The Planet Money Podcast – a Review

September 1, 2016

Promotions for Planet Money, and their Oil series, have been relentless for the last six weeks.  I did not start listening to PM because of that, but rather because a friend recommended the podcast.

PM is a very cute production, giddy with giggles and lots of laughs.  But the information density is extraordinarily low.  I imagine that the actual facts related in a typical 20 minute PM podcast could be read in just a few minutes.  The rest is fluff.

And they mixed up diesel vs gasoline as a fuel.  That is, they cannot keep their facts straight.

It seems that these light and breezy podcasts are all the rage, but I  do not have the time to waste on them.

GEICO is ridiculous

April 24, 2016

I sold a car, and called my auto insurance company, GEICO so that I could remove that car from my policy.  After that was completed, the agent asked if I wanted a quote for an umbrella liability policy.  This kind of sales tactic is called an “up-sell”.  I was a bit annoyed, but amused, so I said that I would listen.  I was then passed over to the liability insurance sales woman.  As my first GEICO employee passed me off, he said “She will help you with the insurance that you need”; and the new employee said “How can I help you get the insurance that you need?”.

Of course, I did not “need” any insurance.  This is all part of trying to sell, trying to make the customer believe that they have additional needs, needs that they were not even aware of when they placed the call.

I answered a series of questions, after which the woman said that she was sorry, but I was not eligible for insurance because I was a “politician”.

I serve on my local Select Board, a kind of town council that is common in New England.  I get to go to a meeting every other week, and deal with other matters in between, all for a stunning $600 a year.  I think of myself more as an administrator and a public servant than as a politician.  But, whatever.

It irritates me that GEICO sees public service as making me an undesirable insurance customer.  Are that many politicians being sued these days?

Shame on you, Geico.  You turned a neutral call from me into an opportunity to get pissed off at you.  Way to go.

Penton Destroys Windows Secrets

February 4, 2016

I have been a loyal reader of the Windows Secrets newsletter for over 15 years. Each week, I could expect to receive an informative newsletter in my email. I could read it right there, although links were provided to additional content.

Penton purchased WS recently, and they turned a convenient information service into an annoying attempt to force people to their web sites to sell ads.  They now send out teasers and force the reader to go to their site, log in, and read the content there.

If I wanted to go to the web, I would have used Google in the first place, and bypassed WS entirely.  And that is what I am now doing.  The WS content was appreciated when it was convenient and easy to access.  Once Penton made it difficult, the WS content has no value to me.

I respect Penton’s right to make their content less available and more annoying, so I simply unsubscribed.  And this is where I got really pissed off.

Repeated attempts to unsubscribe and contact customer service have failed to garner a response, and the unwanted spam emails continue from Penton, now at the rate of 2 or 3 each week.  I imagine that Penton’s actions are actually illegal, given that I have unsubscribed repeatedly.

Not much you can do if a company like Penton will not listen to your communications.  I guess they want to keep their readership numbers up, even while people are abandoning WS in droves.  Good luck with bad customer service, Penton…

Credit Card Fraud

December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas.

I woke up this morning to be informed that 4 fraudulent transactions had taken place on my card on Christmas day before I even woke up.  My card has been canceled: I will get another in under a week.

This is not the first time this has happened.  The most recent time was less than a year ago.  And while the credit card companies brag about how we do not have to pay for fraudulent transactions, nor for replacement cards, the impact on me is significant.  I know that it will take months before I stop receiving  notices about bounced charges.  I already have a list of vendors to notify.  This is becoming routine.

If the rate at which cards need to be canceled increases, we may get to the point where we have not recovered from the last cancellation before the next occurs.

Something needs to be done.  The credit card companies need to increase their security.  Krebs On Security has noted that patterns of fraud are not acted on quickly and effectively; the credit card companies do not seem to care.  Why should they?  The “losses” that are incurred due to fraud are covered by the fees we pay for each transaction.  ATM scanners exist around the country, and using your credit card in a major chain store risks fraud and termination of your current credit card number.

All I get from the credit card company is apologies.  We need more than that.  We need effective action.

Eulogy for Rodney

November 21, 2014

My cat, Rodney died today, Thursday, November 20, 2014, at 11:45 AM.  He was about 12 years old.

I met/acquired Rodney about 10 years ago. I went to a local resident’s place on town business, and a cat came up to me and rubbed up against my legs. I commented “Nice cat”, to which the resident said “Want him?”. Seemed kind of cold-hearted, but he explained that the cat was a stray, and that the resident was about to travel, so someone needed to care for the cat. That cat became Rodney, since Rodney Dangerfield had just died, and apparently I was fresh out of creativity as regards cat names.

