Saturday, December 13, 2008


This is from Miriam Webster.

Nonpareil: noun Date: 1593
  1. an individual of unequaled excellence : paragon
  2. a small flat disk of chocolate covered with white sugar pellets b: sugar in small pellets of various colors
Not a bad name for a candy!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

How to install Windows XP SP3


As of now (12/21/2008), this amazing fix described below no longer does the trick.
XP SP3 is completely flaky once again.
Ugggg!!! (Banging head against wall.)


Microsoft continues to update and support Windows XP, fortunately.

One way to install Windows XP SP3, is to let your windows updates do it the old-fashioned way. Then one day your computer will wake up and find it has done so. This is what I did and usually do for updates, but after my mother's computer basically died after SP2, I was wary. I let SP3 sit there a few months before letting it install on my computer. After running fine on my computer for awhile, I tried it on my wife's. Hell.

The Problem

For the past few month's her computer running XP professional SP3 had issues:

XP Professional SP3 won't shutdown or go to standby.

After installing XP Professional SP3 on my laptop from windows update, the laptop won't consistently shutdown or go to standby. It will do so the first time after closing the screen, but not the second or more time. It gets stuck on a blue screen saying "preparing to standby".

I brought this up with Dell support who helped me (during the final week of the laptop's warranty) and concluded after some time: uninstall SP3. Yeah, right.

I searched the web several times and didn't find anything helpful. Hence, this post.

The Solution

Today I contacted the big boy. If you didn't know it, Microsoft has free support for Windows SP3. Who get's anything for free nowadays?

To summarize, after over an hour of a chat where most of the time I read email, vacuumed the house, and waited while installer and uninstaller ran, I have the answer.
  1. Download the SP3 installer to your desktop. It's a big file.
  2. Go to your control-panel, select Add/Remove Programs and uninstall Windows SP3. This will take some time, since Safe Mode lives in a parallel universe where time moves slooowly. Reboot when it tells you to.
  3. Check if things are OK. (You are on your own here.)
  4. Now reboot in Safe Mode (hit F8 while booting up, then select Safe Mode)
  5. Install SP3.
It works for me now.

Thanks to Vinod from Microsoft, presumably in India, who even called me after the computer was all tucked-in and sleeping normally just to see if I was OK.

It's snowing a little here on this quiet Sunday.

Cheap bullets

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Top 25 Censored Stories for 2009

Any of these will make your jaw drop.

Courtesy of Project Censored.

