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July 29, 2011

ISP Coercion

I have grown to hate something since I moved to my present location, outside of the US: ISPs are now using your IP address to "better service" customers by providing them with pages and language preferences typical to the IP address location. The problem is that I'm an American living in a foreign country. I don't want to see the Canadian web page or have my pages default to UK English automatically!

The big catch seems to be that there is no way to turn this feature off that I can find. It is automated in the background, as a "convenience" to users, with no way to set and keep your own default. I now have pages that are telling me that "theater" is incorrectly spelled because it is not "theatre." Ahem, actually both are English and both are correct, damn it! I have sports pages I frequent defaulting to the ".ca" extension instead of the ".com" one, and giving me splash pages of hockey and soccer over American football, baseball, and basketball. Hell, even when I follow a link to, the site displays a warning about how there are two versions, the American and the Canadian, and didn't I really mean to go to the Canadian one? No, God damn it!

I expect certain sites, like providers of content, to screw me because I'm in Canada and the CRTC rules won't allow me to watch whatever I want via American content providers; that's stupid and short-sighted, but fine. But I do NOT want my ISPs and content providers assuming, just because I'm using a foreign IP address that I MUST need UK English and Canadian features, or take me to a Canadian site that may or may not have the article(s) I want to read! Haven't these people ever heard of expatriates? Haven't they ever been on vacation in a foreign country, even if it is just a quick trip to Vancouver or short hop to Tijuana? If they did, weren't they frustrated by the IP address used in that foreign country not giving them the sites and information they wanted and were accustomed to?

Somewhere in my browers or on each individual site, I want to tell them my nationality or my site/language preferences, or something, that will override the IP address info and allow me to see what I want to see (within legal limits, of course).

Is that so freaking hard to do or understand?

July 19, 2011

Parenting Is Hard Work

Being a parent is hard work. You are responsible for making this little human being into a worthwhile and productive member of society. I am not a parent, but I watch other parents (especially my friends who are), and I observe which parents have respectful, intelligent, and productive children and which do not. This shows me that there are many different techniques and styles of parenting, and some are more successful than others. When left with children (either babysitting or when parents briefly leave the child in my care while they take care of something else in the house), I then try to put into practice what I've learned through observation. For the most part, those practices that I observe in the successful parents work and keep the children manageable, calm, and invested in whatever we are doing.

What I have noted is that those parents who provide boundaries, are consistent in what they want, and provide reasonable expectations, punishments, and rewards seem to have the "best," most well-behaved, and respectful children. These children also frequently come across as more intelligent than other children as a result (they speak in full sentences, reason well, and are polite).

I was recently around some parents. In one case, the mother and father always seemed to be overwhelmed by each situation that the child brought about. They were not consistent in their punishment or expectations, but were consistent in rewarding the child. Three examples:
  • Child wanted a balloon. Mother said no. Child started screaming and whining. Mother "explained" to the child why he couldn't have one. Child continued screaming until the mother relented and gave the child a balloon. Result: Child was rewarded with what he wanted and learned that mother's "No" is meaningless.
  • Mother told child that he could have one cupcake. Child didn't want the cupcake; he only wanted the frosting. Child then reached for a second cupcake. I said no, trying to back up the mother's stated rule while she was busy with someone else. Mother asked me not to interfere with the child's parenting, proceeded to explain to the child why he couldn't have another cupcake, and then rewarded him with a piece of birthday cake (which he promptly ate all of the frosting off of and ignored). Result: Child was rewarded with something even better than what he wanted and learned that mother's (and my) "No" is meaningless.
  • Child started opening a birthday gift prior to when the parents wanted him to. First one parent (mother) and then the other (father) told the child No and that he must wait. After the father said no, the child went screaming into the house, found the mother, who then came out and said, "Let him open one, what can it hurt?" I got up to leave, saying, "He won't stop at one." Sure enough, the child screamed and cried until they relented and let him open all of his presents right then. Result: Child was rewarded with what he wanted and reinforced that parents "No" is meaningless.
In each case, the parents presented a boundary, but neither of them enforced it with some sort of punishment (other than a lecture that the child wasn't listening to nor possibly understood) to give that boundary any meaning. Instead, they rewarded the bad behavior. When this child was with me, my wife, or any other adult except for either of his parents (especially the mother), he was relatively well-behaved, he did what we told him to, and things ran fairly smoothly.

