Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Financial Crisis

On Friday October 3rd, 2008, president Bush signed the $700B bailout law that will hopefully fix the crisis we find ourselves in now. But will it work, no one knows for sure. NPR's (National Public Radio's) program This American Life presented a program this weekend with the scarey title "Another Frightening Show About the Economy." The program was indeed scarey. The program was played on air this weekend around the country and also is available for listening and download on the web site. Alex Blumberg and Adam Davidson report in a terrific program all about the problems today in the Wall Street credit market and why it is so important to all of us. Yesterday, the State of California stated that they will run out of money at the end of October if they can't obtain credit. Many businesses have the same problem. The reporters talked to the actual people in the credit market and explain how it is supposed to work and the problems they now see and experience. They also explain those Credit Default Swaps, those money instruments that no one knows what they are. But Alex and Adam talked to the people who developed these problem items. You will hear how Senator Phil Gramm of Texas managed to get a bill passed in the waning days of the Clinton Administration that specifically outlawed any kind of regulation with these Credit Default Swaps. This was done in late December 2000, just before Christmas and this bill was attached to a huge budget bill that needed to get passed. Nobody in Congress probably knew what this law was all about or what the impact would be. The radio program goes on to show that the Credit Default Swaps are now a big gambling item. This seems like a big long chain and if any one link breaks, the whole thing breaks down. By the end of the program you will know more about CDS than members of congress, the president, and probably most presidents and financial officers of Wall Street firms and banks.
There have been a couple other This American Life radio stories in the last few months that are also related to the financial crisis, on September 12th, just 3 weeks ago, Alex Blumberg reported the story, "Act II, Now You SEC Me, Now You Don't." This story is part of the program, "The Enforcers", and you will find it about 35 minutes into the broadcast. This is a story about how the SEC has been asleep while the crisis has been unfolding. You will find out why presidential hopeful, John McCain wants to fire Christopher Cox, Chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission. Another story on May 9th of this year, "The Great Pool of Money." This story goes into the sub-prime home mortgage mess, how and why it got started. It's full of details and enough information to make you sick. Lets hope this $700 Billion bailout works. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Build Your Own Nuclear Fusion Reactor

It turns out that for several years amateur scientists and engineers have been building their nuclear fusion reactors in their attics and basements. Check out this Wall Street Journal video. The United States and many other countries have been spending billions and billions of dollars for the last 60 years in order to achieve controlled nuclear fusion. The ultimate goal has been to have power plants with unlimited fuel and no environmental pollution. The solution was always 25 to 30 years off in the future. It was that way 40 years ago and it's that way today. But it turns out you really don't need to spend billions and requiring hundreds of scientists and engineers. All it takes is a little study and $500 to $3000 in equipment and supplies. For the more adventurious see.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tell No One

Tell No One is an exciting French movie now playing in many areas. This is an exciting mystery with a chase scene to rival Bullit, but different, on foot. It starts with a violent murder where protaganist's wife is killed. But then 8 years later he gets messages that his wife may not be dead afterall. Check out the New York Times review. The movie was first released 2 years ago in Europe and was a hit and now we get to enjoy a very fine movie. Don't miss this one.

Palo Alto Seismometer Reading, Last 24 Hours

East-West Horizonal Seismometer

North-South Horizonal Seismometer

Very Sensitive Vertical Seismometer
The seismometer data is updated every 10 minutes, refresh screen to get latest display. A sharp short spike is probably us checking the seismometer vault (wine cellar). Send an e-mail if you have any questions. Click image for larger view.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

First Pesto of the Season

Last week we enjoyed our first Pesto dinner of the season. Spring, summer, and early fall is the season for delightful Pesto when fresh basil is available. Here is our recipe. It serves 2 and then a little left over for the next day or extra portions. Serve with fettuccine and a nice chardonnnay wine.
Wash the basil and pull the leaves from the stems. Throw a clove of garlic into the pot cooking the pasta.

1 garlic clove (see above)
3 TBS sun dried tomatoes (Julienne cut)
1 TBS butter
Combine the butter and sun dried tomatoes in small pan and at very low heat (just need to warm)
Now combine in food processor:
3 cups basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts
8 almonds
3/8 cup grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup Italian parsley (remove larger stems)
1/8 cup high quality olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Process for a few moments.
Remove the garlic from the cooking pasta just before pasta is ready and place in processor.
Remove and set aside 1/2 of the sun dried tomatoes and put the melted butter plus remaining sun dried tomatoes also into the processor.
Complete processing the pesto for another minute or 2.

Now dish out the pasta and place a nice portion of the Pesto on pasta and then place the reserved sun dried tomatoes on the very top of the Pesto.