Rodney proved to be an amazing animal. If any cat had 9 lives, it was Rodney.

He was very territorial, which caused problems. The other two cats that I had when I acquired Rodney proceeded to disappear in the next few months. I imagine Rodney ran them off, which was too bad, because they were, also, great cats. Roo and Kenga.  I nursed Roo through a near-fatal fisher cat attack; and I acquired Kenga as a blue-eyed kitten, sitting terrified by the side of the road.

Rodney would often howl, and it sounded to me as if he was calling for some missing mother. It sounded sad. Eventually, it turned out that he suffered from megacolon, a disease where the colon becomes enlarged, and excretion becomes difficult. We tried high-fiber diets and acupuncture, but while his summers were often OK (more grass/roughage, more exercise), winters were terrible for him. The rugs had to be taken up as he pooped indiscriminately. I became hyper-vigilant, waking up in the middle of the night when I heard him straining or howling. He went through a variety of medical procedures, none of which helped him much.

After much hesitation, eventually, I had his colon removed. The primary function of the colon is to remove the water that is added to aid in digestion, so his poops were immediately like diarrhea. Not fun for him or me. To my surprise, they eventually firmed up. It was as if his small intestine looked around, said “where did that darn colon go?!?”, and sucked it up (literally).

The surgical stitches burst about 2 weeks after the surgery, and he ended up running around the house with his intestines hanging out, leaving trails of blood on the floor, howling. I was totally freaked out. I collected him and rushed him to the surgeon, a trip of some 45 minutes. He survived, but it was one of the most horrible days in my life. When he continued to have problems, straining when he tried to poop, he went under the knife for a third time, to see if there was a constriction. None was found, and I vowed to never subject either of us to that again.

Before the surgery, during the year or two when he struggled with the megacolon, Rodney was not a very clean cat.  He would often jump in bed with a fairly dirty ass, which made it difficult to accept him whole-heartedly.  After the surgery, he became limber again, and was able to clean himself perfectly.  I guess the enlarged colon had acted like an inflated balloon, making it impossible for him to bend forward to reach his butt.  His instincts remained intact.  He never gave up.

During the past 7 years, we had another cat, Oni, living here. Oni arrived when a friend dropped her off, because the friend could no longer keep her. Oni and Rodney often fought, but occasionally you would find them sleeping on the same bed, not right next to each other, but somewhat close. Hard to figure. Oni was often aloof, and would not let anyone pick her up, for years. although she clearly liked women more than men.

Rodney’s territorial behavior often resulted in loud fights, and Rodney stuffed in to the garage for a timeout (which never had any long-lasting beneficial results).  One time I saw Rodney chasing Oni into my bedroom.  Oni raced around the bed and climbed up under the covers from the far side, leaving a small hump in the middle of the bed.  She did this at full speed, so fast that it took me a while to understand what had just happened. Rodney ran in, and looked around for about 10 minutes before giving up: Oni had vanished into thin air.  She rarely wanted to sleep under the covers, but sometimes if I made a tent with my bent knees, she would curl up next my butt for a little while. Oni was both skillful and clever.  She could climb a tree at a dead run, and practiced this relentlessly.

Oni was a devoted mouser, and a cat who ate her prey.  Rodney started out just catching things and playing with them until they died.  Eventually, he started eating the kills, too.  Since both of them were on restricted diets as they grew older, this was not always a good behavior.

At first, I let them use the cat door to go in and out, thinking that it was important that they be able to get inside quickly if necessary, since I live way out in the woods.  But there were the live animals that they brought in for us.  Mice, of course, of many species.  The long-tailed ones were particularly cute, but they all were cute.  The occasional bird.  A few frogs.  And, one summer, two flying squirrels.  There was a particular pounce-pounce-squeek sequence that meant that it was time to go to the rescue.  This was not only to protect the prey, but also to prevent them from hiding under the stove and dying, leaving the house filled with the stench of death.  I became fairly adept at using an inverted waste basket to trap them, then sliding a plate of plexiglass under the basket, inverting it, and bringing them outside.  Usually, this only took 10-15 minutes, but the flying squirrels were much more difficult to catch.  After one summer of this exhausting fun, I decided to close the cat door and only let them in and out by the people door, so that I could inspect their mouths as they entered.

When it grew dark at night they would eagerly wait at the door, sometimes meowing.  Once out, Oni usually would stay out the whole night, but Rodney usually wanted to be let in after a few hours.  He signaled this desire by getting up on his hind legs and scratching at the glass on the door.  Having to wake up to service him was annoying, but leaving him out there with a possible predator was intolerable.  Some nights, I stuffed him in the garage, just to get some sleep.  The door glass was always smeared with his paw prints; there was no point in cleaning it, because he would be at it the next day.  I guess I can clean the door, finally.

