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Enjoy the benefits

Today I got a love note from Verizon. FiOS is big! So darn big they need more of my money. Maybe they are too big to fail. All in the same letter, they announced changes regarding my service AND new bundle options available. First the good news: they will be upgrading my service to 10/2 Mbps in the next few months. Just because I am so loyal. Or is is because I am on such an old grandfathered plan that they haven't offered for the last 2 years that they couldn't justify me paying so little? Comcast did -- I had to beg them to let me cancel my $7/month basic cable package a few months ago. I told them it was just too much money for the value. Anyway, Verizon wants be be my friend and boost my speed. Right after that, they also tell me that they will also be boosting my billing rate from $39.99 to $49.99 per month. And here is the best part, a direct quote from the letter: "No action is required to maintain your service at the new rate — you'll continue to enjoy all the benefits your current Verizon FiOS Internet service has to offer. This rate increase is unrelated to the speed increase we will be implementing for your FiOS Internet service plan." Uh huh. Of course you won't make me do anything to start charging me more. We operate on an opt-out basis here in America; it is better for The Man. And not related, huh? I just don't buy that. You said it in the same letter and you put it in the 'bad news' section, right after the 'good news.'

Is it just me or does a 25% increase in price sound a little bit wrong when this year we have been seeing a -1.3% rate of inflation. So they are effectively raising my rates even more. I hate you Verizon and all your money grubbing managers. I started out very happily, paying $29.99 per month and have seen a steady increase in price over the past 4 1/2 years. Yet my service has stayed the same. If I wanted 10/2 speeds, I would have upgraded on my own. I just looked and saw that the current price for the lowest FiOS package is now $54.99 (for no phone service, which is me) and that is for the 15/3 speed. I feel like I am getting the short end of the stick here... I wonder if it is time to jump ship to Comcast again. You know, jumping ship every few years to keep the competition going. Verizon, you had a nice long run, but you are pushing my patience to its limit.

I just looked... Comcast does have a better deal going on right now...

Shooting the Masses

Recently I read an article about flu shots that was recommended by a friend. It is a bit of a long read, but very interesting. You see, I think I am contributing to the healthy-users bias. I lead a fairly healthy life: I don't drink or smoke; I am not overweight; I eat lots of vegetables and a fairly balanced diet in general; I am in a monogamous relationship; I have an enjoyable family life. I probably do eat too many cookies and I could certainly exercise more, but I am mostly healthy. I am vaccinated against the big contagious killers like mumps, measles, pertussis, diphtheria, tetanus, etc. And because I have an aversion to nausea, I get my seasonal flu shot each year. I am not worried that I will die from influenza. I just hate barfing. I see no harm in getting a flu shot. The influenza virus seems to mutate every year and there are so many strains we can't even count them, but I like knowing that every year, I am gaining immunity to three more strains. Four if the CDC guessed wrong and I get the flu anyway.

I found the article fascinating because they are looking at the flu and vaccinations from a different angle. They want to find out the efficacy of vaccinations over the entire population. In other words, could we stop flu-related death in its tracks with the vaccination if *everybody* got vaccinated? They think not. You see, over the years since vaccines were available for influenza, there have been precious few studies that were done that accounted for the healthy-users bias. In other words, the generally healthy population is less likely to die from the flu because we are healthy to start with. Now if I had a compromised immune system to start with, I am easy pickings for the influenza virus and will likely die. This is the most interesting case: does the vaccine really help on immuno-compromised people? This is the sick, the old, and the young (the SOY). Since they have a weak immune system to start with, it is much less likely to respond to a vaccine and generate the antibodies that will protect them from the virus. So my guess is that vaccines really aren't as effective against death on the people who need it most.

Another question to consider is whether or not anti-virals, such as Tamiflu, are effective. The U.S. government has spent billions of dollars to stockpile these anti-virals, and there is a very good chance that 1) they don't really work, and 2) they used to work but the viruses are now tolerant of them because they have been ill-prescribed. We need to consider the healthy-users bias again, because a healthy person will likely get over the flu much faster and with fewer complications than the SOY. Don't forget to take into account the placebo effect as well. When people know they are taking a $10/pill medication, they fully expect it to help them get better. Many times they do get better regardless what the pill contains. So many inter-linked factors make it very difficult to produce a study that will give us statistics that we can really trust. (Don't even get me started on statistics...)

The final question I pose is whether or not these trials to test the medications are ethical. To test the placebo effect, you are giving these sick patients absolutely nothing, when they fully believe they are getting a real drug. What if these patients die when the real drug could have helped them? This is a really tricky situation because unless you really test for the placebo effect, you can't tell for sure if your new miracle drug works better than chewing on tongue of newt. (Well, in reality, it would work better, even if it were a placebo because you would be hard pressed to find a person that believed mind and soul that tongue of newt was an efficacious treatment.) So is it ethical to sentence a few people to death to test new drugs that *might* save millions of lives? As long as it is not me is the common answer.

To wrap things up, I say go ahead and get your flu shot because those who do get flu shots have a 50% better chance of not dying from any cause in the next year than those who don't. I believe that the flu shot is good because building immune systems is always a good thing. And as a bonus, they might help you make it through another year without the uncontrollable urge to pray to the porcelain god. But if you really want to stay healthy this year, we should do what really works: stay away from sick people when you are healthy; stay away from healthy people when you are sick; wash your hands regularly; avoid crowded public places; and use your brain. My favorite quote from the article is this:

"There’s no worse place to go than the hospital during flu season," says Majumdar. Those who don’t have the flu are more likely to catch it there, and those who do will spread it around, he says. "But we don’t tell people this."

Ummm. Too late. You just told us. Now that you know, stay home unless you really are dying.

Praise for Heirloom Crops

Saving seeds
Saving seeds
In 2008 and 2009, we purchased seeds from Seed Savers and have been saving them. Last year, we saved some pea seeds (Green Arrow), some tomato seeds (Bloody Butcher) and some sweet pepper seeds (Tequila Sunrise). This year, we expanded the varieties and also saved some green bean seeds (Empress), and more tomato seeds (Siberian and Stupice). The King of the North sweet pepper seeds were not quite fully developed, but there are still some left in the package from this year's planting. The mini sunflower seeds were some volunteers in our garden, likely planted by our neighbor's trained squirrels. The sunflowers may or may not germinate next year, but I think the rest of the seeds will.

This year's growing season in Portland was longer than last year and much more productive. We ended up at the end of the season with a tub of tomatoes and peppers. We had several meals with fresh picked green beans. Since it was good for everything else, the peas were not happy. They died out a little too fast in the warm weather. I think it was the week of 100+°F that did them in. But we saved plenty of seed for next year. I think the King of the North peppers would have done better, but they were hit hard by a slug infestation early on. The slugs ate half the leaves on the plants, forcing them to spend energy on growing new leaves instead of peppers. But we did get some small ones by the end of the season. I think this year may have me giving up on leaf crops for a while. After two years of failure on the lettuce front, we tried swiss chard this year. It grew, but never got very big, so we didn't pick any. By the time we did pick it, it was very tough and a little bitter. Next year, I think we will focus more on the beans, peas, tomatoes and peppers. Oh. And the basil. That failed miserably too. I finally gave in and picked up some starts from the farmer's market.

Next year, I think we will start the tomatoes and peppers outside in a makeshift greenhouse so they can get more sunlight and yet not freeze at night. I learned that peppers need warm nights to grow and tomatoes need some chilly nights in order to not get too 'leggy' like ours did this year, growing in our house. We will see. I had quite a green thumb as a child, but I also had parents that knew their way around a garden to make sure I didn't kill things. On my own, the garden is much trickier. :)

Luddites spreading F.U.D.

A man in Nova Scotia has determined that radiation coming from the proposed nearby high-speed internet tower will mutate his organic garlic crops. Wow. I guess he heard that they were using microwave technology and decided to shut them down. Microwaves are the most deadly kind of radiation, right? 'Cause we use them in our kitchens to cook things. Oooh! I had better instill the proper amount of F.U.D. in all my neighbors so this tower will get shut down before it starts.

Being an engineer, I like to look at things skeptically. There are numbers and calculations to support everything. Do the numbers work out? Do the equations make sense? Is this man a fool? This is one of the beauties of learning more about amateur radio; I got to learn a lot more about electro-magnetic radiation than I ever did before. More specifically, what are the limits of what might hurt people. Now there are still debates going on about whether or not cell phones cause brain cancer and the like, but once again, it all comes down to simple physics. This is the same question as Lenny's garlic: will the radiation cause a "change [in] the DNA of the garlic because it shakes up the molecules" or not?

Leaky tub, part deux

leaky ceiling
leaky ceiling
Last year, I noticed that the ceiling over our kitchen sink was cracked and a little bit soggy. After some house math, we figured out that the leak was directly below the faucet/drain end of the tub in the kid's bathroom. A quick look through some of the reviews of plumbers in our area from a google search found Kennedy Plumbing. I gave them a call and they sent a man out. He was fast and professional. He replaced the shoe or cracked strainer or something. I don't recall exactly, and even if I did, I am not that intimately familiar with the anatomy of a tub to carry on a conversation about such things. Something was cracked and very broken and he replaced it. The soggy section of ceiling dried up, but still had a little bit of a cracked area in the texture which has been bothering me ever since. But obviously not that much, since I never got around to fixing it.

