob scene started, and at the McKinney Police Department, calling for the firing (or worse) of the police officer shown on video kneeling on the back of a Black teenage girl in order to subdue her.

BUT there are almost NO media sources which tell the whole story; it is in their interest to keep feeding the race frenzy.

Here is a brief synopsis of the genesis of the event. This all happened at Craig Ranch, a majority white but broadly integrated neighborhood in McKinney — there are hundreds of Black residents of Craig Ranch, including Tatyana Rhodes, a 20-year old self-styled "Party Organizer" who lives with her mother at Craig Ranch. Craig Ranch has a public park adjacent to a private pool club which is owned and operated by the Home Owners' Association. While the Park is open to the public, the private pool area is NOT — it is open to residents of the neighborhood, and admission is by ID only. Residents may arrange with the HOA to host a private pool party, limited to 20 guests, but may NOT exclude residents from the pool area, and must pay a fee and make advance arrangements to host such a pool party.

Several days, maybe a week or more, before June 5, Tatyana Rhodes was advertising through Social Media — on Facebook, on Twitter, through Instagram — a "Cookout and Pool Party" at the public park in Craig Ranch. She had hired a DJ, arranged for tables, power for the Sound System, etc., BUT SHE MADE NO ARRANGEMENTS WITH THE HOA FOR ANY POOL PARTY AT THE PRIVATE POOL AREA.

The DJ set up and started playing in the mid-afternoon, and a large crowd of teens, mostly Black, many residents of Craig Ranch but also many non-residents from outside the neighborhood, showed up for the party; the estimates I have seen are 200 or more. At the same time, there were residents of Craig Ranch, including families with children, using the pool club. There were complaints about the music — loud, mostly Rap and Hip-Hop, many songs with very vulgar lyrics (a lot of F-bombs) that bothered many of the parents who had taken their children for a swim. When the party-goers who were not residents of Craig Ranch were denied entry to the pool, many started climbing over the chain link fence to get into the pool. A private security guard at the pool club tried to stop several, and was assaulted by a group of pool-area trespassers. More and more party-goers invaded the private pool area, forcing out residents who were rightfully in the pool area, assaulting a white Craig Ranch mother who was at the pool with her 3 children, and the police were called.

One officer showed up, the party crowd was unruly and refused to comply with police demands to leave the pool area. Back up was requested, and eventually nine officers in total showed up. There were fights between party-goers and local residents, a large crowd of unruly teens (mostly Black), and most were refusing to comply with police demands. That 10-second video of the police officer kneeling on the back of that Black teen-aged girl does NOT show what happened beforehand, when the girl was defying police demands, confronting the police, shouting epithets, etc., nor does it show how she responded with violence and assaulting the officer when the policeman tried less intrusive methods of restraining her.

This is not a race thing — it's a culture thing. The culture of the ghetto, where loud vulgar language is the accepted method of communication, where respect for property and the rights of others is considered "uncool," where physical assault is an acceptable response for any real or imagined offense, and where the only imperative is to do what you want, regardless of its impact on others. So now it's going to turn into a racial demand for "justice." Well, real justice would mean arresting every last one of the teens who thought it was a good idea to jump the fence into a private pool area they had no right to be in and charge them with criminal trespass. Real justice would mean the HOA sues Tatyana Rhodes for making an offer of a "Pool Party" when she had no right to open up the pool to party-goers, and putting a lien on her mother's house in Craig Ranch for the penalties assessed. Real justice would involve charging that little teen-aged brat who had to be subdued by the police with resisting arrest and assault of a police officer. Then lock all of the agitators and rioters up for a long, long time. But I'm pretty sure that is NOT what the current protestors believe is "justice."

Reasoned debate is impossible without a common understanding of terms. So long as the race baiters think that "justice" means that a raucous group of ill-mannered and bad-tempered teens should be allowed to run free, trampling on the rights of others, there will be a great many people opposing that particular brand of "justice."

Daniel Artz resides in Sunnyvale, Texas.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Air-powered cars? Not energy efficient enough

Three years after this post was published, I published an update here.

The most recent version of an air-powered car, first introduced by Guy Nègre in 1991, was featured on Shark Tank recently. Robert Herjavec is willing to invest $5 million into Zero Pollution Motors provided that they negotiate a North American license from Guy's company, Motor Development International. Currently, ZPM only has a license for Hawaii. Autoweek covered the story here.

Don't expect to see these cars on the road any time soon. Guy has been flogging this idea for over 20 years now with only prototypes to show for it. In 2007, he announced that Tata Motors had licensed the technology and would manufacture cars in India but a visit to Tata Motors' Web site shows no mention of air-powered cars. To my knowledge, Tata has not sold a single air-powered car.

Most people see the appeal of the concept. Where is the problem? It's in compressing the air for the car. Compressing air produces heat, which is typically lost, reducing efficiency. On the flip side, in the car, expanding the air absorbs heat which means the air needs to be heated, reducing efficiency. One way around this is to capture the heat and store it in a battery, using that energy to heat the air when it is used in the car. The end result is that an air-powered car is not sufficiently energy efficient to be practical.

