LastFM

LastFM is an internet service that tracks what you listen to and creates a “station” based on it. It’s great, I love it. My personal station is amazing of course but just as valuable is the station from LastFM that recommends things for me based on my personal station. I’ve heard some interesting stuff that way. I can also tune into my friends’ stations too, and that’s a blast. LastFM is one of my most frequently listened to stations on my Squeezebox, and I “Scrobble” (send lists of music I listen to to LastFM so they can adjust my stations) from my iTunes library on my computer and from my iPod.

They have just gone to a subscription plan for folks using streaming devices (like a Squeeebox) and mobile devices. It’s all of 3 bucks a month. So did I pay up? Damn right I did, $36 a year is well worth it to me. Honestly, between LastFM and Slacker, I really wouldn’t be broken hearted if my music collection disappeared. I might have to add a classical service too, that’s about all that’s missing now. I hope that my subscriptions will really pay off once I get my iPhone, streaming that in the car will be a major coup…

 

If nothing else, the internet has been an incredible boon to my music enjoyment. It keeps getting better and better and I constantly get exposed to new stuff along the way. LastFM is still free if you want to listen on your computer, check it out!

Letterman pisses me off

Dave had Senator Rand Paul on tonight and talked to him about various things. They got onto the subject of the stuff going on in Wisconsin and Paul threw out a few stats. Letterman essentially said that they can’t be right, and he got quite a reaction from the audience. Never mind that the senator was right. When Paul pointed out that the average compensation level of Wisconsin teachers is north of 80 grand (which is also correct), Dave just tosses out to general applause that the figure should be doubled.

 

Snap, just like that, go ahead and double it. Whatever you may think of teacher compensation, it should be obvious that can’t happen. There is a budget crisis,etc etc… I’m sure that Dave wasn’t being serious, but I’m also sure it was the first thing that popped into his head. And the audience agreed with him. The real problem underlying most of our deficits is that people’s first assumption has been that funds coming from the government can just keep coming. Federal and state budgets are enormous after all, a couple billion here and there wouldn’t matter much surely?

I don’t know what it will take to get people to stop thinking that the government is magically paying for things and start thinking about the taxpayers. It’s easy for special interests to protest against spending cuts, but it’s a lot harder for taxpayers in general to rally for tax cuts. I once had an idea that there should be laws on the books that required all mentions of “the government” paying for something to be replaced by “the taxpayers.” Maybe that would help people, including Dave, to keep their eyes on the ball. Things are a mess at seemingly every level of government, are they going to have to come to a screeching halt before people regain their senses? What will it take for folks to say that as much as they’d like to double everyone’s salary, there just isn’t enough to go around? Even more important, what will it take for people to stop thinking that the money will simply come from somewhere/someone else…

Thunderbolt!

The new MacBook Pros came in today, and they look pretty sweet. The thing I am most excited about is the new Thunderbolt interface. It’s a new input/output interface with incredible speed, and it’s very flexible. Right now, most computers have USB, Ethernet, video, and possibly firewire ports on them, Thunderbolt could possibly replace all of them. You can also daisy chain Thunderbolt devices. So you could bring your laptop home, connect a single Thunderbolt cable to it and immediately get your networking connection, external storage, large screen display, video camera, and a whole host of regular peripherals connected at wickedly fast speeds.

 

How fast? It uses the PCI express standard which is the same standard that is used in the internal connections of the computer. This means that if you hooked a hard drive to your computer with Thunderbolt, you would get about 20 times the speed of a USB 2 connection. That’s pretty amazing, but there are even more possibilities. Since we are dealing with the same speeds as are found on the inside of the computer, what would stop us from connecting larger RAM or graphics processors? What if we could connect our laptop computer to our home docking station and get a much more powerful machine as well as being connected to our displays, etc. Or imagine having your desktop machine, external storage, networking, etc. all down in the basement and you have Thunderbolt connection, a monitor, and pointing device in your office. You could have your home wired with the stuff and potentially be able to connect your phone from about any room.

 

The possibilities are endless. True, the only things compatible with it right now are monitors, but it’s only been out one day! Let’s see where this is in a year, Im expecting some great things!

New Diggs!

I’ll be moving into a much larger room on the 1st. This is a really big deal for me. I’ve been living in an 8 foot by 10 foot room ever since I came up here. I figure I’l have about 3x the space now. I’ll also have my own bathroom, my own fridge, and my own microwave and toaster oven. What more could a bachelor want? My rent will be going up of course, but it is still very reasonable. It’l max out at $600 a month. So I’m getting more space and I’m still going to be within walking distance of my Pakistani and Indian places and an easy commute. Doesn’t get much better than that up here.