Leaders of Canada, the US, and Mexico have been meeting to secretly expand the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with “deep integration” of a more militarized tri-national Homeland Security force. Taking shape under the radar of the respective governments and without public knowledge or consideration, the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP)—headquartered in Washington—aims to integrate the three nations into a single political, economic, and security bloc.More than 23,000 representatives of private industry are working quietly with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to collect and provide information on fellow Americans. In return, members of this rapidly growing group, called InfraGard, receive secret warnings of terrorist threats before the public, and at times before elected officials.A resurgence of US-backed militarism threatens peace and democracy in Latin America. By 2005, US military aid to Latin America had increased by thirty-four times the amount spent in 2000. In a marked shift in US military strategy, secretive training of Latin American military and police personnel that used to just take place at the notorious School of the Americas, in Fort Benning, Georgia—including torture and execution techniques—is now decentralized.President Bush has signed two executive orders that would allow the US Treasury Department to seize the property of any person perceived to, directly or indirectly, pose a threat to US operations in the Middle East. Author of the bill Jane Harman (D-CA) explains, “We’re studying the phenomenon of people with radical beliefs who turn into people who would use violence.” While the guest worker program in the United States has been praised and recommended for expansion by President Bush, and is likely to be considered by Congress as a template for future immigration reform, human rights advocates warn that the system seriously victimizes immigrant workers. Workers, labor organizers, lawyers, and policy makers say that the program, designed to open up the legal labor market and provide a piece of the American dream to immigrants, has instead locked thousands into a modern-day form of indentured servitude.In light of a declassified Office of Legal Counsel proclamation that the president can secretly change his signing statements at will, we are left exposed to the whims of a secret, unchecked executive agenda.Dozens of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupation publicly testified at the four-day Winter Soldier gathering about crimes they committed during the course of battle—many of which were prompted by the orders or policies laid down by superior officers. Such crimes include targeting innocent, unarmed civilians for murder and detention, destroying property, desecrating corpses, severely abusing detainees (often torturing to death), and using corpses for medical practice.The Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) task force was assembled in response to growing evidence that psychologists were not only taking part in procedures that have shocked the senses of humanity around the world, but were in fact in charge of designing those brutal tactics and training interrogators in those techniques.Salvadoran police violently captured community leaders and residents at a July 2007 demonstration against the privatization of El Salvador’s water supply and distribution systems.The architect of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), President Bush’s first senior education advisor, Sandy Kress, has turned the program, which has consistently proven disastrous in the realm of education, into a huge success in the realm of corporate profiteering. After ushering NCLB through the US House of Representatives in 2001 with no public hearings, Kress went from lawmaker—turning on spigots of federal funds—to lobbyist, tapping into those billions of dollars in federal funds for private investors well connected to the Bush administration. Beginning in April 2003, one month after the invasion of Iraq, and continuing for little more than a year, the United States Federal Reserve shipped $12 billion in US currency to Iraq. The US military delivered the bank notes to the Coalition Provisional Authority, to be dispensed for Iraqi reconstruction. At least $9 billion is unaccounted for due to a complete lack of oversight.Radioactive materials from nuclear weapons production sites are being dumped into regular landfills, and are available for recycling and resale.Twenty-seven million slaves exist in the world today, more than at any time in human history. As many as 800,000 are trafficked across international borders annually, and up to 17,500 new victims are trafficked across US borders each year, according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ). More than 30,000 additional slaves are transported through the US on their ways to other international destinations. Attorneys from the DOJ have prosecuted ninety-one slave trade cases in cities across the United States and in nearly every state of the nation. The 2007 edition of the survey, covering 138 countries, shows an alarming rise in the number of people killed as a result of their trade union activities, from 115 in 2005 to 144 in 2006. Many more trade unionists around the world were abducted or “disappeared.” Thousands were arrested during the year for their parts in strike action and protests, while thousands of others were fired in retaliation for organizing. Growing numbers of trade union activists in Africa, the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific are facing police brutality and murder as unions are viewed as opponents of corporatist governments. The declaration was passed by an overwhelming majority vote of 143–4. Only the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand voted against the resolution, expressing the view that strong emphasis on rights to indigenous self-determination and control over lands and resources would hinder economic development and undermine “established democratic norms.” In a nationally conducted survey, the Associated Press contacted each state agency that oversees juvenile correction centers and asked for information on the numbers of deaths as well as the numbers of allegations and confirmed cases of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by staff members since January 1, 2004. According to the survey, more than 13,000 claims of abuse were identified in juvenile correction centers around the country from 2004 through 2007—a remarkable total given that the total population of detainees was about 46,000 at the time the states were surveyed in 2007. Consequences of the livestock industry’s globalization include the threat to sustainable development and global food security, destruction of the livelihoods of over one billion people worldwide, smallholder bankruptcies and suicides, and the extinction of some of the world’s hardiest breeds of animals.For the fourth year in a row, US marijuana arrests set an all-time record, according to 2006 FBI Uniform Crime Reports. Marijuana arrests in 2006 totaled 829,627, an increase from 786,545 in 2005. At current rates, a marijuana smoker is arrested every thirty-eight seconds, with marijuana arrests comprising nearly 44 percent of all drug arrests in the United States.North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) officials are considering a first strike nuclear option to be used anywhere in the world a threat may arise. Former armed force chiefs from the US, Britain, Germany, France, and the Netherlands authored a 150-page blueprint calling for urgent reform of NATO, and a new pact drawing the US, NATO, and the European Union (EU) together in a “grand strategy” to tackle the challenges of an “increasingly brutal world.” The authors of the plan insist that “the first use of nuclear weapons must remain in the quiver of escalation as the ultimate instrument to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction.”In August 2007, one of the biggest and best-known American charity organizations, CARE, announced that it was turning down $45 million a year in food aid from the United States government. CARE claims that the way US aid is structured causes rather than reduces hunger in the countries where it is received.While the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) turns a blind eye, drug companies are making false, unsubstantiated, and misleading claims in their advertising, often withholding mandated disclosure of dangerous side effects. Though companies are required to submit their advertisements to the FDA, the agency does not review them before they are released to the public.In a parliament Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee session held to debate the ethics of renewing Japan’s “anti-terror law,” which commits Japan to providing logistical support for coalition forces operating in Afghanistan, Yukihisa Fujita opened the session by stating, “I would like to talk about the origin of this war on terrorism, which was the attacks of 9/11, . . . When discussing these anti-terror laws we should ask ourselves, what was 9/11? And what is terrorism?”Timing suggests that Spitzer was likely a target of a White House and Wall Street operation to silence one of its most dangerous and vocal critics of their handling of the current financial market crisis.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Armchair Activist: Inferior Secretary Kempthorne

The presumably outgoing Department of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has decided to out-do James Watt. He recently announced changes which undermine the Endangered Species Act.

According to the Center For Biological Diversity the new regulations would:
- Exempt thousands of federal activities from review under the Endangered Species Act;
- Eliminate checks and balances of independent oversight;
- Limit which effects can be considered harmful;
- Prevent consideration of a project's contribution to global warming;
- Set an inadequate 60-day deadline for wildlife experts to evaluate a project in the instances when they are invited to participate -- or else the project gets an automatic green light;
- Enable large-scale projects to go unreviewed by dividing them into hundreds of small projects.

Express your righteous indignation by taking action.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wondertime Magazine Sale

My wife's magazine, Wondertime, is on sale again at Amazon. You can subscribe for only $5 - at least for now. If you are a parent of a newborn to 10 or 12 year old, it's worth a read.

Wondertime's website is here.

Amazon's sale is here. (Click on the 'Sale' link in the middle of the page.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Happy OneWeb Day

Happy OneWeb Day to you.
Happy OneWeb Day to you.
Happy OneWeb to the internet.
Happy OneWeb Day to you!

700 Billion Dollars in Slop

Last week, the Bush administration proposed a $700 Billion bailout to the formerly-free market.

Will this help banks? Help business? Help you? Who will get a cut? You probably already know.

Here's how it will be allocated. (Vegetarians watch-out!)

Friday, September 19, 2008

American Dream Chart

This is how the American Dream (AD) has fared over ten years.

American Dream reality is in the top chart.
American Dream concern is in the bottom chart.

Sorry, I cannot predict the future.

Monday, September 15, 2008

ReStore’s Decon Team stars on This Old House

Some of you know that I volunteer at the Center for Ecological Technology.

Part of their work is a ReStore located in Springfield which does deconstruction. Decon is when a building is taken apart and the pieces are reused or recycled - as opposed to demolition where a building is demolished and what's left ends up in a dumpster where perhaps, if we're lucky, only part of it might be recycled. The land owner is charged a fee which is usually less than traditional demolition, plus they get a deduction for donating materials. The materials are sold as used or excess in the ReStore. Voila!

After that intro, you'll be happy to know that our old favorite This Old House, which is based here in Massachusetts, is featuring our very own ReStore to start off their new season.