The only conclusions I can draw from this is that the child, at a very young age (3) has already learned a few tricks that you expect from older children:
  • How to manipulate one parent against the other (re: opening the presents).
  • How to get what it wants (re: every interaction with either parent, but especially the mother).
  • How it can ignore any other adult if his mother is nearby.
When left alone with this child, I took it upon myself to be calm, reasonable, not to speak down to the child, and to be consistent. Each time, I was either able to get him to do something he had flat out said No to one or both of his parents about, or get him to do/not do something I specifically wanted him to do/not do. He was calm, respectful, and even eager. This further supports my supposition that a certain set of behavior and actions on the part of the parents will create the type of child that any parent wants (within reason; I recognize that there are mental and physical reasons why some children are behaviorally problematic regardless of parenting technique).

I am hopeful that this parenting duo will figure out some way in which to get this child to behave before his behavior adversely affects their youngest child and before he gets into some sort of serious trouble as he gets older. The lack of respect the child shows for his parents and for other adults at such an early age could lead to severe behavior issues in school and the community as he gets older. Without some sort of enforced boundaries, this child will continue down this path and will, as he already does now, continue to rule the household.

July 6, 2011

Budget Crisis

Every economist, and every person who has tried to balance their own personal budget, agrees that there are only two ways to cut a deficit:
  1. Cut spending
  2. Increase funding (in the case of gov't, increase taxes)
Often a government can do one or the other. Sometimes it has to do both. When you are looking at a 14.3 trillion dollar deficit, you have to consider both, as there simply aren't enough places where you can cut to make up that mind-blowing figure.

The Republicans have said outright that raising taxes if "off the table" (John Boehner, among others). So, although there is literally and factually no way to cut spending enough to make up the difference in the budget, one half of all of the solutions to solve the budget crisis is off the table. This makes no sense, especially as you consider the fundamentals of the conservatives throughout the years (a good article calling this and other recent decisions into focus was published by Time recently). Why take any option off the table, unless you have an ulterior motive?

It seems like the Republicans want this crisis to grow and deepen for political reasons. While I did not condone or agree with the way the Democrats tried to throw their weight around when they won both the Presidency and control of Congress, it seems really petty and, frankly, dangerous how the Republicans are now doing the same thing back again. By making a bold declaration like raising taxes is off the table, they put the entire country at risk of financial collapse just so they can turn around and say, "See the President screwed up. He can't lead the country." And, unfortunately, most Americans appear to be stupid or ignorant enough to agree with them without ever looking at the facts.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich makes some very interesting points about the economy in 2 minutes and 15 seconds in this video. Yet our current Republican leadership wants to ignore those facts and figures and continue to give tax breaks to those who don't need it, screw those that do need it, and further the gap between the wealthiest few and the majority. The problem with trickle-down economics, as we learned in the 1980s and 1990s and are rehashing today is that those that have the money will do everything within their power to keep that money FROM trickling down (a good video explaining this, in part (about 10 minutes)). Business would much rather have free labor than pay for it, the rich would much rather keep their riches than have it flow to the government or trickle down to those who work for them.

And I don't blame them. I want to keep every red cent that I get from my own paycheck. I do everything I can to make sure my expenses are less than the paycheck each month so I can a) afford to save some money and b) afford to do or get the things I want and need. That is true of every person on the planet, and is doubly true for governments, businesses, and the wealthiest few.

I'm not blaming the Republicans for this impasse solely. The Democrats are too quick with the raising taxes philosophy. We should and do need to cut many gov't jobs and bureaucracies. Over the last 10-15 years, gov't has become a bloated entity with a lot of fat it could stand to lose. In this, the Republicans are right. But the Democrats are right also in that, following the advice of nearly all economists (from both sides of the argument), cutting is not enough and some way must be found to bring in more money -- and the only way a gov't can do that is through taxes. Even a 1% flat federal tax would make a significant difference to the deficit. Of course, as Robert Reich mentions in the link (above) and many economists have been arguing, getting more money into the hands of the majority of people means the majority of people will spend it, which improves the businesses, improves the economy, and also eats into the deficit. Getting the 150 million + people in the middle class spending $100 a month more into the economy helps a whole lot more than giving the wealthiest 10 million people another a tax break. If anything, we need to try a trickle UP economic theory, as that is precisely what made America great over the last 100 years -- the ability for more and more people to become a part of the middle class, and that middle class buying stuff, trickles the money up through the businesses to the wealthiest individuals and into the gov't coffers (through taxes to both people and businesses).

So, the Republicans need to stop throwing the baby out with the bathwater and start looking at ALL solutions to this economic crisis. While most of our leaders probably think they are in that wealthiest group and won't be affected by this budget crisis, they have another think coming. And the Democrats need to understand that the Repubs are right -- many gov't agencies and budgets could stand to be cut into, and deeply, and they should choose their battles over what to keep.


Oh, and one more thing: the Repubs are going after two long-time "social" agencies, Social Security and Medicare. President Bush more than once went on record as saying that the money in SS was "ours" (meaning, each individual's). If the Repubs are successful in getting rid of that agency and "bloat," I'm going to be contacting them for a check for the 20 years worth of money I have invested in it -- their own most recent leadership agreed it was mine and that I should be able to invest it any way I see fit for retirement. Oh, wait, did you think I was just going to let you keep it to help with the budget crisis? No, I don't think so. Just like them, I want to keep every cent I have earned, including those that the gov't forced me to give them.

As to Medicare, it could stand to be trimmed and retooled, but doesn't have to go away. Why can't America look at any one of the dozens of other nations that do universal health care successfully and cheaply and model our agencies and services after those? It doesn't have to be a bloated mess and it doesn't have to use more than 1% of GDP. People don't seem to realize that, since the 1960s, America has steadily declined in per capita comparisons with all other industrialized nations in health care provided, costs, death rates, infant mortality, number of uninsured, and other key stats. So, since America privatized the medical business, people's health has steadily declined and profits for insurance, pharmacy, and medical business have increased (just one source, but you can find many that come to the same conclusions). Coincidence?

July 5, 2011

Other Household Chores

In addition to replacing the toilet in the main bathroom, I completed some other home improvement tasks recently. They are small things, and inexpensive to do, but have made a big difference.

I had noticed that our main closet in the bedroom had a lot of space above the one shelf and a lot of our crap on the floor. It struck me one day that we should put in another shelf above the first and get some of that stuff off the floor. I then walked around to the office and coat closets and saw the same issue-- a lot of head space not being efficiently used and a lot of junk on the floor. I suggested my idea to M and she agreed: let's put in a second shelf.

We went to Home Depot and got the same style of white wire mesh shelves that all of our closets have and had them cut to size (praying I had measured twice and had good numbers for the cutting). We picked up some of the special fasteners used to install them to the wall. We purchased shelves that were 12" deep so we could have some extra room to maneuver items up onto and down off of the shelf, once installed. The lower shelves are all much deeper.

Prior to installing the shelves, we had approximately 2.5 feet of unused space up there. We couldn't stack stuff well enough to make any significant use of the space. I determined that installing the shelves 13" down from the ceiling would allow for the best use of the space (and, in the case of the coat closet, would exactly fit three shoe boxes stacked on top of each other with a little wiggle room to spare).

What a difference! Our closets feel much more organized, cleaner, and roomier.

Another project I undertook recently was to convince M that we could use a new, curved shower curtain rod in the bathroom. The straight one was okay, but we had installed a new clear plastic shower curtain and a new, larger, blue decorative shower curtain that took up a lot more space inside the shower stall. She was a bit hesitant, but willing to go for it if we see a curved shower rod on sale.

A few weeks ago, M found one on sale and picked it up. A few days later I installed it. Again, what a difference. Instead of standing and feeling the plastic shower curtain on my shoulder and arm, it is well away. The distance the curve moves out also allows the plastic shower curtain to rest against the side of the tub instead of along the floor. And, as an unexpected but nice bonus feature, the curve allows a lot more light into the shower stall during showers (the blue decorative curtain was blocking a lot of the light and made showering, even with the light on, a very dark experience).