Serve with French bread.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

FCC Hearing on Network Neutrality

On April 17, 2008, the Federal Communications Commission held an en banc hearing at Stanford University. The subject of hearing was "Broadband Network Management Practices." A month earlier, the FCC held a similar meeeting at Harvard University. Comcast got embarassed at that meeting when it turned out that they paid people just to fill a seat in order to keep others from finding a seat. Not to worry, there was plenty of available seats for this meeting. I ate my lunch outside the auditorium before the meeting started and listened to the Raging Grannies. They were singing songs all related to keeping a neutral internet and all very appropriate for this meeting.

Chairman Martin opened the meeting by reading a letter from Ms. Anna Eshoo, our local congresswoman. Ms. Eshoo said that non-discrimination and internet neutrality is very important and that we all must vigilent to make sure that happens. All 5 FCC members spoke, each with a slightly different take on the subject. The issue that brought the FCC to Stanford was the report by Robert Topolski, a Software Quality Engineer, that stated Comcast, his ISP (Internet Service Provider) was sending out IP Reset messages that stopped the uploading and downloading of files using BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer (P2P) communication protocol. Comcast along with 20 other ISPs were invited to this meeting, but only one showed up, Brett Glass, CEO of out of Laramie WY. BitTorrent and other P2P file sharing operations work by spreading the files amongst the users as opposed to a central server farm where the data is stored on central servers, e.g., YouTube, Picassa, etc. These operations pay for the connection to the internet. This is where the problem comes up. P2P users do not pay their ISP for service as a server farm. An individual may sign up for a 6Mbit/sec service, but that rate is not guaranteed at all times or an average rate that is close to this 6Mbit rate. Comcast got into trouble because they were sending out IP Resets for specific applications ( an IP Reset will stop a file operation). Their service agreement never mentioned this. It seemed there was a concensus that ISPs should not differentiate amongst the internet applications the user uses. Also resets are not a standard protocol for controlling internet messages and should not be used. The ISP should just slow down the data pipe when the network is too busy to handle the required tasks. This is the so-called Network Neutrality issue. What needs to happen is that the FCC needs to make sure the ISPs keep from locking out certain applications they find with high traffic. It seems that P2P users also need to pay more money for their monthly internet service. The entire meeting can be viewed or listened at and then click on the April 17, 2008 item of your choice. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

DTV is Coming

The United States federal government is going to shut off your television viewing after February 17, 2009 if you have an analog television and receive the signal over the air with an antenna ( rabbit ears or roof style). That's the date that the federal government has mandated that all high power TV stations must turn off their analog signal and broadcast only DTV (Digital Television). And if you have an analog TV (unless your TV was purchased in the last couple years, it is analog) and don't have cable or satellite reception you will need a DTV converter box. The converter box converts the DTV signal to an analog signal so that your old TV can display the picture and sound. The government has set up a coupon program to help defray the cost of the DTV converter box. Your household can receive 2 coupons worth $40 each towards the purchase of 2 DTV converter boxes and all you need to do is go to or call 1-888-388-2009. The DTV2009 web site is full of information with answers to all your questions regarding DTV and the coupon program. Another useful web site is DTV. This is an FCC site with lots of information for consumers, an outreach toolkit, publications on DTV, and the rules and regulations regarding DTV.
The FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) are both very concerned that many people in the United States will not be ready for the transition to DTV on Feb. 17, 2009. People are going to be very angry when their TV does not work on February 18, 2009. But that's what will happen unless a DTV converter is installed to receive over the air signals. Anybody with cable or satellite service do not need to do anything, they are all set. The FCC held a workshop on April 1, 2008 where their concerns on the public readiness was raised, you can view the workshop at DTV Television Consumer Education Workshop Focusing on Low Income Consumers and click on the April 1, 2008 item. The workshop is excellent with many ideas for out-reach solutions. Check it out. Please add a comment or send an e-mail with your concerns and questions.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fingerling Potatoes are Here

A couple weeks ago as I was strolling through the produce area at my local Costco looking for blueberries I saw out of the corner of my eye, bags of fingerling potatoes. I just found my blueberries and left. However after thinking about what my eye had seen, I went back and picked up a bag of MountainKing fingerling potatoes and what a find. The price was $4.99 for a 5 pound bag. So far we have roasted the cute guys using 2 of the recipes on the Mountain King web site. But don't necessarily follow the recipes as shown there. We made Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes and Honey-Dijon Roasted Fingerlings. Below is our modified Honey-Dijon Fingerling Potatoes recipe. The main difference is to salt and pepper to taste and double the mustard amount. The original recipe called for way too much salt. The potatoes are very tasty and have creamy nutty texture and very different from using russet potatoes.