I could see using air power in situations where energy efficiency is not a factor but convenience or access to compressed air is. For example, in an electrical power plant, the waste heat from the boilers could be used to compress the air, reducing the overall energy cost.

Part of the Shark Tank pitch was the concept of using "turnkey micro-production factories" to build the cars locally. With the car already being impractical, saddling it with an unrealistic manufacturing model will surely doom it. Just as Tesla has one manufacturing plant, only one manufacturing plant is needed to serve North America.

One final point: Neither Ethan Tucker or Pat Boone, the presenters on Shark Tank, appear to have any experience building or selling cars. Ethan, at least, is listed on the management page of ZPM.

I wish Mr. Nègre the best, but the physics are against him.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Amtrak crash in Philadelphia: A possible scenario

Thanks to reporting by the New York Times in this story, I have put together a possible scenario of the events leading up to the crash of Train 188:

1. The train leaves the North Philadelphia station and accelerates at maximum power to a planned 80 mph.

2. A rock strikes the train, damaging the windshield.

3. At some point, the engineer is supposed to take the throttle to idle and then apply the brakes to reduce the speed to 50 mph for the curve.

4. However, the engineer is distracted by the rock striking the windshield and doesn't start braking at the correct time.

5. Still accelerating at maximum power, the train continues past 80 mph to 106 mph.

6. The engineer regains concentration, realizes the train is going too fast, and applies the emergency brake.

7. But it's too late. The train tries to go around the curve at 104 mph, derails and crashes.

A Septa and an Acela train were also hit by rocks about the same time. Note that the engineer in the Septa train that was hit was shaken up enough by the incident that he couldn't continue driving the train.

The rock throwing has continued for many years. It's one of those things that the authorities don't worry about until someone dies. With this accident, eight people have died. The problem will now be fixed.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Computer camps for third graders

Recently, I got a call from a mother whose son wants to learn about computer programming. His school offers classes but they don't start until the fifth grade and they won't make an exception for her son who will be a third grader in the fall (seven years old). I found two summer day camps in the Cincinnati, Ohio area that have camps for third graders. (Note: The summer camp folks look at the grade your child will be in in the fall.)

I don't know much about these camps and this is not a specific recommendation. The main reason I'm posting this is to reassure parents that seven years old is not too early to begin learning about computers, whether it's developing games or writing programs.

One set of camps are offered by Classroom Antics. The camps range from Junior Video Game Design (ages 7 to 9) to Stop Motion Animation (ages 9 to 13).

Another place for a variety of scientific camps, including programming camps, is CINSAM at Northern Kentucky University.

Drake Planetarium also has camps that involve concepts related to programming. Once you display the page, click on "2015 Summer Camps" for more information.

There may be more camps that I'm not aware of. If you are connected with a summer computer camp, drop me a line and I will update this post.

Please provide feedback in the comments. You may comment anonymously if you wish.

Updated May 17: Added Drake Planetarium.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Guest blog: Does single payer health care work? No!

A guest blog by Daniel Artz

For those of who think that Single Payer is the solution to America's health care system, here is how Government run single payer health care works. Surprise — it DOESN'T!

Fox News: New VA scandals call into question agency's ability to clean house

Bruce’s response: So you must support Obamacare, which is specifically not single payer.

Daniel: Obamacare may not be the stupidest thing Congress has ever done, but it certainly makes the top ten. And yes, I agree that the American health care system was fundamentally broken BEFORE Obamacare was enacted, but Congress never spent one millisecond on the all important question of WHY. Instead, it simply assumed that the problems with health care were the result of "market failure."

But America hasn't had anything resembling a free market in health care in more than 60 years. It took more than 6 decades of misguided and ill-advised government policy to make health care the wreck that it was, and there is a LOT of blame to go around. The States bear at least part of the blame, with intrusive regulations of the insurance industry and barriers to entry for medical professionals designed and enforced by — who else — medical professionals. Then there are barriers to entry for hospitals and clinics with "certificate of public necessity" requirements and regulations that require unnecessary capital investments that make small hospitals uneconomic.

But the Federal Government created the lion's share of the problems, first when it decided to make employer-paid health insurance a tax-free benefit. This created some very adverse incentives for overuse of medical services. Then we added Medicare and Medicaid, currently accounting for nearly 40% of all demand for medical care, where reimbursements are set not based on demand and supply, but on legislative fiat. And every time Congress discovered that Medicare and Medicaid were going well over budget, it decided to "fix" the problem by reducing reimbursement rates, completely oblivious to the impact that would have on private-payor pricing.

By 2010, reimbursement rates for both Medicare and Medicaid were less than 80% cost of service, meaning that health care providers could ONLY stay solvent by either fraudulently billing in the Government programs, or jacking up pricing way above cost-of-service rates for private payors. Most medical care providers did both.

There were a LOT of other really stupid government policies that helped drive health care costs sky-high, including the bureaucratic cesspool that the FDA has become, driving costs of pharmaceutical products through the roof, and the completely idiotic Medicare Part D that Bush pushed through Congress (President Barack Obama is an incompetent boob, but George W. Bush was no shining light either). So, the health care system was a mess before Obamacare, but the mess was created NOT by "market failure,” but rather by Government failure.

So, in an ill-advised attempt to "solve" a problem largely created by inane government policies, Congress (without a SINGLE vote from a Republican, mind you) decided to double down on stupidity and pass Obamacare. If you take even 30 seconds to think through the premises of Obamacare, you'll see that it can NEVER work as intended. It defies the basic laws of supply and demand. First, the assumption that Obamacare will reduce health care costs by adding 30 million new insureds to the market without doing anything at all about supply of health care providers — does that make any sense at all?

If I told you that Government was going to fund a program to buy free milk, at the rate of a gallon a week, for 30 million Americans who had previously been unable to get milk, do you think that program (adding demand for an additional 1.5 Billion gallons of milk every year) will drive prices for milk up or down? If you foolishly guessed that it would drive prices down, Congratulations, you are foolish enough to be a Democratic Congressman!

Then we get to the whole issue of health insurance. Don't get me wrong, I think health insurance is a good idea, but ONLY for medical care which falls within the essential rationale for insurance — i.e., low risk, high cost events. When you start requiring that insurance cover routine and elective procedures, like annual physicals, contraception, vaccinations, etc., you are grossly misusing insurance, creating very adverse economic incentives, and driving up the costs of BOTH the insurance AND the routine medical care.

Then we get to the "community rating" provisions of Obamacare. Those requirements have NOTHING to do with the efficient and affordable provision of health insurance; they serve only one purpose - to force young, healthy Americans to subsidize older, generally wealthier Americans, a highly regressive intergenerational wealth redistribution scheme. Insane. No, I most definitely do NOT support Obamacare. I think it demonstrates the economic illiteracy and moral bankruptcy of the Democratic Party.

Daniel Artz resides in Sunnyvale, Texas.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Don't say "never again" ever again

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Union. Postings on Facebook contain the phrase, "never again." Feel free to remember the Holocaust but don't say "never again." Maybe never again for Jews, but there have been dozens of massacres since World War II, including one this month where between 600 and 2,000 people died.

Wikipedia reports 32 massacres since World War II of 500 or more people although I admit that these aren't on the scale of the Holocaust. The Khmer Rouge tried to match the Germans, killing between 1.4 million and 2 million people with another 650,000 Cambodians starving to death. This happened in the 1970s and 1980s, within the lifetime of many people reading this post.

We as a country simply can't keep this from happening. Massacres will keep on happening indefinitely. Repeatedly saying "never again" will not change this. So don't do it.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Back into stocks

Back on September 22, 2014, my brother, on my recommendation, sold the stocks and S&P 500 index fund in his IRA and captured a gain for 2014. On January 15, he got back into the market with two stocks and an S&P 500 index fund. Here are his new holdings:

Fund or StockSymbolPurchased Share Cost (Jan. 15)
Current Share Value (Jan. 23)
Gain/(Loss) To Date
Percentage Of Total Funds
Stock Index FundFUSEX
(S&P 500 Equivalent)

The purchased share cost includes the charge for the purchase.

I know the 3.2% gain in eight days is unusual and also unexpected. I'm not excited about it.

Cepheid (CPHD) is a "a molecular diagnostics company [which] develops, manufactures, and markets integrated systems for testing in the clinical and non-clinical markets." One thing that makes their machines different is that the sample being tested stays completely in a testing capsule. There is no need to clean the machine between tests and there is no risk of contaminating the machine with the sample or having cross-contamination between samples.

Cepheid has been awarded a grant of up to $3.3 million to develop a test for Ebola by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. If this is successful, it will be the fastest test on the market and will cause the stock to appreciate. Of course, in an emergency room situation where the patient must be quarantined if infected, the speed of the test is important.

My brother picked GoPro (GPRO) because the stock dropped 12.2% on January 13 due to an announcement of an Apple patent relating to cameras. I felt that this patent had little or no bearing on GoPro's value and recommended a purchase at the lower value. The stock is up a bit but hasn't fully rebounded.

Why this post? I think I might be good at picking stocks. There's only one way to tell: Actually buy some stocks and post your purchases publicly as a matter of record.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Milestone today: 30,000 page views

Today, I celebrate 30,000 page views for this blog (according to Google). That's only 101 days since I celebrated 20,000 page views. I'm glad to see that the pace of page views is accelerating. Google is supposed to be filtering bots and scrapers so these should be real people viewing my posts.

When I look at the home page for my blog, Blogger has a "Blog Archive" which isn't an archive, but rather a chronological index. I'm going to look for a format that allows me to separate active posts (those that are still relevant) and archived posts (those that may not be relevant but I want to keep for historical reasons).

I also need to go through my old posts and update them. I will spend more time this year doing that before writing new posts.