More odd music stuff

I had a dream last night and in it I was trying to figure out what band Don Van Viiet was in. Just like in real life, when something like this eludes me, it drives me crazy. So, in my dream, I googled it and came up with the answer. Captain Beefheart of course! After I woke up I wondered why I had to google it in my dream. Clearly, it was in my head so why did I have to go through the process of finding a computer typing it in, etc. I wonder if this tells me something about how my brain is organized…

 

Woke up this morning with “See America Right” going through my head. It’s a charming tale of co-dependancy (“Your love is like a cyclone in a swamp” “My love is like a dark cloud of rain right there above you”), drunk driving, DTs, and general consternation. It’s rather well done, although I can think of better songs to wake up to.

 

I have an enormous amount of music in my iTune library. Between eMusic, free Amazon tracks, stuff I buy, and stuff people give me, I keep adding more and there is a lot I haven’t heard yet. These days, I mostly use genius to pick the music to put on my iPod, so I don’t know what’s on there until I hear it. The other day, I heard not one, but two bizarre covers of songs. The first one was Melanie singing “Ruby Tuesday.” You remember her, right? Her biggest hit was the irritating “Brand New key” and her best song was “Lay Down (Candles in the Wind)” and even that can be hard to take at times. Her version of “Ruby Tuesday” was… odd. Couldn’t listen to the whole thing. Where the hell did I pick that up?

The other song that caught my attention was Nena’s nuclear armageddon song 99 Red Balloons sung by Goldfinger. The original is a favorite among 80’s pop lovers, but I’ve never liked it much. Goldfinger is (was?) a rock/ska group. And while their version had a faster tempo, it didn’t change my view of the song. Still, it was another oddity I hadn’t expected. At least my drives to work aren’t dull…

Public sector unions

The stuff going on in Wisconsin has me posting things on Facebook and chatting with people and I worry that some may get the wrong idea about my stance on unions. I have no problem with people organizing to exert political pressure or to have leverage in negotiations. This is what unions should do. What I do have a big problem with is many states have laws on the books that require collective bargaining through unions.

Whenever you have the government throw its weight behind any particular group, enormous distortions in the labor market and general economy occur. By making labor more expensive than it otherwise would be, people get shut out of jobs. Usually it is the underprivileged and inexperienced that suffer the most under mandatory union hiring and bargaining. Unions should be able to bargain based upon higher quality workers, acting a lot like guilds. Unions should be something that workers work towards so that they can command better wages, benefits, etc. because of their certification.

In any case, I understand the appeal of unionization when there is a class of workers that do not seem to be getting their “fair share” of the profits. Things are totally different when it comes to public sector unions. There is no evil capitalist  taking the lion’s share of the profits, there aren’t any profits involved. Things are so much more muddled without profit motives and profits to capture. How do we know what a good salary is? How do we know what good benefits are? It’s pretty cut and dry in the private sector, you need to pay your way in both wages and benefits. If you don’t create enough value to cover those things, you get fired. If you are inexperienced and can’t create very much value, you don’t get paid much until you do. Of course if there are laws and agreements in place that do not allow low enough wages to accommodate lower skilled workers, they just don’t get hired and are stuck.

The folks protesting in Wisconsin are the poster children of why people do not like public sector unions. When times are tough, it is going to be difficult to tell taxpayers to go look somewhere else for the money that is needed. True, there are some public sector jobs that still have a good vibe attached to them. Firemen, Police, etc. Most of the rest don’t have such a good rep. The saying, “Close enough for government work,” exists for a reason. . It’s also going to be tough to drum up much sympathy for a public school system that has generally disappointed over the past 30 years or so despite having had enormous amounts of money pumped into it during that time. Unions with required collective bargaining power do not seem to have helped education much.

Here’s a question. How many parents would willingly choose to send their children to public school if they were able to send them to a private school instead? I’m pretty confident that the vast majority of parents would choose the private option if given the chance. I doubt that many would cite the fact that very few private school teachers are not unionized as a reason. They would, however, cite lots of the effects of private vs. public (unionized) employment as reasons they like private school more. The private schools have higher standards and better results overall than public schools. Those results are directly tied to being more responsive to parents and teachers. That of course is tied directly to private schools continuing to make money…

 

All of this adds up to an uphill battle for the public sector unions in Wisconsin holding on to their collective bargaining power, let alone avoid the other concessions…

 

The best summary of the Wisconsin mess

Reason‘s Tim Cavanaugh sums up the problem the Wisconsin public sector unions have

 

One picketing government worker blames Ohio taxpayers for acting like victims:

“What I’m seeing here today is that management is trying to be seen as the victim here, but they sit across the table and negotiated these deals just like us,” said Lawrence McKissic, of Twinsburg, who was at the Statehouse on Thursday. McKissic is an IT specialist for the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation in Garfield Heights.