Both cats would race into the kitchen if they heard a tin can opening, hoping that it was cat food (unlikely) or tuna (likely).  They loved the excess water from a tuna can.  When I was in the kitchen, Rodney was often under foot, which occasionally resulted in his getting stepped on. While such incidents would leave him a bit more cautious, eventually he would be back there, under foot again.  He was eternally optimistic and trusting.  I already miss tripping over him in the kitchen.

Oni became ill with kidney failure this Spring. She lost weight and became weaker. The cat who would run at a tree and climb it at full speed became a cat that I had to help climb down from heights.  As she became more frail, she became more accepting of affection, purring in my hands rather than squirming, letting me hold her in my arms for a few minutes. She disappeared in early Summer. Whether she was taken by a critter, or just wandered off to die alone, I will never know. It was sad, but the indefinite ending dulled the pain: there was always the hope that she would stroll back, until she had been gone for so long that it was no longer an immediate loss.

Throughout the years, Rodney was ill from time to time.  He would get bladder infections and then get diarrhea.  One time he was so weak that he went off to hide, and finding him was difficult.  Sometimes it would take a week for him to recover, but he always did.

With Oni gone, Rodney became more affectionate, often climbing up into my lap and purring himself to sleep.  He had a signature move to get affection: he would climb up on my lap and then put his paws on my right shoulder with his hind legs on my left hip, setting himself diagonally across my chest.  He would not accept being vertical on either side, nor diagonal in the other direction.  Only diagonal in the manner described.  This could be awkward if I was typing.  And he did not hesitate to use his claws to keep himself in place, so I often also lost an arm tucked under his butt to keep him stable and with claws retracted.

He sought me out at night, curling up against me and purring himself to sleep. If I did not wake up quickly enough, to pet him, he would gently claw at my face until I gave him what he wanted. He would often lick the tip of my nose, to the point where it was raw. He was an avid lover of cat treats, and would lurk near the bird cages when the parrots were fed, in case anything dropped. Too bad that most of that food was not very good for his stomach.

He killed mice and birds mercilessly, which was not my favorite aspect of him, but he was a cat; what can you expect? When visitors arrived, he came to greet them: he was very sociable, and would sit on anyone’s lap, immediately after meeting them. Made me a little annoyed: I loved him and fed him, but there was no loyalty on his part there when it came to laps.  He was a lap slut.  He was not a cat that you saw out of the corner of your eye: he was there all of the time, sleeping on his various cat beds, on chairs, on beds, and interacting with you.

He started losing weight over the summer, and was half of his normal weight about a month ago.  I could feel every rib, his spinal bumps were sharp, as were his shoulder blades and hip bones, and I could feel bones around his neck.  It was disturbing.  And yet he remained Rodney in every way, affectionate, engaged, although he slept more.  We discovered that he had thyroid problems, and I started medicating him. I was also giving him syringes full of pumpkin, to increase his fiber, to help his digestion, as the diarrhea returned. He was very tolerant of these intrusions, never complaining.  The procedures for caring for him became increasingly complex, including bags of frozen syringes of pumpkin, and eventually syringes full of cat food.  Plus the pills.  Plus the cat food.

He grew weaker and weaker, eventually being unable to jump up onto the counter. He stopped using the cat condo. He would purr when picked up and petted, but he began to stagger and walked more and more slowly. Strangely, that did not stop him from going outside, sometimes for an hour, even when there was snow on the ground. He was weak, but perhaps he did not consider himself to be weak.  And cold did not seem to bother him.

In the last few weeks, he stopped eating. This can be due to olfactory problems: if the food does not smell like food, it will not be eaten. We went through this a year or so ago, and force feeding him for a week or so allowed him to recover. I tried force feeding him for a few days, at which point he started eating dry food again. But then he stopped eating again, and was not even drinking water when it was offered to him. Force feeding is OK as a means of getting a cat through a rough patch, but with all of Rodney’s problems, it did not seem likely that he would recover and continue to eat.

This morning, he tried to poop, whining, and failed. I let him outside, and he went from place to place, in the snow, trying to poop. When he came back inside, he was unable to open his nictitating membranes entirely: he was exhausted, done.  He was not complaining, but I knew he was no longer living a good life.  I brought him to the vet’s knowing what she would say. We could have kept him alive for a while through intense chronic care, but that did not seem to be doing him any favors. We agreed that we should put him down.