It is funny how a few fairly inexpensive changes can make such a nice difference in a house. Now, if we can just figure out a way to get more kitchen storage, we'll be styling (I'm thinking an island of some sort).

Toilet Trouble

Before I moved in with my wife, she bought and had her father install a new toilet. The toilet was nice enough, but soon after we discovered that it had some issues. First, one of the openings in the porcelain through which the water was supposed to exit was slightly misshapen and caused water to spray out over the seat and making it nearly as far as the wall at times. Second, it didn't do a great job with light waste, like a single sheet of toilet tissue. Third, it didn't always handle the larger waste loads either, often needing a second flush or plunging.

These issues grew steadily more annoying, especially the fact we had to lift the lid and seat up before flushing, otherwise the seat got sprayed with water, which we didn't think was very sanitary. We set aside some money for a replacement. Along the way, we learned that toilets do have a warranty and, if we had acted sooner, we could have replaced the non-working toilet with the same model/brand. This may have fixed the spraying water issue, but I think the waste removal issues were endemic to that model and brand of toilet, so we still would have had those.

This time, we did a lot more research. We checked with Consumer Reports, we read personal accounts of toilets, and even watched our favorite brands on YouTube (believe it or not, there are toilet flushing videos on YouTube -- nothing gross, just tests of various toilets in action, often with golf balls, pepper, and similar objects and materials being flushed).

M was convinced we needed one of the ultra, best, most expensive models. I argued otherwise. Soon we came to a brand (American Standard) and model (Flowise Cadet 3) that seemed a nice middle ground and that seemed to have pretty good reviews both on Consumer Reports and by people actually using them. It was important to us that it be the highest rating for waste removal (1000 g) and that the bowl was easy to clean (the model has a super slick coating that stays very clean). It turned out it was a 1.26 G, which was smaller than the 1.6 we had before and far better than the much bigger, older-style toilets use (4 or even 6 G). The fact that the flush is so quiet was a pleasant surprise.

We found the model on sale at Home Depot and, after checking the box to make sure everything looked good and all the parts were there, we went home. I installed it that weekend.

What a difference having such a quiet, powerful, spray-free flush back in the main bathroom! It did not take long to install (longer than it needed to because I was working alone, but it wasn't bad all things considered). The bowl stays pretty clean, it has so far flushed everything we have provided it to flush, it has no issues with lighter loads returning or removing heavier loads, and it is using much less water than the previous toilet. We are actually having to retrain ourselves not to lift the lid and seat when flushing, because there is no spray or issues.

We definitely recommend the American Standard Cadet 3 Flowise (two-piece) toilet. A very good value for the money.

July 4, 2011

Waxing Poetic

A teaspoon amount of something is not a lot of material. However, when it is a teaspoon amount of earwax syringed from your right ear, it seems like an awful lot.

Well over a week ago (closer to two weeks now), I was shaving in the shower and got a little water and shaving cream in my right ear. As expected, my ear closed up and I became temporarily deaf in that ear. I finished the shaving and the shower and assumed that everything would be okay in a few hours or a day or two, at most. As the deafness extended day after day, and using ear wax removal drops every other day did nothing, I began to worry a bit. My hearing isn't great to begin with, and losing it or, when it was working, having sounds muffled and obscured was not working for me.

I've had tinnitus in both my ears since I was in my late teens or early twenties. With this constant situation, the tinnitus in my right ear had grown to be incredibly, annoyingly loud. I was also hearing a sloshing sound and even pops, as of bubbles popping, inside my ear.

Finally, today, I was able to get into the nearby clinic and have the doctor take a look. He used a giant syringe to wash out the ear after seeing a ton of wax in there. Approximately a teaspoon full of hard, golden-brown material that looked like cottage cheese came coursing out of my ear. He rinsed my other ear as well, and got about a half-teaspoon of what looked like golden-brown hair or thread out of that ear. Pretty disgusting and disturbing that there can be that much inside your ear!

My hearing appears to be fine now, and everything seems to be dried out. I'm a little disappointed to find that the tinnitus hasn't really improved in that ear. I have an appointment for later this month with my GP, so I'll mention it to him at that time. For now, I'm just happy that my hearing, such as it is, has been restored to me.