Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Herald Angel Sinks

Over the years the Monterey Herald, our daily newspaper, has been bought and sold several times. After a few months of settling in, each new owner starts shaving away at the good stuff. One previous owner didn't wait, and fired the entire reporting staff and asked them to reapply.

The excuse given this time is internet competetion. They have to stay ahead of the game, they say, to remain competetive.

Someone please explain to me how cutting back on content and reducing the quality of your product makes you more competitive.

A few months ago the Sunday Herald dropped Parade magazine and replaced it with the inferior USA Weekend, a product of USA Today. No more Mayilyn Vos Savant, no more Howard Huge, no more articles by famous scientists. USA is just a trite imitation with no content of any value. I flip through it every Sunday hoping to find something interesting, but I barely read a word.

Next came a formatting change for the Sunday leisure section. No problem there. The content didn't change, just the shape of the pages to a tabloid format. If that helps save money I can deal with that. I don't  mind if they change the phycical format of the entire paper, as long as the content is good.

But it's more than just format changes. One of the paper's most popular sections, Opinion, has been hacked back to almost nothing. Back in the day of decent journalism, The Herald had two full pages of op-ed Monday through Friday, and three on Sunday. That was 17 pages per week. The daily pages included three or more syndicated columnists, an original Herald editorial or two, and one editorial chosen from a variety of other well-known papers.

Under one owner, the daily opinions went down to one page per day. But they did add a Saturday op-ed page, which gave their spin doctors a way to boast that they were actually expanding their Opinion pages, even though the weekly op-ed page total had dropped from 17 to 9.

Then they stopped writing local editorials, and simply reprinted editorials from other newspapers. Now and then, when something really big happens, there will be a home-made editorial, but not very often. Recently they've condensed their views into a single weekly editorial column of one or two sentence "Rants & Raves" which say what their people think, but not why.

Then last month the Sunday Opinion section was cut back to a single page, bringing the weekly total down to 7 pages.

If that wasn't bad enough, next they messed with my funnies. Last year with great fanfare they brought out a new comics page. Based on reader's votes, several comics were dropped in favor of some new ones. I was overjoyed to see my one of my favorites, Mutts, came out at the top of the new page.

But it was not to last. When the Sunday Leisure section was reformatted, they moved the kids game page to the back of the Sunday comics. The rest of the Sunday comic section was crammed into the three remaining pages with each comic being shrunk to microscopic print.

Then, a couple weeks ago, they killed Mutts on Sunday. In the daily paper Mutts only appears if they don't have advertising to  put in its place. I love Mutts. I love its simplicity and gentle, loving humor. It is a great comic for kids (future newspaper subscribers) learning to read, and great for adults who can appreciate the more subtle elements of its humor. 

So the Herald has now royally screwed up my two favorite sections in an effort to "stay competitive." I notice they're not reducing subscription rates to match the reduced content. If they become any more competitive there'll be little reason to keep paying for it.

 

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The right thing

I've been so busy I haven't had time to publicly thank the Monterey City Council for doing the right thing with the Catellus Property near Wharf #2. Until now.

For the uninitiated, here's the background story. The Catellus property once belonged to the Southern Pacific railroad, which leased two buildings to two local businesses. One was Adventures by the Sea, which uses the facility for indoor/outdoor beach parties. Monterey Bay Kayaks was the other. After the city bought the property, there was a call to demolish these buildings and put their tenants out of business. A previous city council came close to doing so.

The arguments against the businesses were to open up views from Del Monte Avenue, and keep private enterprise out of public  parks. Arguments in favor of the businesses were that they provided the public with social and recreational opportunities that otherwise would not exist.

I watched the council meeting live on TV. I was relieved to see the council agree that these were valuable businesses. A motion was made to evaluate the feasibility of moving them into a new structure at the foot of Wharf #2. The Mayor, concerned about costs, argued that alternative plans should also be explored, such as expanding the Adventures by the Sea building to accommodate both businesses. The motion also included a provision to extend the leases ten years, with the understanding that Monterey Bay Kayaks might move into the an expanded Adventures building.

It was a good decision. The "viewshed" people will probably get to see the Kayaks building torn down someday, and maybe the Adventures building, too, but not until an appropriate on-site alternative is available for them to move into.  

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sign up for ClimateSmart


I just signed up the Toy House
for PG&E's project ClimateSmart. This is a voluntary program wherein PG&E customers can pay a minuscule fee to offset their household greenhouse gas emissions. The funds collected will pay for forest restoration and other greenhouse gas reduction programs.

The cost for a given household is based on the actual gas and electricity consumption for a given month. For an average PG&E residential customer it amounts to a mere $4.37 per month, less than 15¢ per day. PG&E provides a page which allows you to estimate your charge for a given month.