ReStore’s Decon Team stars on This Old House
Thursday, October 2 at 8 p.m.
Thursday, October 9 at 8 p.m.
Check local listings
Settle in with your popcorn and watch us completely dismantle a 1,900 square foot home in Weston, MA on the national season premier of This Old House! The ReStore decon team salvaged more than 85% of the home’s materials—many of which are being used in the construction of two Habitat for Humanity homes in Springfield. The popular PBS television series will also feature a visit to our store in Springfield in its second episode, broadcast on October 9.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Local Daily Hampshire Gazette Story

Here's an excerpt from another story in our local paper which might give you a sense of Northampton, Massachusetts.

The 'humane micropolis'
Northampton has evolved on its own terms

From this perspective, Northampton may be described as truly a "Humane Micropolis"- a humane metropolis writ small. It is blessed of course with a congenial physical setting, a diverse housing stock, a broad-based economy, cultural vitality, and a strong sense of community. And Northampton has long been energized and enriched intellectually through past residents like Joseph Parsons Sr., Jonathon Edwards, Sojourner Truth, Samuel Hill, Sophia Smith, E. H. R. Lymon, William Fenno Pratt, Calvin and Grace Coolidge, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Newhall Look, and their counterparts today such as . . . (fill in your favorites).

We are an educational town, an arts town, and a business town, but we are also a tolerant and welcoming community to people of various life pursuits, lifestyles, and life experience. The vitality of Northampton is not confined to its downtown but is discovered in its back streets and hidden neighborhoods like the Montview Town Farm near the Connecticut River levee, the African American Heritage Trail in Florence, the renovated mills along Riverside Drive in Bay State, or Water Street in Leeds. Regardless of neighborhood economic status, our side streets are graced with impromptu patches of wildflowers, sunflowers, tomatoes, blackberries and ferns, overshadowed by iconic oaks, maples, sycamore, white pine, and spruce trees. Our expanding system of rail trails encourages off-street exploration by bike or foot, while promoting fitness and casual neighborly chit-chat.

And this is a caring community, as attested by the faith-based and nonprofit services such as the Survival Center, the Grove Street Inn, the Manna meal program, and the winter cot program, When the Meadowbrook apartment complex was faced with gentrification, a coalition of housing advocates, the mayor's office, and tenants orchestrated a sale of the property to a new owner willing to continue affordable rents for many of its units. Village Hill, site of the former Northampton State Hospital, is now the scene of an ambitious redevelopment effort in which half of its 207 authorized dwelling units will be reserved for individuals and families eligible for "affordable housing."

To suggest that Northampton has evolved organically without a preconceived plan is not to claim that planning is irrelevant here. We have had planning and zoning since at least the 1940s. And we have plenty of planning disputes today such as the proposed hotel near Pulaski Park, the landfill expansion, Village Hill, North Avenue Woods, and a possible new Rt. 91 interchange. But the planning and zoning process essentially is reactive to specific proposals and procedural in setting "rules of the game" for land use changes.

Massachusetts is unusual among states in not requiring zoning to be "in accordance with comprehensive plan" and that has perhaps been to our benefit. Planning here deals with needed infrastructure, including "green infrastructure" like conservation areas, bikeways, improved walkability, and tree planting. But fortunately, the funky pre-zoning neighborhoods in Florence, Bay State, and near downtown have been little affected by zoning which typically ratifies the status quo rather than create nonconforming use problems. Post-zoning subdivisions like the Ryan Road area are more akin to standard suburbs across the country than to the older parts of Northampton.

Northampton has mercifully been spared top-down, macro plans in vogue from the Garden City era to Urban Renewal in the 1960s. Unlike architect and developer-driven concepts of urban design, the Humane Metropolis has few aesthetic preconceptions. Ecology is "messy" and so are older communities like ours. But who wants to live in an "ideal community" planned by outside experts when we can live in the "Paradise of America" (aka "The Humane Micropolis"), a work always in process of adaptation by its fortunate inhabitants.

Rutherford Platt, a resident of Florence, is Emeritus Professor of Geography at UMass Amherst and author/editor of several books on cities and land use.

Local Daily Hampshire Gazette Story

Here's a nice local story.

A wedding ceremony and reception for the books


Staff WriterMonday, September 8, 2008

Newlyweds Priscilla Miner and Adam Novitt, left, enjoy their reception in the Forbes Library Reading Room on Sunday.

PELHAM - Adam Novitt met Priscilla Miner because she was reading an interesting book. It made it all the more fitting that they would get married in a library.

Naturally, they chose the Pelham Library, where Novitt was appointed librarian last year.

The reception was at the Forbes Library, after which they planned to pedal home on their tandem bike.

The pair met at the Woodstar Cafe, in Northampton, between last Christmas and New Year's Day. A graduate of the Conway School of Design, where she is now working, Miner, 34, was reading a reprint of the 1966 revitalization plan for lower Manhattan.

"I thought, oh my God, here's a girl that's not reading a book about urban planning - she's reading an actual plan," Novitt recalled.

Their first date was cross country skiing at Notchview, near Turners Falls, where a patron of the Pelham Library recognized Novitt, who had recently started working there.

"It was a kind of weird celebrity moment on our first date, a Valley celebrity moment," Novitt said.

"We keep bees together," Miner explained about some of the interests they're pursuing together.

Raising chickens is another, and Miner is now doing a job Novitt used to do, archiving maps at the Northampton Department of Public Works.

They got engaged on Miner's birthday at the Skinner House in June. Novitt picked the spot because the house can be seen from so many places. "So I'm constantly reminded of it," he said. "Plus, it's very Valley."

Why a library?