Honey-Dijon Roasted Fingerlings (serves 2)
  • 1 pound MountainKing Assorted Fingerling Potatoes

  • 2 TBS Olive oil

  • 2 TBS Dijon mustard

  • 1 TBS honey

  • 1 TBS chives, fresh, chopped

  • salt and pepper to taste


  • Preheat oven to 425ºF. Wash fingerling potatoes in cool water, pat dry, and set aside.

  • In a large mixing bowl toss together olive oil, salt, pepper, mustard, and honey. Add fingerlings to mixture and coat each potato well. Transfer fingerlings to a 13 x 9 baking dish.

  • Place in center of oven and bake fingerling potatoes uncovered 25 to 30 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork.

  • Garnish with chopped chives and serve immediately.

Check out the other recipes we welcome comments.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ordered Your TV Converter Box Coupons Yet?

We received our 2 coupons last week. For those people that still get their TV signal from an antenna (Over the Air) and still have the old style analog TVs such as us, will need a converter box to convert the digital signal to an analog one after Feb. 17, 2009. The federal government has a web site where you can order 2 coupons that are worth $40 each to offset the cost of the converter that you will need to purchase. We ordered ours on January 2, 2008 and received them on March 14th. I went and purchased the Zenith DTT900, the price was $59.95 and so with the coupon the real cost was only $19.95. I hooked up the box to the TV was quite impressed with performance. Some of our TV channels display multipath interference, but with the converter all that distortion is gone. Also there is no 60 cycle interference from power lines. That interference shows up as 2 bars with white spots across the screen. Another advantage of watching digital TV is that more channels are available. With the old analog television, each station had one channel to broadcast on and that was it. But now with digital television, there is the capability to broadcast more channels in the same frequency space. Some PBS stations broadcast up to 5 channels. Commercial stations seem to have a channel just for weather reports besides the normal channel material. I'm sure the stations are doing experimenting just to figure out how to use this new capability. But remember, if you get your TV from cable or satellite or already have a digital TV you don't need to do anything. If you have any questions, just leave a comment.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Michael Clayton

We just finished watching the movie Michael Clayton on DVD. Oh what a thriller it is. Michael Clayton is an attorney working for a law firm, but he hasn't really moved up ladder very much. He is not a trial attorney, but his specialty is cleaning up for clients after they get in trouble. He call himself a janitor. I don't want to say any more, but this a real thriller and never a dull moment. This is the best movie we have seen so far this year. One of the nice features of watching a movie on a DVD is the Extra Features that come with disk. So be sure to click on the Extra Features and turn on the Commentary to hear the director discuss how the movie was made and hear about what the director was thinking for putting the various scenes together. George Clooney plays Michael Clayton and supporting actress Tilda Swinton won an Oscar for her performance. The movie was written and directed by Tony Gilroy.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Blueberry Rhubarb Crisp

Spring is almost here and fresh rhubarb has been available for the last few weeks and with blueberries from Chile, this is the perfect time to combine the 2. Yesterday we put together a recipe for Blueberry Rhubarb Crisp. It is sooo good and better than any strawberry rhubarb combination.
1. Combine the filling in a large bowl.
3 cups chopped (3/8 -1/2in. long) rhubarb
1 1/2 cups washed fresh blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp mace
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
Mix well and set aside.

2. Combine the topping in a large bowl.
1 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
dash of salt
Mix well and set aside.

3. Pour the filling into a 8x8x2 inch dish. Now add the topping and make sure that all the filling is covered by the topping.

4. Place the dish in a pre-heated 350ºF oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. You should see the fruit bubbling.

Good eating.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Wire...Season 4

Now we have to wait a year or more in order to get our own The Wire fix again. We just finished watching the last episode of Season 4 of The Wire. Season 4 has the secondary thread of the education system. Dukie, Randy, Namond, and Michael are 8th grade middle school kids and are followed from the waining days of summer vacation to the Christmas season over 13 episode. There is also a mayor's election thrown in too. The street drug scene is still the main thread. It was both a joy and also sad to watch the 4 kids grow but also fall too. Can't wait to see Season 5. If you are new to The Wire, be sure to start at Season 1 and check out the Extra Features on the DVD. Here you get to hear what the writers, directors, and actors were thinking when they work on The Wire. Terry Gross interviewed David Simon, the creator of The Wire on Thursday March 6, 2008. David talks about how and why The Wire came together. As usual Terry asks the questions we would ask. Click here to listen.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Blu-ray is the Winner

Today Toshiba Corporation announced that it was pulling the plug on it's HD DVD format for high-definition DVDs. In the early 80's, Sony lost the battle between their Betamax and VHS. But this time Sony won with their Blu-ray format. Blu-ray DVDs have more storage capacity and may have more features. So if you are the market for a DVD player for your HDTV, don't purchase a HD DVD player. They are are probably going to get very cheap now, but don't be tempted. Microsoft had chosen HD DVD for their OS's and will now have to come over to Blu-ray.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Walk in the Woods

For Valentines Day, my folks decided to do something different. They took a noon walk in the woods.
I stayed home.
Mushrooms popping up on the trail.

A Tree on the Trail.

Lunch for two.

What a perfect valentines day. The noon sun was warm, birds chirping across the way and nobody around.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Wire...Season 3

We just finished watching Season 3 of The Wire. I must say that Season 3 was best so far, but haven't seen season 4 or 5. Local politics play the new thread for Season 3. As usual the acting, writing, and directing are excellent. The faces, the eyes, and the characters are exceptional. It's like Masterpiece Theatre, really! There are night scenes that you would say are right out of Dickens. When you watch the episodes on DVD, be sure you watch the narratives of an episode when available, check the Extra Features. This is where you hear the writer and/or directors discuss what they had in mind for a particular episode.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Preparing a Fresh Pomegranate-a Video

Check out this video on the step by step method to get to the succulent seeds of the pomegranate. All done without water, rubber gloves, or staining your hands.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Fresh Blueberries are Here

Fresh blueberries are here now. They are from Chile and are sweet and full of flavor. Costco has them in a large container for $6.99. They are perfect for blueberry pie, blueberry crisp, how about on your breakfast cereal or just eating out of hand. Try them.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Black Beans and Rice

It was still cold and rainy last week and Molly of Orangette reminded me of Brazilian Black Bean soup from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook. Here is a modification of that recipe.

Brazilian Black Bean Soup
3 15 oz. cans of good quality black beans, drain liquid.
1 14 oz. can chicken stock.
Bring to a boil and then cover and lower heat to minimum.
Cook 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
As above is cooking, sauté the following:
1 or 2 Turkey Andouille Sausages (Wellshire), 3 oz. each. Remove the skin and crumble the sausage with thumb and fingers. Sauté with a little olive oil. When crisp on edges remove from heat and place in bowl. These are spicey sausages, feel free to substitute.
Next sauté the following in the same pan.
1 onion, chopped.
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped.
1 carrot, chopped.
1 stalk, celery, chopped.
1 bell pepper, chopped, green or red.
2 TBS olive oil.
Add a little chicken stock as required to keep saute moist.
When onions and celery are nice and soft add:
1 tsp Coriander.
2 tsp Cumin.
The sausage sauté from above.
Cook 10 minutes more and add sauté to cooking beans.
Now add the following:
1 orange, peeled, seeded, and cut in small pieces.
1/2 cup orange juice.
1/4 cup white wime.
1/4 tsp black pepper.
1/4 tsp cayenne.
1 tsp lemon juice.
Now check the soup, if too thick, add a little chicken stock. To make it thicker, purée a cup or so in a food processor or blender.
Serve with rice and a hearty Syrah.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Winter Vegetables-Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are a winter vegetable and seem to be at their peak now in flavor and quality. Last Monday they looked so good at the market, my guy had to get them. Brussels sprouts is a vegetable that doesn't that much respect. Maybe it's the way they are prepared. Typically they cooked in water for a long time and then they stink and just not very interesting. A few days before last Thanksgiving, Mollie Katzen of Moosewood cookbook fame was interviewed on NPR and she had this recipe for the sprouts.
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Trim the stem.
3. Slice the sprouts in half.
4. Place Brussels sprouts on cookie sheet and add a tablespoon or so olive oil and a dash of salt.
5. Use you hands to spread the oil and salt on all the sprouts.
6. Place the flat side of the sprouts against the cookie sheet.
7. Place in oven for 10 minutes.
8. Toss the sprouts and place in oven for 5 minutes more.

That's it. In the process of trimming and and slicing in half, you will find that there will be some individual sprout leaves. These will melt in your mouth like a potato chip. Oh, they are so good.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Winter Fruit

Today it was cold and rainy at the local produce market. Now is the time to taste the Best of the Winter Fruit. Texas grapefruit, navel oranges, tangeloes, and pomegranates are at their peak of flavor. Pomegranates have that exotic flavor just right for salads or just snacking out of hand. When selecting pomegranates look for a fruit free of soft spots. But how do you prepare and use the fruit? Some people suggest cutting the fruit in half and then pulling the juice nuggets apart under water. Here we will suggest a method without water and nuggets are not lost from knife cutting. First, use a sharp knife and make a shallow cut around the waist of the pomegranate. Cut only about 1/8 inch deep. Next stick your finger nails in the cut and separate the pomegranate into 2 halves. You can also use a knife and use it as a wedge to separate the 2 halves, but don't go deeper than 1/8 inch. The next part is easier. Take one of the halves and break into 2 quarter sections.

