Monday, July 28, 2008

MyRate

Hmm, seems that Progressive Insurance has a new program out called MyRate that is a PAYD (pay as you drive) system that is more common in Europe. Since we don't drive much, and since I try to hypermile as much as I can, I have always thought this was a good idea.

But now that it is here, I am not so sure.

It works by installing a computer into your OBD diagnostic port under your dash, that every car built after 1996 has*. The device records the speed and time at which you are driving, and sends it wirelessly to Progressive who then analyzes the data to determine your insurance rate which can be between 40% off or 10% more. So if you have lots of hard stops and starts, drive a long way, and drive at night, it will cost you more. But if you drive easy, not much, and in the day time, you get a discount both in gas and insurance. They also have an online tool that shows you at least some of the data they collect, and compare your driving to others.

But do I really want Progressive knowing how I drive in order to save a few bucks? Isn't that a bit self imposed big brother-ish? What if that info is used against me for some reason? Plus then I couldn't get my ScanGuageII that I have wanted that tells you everything that the progressive device does, plus much much more.

Like I said, hmm...

*Side note, if any mechanic tells you that new cars are harder to work with "because of all the computers" they are BSing you. The computer is telling them almost exactly what is going wrong.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Obama everywhere

People complain about the Obama campaign being too distant and controlling of the press, which is valid, but man he knows how to shape a message. Here is his new brand in photos:

I am Obama, and I will free you from the Matrix.

McCain for his part is not doing such a good job.

Lessons from the clinic

I haven't written much about my summer job since I write under my real name, and discussing specific cases would be a serious breach of patient/client confidentiality. That said, I can write about interesting things that I've learned this summer that I didn't know before. Here is the first installment of What I Learned on my Summer Vacation: Toxic Things.
There are a handful of items that most people are well aware of that are toxic to animals. Chocolate is a no-no, and recently everyone seems to have heard that grapes and raisins can be poisonous. But here are a few items that still surprise people when they hear about them...
Lilies: You tend to see newspaper articles and such about lilies being toxic to cats around Easter time, but they get forgotten about the rest of the year. All species of lily, including tiger lilies, stargazer lilies, and day lilies can cause acute kidney failure in cats. Without veterinary treatment within 48 hours of ingestion, prognosis is poor. If you have cats, or are giving flowers to a friend who has cats, please avoid lilies.
Pennies: Pennies minted after 1983 are made primarily of zinc, which can be toxic to dogs who eat the coins. Zinc toxicity can cause anemia, GI irritation, and organ failure. Keep pennies out of reach of puppies or dogs who like to snack on non-edible items!
Sugar-free gum: Many sugarless gums and candies are now sweetened with xylitol. While safe for humans, xylitol can cause a release of insulin in dogs, dropping their blood sugar to dangerously low levels. Clinical signs of xylitol toxicity include lethargy, seizures, and loss of coordination. Signs of toxicity can be seen after ingestion of as few as two pieces of gum in a small dog.
Onions: While I'm a big fan of adding fresh fruits and veggies to your pet's diet, onions are one to avoid. Onion ingestion can cause anemia in both dogs and cats, leading to lethargy and weakness. Signs can show up as long as a week after ingestion, so don't assume that if your dog is okay the day after eating some onions, he's out of the woods.
If your pet eats something unusual and you aren't sure whether or not it's toxic, you can call the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center for help. They're open 24 hours a day, 365 days a week, and they save lives!

Monday, July 21, 2008

1-2-3-4

Feist, whose 1 2 3 4 Music Video is fantastic (one take, no edits) takes her act to the big time. Sesame street.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Periodic Table

I hated Chemistry in High School. It didn't help that my teacher was not very good at explaining things - I didn't know what a Mole was for half the year! But perhaps things would have been different if YouTube had been around and could have seen these videos of the Periodic table shot by the University of Nottingham. They are oddly fascinating even to me. Perhaps its the awesome science hair and fun experiments. Go check it out!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Fun No Fun With Hand Grenades

One of my favorite personal MilBlogs (military blog) from Iraq Fun With Hand Grenades has called it quits, and deleted every single post he has ever written, and left just one. I have been reading his blog for four years and it is very sad to see him go like this. I don't know what to say about his time there besides he has been there a long time (stop-loss), it sounds like the worst place to be, and it is impossible to understand from here. Perhaps Vietnam vets can understand, because he leaves us with this quote from that era:
No matter how oft quoted or clich├ęd, it’s pure honesty is the best way to describe my experiences in Iraq:
“We are the unwilling led by the unqualified, doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful.”
Good luck dreadcow, get home soon.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Obama/______ 08!

(Note there are a few edits are at the bottom, added on the 10th (Sam Nunn) and 11th (Chris Dodd) 

With the news a few days ago of Virginia Sen. Jim Web declaring he will not be VP under "any circumstances" I decided to really try and figure out who might be the Democratic VP.
The VP pick is an interesting one because it is the #2 position in the US Government, but no one will vote for this person. They are there to support and represent the president both during elections and in office. They all must be capable of being president themselves of course, however I see the former duties almost certainly qualifying them for the latter. A good VP should also reflect well on some aspect of the president, and at the same time defend against weaknesses (the extent to which they can do either of these things is debatable) Obama's strength this election come from his resounding call for change, and the motivational way he delivers that message. Things are changing and we need a new leader to organizes the American people and repair America. His weakness come on reliability and experience. Am I sure that I can believe this guy? What does he know about Iraq/the economy/the government anyway? So who can shoot that gap? 

I can group the VP front runner race into three categories. Match, Conflict, and Liability.

Starting with Liability. These are people who in real world performance have failed to deliver politicly on a national scale. They are often good as vocal supporters, but are not right for VP. The would all make fantastic cabinet appointees.
The are:
Gen. Wesley Clark - whose presidential campaign I supported in 2004 was doomed literally on day one with a casual conversation on the back of a plane. Also no governing experience.
Sen. Joe Biden - Smart/tough/egg head senator from Delaware who can never gain traction and spent much time defending himself and/or making jokes during the primary. Nice guy, only good in the senate.
Gov. Bill Richardson - Bill is an odd candidate. He is someone who everyone likes, has an impressive resume, but for some reason completely fails to motivate anyone.
Tom Daschle - Same as Biden and Richardson

The Conflict candidates. These would be people who do not represent change and have the potential to disrupt the otherwise harmonious Obama campaign machine. They are often talked about for their "bipartisanship" but it is not Obama's kind of bipartisanship. Many of them are very successful and come from red states. They are also mostly have an older sounding political rhetoric that is distinctly non-Obama.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius - If Obama made his political carer starting with his stunning keynote address, the Kansas Governor doomed hers with her 2006 democratic response to the state of the union. She might still be able to get back up to a match however. 
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) - He is a Republican. That is political doom often put forward by Republicans who dislike McCain and don't understand Obama. 
Gov. Tom Vilsack - Iowa governor. Quiet and not motivational.
Sen. Evan Bayh - I wanted him to be on my match list because he gets talked about quite a bit, but in the end I can't see it. He is very polished but a non-motivational, hugs-all-around, conservative Democrat. But he is on the intelligence committee and could put Indiana in play...
Sen. Hillary Clinton - She could overshadow Obama and doesn't speak his language. Bill is still mad at him. She has many supporters and a huge money machine though.

The Matches. Well, I got rid of just about everyone! And in the end I don't have a #1 VP pick. Webb used to top the list of Matches so I will start with the next Virginian on my list:
Gov Tim Kaine - First he is a good energetic speaker and one of the earliest Obama supporters out there. Virginia is in play this year and him running could swing the state. Bad news is that if he ran, VA would get a Republican governer.
Gov Brian Schwitzer - An 'aw shucks' governer of Montana and a model new Democrat. A little more libritarian on some issues (Gun control: "You control your gun, I'll control mine.") but knows how to run good government in often hostile circumstances. He is Obama's kind of bi-partisan. It's not that he "works with Republicans to get things done," it's that his ideas just work better at getting things done so Republicans vote for him anyway.
Sen. John Edwards - "Always the bridesmaid and never the bride" is what Edwards seems to be fated too, but he would be a good VP and he has the name recogntion that none of the others have. He is a great speaker, and backs up Obama on healthcare and economic issues. He has said too that if asked, "he will serve."
EDIT: Thanks to "anonymous" in the comments, I just threw Former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn into the mix - whom for some reason I missed as a top contender
Sen. Sam Nunn - Described as the "Gray Beard" of the possible candidates Sam Nunn was in the House of Representatives when Obama was 7 (he is still 3 years younger than McCain). He has a resume that extends as long as that serving as the Georgia Senator for 24 years. He is also a conservative Democrat, but part of his strength might be his diminutive stature as a VP. In other words, if Nunn were VP he wouldn't steal the spotlight and would provide good backup on the experience front. 
EDIT II: News now that Chris Dodd is getting vetted, and he's in the matches!  
Sen. Chris Dodd - Chris Dodd is a long term Connecticut senator (joined the house in 1975) who is sharp as a tack. His 2008 campaign for president failed much like Bill Richardson's, but he is a stronger speaker, and was against the war early. Problems might come from from his recent involvement in the financial industry and his position on the committee that oversees financial matters. Oops! 

Then there are always non-definitive people from important states, this time Ted Strickland from OH, Claire McCaskill from MU, and Ed Rendell from PA, but they don't bring anything to the table besides geography.
Long, long post, and I will be interested to see if any of it rings true when we do get a VP pick. Kerry tapped Edwards July 6th, so the clock is ticking...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Home again

We're back from the woods, and what a great trip we had! The weather was perfectly sunny and warm almost every day, with a little wind and some nighttime storms thrown in for variety. As usual, photos do a better job of describing the trip than words, so here we go...


As Chris wrote earlier in the week, Winnie had the misfortune of cutting open her paw pad the day before we left. It was a fairly deep cut, and in a really lousy spot to keep clean and still while it healed. For most of the trip, she wore a sporty blue bandage secured with a few layers of medical tape. Thank goodness we practiced bandaging on her last semester!





When we first arrived, we were greeted by fields of yellow and orange hawkweed, daisies, and lupine. They must have really enjoyed the cool, wet spring, because we've never seen the flowers quite so prominent along the roadsides.









Chris and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary on July 1st with time on the dock, a little fishing, and a strawberry rhubarb pie. And we didn't mention wedding plans once :)











We had the best fishing we've seen in a few years, and caught enough smallmouth bass that we couldn't even finish our bass lunch. I played around with the ugliest lure that I've ever used- a silly floating frog that we found at a campsite last summer. It actually caught a fish!
















Even with an ouchy foot, Win could still enjoy a nice paddle.
















We ended our trip with a visit to hidden trout stream, where we caught the first mess of trout that we've had in a couple of years. It's definitely my new favorite spot for trout.



















Mmm, 16 nice brookies!










Winnie must have learned this trick from her old friend Moose- if you see them packing the car, you better pack yourself or else they might forget you!

Monday, July 07, 2008

State Similarity

Over at fivethirtyeight.com there is a new chart showing the results of "nearest neighbor analysis" for different states that I find really interesting. What kind of state is Minnesota? A more north-western state (Washington, Oregon) with a strong midwestern Wisconsin (who is similar to Minnesota, Iowa, and Ohio) thrown in. Illinois is good one with Minnesota (NW/Central), New York (East-coast), and Ohio (midwestern industrial/rural).

The grouping here is interestingly enough based on baseball and fantasy baseball statistical analysis that pairs current players with older ones to help predict the career arc of the current one. In this case, it is to help predict larger election trends by paring similar states, but I think it also can help paint an interesting picture on the character of the states themselves. For example, unpredictable Florida (Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Arizona) is a large southern state with no southern connections. Click on the image to the left for a large version, or see the original here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Cabin Time

We are up north in Grand Marais for some town and big lake time. The weather has been fantastic so far, with the only problem being it gets hard to sleep when you have sunburn on your sunburn! The bugs have been out in force but we can handle them, even if we have to run in terror some times. Winnie cut her rear paw pad the night before we left, so she has been going at about 50% so far. We have been putting a bandage on her foot that she hates, but when she can keep it on she is her normal self. It has gotten much better and she should be bandage free by tomorrow. 

So, good vacation all around! No more internet until we get back. Hope every one is well!