Saturday, January 31, 2009

Government-sanctioned duopoly: Pick Verizon or Comcast

I have Verizon Wireless for cell phone service and based on their customer service over the years, I see no reason to give them any more money than they have already robbed from me. I also read an online blog about their horrible customer service and was convinced to stick to Comcast wherever possible. Verizon owns the telephone lines (DSL service where available and telephone service), and a new infrastructure they spent billions throwing into the ground, called FiOS; Comcast owns the cable lines (cable TV, cable internet, digital voice through Verizon's phone lines).

Problem is, those are my choices. I'm not one for too many choices - go into a furniture mega-store and try to figure out exactly what you want within an hour; I tried that recently and it didn't work out so well. When my wife and I moved, we kept our Comcast service but dumped the digital box so we got the most basic cable service available - 20 channels, no box - and high speed internet. We were liberated, for the most part, from TV (my wife's idea). It was only about $55 a month and it worked fine for a year and a half. But we got the itch for a landline, and here were our options:
  • Verizon: $39.99 per month for unlimited national dialing with a few features (Caller ID, Voicemail, etc.), or $29.99 per month for a local calling plan that allows us to call towns we border for free, and 5 cents per minute otherwise.
  • Comcast: $39.99 per month for unlimited national dialing with a bunch of features, a few more than Verizon but not much, or $29.99 per month for local calling to towns near us.

Got that? $40 a month for national; $30 a month for local. That, my friends, is called price fixing. Or collusion. Whatever duopolists do.

That means suddenly our "services" bill nearly doubles. In fact, it more than doubled because we figured, why not have more channels and get the 3-fer package? So we'll end up paying near $125 a month, if not more, and we get the same "great deal" with Verizon's FiOS plan. We opted for Comcast because it's what we know and the price doesn't go up by QUITE as much after the promotional period is over. But it's interesting just how much people are willing to pay for TV and internet services these days, with the landline being a mere afterthought. The landline is now priced at a premium because if you want an old-fashioned landline, you have two choices, and the prices are the same. This is your government at work: years of regulation and then semi-deregulation allowed the "haves" to continue to own the infrastructure, so why should they even allow competition?

This article does a good job of explaining the problems with two companies controlling these services that most want.

Why I hate iTunes

I've been using iTunes for about 3 years, ever since I first had the (mis)fortune of receiving an iPod for a Christmas gift. At the time, and since, I was working out often enough and decided it would be nice to have. It's also nice once you can get it working in a car built before 2003 or so. Speaking of that, let's get right to the reasons I hate Apple and iTunes.


  • My car's tape deck comes with a little flip top lid which has an exterior LCD display. People told me, "just get one of those radio transceiver thingies and you'll be fine". The quality is always terrible, especially in a place like Massachusetts where there are so many radio stations there's hardly any bandwidth left to use for the broadcast of your iPod. I have an iPod; why would I want to broadcast it through the air so I can listen to something of less quality?
  • Crashes a lot after 3 years of light use. I know, I know, which electronics out there last a while? Hm, let's see - I've had the original hard drive in my PC for six solid years now, added components, taken some out, had wireless, had Norton on there (thankfully that's gone), done ridiculous amounts of downloading, asked it to do more than I probably should...and it's still kickin'. No problems...knock on wood. Even the power supply is original. I'll be upgrading some components shortly, but if Dell can make a much more complicated piece of machinery and Windows can make an OS that doesn't crash for six years, what is Apple doing wrong, and what's with all the snooty commercials about how stable their products are?
  • Recently, I had to make an appointment with an "Apple genius" at an Apple store so he could revive my iPod after it was "REALLY frozen". Got that? Not "kinda" frozen, but "REALLY" frozen. He had to do some weird mojo on it: toggle the "hold" switch (courtesy of Sony...had one of those on my MiniDisc player, which I actually preferred now that I think of it); plug it into a wall outlet (NOT a USB/computer outlet!), THEN do the "hold down menu and middle button" thing to restart it. OK, great. Now I know when it's REALLY frozen that I have to follow these three simple steps to revive it. What if ever gets REALLY REALLY frozen? Hmm...
  • Back to the car thing, I had to take out my tape deck, put a tape converter in, thread the wire around the back of the tape deck, and have the wire piece hanging out by the ash tray so I could use my iPod via my tape deck and get somewhat decent quality during car rides. I guess I'd have to do that with any car without an Aux In port, but it still pissed me off.


  • Generally speaking, it's a clunky program. Weird menus, iTunes store sucks and it's difficult to find things...and they wonder why people illegally download music and movies. Search capability and user-specific sorting capability is sorely lacking. And therein lies the problem with Apple: its users just blindly accept whatever the programmers want them to do, instead of customizing so the user can customize sorting, etc. Seems like a small thing until you're trying to appeal to millions and millions of PC users and making annoying commercials.
  • Let's just say you have a thing for random 90s music like me. Let's just say you grew up when Bush, Garbage, Smashing Pumpkins, etc. were all huge (yeah, I know, that was pretty much just one year, but bear with me). You're curious one day - kind of like Stewie when his breath smells like cat litter - and decide, "hey, let me download Gavin Rossdale's solo album". Wait, Gavin Rossdale's solo album? Was it produced by Gwen Stefani? What the hell was I thinking? Anyway, you go and download some random album from some random source, and you instruct iTunes to "Add folder to your library". Pretty simple, right? Wrong. If it's not tagged using one of iTunes' preferred methods, you have to search for your recently added music - which means if there's no tag, you have to go through ALL of your music until you figure out how iTunes decided to label it, or maybe it was mislabeled in the first place. I'm going back to WinAmp, where at least when you add something it goes to the bottom of the list and you have the option of relabeling and sorting easily. It's been hours and I cannot find this music anywhere in iTunes even though I saw iTunes go through the process of adding the songs.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

More Obama musings

I generally loathe political commentary, but no matter who was elected president last November, I wouldn't be able to keep my mouth shut about just how sad it is when people blindly tow party lines instead of worrying about what's really wrong with this country.

I was trying to tune it all out by listening to Dennis & Callahan out of Boston on WEEI this morning - sports radio, for those of you not in the know - when I realized, "Wait, D&C? Really? I'm trying to tune out politics by listening to these two bozos?" For those who don't know, half the time from 6am-10am each day is filled with political commentary, and if you're lucky they'll dabble in some sports talk. Hey, this is the slowest sports month of the year.

But today's show was particularly enlightening. They were talking about the new Obama stimulus package and there were some good points made. Here were some of the points being discussed re: the new stimulus plan:

  • $4billion potentially going to corrupt political organization ACORN
  • $50million potentially going to National Endowment for the Arts
  • Cut income taxes for three months and you'd get a better result than a multi-billion stimulus plan could ever hope to achieve

First thing's first: the government really doesn't have any right to simply print money and give it all away to whoever they choose. There's nothing empowering them to do this: they're simply asking the Fed to do it and of course the Fed is going to print the money since our creditors don't want anything to do with us unless it's to pay back our debts. Our creditors are also cringing at any stimulus bill because they know we're devaluing the dollar in order to do it. The US is also devaluing OTHER countries' respective currencies since we owe most developed nations so much money, by devaluing our own and therefore devaluing an account receivable (a huge one) on the books of countries like China, Canada, the UK, etc. Forget about that trade deficit; we're going to PRINT our way out of this mess! Woo hoo!

So these foreign nations are getting the big middle finger stuck in their faces one way or the other: with Bush, it was with foreign policy; with Obama, it was with stimulus bills that seem by their very design to dilute our currency.

Back to the radio show, the Obama yahoos are already calling in, trying to do an about face on the stimulus bill. The producer of the radio show even chimed in, and here's how that conversation went (paraphrasing):

Iggy (producer): You just don't get it - the bill is going to help everyone - if ACORN wins the bid they'll have to spend the money the right way

Callahan: 'win the bid'? What are we talking about here? How is this going to help the economy?

Iggy: You don't understand...I don't know EXACTLY how the money is going to be used, but--

Callahan: So you don't know. You don't know how the money is going to be used, but it's going to help? Why not cut the income tax for three months and let people spend that money?

Iggy: Are you saying cutting the income taxes is better than this stimulus bill?

Callahan: I'm saying that you're more likely to stimulate the economy via a federal income tax relief, yes.

Now, for all his faults, Callahan is actually correct on his last point: you're more likely to create economic stimulus via tax relief than additional tax burden (and stimulus bills ARE an additional tax burden, ask any economist). The problem is, no one wants to spend right now. You cut income taxes, and they should stay cut - forever. People will still save in the short term because they don't want to spend - look at the mortgage rates of 4.8% or so right now; even market conditions can't force people to spend money they don't have. What Callahan didn't understand is that whether you cut taxes or provide a stimulus bill, neither is going to help the economy in the short term: if you cut taxes, people will save in the short term and the economy will continue to contract; if you provide a false stimulus, a few people might get jobs but in the long term, who does that really help? No one. Cut taxes, forget the stimulus bill, and wait a couple years for things to turn around.