Our little house is comparatively frugal with utilities. For November our cost would be just $2.30, about 8¢ per day.

The funds will go entirely to greenhouse gas emissions programs, and their use will be certified by independent auditors.

If you are a PG&E customer, I encourage you to sign up. It costs pennies a day, and will help do some good. Even if you're a global warming skeptic, consider that the money will help the environment in other ways as well, such as improved forests and wildlife habitat, and in alternative energy development to make us less dependent on fossil fuels that are going to run out someday anyway. And face it, even if global warming really is just a scare tactic of the lunatic left, is it wise to assume that pouring unnatural amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is entirely without consequence?

Just be aware
that signing up is not a substitute for energy conservation. It's better to not make greenhouse gasses in the first place than to clean them up after the fact. In that respect it's the same as any other housecleaning project. So while you're at it, replace your most frequently used light bulbs with compact fluorescents, and find other ways to save energy. I like to make a game of it, to see how much energy (and how much money) I can save.

Here again is the link: PG&E ClimateSmart

Friday, November 23, 2007

BOOs & BRAVOs


The Herald has its Rants and Raves. I'll put in my Boos and Bravos.

There was an interesting collection of letters in the Herald of Thanksgiving Day. Usually, there's maybe one or two that are worth reading. Today they all had something interesting to say, except for the little four-liner at the very end.

BRAVO to Gordon Smith of Monterey who wrote to support the retention of Monterey Bay Kayaks on the waterfront. As he notes, demolishing their building won't do much to improve views, but will deprive residents and visitors of recreational opportunities. I only wish he had also made the same mention  of Adventures By The Sea which is also threatened.

BRAVO to Dan Shafer of Monterey, a former sports writer for admonishing sports columnist John Devine for writing a "guilty until  proven innocent" diatribe against Barry Bonds.

BOO to Cindy Stanley of Monterey for her misinterpretation of a protest last weekend outside the Presidio of Monterey. The protesters had a huge banner opposing torture. Ms. Cindy took it as an anti-military protest, and even went as far as to launch a counter protest at the same site. Note to Cindy: Being anti-torture is not the same as being anti-military, but your counter-protest implies that you are pro-torture.

BOO to Joe Vierra of Salinas for blaming Democrats for rising gas prices. Supply and demand has nothing to do with it? And what about the price increases that occurred while the Republicans were  in power?

BRAVO to Diane Stotler of Seaside who complained about the lack of recycling facilities for compact fluorescent light bulbs, which the law says can't be thrown in the trash. The only place that accepts them is the waste facility out past Marina, and nobody in their right mind is going to drive 20 minutes to throw away a light bulb. Why, I threw a dead CFL in the trash just tonight.
 

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Early Bird

It was discussed on the radio tonight that Thanksgiving seems to be the one holiday that people still honor for its original intent. Look at President's Day, Labor Day and Memorial Day. They've become excuses to go shopping. Christmas, likewise. Independence Day? Picnics and fireworks. Easter? Chocolate paradise. But Thanksgiving is thus far untainted by selfish pursuits.

People save that for the Friday after.

In an effort to accommodate all that pent-up shopping energy, major stores are competing to see who can get these people in their doors first. A few years ago they started opening at 8:00am. Then 7:00. Now Target is opening at 6:00 Friday morning.

That's nutty. Who in their right mind would get up on their day off and shop before breakfast? Nobody in their right mind, but that still leaves a lot of Americans, judging from the state of things these days.

But for sheer audacity, the prize goes to Mervyn's. A totally tasteless commercial has run in the last few days wherein a hostess at Thanksgiving dinner yanks the tablecloth out from under her guests as soon as they are served, and tells them dessert is in the fridge. She's in a hurry to get to Mervyn's because they're opening at

get this

4:00 freakin AM!

If I was an employee at Mervyn's, I'd tell the management where to go, then I'd show them my tail waltzing out the door. There's no way I'd want to go into work on four hours of sleep and deal with self-absorbed customers who have only had four hours of sleep.

Really, people, there's nothing in a Mervyn's store that can't wait until after lunch.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Pain in the neck

I've been dealing with a literal pain in the neck. So far three doctors, a physical therapist, X-rays, and MRI, and a Christian Science Practioner (not in that order) have failed to find any cause for the problem and so far no real solutions.

But I am inundated with diagnoseseses. Everyone knows someone who had something kinda similar at one time or another so they know just what I've got. Apparently I've got Parkinsons, a food allergy, stress, pinched nerves, and muscle spasms.

