Caregiver Guilt

The Thinker by Rodin

My 84-year-old mother was released six days ago from Holy Cross Hospital. We now have a name for her condition: congestive heart failure. Basically her heart has been repeatedly damaged. Her heart can no longer pump enough blood to the body’s other organs. This causes blood returning to the heart to back up, which causes congestion of fluids in her tissues. The condition can be treated but it cannot be cured. Some medicines help to mitigate some of the symptoms. She tires easily but cannot sleep for very long.

She was released from the hospital but she did not go home. Instead she went to a nursing home in her retirement community called Renaissance Gardens. It’s a lovely place but it still feels like a hospital. She has a room to herself on the fifth floor. She goes to physical and occupational therapy in the mornings. She complains about the terrible food. She had suffered significant hearing loss so the TV holds no allure to her anymore. Her sight isn’t great either. My Dad visits her a couple times a day but mostly she is alone. She feels lonely and forgotten.

It could be worse. My sister Teri flew up all the way from Florida to spend the weekend with her. Even before the accident she’s been blessed with sons and daughters who have come to visit her in their new apartment in suburban Maryland. We’re a spread out family so it’s no minor matter for most of us to visit her. I’m sure she appreciates the time we can spend with her but it is apparently not enough. She wants companionship all the time because she is scared and lonely.

She wants to be back in her apartment. She was there for most of the day on Sunday because we took her there and could care for her. But we had to return her to the nursing home by the evening. She did not want to go back. She seemed scared that we were all leaving and going back to our normal lives. “But what will happen to me?” she kept asking us. She wanted to know what would be happening to her every hour of the day and night. She had arrived in the nursing home on a Friday afternoon. We didn’t know what her normal weekday schedule would be. But that wasn’t good enough for her. When will breakfast be delivered? When will I get my shower? When will therapy start? When will your Dad come to visit me? We did our best to get all the answers but there were lots of gaps. We even posted a schedule next to her bed. It seemed to calm her down a little. But she watches the clock carefully and gets anxious if anything happens a minute later than the scheduled time. Her underlying fear is I think that we will abandon her.

We explained if she could get back to where she was before the hospitalization that she can live at home again. But it looks like a long road. It took a week a year ago to reach that point. She has a lot less muscle mass now. She looks and is frail. I am not sure if she can reach that point. Time will tell.

Most of her conversation is naturally about her problems. It is hard for her to step outside her own life. She looks confused and scared. I hold her hand. I talk to her. I stroke her forehead. But it doesn’t seem to help much. She hates the whole nursing home business. She hates having a body that won’t do what she wants it to do. She hates not being able to do things on her schedule. She hates the waiting. She hates the loneliness. She snaps at her husband.

She is seriously depressed. She is on an antidepressant and has seen a visiting therapist. We cannot wait for the medicine to kick in but we know it is likely weeks away from having any potency. Perhaps it will help her feel better. But her underlying physical condition is unlikely to improve much. She has every reason in the world to be depressed. I would be depressed if I were in her condition.

Even if she can move back to the apartment she cannot resume independent living. In reality she hasn’t been capable of independent living for more than a year. Instead my father is her caregiver. The truth is that even before she moved that on many days she was not up to even assisted living. She could not bathe herself. She usually could not dress herself. She could not make their meals. Without my father she would either be in a nursing home or one of us would be her caregiver.

She thinks we should take care of her. She has a point. She took care of her own mother in the last years of her life. My mother’s story is a remarkable one in many ways. She tended to her mother 24 hours a day while taking care of a newborn baby, my sister Lee Ann. She had only her new husband to offer some modest relief after he came home from work. That was more than fifty years ago. My mother was the good and faithful daughter who did the dirty business with her parents that her other siblings wouldn’t. She wants to know, why shouldn’t we now do the same for her?

It is a question I have a hard time answering. It is a question that fills me with guilt. My mother not only gave me life but also cared and nurtured me into adulthood. I could respond that when she was more lucid several years ago she was adamant that when her time came that we gave our own families first priority. But she wasn’t scared then. Now she sees the reality of a nursing home. The nursing home may be clean. The staff may be competent. But they are not family. They cannot help her feel better.

And I’m not sure family can do that either. We are there trying to calm and distract her but not much works. Instead she very naturally draws us into her circle of anxiety and pain. She pushes primordial buttons of concern and guilt that also leave us anxious and enveloped in her miserable world. If we pull away it may be because we aren’t strong enough to endure it for too long.

And yes we do have our own families to take care of. And I have a family to feed and a wife to cherish. My drains still get clogged and I must still deal with the ant problem in the kitchen. And I also have this thing called a life. I enjoy surfing the web at night when I can. I enjoy blogging. I like to go out and see the occasional movie. I want to keep doing all these things, albeit not as frequently.

And yet my mother is now thirty miles away from me instead of six hundred. The psychic and real distance closes. In truth she is always on my mind. Yet I try to enjoy life. Last Saturday I enjoyed a 27-mile ride bike ride into Falls Church on the W&OD Trail. For a while anyhow I was able to clear my head. With my heart racing at over a hundred beats per minute for a couple hours I was able to revel in the feeling of being alive and healthy. But then it was over and the thoughts of my mother and her pain crowded around me again.

There is no escape from my feelings for her. We have a bond of love. All I can do is choose how deeply I want to ascend into her level of misery. I could potentially have her live in our house. I could cater to her and bring in nurse’s aides when I had to work. And that would turn me and my family turned upside down. But I could be the good son. Or I can pull back far enough so that I am not swept into her vortex. But I will always feel its pull.

For now staying at the edge of her vortex is my choice. But while I will mourn her loss when she has departed this earth I wonder if I shall berate myself for my selfish choice. I know I can choose to feel guilty or not. But the guilt is likely to cling to me regardless of my actions. It seems intrinsically woven into my nature.

There is no right or wrong way to respond to my mother. I know there are some problems that I cannot make go away, and there are some pains that no balms can soothe. These are some of those unfortunate facts of life. This is yet another strange black box both my mother and I must navigate through.

I see her again tomorrow afternoon. I am both anxious to be there for her and selfish enough on some level to wish I were not going at all. I hope it helps her and me but I am not that naive. I will just step gently into the vortex for a few hours before I pull myself very deliberately back.

Needed: Home Internet Security Appliance

The Thinker by Rodin

Windows guru Brian Livingston’s latest newsletter on the sorry state of PC security in the Internet age is a wakeup call. The vast majority us connected to the Internet at home may think we have safeguarded our PCs. But while we may have the front door of our computer locked it is likely our back door is still open. In addition ghouls and other ghastly things are trying to come through the windows. And when we do open the door it is likely that thieves are slipping right past us unseen.

