Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Rule of 55

I had a long chat with my Fidelity retirement planner today, and I learned something that I did not know -- and which I was able to confirm on the IRS website.  If you are over 55 and retire from an employer where you have a 401k plan, you can take money out of that 401k plan without paying the 10% penalty.  (Not from other 401k plans that you may have, or from an IRA.)  You do not have to wait until you are 59 1/2.
Exceptions. The 10% tax will not apply if distributions before age 59½ are made in any of the following circumstances:
Made to a beneficiary (or to the estate of the participant) on or after the death of the participant.
Made because the participant has a qualifying disability.
Made as part of a series of substantially equal periodic payments beginning after separation from service and made at least annually for the life or life expectancy of the participant or the joint lives or life expectancies of the participant and his or her designated beneficiary. (The payments under this exception, except in the case of death or disability, must continue for at least 5 years or until the employee reaches age 59½, whichever is the longer period.)
Made to a participant after separation from service if the separation occurred during or after the calendar year in which the participant reached age 55. [emphasis added]
Made to an alternate payee under a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO).
Made to a participant for medical care up to the amount allowable as a medical expense deduction (determined without regard to whether the participant itemizes deductions).
Timely made to reduce excess contributions.
Timely made to reduce excess employee or matching employer contributions.
Timely made to reduce excess elective deferrals.
Made because of an IRS levy on the plan., or
Made on account of certain disasters for which IRS relief has been granted.
It is still subject to regular income tax treatment, but at least you do not have the stupid 10% penalty as well.  This simplifies my planning a bit.  I do not have an enormous amount in my current employer's 401k, but it means that I could use those funds as a bridge to when I reach 59 1/2.

High Risk, High Yield, Insured, Scary Bonds

Puerto Rico municipal bonds are at astonishing yields right now -- like >5% on bonds with maturities of less than five years.  And yet some of them have very high S&P and Moody's ratings, at least for the bonds that are insured.  (This means that if Puerto Rico defaults, bond holders are guaranteed to get their principal and interest from the insurer.  Of course, this assumes the insurer does not go under.)

Puerto Rico appears to be in very serious trouble.  The temptation is strong to buy a small quantity of these bonds, since at this point, short of going into default, the prices are unlikely to go much lower.  Yes, the insurer might go under.  But a ten mile asteroid might hit the Earth tomorrow, or worse, Obama might continue to destroy Western Civilization.

Curiously, even Puerto Rico bonds due in 2020 only have 9% yields, which suggests that the concern is primarily short-term.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Shipping Five ScopeRoller Orders In The Morning

I hope my jumbo mailbox is big enough. 

Partly this was because I was waiting for a big box of 5" casters to show up -- but it is still a lot of orders to come in over a two week period.

Looking Back On Past Global Warming Predictions Is Always Fun

The Skeptical Inquirer used to have a fun little piece that they did every year: take the previous year's predictions from "psychics" and see how they did.  The results were often quite amusing.  National Review Online points to a quote from John Kerry in 2009:
The truth is that the threat we face is not an abstract concern for the future. It is already upon us and its effects are being felt worldwide, right now. Scientists project that the Arctic will be ice-free in the summer of 2013. Not in 2050, but four years from now.
The September 7, 2013 Daily Mail (okay, not much of a newspaper) has pictures of the August 2012 and August 2013 Arctic Ocean.  The 29% growth from 2012 to 2013 is not terribly important -- just the pictures.  Ice-free?  Not even close.
The Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific has remained blocked by pack-ice all year. More than 20 yachts that had planned to sail it have been left ice-bound and a cruise ship attempting the route was forced to turn back.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2415191/And-global-COOLING-Return-Arctic-ice-cap-grows-29-year.html#ixzz2jFUCrMkZ Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook
The September 23, 2013 Washington Post reports that at the other end of the world, the Antarctic sea ice has hit a 35 year record high:
Antarctic sea ice has grown to a record large extent for a second straight year, baffling scientists seeking to understand why this ice is expanding rather than shrinking in a warming world.
On Saturday, the ice extent reached 19.51 million square kilometers, according to data posted on the National Snow and Ice Data Center Web site.  That number bested record high levels set earlier this month and in 2012 (of 19.48 million square kilometers). Records date back to October 1978.

What A Surprise: Cash For Clunkers Was Not Very Effective

The October 30, 2013 Detroit News reports on a new study concerning the "Cash for Clunkers" program that the Obama Administration had Congress pass as part of the $787 billion stimulus program -- that generated no real stimulus:
A Brookings Institution study found the $2.85 billion program “provided a short-term boost in vehicle sales, which were pulled forward from sales that would have occurred in subsequent months. There was a small increase in employment but the implied cost per job created ($1.4 million) was far higher than other fiscal stimulus programs.”
The study — from researchers Ted Gayer and Emily Parker — said the “Car Allowance Rebate System,” or CARS did little to boost employment. This is at least the fourth major study since 2012 that has raised questions about the value of the program.
The study said far more jobs could have been created using other government stimulus programs — increasing unemployment benefits (at $95,000 per job); $80,000-$133,000 per job created for cutting employers’ payroll taxes; $222,000 per job created for reducing employees’ payroll taxes; $200,000 per job created for providing additional Social Security benefits; or $222,000 per job created for allowing the expensing of investment costs.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20131030/AUTO01/310300106#ixzz2jEzCgFO0
Even the promised environmental benefits were pretty tiny.