They started talking about getting married at the library, soon after.

"For both of us, the wedding is a coming-out party into the community, and libraries are really community centers," Novitt said.

"I love the idea that whenever we go back to the Forbes from now on, we'll have the great memory of having all of our family and friends there," Miner said.

Miner's father, the Rev. Canon Robert Miner, officiated at Sunday's ceremony.

Side Street Cafe in Florence catered, and the wine was from a vineyard in Connecticut at which Miner's grandfather John Miner had helped plant the first grapes in the 1940s. The Heritage Pops Orchestra played, and Bread Euphoria, in Williamsburg, made the cake shaped like a honeycomb.

Visitors to Forbes for the rest of the month can check out books Novitt and Miner recommended for the rotating book display there.

They include works about cat behavior, beekeeping, local politics and backyard farming - and the Erie Canal, where the couple will be honeymooning on a houseboat.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Armchair Activist: Product Placement on News

I just got this bulletin from Commercial Alert. KVVU is doing product placement during newscasts. Shame, shame.

Just click on the link below to tell KVVU what you think.

Dear Friends,

While product placement hidden advertisements have long infiltrated network television shows, the Meredith Broadcasting Group has hit a new low: product placement on news broadcasts.

The New York Times reports that anchors on KVVU, a Fox affiliate in Las Vegas, sit with cups of McDonald's iced coffee on their desks during morning news show. Executives at the station have acknowledged that the McDonald's coffee is part of a six-month promotion.

Product placement on newscasts runs contrary to the ethics of impartial journalism and takes advantage of viewers who are expecting the morning news, not an advertisement. The news should be kept separate from commercial ventures and news anchors should not be used to hawk products.

Please click here to tell Paul Karpowicz, president of Meredith Broadcasting Group, to take product placement out of newscasts.


Raissa Howera, Commercial Alert

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Census Bureau Cleans Up Labor Day History

I just got this from the Census Bureau, along with a number of handy statistics.
Labor Day 2008: Sept. 1

The first observance of Labor Day is believed to have been a parade of 10,000 workers on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, organized by Peter J. McGuire, a Carpenters and Joiners Union secretary. By 1893, more than half the states were observing a "Labor Day" on one day or another, and Congress passed a bill to establish a federal holiday in 1894. President Grover Cleveland signed the bill soon afterward, designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day.

Isn't it cute? Here's one statistic from them.
There are about 288,000 moonlighters who work full time at both jobs.

Makes me tired just thinking about it.

Have they taken leave of their census? (I've always wanted to write that sentence.) The Census Bureau got part of the story on the origins of Labor Day right, but they left out that the modern Labor Day celebrated around most of the world is celebrated on a different day of the year. On May 1st, also known as May Day, International Workers' Day, workers commemorate the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in 1886. Within five years the International Workers' Day was celebrated worldwide.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Fossils and CO2

Someone recently pointed out to me that CO2 levels are the highest they have been for 100 million years. I remarked that it was because we are burning 100 million year old fuel.

My statement was somewhat true. While CO2 levels were probably a little higher 130 thousand years ago, fairly close to the dawn of mankind, it was quite a long time ago. The fuels we use today, so-called fossil fuels including oil, gas, and coal, were formed over millions of years from decomposed organic matter. The orders of magnitude are different, but the gist is the same.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Armchair Activist: The Reply

Let's say you followed the Armchair Activist's advice and clicked away at the action alert at a website for a cause you care about. You just need to care a little about your issue, because it is so easy to contact the overlords. As promised, they will hear your pleas.

I contacted the President and Vice President of the United States about something a while back. I don't remember what exactly. It may have been that drilling in Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). It may may have been me asking for the release of Pol Brennan (OK, it wasn't that, because I only heard about his unjust incarceration today). But it was something important which I care deeply about. I'm sure of it.

But as you see, the responses are rather generic. But do not be disillusioned. Someone out there keeps track of your emails and each email is a vote. Remember if one person sends a letter there must be a million who feel the same way and have not done son. And if one sends an email, there must be at least a hundred ... errr... ten thousand who feel the same way. It's a vote. It's a poll. It's you petitioning your representatives to do something.

With no further ado, here's the reply from George W. Bush to my email message on an important topic:

Sent: Wed 4/30/2008 3:45 PM

On behalf of President Bush, thank you for your correspondence.

We appreciate hearing your views and welcome your suggestions.

Due to the large volume of e-mail received, the White House cannot respond to every message.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.
As you can see, W took a little less time to write as I did, and he didn't even bother to put a subject on his email. And here's what I received from Vice President Cheney:

Sent: Wed 4/30/2008 3:45 PM

Thank you for e-mailing Vice President Cheney. Your comments, suggestions and concerns are important to him. Unfortunately, because of the large volume of e-mail received, the Vice President cannot personally respond to each message. However, members of the Vice President's staff consider and report citizen ideas and concerns. Please visit the White House web site for the most up-to-date information on Presidential initiatives, current events, and topics of interest to you.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.

Eerily familiar and even sent at the same exact minute and also without a subject. Who indeed is pulling the strings over there at the White House?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Watch It Shred

Somehow there is a bit of primitive satisfaction to see something torn asunder or see something burn up. And it has to be rendered to bits, to dust or to ashes. Nobody lights a fire and walks away. They want to see the log burn up completely. We watch the whole movie, play the whole game, finish the plate. There is anticipation of the result, the finality.

Watch It Shred is a collection of the worst of our society. You can watch utter waste and futility while bowling balls, computers, pumpkins, skis, tires - you name it - get ground up in an industrial shredder. The skis appear to be shiny new and have boots in their bindings, and hey I could use a pair. I'm not picky. But when you think about it, many of these things could find a home somewhere and, given their fate, question whether they should have been created in the first place. They clog our landfills and get shipped overseas for someone else to sift through to separate the toxics from the precious. The computers may be old. The tires will be recycled into asphalt. Can you imagine shredding your old love-letters or those crates of LPs which give you grief because you can no longer play them?