Here’s what we are doing at our house. First we have a cable modem that is always on. All the PCs in the house have the free version of ZoneAlarm installed. It traps (we believe) unauthorized incoming and outgoing Internet traffic embedded in TCP/IP packets. We have a laptop with a wireless card in it connected to our wireless router. All wireless conversation is encrypted and traffic is limited to a few IP addresses. All PCs are running McAfee AntiVirus, which is configured to check daily for updated virus patterns. My wife is smart enough to also know about spy-ware, so she regularly checks our PCs with the free version of Ad-Aware. All of us except my daughter avoid Internet Explorer, preferring Mozilla Firefox for our web browsing. My wife, who works on a help desk, regularly installs the latest patches to our operating systems and key programs. In addition my wife and I have enabled the spam filter on the Cox mail server. But because it is not perfect I also run ChoiceMail whitelist software to further reduce spam. My antivirus program does an automatic weekly virus check of all the files on my hard disk. By most measures we are on the cutting edge of home PC security.

But we are not doing enough. Brian Livingston says we need a hardware firewall in addition to software firewalls on all our PCs. And we need to buy antispam software that we don’t have. Meanwhile we continue to let my daughter violate security rules because, well, we must be spineless morons for parents. You see she must use Internet Explorer because all her friends are using MSN Messenger and it is tied intricately to IE. My wife doesn’t have the heart to take away her administrator privileges so she keeps downloading crap over and over again although we keep telling her not to. A frequently find on her machine is that obnoxious spyware Gator, among others.

All this security is a hassle for us. Yet I doubt most other families are doing half what we are doing. My father, for example, is running Windows Me over a dialup connection to MSN. His antivirus software expired and he couldn’t figure out how to renew it. When my wife ran Ad-Aware on his PC she found it was clogged with crap he never knew he had. We still can’t say if he is virus free because we are having a problem getting McAfee to work on Windows Me.

Enough. It’s time industry came up with a solution. We need a home Internet security appliance, perhaps integrated into our cable and DSL modem. This should be a smart machine that will take care of a whole family’s security needs. To get rid of spam it should have Brightmail antispam server software embedded in the appliance. Brightmail is the only solution out there that really works as a blacklist. With Brightmail integration it should catch virtually all the spam. But this appliance should also catch viruses, Trojan horses, mallware, prevent phishing attacks and kill all ad-ware automatically and transparently.

But it should do more than that. It should constantly keep our PCs tuned with the latest well tested software patches. It’s clear that Microsoft cannot be trusted, so appliance vendors will have to act as a testing clearinghouse for us. This appliance should talk with software installed on our machines to take care of the numerous chores we now have to do manually. For example it could keep us updated on the latest versions of our installed software, optimizing our hard disks and let us know if components appear to be failing. Ideally these appliances would be certified by an impartial government agency, or meet the current FIPS standards.

I hope there are companies working on such appliances. All the antivirus vendors should be doing this as a survival strategy. It would be an easy sell and it would be easy revenue stream for them by marketing a yearly subscription service. I know I would be in the market for such a unit. Why have a PC attached to the Internet if it becomes more hassle than fun?

Beware the Power of Kos

The Thinker by Rodin

When the historians write the official history of the election of 2004 Markos Moulitsas should have at least a chapter. His site, is the nation’s largest political weblog. To call it a weblog though is to damn it with faint praise. (or Kos to most of us — the site and its owner seem interchangeable) is really an excellent networked community of progressives working together in virtual and real space to dump Bush, elect John Kerry and put Democrats into office on all levels. In my mind it is a revolutionary online community.

If (now got the effort rolling it was Moulitsas who perfected the online political community. As much as I enjoy reading political weblogs like Atrios and The Left Coaster nothing really can compare to Kos’s site. Kos is where progressive politics is happening in real time. And we are not there just out of some sense of duty. We are having a blast. The site is addictive.

He is currently averaging close to 400,000 page views a day. This is a staggering number. It has him and his crew of tech heads constantly scurrying to add more servers and bandwidth. It’s amazing his site does not collapse altogether from the load. There are certainly times of the day (mid afternoon and evenings) when it can be tough to get onto Kos.

Kos was born in Chicago but he spent most of his formative years in El Salvador. He eventually returned to the United States when the civil war there got too hot. He served three years in the U.S. Army. Along the way he accumulated two bachelors degrees and a J.D. degree. Now he earns his living teaching progressive candidates how to use the power of online communities. But I don’t know where he finds the time to earn money. It seems like he lives on his weblog.

What makes Kos unique though is he really, really understands how to leverage the power of online communities. In addition he is very politically savvy. But what I find most astounding is his energy. I work in the IT business and lead a team of programmers running and maintaining a large real time Internet based system. (See it here.) But we are not agile. Kos is fast. Kos is agile. Kos and his team of contributors put out the best progressive content on the web. And Kos has amazing technical savvy.

What started as just another Moveable Type weblog like this blog couldn’t scale when his site got too popular. But he didn’t whine or complain. He found some of the best thinkers out there and leveraged the developer of Scoop for his site. Scoop runs the Kos site, and it is constantly being tweaked and enhanced to make it more useful.

While lots of people try to use technology to solve a problem Kos actually makes it work in real time in a highly dynamic environment. The move to Scoop, for example, was not only necessary and timely but also incredibly smart. With Scoop members can create their own diaries on his site and get them viewed by hundred or thousands of people very quickly. This allowed the number of real time contributors to skyrocket. Instead of six or so primary authors there were hundreds of authors all posting to the same web site. The whole community can read and comment on everything. But Scoop is also smart enough (and specially tweaked) to weed out the numerous trolls that can be found on most websites. It has become a progressives-only oasis. Because of the smart Scoop software it requires no moderation. It just works.

A recent modification to Scoop allowed readers of diaries to recommend a diary for higher placement. If enough people recommend a diary it appears on the main page as a recommended diary. So we have a built in mechanism to see the latest good stuff.

It’s one thing for a politically smart and savvy person to read journals, books, papers and sites, analyze them and post a thoughtful article. On Kos there are thousands of eyes constantly scanning news sources and picking out the wheat from the chaff. When they find something it gets posted instantly as a diary entry. If it gets recommended it becomes a “must read” item for the community. Sometimes this stimulates Kos to take specific action by promoting a recommended diary to a lead article.

