The World According to Nick
Politics, News, Photography, and Triathlons... What don't I talk about?
Monday, April 18, 2011
A Question For My Married Male Readers

As some of you might know, I'm going to be getting married in a couple months to the lovely Ms. Ally. Wedding preparations are of course well under way. Anyway, onto my question. Last night, Ally and I were out with some friends, when she asked me if I had change for a $20 bill. I opened my wallet, and said no, but that I had a $5 and a $10, which she of course took. But then something very strange happened... at least based on the infomation I've received from some of my married friends. She gave me the $20!

My understanding is that this not how it normally works, and I was quite shocked when she gave me money and I came out ahead! Should I be worried?

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Bob Ridley

Today is the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War, one of the most devastating wars not only in American history, but in world history. The number of lives lost is difficult to fathom. An entire generation of young men was nearly destroyed by this war. My Grandmother's Great-Grandfather, J.H. Whitney fought for Massachusetts during the war, in an artillery regiment. After the war, he moved to Wisconsin and became a Methodist Minister, and also wrote several books of poetry about the Civil War, featuring the men he fought with, and the battles they waged. April is also National Poetry Month, and so in honor of this anniversary, I present one of his poems, from the book War Time Ballads entitled Bob Ridley. I hope you enjoy.

Yes, I am Bob Ridley, who once wore the blue,
Or what there is left of the comrade you knew;
I've lost my discharge, and cannot tell where,
Just look in the record and see if it's there.

Just forty-one winters ago to a day
Bob Ridley enlisted in Company "K,"
Signed his name with a flourish, and swore to defend
The Flag, 'til rebellion should come to an end.

Three years in the face of the vigilant "gray,"
And never off duty, not even a day!
Never wounded, though bullets with devilish glee,
Through twenty odd battles seemed calling for me.

That was luck; but as soon as they mustered me out,
I lost the old vigor, and wandered about.
Somehow I'm a failure - and scarcely know why;
Doomed to live, when it's harder to live than to die.

These hands lose their cunning - my steps are too slow;
Into camp for the winter, I'm anxious to go,
Unable to labor, too weary to roam,
Please help me to enter the Veterans' Home.

A pension? Oh, no sir! The trouble with me
Is, lack of the hospital record, you see;
No proof in my case, though freely I gave
The best of Bob Ridley, the country to save.

They say that a soldier should never complain,
Whatever the struggle, whatever the pain.
Such a gospel is easy to preach; but the one
Who gives this advice never carried a gun.

We are told that the thing for a soldier to do,
Is, to stand to his gun for the good and the true
With no hope of reward for the victory won,
Except the remembrance of what he has done.

I sought no return for the life of my youth
But the glory that comes from defending the truth;
When in battle I prayed that the standard we bore
Might always be honored, I asked nothing more.

But now I am weary, and longing for rest,
And the comforts of home in the land we have blest.
Is this claiming too much? But I must away.
Remember Bob Ridley, of Company "K."

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Dear Starbucks - You're the McDonalds of Coffee Now - Deal With It

You may not have heard, but Starbucks has decided to change the way it does things... and it's the stupidest thing they could have done. Essentially, they've told their baristas to slow down and can only make one drink at a time, while starting a second drink. Also, they're supposed to steam milk for each drink individually, instead of in batches. I long ago stopped my daily Starbucks habbit, and have only been going once or twice a week when I feel like it on the way to work. Now, I've stopped going all together. Why? The lines are huge now, and I still have to get to work on time.

Let's be honest here... Starbucks does not make the greatest cup of coffee or espresso in the world. But they had a system that delivered better than average coffee in a pretty reasonable amount of time. Their beans are not the highest quality, and they tend to over roast them in order to mask any off flavors. Basically, Starbucks one competitive advantage was speed and now they're doing away with it. If I wanted a slow espresso drink for that price, then I might as well go to Alterra, or Stone Creek where it will take just as long to make my drink, but the quality will be higher, and will cost the same.

That quality doesn't just come from the process, but also from the ingedients. The dark chocolate that Stone Creek puts in it's mocha is better than the Hershey's like substance that Starbucks uses every day of the week, and twice on Sunday. They also take the time to actually mix it together, instead of leaving half of it stuck to the side of the cup like Starbucks still does, even with their new "quality".

Moreover, I'd guess that most of Starbuck's business is concentrated in the morning, for people heading to work. This is where time is crucial, and many people will look at the longer line and simply decide not to stop now. I'd expect Starbucks to lose more business than they gain from the perceived higher quality. As Megan McArdle put it... if you want a fast hamburger, you go to McDonalds. If you want to have it your way, you go to Burger King.

Starbucks - You're the McDonalds of coffee. You're going to have to live with that.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Rapper or Libertarian?

Mother Jones has an interesting quiz. There are 10 quotations, and you have to decide whether they were from a Rapper or a Libertarian:

Which libertarian presidential candidate licked whipped cream off the chests of two buxom women at a public event? How similar are sayings by Ayn Rand and the Wu-Tang Clan? Below, test your political acumen with MoJo's 10 questions.

Take the quiz here. For the record, I scored a Perfect 10! Fo' schizzle my nizzle!

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Please Support My Tour de Cure Ride

As my friends on Twitter and Facebook know, I'm going to be riding on June 19th in Grafton for the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure with the Tosa Spokesmen. Both my mother and my uncle have Type II diabetes, and my grandmother had it as well. Due to certain genetic inevitabilities, I will likely have it in a few years too.

I don't do this often, so I please ask that you take the time to visit my Tour fundraising page and pledge a tax deductible donation to the American Diabetes Association for my Tour de Cure ride.

No matter how large or small, your donation will help in research to help the over 23 million people who suffer from diabetes. I really appreciate it.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Is There a "Broken Window Theory" of Morals?

Patrick McIheran seems to think we don't shame people enough.  Specifically, he's upset that Eliot Spitzer is writing for Slate, and that his call girl is writing an advice column for the New York Post.  In fact:

All we're ashamed of now is dealing out shame -- even to those who earned it. Yet if we don't set limits, what kind of society will we have?

He's not alone in thinking that.

But of course, shame is a rather blunt weapon, and it seems that a lot of people only want to point that weapon at people they disagree with.  Take Patrick, who directs his ire of shame at a former Democratic Governor of a state where he does not live.  Eliot resigned from office because of this scandal.  And his mistress?  Hell, she was just doing her job... a job she was paid very well to do.  But of the Governor... why shouldn't he have an opinion column?  After all, he has already been shamed from public office... what more punishment by society is required?  We no longer live in a world where people have to wear a red letter because of their activities.  Should Eliot be resigned to the poor house, because he should not be allowed to have any job due to his infidelity?  Where does shame end, and the allowance for one's ability to function in society begin?

And if someone like Eliot Spitzer not only should be forced to resign his office, but also shouldn't write a column in a major publication (nor apparently should his mistress), what of our own local cadre of adulterers?  We have a Chief of Police in Milwaukee who has had an admitted affair with a columnist for the Waukesha Freeman.  Where is their shame?  If Spitzer and his mistress should be shamed out of public office and public papers for what they did, shouldn't Flynn have resigned, and Jessica McBride be shamed from writing again for the Freeman? Of course, Edward Flynn is beloved by many conservatives, and Jessica McBride is supposedly conservative herself, so maybe that's why Patrick can't bring himself to aim the blunt instrument of shame towards them.  But a Democrat and a hooker?  No problem.

Though it does make me wonder why Edward Flynn ought to keep his job.  After all, Flynn seems to strongly believe in the benefits of the "broken window theory of policing".  And in fact, there is some support in studies that says that policing minor crimes helps prevent larger ones.  Doesn't a similar theory hold true regarding the public trust, which the Chief of Police is meant to uphold?  Is there no "broken window theory of morals"?  As I said when I wrote about Tiger Woods, if a man can't be trusted to keep a lifelong and sacred promise to his wife and children... one made before God; if a man can't be trusted to not hurt his wife and children, who he is closest in this world too, then how on Earth can he be trusted not to hurt complete strangers?  If he feels that he can break that trust with his wife, who's to say he won't be just as cavalier with the law.  And if he is allowed to get away with this violation in trust, would he be emboldened to violate the trust of others?  What would he do to the people in Milwaukee? After all, we're mere strangers to him compared to his family, which he did great harm to.

And what of other public figures on the right?  John McCain has been allowed to use his status as a war hero from Vietnam to his benefit for many years, and yet the adultery he committed after he came home from war has largely been left as a relic of history.  John McCain represented the party most associated with family values in a run for President.  Newt Gingrich is a conservative warrior over issues like the "sanctity of marriage", despite cheating on two former wives, and divorcing one while recovering from cancer surgery.  So much for "in sickness and in health".  No shame for Newt however, for he is a regular guest on Fox News.  At least Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was impeached because of his infidelity (yes... yes... his perjury... but we all know why people were really upset).  Ironically, Newt was cheating on his second wife while Congress investigated Bill Clinton for cheating on his wife.

My personal view is that those who are in government (especially police) are to be held to a higher standard than others.  They are granted extraordinary powers to be used against the people, and therefore must be watched very closely.  If a Governor should be made to resign over infidelity, then certainly the Chief of Police of a major metropolitan city should do the same.  Someone who can't be trusted to keep their family safe certainly can't be trusted to keep the people of a city safe.  Of course, when it comes to politicians, the voters have the ultimate say.  Then again, the Chief of Police is not an elected position.  But shame serves as an important tool in policing those in the public trust.

As for an adulterer's ability to write a column, ultimately that is in the hands of the paper who hires them, and the people who read them.  Should we shame people out of a job?  Absolutely not.  Despite what I wrote about Tiger Woods, I wouldn't suggest that adultery should keep him from playing golf.  That does not mean that we shouldn't use the information at hand when deciding how much to trust someone.  However, that is an individual responsibility.  For my part, I would trust what that person has to say less and I'd be much less likely to read a person's column knowing what they'd done to their family.  After all, I'm a mere stranger to them.  That is one of the reasons why I don't listen to Charlie Sykes.

But hey, everyone has to make a living, right?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009
What Does It Feel Like to be a Libertarian?

This essay really hit home... especially I tend to spend a lot of time debating libertarian policies with both liberals and conservatives, neither of which really "get it".  Here is an excerpt:

Being a libertarian means living with an almost unendurable level of frustration. It means being subject to unending scorn and derision despite being inevitably proven correct by events. How does it feel to be a libertarian? Imagine what the internal life of Cassandra must have been and you will have a pretty good idea.
...
Libertarians spend their lives accurately predicting the future effects of government policy. Their predictions are accurate because they are derived from Hayek’s insights into the limitations of human knowledge, from the recognition that the people who comprise the government respond to incentives just like anyone else and are not magically transformed to selfless agents of the good merely by accepting government employment, from the awareness that for government to provide a benefit to some, it must first take it from others, and from the knowledge that politicians cannot repeal the laws of economics. For the same reason, their predictions are usually negative and utterly inconsistent with the utopian wishful-thinking that lies at the heart of virtually all contemporary political advocacy. And because no one likes to hear that he cannot have his cake and eat it too or be told that his good intentions cannot be translated into reality either by waving a magic wand or by passing legislation, these predictions are greeted not merely with disbelief, but with derision.

It is human nature to want to shoot the messenger bearing unwelcome tidings. And so, for the sin of continually pointing out that the emperor has no clothes, libertarians are attacked as heartless bastards devoid of compassion for the less fortunate, despicable flacks for the rich or for business interests, unthinking dogmatists who place blind faith in the free market, or, at best, members of the lunatic fringe.

Professor Hasnas essay concentrates on the free market aspects of libertarianism (where those who complain the loudest tend to be liberal), but the same problems exist with social libertariaism (where conservatives are the loudest to complain). Read the whole thing.  Via Hit & Run.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009
What Tyrants Have We Elected To Replace Kings?