One aspect that the article did not address directly was that by removing large numbers of older, generally still functional cars from the used car marketplace (because the law required their destruction), they drove up the cost of used cars.  Used cars are still astonishingly expensive today, to the detriment of poor people, who are, amazingly enough, the major buyers of very used cars.

But what do Democrats care about poor people?  They just want their votes.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

One Way Car Rental -- I Had Forgotten How Expensive It Can Be

I am headed to Indiana Tech Law School next week to give a presentation, and I decided to make it into a little vacation with my wife, so I arranged to fly into Fort Wayne, and fly out of Indianapolis.  It turns out that dropping off at another airport is astonishingly expensive.  It's a bit late to change stuff now, but wow.

Perhaps Not A Coincidence, Both Being From Princeton

For what it's worth, coming from Newsmax, this October 29, 2013 report hints that perhaps the VP of CGI Federal (the company that built the HealthCare.gov website) having attended Princeton with Michelle Obama is not just a coincidence:

Townes-Whitley joined CGI in May 2010, less than two months after President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. She serves as the lead of the company's Civilian Agency Programs Business Unit for the Federal Group, according to a bio published on the CGI website. The unit serves 22 federal civilian agencies in the United States and 34 other countries. 
Hmmm.  What do you think the chances are that someone approached CGI (or vice versa) and said, "By wild coincidence, you attended Princeton at the same time as the First Lady.  If we hire you at a very high salary, do you think your expertise might get us a no-bid contract for really big bucks?"

3D Printing With Carbon Fiber Composite

Well, not quite.  But there is a 15% carbon fiber composite reinforced PLA now available for 3D printing.  The numbers that this article gives for "stiffness" do not make any sense for tensile strength, nor for Young's Modulus, but they do suggest that many gun parts that you would be reluctant to make out of ABS or PLA might make sense to make out of 4043D PLA + 15% Carbon Fiber.

Wow! Mainstream Journalists Just Woke Up!

Yesterday it was CBS discussing the Benghazi disaster, and today it is NBC News reporting that while Obama was saying, "If you like your coverage, you can keep it" the White House knew that this was false:
President Obama repeatedly assured Americans that after the Affordable Care Act became law, people who liked their health insurance would be able to keep it. But millions of Americans are getting or are about to get cancellation letters for their health insurance under Obamacare, say experts, and the Obama administration has known that for at least three years.
It is a very detailed report:
Four sources deeply involved in the Affordable Care Act tell NBC News that 50 to 75 percent of the 14 million consumers who buy their insurance individually can expect to receive a “cancellation” letter or the equivalent over the next year because their existing policies don’t meet the standards mandated by the new health care law. One expert predicts that number could reach as high as 80 percent. And all say that many of those forced to buy pricier new policies will experience “sticker shock.” 
Some of the examples are astonishing.  One couple is going to see more than a quadrupling of their insurance costs:
George Schwab, 62, of North Carolina, said he was "perfectly happy" with his plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield, which also insured his wife for a $228 monthly premium. But this past September, he was surprised to receive a letter saying his policy was no longer available. The "comparable" plan the insurance company offered him carried a $1,208 monthly premium and a $5,500 deductible.
Even the exchange was still a 415% increase in insurance costs -- so Schwab is going to do what a lot have feared would happen, which will destroy health insurance:
"I'm sitting here looking at this, thinking we ought to just pay the fine and just get insurance when we're sick," Schwab added. "Everybody's worried about whether the website works or not, but that's fixable. That's just the tip of the iceberg. This stuff isn't fixable." 
This is why insurance is mandatory under Obamacare -- so that people don't enroll in insurance programs on their way to the emergency room.  But the fines are not enough to make people enroll until they are on the way to the hospital.

Some think that the Obama Administration did this intentionally, to force us all into single payer.  I think that is giving Obama and crew too much credit for intelligence.

UPDATE: Wow!  Even CBS News is covering the Obamacare "If you like your insurance you can keep it" nonsense:
But people across the country are finding out they're losing their existing insurance plans under Obamacare because requirements in the law, such as prenatal and prescription drug coverage, mean their old plans aren't comprehensive enough.
In California, Kaiser Permanente terminated policies for 160,000 people. In Florida, at least 300,000 people are losing coverage.
That includes 56-year-old Dianne Barrette. Last month, she received a letter from Blue Cross Blue Shield informing her as of January 2014, she would lose her current plan. Barrette pays $54 a month. The new plan she's being offered would run $591 a month -- 10 times more than what she currently pays.
Barrette said, "What I have right now is what I am happy with and I just want to know why I can't keep what I have. Why do I have to be forced into something else?"
According to HealthCare.gov, Barrette is eligible for some subsidies, CBS News' Jan Crawford pointed out on "CBS This Morning." But Barrette told CBS News she has no idea what those subsidies would be because she cannot log on to the website -- an issue U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is sure to be asked about when she testifies on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
So the real question is: how can Bush and the Republicans be blamed for this?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Things I Do Every Day That I Hate, And Why I Do Them

I try to do an hour every day on the treadmill.  In practice, it usually ends up averaging five days a week.

I really hate it.  Exercise is not so unpleasant as it was before the aortic valve replacement, but I still do not enjoy it -- no matter how entertaining what I am watching on television as I walk.  I could be doing stuff that might slow down the decline of our society, or at least make some money.  So why do I do this?