The people on Kos are mostly like Kos: incredibly politically savvy and intelligent types. But unlike a lot of political sites these people are not just smart. They are pissed off and are taking action. Kos himself has raised an amazing amount of money online for Kerry and various progressive candidates, many of whom would not get a second glance from organizations like the DCCC. He has raised over $300,000 so far for his Kos Dozen (his picks of candidates who deserve time and money) from over 4300 donors. He has raised over $90,000 for the Democratic Party and over $80,000 for John Kerry’s campaign. But it is likely the actual total is much higher. Not everyone bothers to go through the trouble of adding one cent to the contribution so it can be flagged as a Kos contribution.

Kos’s energy seems boundless because is not his only site. In addition to his personal weblog he runs two other political sites including, which provides in depth analysis and strategies for those interested in progressive House and Senate races.

His commentary is always right on and highly informed. Yet he is not afraid to use four letter words. The blog world is not politically correct. Nor does Kos have any pretension of being unbiased. He is interested in moving progressive issues as quickly and expeditiously as possible. His eye is constantly on the goal. He is always tweaking his strategy to make sure his goals are met.

Kos is agile, indefatigueable, smart and has amazing political instinct. I doubt this election will be a rout. I am still hopeful that Kerry will win the presidential election. But it is quite possible that if we also take back either the House or the Senate then Kos will be seen a key change agent. He got thousands of us to give time and money. But most importantly he got us to care by connecting us in real time.

At only 33 Markos Moulitsas has a bright future ahead of him. He may be doing the best and most important work of his life right now. But I hope in the future we get to see him in political office. He could well be the Bill Clinton of his generation. He has the right stuff.

Continue reading “Beware the Power of Kos”

Goodbye Russ Meyer

The Thinker by Rodin

I am eighteen years old and finally old enough to legally see an R rated movie. I am living on campus. My roommate (who like me isn’t having much luck seducing women at that moment) and I decide to substitute the celluloid kind of woman for the campus coed. That was my situation circa 1975. So off I went with my roommate Rick down to a dollar theater outside Orlando to catch the latest Russ Meyer’s skin flick Supervixens.

I didn’t know what to expect. I had only seen one other R-rated movie before, and I snuck into that one. (It was Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, starring Jeff Bridges and Clint Eastwood and featured one long shot of a naked woman – pretty racy stuff for 1974.) I hadn’t seen an officially naughty film before. But this one, which featured women with large breasts, maximum cleavage and an air of impishness seemed a cheap way to get a few quick thrills.

And though I don’t remember too much about the movie I do remember it was lowbrow yet still a whole lot of fun. It is every horny 18-year-old male’s ultimate fantasy to be sought after by an endless number of cute women with no inhibitions. Director Russ Meyer delivered it in this campy little film full of such fantasies that was surprisingly funny. I expected to be more aroused than amused. It turned out to be more amusing than arousing. But it was still arousing enough to have me leaving the theater with a little buzz.

Russ Meyer — who passed away last Saturday at the age of 82 — gave the world Supervixens as well as 25 other largely unmemorable films. I gather they mostly had the same theme: beautiful women with few inhibitions who liked to undress for the camera and pretended to be insatiable. His women were women who needed big, strong virile men with lots of stamina. They invariably featured big breasts that Meyer considered great natural wonders sent to us by God for our viewing enjoyment. He took pleasure in making sure we could see them clearly in their best-buffed forms on large theater screens. It didn’t make him rich but he must have done okay. Sex sold. He knew his market because he knew what turned him on and he figured that must be true of most guys. And Russ liked big-breasted women with large curves. He had no pretensions of greatness nor deluded himself that he was producing art. He just knew how to make sexy, mildly provocative films for young male adults with high hormones levels (that is to say all of us guys of a certain young age.) But he didn’t mind adding humor and camp. Something had to be shown between the numerous scenes of large breasted women undressing themselves and throwing their naked bodies so shamelessly on us men. He could make me laugh although his humor was often as embarrassingly juvenile as the antics of his fantasy women.

Russ was arguably the pioneer of the skin flick trade. He spawned many imitators but none could quite capture his style. His films were what they were. They had no pretensions of quality. His actors were largely no-names and were perhaps more accurately described as models. His films were cheap and showed in run down theaters or in red light districts when they were more amber than red. His women were not Playboy centerfolds made into movies. His movies did not have Hugh Hefner’s pretension with class. But neither were they tawdry nor were they really even obscene. They were more farcical than anything else and consequently they weren’t really objectionable.

Now his films seem incredibly tame. Today most of them would probably rate a PG-13. It would be a misnomer to call them adult films because there was not much adult about it. They frankly were juvenile films. They tweaked our male prurient interests, made us feel a tad naughty but frankly were wholly harmless. They fizzed like soda pop but went flat and largely forgotten five minutes after we left the theater.

His was a genre of film that seems today to have nearly disappeared. There is no lack of the hardcore stuff available today but virtually none of it goes on a screen anymore. You have to look really hard to find a true campy sex film these days. Those few that come out seem manufactured to appeal equally to women as to men. Russ Meyer’s films were for young, hormone-laden men like me. In the 1970s men had to work a lot harder to get into a woman’s pants. So in frustration we sometimes found ourselves in theaters laughing at Russ’s somewhat lurid and silly films. Today women are often much more sexually accommodating. As a consequence we don’t seem to need films like his anymore.

In a way it’s a shame. His work is but a small footnote in cinematic history. It should be footnoted but not forgotten. In his way Russ was a pioneer. And he made me a content customer until my hormone levels receded. Some part of me has to admire a man so completely in touch with his true nature and so willing to show it to the world. While I didn’t quite understand his fascination with large breasts I still must say, “Russ, thanks for the mammeries.”

In the ICU

The Thinker by Rodin

It is not a trivial exercise to get into the Intensive Care Unit at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland. To begin with visiting hours are very restricted. Evening hours opened at 8 p.m. and ended at 10 p.m. I decided to leave at 7:15 p.m. and hoped for fair traffic. The traffic gods were kind to me. I had only brief delays trying to get on the beltway and navigating around paving crews.

The ICU is on the sixth floor. It is quite a walk from the parking garage to the ICU. Once on the sixth floor there was more stumbling around trying to actually locate the ward. The unit is isolated behind locked doors. To get in the ICU you have to use a telephone in the lobby and hope they will open the door for you. After a couple minutes of dickering on the phone they let me in. I found my 84-year-old mother in Bed #10 and arguing with a male nurse.

My heart skipped a beat. I hate hospitals. I have too many bad memories of visiting people I love in hospitals. The last time I visited my mother in the hospital (when she still lived in Michigan) had been rough. But I had thus far escaped an ICU visit. I expected multiple tubes running in and out of her, lots of machines that went “bing” and my mother in a fog or passed out. Instead it looked pretty much like any other hospital room except there was no phone. I could see her blood pressure and heart rate on the monitor. Her stats looked good.

“Everyone thinks I am crazy!” my mother began and told me over and over again, as if expecting me to validate the hypothesis. “I must have pressed this buzzer a hundred times and no one answered. They are ignoring me! I know I am not myself. But I am not crazy! Do you think I am crazy?”

“No Mom, you are not crazy,” I said. “But I think you may be confused sometimes.” I tell her about her low sodium levels and how that caused mental confusion. I think she heard me but I got the sense it didn’t penetrate. “I am not crazy,” she keeps repeating. But she seems to keep confusing names and times and places. My sister Mary and my sister Teri visited her today she says. But actually it was my father and her granddaughter Cheryl. Teri lives in Florida.

We talk but mostly she complains. She has every reason to complain. She looks lost because she is lost. She is very confused. She can’t read. She can’t focus. She is not interested in TV. There are lights on that she doesn’t want on. The hospital is full of noises that she doesn’t want to hear. She lives in the moment. Despite the tender care given to her by the nurses she is controlled and she does not want to be controlled. She wants to be free and moving around but she can’t; she can’t really walk at the moment.

Since there is no phone in the room and she wants to talk to my Dad I put him on the cell phone. I don’t know how my Dad stays so philosophical. Maybe it’s from spending way more time in hospitals with her than I have. Despite all her anguish he has managed to enjoy his day. He went into DC to see the grave of his grandparents. He enjoyed a spaghetti dinner at one of Riderwood’s fine dining facilities. In many ways having his wife in the hospital is a benefit: he is relieved for a while of his orderly duties. I know he loves her and cares deeply for her but he accepts this is something out of his hands. He says he will visit Mom around noon tomorrow but don’t tell her because knowing his timing will make her anxious.

Ministers talk about the importance of presence at times of great turmoil. I know my being there for my Mom meant a lot to her. I held her hand. I listened to her. I kissed her on the forehead. I fed her the occasional ice chip. And yet I mourn. It tears me up to see her in a hospital bed with tubes coming in and out of her. I want to see her as she was, happy and cooking a meal in her kitchen. I doubt she will be able to lift a pot again. I’m not sure she will even be able to use her walker again. I’m thinking there will be a whole lot more of this is in what remains of her future. She needs a nursing home. Yet what she needs is also the same thing that will kill her spiritually. Her spirit is flagging and that is not a good sign.

I play the good son. I smile. I talk nicely. I stroke her forehead. I hold her hand. I tell her I love her. And eventually I say goodbye. In my car driving back to Northern Virginia I am a mix of emotions. But I cannot express them now. There is too much going on in my life. I feel like I want to cry but life has other plans for me at the moment. So I put my feelings in a tight little box knowing that they will pop out unexpectedly some day like a Jack in the Box. But right now I am tired. At home I have a wife who has lost her job and needs support. I have a daughter beginning her sophomore year in High School and who has a birthday party that needs planning. I have a class to teach Saturday morning and I must be prepared.

The handle to our screen door comes off when I enter the house a bit after 10 p.m. I will deal with it … later.

New Computer Joys and Annoyances

The Thinker by Rodin

I was in no particularly hurry to replace to my 700mhz Dell Dimension computer. I have had it for about three years and it was working fairly well. It did have a few things that were getting on my nerves. First, it took three minutes or more to boot my computer in the morning. It reminded me of my old Commodore 64 and the 1541 single sided, five and a quarter inch disk drive I used to own about twenty years ago. Those were the days but they were not the sorts that I wanted to relive twenty years later. There was also an annoying problem watching videos on my computer. Very often the CPU couldn’t keep up with the dialog, or the video got choppy. But those were my only real complaints. Otherwise (once Windows 2000 was installed over that piece of crap Windows Me that it came with) it was a very reliable system. If my wife didn’t build computers as a part time hobby I probably would have bought another Dell computer.

Every three years her company allows employees to get reimbursed for fifty percent of qualified home computer expenses. Three years had passed and the time was right (particularly since they are about to lay her off) so we went on a mini-spending spree. That is the real reason that I spent much of yesterday configuring my new machine. This is a fast machine but I guess by current standards it is somewhat pokey. It has a 1.8 gigahertz Athlon CPU, about the slowest CPU you can buy for a desktop computer these days. But I didn’t need anything faster since I am not a gamer. I saw no point in consuming more electricity and pumping out more heat into my house just to say I was cruising at 3 gigahertz. I really have no idea if I have a souped up video card or not since it is built into the motherboard. But my data has plenty of space now: 80 gigabytes on the hard disk (plus 20 gigabytes on the old drive) and 512mb of RAM. And finally I have two USB ports on the front of my computer where they belong. Since we bought a stack of DVD-RWs I figured we might as well have a DVD drive that could actually write DVDs. Now we do.

I held my nose and requested Windows XP as the operating system. This was not because I liked XP but because Windows 2000 support is dribbling away. XP was inevitable so it was best to get it over with. What I did not expect is that I got the new XP Service Pack 2 with the computer. So I’m gritting my teeth and hoping I won’t have too many problems. So far I can’t trace any of my problems directly to XP SP2, but it’s hard to tell since I haven’t used XP at all very much.

The real challenge with each computer migration is to get everything configured just right and to move over all the data. This time I had my wife put the old hard drive in the new machine as a slave drive. If Windows were an operating system that made sense then all that lovely software I had on what was my C drive and is now my D drive would work transparently. But of course this is not the way things should work in the World According to Redmond. Word, Excel and Powerpoint cannot be run as is from my D drive, even though my versions are all legit. They must be reinstalled so that they show up on the Windows registry on the C drive. I have only found one program so far that I can run directly from my D drive: an old version of WS_FTP LE. It apparently is so old it doesn’t know or care about the Windows registry. Even my trusty email client Eudora gave me some fits. Tweaking the Eudora.ini file to show references to the C drive to be the D drive did not completely end annoying error messages.

Right now my most annoying problem is that my computer cannot talk to the other computers in the house. Alas this is not a new problem. For at least six months I have been unable to print to the printer attached to my wife’s computer. But I was hoping with XP that this would go away. Leave it to Microsoft though to take a simple peer-to-peer network concept and add a new layer of complexity to it. Now to do any kind of home networking it darn well wants every computer on the network to be running the .Net framework. I spent a couple hours in a futile Google search to find ways around this problem. Alas there are none. So my wife’s machine will have to have the .Net framework installed on it, along with every other computer in the house that might want to share files or use a printer.

XP SP2 has some essentials left out of earlier versions of XP, like a firewall. (It was sort of like building a house without putting a lock on the door!) Of course their default firewall sucks big time. We use ZoneAlarm instead. So there was a bit of head scratching trying to figure out how to get XP SP2 to play nicely with ZoneAlarm.

And of course there are the patches. There are patches to pretty much every program out there now and I will be weeks getting all the patches installed. I am sure there are patches to the Microsoft Office Suite, Quicken, Front Page and numerous other programs I use routinely.

The “experience” of XP is not usually too my liking. Life in Windows 2000 is a lot simpler. In XP they are so busy jazzing up the user interface and trying to make things easier that I can’t find the things I used to find in the same places anymore. The Control Panel is still there but it took some puzzling to figure out where the heck the things I want are in there. When I finally discovered the classic view things improved but it was a needlessly frustrating process.

And I hate retraining my computer. No, I still don’t want the incredibly annoying Office Assistant. I so have to dig into Excel’s options to turn the damn thing off permanently. I am annoyed by the dopey animated dog that hangs around when I do things like transfer files. Reinstalling Quicken brings back a plethora of advertising crap for services I didn’t want the last time I installed and I still don’t want. And Quicken still continuously bugs me about its services even though I tell it not to bother me anymore. There was one moment of relief. Mozilla Firefox is now at Version 1.0! I reinstalled it and copied my files from my D drive and I got all my bookmarks and cookies transparently.

But the new machine is still sweet. It takes about 30 seconds to boot up to the point where I can log myself in, and not much longer than that to be up and running. My Internet connection seemed a lot slower on the old machine. Now pages jump up most of the time. Despite the hassle I am already in a better place. I just wish it involved less work to turn my computer into a tool I can efficiently use. I think this is why people buy Macs. Someday I might join them.

Getting Fuzzied

The Thinker by Rodin

About once every 5-10 years a truly great comic strip comes along. My list may not exactly match yours but I bet it comes close. Note that some of these comic strips were great in their prime then quickly became stale, mediocre or evolved into something downright bad. Sometimes they emerge with new flashes of brilliance then disappear again into mediocrity. Some like Calvin and Hobbes just disappear – the artists knew they had no more to give.

Starting arbitrarily around 1970 I would say these great comic strips were (in chronological order): Doonesbury, The Far Side, Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes and Dilbert.

Of course there have been lots of other really terrific strips. Current strips that I really enjoy include Zits, The Piranha Club, The Boondocks, For Better or For Worse, Tank McNamara (and I don’t even like sports), Mutts, and Rhymes with Orange (not for the artwork, but for the ideas). Even when I am very busy I will make the time to read these strips.

I am amazed by how some strips have withstood the test of time and how others haven’t. Classic Peanuts, for example, shows Peanuts strips from the 1970s and 1980s when the strip was no longer funny. Truly classic Peanuts cartoons can only now be found in anthologies. Between 1955 and 1965 the strip was brilliant. Unfortunately back then the daily strips were in four panels. Newspapers won’t show four panel strips anymore … they consume too much real estate. On the other hand Blondie should have flamed out at least thirty years ago. Yet I still find it regularly funny even though the original artist died long ago. It is the same yet always fresh. Amazing.

I think a new comic strip has joined the league of truly great comic strips. A few more years will tell for sure. The strip is Get Fuzzy.

It’s almost in every newspaper now so chances are you are already reading it. If you aren’t reading it you can read the daily strip online. You won’t want to miss a single day.

The humor of Get Fuzzy is hard to explain. A lot of people don’t get Zippy the Pinhead. (Frankly even I am sick of Zippy’s talking to statues and fascination with diners.) Get Fuzzy grew on me. I read it for weeks and thought, “What’s with that weird cat Bucky Katt and that dopey dog Satchel Pooch? Why does their owner Rob Wilco always wear a backwards baseball cap on his head? What does he do for a living anyhow? He hardly ever goes anywhere. He looks like some college guy whose apartment consists of stacks of pizza boxes.” (According to the web site Rob is an ad executive … go figure!)

And then one day I tittered a little bit. The next day I tittered a little more. Then I started laughing. Then it became hilarious. There were times when I laughed so hard I really was ROTFLMAO. Now it’s a home run out of the ballpark at least three days out of five.

Why do I love Get Fuzzy? Mostly it’s because of the cat Bucky: the heart of the comic strip. Readers may remember my reminisces about our difficult cat Squeaky who passed away in June. There was something inherently evil in Squeaky — something very disturbing. But occasionally she could be a sweet cat. There is none of this ambiguity in Bucky. Bucky is the sort of cat you are grateful is not a human being. If Bucky were a human being it would make Hitler look like an amateur. But Bucky is not just a nasty and evil cat. Bucky is cat with an acid tongue that makes the most startling observations.

Satchel the dog is Bucky’s polar opposite: sweet, unassuming, wholly trusting, so naive that if it were run over by a car once it would gladly do it again if so directed. Satch is totally transparent. Bucky is diabolical. It lives to sin. But Bucky cannot sin in an ordinary manner. It must sin in extraordinary ways. Everything Bucky does is to bring more and more attention back on itself and demonstrate it is the nastiest, orneriest, meanest, most twisted cat that ever lived. Both Dogbert and Catbert can take lessons from Bucky.

Rob plays the “whatever” pet owner who seems to accept his fate with these two animals. He carries a look of resignation on his face most of the time. Satch of course utterly adores Rob and Bucky. Bucky wants to see both of them dead in the most horrific way possible and for no reason whatsoever … it is never treated meanly. Rob though knows how to return zingers to Bucky’s comments that skews this bizarre little world inside their apartment in a compelling kaleidoscope of weirdness. It’s a synergy of a sort between the man, the dog and the cat that ricochets in the oddest directions.

The author and artist Darby Conley can pull humor from the most mundane things. Rob’s precious collection of Star Wars figurines, for example, is of course sold by Bucky behind Rob’s back to some ferrets it hates down the hall. Bucky does it for money but the ferrets start turning the action figures into little Bucky voodoo dolls. Hilarity ensues. Bucky of course has the attitude from Galaxy Quest: “Never give up! Never surrender!” And so it tries to compound the evil deed, always with a kicker rejoinder than often has me ROTFLMAO.

It is my considered opinion though that this is not a Republican comic strip. This is a Democratic comic strip. Although both parties can be very evil a good Republican would be too sanctimonious to read the strip, let alone enjoy it. Democrats though are allowed to be multidimensional. It’s okay for us to revel a bit in our evil side. And what better way to do so than to project our nasty feelings into Bucky, our innocent sides into Satchel, and our weary “I don’t give a flying f***” sides into Rob.

I hope Darby Conley can keep it up. I have a feeling he won’t be able to sustain this level of energy very long. That’s often the way it is with the best comic strips. So perhaps we must enjoy this spectacular firework of a comic strip while we can. Its ascent may be into the stratosphere but it may flame out quickly.

Learning Lessons from September 11th

The Thinker by Rodin

The carnage continues in Iraq but you won’t see too much of it on the news or in the newspapers. 47 dead today and hundreds are wounded outside a Baghdad police headquarters. Just another day of mayhem in Iraq: the new Beirut for the aught decade.

But we are more interested in everyone in Oprah’s audience getting new cars and Kitty Kelly’s new book on the Bush family. And speaking of the Bush he and his ilk are trying to put the label of “flip flopper” on John Kerry despite lots of evidence that John Kerry cannot begin to fill W’s flip flopping shoes. Sideshows are distracing us during the main event.

Professor Juan Cole knows the truth: we have lost the war in Iraq. It is all over but the body count. But there are precious few of us Americans who understand this. The rest of us including John Kerry appear to be as deeply in denial as George W. Bush. As I’ve alluded to before it is a war that cannot be won. It is folly. Perhaps our latest foolish actions like trying to retake the town of Tall Afar from rebels that disappear when we arrive will drive home the pointlessness of it all. Insurgents are smart. They fight skirmishes, not battles with our forces. They use guerilla tactics, withdraw when the firing gets too intense, regroup and then try again when we let our guard down. They know they will eventually win through a war of attrition.

The truth is that we’ve pretty much surrendered the country. In Fallujah we fight insurgents/terrorists (same thing in Bush’s tiny mind) by launching weapons from the air at 6 a.m. and leveling houses. We have no plans to actually go in and invade the city again. It was folly last time and our commanders understand now that would be folly again. But it’s not just Fallujah. There are plenty of other cities that are effectively controlled by the opposition, including the Shi’ite slum of Sadr City in Baghdad that we foolishly try to control at the continuing loss of life and limb.

All this “liberation” and it is only costing us $4B and 50-100 soldiers a month to maintain and increase the anarchy. Our soldiers are repeatedly sniped at. August saw the highest levels of wounded in action to date in Iraq. Goodness, someone needs to tell the president. It’s been more than a year since “Mission Accomplished”.

And Iraq is just a part of the war on terrorism that we are messing up. Bin Laden is still on the loose. The Taliban is resurging in Afghanistan and poll workers there are killed. The Australian Embassy was attacked in Indonesia. Iran is threatening to enrich uranium. We learn South Korea has been surreptitiously learning the process. Meanwhile acting like a kid playing with dynamite North Korea experiments with enriched uranium. Nuclear sites in the former Soviet Union and East Block states have weapons grade material that is comparatively easy picking for terrorists but we argue with Russia over details for securing these sites. Apparently our administration can’t sort out the real threats from terrorists from the fake ones.

The tragedy in Beslan in Russia encourages Russian President Vladimir Putin to push for non-democratic reforms and to embrace Bush’s disastrous doctrine of preemptive war. On the third anniversary of the September 11th attacks one has to wonder if there is any way back to the good old days of, say, the Cold War. Defending the country was much simpler when you only had to worry about other superpowers.

I have been reflecting a lot on this anniversary of 9/11. I keep wondering what could have been done to prevent this terrible tragedy. What lesson could we learn that would keep it from recurring in the future? Just how had we become a target for Bin Laden in the first place?

The answer is simple: Israel. For fifty plus years we have supported and armed the state of Israel. It was President Harry S Truman who eleven minutes after Israel became a state on May 14, 1948 recognized it. Since then Israel has been one of our closest and most valued allies. Through our tax dollars we have kept Israel a viable nation-state. Clearly the United States is seen as allied with Israel. Most Arabs think that without our money Israel would have ceased to exist long ago.

Readers may accuse me of being anti-Semitic. This is a word that paints with a very broad brush. Any compassionate human being can acknowledge the suffering of the Jews and understand their desire for their own state. I am neither for nor against Israel. I do believe though that Israel if it is to survive it should do so with its own resources, not ours. And I like Semites as much as I like any other ethnic group. Lots of Jews are Semites. Palestinians are also Semites. Perhaps there could someday be a truly Semitic state consisting of both Palestinians and Jews. But of course Israel wants to be a Jewish state, or at least a state where the Jews are always in the majority, which amounts to the same thing. I have nothing against Jews, but I don’t necessarily think having a Jewish state is truly in their best interest.

To get some idea of how Arabs feel about Israel let’s imagine. Imagine if fifty years ago a huge Spanish armada had landed in Florida and had taken over the state by force. Suppose for the next fifty years they succeeded in retaining Florida and made it into a Basque homeland, perhaps as a final solution to that perennial problem. (I realize this is a far-fetched fantasy.) Imagine Europe and the Soviet Union provided overwhelming amounts of money and arms to make sure we couldn’t reoccupy Florida. Then imagine the Basques started pushing out Americas from their own houses and sending them to Georgia and Alabama when they could, or confining them to undesirable areas around the Everglades when that was impossible.

Would Americans be mad? You darn betcha! The Spaniards would of course say, “Hey, we were the first to land in Florida! Remember Ponce de Leon? We have the original claim! Get off our friggin’ land!” But we would be ticked and resentful. If some American insurgents blew themselves up on Miami buses we’d likely be cheering them on and calling them patriots.

That’s how the Arabs feel. It’s not that they necessarily hated Jews. It’s just that a Jewish state upset their cultural apple cart. A Muslim area of the world became one somewhat Balkanized by this new state of Israel. It was perceived to have the wrong religion and the wrong form of government. But also non-Jews were not exactly welcome. They were made into second-class citizens.

So is there a lesson to learn from 9/11 that could prevent it from happening again here in America? To me it is this: if we truly want to deter incidents like this from happening again then we have to be much more careful to think through the consequences of supporting countries. (We may be making a similar mistake now by supporting Taiwan.) We all meant for the best when we recognized and supported Israel. We Americans just love democratic states (or quasi-democratic states in the case of Israel). We just didn’t care about or minimized the feelings of the people that Israel displaced and its neighbors.

Bad things happen all the time. But almost certainly 9/11 would not have happened had we not recognized and supported Israel all these years. If we truly want to deter future acts of terrorism against us from Islamic terrorists we should stop trying to micromanage the affairs and people of the Middle East. We also need to cut Israel loose from its apron strings. If it’s a real state it will survive on its own. Is this giving in to terrorism? It can be seen this way. Or we can acknowledge our mistake, learn our lesson and move on.