More than 200 hundred years ago, a brave group of citizens of a nation, yet to exist, declared their independence from tyranny.  This day, many people are quoting that declaration:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain Inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

But that was not all of what was said.  What came after was a list of charges against the King that demonstrated why the colonies wanted their independence.  But when we examine that list today, how many of those things has our own government repeated, against us?

"He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only."

How is that any different from how the Federal Government has usurped the power of the states?  Between the DEA refusing to recognizing the rights of states to legalize medical marijuana, or even something a simple as allowing the states to pass a drinking age law of their own choosing, the Federal Government has refused the rights of states to pass laws of their choosing.  Either the Federal Government has simply refused to recognize the rights of the states, or it has blackmailed the states into passing laws under threat of withholding the taxpayer's own money.

"He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures."

While legislative bodies aren't kept far from public records, the Federal Government has kept the public records far from the people.  While we supposedly have a "Freedom of Information Act", the government makes the cost and paperwork required to get information so high, that it serves the same purpose to "fatigue us" into not asking for that information any more.  In some cases, even when the people request the information correctly, the government still refuses to give it to those who every right to see it.

"He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands."

Could there be any more apt description for our current mess of immigration laws which makes it nearly impossible for people to legally immigrate into this nation?

"He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance."

Does anyone actually know how many agencies are contained within the Federal government?  And anytime we decide that there is a problem with the Federal Government, the only solution they seem to accept is the creation of yet another agency to manage it.

"He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power."

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation... For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent... For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury."

While the battle cry of the Revolution was often, "No Taxation Without Representation", all levels of our government have sought to create boards which may create taxes, where the members of those boards are not directly answerable to the people.  And between our government's lack of respect for the 4th amendment, and it's "creative use" of civil asset forfeiture law, our trial by jury rights seem to disappear more and more as every year passes.

This is not about Republicans vs. Democrats, for both parties have shared equally in the dissolution of our freedom.  This is about the powers of the government vs. the powers of the governed.  Surely, there are many abuses which the King of England thrust upon us, which our Government has yet to repeat.  But despite that, every Administration that passes seem to thrust more abuses on us, or makes worse the abuses of their predecessors.

Remember the immortal words of our Founding Fathers on this day, as so many seek to grant even more power to our government.

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Monday, June 15, 2009
Happy Monday

cute pictures of puppies with captions

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Thursday, May 14, 2009
Don’t Shake Your Baby

Apparently, people don’t understand that shaking a baby can actually hurt that baby, and so there is going to be a public service announcement to increase awareness of that horrible, yet fairly obvious danger

Luckily, the good folks at Scrubs have given the Shaken Baby Association a good head start:

If you need a public service announcement to let you know that shaking a baby is dangerous, then perhaps you should rethink parenthood.

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Monday, May 04, 2009
Very Cool Things

One of the cooler online applications I have ever seen is called “Turning the Pages”, and was created for the British Library.  They spent many hours photographing and digitizing some of the worlds oldest books. These are books that are normally behind glass, and can only be touched by people with specialized training, wearing white gloves.  But through the magic of software, you can actually turn the pages of some of these books, including an original Leonardo da Vinci manuscript.  It is quite amazing, and allows the average person to read something that, before recently, was completely inaccessible.  Enjoy.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Sarah Random Quotes

My sister Sarah just left from another quick 4 day visit.  And as has become tradition, here is a random sampling of some of her wisdom for all of you:

Delightful!

Remember, I'm the funny one, but I'm also dead inside.

I'd never seen so many men with Viagra bags before in my life.

You didn't want to go over there unless you didn't want to eat, or you hadn't eaten recently.

Everybody likes a gun, until it's pointed at them.

Some people look like a retarded monkey playing it.

I think I might be starting menopause.  I'm either hot or cold or hot again.

Can you imagine if I suggested in a meeting: "I have this great idea. We're going to cut out 2 foot pictures of sperm and put them everywhere!"

At least you're a geek with social skills.

