Thursday, July 30, 2015

Losers Buy This Stuff

A very cool use of data:
Most of the data captured about our everyday transactions isn't very exciting. Take frequent shopper cards. When I visit the Ralphs supermarket website, it highlights sales on avocados and Hunt's diced tomatoes. CVS calls my attention to deals on Glide dental floss and Neutrogena skin-care products. The stores know I buy these things because I've swiped my cards in exchange for discounts on previous purchases. This is just the kind of customer-specific record that expert salespeople at places like Neiman Marcus were keeping long before computers -- and that small-town shopkeepers used to simply remember. It's small data on a large scale.

But when you can compare all that information across millions of consumers and products and thousands of outlets, you enter the realm of big data, which can reveal previously unknown patterns. A new case in point: A paper forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing Research identifies a segment of customers, dubbed the "harbingers of failure," with an uncanny knack for buying new products that were likely to flop.

Researchers Eric Anderson, Song Lin, Duncan Simester, and Catherine Tucker analyzed more than 10 million transactions by nearly 128,000 customers of a chain selling consumer packaged goods over a two-year period. The customers represent a random sample of frequent shoppers at 111 different stores. Using this mountain of data, the marketing scholars asked whether who bought a new product made any difference to its success. Were there systematic connections between specific groups of customers and whether a new item sold well over time?

They found that strong early sales -- the traditional indicator of product success -- in fact didn't matter as much as who the early buyers were. And one startling finding was the emergence of an identifiable segment of customers more prone to buying new products destined to survive less than three years, as well as unpopular "very niche" existing products.

"Because these guys are so consistent in behavior, if you're selling to a lot of them you're really in trouble," said Anderson, a marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, in an interview.

If We Obsessed Over Teachers The Way We Do Athletes

Come on, you've gotta admit this is funny!

Five Moral Boundaries You Don't Want To Cross

I read this column and it struck me that two of the five are straight out of the playbook of the American Left, and another is used often by them.  That is disturbing.

The boundaries are:
1) I/You vs. I/It.
2) An Ends -Justifies-the-Means Mentality.
3) A Feeling of Victimization.
4) Escalation and Line Crossing.
5) Refusal to Accept Moral Absolutes.

I'm currently listening to an audio book called The Righteous Mind:  Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion.  Interesting stuff.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

This is what's been going on in Minnesota:
In 2010, the St. Paul school district began a contractual relationship with the Pacific Educational Group, a San Francisco-based organization that tries to help public schools deal with achievement and disciplinary issues involving black students.

PEG packages and sells the concept of victimization, for a very high price.

It claims that the American education system is built around white culture, tradition and social norms – aka “white privilege” – to the unfair detriment of black students.

PEG believes that black students will only achieve if school curricula are customized to meet their cultural specifications. It also rejects the concept of using suspensions or expulsions to discipline black students.

The relationship with PEG has been costly for the St. Paul district, in more ways than one...

Special needs students with behavioral issues were mainstreamed into regular classrooms, a position openly advocated by PEG.

Student suspensions were replaced by “time outs,” and school officials starting forgiving or ignoring violence and other unacceptable behavior, according to various sources.

“The disciplinary changes came out of meetings with an organization called Pacific Educational Group, a San Francisco-based operation that has been consulting with the district dating back to 2010,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

The result has been general chaos throughout the district, with far too many students out of control because they know there are no real consequences for their actions.
Race-specific consequences, which means no consequences at all for "certain" students.  Yeah, that's sure to make for a good environment.  In less PC days we would refer to that as "the inmates running the asylum".  Notice that word "inmates", and see if it has any meaning in the context of the story above.

Serendipitous Juxtaposition

Stories near the top of the page at the web site of the major Sacramento newspaper:

UC paid former president Mark Yudof $546,000 in the year after he resigned

California public pension proposal would create ‘uncertainties,’ analyst says

Do you think there's any relation between these two stories?  How about between these two stories and the increasing cost of higher education in California?

Monday, July 27, 2015

More Lessons Needed

The Chinese govt isn't very happy with its citizens abroad:
Media and even the Chinese president have been critical of how some Chinese travellers have behaved on trips. On a September trip to the Maldives, Chinese President Xi Jinping suggested Chinese citizens be “a bit more civilised when travelling abroad.”

With more than 100 million Chinese travelling in 2014, misbehaviours have grabbed headlines worldwide. Among the most extreme: defacing an Egyptian sculpture, throwing boiling water on a flight attendant and urinating outside.
I wasn't very impressed with the Chinese tourists I encountered in Europe a few weeks ago, that's for sure.  They were very loud, even in churches!  At one church in Helsinki there was a young woman who kept shushing people as they entered the church, but as soon as they got inside they acted like a mob--you'd be surprised how loud people can be when they're trying to take group pictures.  And let's not forget the cutting in line, the pushing and shoving, etc.  It may be cultural for them, I don't know, but they were *not* in China and should conduct themselves more in accordance with local custom.

Our guide through the Hermitage was particularly hostile to Chinese tour groups, and with good reason, from what I saw.

I Have To Go Back To Work

I go back to work 2 weeks from today.  Does anyone else remember when school started around Labor Day?