“My concern as a state worker is that we would be unilaterally taken out of collective bargaining and it is being done without any word or input from the union or the employees,” he said. “They’re just trying slam this through this committee.”

McKissic refers to “management” as if he’s calling out a cabal of plutocrats rather than the people of Ohio, who will have to take up the slack for whatever new benefits accrue to the vital IT specialists of Garfield Heights. I think this is where the pro-union movement will find its limit. Outside of Detroit, Hollywood and what’s left of the newspaper industry, when you say “union” you almost always mean “government employee union.” In the private sector they expect results. The hard truth is that where public sector unions are concerned, there are no bazillionaires to point to on the other side of the bargaining table.

 

That’s really the crux of it. The public sector unions don’t have as much to bargain with since there are no profits to split with “management.” The state is in difficult financial shape, the money has to come from somewhere. Unions telling everyone that they can’t suffer these payments are essentially telling everyone else that they should suffer instead. We’ll see how long the union can sway public opinion…

 

Oh, and another related post made me laugh. I saw a posting in a blog that said, “Obama wasn’t elected by ‘big money’ so he should give more direct support to the union in Wisconsin.” Excuse me? The AFL-CIO isn’t “big money”? The public sector unions are among the largest, and most powerful lobbying organizations out there. Anyone that thinks that this is a battle for “the little guy” is out of their minds…

Oh those wacky Greeks

Remember when Greece’s financial situation became untenable? Remember how the government tried to cut back costs because they ran out of money? We all laughed and jeered at the reaction the Greeks had to this, mass strikes, protests, etc. It was clear to everyone that some things had to change, but the public sector in Greece essentially said that everyone else should sacrifice, not them.

 

Man, was I glad I didn’t live in a place like that. So imagine my sadness when I read about the issues in Wisconsin. The administration is trying to cut into the deficit they have by lowering costs. They want the public sector folks to contribute to their own retirement packages and pay some of their own health insurance premiums. Keep in mind that those payments would still be half of what the typical private sector employee has to deal with. What was the reaction? Mass outrage from the public sector. There have been comparisons of the governor and Hitler (by the teamsters I think) and teachers comparing him to Stalin. No really… The democrat lawmakers have fled the capital to prevent the bill from coming to a vote.

 

Once again, the message is, “Our benefits are sacrosanct, even if they are far better than the private sector. Cut something else.” Someone else should pay instead of us, even if they’re only being asked for a small concession. In most places, it is the public sector workers that are bankrupting the state, I’m sure it is the same in Wisconsin. I’m hopeful that this display will further turn the voters against the public sector unions, but I’m not sure that the idea that the state does not have unlimited funds will sink in until the government gets shut down…

40!

Wow, 40 years… 1971 really was 40 years ago wasn’t it? That makes the music I grew up with officially “Oldies” radio at this point I suppose.

40 isn’t really hitting me very hard, 30 was much worse. When I turned 30, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had wasted my 20s. I hadn’t done much of anything really. Sure, I had some nice toys, but all I did was work really. Well, my 3d decade was quite a but more eventful. It started out with me going back to school. I decided that I was going to get some sort of degree, ended up getting into the doctoral program of economics. While I loved the subject matter, the academic life didn’t feel right to me, so it was on to plan B. That plan ended up being my trip to Yemen. That was enough adventure for a lifetime…

Of course the thing that has had the most impact on me from my 30’s is my MS. Like I said, my 30s were eventful! I think I’ve called a truce between it and myself. We’re getting along for the most part. MS does make me feel old, but I’m actually in a good place.. I’ve got a great job that I enjoy, my medicines are doing their thing, and everyone keeps telling me how young I look. 🙂

 

Thanks to everyone that has wished my a happy birthday, let’s go another 40 years!

Starting the new website

I’ve been doing some online training on how to use the newest version of my web creation program and I have started to experiment with some different looks. Rapidweaver is the program I use. It is designed as a theme plug in type of arrangement. In other words, I pick a theme and it determines the overall look and organization of the whole site. It takes a lot of work out the process, and I’m fine with that.

My problem is that most of the themes I’ve seen so far have been overly… designed. I’m looking for a design that will get out of the way, not wow you with how “polished” it looks.I think I’ve found a candidate, it’s called mirage.

Mirage

I like how clean it looks, and I like how it presents information. I also like it’s customization capabilities. I’ll ditch the background pattern, change some of the colors, and do something with that header to begin with. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve also thought about going super basic again with the “Sleeker” theme.

 

 

 

Sleeker

I like the basic look and the configurability. There are a lot of layout tools available to me so I think I could do a lot with it. I’ll keep trying to find the look I want. After that, it’s time for a general clean up and purge of useless pages on my site. I’ll let you know when it goes live…