And of course, the sure fire cures are ibuprofen, hypnosis, a heating pad, ice, alternating heat and ice, Tiger Balm, a chirporactor (or not), acupuncture, massage therapy, meditation, past-life regression, counseling, a mediterranean style diet, yoga, and prayer.

It's all a pain in the neck.

 

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

President Bush doesn't care about us.

President Bush has threatened to veto any budget from Congress that exceeds his budget for domestic spending. Congress has proposed a domestic budget that exceeds Bush's budget by $22 billion ($22,000,000,000).

Bush says that's an irresponsible use of public funds.

For the record, Bush's war in Iraq is costing us $330 million every day ($330,000,000). The $22 billion Congress wants to spend on us at home amounts to 66 days and 16  hours of spending in Iraq. Yet Bush has offered no source of funds for his war other than our pocketbooks and Chinese loans.

If Bush wants to keep spending our money in Iraq, he needs to find a way to pay for it. But, hey, if we're going to go deeper into debt, I'd rather it be for improving things here at home.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Thank you Arnold!


I read the news today, OH BOY!
About a governor who made my day.

Arnold Schwarzenegger today ordered the California Department of Food and Agriculture to disclose the complete ingredients in the pheromone spray Checkmate. That's the stuff CDFA sprayed over the Monterey Peninsula last month and which they plan to periodically spray all over the Monterey Bay region until the light brown apple moth fades into oblivion.

As I wrote before, it seems only prudent to tell us exactly what is being applied to our neighborhoods. Apparently the Governator agreed.

I don't consider this a victory for "our side." I consider this a victory for truth. It is a victory for honesty, which is always the best policy. It is especially refreshing to see a Republican leader who cares more about the people on the streets than the people in the suits who are trying to hide behind "trade secrets." This world would be much better off if every Republican thought that way.

Trade secrets are OK with me
as long as the chemicals are being applied to restricted areas, and exposing only those who have been trained in the safe handling of such products. If they're spraying over the heads of hundreds of thousands of unprotected people, a higher standard must apply. That standard must be complete openness and honesty. Only then can we be sure these chemicals are as safe as the manufacturer and the CDFA claim.

I'm gratified that Governor Schwarzenegger believes the same.

Addendum, October 23:
According to the Monterey County Herald, the ingredients in Checkmate LBAM-F are:

Water

(E)-11-Tetradecen-1-yl Acetate

(E,E) -9,11 Tetradecadien-1-yl Acetate

Crosslinked polyurea polymer

Butylated Hydroxytoluene

Polyvinyl Alcohol

Tricaprylyl Methyl Ammonium Chloride

Sodium Phosphate

Ammonium Phosphate

1,2-benzisothiozoli-3-one

2-hydroxy-4-n-octyloxybenzophenone



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Friday, October 12, 2007

Spray Delay

Well, the spraying of the Monterey Peninsula has been put on hold, thanks to a court order. Apparently a judge agreed that more information was needed before applying an unknown chemical upon a large population.

I have mixed feelings about this. I agree completely that we need to be fully informed about what chemicals are being dropped on us. I also understand the need to control a pest that could cause significant damage.

Of course, the farmers are up in arms about the spraying delay. Just as much as Peninsula residents are up in arms about the spraying itself. I'm worried this could quickly escalate into another "Us vs. Them" or "Peninsula vs. Valley" feud.

There is an easy way to avoid this. Farmers should be pressing their spray saviors to fully disclose the complete ingredients in Checkmate, the pheromone spray, to prove to us on The Peninsula that the product is as harmless as they say. Don't let them hide behind "trade secrets" to keep us in the dark. Full disclosure is in everyone's best interest, and neither side should settle for anything less than the full truth.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

No more POPCORN

I just learned today that another Monterey Peninsula institution has folded up and vanished last month with no fanfare. POPCORN is gone.

I grew up with POPCORN. I used it regularly, especially in the spring and fall, when the clocks changed from Daylight time and back to Standard time. POPCORN was time.

Huh?

Alas, most people don't even know what I'm talking about! It's on the telephone.

HUH?

I'd dial POPCORN (767-2676) and a nice lady would come on and say "At the tone, Pacific Daylight Time will be, two fifteen and twenty seconds. BEEEP. At the tone, Pacific Daylight Time will be, two fifteen and thirty seconds. BEEEP. At the tone, Pacific Daylight Time will be, two fifteen and forty seconds. BEEEP. At the tone, Pacific Daylight Time will be, two fifteen and fifty seconds. BEEEP. At the tone, Pacific Daylight Time will be, two sixteen, exactly. BEEEP."

You could listen indefinitely back in the day. Then they limited you to one minute. She was reliable, friendly and always there. Now she's gone the way of our old Carmel phone prefix MAyfair-4 (work that one out yourself).

Now how will I know what time it is, EXACTLY?

They should like trains

The Herald reported this week that Monterey County's two largest industries, hospitality and agriculture, are opposing investment in passenger rail services to Monterey County. They are arguing that TAMC, the Transportation Agency for Monterey County, should invest more in roads and less in alternatives.

This view is shortsighted.
There will never be enough money or land to pave our way out of traffic congestion. Furthermore, as energy prices rise, environmental concerns increase, and freeways just get more and more hectic, we will need alternatives that are comfortable, energy efficient, and environmentally friendly. Trains are the answer.

People in our area don't realize that California has the fastest growing passenger rail system in the country. In fact, the nation's third busiest rail corridor, the Capitol Corridor between San Jose and Auburn, terminates just 60 miles from here. Other successful corridors can be found in the San Joaquin Valley (Bakersfield to Sacramento and Oakland) and down south where the Surfliners (San Luis Obispo to San Diego) are very popular. This is an especially great accomplishment when you consider that this was done with almost no federal funds (yup, its all state and local money) in a state where cars were once thought to be invincible.

If Monterey County wants to stay competitive
in attracting diversified industries, we need to be connected to the state rail network. As it stands now, if you want to get to any of those cities up north you have to suffer on congested bay area freeways or take a very expensive plane. Wouldn't it be nice to have a choice wherein you could sit back, relax, get some work or reading done, then grab a bite to eat at the snack bar, all while cruising along at 70-80 miles per hour? We could, if we set our minds to it.

Certainly, the hospitality industry would benefit by having a train that brings tourists right into downtown Monterey, just steps from major hotels and tourist destinations. I suspect their opposition is most likely based on ignorance of how convenient trains can be.


Alas, even TAMC is taking its time.
Not long ago rail service to Monterey was expected to start in 2006, then it was 2009, and now it has been pushed aside indefinitely. Proposed Caltrain commuter services to Salinas are getting all the attention. Contact your local representatives, at TAMC and in your city councils, and ask them to support intercity rail service to the Monterey Peninsula.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Spray Notifications

If anyone is reading this, and wants to know when their neighborhood will be sprayed for the light brown apple moth, you can now sign up for e-mail alerts from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. There is a link to the e-mail alert form on this page.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

It's Dennis, not Charlie!

I was just taking a look at the statistics for my website. I was viewing the search phrases people used this month to find my pages. I see that on a day in September someone was looking for "Charlie Brown playground, Monterey CA"

Close. Very close. I assume they found the correct name once they got here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Barry Bonds

I'm not a sports fan, but I do enjoy watching a game of Giants Baseball. I haven't followed Barry Bonds' career like some have, but I have become a fan. I haven't followed the controversy surrounding him all that much. After all, every successful person seems to be controversial in some way.

But something doesn't seem right. As far as my limited understanding could tell, he is still a productive player. He stated his desire to remain a Giant. He drew crowds to the ballpark in what was otherwise a miserable season.

For this he got fired.

I don't get it.

What really galled me was seeing all of the warm fuzzy tributes in tonight's game, Barry's last at home. We watched Giants owner Peter Magowan shed crocodile tears as he watched the "Thank You Barry" scoreboard video at the end of the game. Somehow the thanks seemed as insincere as the tears. You don't fire a guy you appreciate.

They say that's just business, that is was time for Barry to move on. But it wasn't Barry Bonds who drove the Giants into last place. Nobody who was responsible for this year's poor showing got fired. No, the Giants seem to do things a little differently. Former Manager Dusty Baker took the Giants to the World Series a few years ago.

For this he got fired.

I see a pattern here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Spray Day!

I know, I've been AWOL again. Too many weird things going on in my life these days to keep up with a journal on a regular basis. I don't think I have any regular readers, anyway, so its probably no big deal.

But I did find a topic important enough
to get me writing a bit. Its that blasted light brown apple moth, also known as LBAM.

For those of you who aren't in the know, let me explain. According to California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA, another acronym!), LBAM is an invasive pest that is going to eat every tree, bush, and head of lettuce in Monterey County if it isn't stopped. OK, I'm exaggerating. They say the damages could potentially be in the millions of dollars, but I'm not convinced they're not exaggerating, either. Maybe, maybe not.

In an attempt to eradicate the moth,
the California Department of Food and Agriculture decided to spray Marina, Seaside, Monterey, Pacific Grove and most of Pebble Beach with a pheromone. A pheromone is basically a naturally occurring aphrodisiac, secreted by female moths, that makes the male moths horny. By applying it everywhere, the male moths won't be able to tell the difference between a female LBAM and a leaf or a blade of grass, so it will most likely screw the leaf instead of the girl moth and prevent any baby LBAMs from being born. This, they say, will bring an end to the species in the region without resorting to toxic chemicals and without actually killing anything.

I gotta say that this is a whole lot better than getting sprayed with a pesticide called Sevin mixed with diesel oil. That's what my neighborhood got hit with when I lived in Oregon a quarter century ago. It was gypsy moths they were afraid of then.

But that's not to say I have faith in the government to do us no harm. Maybe its things like DDT, MTBE, a collapsing bridge, Iraq, and similar such things that make me suspicious any time the government says "trust us." I remember Ronald Reagan's words "Trust but verify." (Actually I recall that Reagan was actually quoting Gorbachev, but since Gorbachev didn't speak English, Reagan was merely passing the concept along. But that's not important right now.)

So CDFA people came to town before the spraying to answer people's questions. Except they couldn't answer them. I called the 800 number myself to ask if the product, called CheckMate, had ever been sprayed on people before. Nobody could answer my question! I later learned it had never been sprayed on an urban area, nor had it ever been tested on  humans because the FDA prohibits testing on humans. Apparently FDA allows spraying on humans, as long as it isn't a test.

I'm not too concerned about the pheromone itself, but the manufacturer says the pheromone is "microencapsulated" in, well, they won't tell us in what because its a trade secret. It seems to me that if you're going to spray a product over the heads of 100,000 people we ought to know what is in it. I assume the stuff is patented, so its not as if someone else can just steal the idea. There outta be a law which says that a company can't hide behind "proprietary information" when public health and safety is an issue.

Apparently, the product (which is diluted with plain water) is sprayed in such a fine mist that it doesn't even leave any apparent moisture on the ground. I know, I watched the  plane go over our house half a dozen times on the night of September 10th and nothing appeared on the ground,  or on our car windshields. If its that fine, then most likely it was inhaled by a lot of folks (many of whom were walking down the street oblivious to the plane overhead) before the stuff hit the ground.

It may very well be that the stuff is completely harmless. But please, don't ask 100,000 people to accept that on faith alone. Just tell us what the ingredients are so that independent scientists and health officials and laymen alike can assess the hazard and decide if it is appropriate. And please, do it before the next spray day, which is scheduled for sometime in mid October.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

"A" huge dilemma

The upcoming election on the county general plan has really reached the point of ridiculousness. How did we get into this mess in the first place? The general plan update process was started seven years ago with the best of intentions, getting everyone involved so that a consensus could be developed. Instead we've ended up with two competing plans and a divided citizenry.

Even trying to explain
the situation makes my head spin. We've got three ways to vote on two plans. Yes, three.

1. Measure A: Voting yes means you want the General Plan Initiative, the "slow growth" plan, to pass.
 
2. Measure B: Voting yes means you want to repeal General Plan Update 4, the "developers" plan which was enacted by the county supervisors several months ago.

3. Measure C: Voting yes means you want to enact General Plan Update 4.

Just so we're clear, Yes on A means yes. Yes on B means no, and yes on C means yes. I think.

You can thank the county supervisors for the confusion.
They let it go on the ballot that way. To me, that's reason enough to vote against GPU4, which is their baby.

Measure A actually comes closer to my vision
for the county, but its opponents do make a valid point that it may be too rigid.

There are a lot of issues involved here, of course, and I don't have time to get into them all. Let me just say that there are actually elements of both plans that I like, and elements of both I don't like.

One thing is clear: This election has become so divisive that whichever side "wins" a substantial portion of the population is going to feel left out. That is no way to plan for a future that affects everyone.

Thus I am leaning towards voting against both plans. If both plans fail, we will revert to the 1982 plan, which doesn't seem so bad anymore. At least we were able to function under it without treating each other as evil personified. Maybe it would give both sides time to cool off, rethink their rigid positions, recognize that we're all in this together, and start to work together.

Monday, March 26, 2007

CRASH!

After my Woe is Me entry a few weeks back, I thought I was all set to keep my old Windows ME machine running a good while longer. But it had other plans. One evening a couple weeks ago it failed to boot up, giving a "Non system disk" error. That usually means there's a floppy in the floppy drive, and it needs to be removed. But there wasn't. This time it wouldn't recognize its own hard drive.

Further investigation revealed the hard drive still had data on it, but the directories were gone, so the computer couldn't find anything.

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Fortunately, I had backed up all my vital files the previous week. Unfortunately, I had not backed up all of my fun files, like my collections of NASA photos and comic strips, which I kept saying "I'll back those up when I have more time."

At this point I had two choices.

1. Run the so-called "Recovery" disk that came with the computer to restore it to its original factory condition (which means erasing everything on the hard drive and reinstalling Windows ME).

2. Buy a new computer.

I bought a new computer. It didn't make sense to start from scratch with an old computer, nor was it prudent to wipe out my old hard drive without at least trying to recover the old data.

I did all of a couple hours of research, and concluded that the HP A1730N offered the most bang for the buck. Much to my delight, that item was offered on sale at Office Depot and Circuit City in the following day's Sunday inserts.

So I went down to Sand City to check them out. But the advertised items were not in stock at either store.

Grrrrr.

The Salinas Circuit City had four in stock, however, so off I went. I called ahead and had my name put on one. When I got there, bless 'em (!), they had me in and out in five minutes.

I am now the first person I know to have Windows Vista. I kinda like it, but there is one small bug. The system will not automatically shut off the monitor unless the screensaver is set to "none." Except sometimes when it will.

It also has a slightly different form of navigation. It looks pretty familiar, but its just different enough to throw me off kilter a bit.

But it has a cool new 3D chess board along with more sophisticated looking solitare cards.

And thus far it is the most stable version of Windows I've ever used.

Somehow, now, I've got to figure out a way to salvage the rest of my old hard drive.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Westmed

A little over a year ago, Westmed took over ambulance service in Monterey County, having submitted a substantially lower bid than longtime provider American Medical Response (AMR) for the contract. At the time I wondered if it was reasonable to expect more service for less money, but the county supervisors assured us they knew what they were doing.

So on January 1, 2006, a different wail began speeding by our house uphill to an emergency situation. For awhile Westmed ambulances announced their presence with a multi-pack of sirens that sounded like a whole armada of fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances screaming through the neighborhood. It was really annoying. Worse, when driving it was impossible to figure out if the sound was ahead, behind, or somewhere else altogether.

Westmed has since toned down its sirens somewhat. Probably as a cost saving measure. For now we are learning that Westmed got in over its head financially, promising the moon and delivering a hunk of green cheese. Suddenly the bargain brand doesn't look so good anymore.

Westmed is asking for a million dollar bailout, and permission to eliminate ambulances in several rural areas including Big Sur. Imagine, leaving the hazards of Big Sur without ambulance service. How often do we see cars go over the side again?

Today's Monterey Herald reported:
"Westmed chief executive officer Allen Cress said the Big Sur ambulance simply doesn't see enough action to make it cost-effective, even during the busy summer months."

DId I read that correctly? Does Westmed measure public health and safety in monetary terms? I find that absolutely appalling!

Fortunately, some Westmed employees are speaking out. One, Chris Otherson, wrote a commentary in this Sunday's Herald. He suggested that the county should make ambulance service a public agency, much like fire departments, to eliminate the need to make a profit on emergency services. That is certainly worth investigating.

AMR, watching from the sidelines, has indicated that it understands the true costs and would be perfectly happy to return.

Its time for the county supervisors to bite the bullet and admit their mistake. They expected a bargain, but failed to understand the complexities. I'm perfectly willing to forgive anyone who acknowledges their mistakes. We all make them. Its how we resolve them that tests our character.

Its time to acknowledge that you get what you pay for. Either renegotiate the contract with Westmed so that services don't get cut, reinstate AMR, or consider making ambulance service a public agency.

As a taxpayer, I want the most for my money, not the cheapest service. I'm willing to pay a little more for quality service.

--------------------

Addendum: February 28th
I see in this morning's paper that the county is going to do the right thing. Big Sur service will continue with a county subsidy. Westmed was granted permission to reduce response times to other rural areas, though. The county will now consider other providers, including the possibility of forming a joint powers agency to provide public ownership of ambulance service or a public/private partnership. By this time next year they plan to have a completely new program in place.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Woe is ME

My computer uses Windows ME. It came that way. It works OK. Not always great, but good enough for me right now.

But some people don't think I should be OK with it.
Bill Gates is one of them. Microsoft stopped supporting Windows ME several months ago. That's OK, I don't need their support and there's no good reason why I need to spend money to upgrade just now.

I went to install TurboTax this week.
Intuit has been sending me a CD every year. I didn't ask for it, it just came every year. I liked the product so I installed it, entered my payment information, and away we go to taxland.

Not this time.

This time when I put in the CD it said I needed to upgrade to Windows XP or Vista.

Not now, I can't afford it. Its not worth spending a hundred bucks to put XP on an older machine, nor am I about to put up $700-800 on a new computer to get Vista. Not right now. I just want to get my taxes done!

I have no intention of upgrading my computer just because two software companies tell me to. I'll do it when I need more power and not before.

So TurboTax lost a customer. Probably for good.

It turns out that H&R Block's Tax Cut also shut out users of pre-XP versions of Windows.

Tax Act to the rescue! I'd seen an ad for Tax Act in the paper. I as skeptical of it, because they were offering free tax software. I figured there was a catch. There was a little one. Free was for a bare bones federal tax program. The state program cost extra.

But the deluxe Tax Act combines state and federal taxes and free federal filing for just twenty bucks. That's $25 cheaper than TurboTax, not including their charges for e-filing.

But is it any good? I checked out several reviews. It doesn't have all of the extra bells and whistles that TurboTax has, such as financial planners or the ability to download a 1099 DIV form from our broker, but I don't need those anyway. Everything I read said Tax Act was a solid and legitimate tax preparation software company, but without the frills.

Its also the underdog company. Underdog is looking out for the little guy. Tax Act works on ANY version of Windows except the long gone 3.1. Got Windows 95? You can use it. Got Vista? You can use it too!

So I bought it.

I'm about half way through our federal return. The process is barely distinguishable from TurboTax or Tax Cut.

So I guess I should thank TurboTax
for forcing me to go to their competitor so I could save $25 bucks!

Make that a savings of $125 for also not having to go out and buy the Windows XP upgrade.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Not too bright

In my February 10th post I talked about the benefits of switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs. I learned today that Assemblyman Lloyd Levine has proposed legislation banning incandescent light bulbs and forcing everyone to buy compact fluorescents.

Though I am a hardcore advocate of compact fluorescent usage wherever possible, I cannot support making them mandatory. Despite their efficiency they do have limitations, and can't realistically replace every incandescent light bulb.

For example, compact fluorescent bulbs do not work on
circuits with electronic timers or photocells (those "electric eyes" that turn lights on at dusk and off at dawn.) Their electronic ballasts interfere with the electronics of the other device.

They are also not suited to some decorative fixtures, such as chandeliers where the bulb shape (such as a candle flame) is part of the design. Furthermore, most don't work with dimmers. There are so-called "dimmable fluorescents" but they have a very limited range of dimming before they go completely out. They can't be dimmed nearly as low as an incandescent can.

Finally, it makes no sense to replace incandescent lights that are only used for less than a couple minutes at a time. They aren't contributing nearly enough to the overall energy consumption to justify the cost of a fluorescent.

I would support a system of financial incentives and disincentives to encourage consumers to buy the most efficient bulb rather than the cheapest one. But an outright ban on incandescents is impractical for many situations.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Firefox it is

In my last report I was in the process of trying different browsers. I tried Netscape 8.1, but it turned out to be pretty buggy. So I've settled on Firefox, which is steady and faithful. I like its ability to add additional features I want without cluttering it up with things I don't need. Like Netscape, it also has interchangeable themes to customize the look of things, but Firefox has a lot more to choose from.

Maybe sometime when they get the bugs worked out I'll try Netscape again. It did do a couple of things that Firefox doesn't. But for now, its Firefox all the way.

Click here to get it for yourself.
Its free!

I've also been very pleased
with Firefox's cousin Thunderbird, for handling the e-mail. Its also very free. You can import your address book from Outlook with no trouble at all.

Happy upgrading!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Replacing AOL software

As AOL has become more web oriented, I have found less and less use for AOL's proprietary software. I started on AOL in 1997 with version 4.0, and worked my way through five different upgrades.

AOL software is still darned easy to use. One of its best features is the ability to enter e-mail addresses into your address book once and have them available online from anywhere in the world as well as offline on your own computer. But it has problems. For starters, it can be unstable. And for cross pollination purposes, the address book cannot be exported to other e-mail programs. Nor can the "favorites" list be exported into other browsers.

I started using the Mozilla Firefox browser and Thunderbird e-mail program recently. It took awhile to configure them the way I wanted, much longer than it took to configure AOL the first time. Then I had to hand type every e-mail address into my Outlook Express address book. From there I exported it directly into Thunderbird completely effortlessly. (I could have entered it directly into Thunderbird, but I already use the Outlook address book for mail merge in my OpenOffice suite.)

Mrs. Toy, who hates to even touch a computer, much less knows how to, actually prefers Thunderbird's clean e-mail interface over AOL's, which she found too cluttered with unrelated stuff to find the right buttons.

Then I rediscovered Netscape. Remember Netscape? That was the browser everyone used before anyone ever heard of Internet Explorer. Firefox and Netscape have a common heritage in Mozilla, but they have taken somewhat divergent paths. Netscape is owned by AOL, while Mozilla is an open source program developer. Its kinda complicated, but Netscape and Firefox are very similar but not identical.

Netscape 8.1 has the advantage over Firefox in that it had AOL Instant Messenger built in, along with the ability to display web pages either as Firefox does or as Internet Explorer does. It also has additional security features and the ability to display the local weather on the toolbar. Its a neat browser.

Since I couldn't directly export my favorites from AOL into Netscape, it took me sevaral days to copy ten years of collected favorites into netscape. Whew.

All was well for a few days, then suddenly, it started falling apart. Netscape started freezing up or crashing. I exported my bookmarks (favorites) into Firefox (real easy this time!) and did a clean reinstall. It worked great for a day, then started crashing again. The forum at Netscape.com had users reporting the same bug all occurring within a day of each other! I'm hoping they'll get the  bugs worked out soon. But for now I'm using Firefox for browsing. Its steady as a rock.

So why didn't I upgrade to Internet Explorer 7 like everyone else? Because I still have a Windows ME system, and IE 7 doesn't work with anything earlier than Windows XP. I don't like to have to spend my money one a new machine just because Bill Gates tells me to. This machine works just fine, thank you. Besides, Firefox and Netscape were doing the things IE 7 now does long before Microsoft decided to upgrade Internet Explorer, and Firefox doesn't need to make me buy new computer systems to stay in business because Mozilla is non-profit.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Bright Idea

While everyone is wringing their hands over greenhouse gas emmissions and our dependence on foreign oil, I did something about it. ThisChristmas I gave several members of the family four packs of compactfluorescent (CF)light bulbs. Each CF bulb uses 75% less energy than acomparable incandescent (plain ordinary) light bulb.

We've been using CF bulbs at our house for over a dozen years.As they've become smaller, lighter in weight, and cheaper we've beenable to replace half of our light bulbs with CFs. They're in our porchand driveway lights, table lamps, kitchen lights, bedside lamp, desklamps, and bathroom. In fact, the only lights in our house that don'thave CF bulbs now are either on dimmers (which also save energy) or areused
so rarely that it doesn't make much difference.

If everyone did this, replaced half of their bulbs with CFbulbs, this country could cut its total lighting bill by 37%! Imaginethe implications of that. The energy savings would be enormous, aswould the reduction in greenhous gas emissions.

It is ridiculously easy to do. You go to the store, plunk down a few dollars on a couple of multi-packs, go home, screw them in, and you're done.

So why are so few of us doing it?
Beats me. I almost never see themin other people's homes. I was walking around downtown Carmel lastnight and noticed that almost every outdoor light was an old fashionedincandescent, barely different from the ones Thomas Edison first soldin Great Grandma's day. One notable exception was the Pine Inn, whichhad CFs. You'd think other cost-conscious businesses would have them,too. Yet several motels had incandescents outside every room. A 20 roommotel could save on average over 10 kilowatt hours per night. At 11cents per kilowatt hour that works out to a savings of over $400 peryear they could add to their housekeeping staff's Christmas bonusinstead of paying it to PG&E. They could save hundreds more if they used them inside the rooms, too.

So pay attention, readers!
Wedon't have to wait for the government to "do something" about globalwarming and energy supplies. We can easily do this ourselves right now!

As an experienced consumer of CF bulbs, let me offer a little guidance in buying them.First, buy multi-packs. They tend to be cheaper. Most CF bulbs thesedays are small enough to fit anywhere, but if in doubt, compare themside by side with a regular bulb in the store to make sure they're nottoo large for your lamps. Also, check the package to make sure they canbe used in enclosed fixtures if that is your intent. Some can, somecan't. Finally, most CF bulbs are designed to have a color similar to astandard light bulb, but there will be some differences that may takesome getting used to. Give it a little time. Avoid bulbs labeled as"daylight" as these will have a bluish color that is unnatural indoors.

Put compact fluorescent bulbs on your shopping list today!
-----------------------
P.S.
Another great way to save energy is to turn off your computerwhen you don't need it. Can you believe some people actually leavetheirs on 24/7? Eleven years of computer ownership have proven to methat turning your computer on and off, contrary to popular opinion,doesn't shorten its life.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

CNN vs. FOX

My first entry since July! Hooray!!!!

Last night I was watching Anderson Cooper on CNN. he was interviewing a British war correspondent. I forgot his name, but he was incredibly articulate, and was providing a detailed and thoughtful analysis of the problems in Iraq. His grasp of the issues and his ability to convey them clearly was most impressive. Every word out of his mouth felt like an educational experience.

During a commercial, just for fun, I thought I'd see what Fox News was doing. Bill O'Reilly had a guest who was analyzing the facial expressions of politicians and celebrities, usually making some disparaging remark about them.

And that, my friends, is the difference between a real news channel and the FAUX news channel.