Travel Next Summer

A friend gave me a map for either Christmas or my birthday; like a lottery ticket, you scratch off the silver color on the places you've been to reveal color below.  I used to think I was well traveled but when I look at this map I see I've only been to North America, Europe, and the Caribbean.  I've never been to Africa, to Asia,or south of the equator.

This got me to thinking about next summer.  Summer here will be winter south of the equator, but that isn't necessarily a problem--after all, how warm was Northern Europe a few weeks ago?!  Looking at the map, 2 places jumped out to me:  Buenos Aires, and Madagascar.  Both seem like they'd be very interesting and rewarding trips.  I also found a cruise that starts in Singapore, goes north to SE Asia, and then south to Perth, Australia.

So that's what I'm looking into for now.  No telling where I'll actually go, but these three trips seem like a good place to start.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

It Happened

First time ever, I think.

I practice safe computing.  I keep my anti-virus software up to date.  If my browser warns me that a certain web site is dangerous, I stay away.

But I got a virus anyway, or at least a bad case of adware.  Despite backing up gigs and gigs of personal videos, I'm still told that there's 0 MB of free space on my hard drive.  Despite my adblocker software, ads from one particular source now show up on just about every web page.  Sometimes even new tabs will open in my browser.

Computer's been off all day, I have an appt at Best Buy tomorrow to get it cleaned up.  Posting this from the Chromebook right now.

Somehow I'll survive....

Saturday, July 25, 2015

If This Is True...

When school's not in session I revert to what I consider my "natural" sleeping hours, 2 am-10 am.  If this is true, I must be a genius!
We’ve all heard Ben Franklin’s famous musing, “Early to bed, early to rise. Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” It may be true that the go-getters among us tend to get up early, but it’s also true that more intelligent people tend to stay up later. Believe it or not, this is actually a scientifically studied phenomenon...

A study from Satoshi Kanazawa, psychologist at The London School of Economics, shows that intelligence and night-owl tendencies are strongly correlated. In a survey, Kanazawa showed that those with an IQ of over 125 tended to go to bed around 12:30 a.m. and wake up around 8:00 a.m. on weekdays, and to go to bed around 1:45 a.m. and wake up around 11:00 a.m. on weekends.

Those of normal intelligence tended to sleep from 12:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. on weekdays and from 1:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. on weekends. Those of below normal intelligence tended to sleep from 11:45 p.m. to 7:20 a.m. on weekdays and from 12:35 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. on weekends. As you can see, that’s a pretty big difference.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Where Is All This Money Coming From?

The taxpayer, of course:
A day after announcing plans to boost its minimum wage to $15 an hour, the University of California approved 3 percent raises for 15 top administrators.

Among those to receive the salary increases are five campus leaders, including UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, and six executives at UC’s medical centers and laboratories that are not paid with state funds. They will earn between $231,750 and $991,942 annually; Katehi will make $424,360.

The university’s governing board authorized the raises at its meeting Thursday without public discussion, except to note that they were for senior managers who have been in their position for at least a year and had not received a pay increase in the last year.

Read more here:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

How Would You Like This Guy On Your School Board?

It certainly takes all kinds.  This is from your King County (Seattle area) voters guide, and he's running for a seat on a school board:

David Blomstrom

David Blomstrom

Education: BS in ecology from Huxley/WWU; wildlife studies at University of Alaska @ Fairbanks
Occupation: Writer, website designer and educator

"The Vietcong never called me nig---," said Muhammad Ali, a draft-dodging Muslim who recognized his real enemies: Demopublicans, fascist police, corporate attorneys, corrupt unions, apathetic brain-washed citizens, and the Jews* and corporations they work for - not communists, environmentalists or Muslims. The enemy also includes Seattle's own Bill Gates, purveyor of crappy software, phony philanthropy and genetically modified food.

I'm the only Seattle activist who targets Gates and his partner in crime, Paul "Buy Me Another Stadium" Allen, a twin disaster for education. While a teacher, I fought alone against the derelict retired general turned Seattle Schools Superintendent John Stanford - the corporate clown whose name now graces the school district's headquarters. In 1999, I became the first Seattle candidate to make derelict principals a campaign issue. (Remember Garfield High School's Al Jones?) I'm now the first to blow the whistle on Seattle's Jewish Mafia, as represented by The Stranger and The Seattle Weekly. I know who the enemy is, and I'm not afraid to stick it to 'em.

Home to Microshaft, the Discovery Institute (a creationist stink tank) and Shell Oil's Arctic rape squad, Seattle has become a capital of the so-called New World Order. As intelligent, caring members of the community are pushed out by gentrification and yuppies, there are fewer people like me left to fight back. Moreover, genuine activists never get a fair shake; the game is rigged. Yet I continue to run for office because it's educational, I love to fight, and it's the right thing to do.

Wake up and support your children, not the clueless troops who murder children in occupied countries! In solidarity with Iran, Syria, Russia, Latin America, freedom fighters around the world and the students who called me Mr. B, Viva la revolucion! (Visit my website and join the Global Awakening.)
While you've got to enjoy his candor, the guy's obviously a few fries short of a Happy Meal.

One local Jewish resident wasn't pleased with the Jewish Mafia comment:
I admittedly am not aware of where, legally, the line is drawn between political free speech and ‘hate speech’...

Can you honestly say or demonstrate that if comments similar to those of David Blomstrom (page 73, Voters’ Pamphlet) – casting the “Jews*” (not sure why the asterisk was included; perhaps some psychological ‘tic’ expressing itself on paper) and the ‘Jewish Mafia’ as being among the many enemies of the citizens of King County (he never actually identifies specifically who his collection of enemies are enemies of) – were directed against other religious, ethnic or racial groups that those comments would be published in a King County Voters’ Pamphlet?

Why should I or any of my co-religionists have to tolerate such hatred in a Voters’ Pamphlet.  As a Jew, I am sick of seeing my people maligned and sick of seeing my children (Blomstrom entreats the reader to ‘support your children’, perhaps the only glimpse of sanity in his ‘statement’) exposed to expressions of antisemitism on campus, in social media and in the public political forum.
He got a response which ended with:
On a personal level I am deeply sorry. Sherill Huff, King County Director of Elections.
I'm all for publishing the crazy man's words--that's the best way to let people know he's crazy.  The original complainant seems to understand this but doesn't like it, and then points out the obvious:
The issue says Behar, is what he suspects is a double standard. “What bothers me is that I find it hard to believe they have never before received any candidate ‘statements’ that slander African Americans, Muslims, Hispanics, sexual minorities….  My suspicion is that they themselves may be less inclined to censor comments about Jews than when they pertain to other more favored minorities.  They are telling me they can’t control it, no matter who, but I can’t help but be a little skeptical.”
Seattle.  San Francisco of the North.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bad Idea Dropped

It was a bad idea anyway, even if you don't consider the probability of political machinations and interference:
Nearly two years ago, President Obama proposed a federal system to rate the nation's colleges and universities, one that would provide families with an objective and unified tool to compare schools and for taxpayers to determine whether the massive investments in scholarships and other government spending on higher education are worthwhile.

The idea, however, was met with protests and concerns from college leaders who contended that it was misconceived and could unfairly pit schools against each other.
After repeated delays and many consultations with skeptical college leaders, the ratings system was recently scrapped.
White House officials say that pushback from the higher education industry and congressional Republicans did not lead to the retreat. Instead, they say they could not develop a ratings system that worked well enough to help high school seniors, parents and counselors.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Who's The Minority? Is There Racism Here?

Silicon Valley.

Whites and Asians.

And schools:
In my hometown, tiger parenting could be seen as a sort of litmus test to see which culture you were most familiar with. For a long time, Saratoga, my hometown of 20,000, was almost entirely white. And then the tech revolution brought new-money immigrants like my Chinese-born parents into the tech sector. After a stock market boom or two, they could afford a house in Saratoga, in all its suburban glory, with pristine lawns and an allegedly pristine school system.

Around me, I noticed that almost all the parents or students complaining about the policies were Asian.

To say that whites resented Asians or Asians resented whites would be a gross exaggeration of a largely utopian merger. Youth soccer leagues were run by parents of multiple ethnicities: Indian, white, Chinese, Korean. Often, they were co-workers in their fields. Parental involvement was unified in activities spanning from musicals to the Parent-Teacher Association.

But it was in academics where one could smell the distinct coded scent of a split. There’s a nearby high school called Lynbrook, which by now is probably upwards of 90 percent Asian. I had a friend there who used to joke that they called the white people “the few five.” Everyone knew the one black student by name.

The Wall Street Journal came out with an article in 2005 documenting “The New White Flight,” a twist on the term used to describe the phenomena of white people moving out of poor neighborhoods, taking their tax dollars with them, and often leaving largely black schools derelict and underfunded. At Lynbrook and nearby schools, the Journal writes, whites weren’t quitting schools because the schools were bad. And they weren’t harming them academically when they left; more Asians just moved in.

“Quite the contrary,” the article read. “Many white parents say they’re leaving because the schools are too academically driven and too narrowly invested in subjects such as math and science at the expense of liberal arts and extracurricular activities like sports and other personal interests. The two schools, put another way that parents rarely articulate so bluntly, are too Asian.”
The article presents an interesting view on things.

Worm In the Apple

This is not how you should treat employees, and if they're required to submit to this then it should be done while on the clock:
A federal judge has ruled that Apple must defend a class-action trial, to begin in January, representing thousands of Apple store workers. The employees claim they had to spend as much as 20 minutes off the clock having their bags searched to combat employee theft—known as "shrinkage"—every time they left the premises.

According to US District Judge William Alsup's ruling: (PDF)
In stores where searches were performed by the manager on duty, some employees say they had to scour the store to find a manager and wait until that manager finished with other duties, such as assisting a customer. Where searches were performed by a security guard, some employees had to wait until a security guard became available. Some employees sometimes had to wait in line. Employee estimates of the duration of the whole process, including both searches and wait times, range from five minutes to up to twenty minutes per search, with extremes occurring during busy periods such as product launches or holiday seasons. By contrast, managers estimate wait times at only a few seconds.

Alsup's decision applies to about 12,400 workers in California, which has more employee-friendly work regulations than those of the federal government or other states. Alsup allowed the litigation to continue despite the Supreme Court ruling in 2014 that warehouse workers for in Nevada could be forced to spend as much as 25 minutes off the clock to undergo security screenings at the end of their shift.
Thursday's decision sets the stage for a rare public glimpse into how Apple treats its retail store workers. Store workers in 2012 e-mailed Apple chief Tim Cook saying the search policy treated employees "as criminals."

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sanctuary State

No doubt you've heard about the murder of a woman by an illegal alien who was repeatedly repatriated to his own country but kept returning to San Francisco because he knew it was a so-called sanctuary city, a city that does not cooperate with immigration authorities where illegal aliens are concerned.

California is essentially a sanctuary state:
More than half of the driver’s licenses California has issued in 2015 have gone to residents living in the country illegally, reflecting the success of a new law extending licenses to people regardless of residency status.
I cannot go to Mexico and get a drivers license there. Neither can I get one in Britain, Italy, South Africa, or Argentina. I'd ask what possible reason there could be for giving drivers licenses to illegal aliens, but we all know the answer.
Supporters also argued the law would help a marginalized population step out of the shadows, although many worried that a population accustomed to avoiding scrutiny would be reluctant to reveal themselves to a government organization, even though the law prohibits the DMV from sharing information with other government agencies.

Read more here:
I want lawbreakers to stay in the shadows.  They should be marginalized.

One-party rule has turned California into a lawless regime.

Update, 7/20/15:  Victor Davis Hanson on San Francisco:
What we won’t hear from quite liberal people is that their own policies of legal nullification are catalysts for tragedies. Municipal and state nullification of federal statutes also has a shameful American history. It was just such a principle — that local and regional lawmakers could decide that the law of land is not applicable to themselves — that was at the heart of the argument for the Old Confederacy.

If 19th-century South Carolina could unilaterally declare that U.S. law did not apply within its environs, why then not 21st century San Francisco as well? (Apparently San Francisco thinks South Carolina was on the winning side of the Civil War).

Such contemporary liberal nullification is predicated on the relativist premise that progressive and situational cancellation of law is noble — whereas other, less enlightened states or city rights movements have no business copying their model. Should Billings declare gay marriage illegal inside its city limits and thus its local officials would not sanction marriage between the same sexes, or should Fresno County decide to suspend the endangered species act inside its border, or should Provo announce that the city would summarily deport illegal aliens without notifying federal authorities, San Franciscans would be outraged. They would rightly equate such nullification with secessionism.

Picking and choosing which federal laws to follow — whether or not to file a tax return with the IRS? — leads where exactly? That those who are caught not filing tax returns statistically have no higher incidence of criminality? And if that were true, what exactly would it prove?
Update #2, 7/23/15: Why? Because they're all run by Democrats:
The Obama administration on Thursday threatened to veto a House bill that would strip federal law enforcement grants from "sanctuary cities."

The bill would deny cities that refuse to enforce federal immigration laws certain Justice Department grants, and is expected to get a House vote on Thursday. The bill is a response to the shooting death of Kate Steinle by an illegal immigrant who had been deported several times.

An illegal immigrant, Francisco Sanchez, was a convicted felon but was released from custody by law enforcement in San Francisco in April, despite a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement order to hold him so he could again be deported. He has been charged with killing the 32-year-old Steinle.

But a White House statement indicated that the Obama administration doesn't see that event as a reason to pressure sanctuary cities to enforce federal laws.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Fan-made Star Trek

There's a lot of fan-generated Star Trek videos out there, and most of it isn't "production quality".  There are, however, a couple of organizations that are doing top-notch work.

Star Trek Continues looks like they film on the original series Star Trek set.  The writing, the stories, the characters--it all looks straight from the hand of Roddenberry.  The acting is so reminiscent of the original series characters that the only difference is the fact that the actors aren't Shatner, Nimoy, et. al.

Watch these full-length episodes:
Pilgrim of Eternity
Fairest of them All
The White Iris

Even better, 2016 promises a full-length independent motion picture, Axanar.   First watch the 21 minute teaser video, Prelude to Axanar.  Then watch the feature film teaser for Axanar; the full movie is expected to be released in late 2016.  Here is the indiegogo fundraising page if you'd like to contribute.

I have to agree with one of the commenters on the feature film teaser video:  "Ok. So 'Fan Film' now means 'A film so wonderfully produced that fans will love it more than the actual franchise?'  Sure. That sounds cool."

Now seriously, go watch Prelude to Axanar.

Fast Food Places

I only saw one McDonald's in St. Petersburg; I tried to take a picture of the sign but the reflection in the bus window prohibited doing so.  Why would I want a picture of a McDonald's sign, you ask?  Well, have you ever seen McDonald's written in Cyrillic?  If you haven't, here's a yahoo search so you can.

Here are some other fast food restaurants in Cyrillic:

And then there was this nostalgic little down-home cafe, where you can long for the good ole days:

Bon appetit.

Bad Guys In The World

This excerpt comes from a piece on the execution of a terrapin farm manager in North Korea:
American elites have always had trouble understanding fanaticism. The brahmins in the Roosevelt White House could not understand why the Japanese would fight to the last man rather than surrender. And think of the presidents from Nixon on who truly understood Islamic fanaticism. Carter hadn’t a clue. Reagan tried to deal with them. Both Bushes clearly underestimated the depth of hatred of the U.S. by the fanatics in the Middle East. Clinton thought lobbing cruise missiles was enough. And Obama insists Islamic fanaticism doesn’t even exist.

So it shouldn’t surprise us when we have failed to grasp the depth of depraved fanaticism in North Korea.
And this guy probably has nukes.  I know what let's do, let's ensure another country run by fanatical wackadoos gets nukes!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Would Government-Run Be Any Better?

Before I begin, let me state categorically that the answer to my title question is an emphatic no.  But that doesn't mean that my health provider experience this morning isn't as silly as it could be.

Since returning from Europe I've had coughing bouts that are violent enough to make me dizzy and weak afterward.  This morning I finally broke down and called an advice nurse, who after a series of questions and answers instructed me to see a doctor today.

So I called my primary care physician.  It's apparently been two years since I've been in to see my doctor, and in that time my doctor moved and I have a new doctor.  But I can't be seen today because I "haven't established care with my doctor".  So I have to pay twice my co-payment and go to an urgent care facility.

I know the nurse didn't create the policy, but how stupid is that policy?  She said I should go to urgent care today, and she could make a follow-up appointment for me next week to "establish care" with my doctor.  I asked what the point of that would be, if the urgent care facility can take care of my issues?  She said it would be "follow-up".

The reason I couldn't be seen today was that the doctors were busy and "none of the doctors know [me]".  What the heck does that have to do with anything?  None of the urgent care doctors know me, either, but they'll be able to see me, and on a walk-in basis.

I should have just asked for the earliest possible appointment with a doctor so I can "establish care".  In fact, I think I'll go call them back and do just that.

It's crazy to me to think that I'm being penalized because I've been healthy for over two years!  What is this, Catch 22?  I can't see my doctor until I see my doctor!

Before all the socialized medicine fanatics point and cry out "See?  See?" I'll point out that I can be seen by an MD today, and at a cost less than that of a dinner for two.  So no, confiscatory tax rates to pay for socialized medicine are not a good trade-off in my book, and there would be no guarantee under a government-run program that I'd be able to see anyone today.

But while the market is better than government at providing services, let's not fetishize the market and pretend that it's ideal.  Been in "sardine class" on an airliner lately?  No, the market doesn't always provide perfect service, but it does incentivize people to do so.  Government absolutely does not.

Update:  OK, so I called back and asked for the earliest appointment with my doctor.  Smart move!  My doctor's first available appointment is August 20th.   But when I spoke to the nurse before, she said to go to urgent care today and to make a follow-up appointment next week to "establish care".  The nurse I just spoke to was incredulous that I wouldn't want the August 20th appointment; I have to "establish care" sometime, right?  I told her that I anticipate being healthy by August 20th and see no need to make a medically-unnecessary appointment with a doctor just so that I might be able to see a doctor more easily in the future, if need be.  She didn't seem to understand my reasoning.

There must be some reason for such an absurd policy, but I certainly can't figure out what it is.

August 20th.  That sounds like an answer I'd get from Britain's NHS or Canada's health care system!

Update #2, 7/20/15: Let's read about the cost of Canada's wait times:
One measure of the privately borne cost of wait times is the value of time that is lost while waiting for treatment. Valuing only hours lost during the average work week, the estimated cost of waiting for care in Canada for patients who were in the queue in 2014 was $1.2 billion. This works out to an average of about $1,289 for each of the estimated 937,345 Canadians waiting for treatment in 2014.

This is a conservative estimate that places no intrinsic value on the time individuals spend waiting in a reduced capacity outside of the work week. Valuing all hours of the week, including evenings and weekends but excluding eight hours of sleep per night, would increase the estimated cost of waiting to almost $3.7 billion, or about $3,929 per person.

This estimate only counts costs that are borne by the individual waiting for treatment. The costs of care provided by family members (the time spent caring for the individual waiting for treatment) and their lost productivity due to difficulty or mental anguish are not valued in this estimate. Moreover, non-monetary medical costs, such as increased risk of mortality or adverse events that result directly from long delays for treatment, are not included in this estimate.
Private Cost of Public Queues 2015 - Infographic

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Help Me Choose A Picture!

In the past I've sought reader feedback on which of my pictures I should hang on my walls at home and I've always been pleased with the results--so why not try it again?

At the link above you see my pictures of Dubrovnik, Croatia, and Bodie, California, printed on aluminum and hanging in my dining room.  The aluminum pictures are so popular with visitors that when I got an online deal to buy some more at a greatly-reduced price, I bought two.

The first picture (from my most recent vacation) was a slam dunk:

That's from "Phase 1" of my trip.  Phases 2 and 3 were the cruise, followed by Iceland, so the other picture needs to be from one of them.  Please use the comments to vote for your favorite!  Look at the pictures at the link above and see which of these will look the best:
 rooftop view of Tallinn, Estonia

 Peterhof Palace, St. Petersburg

Hallgrimm's Church with Leif Erickson statue, Reykjavik

view across the Tjornin Pond, Reykjavik

rooftop view of Reykjavik

Geysir, after which all other geysers are named.  Iceland

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Jury Duty

Some time early last spring I was summoned for jury duty, but being a teacher (or full-time student) I was allowed to push my service out to the next school break.  I postponed my service until the Monday after I'd get back from Europe--two days ago.  Sure enough, right before leaving for Europe I received a summons for July 13th.

I didn't have to go in on Monday.  Per the instructions I called back on Monday night and was instructed to go in yesterday.  I was there by the 8:00 report-in time.  By 11:30 I still hadn't been called in to sit on a panel, so I was released for lunch until 1:30.  At 3:00 they started sending us home, and I was in the first group to go home.

I'm still not used to being back in the Pacific time zone.  I got less than 3 hrs of sleep Tuesday night, which made sitting around the (uncomfortable) jury room even more difficult.  When I got home I went straight to bed.  My part-time boarder came in some time in the early evening, so I was up for an hour or so for brief conversation, and then back to bed until a reasonable time this morning.  I finally feel alive.

And that is why there was no blogging yesterday!

Monday, July 13, 2015

London Pics

I made it to the London Eye during one of the several rain spells:

Loved this sign in the cafe area of Kensington Palace:

New architecture, and old:

The namesake of the Tower Bridge:

Am I on the prime meridian here?

It seems not:

So I had to walk a little bit:

I've seen Harry Potter, I know what this word means!

You know you're in London when...

Throwing In Early

I'm not surprised, but I think they will be at how she (under)performs:
Hillary Clinton scored a major union endorsement on Saturday when the American Federation of Teachers announced its support for the Democratic frontrunner.

The endorsement is not a surprise, as the AFT also backed Clinton in 2007 in her primary battle against then-Sen. Barack Obama, but it is the first national union to endorse a candidate in the 2016 Democratic primary.

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Time is a big deal in the London area.  Has been for centuries, since Britannia ruled the waves, and still is.

There's Big Ben in the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster:
(If that video is too blurry, try this one:)

There are the Harrison timepieces at Greenwich:

(If you don't know why the Harrison timepieces are so important to history, go read this book now.)

The time ball at Greenwich:

4 Krona

Several weeks before I left on my trip I went to the bank and bought some British pounds and some euros.  I had plenty of cash with which to have fun!

Denmark, Sweden, and Russia don't use those currencies, though.  I didn't buy anything in Russia except to pay for my shore excursions, and I charged what little I bought in Sweden and Denmark.  For one purchase in Denmark I could use euros but was given change in Danish kronur, which was no problem at all.

By the time I got to Iceland, though, I had 100 Danish kronur and well over 100 euros in notes, plus miscellaneous coins in those currencies and British pounds.  I exchanged all the notes to Icelandic krona upon my arrival in Reykjavik.  I started with about 27,000 krona, the equivalent of about $200.

It's hard to explain how expensive Iceland is, even when compared to other Scandinavian countries.  T-shirts in souvenir stores routinely sell for $30 or more.  Restaurants listed prices around $50 for average fare.  The $16 I paid for some fish and chips, which doesn't seem too outlandish, included two small pieces of fish and enough fries barely to fill a salsa bowl at a Mexican restaurant back home.  Gasoline was in the $7-8 dollar a gallon range, not too far off of Northern Europe.  Icelandic wool sweaters--made from one of the few things that doesn't have to be imported into that country--were in the $150 range.  The cheapest pair of wool socks was $16/pr.  Even the smallest of books could fetch $30.

The bottom line is that it wasn't going to be hard to spend 27,000 krona in just under 4 days.  In fact, had I gone to the Blue Lagoon (don't ask) I could have polished off most of that in one fell swoop.  (BTW, the smallest vial of algae from the Blue Lagoon at their store in Reykjavik could have used up most of that money.)  Anyway, I like to buy things for people back home--shot glasses, Christmas tree ornaments, candy--and by the last day the money was running low.  I had done a pretty good job of spending the money down--I didn't want to have to bring any of it home, as I'd probably never get to spend it again.  And by the time I got to the airport, I was down to a few hundred krona remaining.

"Traditional Icelandic chocolate" bars.  Hm.  Traditional?  Were the original settlers growing and processing cacao contemporaneously with the Aztecs?  No matter, who wouldn't like a chocolate bar?  I bought a couple.

I spent my money well, coming home with exactly 4 krona.

There are roughly 130 krona to the dollar.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


It's strange seeing darkness again.

On my trip the furthest south I went was London--and that ain't south, boys and girls!  Even in London it wouldn't get completely dark at night.  It was strange, seeing light outside at 1 am. 

Reykjavik, so close to the Arctic Circle you can almost throw a stone to it from there, didn't even put on airs about darkness.  Yes, the sun was below the horizon for 4 hours, but it was still like early morning in the sky.  In fact, this web site says it was no darker than "civil twilight" during the night; the US Naval Observatory defines that as
Civil twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening when the center of the Sun is geometrically 6 degrees below the horizon. This is the limit at which twilight illumination is sufficient, under good weather conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished; at the beginning of morning civil twilight, or end of evening civil twilight, the horizon is clearly defined and the brightest stars are visible under good atmospheric conditions in the absence of moonlight or other illumination. In the morning before the beginning of civil twilight and in the evening after the end of civil twilight, artificial illumination is normally required to carry on ordinary outdoor activities.
London got to "astronomical twilight", whereas Sacramento gets to "night".

I left home on June 19th and flew up over the Arctic Circle on my way to London.  It was completely bright the entire flight, as we were so high up and so far north that the sun was visible at all times.  Throughout the entire trip the darkest the sky got was "twilight", and there was still plenty of light out.  When we landed in Sacramento late Thursday night it was actually dark out.  It was the first time I'd seen darkness in 3 weeks.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Left-Wing Privilege

Lefties always want me to "check" my "white privilege"--it's fine, thank you, and what they call "privilege" is just my being better than they are!--but let's see what they think about their left-wing privilege:
1. I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my political persuasion most of the time.
2. I can spend my entire college career taking only classes with professors who think exactly as I do.
3. I can take classes and earn degrees in departments that are designed to line up exactly with my worldview.
4. I can be sure that an overwhelming majority of the material I am assigned to read for class will confirm what I already believe.
5. My professors will assume that I already think just like them, and use examples and anecdotes that testify to our philosophical uniformity.
6. I can almost always be sure that my professor will present or corroborate my side of a debate.
7. I will likely never have to make the choice between writing what I believe to be true and writing what I think will get a good grade.
8. If I do not get the grade I was hoping for, I can be sure it had nothing to do with the professor’s antipathy towards the political views I have expressed, or me personally.
9. I do not have to fear tipping my hand about my political views in my schoolwork.
10. I can pursue an English degree out of my love for literature, not put off by the lenses of critical theory that influence the way literary analysis is taught.
11. I can speak up in class without fear of being derided for my politics.
12. I can feel confident that even if I don’t personally speak up for my side of an issue, it will likely cross my classmates’ minds.
13. I can be sure that even if people disagree with me, they will not call me evil or bigoted.
14. I can avoid spending time with people whom I have been taught to disagree with, and who have learned to disagree with me.
15. I can be sure that no one will chalk up my opinions to privilege or lack of empathy.
16. More generally, I can express my views on controversial topics without my motives and character being questioned.
17. If my ideology becomes a source of personal issues, I have ample support available at an institutional level.
18. If I need a role model with whom I agree politically, I can easily find one or more.
19. I can freely use social media to share my politics (not that I should) and I will receive encouragement and support in ‘likes,’ ‘shares,’ and especially in comments.
20. I can be social and go to parties without facing mockery and looks of confusion from those who assume my lifestyle is ascetic and Puritanical.
21. I can act disrespectfully toward figures of authority and remain immune from criticism.
22. I can talk about my politically oriented extra-curricular activities without fear of judgment or derision from my peers.
23. I can describe my summer writing job without censoring the name of the publication or its political leanings.
24. If I am religious, others will assume that my beliefs are a force for good and not an extension of an anachronistic and oppressive legacy of superstition.
25. I can use buzzwords and academic jargon to make my arguments, and they will be accepted as legitimate.
26. I can safely say that the arc of history bends in my direction and anyone who disagrees will be “on the wrong side.”
27. I can write off opinions of those who disagree with me because of their overarching ideology.
28. If I can categorize someone who disagrees with me as “powerful” or “oppressive,” I don’t even have to listen to them to begin with.
29. I can be confident that no one will dismiss the sources of my news and information as biased.
30. I can easily obtain my college’s support for explicitly political events I’d like to organize.
31. I can get “trigger warnings” appended to texts that challenge me or make me feel uncomfortable.
32. I can get commencement speakers, recipients of honorary degrees, and other guests disinvited from my campus if I disagree with them.
33. I can disrupt and disrespect speakers whom I do not wish to hear; I will subsequently be praised for my denial of their freedom to speak.
34. I can monopolize terms like “justice” and claim that they only apply to what I am saying.
35. I can accuse those who disagree with me of “violence.”
36. I can claim that my personal experiences are “invalidated” by those who disagree with me.
37. If I have to follow current events for class, I can be confident that the recommended sources of news will be slanted in my direction.
38. If I find my ideas challenged, I know I always have a “safe space” to retreat to, where people will massage my challenged beliefs and sing me a lullaby of things I’d like to hear.
Note that this came from Time after previously having been posted at The College Fix.

Trip Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:  2010.

Today's question is:  on what date am I due home? 

The answer to today's question is:  today!

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Trip Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:  1986.

Today's question is:  in what year did the Eyjafjallaj√∂kull volcano blow, stymieing air traffic over western and northern Europe?

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

A Long Day of Sightseeing

Both my mother and I have been feeling under the weather recently, so instead of renting a car we paid for a bus tour which combined the Golden Circle with riding an Icelandic horse.

I'm told that most horses have 4 "gaits":  walk, trot, canter, and gallop.  The Icelandic horse has a 5th gait, toelt, between trot and canter, in which one foot is always in contact with the ground; it's a very smooth gait, no bouncing at all for the rider.  I was able to get my horse Vigunde to toelt, so I've done something most American horse riders have not!

Icelandic horses are short and stout:

After a short ride we next went to Geysir, the very geyser after which all others are named.  It's dormant now but used to shoot about 100 meters into the air.

Nearby Strokkur, though, gushed about 30 meters every 5-8 minutes.

(Stokkur video uploaded 8/22/15 and can be viewed here.)

About 10 minutes after leaving Geysir we arrived at Gullfoss, the Golden Falls:

Can't get the videos to work; perhaps I'll try again when I get home in a couple days.  Just know that these pictures don't do Strokkur or Gullfoss any justice.

(Gullfoss video added 8/22/15)

Lastly we went to Thingvillir, the "most Icelandic of Icelandic places".  It's Iceland's first national park, a rift valley between two continental plates wherein Iceland's "Althing", or parliament, was held since AD 930.  It was in Thingvillir that Icelandic independence from Denmark was declared in 1944.  All my videos there are huge so you'll have to accept this picture of houses and a church in the valley:

Long day, but so educational--and so fun.

Trip Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:  true.  Americans used the air base at Keflavik throughout the Cold War.

Personal side note about Keflavik:  I got out of the army in September 1990 and didn't find a job until March 1991.  You might imagine that was a difficult time for me, and you'd imagine correctly.  Anyway,  not more than a couple of weeks after finally getting a job, I got a call from the army's personnel center in St. Louis.  They told me they needed an officer to go to Iceland for 6 months, and (for some reason I cannot fathom) my name was at the top of the list. 

Had I not just landed a job I'd have been on the next available flight, but I couldn't accept a job and then turn around and leave because I just received (what I would consider to be) the offer of a lifetime.  My integrity is worth more than that, so I've waited an additional 24 years to go to a land I've wanted to visit since I was 9 years old, when I saw it from the window of an airplane from 39,000 feet.

Today's question is:  in what year was the (failed) Reykjavik Summit between President Reagan and Mikhael Gorbachev?

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

War With Iceland!

I've heard it said that no two countries with McDonald's restaurants have ever gone to war.  Is that still true?  Does Ukraine not have any McDonald's?  I know Russia does because I saw one in St. Petersburg.  But let's assume for a moment that the statement is true.

I haven't seen a McDonald's here in Reykjavik.  A Starbucks, either.  I've seen a Subway or two, a Sbarro, a KFC, and a Dominos.  But no McDonald's.

Iceland doesn't have a military.  No army, no navy, no air force.  It has local police forces and a small coast guard.  I say the pickins are easy, let's take this place.

Trip Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:  330,000, a third of which live in the capital Reykjavik.

Today's question is:  True or false, Iceland is a founding member of NATO.

Monday, July 06, 2015

It's Been Awhile!

Google, which owns blogger, made my account a little too secure--I tried to log in on my phone from Tallinn, and since I hadn't logged in (from Eastern Europe) before, or on my phone, Google asked some questions that no one could answer, such as "on what date did you set up your account?"  Then they wanted to send a text message to my phone, but I'm not going to pay for an international text message!  So instead I did without, waiting till now--in my Reykjavik hotel with wifi on my Chromebook--to update my blog.  I hope the trivia questions kept you interested in the interim.

So with no further ado, let's see some pictures!

First, London:

Then we boarded the Brilliance of the Seas.  First stop, Copenhagen:

And then my first visit to a formerly-communist land, Tallinn, Estonia:

We spend 2 days in St. Petersburg, in a country I'll probably never again visit (perhaps I'll write on that another time).  Our first day we went to the Peterhof Palace and the Hermitage:

The next day I paid beaucoup dinero to get 2 hours on Nevsky Prospect, the main drag in St. Petersburg:

Back to comparative freedom, our next stop was Helsinki:
(The view was through the blue-tinted window of a ferris wheel.)

Then, Stockholm:

Our last cruise stop was the northern tip of Denmark, the resort town of Skagen:

The cruise over, we're in the last phase of this trip, Iceland:

Now that I have regular, reliable, and "free" internet access I'll be able to make a few more updates before coming home.  In the meantime, though, I hope you continue to enjoy the trivia questions!

Trip Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:  1944.

The answer to yesterday's bonus question is:  Denmark.  (It's a lot easier to declare independence when the country you're declaring independence from in occupied by the Nazis.)

Today's question is:  Within 10%, how many people live in Iceland?

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Trip Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:  it depends.
The battles of Lexington and Concord:  April 1775.
Independence declared:  July 1776.
Battle of Yorktown:  1781.
Treaty of Paris:  1783.
There are two reasonable starting dates and two reasonable ending dates.  You decide!

Today we dock, rush to Heathrow, and jet off to Reykjavik.  Today's question is:  In what year did Iceland become independent?

Bonus question:  from which country?

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Trip Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:  God Save The Queen (or King).

Tomorrow we dock in England and then head to the final phase of the trip.  Hmm, what question can I ask about England that ties in to today's date?  :-)  Today's question is: How long did the American War of Independence last?

Friday, July 03, 2015

Trip Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:  Skagerrak and Kattegat.

Today's question is:  What was the name of the British national anthem?

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Trip Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:  55, as of 6/15/15.  The current exchange rate can be found here.

Today's question is:  what are the names of the two major straits separating Denmark from Sweden and Norway?

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Trip Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:  the Winter Palace.

Today's question is: one US dollar is worth approximately how many Russian rubles?