Then another yahoo called in, and here's how that conversation went:

Jay: You know Gerry [aka Callahan], Obama knows what's best for this country, why do you have to hate on him? Do you even know what the National Endowment for the Arts does? Do you like going to museums?

Callahan: Well, some...but no, enlighten me; how is this going to create jobs?

Dennis: Whoa, before you answer, remember the context: tell us how giving $50million to the National Endowment for the Arts is actually going to help stimulate the economy? How does that provide stimulus? Remember, this is a stimulus bill.

Jay: [silence]

Dennis: Second hour of D&C, coming up after the break!

Yet another symbolic moment: people know that millions, if not billions, of dollars are being wrapped into this stimulus bill, yet they don't even know what the explanation is from on high as to why the money is being given away.

One theory, per above, is that it's being done intentionally to water down currencies worldwide. If we're all in the shitter together over the US' horrible fiscal policy - wars, printing money out of nowhere to "stimulate" the economy which everyone knows doesn't work, borrowing like crazy for no good reason, chasing our own industries out to foreign countries for the sake of growing the services sector - then the only consequence is those in power remain powerful, economically speaking, and the poor and middle class pay the toll via consumption and taxes. Look at food prices and swings in gas prices recently: do you really think we're not paying for all of this horrible fiscal policy? If we aren't, who is?

Ultimately, it's sad that people buy into any new president as the next great hope. Time and time again over the past 100 years or so, presidents give us much in the way of hope and little in the way of substance. Obama, as intelligent as he might be, is still just an empty suit who's going to do the bidding of his advisers, as well as sparring with the House and Senate in the greatest puppet show of all time. It's time to scrap the ideas we have on government and build anew, starting with local, more autonomous communities. If we fail to do that while we still have some semblance of power as citizens, even if voting is an outright joke these days, our future is bleak as increased centralized power will pave the way for worldwide dictatorship. If you think it can't happen, take a look at the new and "progressive" ideas of worldwide currencies and globalization of nearly every industry.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama Inauguration

It's interesting to see just how the media is treating this inauguration vs. Bush's departure or, say, the inauguration of McCain, had he been elected. I had the misfortune of pulling my back out yet again (second time in about a year), so I was sitting in front of the TV most of the day yesterday. I made it a point to not watch the inauguration ceremonies and only decided to see the highlights the day after.

While it's touching to see so many people in tears, and just absolutely thrilled, that a black man can be elected president in this country, aren't we forgetting some things (probably in a willful manner given the state of our economy and culture)? Consider:

  • Obama spoke in his inaugural address about fiscal responsibility and how programs that don't help realize his vision will be cut. In their place, however, will be a series of bailouts that will likely spiral into the trillions of dollars (wait, haven't they aleady?). All that can really be said here is to reiterate that bailouts don't work and that our currency will further lose any residual value it has while we throw it around like toilet paper.
  • Obama's rhetoric about saving the world through government hasn't changed at all. He spoke of the founding fathers and how he knows it's the government's job to find jobs for others. Actually, it's not, and that's not how the founders felt at all about government. But it's a cute sound byte, so people clap at the newer, younger, more urban version of George W. Pathetic.
  • Taxes for a whole bunch of people will increase under Obama's economic plan - during a time where fewer people have disposable income and business continues to suffer as people save more (which I'm actually fine with, since our culture is entirely debt-based and we need to pay that down). Forget for a moment that there are plenty of people who won't be taxed and just the "rich few" will be (yeah, we've heard that before - remember Clinton?). Why does the government need any more tax revenue? Isn't it the job of industry to provide jobs for people, which come with paychecks? Let's say the government conceded that point - they'd still be asking for more money. As Ron Paul states in his weekly column, "government is a monumental drag on the economy". No one seems to realize that the government spends way more than it takes in and continues to grow and replace private sector activities, using the government and central bank-caused recession as a catalyst for socialism.

Click here and spread the message that a big-spendin', iPod-totin', Blackberry-carryin', chain-smokin' president is NOT what we need right now.

Ron Paul - 2012?

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Overweight Runner (and Tips For a Healthy Diet)

That's me.

For most of my life I've been at least a little overweight. I was in decent shape for most of high school, particularly sophomore and junior year. In college I was only in really good shape the summer before senior year, then during some of senior year.