I had brought a blue blanket that he use to sleep on. As she prepared, I picked him up and held him, crying.  He purred gently as I loved him for the last time, scratching him under his chin, stroking his head and back. feeling his motor going, a bit dim, but still functional. I considered staying there as he died, but I was crying too much, and thought I would freak out.  I left the room. They wrapped his body in the blanket and gave it to me. I’m still crying episodically, and expect to do so for a while. It has been a very difficult day.

We went through a lot together. Moving from one house to another. The addition and subtraction of other cats. A series of girlfriends. He was a welcome and good companion, and I will miss him enormously. I do miss him enormously.

I took his body out into the woods and left it on a ledge, so he could look out, but in a posture of sleep. There is nothing more I can do, for him, or for me.


Epilog: I keep adding details to this Eulogy, tweaking it.  So, you might want to stop by again in a week or two.  It seems that I am looking to this document as a way for me to maintain contact with Rodney’s memory, as mine fades.  Amazing what memories keep bubbling to the surface.

$1B spent, and we are still unsafe?!?

September 15, 2014

This article explains how we spent $1B on technology that did not work, and this fact was not revealed until after the technology was obsolete.  If the folks who keep the secrets in our government can’t do a better job, then we need to change something.  This is scary, and embarrassing.  And it is not protecting us.  Why would they approve technology that does not protect us?  Is this all about Big Business selling crap to make money?  The cynic in me tries to find a different explanation, and fails.

Peter Bacon Hales

August 28, 2014

A good friend from college days died on Tuesday.

Peter was an extraordinary person: historian, raconteur, musician.  His ability to assemble enormous amounts of historical information, and connect all of the pieces, was always beyond my ability to digest.  His stories, always entertaining.  But it was as a musician that we connected the most.

While I have dabbled with music most of my life, Peter created bands and played gigs for much of his life.  He was as proficient on acoustic guitar as electric, and played a mean pedal steel, but it was as a slide guitar player that he really shined.  He brought not only his versatility to our band, but also his organization, broad recollections of styles and pieces, and good taste.  We are fortunate in that we played together just 2 weeks ago.  It is hard to imagine our band continuing on without him.  It certainly will be savagely altered.

Peter traveled the country, photographing and experiencing the US in a way that few of my other friends seem to have done.  And he did not just let those experiences wash over him: he correlated and integrated and synthesized. He offered his observations for others to consider.  He was actively engaged in life, on many levels.

A chain smoker in college, he abandoned that in his 20s and started bicycling competitively.  He thought nothing of a 1 or 2 hour bike ride, just about every day, and was strong and fit.  It is ironic that he was killed when a car hit him from behind.  He never made it to the hospital.

He had just retired, had purchased some land with his wife, and was in the middle of creating a long-term sustainable farm.  This is a stunning loss to us all, but most of all to Mo, his wife.  They had decades of happy living ahead of them.  What a crushing blow.

I am at the age where it is clear that I will either start to lose friends, or they will lose me.  That reality seemed distant until yesterday morning.  Words cannot express how sad and devastated I feel.  Moments like this focus one on the fact that life is precious, that each person is unique and irreplaceable, and that one must live life now, and not defer it to some vague moment in the future.

I will remember Peter, fondly and with great admiration, as long as I live.


Classic Peter, with guitar, white tee, and ripped jeans


Peter smiling nicely for the camera, while I try to act the curmudgeon.

I play those guitars, too…

July 12, 2014

Those of you who have checked out my web site ( know that I have built some guitars over the years.  I got together with friends from college and we played a dance last month.  You can check it out here:

Makerbot must be stopped!

June 6, 2014

Seems as if MakerBot is trying to patent techniques that have been present in open source products for years.

I don’t know how we can stop this, but it must be stopped.  If we allow large companies to acquire open source designs as their private and protected intellectual property, then the Patent system is all screwed up.  I wish I had more optimism about that process.  I explored how to protest this, but the procedures are so complex and arduous that I gave up.  This is what I received from the Patent Office:

Thank you for contacting the USPTO Contact Center.

It appears as if you may be attempting to file a protest or perhaps a third-party preissuance submission against a pending patent application.  Please note:  the USPTO transacts business in writing.  See 37 CFR 1.2.  Official correspondence may not be submitted via email.  If it is your intent to file a protest, please see 37 CFR 1.291 and the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP) chapter 1900 for more information.  Here is a link:

If you wish to file a third-party preissuance submission, please see the information relating to the submission, here:

If you have any further questions or if you require additional information, please call the USPTO Contact Center at 1-800-786-9199 or (571) 272-1000


April 1, 2014

One of the best discussions I’ve heard about BitCoin: