Throw Away World

The environmental movement seems to be gaining steam every day.  Today's modern life is about tracking your carbon footprint, recycling, reusing, and learning new ways of living green.  There used to be a common  recycling practice when I was growing up in the 1960's and 1970's that went away and I don't know why.

It would be so helpful these days when so many people are concerned about our landfills and our throwaway culture.  Two words...Refillable bottles.

Yes, when we drank all our soda pop or beer we took the bottles back to the store.  We paid a deposit on the bottles. I remember collecting bottles from roadsides and vacant lots and turning them in.  I think we got something like 3 cents a bottle.  I remember throwing a case of empty beer bottles in the trunk of the car, driving to the beer drive-thru and trading the empty case for a full case of tasty, fresh beer.  Presumably, the bottler took them back to the plant, washed them out and refilled them.  There were no plastic bottles, they were all glass, and there were no disposable bottles.

I can't remember exactly when disposable bottles came on the market.  I just remember how convenient it was to not have to take your bottles back.  I remember some report about how it cost more to wash the bottles than to simply make a disposable bottle.

Now is the time to bring back the returnable bottle.  If people want to be green, they'll gladly pay the extra few cents.


Mortgage Crisis

In every newspaper and on every TV you see and hear about the mortgage crisis the country is facing.  Here's a quote from a Slate article called Inside the Liar\'s Loan: How the mortgage industry nurtured deceit.

Under ordinary circumstances, we think of lying as something that a few people do. But the nickname "liar's loan" is stunningly apt. The vast majority of the people who took these loans out exaggerated at least a little. Most lied a lot. And it's likely that most of the liar's loans—including those given to people with excellent credit histories—will go bad.
Think about that for a second. Imagine a city center where running red lights isn't something that the occasional drunken driver or road-rage victim does, but where everybody does it all the time. That's a lot like the mortgage market in big swaths of the country one or two years ago.

My wife and I bought our first house in 1993.  We had to come up with a lot of paperwork and documentation to prove our income.  We had to prove we had been employed at the same job for three years. Even back then they offered to extend a loan for twice of what we were requesting.

We bought a new house in 2001 and there was a little less paperwork.  I thought it was because we had already been through the purchase of a home.  When I thought that credit was at rock bottom, we re-financed.  Each time we went for money, we were offered much more than we wanted.  Each time we said no and took a conservative approach to borrowing. Each time we insisted on a fixed-rate mortgage.

Because my wife and I had various periods of unemployment through the years, we knew that borrowing based on what you are making today is not smart.  You can be out of work next week.  Then how will you make that house payment?

The lesson is: Just because you are eligible for a loan doesn't make it a smart thing to get.


Danica Wins - Finally

The most anticipated win came in Japan when Andretti-Green driver Danica Patrick won her first Indy Car race at the Twin Ring Motegi. Here's what she had to say:
"I’ve been asked so many times when and if I can win my first race,” she said. “And, finally, no more of those questions.”
It looks like the reunified Indy racing League is off to a great start with wins by Patrick and young phenom Graham Rahal.  It's been a long time coming. Thanks to Yahoo for the quote.

Candidate Endorsement

The Pennsylvania primary has come and gone.  Hillary Clinton won Pennsylvania by 9.3 points.  There is still much hand-wringing and gnashing  of teeth over the "bitter" fight for the Democratic nomination.   I'm not sure it's as big a deal as the media makes it out to be.  It\'s why we vote.

At the beginning of this political race, which seems like a million years ago, I was four-square behind Hillary for the nomination and to be our next president.  I feel like this country is in such a mess that we need someone with strong experience.  I believe Hillary is the candidate with the most experience.  Yes, even more than John McCain.  I have spent years applying for jobs only to be rejected for not having the experience.  Why should being president be any different.  Picking a candidate simply because you want someone new or because you want change are poor reasons. Look what electing a president with no experience has gotten us -- George Bush.

In the last couple of months Barack Obama has been in the lead.  I was a little unsure of him at first.  Not much experience.  But I have learned more about him and would be satisfied if he were the Democratic nominee.  Both Obama and Clinton would be much better for our country than McCain.

I heard a lady on TV sum up my feelings about the Obama-Clinton dust-up.
Picking between the two is like getting a million dollars - with one candidate you get it in 100-dollar bills and with the other it\'s like getting it in 500-dollar bills.  Either way you\'re getting a million dollars.
I still prefer Hillary, but Obama will be good too.


Only in Florida

Topless woman says God told her to direct traffic. This is just one in a series of "only in Florida" type stories. I lived in Columbus, Ohio for 35 years and we rarely got a great story like this one. 

This story courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel.


IRL-Champ Car Reunification

I have to agree that the reunification of North America's two open-wheel race series is a good thing. The split has undoubtedly hurt the sport. See this Autoweek article for more details.
Let's see now --- Hmmm, who are the winners and who are the losers? I would argue that there are no winners. Tony George hoped to create a series that ran exclusively on ovals, that was inexpensive to run, and showcased American drivers. The IRL started that way but in the last few years has morphed into exactly what CART used to be. More Brazilian drivers, more road courses, and the costs have skyrocketed.
CART went out of business and was abandoned by all except Newman-Hass and Forsythe. It struggled along and was supported mainly by rich guys, not advertising and that's not a good business model. The new Champ Car had great cars and drivers but was forced to drive in some strange places. There were plans to drive in Korea and China. They raced in the Netherlands.
And the biggest losers of all were the fans. Like a child of parents involved in a bitter divorce, fans were forced to take sides and turn their backs on teams and drivers they may have been fond of. Fans who loved the Indy 500 were forced to watch it made into a farce.
It appears that although reunification has happened after all these years, nobody won, everybody lost. But now the best days of open wheel racing is ahead.


Broken Ankle at the Theme Parks

It looks like some theme park visitors got a little more than they bargained for in the first quarter of 2008. This snippet from the Orlando Sentinel,
...a 50-year-old man who said he injured his neck and spine on the Mach V ride at Wet ‘n Wild in January; a 28-year-old woman who suffered a seizure after riding The Incredible Hulk Coaster at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure in February; and a 39-year-old man who had a seizure after riding Big Thunder Mountain at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in March. 
No serious injuries were reported during the quarter at Busch Gardens or Adventure Island in Tampa, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, DisneyQuest, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon, SeaWorld Orlando, Discovery Cove or Universal Studios.
That's good because Mrs. Howell and I are scheduled to be at Busch Gardens this weekend.


Petraeus and Crocker

When I first heard about the testimony of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker I thought of the sobbing testimony of net sensation Chris Crocker. 

I can see Ryan Crocker screaming, "Leave General Petraeus Alone!


Indy 500 Field Set

The field for the Indianapolis 500 was announced today. 

Rookies include: Enrique Bernoldi, Jay Howard, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alex Lloyd, Mario Moraes, Hideki Mutoh, Franck Perera, Will Power, Graham Rahal, Oriol Servia, E.J. Viso, Justin Wilson.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Paul Tracy in this race.

Max Mosley Stays for Now

It appears that Formula One's newest "whipping boy", FIA President Max Mosley, will be able to stay on until at least June 3 when a hearing is scheduled.  The following excerpt is from my hometown paper, The Orlando Sentinel (suprising!)
Max Mosley isn't going anywhere soon. The FIA's general assembly will convene in Paris on June 3 to hear Max Mosley's defense in the wake of his lurid Nazi sex scandal with five prostitutes. 
The reason it will take so long is that 222 motoring organizations from 130 countries will be invited. It takes a while to get those travel plans to Paris settled, doesn't it?
In related news, the FIA said Wednesday that anything Mosley wins from his legal action against News of the World, the tabloid which broke the story, will be donated to charity.
How nice of him. The FIA always moves at a glacial pace but on this they should really step up the pace. I think Mosley needs to go immediately.

Newspapers Won't Die

People just won't quit talking about the "death of newspapers".  Newspapers are not going to die. At least not all of them.  They talk about the death of newspapers all the time on this website. And I just found some talk on this website.

The following is a  comment I posted to another blog on the subject. It's not definitive but it gets the point across.

There's been a lot of hand wringing over the pending "demise of the newspapers". But like most everything in the whole big universe this has all been done before -- a couple of times
In the 1920's a thing called wireless radio was supposed to replace newspapers with it's magical ability to deliver the news to anyone, anywhere. And radio grew and grew and grew until it was a "media giant"; every bit as big as TV is today.
Newspapers did not go out of business because of radio. Newspapers survived for a whole host of reasons.
The whole cycle was repeated in 1947-1952 when television came up and was supposed to put newspapers, radio and the motion picture business under.
To be sure radio was diminished and was never again the media giant it was in the 1930's and 1940's but it didn't go out of business. I can still walk out to my car right now and turn on AM radio and get some news out of it at the top of the hour. There's still a big building in New York called "Radio City."

Newspapers may end up like AM radio, diminished in the future. But like M. Welch points out, if newspaper companies are smart and adapt to the Internets they will survive and thrive. I might point out that AM radio is still a multi-billion dollar industry.

Newspapers will continue to survive. I'm no swami but I'm pretty sure that future people will still want the option to pick up some news and entertainment printed on paper for many years to come.


Our Modern Life

What does it say about the world we live in and the people we live with when someone gets punched out in line for the teacup ride at Disney World? 

There's a story in the local news and a courtroom trial here regarding a woman who allegedly punched another woman at Disney. This excerpt is from an Orlando Sentinel story

"Lori Tamplin and her daughter Darby, 10, both of Louisiana, told the jury in Orlando that they saw Victoria Walker, 51, repeatedly punch Aimee Krause, 35, in the head at Disney's Mad Tea Party ride.
Jurors also watched the videotaped testimony of Ashley Mayeux, also of Louisiana, who was unable to attend the trial.
Victoria Walker had Aimee by the ponytail and had taken her head and was slamming it on the side of the teacup," Mayeux said in the video.  Walker, of Anniston, Ala., has been charged with aggravated battery and battery."

This is turning out to be a "she said" "she said" type of case.   They offered Walker a plea deal which she turned down.  Now if she's convicted, she'll get up to 16 years hard .  If she's convicted I predict there will be cries of racism.


The New Depression

I've been wondering for a few years why I keep working harder and I'm not making any more money. It seems like just  a few years ago I had extra money for home improvements or just something fun.

This New York Times article sums it up --  no one is doing better.

"More than anything else — more than even the war in Iraq — the stagnation of the great American middle-class machine explains the glum national mood today. As part of a poll that will be released Wednesday, the Pew Research Center asked people how they had done over the last five years. During that, remember, the overall economy grew every year, often at a good pace. 
Yet most respondents said they had either been stuck in place or fallen backward. Pew says this is the most downbeat short-term assessment of personal progress in almost a half century of polling."

Thanks to the New York Times for this article.  Now that I know why I'm broke, I don't feel any better -- or richer.

Old Pictures

My aunt passed away last year after suffering a stroke.  She was my mother's youngest sister.  I couldn't go to the funeral but I did write my uncle a letter giving my condolences.

Anyway, my sister got some old photographs of me and my family from my uncle. Many of them are from the 1960's and early 1970's.  It has been a real hoot to look through all these pictures.  I'm going to attempt to display one in this post to see how it comes out.

This is is a photo of me when I was about 3 or 4 years old.  It seems like this is from was another world.


I'm Hopeless

Since I'm hopeless at writing anything original, I'll just copy the contents of an email I just got from Secret Squirrel.

From Lab to Lunch: Chemicals They Call Food
By: Brie Cadman

The other day I was snacking on some bright orange “nacho” flavored tortilla chips when I decided to do something very stupid. I flipped the bag over and read the ingredient list. Given the color, I wasn’t expecting to find nature, distilled, but the double-digit list of ingredients, many of which I hadn’t seen since working in a lab, was still disconcerting. In fact, some of the chemicals were the same ones that drove me out of the lab. (You can only read “extreme neurotoxin” and “mutagenic” so many times before pondering a career change.). What were they doing in my chips?

A tortilla chip seems so simple (corn, oil, salt) but the intersection of synthetic chemistry and food manufacturing has taken us far away from simple and much closer to complex. Instead of nacho cheese, we eat synthesized substances meant to approximate the flavor or texture of cheese, no milk products involved. Preservation, emulsification, hydrogenation, distillation, and esterification has resulted in some good things (like reduced spoilage and food borne diseases), but has also resulted in some questionable food additives like the compounds below.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not—Diacetyl!
Diacetyl is the chemical that gives microwave popcorn that delicious buttery flavor without the use of any butter. Unfortunately, extensive exposure to diacetyl can lead to a serious, irreversible, and rare condition known as bronchiolitis obliterans. First seen in workers at a microwave popcorn packaging plant, the condition is commonly known as “popcorn lung.” One consumer (who, somewhat freakishly, ate around four bags of microwaved popcorn a day) has developed the disease, and researchers recently discovered that small amounts of diacetyl can cause lung and airway damage in mice.

The Alternative?
OSHA didn’t do crap to protect workers, but lawsuits and negative publicity scared some manufacturers into removing the compound from their packaged kernels. However, diacetyl abounds in packaged foods with fake butter flavor, often under the guise of “natural and artificial flavoring.” As for popcorn, pop your own and use the real golden stuff. Butter=good; popcorn lung=bad.

Would You Like Diet or Regular Benzene?
Benzene is an industrial solvent and a known carcinogen, so food companies generally try to keep it out of their products. However, two chemicals found in soda, sodium benzoate (a preservative) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), can react to form benzene, especially in the presence of heat or light. In 2007,  Coca-Cola and Pepsi agreed to settle lawsuits brought against them after benzene was detected in their products. The suit alleged that Pepsi’s Diet Wild Cherry drink had benzene levels nearly four times the maximum level set by the Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water. Oopsy. Both companies agreed to reformulate; however, thousands of soft drinks containing benzoate and citric acids are still on the market.

The Alternative?
 Probably most Coke and Pepsi products are “safe” (who knows what’ll turn up next!), but it’s a good idea to  the label.

Gone Fishin’—For Silly Puddy
The sticky texture of Silly Puddy is due, in part, to a widely used silicone-based polymer called polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). In addition to Silly Puddy, it is also found in caulks, adhesives, cosmetics, silicone grease, knuckle replacements, silicone breast implants, and … in McDonald’s Fish Filet Patties. They add it as an “antifoaming agent.” I had to look this one up (why is the fish foaming?) and as it turns out, foam, produced when vats of liquids are mixed or agitated, is a big problem for large scale food manufacturers. Lots of foam means frying vats can’t be filled to capacity, meaning fast food restaurants can’t fry as many fish (potatoes, apple crisps, whatever) as mechanically possible. Hence the need for silicone oils like PDMS.

The Alternative?
FDA allows up to ten parts per million of anti-foaming agents to be used in food products; they’re found in many processed foods. Though not harmful at these levels, their use does increase the amount of acrylamide (a naturally occurring but nasty chemical) that is formed during frying.