Next take one of the sections and use your thumb to gently remove the nuggets from fruit webbing. The particles come out easy without damaging the nuggets. And finally pick out the few web pieces that may have fallen off.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Fabric of America, by Andro Linklater

The Fabric of America, by Andro Linklater.
He tells the interesting story of how some of the early state borders were formed. Much of the story is about the work of Andrew Ellicott. He was very good with math and knew spherical geometry. With the simple tools he had in the late 1700s, he was able to achieve extraordinary accuracy. Ellicott established the SW corner of Pennsylvania in 1784. For timing he used the positions of the moons of Jupiter. Using GPS today you will find that Ellicott’s and GPS’ position are only 23 feet apart. Have you ever wondered why Minnesota has that point sticking up on it’s northern border with Canada. In a private communication with the author, it all goes back to the “Treaty of Paris”, that declared the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. In words the treaty states that the border with Canada goes through the “middle of Lake of the Woods” and the 49th parallel. At the time, it was assumed or thought that the 49th parallel went through the middle of Lake of the Woods. Thirty years later it was discovered that the 49th parallel was well south of the “middle of the lake.” Rather than renegotiating the treaty they just accepted the original treaty and it’s words.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mexican Coke

Mexican Coke is made from cane sugar and not corn syrup as Coke made in the US. The Mexican Coke has a better flavor, it seems ‘sharper.’ Whatever that means. We can purchase this locally from Costco in a 24 bottle case. It is about 3 time the cost USA Coke. Try it if can find it. Let us know how you like it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Wire

The HBO television series The Wire has some critics declaring this is the best TV series of all times. We starting watching Season 1 a few weeks ago. It has excellent script, directing, and acting. Sometimes the good guys screwup and sometimes the bad guys do good things. I seems very realistic. The first season covers the drug trade in Baltimore, second season details the problems on the waterfront when jobs go away. The third covers the politics and the fourth handles education issues. The 5th season that just started last week is the last and covers the newspaper industry. If you are a new comer to The Wire, be sure to start with season 1 on DVD. Listen carefully!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thursday Night Special (ground turkey sauté)

This recipe is an alternative to 'Sloppy Joes'.
Serves 4 and preparation time is about 1 hour.

1 lb. ground turkey thigh (dark meat)
1 medium onion (chopped)
2-3 stalks celery (chopped)
2 TBS olive oil
4-5 Shiitaki mushrooms (sliced)
1 14-ounce can chicken stock
1/4 cup dry white wine

Start the sauté by browning the ground turkey with the olive oil. Next add the chopped onions, celery, and sliced mushrooms. Add a little chicken stock and wine when the sauté gets dry. The cook is welcome to sample the wine as one works.

Continue cooking until onions and celery are soft and slightly browned. Continue to add chicken stock and wine and add the following ingredients.
1/4 green bell pepper (chopped)
1/4 red bell pepper (chopped)
2 Jalapeno peppers, remove webbing and seeds and chop finely. Protect hands with rubber surgical gloves.
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tsp capers
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp cumin, you may want to add a little more
1 tsp tarragon
2 tsp Balsamic vinegar
2 tsp cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Add more wine and chicken stock as required and now add the following.
4-6 sun-dried tomatoes (finely chopped)
2 heaping TBS Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp tomato paste
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Continue cooking for another 15-20 minutes at low-medium heat.
At the very end add the following:
1 chopped plum tomato
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Serve on whole-wheat hamburger buns.
Suggested wine: a nice pinot noir or sparkling wine. Feel free to modify the recipe to your liking and how you Feel today.


Are you ready for February 17, 2009? That’s the day that over-the-air analog television stops. You won’t be able to watch TV if you have a regular TV unless you have cable or satellite service. We hear that that most people have cable, but we don’t. In the next year or so we may upgrade to a digital TV. Conversion boxes will be available in late February or March 2008 in order to use your regular TV for over-the-air digital TV. Forty dollar coupons are available from the federal government ( 24 hour hotline 888-388-2009) to help pay for the conversion boxes. EchoStar Holdings will be selling a converter box for $39.99 and qualifies for using the coupon, so your converter box will be free. What are you doing for the digital conversion?