I really do not do this exercise for me.  I am pretty disenchanted with where the society seems to be headed -- into the sewer.  If I were under 30, I would be looking quite seriously at immigrating to a country with a future ahead of it.  Living another fifty years is actually somewhat depressing from that standpoint.

So why am I working so hard at getting in good health?  For my wife.  My mother recently passed the 37th anniversary of my father's death of a heart attack.  She has now lived more years as a widow than than the 34 years that she was married. 

Here is one of the things that you don't think about: past 60, men die so much faster than women that single women outnumber single men in their cohort by a huge margin.  A widow past a certain age has very little chance of remarriage, and the result is often a serious loneliness. For you men who are reading this: here is the reason to stay alive.  Your widow will spend many years or even decades without you.  That's rough.

Trap Shooting On A Larger Scale

I found this video over at Shall Not Be Questioned.


 I don't know.  Ammunition is already expensive enough.  I don't know that I can afford the hardware upgrade.

The No-Bid Contract For CGI Federal

October 25, 2013 Daily Caller reports that the no-bid contract for the Obamacare website (the one that eventually exceeded $640 million) has a curious coincidence in it:
First Lady Michelle Obama’s Princeton classmate is a top executive at the company that earned the contract to build the failed Obamacare website.

Toni Townes-Whitley, Princeton class of ’85, is senior vice president at CGI Federal, which earned the no-bid contract to build the $678 million Obamacare enrollment website at Healthcare.gov. CGI Federal is the U.S. arm of a Canadian company.

Townes-Whitley and her Princeton classmate Michelle Obama are both members of the Association of Black Princeton Alumni.
Obviously, this could be just a coincidence.  But remember how insistent that the left was that no-bid Halliburton contract in Iraq was improper because Vice President Cheney had been CEO of Halliburton?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Colleges & Obamacare

From October 25, 2013 Inside Higher Education:
Nearly half of senior HR administrators say their campuses have limited the work of adjunct faculty members to keep them under the number of hours at which the Affordable Care Act would require their institutions to provide health insurance, and a third of the remainder say they are considering imposing or enforcing such limits.
Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/survey/wellness-plans-retirement-and-adjunct-health-care-survey-chief-hr-officers#ixzz2il9nFn8i Inside Higher Ed 
If you want to know why so many tenured radicals hate Wal-Mart and other low paying businesses for how they treat their employees -- you need look no further than how the tenured radicals who run universities treat the bunch that does more than half the college teaching in America.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Flyer For The Indiana Event

Merciless The Onion Satire of Obamacare Website Problems

I suspect that if they could have found some 5.25" floppy disks, they would have used those:
WASHINGTON—Responding to widespread criticism regarding its health care website, the federal government today unveiled its new, improved Obamacare program, which allows Americans to purchase health insurance after installing a software bundle contained on 35 floppy disks. “I have heard the complaints about the existing website, and I can assure you that with this revised system, finding the right health care option for you and your family is as easy as loading 35 floppy disks sequentially into your disk drive and following the onscreen prompts,” President Obama told reporters this morning, explaining that the nearly three dozen 3.5-inch diskettes contain all the data needed for individuals to enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace, while noting that the updated Obamacare software is mouse-compatible and requires a 386 Pentium processor with at least 8 MB of system RAM to function properly. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Humor

Received from a friend in San Francisco:
Yesterday I received an "Obamacare enrollment packet” from the White House. It contains: 
     An aspirin and a band-aid.

     A "
Hope & Change" bumper sticker.

     A "
Bush's Fault" yard sign.

     A "
Blame Republicans" poster.

     And a "
Tax the Rich" banner.

     An unemployment application and a free cellphone.

     A food stamp application and a prayer rug.

     A document assigning my debt to my grandchildren.
 

     And a coupon for a machine that blows smoke up my ***.

     Everything was made in China and the directions are in Spanish.
     Yours should arrive soon.

VMware

I had mentioned some weeks back that I might run Windows 7 Pro inside a virtual machine on Ubuntu Linux.  I have been way too busy grading papers, filling orders, writing law review articles, etc. to get around to the grand Windows 7 Pro migration.  But in my day job, I am currently installing CentOS Linux in a VMware virtual machine under Windows 7 Pro.  The reason is that the production version of our middleware runs under Linux, and developing under Windows just accentuates subtle differences.  The more that we develop under Linux, the fewer issues we discover only after the code has moved to production, where it is harder to fix.

I am really quite impressed with VMware.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Linux vs. Windows Character Set Encoding Question

Something of a technical question that most readers will read and go, "Huh?"  That's okay.

There are a multiple character set encodings that are available for transferring information.  In this case, the database is Informix; we are using the IBM JDBC driver to exchange information between the Java middleware and Informix.  We are using Tomcat 7.

The problem is that Microsoft Word uses the extended ASCII character set to represent emdash, endash, and the "smart quotes" and "smart apostrophes."  Using CP1252 encoding when Tomcat7 is running on Windows, the extended ASCII character set values are correctly stored in BLOBs on Informix.  Using the same encoding on Linux, the extended ASCII character set values seem to be turned into something unrecognizable -- and what used to be individual characters comes out as several fairly random characters in the extended character set.

Questions:

1. Is this difference between Linux and Windows behavior because CP1252 encoding is not properly supported by Linux?

2. Is there an encoding character set that will allow the extended ASCII character set to be stored correctly in the Informix database?