You better get ready to lose rights to all your closets.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009
So That's Where That Was

In case some of you were wondering where I've been... well... I've been very busy this last week.  One thing happened which I won't talk about publicly at this point, which was not that hot... but at the same time as that was going on, I've been moving to a new place.  I'm still in Tosa... don't worry... but to a nicer place.  So as you might imagine, I've been pretty busy packing, taking trunk loads of stuff over to the new place, and then unpacking... a lot.

The final move is tomorrow, at which point you may starting seeing more of me again.  Suffice it to say, it's amazing the stuff you forgot you had, which you find again, when you start cleaning.

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Monday, February 09, 2009
Exactly How Sustainable is Sustainable Energy?

There are a lot of things that go into making sustainable energy.  When debating the merits of different types of energy, you often times hear about the long term sustainability of oil... especially peak oil theory.  Though "peak oil" is not a proven fact, it is certainly compelling.  One of the problems with "peak oil" theory seems to be the same problem that plagued Malthus Theory... timing.  It is highly susceptible to new technologies and discoveries, which make predicting exactly when peak oil occurs very hard.

But what of other energy sources?  Most people look to technologies such as solar power, and even to hydrogen fuel cells as a "sustainable" energy source.  After all, unlike oil, the Sun will keep pumping out energy for billions more years, and hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe.  The problem with both of these however, is that you need more than merely the sun and pure hydrogen in order to convert them to useful forms of energy.  The New Scientist has an excellent article regarding the problems that will plague these new energy sources.

The first problem is with solar energy.  Current low efficiency solar cells use silicon, but are only 25% efficient at converting solar radiation to electricity.  That's not efficient enough to be useful as a long term energy source.  There are solar cells that are about 40% efficient, but they use indium, which is a very rare earth metal.  It is estimated that there is only a 10 year supply of Indium.  One of the problems is that Indium is also used in the production of LCD screens, which are booming right now.

Hydrogen fuel cells also utilize rare earth metals as a catalyst in the chemical reaction that creates electricity.  In this case, it uses platinum, which is even more rare than Indium.  The supply is estimated to last only 15 years, only because it is not in as heavy demand as Indium.

Now then, all of this could change, just like peak oil timing changes.  The problem that's important here is that "peak indium" and "peak platinum" are coming along much faster than "peak oil".  They also discuss the sustainability of biofuels.  Read the whole thing.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Image is Everything

Normally I don't blog about cars, but for some reason this item from the Kausfiles motivated me:

Why did Honda have to design it's new hybrid to look exactly like the Toyota Prius? I like the Prius' appearance, but a lot of people don't. This seems like a missed opportunity to create a new trademark design. Timid.

Via Instapundit.  Granted, I'm no marketing expert, but this is not Honda's first attempt at selling a hybrid.  When the Toyota Prius was first making waves, Honda came out with an Accord Hybrid.  While the Prius was designed to look unique, the Accord Hybrid looked just like a normal Accord.  The only way you could tell the difference was that it said Hybrid in a fancy font next to Accord on the trunk lid.  It sold like crap.  The problem was image.

For as much as people complain about the cost of gas, the economics of a hybrid aren't that clear cut.  There is added cost to buying a hybrid, and so a lot of people calculate out how long it will take them to get their money back through increased gas mileage.  With gas prices back down below $2 a gallon (at least in my area), the economics of a hybrid aren't that great.  Home owners do the same types of calculations all the time when they consider whether its worthwhile getting a newer energy efficient furnace for instance.  But of course, there are always people who will buy a car for reasons other than economic considerations.

Some people want to make a statement with their car, like "I care about the environment".  The problem is, if you bought an Accord Hybrid, people down the block couldn't tell you owned a hybrid.  The only people who could tell were those tailgating you on the freeway.  That's not much of a statement.  The Prius became the car you bought if you wanted people to know you owned a hybrid.  And so, Accord Hybrid sales floundered, and Honda learned its lesson.  If they wanted to build a successful hybrid, they'd have to make sure it looked like a hybrid.  And for now, the Prius is the hybrid look.

I suppose they could have competed with a new trademark look... but when you've failed once already, you are much less likely to take a risk a second time.

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