Go ahead and watch these industrial snuff films and welcome that funny little feeling as you see familiar objects ground to nothing. But please do me a favor and shop less, fix things before discarding, use Freecycle (to find a new home for or to acquire things), and keep giving hand-me-down clothes to your younger cousin.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Armchair Activist

The Armchair Activist is back!

You might be like me and are getting a few redundant alerts about animals. I don't actually mind, since they are similar but not the same. And if I follow up on the alert it only takes me seconds to relay an email on the subject to the department of interior or the EPA. Now whether or not they read the email is another story. This stuff isn't spam, but you know the saying: one man's spam is another man's ... oh you know what I mean.

The redundant action alert recently was the case regarding Polar Bear protection. The Bush administration finally listed the cute little polar bear as threatened. The sweet little polar bear is pictured (photo from an uncredited someone else) at right and often available as a plush doll at your local zoo. Now it's officially threatened. Duh. Of course this was a long time in coming and implies that the US government may actually acknowledge the threat of global warming on the habitat of the polar bear. Since the polar bears were finally listed, the Armchair Activist has been getting extra alerts to reject drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Now perhaps you want widen your portfolio of activism. You may want to spice up your couch-potato lobbying to cover human rights. You can become a website saint by following some simple instructions from Amnesty International. Amnesty takes stands on various human rights issues and will email you the latest alerts which you can follow up on. Just go to and fill out their form. They will remember your info, so next time you visit you will only need to enter your email address. Their latest alert is about Myanmar aka Burma (Why did you say Burma? I panicked.). So go ahead. You can save humanity from your laptop.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Armchair Activist

This is an alert from the Organic Consumers Association:

According to the Chicago Tribune, the White House is attempting to force famine stricken countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, to adopt Genetically Engineered crops tied to a $770 million aid package.
It is just one of the alerts that concern those of you who care what you ingest. The OCA sends me a bulletin called Organic Bytes every few weeks. It's full of useful information, most of it disturbing how the powers that be are taking aim at what you eat and what you are (since you are what you eat). Sign up for Organic Bytes by going to the OCA and entering your email. Or catch up on some of the latest actions you can take. As always, you just enter your info once, and from then on you just click away and send an email to the likes of the FDA or the Department of Agribusiness. You know the drill. Just sit back and be an Armchair Activist.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Armchair Activist

The Armchair Activist strikes again!

Defenders of Wildlife have their own action alerts.

They send out an email every week or so, and you simply click on the "Alert", fill out the form with your information, and voice your opinion on, for example, the poaching of black bears. It seems that there is a black market in the gallbladders of bears for traditional Asian medicine. Support the Bear Protection Act: H.R. 5534 would make this black market illegal on the federal level.

Poachers target hibernating bears in their dens and even track radio-collared bears that are part of scientific studies. And law enforcement agents report grisly findings: bear carcasses left in the woods with only the gallbladder and other parts removed.

Check out and click on Take Action. Fill out the form and become an Armchair Activist. Indicate you want their e-news, and they will alert you to new issues.

Armchair Activist

I find it easy now to do what once was inconvenient. I can become an activist. I can write letters to governors, congressmen, presidents, kings, you name it. I can even have them written for me by scribes I have never met. I ask them to support legislation, to save the whales or the wolves, to free those who have been unjustly arrested.

It's easy to do, and here's the secret: use the internet.

OK, you probably knew this already.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) runs a program called Save Biogems which mobilizes internet denizens to act to protect natural resources and ecosystems. In their own words:

In response to this escalating threat, NRDC launched the BioGems Initiative in 2001 to help ensure that the most exceptional and imperiled wild places in the Western Hemisphere -- our BioGems -- remain wild for the sake of a sustainable planet. Each year, the BioGems Initiative mobilizes hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens to take action via the Internet in defense of these irreplaceable natural treasures and the wildlife that depends on them for survival. Bringing the full power of citizen activism to bear on government officials and corporations, our online activists -- known as BioGems Defenders -- are making extraordinary strides.

So if you want to protect Patagonia (or even just learn about Patagonia) which is on the south tip of the Americas, you can send an email to President Michelle Bachelet of Chile and ask for her support. To do so, go to click on 'Pick A Biogem', go to Patagonia, and pick 'Click Here to Save This Biogem'. Fill out the form, and your letter is off to President Bachelet. Biogems will save your settings for you, so you'll only have to enter your email address from then on. Every week or so, you may get notified about another important part of nature which needs some help. Occasionally you may get an email back from the person who receives your plea. Unfortunately, it will probably be even more of a form letter than what you sent and not directly address your topic. Rarely, you will get a paper reply in the mail from your government representative.

Armchair Tip: Go one-by-one and select each the Biogems on their site and take action. Skim the text. No need to study up, no need to read the whole letter.

That's the easy life as the Armchair Activist.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Power reduction

Saturday we came home to an electrical problem. I first noticed that my computer was running off of battery. Then I noticed that every other thing in the house did not work. Then I noticed that every other room did not work. It was as if - actually it was the case - that every other circuit breaker in the house was not working.

Fortunately for you I'll make this story shorter than it really was.

I called the power company which came in 10 minutes. One reason they came is because their automated phone system only allows you to indicate that you have no power. They have no choice for a general power problem or half power. They do have choices for downed power lines and the like.