Back in late 2004, I was working for a tech company that had a nice on site gym. For months I told myself I'd check it out, and for months I failed to do so. Then someone I recognized from high school joined the company and went over to sign up, so I went with her. It took four more weeks to get me in there, but once I did start going, I became addicted to showing up right at 6am and working out for an hour or so. This led to outdoor runs of up to 7 miles by late 2005. In 2006 I bounced back after going through a rough stretch, looked pretty good for my wedding, then fell completely out of shape after the summer of 2006.

After a rough 2007 of not doing much in the way of working out, culminating in throwing out my back in late December, I made a commitment to get back in the swing of things. I promised myself I'd start out slow instead of trying to just run a few miles with the inevitable discouragement after failing to get through just a few minutes. So I started going for walks on the tail end of the day, and with more sunlight through the late spring and summer, I started trotting out short runs during those long walking routes (up to 6.2 miles at times). I made sure I stayed patient without getting in the mentality of running a race, just enjoying the fresh air. This approach worked very well.

During the summer, even in the cold New England ocean water, I began looking forward to swimming in the ocean as often as I could (once a week). Mixing up activity with some basketball and weekly swimming greatly helped my desire to stay active.

When the summer faded and it became a bit cooler outside, it was all the more reason to stay outside and run as I wouldn't overheat as quickly. I realized that I was once again running 4-5 miles almost every time I went out for a run, even though my appearance still dictates I have a long way to go before I'm in great shape. With the winter and snow, it's been challenging to stay active short of a gym membership, but I'm still able to get out a couple times a week and maintain the ability to run 4 miles or so until it warms up again in March.

To avoid making this a melodrama fest, the lesson here is that everything is a process and our quick fix society simply doesn't work. As time has passed throughout the past year of finally building up to more intense activities, I've realized the goal is the activity itself, not to look good so I can one day become a model. Our bodies are hard wired to burn calories via more rigorous activity than sitting on a couch and pushing buttons on a remote control.

Exercising, being patient, and building up to a variety of activities also helped me reflect on my diet (ironically, I watch my diet more carefully when I'm practicing a good workout regimen, which means I'm taking in less calories while burning more off).

This is a life philosophy, it's not a trend that you can pick up, lose 25 pounds, then go back to your regular routine of TV and junk food. The more days that pass where I desire a nice, long run, no matter how cold it is outside, or a salad with a variety of veggies instead of a fried this-or-that, the more it shocks me that people would actually want plastic surgery or a pill to reverse their natural weaknesses, as if this is going to help them become better and stronger. We all have temptations, especially in this society, but it's fairly simple to avoid them. Here are some tips on what to eat and some advice on how to avoid what not to eat:



Dark greens, such as Romaine lettuce, spinach, broccoli.

You can make the broccoli and spinach tasty by sauteing it with a little olive oil, garlic (or garlic powder), and adding lemon or some diced onion.

Also, celery, peppers, artichokes, and carrots (great health benefit). Any salad can be made tasty with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Stay away from packaged salad dressings as most include high fructose corn syrup, which is just a bad idea in general.


This includes tomatoes, olives, and anything you can find at the supermarket that qualifies as fruit (preferably organic, though I guess that goes without saying these days).

Some good ideas to mix things up and keep yourself interested in fruit include mango, cantaloupe, bananas, and pears.

Berries and nuts (just not peanuts or cashews), which I guess can be considered a subcategory of fruit, also need to be eaten as they provide a great health benefit. A personal favorite of mine is Triple Berry Juice at Trader Joe's, which is not overly sweet and is 100% natural.


Just eat lots of it. Wild salmon (though it has a relatively high fat content, the Omega-3 benefit is key here) and haddock are easy to prepare, and tuna thrown into a salad of mixed greens makes it all the more tasty. Halibut, octopus, squid, and sashimi are also good for you.


Our bodies are hard wired to process fresh meat. This is a fact that can't be denied; we're omnivores. So treat yourself to some grass-fed beef; if you're a vegetarian, try to eat some fish once in a while.

Note: This is NOT an excuse to eat loads of sausage, cold cuts (always a bad idea when it includes processed/mixed meat and nitrates), burgers from a local burger joint (which include bread, of course), or super-glazed BBQ steak tips. Eat meat as plainly as possible and with the least amount of processing. In other words: go to a butcher for your meat, freeze it till you cook it, and prepare it with only some spices, not heavy gravies or sauces that include sugar and salt and other bad things.


Sugar and salt are to be avoided. Salt just doesn't provide any health benefit; milled cane sugar comes from a grain and is greatly concentrated, which causes all sorts of problems internally after years of ingestion.