Yesterday morning, that shower was used for the first time in at least a year. The kids still take baths. I heard a drip, drip, drip in the kitchen and was surprised to see it coming from the ceiling. Grrrrr. I made a quick call to Kennedy Plumbing to have them come out to check to see if the first guy screwed up. It turned out that after an hour of trying to diagnose the problem, he finally found it. When the tub faucet runs, it doesn't leak, but when the shower starts, it drips lots. He took the faucet assembly apart to find a disintegrated O-ring. Ooops. So the first guy did right, and the second guy did too. The only problem is that now, enough water had leaked into our ceiling that I really did have to fix it. The plumber was kind enough to saw out a very rough hole to help him diagnose the problem. Now I get to fix it. Ho hum. I really hate dry-wall work. Maybe it will get done before next year. :)

"Cash for Clunkers" or a kick in the ribs?

I am not a licensed financial advisor, nor do I have a degree in economics, but I do have a brain. It seems that The Man does not.

The current view is that we have officially been in a recession for a year and a half now. How did we get here? Well, my view is that the country on a whole (The Man is waving the banner at the front of the parade) is living on a non-sustainable budget. Spending more money than one makes can only last for so long before you run out of credit. Oh look, Ma, a credit crisis! So how does The Man propose to get us out? Ooh, ooh! let's throw money we don't have at it. Fill the hole, loosen the credit markets and get the economy running again. My prediction: it won't work. Well, not for long.

My view is that the economy was fundamentally broken long before a year and a half ago. We have been in a slow death spiral for quite a while. At first, we didn't even know that we had a large tumor growing in our liver. We put on a few pounds but we chalk that up to eating out a little too much. Really, that few pounds is a malignant tumor that is taking up more space every day. One day, while out shopping for a new shiny gadget, we collapse, knocking over the salesman, who falls and grabs the store manager for stabilization. The manager tips over some manikins which conk the box-boy on the noggin, giving him a concussion. But he gets up and rambles through the store, knocking things over and leaving a trail of mayhem wherever he goes. The manager tries to keep the box-boy from wandering out of the store, but in a freak accident, the fluorescent light display near the door crashes down and sets the display on fire, blocking the exit behind box-boy. The store is consumed by fire, as are the neighboring businesses. Box boy leaves the area and shares his anti-Midas touch, which quickly infects every city on earth, which ends up as a smoldering rock orbiting the sun.

Pictures of Anne

Napping on Dad
img_2002
I remembered to bring the camera home with me this evening. The big kids and I spent the afternoon at the hospital with Lauren and Anne. Little Anne slept most of the time that we were there. I think she must have napped in my arms for nearly three hours. That is fine with me. In my opinion, cuddling is all babies are good for. They grow out of it so fast; Nathan was my previous cuddle bug and is getting to be a little too big and bony to be a cuddle bug.

Speaking of Nicole and Nathan, when we arrived at the hospital, Anne had a present for each of them: a cape, for the Super Siblings; a magnifying glass, for seeing all her little parts; and a pinwheel because they are fun. The two caped heroes are pretty darn cute. I am sure they will be great helpers with their new baby sister.

The rest of the pictures we have taken so far can be found in the Tiny Anne album.

Say hi to Anne

Anne Muriel was born today at 5:39 P.M., weighing in at 8 lbs. 5 oz. and measuring 21 inches long. Labor and delivery went smoothly, despite being an induction. Well, it was mostly smooth from my point of view. I think it was somewhat less stressful than Nicole or Nathan's birth, but the whole labor/delivery thing freaks me out. The worst part was when the anesthesiologist was giving the epidural. That part took a while and was somewhat painful for Lauren.

Lego Adventure

Nathan got a little Lego set for his birthday and it has turned into a daily favorite. Honestly, I think Nicole loves it even a little more than Nathan does. Mostly she builds the trucks and machines that are in the little 'manual' of ideas that came with it. She is getting to be darn good at following those instructions. Nathan loves for Nicole to build him things. Or me. Or Lauren. He can 'fix' broken things but still isn't quite up to creating new things.

Oooh, shiny new toys

After much debate, research and saving of greenbacks, I finally went out and bought my first ham radio. I chose the Icom 92AD. It didn't take me much to see that the Icom handheld radios were a lot higher quality than the Yaesu radios. They also cost a bit more. The one I chose was one of the more expensive ones (surprise, surprise), but it should do all the things I want it to do. It is a dual-band radio that also has a digital voice/D-STAR capability built in. I am not sure how much I will use the digital voice part, but D-STAR also allows for data to be transmitted along with the digital voice packets. I think that KK7DS's D-RATS stuff is really a great idea. Plus, Dan's a bit of a Linux geek like myself, so I feel good supporting him.

The radio as a handheld doesn't really have a long range, but it will be great for the ARES and CERT activities that I would like to participate in. There is also a local LDS net that I can participate in as well. So it is a great start to get my radio feet wet.

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