I know too much about the power to our house, because soon after we purchased the place almost a year ago, the power company spent two days here trying to find their box near the curb. It's called a hanhole which is an awkward name when you first encounter it. The electric company eventually found the box under a one ton rock and 30 inches of top soil. It is supposed to be right at ground level, so they put a new box on top of the old one. I have since found out that there are things that all the utility companies should do, but sometimes don't quite do. The soil and rock were probably deposited after the sewer lines were dug 10 years ago, but nobody can be sure.

I guess this isn't that short a story, but I'll try to speed up.

The power company said that we were missing one hot leg between the hanhole and the meter and that it was our responsibility to fix. Nowadays they bury wires in PVC pipes, but when the house was built, they just buried the wires. A typical house has two 120 volt lines running into it, but we only had one functioning. Somewhere there was a problem. I was looking forward to having a big repair bill and a big excavation job done, not to mention having my driveway cut by a saw.

On Tuesday the job started. The main characters were the electrician and the excavator. They were also the director and stage manager, respectively. In order, we also had performances from the gas company (to map the gas lines), DigSafe to map the cable and phone (but it turns out not the electric, which would be our responsibility to map, but we were about to replace it anyway), an electrical parts truck, and the electric company (which had to turn off the power before any actual work could commence). Our front yard now has colorful flags and dots of spray paint showing were different things are. I plan to jot them down for future reference. I don't know where the water or sewer lines are, but I imagine they are down deep.

The DigSafe guy was quite thorough. He has nifty tools which beep when they sense he is near something live underground. I can imagine him retired on a beach in Miami finding all the lost wedding rings and none of the rusty nails.

Once the yard was mapped and the power was turned off, they started to dig near the house and fortunately for us they found the break about a foot away from the meter. In the picture the break looks a bit like a knee. Basically the wire turned to a bump of white powder. A kindly electric company worker who dropped by to do the electrician a favor spliced the line (even though he shouldn't have), and we were saved the added expense and time of running new conduit and wires and slicing open the driveway.

I haven't received the bill yet.

Wood thrush returns

Last year after we moved in we bathed our selves in the watery sounds of the wood thrush. When we first heard it, we didn't even know what it was. Sasha described it to our friend who knew what she meant immediately.

A few months later the bird was gone and so was it's song. Our neighbor's partly-feral cat killed it. I saw the cat carry it away. We were quite sad about it and though there had been many wonderful bird calls and bird sightings since, none quite equalled the Wood Thrush which apparently can make two tones at once. Even the descriptions of its call at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are poetic.

One of the most common woodland birds of the East, the Wood Thrush is best known for its hauntingly beautiful song.

Song a series of yodeled phrases with a pause in between each phrase, and complex, flute-like notes. "ee-oh-lay." Calls a rapid "pit-pit-pit." Nocturnal flight call an emphatic buzzy "heeh," on one tone or only slightly descending.

Well just this Monday we woke up not to the alarm which was disabled by an in-home power-outage, but to the sounds of a new wood thrush. Perhaps it had just arrived from its winter lodging elsewhere.

Who don't vote

In 2004, there were 215 million voting age adults in the United States.

197 million of them were citizens.

142 million were registered to vote in the presidential election.

125 million voted.

That means 17 million did not vote who were registered, and a total of 72 million did not (or could not) vote.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, November 1996, 2000, and 2004.

Friday, May 02, 2008

We have a new food coop

Lucky you! I will keep this post short. We now have our own food coop.

If any of you know anything about us, you know that we miss our old food coop in Brooklyn. The Park Slope Food Coop is the food coop of food coops. It is fodder for hours of discussion and mountains of blogging. I'm even afraid to link to any of the discussion on the internet, but take my word for it - all the good is true and the bad is mostly either false or grossly exaggerated.

When we first decided to move up here, I searched for local food coops. There are actually a few, but most are small but none were nearby.

Well, this week on Wednesday April 30, our new food coop opened just a quarter mile from our home. It is called the River Valley Market. I had been working on the outreach committee along with several long dedicated old timers. Many people did a great deal of work to make this happen and I'm glad we can reap the benefits.

The River Valley Market has 2,700 members, has a new "green" building, and took about 9 years to realize. Our new coop is a more modern traditional coop. I will try to post a comparison to the Park Slope Food Coop which is an older more idiosyncratic establishment.

Night Bear

We've had 3 Bear sightings this year. This is the only picture so far, since the camera is not always at hand. It's actually at dusk.

We had one bear hanging out in the yard interested in our neighbor who was up on a ladder. Another sighting, this time in the morning of a family of 3 bears, but no bowls of cold, tepid, and hot chowda or whatever large, medium, and baby bears carry around with them.

Because of this our bird feeders are down until the fall when the bears once again are less active.

April Asparagus

We recently ate some yummy April asparagus (pictured). I'm not sure, but last year I think we only clued into the big asparagus scene that goes on around here in May. So far in April I found some in Hatfield, in Deerfield, and in Hadley which is asparagus central for the country.

Last year, I described the asparagus history of the region and gave you a few recipes.

Here's another recipe. It's just too simple!

Simple Grilled Asparagus
  1. Warm up the BBQ. Low to medium hot, since it's only asparagus you are cooking.
  2. Wash and clean two bunches or 2 lbs of "grass" as we call those spikes of green around here. (Two bunches, because this stuff is so good that you will eat it all and then wish you had left-overs the next day.)
  3. Snap off bottom-most segment of each asparagus. It's fun and makes a nice noise. Discard.
  4. Put them on a plate, drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.
  5. Cook spears on the BBQ perpendicular to the the grating, so they do not fall through.
  6. They will be done in just a few minutes. You want them when they are not firm, a little singed here and there, and as done as you are used to. Feel free to roll them as they cook or rearrange them so they are cooked evenly.
  7. Remove to a serving platter and sprinkle with a little salt. (Now is the time to get out that expensive French sea-salt like fleur de sel you always forget to use.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bored Of Directors

Once again I receive a proxy from a company I have a vested interest in. As a stockholder, through my broker who has invested my IRA in stuff, I get to vote on some high quality issues.

Below is the actual ballot. To find the details, you have to read pages and pages of documentation. But mainly you can tell just by scanning below that ConocoPhillips is against any sort of accountability or prudence (environmental, political, fiscal, whatever) short of hiring the accountants themselves.

Here's the annual proxy:


Vote Your Shares

Meeting Date: 05/14/2008 for holders as of 03/17/2008

CUSIP: 208xxx-xxx

Your Control Number: 154xxx

If you plan to attend the meeting Click here.

Proxy Ballot:
Directors' Recommendations:
Choose this if you would like to vote your shares following directors' recommendations.
See below or refer to the proxy statement for the detailed recommendations. Please read them carefully.

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Legal Proxy:

Choose this only if you plan to attend and vote your shares at the meeting.

IMPORTANT: By choosing this option, we are precluded from voting your shares on your behalf. A Legal Proxy covering your securities will be issued to you. Your Legal Proxy must be presented at the meeting for your shares to be represented. Do not make any other marks on this ballot.

DO NOT use this option if you hold shares directly with the issuer, rather than through a bank or broker.

Click to see: "Letter to our clients regarding voting authority"

Friday, April 04, 2008

Maple Sap to Syrup: Forty to One

Forty to one. That's the golden ratio for maple syrup. Invented long ago by Native Americans, they found that if you tap a sugar maple tree and collect the sap you can boil it down to a wonderful syrup unknown anywhere else on earth but North America. OK, I haven't looked that one up, but I know the Native Americans didn't have barley or rice syrup and doubt they could have anticipated the construction of refineries to make corn syrup. But I digress.

As we all know in late winter and early spring trees in cold places start to come back to life. This is what Spring is all about. Deciduous trees have created sugars in their leaves through photosynthesis and circulate in a water solution called sap through non-living cells which are tubes of hollow non-living cells. Sap is generally stored down low in their roots and used all over the tree as anti-freeze. As the trees sense the arrival of Spring in the form of warm days and cold nights and changes in sunlight that sap starts to flow up. The tree is getting ready to create leaves which some of us use for shade in the coming months. The Native Americans found that if you bore a small hole down low on the trunk of any adult tree, you could collect gallons of sap every day. If the tree was big, you could make two holes. If you collect all that sap and put it in a pot over a fire and let it boil, you would get something sweet and wonderful. You would get a time machine, so when you put some on your tongue you were instantly brought back to a place where you were a year ago, eating a warm comforting breakfast with people you love. Think about it, long ago this was probably something seasonal where you made the syrup and had it over just a few months. You literally could use the tree (both wood and sap) to make food and energy just as your winter reserves were running out.

Lately I've been looking at those buckets attached to local maple trees at the side of the road with envy. Maybe we have those trees here on the property? Near Lily's school a small tanker truck collects the sap from the trees which line the main street, I see them every day or two. In an answer to my prayers, I was given a gift of five gallons of maple sap. I got this through an offer on Freecycle. Those of you used to Freecycle, which is just an email list offering free stuff will find that here in the Pioneer Valley, there will be odd things like maple sap, country things like roosters (free animals are actually against the rules), common things like bags of stuffed animals and old couches, and oddball things like "a bag of mints" (that offer is sitting there right now in my email inbox). Did I digress again?

I picked up the maple sap in three large pots. It was left on a stoop across town in one of those big orange picnic jugs. I filled my pots and put them in the back of the car and drove home verrry slowwly. I could hear them sloshing around at stops. As soon as I got home I put one pot on the stove to boil. Usually sugaring, as this is called, is done on a wood fire either outside or inside a sugar shack. Around here you can visit the sugar shacks and watch the sap boiling and smell the sweet steam and buy yourself a nice breakfast. Steam pours out of special trap-door vents in the roof of a sugar shack, so you can see when they are sugaring from afar.

The pure sap really had no flavor or color. It seemed like water from a pond, as if there was something in there that I had yet to find or notice. I soon had my two gallon pot boiling on the gas stove in the kitchen here. (I always start to get tired at the end of a blog entry like this - if I got paid, I'd definitely give the end more attention.) After about two hours half the sap was gone, but aside from a little foam, the contents looked the same. I added more from another pot and let it continue. Boiling something like this creates steam, so I made sure to keep the fan over the stove turned on. The sap creates a faintly sweet odor which reminds me of Halloween. I couldn't stick around the house the whole time - you know, a watched pot and all - so I turned it off and started it up the next day. Sap can go bad, so it's best to boil it quickly or refrigerate it. After about four hours of boiling I had lost 2/3 of the volume, but as the title of this entry suggests I had a way to go. Maple sap must boil down to 1/40th the volume to make syrup. My five gallons would eventually make one pint. On the third day I boiled some more. I was quite excited when I had only the stuff in one pot now. It hardly tasted sweet by this time and not very maple-y. It wasn't even brown. But when I stirred it, it had a little give. Something was in there now. A few hours later I had something that seemed like watered down maple syrup. Nothing you'd notice if it was on pancakes. But another hour later I had about a quart of something I thought was maple syrup. It was hot and brown and maple-y. I put this in the fridge, but by the next day I realized that the cold stuff needed to boil some more.

The math said it should be a pint, but I had a quart - and some fear of burning the stuff after maybe seven hours of boiling. I put my quart into a small pot and boiled it some more, tasting it occasionally. Of course a little while later it boiled over and whatever spilled burned and created a mess. Not much was lost, but what was left in the pot - here I feel like the guy who discovered Teflon - was very good maple syrup. It was concentrated maple sap boiled down forty-to-one. One pint. I had it this morning on French Toast. It was great.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Amphibian Friendly

I just received this notice from my town:

8:00 PM Public Hearing on proposed subdivision revisions to require all subdivision curbs be granite, roads be amphibian/reptile-friendly, and require open culverts above streams, amend permit applications, and change fees. These changes will add some cost to roads and housing, primarily in outlying areas where most homes are done in subdivisions with large street frontages. The changes will make projects more attractive, provide clear environmental benefits, and reduce maintenance costs.
What caught my eye was proposal to make all new "roads be amphibian/reptile-friendly". Not that the roads should allow the likes of Dick Cheney (an acknowledged reptile) to use them or any Democratic congressman (definite more spineless amphibian material). It's more that wildlife of any small squishy sort can cross the road at its own pace. Like the old joke:

Q: Why did the spotted salamanders cross the road?
A: Because the thoughtless humans destroyed most of their habitat and divided it with roads and developments, and they have no other way to get to places in order to find mates or food or shelter.
The real answer is to make sure that turtles and frogs and the like can go under the road through animal friendly conduits or tunnels and hopefully also make it hard for them to cross the road except at the cross-walks so-to-speak.

The Pioneer Valley is famous for the Amherst Salamander Crossing which helps the amphibians spawn and has long ago spawned a local band of the same name.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Low Finance

It finally happened!

Leobardo Camacho, the mexican shoe vendor, has repaid the money I loaned him!

Thanks to Kiva I was able to give him a micro-loan using microfinance. Kiva facilitates this. I provide the captal. A local lender provides the actual loan which Leobardo pays over a year or so plus interest. I don't get interest myself, but I do get the warm fuzzy feeling and I also get my lowly $50 back. He actually borrowed $1200, so I was just one of several lenders who were pooled together by Kiva. Also, I used PayPal money to do all this, and since PayPal is a scam of sorts, I figured I would actually put the money I got from that junk I sold on EBay to good use.

Earlier this year Kiva was oversubscribed. They had too many people willing to loan money. Hopefully they have caught up with demand. If you'd like a Kiva "invite", so you too can join, just ask me and I'll send you one.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

GENERAL ELECTRIC Shareholders Meeting

OK, I feel really really guilty.

I own stock in GENERAL ELECTRIC. Or at least I have a broker who has arranged for this. But it's all abstract. Like the stock itself. It's in my IRA - I think. My IRA is something I wont be touching for at least 20 years, probably more. And who knows if I will even own part of GENERAL ELECTRIC by then. And I buy GE lightbulbs and appliances and occasionally watch GE programs, since they own 80% of NBC. I watch so little TV nowadays that all I remember is that they air SNL which I did watch when I had nothing better to do on a SN. So I get to call it GE, since we're on such good terms. In 2006, GE made $163 billion making them the largest media company regardless of how much media they actually own.

I've been meaning to do this for a while. Write about my proxy statement, that is. I get them emailed to me occasionally, and sometimes they contain gibberish and sometimes they reflect the times. Sometimes they contain virtually nothing.

GE has a reputation for being evil, so their proxy contains good blog fodder. The complete proxy statement is below. It's a form, so you just check some boxes and if you own 300 shares and there are (really) about 10 billion shares outstanding, then I get 3.0 × 10-10 of the votes which is a very small say in things of such import.

So let's take a quick look at the proxy statement below.

First off you get to vote for the board of directors. These are the people who are supposed to oversee that things are on the up-and-up. Many of them have names straight out of Harry Potter, like ANN M. FUDGE and JAMES I. CASH, JR. Some of them are famous powerful people who have long ago sold their souls and got quite a bargain in the process, like Senator SAM NUNN who on this ballot doesn't use his title. He gives the company an air of legitimacy as if the company that invented the monthly electric bill would even need that. But mostly, Nunn gives the company access. Also, many of these board members on on the boards of other companies as is true for those companies in turn. It is a nice perk for these guys who get to meet a few times a year and reap huge benefits. The meetings and the benefits are a matter of public record for the public companies.

GE is the target of many many shareholder initiatives. Some involve accountability, some involve the fact that this huge company which makes weapons and owns Chris Matthews. In the ballot below you see that the Board doesn't want to make annual reports on their share of Global Warming and doesn't want any more accountability than they are legally required. You have to read another document to find the details, but you get the idea. And who would blame them. Corporations need to make profit for shareholders or not exist. It's their prime directive.


Vote Your Shares

Meeting Date: 04/23/2008 for holders as of 02/25/2008

CUSIP: 3xxxxxxx-xxx

Your Control Number: 31xxxxxxxxxxxx

If you plan to attend the meeting Click here.

As your vote is very important, we recommend that all voting instructions be received at least one business day prior to the voting cut-off time stated in the information circular. Scroll down for proxy instructions and voting.

To vote via telephone call 1-800-603-2119

Proxy Ballot:
Directors' Recommendations:
Choose this if you would like to vote your shares following directors' recommendations.
See below or refer to the proxy statement for the detailed recommendations. Please read them carefully.

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: FOR

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Directors Recommend: AGAINST

For Against Abstain

Legal Proxy:

Choose this only if you plan to attend and vote your shares at the meeting.

IMPORTANT: By choosing this option, we are precluded from voting your shares on your behalf. A Legal Proxy covering your securities will be issued to you. Your Legal Proxy must be presented at the meeting for your shares to be represented. Do not make any other marks on this ballot.

DO NOT use this option if you hold shares directly with the issuer, rather than through a bank or broker.