Monday, October 21, 2013

They Asked The Wrong Question

October 21, 2013 USA Today reports:

Poll: Nearly half say replace everyone in Congress


I think I would have asked the same question, with the word "imprison" instead of "replace."

Why This Country Is Doomed

FreedomWorks has a graph that shows what has been happening to the national debt:


Look at it carefully.  As bad as Bush's two terms were (about a five trillion dollar increase in the national debt), Obama has managed to exceed that with a more than six trillion dollar increase in less than one and a half terms.  As much as some like to blame the Iraq War, this was only (and I'll try not to gasp as I write this), $709 billion -- less than Obama's much vaunted stimulus package, and at most only about 14% of what Bush contributed to the national debt.  Doubtless, Democrats will blame the problem on low tax rates, and that certainly contributed.  But notice that revenues actually rose until the economy collapsed in 2008.

The core problem is that the corruption of the political class in America, in both parties, makes it easier to give out goodies, usually to those who are already rich, than to say no to them.  Money given out to the poor is a pretty tiny fraction of the problem, but it is what enables Democrats to keep pretending that they are the party of the poor, instead of what they are: the party of Wall Street and green looters of the Treasury.

UPDATE: What is really tragic is how easy it would be to fix this.  Here is a spreadsheet from the White House Office of Management and Budget that shows budgets in inflation adjusted dollars from 1940 through estimated 2018.  If the federal government would spend what it did in 2006 (you know, while we were fighting a costly war in Iraq), $2.655 trillion a year, combined with the 2013 estimate for receipts (2.712 trillion a year), we would have a balanced budget -- actually, a slight surplus.  Sure, we have more people out of work today than in 2006, and the government spends more on unemployment and various support programs -- but we are not fighting a war in Iraq, either.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Too Weird To Describe

Let's just say that someone is getting rich writing erotica involving dinosaurs:
Are Alara Branwen and Christie Sims your real names?
No, those are just our pen names. Do you honestly think we would publish the crazy stuff we write under our own names?
We're headed down.

Too Many Orders; Not Enough Time

I was hoping to take T. Allen Hoover's concealed weapon class soon so that I can apply for the new Idaho Enhanced Concealed Weapons License, but there is just not enough time!  ScopeRoller orders are suddenly rolling in at about one a day -- not enough orders to quit the day job, but enough that along with grading papers, teaching classes, and the day job -- where is the time?

Blood Pressure: 101/65

I normally take a blood pressure pill in the morning, and two of them at dinner.  I did not take one this morning: 101/65.  That's astonishing.  The real test is how things are this afternoon.

UPDATE: Spoke too soon.  My blood pressure was about 153/81 by noon.  I took my evening pills a bit late last night, and that was probably why the blood pressure was still so low.  I know that it will take a few months for my blood pressure to get back to normal (or retirement, or Obama and Biden being beamed up to the Klingon ship), but I am still not happy about it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

I'm Sure That This Will All Work Out Just Fine With The Budget

From the October 18, 2013 Washington Times:
U.S. debt jumped a record $328 billion on Thursday, the first day the federal government was able to borrow money under the deal President Obama and Congress sealed this week.
The debt now equals $17.075 trillion, according to figures the Treasury Department posted online on Friday.

Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/oct/18/us-debt-jumps-400-billion-tops-17-trillion-first-t/#ixzz2i6kl1GUd Follow us: @washtimes on Twitter
Fortunately, President Obama gave a press conference a couple of weeks back where he explained:
AND BECAUSE IT AIS CALLED RAISING THE DEBT CEILING AMERICANS THINK IT IS RAISING OUR DEBT.
IT IS NOT.
IT DOES NOT ADD A DIME TO OUR DEBT. 
No, not at all.

This country is headed down the tubes, fast.  I am really beginning to wonder if moving somewhere else might be wise.  If I am going to live in a Third World country, can I at least get Third World cost of living?

H1B Visa Abuse

From October 17, 2013 Computerworld:
Computerworld - WASHINGTON - One of the largest users of H-1B visas, Infosys, is facing a federal class action discrimination lawsuit filed against it by four people, and may be close to reaching a potential multimillion dollar settlement with the U.S. government over allegations it misused visitor visas.

In the class action suit, four IT and sales people broadly claim that Infosys, an India-based IT services provider, has a U.S., workforce that consists of "roughly" 90% South Asian, primarily Indian, citizens. The lopsided workforce is a result of "intentional employment discrimination," the lawsuit alleges. 
An allegation by several of the plaintiffs is that they were systematically excluded from participating in business meetings because everyone was speaking Hindi.  Of some importance: a number of these were government contracts in the U.S.

Useful Microsoft Tools

I was trying to get improve the performance of my wife's 2002 PC, and I am happy to report that she is now impressed with the PC's performance.  I found that, unsurprisingly, there were many search toolbars that had infiltrated her system, some of which were not easy to remove, but seemed to gobble up resources.  I found that the latest version of Microsoft's install and uninstall program was very helpful for removing some of the more stubborn pieces of garabage,

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Not A Big Fan Of The Death Penalty, But Articles Like This Make Me Reconsider...

A Florida prison accidentally released two inmates from a Panhandle prison who are convicted murderers, according to published reports.
An employee who answered the phone early Thursday at the Franklin Correctional Institution in Carrabelle, Fla., said she was not allowed to comment on the situation.
Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins, both 34, apparently walked out of the facility separately "in accordance with Department of Corrections policy and procedure," CNN quotes Department of Corrections secretary Michael Crews as saying. "However, both of their releases were based on fraudulent modifications that had been made to court orders," Crews said.
Dead people seldom escape.

Really Troublesome JPMorgan Chase Letter

October 16, 2013 ZeroHedge has a photocopy of a letter that JPMorgan Chase is apparently sending to its business customers:
For whatever reason, JPM has decided that after November 17, 2013, it will halt the use of international wire transfers (saying it would "cancel any international wire transfers, including recurring ones"), but more importantly, limits the cash activity in associated business accounts to only $50,000 per statement cycle. "Cash activity is the combined total of cash deposits made at branches, night drops and ATMs and cash withdrawals made at branches and ATMs."
Why? "These changes will help us more effectively manage the risks involved with these types of transactions."So... JPM is now engaged in the risk-management of ATM withdrawals?
Reading between the lines, this sounds perilously close to capital controls to us.
The comments are fascinating.  Some people think that this is related to money laundering -- but there are already gobs of rules that apply at much lower levels of cash transactions, and those come from the federal government, not a particular bank.

Some think that there is concern about large scale export of money from the U.S. in response to an upcoming default.  (Odd: two days after I next expect to get interest from some Treasury bonds.  Probably coincidence.)

Some think that the government may be preparing to start confiscating wealth, as happened in Cyprus.

I am gratified to see that guns are now readily available, and almost reasonably priced again in local gun stores.  While I was waiting for tires in Wal-Mart, I wandered over to the gun counter.  They had a DPMS AR-15 in 7.62 NATO for about $750 or so.  Ammo is still scarce and expensive.

I do hope that the idiots in charge of our government are not stupid enough to think that they can just start confiscating personal or corporate bank accounts to solve the unwillingness of Congress and President Obama to say no to the rich greedheads who want more money from us.  If so, they have not learned what Machiavelli wrote in The Prince (1513):
Whenever you have to kill someone, make sure that you have a suitable excuse and an obvious reason; but, above all else, keep your hands off other people's property; for men are quicker to forget the death of their father than the loss of their inheritance.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Idaho Camera Cheerfully Did A Refund

I went into Idaho Camera today, and the salesman I talked to immediately knew about the 20 minute video limit, and even though I was past the 14 day exchange/refund limit, he cheerfully applied my refund towards a considerably less expensive Samsung HD 720p video camera.  Yes, I might have bought this same camera a bit cheaper on Amazon, but I was already there, and I have it now.

UPDATE: Some video from the camera inside the store.

video

video

HealthCare.gov: More Frustration

I was curious to know what health insurance costs will be when I retire, hopefully at the end of 2014.  But at least through the Idaho exchange, there is no way to get an estimate, short of actually applying for insurance.  (The federal exchange at least has something to help you estimate this.)  The problem is that when you apply for insurance, you are signing "under penalty of perjury" that the information that you have supplied is correct.

Currently I have health insurance, so I would not be eligible.  If I plug in the information for what I will have if I retire, then the information that I am supplying is false, and I would be perjuring myself.  As a result, I cannot do on the state exchange what I can do on just about any other e-commerce site: find out what something is going to cost before I buy it.  And no other e-commerce site requires me to submit information on penalty of perjury.

UPDATE: I went to eHealth, and there I was able to get a quote for Obamacare complaint health care for my wife and I.  The bronze level plan from Blue Cross ($6350 individual annual deductible, $12,700 family) is $619.62 per month.  By comparison, the lowest cost 2013 plan ($5000 individual annual deductible, $10,000 family, but primarily a hospitalization plan) was $374.41 per month.  Thanks, President Obama!

UPDATE 2: idahomarketplace.org is another web site that gives price quotes without requiring you to provide gobs of detail under penalty of perjury to get a quote.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Yes, You Can Make a Dual Boot Windows PC; Windows 8 Is Ugly

Instructions on how to install Windows 7 on a system that already has Windows XP are here, from Microsoft.  I think that this might be the smartest strategy: create a partition on my hard disk for Windows 7 Pro, install it in the other partition, verify that it works adequately on this PC, and only then scrap the Windows XP partition.

Or perhaps replace the Windows XP partition with an Ubuntu Linux partition.  I had to get the tires replaced on the TrailBlazer yesterday at Wal-Mart, and while waiting, I wandered into Office Depot.  The salescritter, once I explained that I was killing time, was quite prepared to show me Windows 8 -- and if this is the future from Microsoft, Linux looks better and better.  Windows 8 makes a PC look like a metastasized cell phone.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Reduced Video From Denver

Only the first 20 minutes of the talk (for the stupid reason previously mentioned), and you really can't see the PowerPoint.  I will perhaps put that up separately.  Of course, the resolution is lowered to make it small enough for you to watch on the web.  We learned a lot about video and audio issues this way.

video


I am uploading an HD version to YouTube.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Back From Denver

I discovered, only after the fact, that this Samsung camera will only shoot 20 minutes of video at a time.  At that point, it stops.  I guess that to use for my intended purpose I will have my wife hit the record button again every 20 minutes.  Nor does there seem to be any way to work around that.

I wish that someone had told me that when I bought it.

Wow.  This limit is apparently a tariff requirement! 

UPDATE: There are apparently two different reasons for the limits: 30 minutes is apparently an EU tariff requirement (Samsung can't make a U.S. version?) and 20 minutes because of overheating.  Either way, I am pretty upset with Idaho Camera.  I normally would have bought from Amazon, but I wanted the expertise of a salesman with whom I could discuss what I needed.  I told him that I was going to give a speech, and I wanted a way to record it in HD.  I am assuming that he did not know about the 20 minute video limit, or he would have sold me a video camera instead.  Unfortunately, I am past the 14 day exchange/refund time on this.

UPDATE 2: I went into Idaho Camera today, and the salesman I talked to immediately knew about the 20 minute video limit, and even though I was past the 14 day exchange/refund limit, he cheerfully applied my refund towards a considerably less expensive Samsung HD 720p video camera.  Yes, I might have bought this same camera a bit cheaper on Amazon, but I was already there, and I have it now.

Friday, October 11, 2013

What Are Essential Government Services?

Free Beacon reports that while many "non-essential" government services are shut down because of the budget problems, there are some "essential" government services still moving forward -- like family planning -- in Pakistan:
Though the government shutdown has reached its tenth day, the federal government has deemed the collection of grant proposals for the improvement of reproductive health of women in Pakistan “essential.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) created a grant on Thursday seeking applicants to administer “family planning” in the south Asian country through its Maternal and Child Health (MCH) program.

“The MCH Program’s overall goal is to dramatically and sustainably improve health outcomes of women and children in target areas, and the MCH Program comprises five components: 1) Family Planning/Reproductive Health; 2) Maternal, Newborn and Child Health; 3) Health Communication; 4) Health Commodities; and 5) Health Systems Strengthening,” the grant said.

The funding will provide “health communication” targeted at married women of reproductive age. The USAID is accepting applications through November and the project will ultimately cost $24.5 million.
 The grant itself can be seen here, and it is dated October 10, 2013.  Whatever the merits of such a program (especially if the goal is to discourage production of more little al-Qaeda terrorists), it is hard to see it as essential -- or even as important to Americans as national parks.

Color Photos From World War I

Apparently, not colorized, but actual color photos of World War I.

Nice Piece at PJMedia About Technical Aspects of the HealthCare.gov Disaster

I have not looked at the code involved (although it is similar in general purpose to stuff that I work on), but this explanation seems like a plausible one.  It also involves some back channel information from some of the developers.

Cook Books Etc.

My daughter has a blog called www.domesticblisssquared.com and right now, she's promoting an ebook sale where you get 70 ebooks for $37.  She's pretty excited about the bundle which has a lot of cookbooks, information about Paleo and clean eating, fitness, gardening and simplifying your life.  Plus she's donating 10% of the profits to World Vision, an international charity. If you're interested, you can find more information here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

If We Imagine It, We Can Build It

October 10, 2013 BBC News reports that the U.S. Army has decided to develop suits rather like those in Iron Man:
Other exoskeletons that allow soldiers to carry large loads much further have already been tested by the army.
The Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (Talos) would have such a frame but would also have layers of smart materials fitted with sensors.
The suit would also need to have wide-area networking and a wearable computer similar to Google Glass, the US Army said....
"The requirement is a comprehensive family of systems in a combat armour suit where we bring together an exoskeleton with innovative armour, displays for power monitoring, health
monitoring, and integrating a weapon into that," said Lt Col Karl Borjes, a science adviser at the US Army's research, development and engineering command.
"It's advanced armour. It's communications, antennas. It's cognitive performance. It's sensors, miniature-type circuits. That's all going to fit in here, too," he added.
Ah, heck, if you are going to spend that kind of money, go all the way, and build something like the suits in Heinlein's Starship Troopers (the book, not the movies).

Sometimes, Be Glad We Aren't Getting All The Government We Pay For

From the October 8, 2013 Fiscal Times is this discouraging article about how the NSA's new $2 billion data center keeps catching fire:
The National Security Agency's $2 billion mega spy center is going up in flames.
Technical glitches have sparked fiery explosions within the NSA's newest and largest data storage facility in Utah, destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, and delaying the facility's opening by one year.
And no one seems to know how to fix it.
I suppose if I had confidence that NSA was actually looking for terrorists, and not former girlfriends, or blackmail material to get Republicans to vote Democratic, I would be very upset about this.  But also, make sure you look at the "12 incredible examples of government waste" gallery, too.  Some may simply be good ideas whose time came and went, but others, like a training program to teach Moroccans how to make and sell pottery... when was this ever a good idea?

Comparing the Titanic to the Obamacare Website

From a comment on the October 9, 2013 Washington Post article about the Obamacare website debacle:
Q: Why was the Titanic better than Obamacare?  A; The Titanic was able to get people on board before it sank to the bottom.
 By the way, it appears to be a talking point for the true believers that the $630 million spent by the government to build this disaster is a right-wing lie!  Here is the US government's official website detailing the $634 million spent on it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Napoleon Dynamite's Bo-Staff Skills Just Aren't Enough Anymore

If you saw the hilarious but weird Napoleon Dynamite, you know where Preston, Idaho is.  You have probably seen most of Preston in that movie.  So what is Preston Police Department getting?  From the October 5, 2013 Idaho Reporter:
Now, nine years later, the movie world of “Napoleon” has come face-to-face with the Preston City Police Department.

That is, Preston Police Chief Ken Geddes a few days ago announced his department’s acquisition of a mine-resistant armor protected vehicle, or an MRAP for short.

“The vehicle comes at no cost to Preston City,” Geddes wrote in an Idaho State Journal column “It is a 2007 model with very low mileage.”

Indeed, the military, which no longer uses the mammoth vehicles following the troop drawdowns in the Middle East after years and years of war, has been handing them out to police agencies across the country. At least four Idaho departments, Boise, Preston, Post Falls and Nampa, received the surplus equipment.
I want to laugh -- but why in the world does a small-town police department like Preston need weapons of war?  Pedro's brothers are getting mortars?

32GB SDHC Card

I just bought one of these so that I can have my wife take HD video of me speaking on Saturday.


It cost me $20.99, including shipping that dropped it at my door Tuesday morning -- and I ordered it Sunday.  Wow!  I had ordered one of these from Amazon a couple of weeks ago, but it disappeared in transit.  When I look at the size of the device, and the packaging, I am not surprised it lost its way.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Yes, You Are Clueless

Small Dead Animals has links to a couple of news stories, one from the October 5, 2013 San Jose Mercury-News, the other from the October 8, 2013 Charlotte (N.C.) Observer about the startling -- and in some cases, deinsuring -- costs of post-Obamacare individual health insurance.  Both articles are very sobering, but the one from the San Jose Mercury-News is one of those reminders of what happens when technically smart people let their natural far left tendencies carry them away:
Cindy Vinson and Tom Waschura are big believers in the Affordable Care Act. They vote independent and are proud to say they helped elect and re-elect President Barack Obama.
Yet, like many other Bay Area residents who pay for their own medical insurance, they were floored last week when they opened their bills: Their policies were being replaced with pricier plans that conform to all the requirements of the new health care law.
Waschura is a self-employed engineer, but has now discovered that coverage for his family of four is going up by $10,000 per year.  No, not to $10,000 per year -- increasing by that much:
"I was laughing at Boehner -- until the mail came today,"
Waschura said, referring to House Speaker John Boehner, who is leading the Republican charge to defund Obamacare.
"I really don't like the Republican tactics, but at least now I can understand why they are so pissed about this. When you take $10,000 out of my family's pocket each year, that's otherwise disposable income or retirement savings that will not be going into our local economy." 
The liberal delusion punchline from Vinson is this:
"Of course, I want people to have health care," Vinson said. "I just didn't realize I would be the
one who was going to pay for it personally." 
She probably thought all the billionaires who backed Obama were going to pay for it.

Monday, October 7, 2013

This Isn't About Saving Money, But Punishing Us

The October 5, 2013 Sioux Falls Business Journal reports that it isn't just that the National Park Service has shut Mt. Rushmore to save money:
Blocking access to trails and programs at South Dakota’s most popular attraction was one thing, but state officials didn’t expect Congress’ budget stalemate to shut down a view of Mount Rushmore.
The National Park Service placed cones along highway viewing areas outside Mount Rushmore this week, barring visitors from pulling over and taking pictures of the famed monument.
They had enough money to send out employees to shut off non-federal lands?

The Insignia Blu-Ray & NetFlix Box Gave Up The Ghost a Couple of Weeks Back

I have never been completely happy with this refurbished Insignia Blu-Ray and NetFlix portal.  It often freezes as though a memory leak has finally caught up with it.  (It seems to be number of transactions, not time, which is why I suspect a memory leak.)  Now, I have friends whose reaction would be to take the box apart, find the appropriate in-circuit emulator, and repair the firmware.  No, I am not kidding.  A friend had a high-end digital piano, thought one of the notes was slightly off -- and went in and fixed the code to make the note correct, while also saving some code space in the ROM.

I have better things to do with my time.  When the power supply suddenly became unreliable, I decided it was time to scrap it.  So I bought this instead:


So far it has been very reliable, pretty easy to setup, and it takes up much less space.

More Whining About Stuff I Can't Find Locally

In this case, 5 micron 20" x 5" cylindrical water filters for the whole house filtration system.  (We have a 30 micron, a 5 micron, and a 1 micron filter in that sequence.  And yes, our water is clean, fresh, and wonderfully soft.)  We could not find that size of 5 micron filter locally, so, when it doubt...

How Many Days Since The Health Exchange Website Went Public?

And this is where you get sent if you try to login to Idaho's health exchange website:


Sunday, October 6, 2013

If The Republicans Had Just Left Well Enough Alone...

Obama would be starting to face a groundswell of upset.  Lots of people are beginning to complain, not just the unions.  Someone my wife knows from Bible study is a farmer, and has had her own health insurance policy -- until now.  She just received a letter from her insurer explaining that they are no longer allowed to offer that policy (probably because it does not have the various mandatory coverages).  What she has found when looking for a replacement insurance policy is that it will be a lot more expensive -- enough so that she can't afford to buy it, and will just have to pay the penalty instead.

I understand that Republicans want to take a principled stand on this, but Americans don't care about principles.  What they will care about is that those who could barely afford health insurance before, won't be able to afford it now.  This distraction over the government shutdown is going to give the whoremongers of the mainstream media the excuse they need to blame these individual disasters on the Republicans, not on the party who passed the law.

Plastic Credit Card Inserts for Wallets

You know the plastic inserts for wallets that hold credit cards and concealed weapon permits?  (You do have permits from multiple states, right?)  I cannot find them in any local stores now: not in Target; not in Shopko; not in Walmart.  In some cases, I feel like the questions that I am asking clerks are equivalent to walking into a car dealership and asking to buy a horse.  (Perhaps young people don't have credit cards anymore?)

Anyway, I found them on Amazon.com.


If brick and mortar stores are not happy about the competition from Amazon.com, then they need to start stocking stuff.  I would have paid $10 for one of these inserts the other day, just to get it immediately.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Awesome Soundtrack

My wife recently found at a reasonable price the soundtrack from Franco Zefferelli's Jesus of Nazareth (1977), one of the last gasps of Christianity as part of the dominant culture of America.  The music is still awesome!

It's The Mental Illness

D.J. Jaffee has a column at National Review Online about the woman who tried to ram her way into the White House.  Her boyfriend (and the father of the one year old who was in the car when police shot her to death) had made attempts to get her help for her mental illness:
According to CNN, he “contacted police in December saying he feared for the safety of their child, who was 4 months old at the time. The boyfriend said the woman was acting delusional, claiming the president had placed Stamford under lockdown and that her house was under electronic surveillance.” He thought she had post-partum depression, but police found medications for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression in her home.

The most likely scenario is that Miriam was not taking the medications or they weren’t working. Either way, someone who was dangerous was on the streets.

We know how to stop this. What we need is mandatory and monitored community treatment for those known to have serious mental illness and a history of dangerousness, incarceration, or needless repeated hospitalizations.
He then goes on to discuss assisted outpatient treatment, a step in between doing nothing at all, and involuntary commitment.  This has been in most places that have implemented it, an effective strategy that reduces self-harm and harm to others.  Unfortunately, Miriam lived in Connecticut, a state where such a law was considered by the legislature in 2012, but the ACLU vetoed it.  We know that Adam Lanza's mother was attempting to get a guardianship over her son at the time Adam murdered his mother, then all those kids at Sandy Hook.  Would this law have helped her in her efforts?  It's hard to say.  But we can say that the continual screeching by the mainstream media about gun control -- while ignoring the larger problem of mental illness with mentally ill people running amok with cars -- is accomplishing nothing at all.

Back From Montana

I spent all day Tuesday in a car driving to Helena, and all day Friday in a car driving back.  At least the people I work with, who were in the same car, are really interesting and nice people.  But what a miserably long drive.  Or maybe I just have too many things to do to spend so much time in transit.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ergonomic Disasters

I have been using an HP EliteBook 8570p at work for several months now.  It is very fast (especially with an SSD hard disk), and I have had no annoyance with it at all -- until I took it on my current business trip to talk to Montana's Department of Correction.  Until now, I have always used it with an external keyboard.  The last few days, I have found that  it is almost impossible for me to type at my usual speed because every few keys, the mouse goes wild, either moving to another part of the text that I have already typed, or suddenly selecting some other block of text, which then disappears.

It took a little while to figure out that the touchpad and the mouse buttons below the keyboard were the problem.  I do not have especially fat hands, but normal typing was occasionally hitting the touchpad, causing all sorts of unpleasantness.

There were instructions online, such as here, that told how to disable the touchpad -- but I could not follow those instructions.  It turned out that the driver that comes with this install of Windows 7 Pro dates back to 2006.  Updating the driver let me disable the touchpad, relying only on the little rubber pointer between letters G and H.   This is clumsy, because I am still hitting the mouse buttons unintentionally, causing occasional problems, but I do not have a mouse with me, so I still need them.

How could anyone have designed something this hopelessly useless?  Does HP not realize that some of their customers know how to touch type?

Upcoming Events

2013 Firearms Law & The Second Amendment Symposium in Denver on October 12th at the University of Denver.  I will be one of the speakers.  

The event is free, but you have to register in advance.  For those who are lawyers and CLE credits, this will earn some for you. 

Experiment: Ignore

Trying to figure out how to include another HTML file in a blog entry.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Montana Taxpayers: Be Proud

I met a number of my counterparts in the Montana Department of Correction IT department today.  I am very impressed with their technical expertise, intelligence, and vision.

Since I Am Blogging From Montana, How Appropriate That I Am Blogging About Montana

The September 29, 2013 Bozeman (Mont.) Daily Chronicle has an editorial warning of requests for Montana to supply involuntary commitment records to the national background check system:
Some state mental health information is public record – such as court rulings – and that information can be legally shared with the federal government. But before passing legislation that would free up more information, lawmakers need to consider the situations of those who may have been committed to an institution involuntarily and were later found to be competent. If someone is ruled a danger to themselves by a legal authority but was subsequently rehabilitated, they need a chance to document that and have their gun ownership rights restored.
Read more at: http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/opinions/editorials/article_5b111e44-29e1-11e3-9b83-001a4bcf887a.html 
This is probably the single biggest problem of the Gun Control Act of 1968's mental incapacity definition: it says that once you have been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital through a due process procedure, you are disabled from gun ownership for live.  It is true that many of the severely mentally ill are never going to be well enough to be trusted with a gun.  But not all, and there may well be circumstances where a person might be involuntarily committed by mistake, or for a very short-term problem.  Unfortunately, federal law, as near as I can tell, has no method for reversing such a prohibition (unlike convicted felons, who at least theoretically can get their rights restored under certain circumstances).