USB flash drives should become our electronic wallets

The Thinker by Rodin

Over the weekend I was paying bills and reconciling accounts. Despite using Quicken I still find the whole process annoying and needlessly frustrating. Granted there are ways I could make the bill paying process more automated. For a couple years I used an electronic bill paying service called ClickPay. But eventually my credit union decided to charge $5 a month for the privilege. I opted out because I was only writing 3-4 electronic checks a month. It seemed like a lot of money for a few transactions. Quicken offers similar services. Its online bank accounts and credit cards integrate nicely with their desktop software. But these features sure don’t come free. Their credit card has relatively high interest rates. Their banking charges seem high to someone used to doing business with a low/no fee credit union. And even with all this convenience their solution is not completely paperless. In my case at least 20% of my monetary transactions would still need to be done out of its system.

I pay my bills electronically directly to my creditors when I can. But each site requires its own unique process, its own ID that must be created (and remembered) and its own password. Setting it up is often a hassle involving a telephone call. And even those businesses that offer electronic bill paying often don’t take it seriously. My ISP ( is one of them. For months I’ve been paying my bills online. For the last week I’ve tried to pay my bill electronically and their site server software still spits back ASP errors. I sent them an email to ask them when the situation will be fixed. I have gotten no response. For days the problem didn’t even show up on their network status page. Hmph! So much for making my life easier. So much for their attempts to squeeze the paper out of the process. I had to mail in my payment.

I’m anal enough to want to know how much money I have in each account at any given moment. So we carry our checkbooks around and write our transactions in the register. As check writing declines and ATM purchases accelerate the list of paper receipts that must be entered into our registers gets more burdensome. We usually miss entering a couple transactions each month. Of course we often make subtraction errors too. It is not until I type the transactions into Quicken and let it do the math that I usually find these errors.

In short electronic commerce might be great for vendors and creditors but it hasn’t made my bill paying life that much simpler. In many ways with the proliferation of paper receipts keeping track of our money has become more burdensome. When everything was paid by check the carbon copy of the check was always available as a reference. I don’t get this with paper receipts because they are easily lost.

Enter the USB flash drive. A USB flash drive is a little persistent memory stick that plugs into your computer’s serial port. Most computers these days have USB serial ports right on the front panel. So it’s a cinch to stick it in, read/write some data and pull it out. Since I got my flash drive yesterday I’ve been playing with it. The first thing that came to mind was to use it as a backup for my Quicken data. I was relieved to see my SanDisk flash drive had software built into it that allowed for automatic encryption of the data I store on it. I need to enter an ID and password to access my data.

Most people I know with flash drives use them for data storage. They take files from the office to work on at home (or in my wife’s case the other way around). But there is no reason why flash drives could not run software as well as hold data. Unfortunately there are some problems with the current architecture of the Windows operating systems that make it difficult to run applications from flash drives. (Windows wants to put information on all its applications into its registry, which is stored on the hard drive. This means that applications have to be either really simple or not written for Windows to work on a flash drive.) Firefox is one application that can be tweaked to work from a flash drive. There should be more.

I see flash drives as the nearly ideal way to enable electronic commerce. What I want is an electronic wallet. Instead of sticking in my ATM card into the point of sale terminal I want to insert my flash drive. I want it to have the current balances for all my accounts and keep details of my transactions. I should be able to plug it in, enter my PIN, select the account for payment and approve the payment amount. My flash drive should give the vendor an electronic authorization token, which the vendor would then route to my bank to complete the transaction. Instead of an annoying paper receipt my flash drive should store a copy of the transaction and all its details right down to the fifty cents I spent on a pack of gum. My balances should be updated on the flash drive (and at my bank). And I would have the electronic details of all my purchases.

My flash drive could be configured with digital certificates that could act as electronic credentials. I should have the equivalent of every ID I currently carry in my wallet in my flash drive. For example my driver’s license should be in it in electronic form (including my picture). And each point of sale terminal should have a feature that would allow me to present my electronic credential of choice to the vendor.

Clearly there are opportunities for fraud. That’s why we need to put the government, particularly the National Institute of Standards and Technology to work. They should certify the encryption standards and software to be used for electronic commerce conducted by citizens using flash drives. This way I will have confidence that the software that runs my electronic wallet is secure. (They should also specify standards for electronic voting, but that’s another matter.) Indeed my flash drive should contain the digital certificate that certifies my flash drive has the correct hardware and software for electronic commerce. I should be able to select the certificate and validate it using a browser against the NIST certificate’s public key.

Periodically I will want to download my flash drive transactions to my desktop computer. Once on my PC these details should be reflected in Quicken where I will be able to view details of transactions for micro purchases and categorize them if they are not precategorized. Perhaps it will then delete my transactions from my flash drive. But I suspect flash drives will soon be able to hold gigabytes of data so there may be no need. At some point your flash drive might be able to securely hold every transaction you make during your lifetime.

There are a few problems with my suggestion. One is that it doesn’t work well for people with joint accounts. Both my wife and I would like to pay bills from the same account but doubtless we’d use different flash drives. The balances and transactions shown in our flash drives might be different. Perhaps banks could offer a service that would hold the transactions that are not in sync on their server. When a transaction is made transactions made on the other flash drive would appear in my flash drive, and visa versa. I can see paying a small fee for such a service.

There are lots of other potential uses for flash drives. But for me electronic commerce is the one I see as a “no brainer”. I think we all win through integration. I shouldn’t need to spend a couple hours every week reconciling bank statements. I shouldn’t need to stay in an endless paper chase of knowing how much I spent by tracking paper receipts spit out from electronic transactions into my checkbook registers. I should have more granularity into my spending and be able to easily categorize my purchases. Businesses shouldn’t have to process any paper checks or wait days for money to transfer. And when I am out of the country I should be able to see money paid for in say Canadian dollars in a currency I am familiar with: American dollars.

It can all be done on top of our current computerized and networked infrastructure, hopefully using off the shelf technologies. We need to evolve beyond the ATM card and even the smart card. The USB is the first ubiquitous device that has the potential to enable complete electronic commerce. We take our wall plugs for granted. It should be the way with USB ports. They should be everywhere money is exchanged. I shouldn’t have to do more than unsnap my flash drive off my key ring, plug it in, type in a PIN, make a few simple decisions on a key pad and be done. My USB flash drive cost only $25 for 128MB of storage space. Prices will doubtless continue to decline and memory capacity will continue to increase. We need to put in place the infrastructure to make it happen. If business doesn’t do it the government should require it.

This and that

The Thinker by Rodin

So much happening in my life these days that it is hard for me to even catch my breath, let alone find time to blog. But blogging has been preying on my mind. I’ve wanted to blog but couldn’t because there was all this more important stuff! So this entry will be a bunch of random thoughts and concerns running around my brain at the moment.

First, my wife’s job with the Software Productivity Consortium will be ending in October. Has the Software Productivity Consortium, whose mission it is to improve the practices of the software community (or at least its members) stopped using computers? Hardly. Has she been fired for some sort of malfeasance? Not at all. She’s being outsourced. Yes the pointy haired bosses are firmly in control at SPC and have been for about a year now. Someone apparently had the “clever” idea to outsource the help desk. The mind reels. SPC is not some huge conglomerate; it has about 100 employees, most of them in Herndon, Virginia. People are intimately attached to their computers and their laptops. They depend on the help desk staff to keep all the infrastructure working and to get their computers fixed pronto. After the outsourcing is complete only a token contractor will actually be in the building. Most of the work will be done offsite, adding delay and frustration to SPC employees. It’s hard to imagine how SPC can save any money; it’s not like my wife is bringing home the big bucks. Anyhow the few remaining IT Help Desk staff were largely shown the door midweek. My wife gets to stay and try to do the work of four people until October 8th, which is her last day (if she stays there that long).

Meanwhile on Monday a contractor arrives to try to learn their business. My wife is a highly skilled IT troubleshooter. This is a woman puts together computers in her spare time for friends because she thinks it is fun. She can fix the most obscure Windows errors. So I’m not worried in the least about her job prospects. In fact I think we are both glad her job is coming to an end. Some company around the Reston area with savvy apparently lacking at SPC will likely snatch her up pretty quickly. In the event the economy is worse than I thought my GS-14 salary could carry us forward indefinitely. So the only real losers here are the people who work at SPC. They get to watch a stream of likely underpaid and largely offsite contractors cycle through their organization. Not one of them will do a lick more work than called for by the contract. I should know. I’ve seen many a contracting debacle in my years as a federal employee. I figure the SPC CEO must have marbles for brains or be a big George W. Bush supporter. It’s the only thing that explains such a complete lack of common sense. My wife is not alone. The employees, tired of working 80-hour weeks because their CEO wants them too, are leaving right and left. It used to be a great place to work. It’s hard on SPC employees to see dysfunctional management take over and drive a great organization into the ground.

Second, medical issues with my Mom are not getting any easier. It’s not appropriate to get into too much detail here but my poor 77-year-old Dad is being run ragged. It is good that they are in Riderwood and their life is somewhat simpler. Unfortunately my Mom pretty much cannot even boil water at this point. They really depend on that gratis daily meal in one of Riderwood’s many restaurants. My 84-year-old Mom seems increasing scared and paranoid. I hope my Dad will start getting some adult day care for her so he can get away from it for a while. I help when I can but I have my own family to take care of. In fact I see my mother as very close to needing a nursing home. Fortunately Riderwood has an excellent nursing home called Renaissance Gardens. I’m hoping her visit next week to see a shrink will help her get a grip. But with all the medications she’s on I’m not sure if antianxiety medicine or even an antidepressant would do her much good.

Third, school has restarted for my daughter Rosie, now in 10th grade. My wife and I have been dealing with all those school startup issues: new clothes, books, raids on Staples, endless forms that need to be filled out and checks that must be written. Her teachers increasingly require onerous “contracts” with students that we parents must sign. One small sign of improvement: the information form with all the relevant names and phone numbers is now actually entered into a computer. We got a preprinted form with last year’s information on it and all we had to do was correct it. It’s a small step but one of these obvious steps that should have been done years ago. All this contact information could be submitted and updated over the web.

Fourth, I’m getting a new computer! The parts arrived today. I just need my wife to assemble them. My current computer is about 3 years old and arrived with (shudder) Windows Me on it. The new one is nothing fancy because I don’t need fancy. What I do need is something that doesn’t take three minutes to boot, so my excellent wife worked hard to meet my requirements. The result: my computer will have a fast motherboard and disk drive. My computer will also have a writeable DVD drive. I don’t need a fast CPU. I have learned that fast CPUs mean little: it’s the memory, motherboard and disk drive that are the pokes. So I’m getting a 1.8GHZ Athlon XP AMD chip, which is still 2.5 times faster than what I am using now and likely overkill for my modest needs.

We’ve been feeling very geeky lately. August was our flush month for cash since we each got three paychecks. We budgeted about $1200 for new computer stuff. By buying parts we’ve gotten some amazing values. My computer will cost about $600. Rosie gets a 17-inch flat panel monitor (about $350 after rebate). Terri gets the computer toolkit she wants. And we purchased another printer because the old Epson C82 died almost immediately after the warranty expired. The new one is an Epson C84. Since our first Epson experience wasn’t good we bought this model somewhat reluctantly, and only because it got a Consumer Reports Best Buy recommendation. It had better last longer! Look for a rant on our disposable society coming up in my blog in the weeks ahead.

I also now have a 128MB USB flash drive. Boy, these little suckers are great and so cheap. (Mine was $25!) They are sort of like what PDA’s were in the 1990s: you don’t know you need one until you’ve got one. What’s on mine? Not much yet, but I have 14MB allocated as a backup for my Quicken data going back to 1992. I am looking forward to doing geeky things like installing the Firefox browser on my flash drive. I can take it with me wherever I go and have my browser of choice and all my bookmarks available! The possibilities of flash drives is yet another topic for a blog entry in the weeks ahead.

I’m still deeply involved in political blogging. I’m trying to make sense of these polls showing Bush getting a double-digit bounce coming out of the Republican convention. I’m torn between feelings of despair if these are real and my gut feeling that these polls are meaningless when other polls are showing perhaps the weakest bounce from any political convention in history for Bush. I actually woke up at 5 a.m. this morning worrying about this stuff.

It is so obvious to me that Bush is bad for the country on all levels. He has succeeded in nothing. Yet I have to wonder if our electorate likes to elect morons. Or maybe it’s the moron vote that Bush is counting on. My hope is that Gadflyer is correct and that the vast majority of people made up their minds months ago. If so it may be a nail biter of an election, but it still favors Kerry. Anyhow it’s no time for us Democrats to be complacent. If you don’t like Bush and you aren’t registered to vote please get registered if you still can. Dig into your pocket and support liberal 527s organizations like ACT. Spend some time if you can possibly find it to work in a precinct, make cold calls and go door to door. The election won’t be handed to Democrats on a silver platter. We’re going to have to work for it with every last ounce of our strength. But when victory arrives it will be all the sweeter.