Breads and grains are easy ways to get calories, but these are items your body wouldn't be able to process in the raw, so why eat them at all? This is extremely difficult for most, but it is also the Achilles' Heel for most people who try to stay on diets free of unnecessary carbs.

Dairy is something nature only intends for us in infancy. Once we're able to eat solid foods, we should do so, and avoid milk for the rest of our lives. How we ever got to a point of drinking the milk of OTHER mammals after infancy is beyond me, but when you think of the huge industrial and governmental stakes in the industry (and all the money that changes hands), you can see how it's in their best interests to send the message that dairy is okay for you. It's not, and the fact that cow and sheep milk needs to be pasteurized and homogenized for consumption should be enough for you to stay away. In the first link below, you'll find some surprising facts about societies which are most affected by osteoporosis and whether or not dairy truly helps avoid such disorders.


Also check out the below links. Note that I still eat some cheese and occasionally some bread; it's extremely difficult to give these up for good. This is a lifestyle choice one must be willing to accept; it's not a diet you'll find in Oprah magazine. The main idea here is to eat what you would otherwise be able to eat raw in nature (yes, including eggs and meat, which were fine to eat raw for our ancestors). These items are simply unhealthy for you in any quantities, but slowly reducing those quantities and replacing them with roughage is the best path toward a more healthy life. - reasons to stay away from dairy - the Paleo Diet

More spilled coffee

On 10/17/2007, I started a blog called "Spilled Coffee". I remember thinking back to how my wife told me I should start a blog, after I became agitated that I had once again spilled coffee all over my cubicle (and ruined a keyboard). I seem to do this within the first few months of starting any job. Click here for the original entry.

This winter has already seen plenty of snow, much like last winter; and much like last winter, I'm hoping the snow tapers off and we get more rain and warmer weather over the next few months. Why? Well, it's fun to tear around in a German vehicle with all-wheel drive in this stuff. But aside from that, and aside from the fact that the cold really doesn't bother me all that much (I actually prefer to run outside in cooler temperatures), the snow makes things slippery when it ices over.

This morning, I was heading to work, grabbed my coffee and laptop out of the car, and walked the nice brick walkway to the front door. I slipped, and had just enough to time to think - before my elbow broke my back's fall - that I nearly avoided any pain by being able to throw one leg down real quick and avoid a fall. Didn't happen. Luckily, no one was around to see my fall; I lay there for a few moments, just wondering if I had broken anything. I realized quickly that at worst I had scraped some skin off my elbow area, even though I had a coat on. Turns out it's probably just a bruise (it's only been an hour or so).

I cursed a few times and rounded up my things - laptop, a couple of bags, and - oops - my coffee mug. Yes - coffee had indeed spilled once again, though this time safely away from me, and outside on the ice where it was providing some nice melting.

Anyway, all this reminded me of why I initially started this blog and where it's taken me. It hasn't really taken me anywhere - it's not like I'm paid to blog on some major site. But my friend, TD, who's currently wrapping up a PhD in Education, told me a while ago that my writing and grammar were higher than average, and he even sends me work to edit from time to time. Back in October 2007, I started the blog so I could share it with my wife and one of my best friends, who actually insisted on a soundboard instead of a blog. The blog was nice and goofy for a bit, as I'm a nice and goofy person, but after a while it evolved.

Even though I know barely anyone reads this blog, when I started writing about more serious topics - American (lack of) culture and news story snippets with my commentary - I began contributing at Many of my posts for a while were simply links to particularly fine blog entries and articles by the staff. I asked the bona fide editor of Corrupt, Alex Birch, if there was room on the site for a car care article. I figured he wouldn't be interested but his feeling was that many people who read the site drive cars, so why not?

The car care guide is where my contributions to Corrupt began. Then I wrote a computer care guide. Finally I delved into some local news items on and provided commentary per the Corrupt model. In November, I provided the site with an interview with Dr. Albert Bartlett on the topic of overpopulation, both in audio and written formats.

So I guess this blog was good for something; without it, I may not have ever thought to contribute to Corrupt but rather stay on the sidelines reading what other people write, as most do. It may not be the constant humor-fest envisioned when I started it, but reflecting back on its beginning and having just entered a new year, I figured some reflection was in order. It's evolved, that's what's important, and I hope it continues to do so.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Holidays, etc.

I've been busy with holidays and family stuff lately. Here's a linik to my most recent blog posting:

[click here]