Saturday, June 14, 2008

Big Issues

I'm already sick of the Presidential Election campaign with seven months to go; not because my candidate was eliminated, but because nobody is addressing the big issues.

It astounds me that with all the press coverage the two major candidates for president have not had to take a stand on the big issues other than Iraq. What will each do to secure our borders and ports? Will they require inspection of all food and drugs imported into the US as other countries do?

Will they eliminate the loopholes that allow big business to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to major parties or political action committees?

Will they add a top level tax to remove the incentive for corporate executives to raid their own company's funds at the expense of workers and investors?

Will they finally stop giving billions in Federal subsidies to the two most profitable industries, big oil, and Agri-business?

Will they change securities laws and enforcement to make hedge funds disclose their major owners, report their activities, stop massive short selling and speculation plus regulate them like other major investment players?

Will they oppose a North American Union and reveal what interests are behind the secret planning that has been going on for years? Will our next President continue to participate in the G8 oligopoly of powers that answer to no representative body or government while making policy decisions for all nations?

Don't expect Obama or McCain to answer any of these big questions between now and the election or even afterward. The real power remains in the hands of the extremely wealthy who will remain in the shadows as we go through the motions of selecting between their approved candidates as if we were really in control of our own government.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Car Makers Unprepared

Though we've known for over thirty years that demand would one day exceed the supply of oil, few people were prepared for the latest 'energy crisis' that has driven gasoline prices to new record highs. While the first shortage back in the mid 1970's was temporary, this time it is harder to dismiss as simply market manipulation. There really is an imbalance between supply and global demand. We've had it so good for so long, nobody wants the 'good old days' to end but they must. Even if w don't run out of oil, Global Warming may force us to change our ways soon. There is no longer any valid excuse for wasting energy.

Europeans and others have been paying $5 ($9 today) a gallon or more for over twenty years because their governments tax fuel to ensure conservation and to minimize the Billions in revenue going to the Middle East. As a result, America accounts for over 60% of Middle East oil revenue and 80% of Saudi Arabia's revenue. Cheney's plan to secure a source of oil for America after a revolution in Saudi Arabia is becoming much clearer now. It had nothing to do with Saddam. We invaded Iraq and began building five permanent bases to protect the oil that will allow America to remain a global power for decades after the fall of the Saud family. It is the easiest, fastest way to regain what we would lose in the coming Islamic Revolution that toppled the Soviet Union and continues to spread.

Auto makers have known for decades that Americans should be driving smaller, more efficient cars like the rest of the world, but gave us what we wanted instead because it was so much more profitable. Big trucks were the most profitable segment of the market and everyone went after that market, even Toyota and Nissan. The result was more than half of all US vehicle sales until last month were for trucks, not cars. In Europe, trucks are only 10% of sales.

Sure, automakers tried to give us new small cars but we ignored them until gas prices began to skyrocket. I just priced the same base model Toyota Corolla I bought three model years ago. The least expensive Corolla in the SE US (NC to FL) is now $15,999 plus dealer prep, taxes, etc. with no options at all.

According to on-line discussions dealers are getting $750 to $1000 over MSRP on some models. Even suggested retail prices are up nearly $2000 since 2006, though much of that is for new standard features like six air bags (my 2006 has 2, with two more a $650 option), ABS brakes ans traction control (formerly options) plus the new vehicle stability control that prevents drivers from making bad inputs in a skid are all standard for 2009.

But proof that automakers didn't see this latest crisis coming is the fact that they are still adding size and horsepower to their cars. The new Corolla is an inch wider and 200 lbs. heavier. It gets more horsepower from a tweaked 1.8L engine and even lower gearing than my Corolla. The result is lower fuel economy than my 2006. It seems all makers of cars for the US market are purposely not making their cars more fuel efficient until Congress mandates it. The new Honda Accord has 260 HP. Why would any Accord owner want or need that much power?

We have big changes to make and little will be done until the Federal govt. gets it's act together (not likely). While 55% of European autos are diesel powered because it is more efficient and cheaper to make, tough new US low sulfur diesel standards insure a $0.75/gallon premium for clean diesel here. It will help reduce smog and global warming, but eliminates an easy way to improve the mileage of existing truck and car models for most buyers.

Don't expect high mileage new cars until they are required by the government, after 2012. Even tiny new cars barely get 30 MPG on today's 87 octane gasoline. That's sad compared to my Nissan Stanza 2.0L hatchback that got 43 MPG back in 1983 on I-95 at 75 mph with a full load and the A/C on max. from 93 octane regular. As I have said many times, the gearing is way too low on all US cars, now including the new Corolla. Unless you can change your gearing (almost impossible) the only thing you can do for now is drive much slower or waste fuel.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Auto Buying Essentials

I've long been more than casually interested in a way of living that I call Thrifty rather than Cheap. There is a big difference between between being thrifty and being cheap. A thrifty person might compare generic canned vegetables with brand name ones and decide the quality and taste of Green Giant is worth the extra money. It is all about getting your money's worth, living as well as you can on the money you have. Naturally, big ticket items like homes and cars are the most significant areas to master.

My top advice for both homes and cars which Americans tend to change about every six to ten years is to buy with an eye toward resale. That means rein in your extreme tastes and go with what most people find acceptable if you can. Sometimes you just can't. Choosing mid-range colors, popular layouts or features may significantly enhance resale value lowering your total cost of ownership, the true goal of thrifty buyers.

My top auto buying advice used to be to negotiate only an 'out-the-door' price including (trade), tax, title, and license. Never let sales staff talk monthly payments. That tells you nothing about price or your total cost. Never answer the question, "how much can you pay per month?" Simply reply that you have arranged your own financing already and as far as the dealer is concerned this is a cash deal. But there is an even more significant issue that must be considered first.

According to Consumer Reports, 48% of the five year cost of auto ownership is depreciation, the difference between purchase cost and resale value. By far. this is the single most important factor. So the thrifty auto buyer may not shop for the auto that most nearly matches his or her exact needs at the lowest price, but actually chose a vehicle that fits their basic needs and has the best cost of ownership including depreciation. You may be surprised to find that it could be less expensive to commute to work for five years in a Mazda Miata convertible than an ugly econobox. Insurance costs vary widely by model and account for 12% of ownership costs on average. Repairs, an important issue for me are only 4% of costs in their opinion.

The least expensive car I ever owned cost me $1,250 plus gas to own for four years and 60,000 miles. It wasn't my Dodge Aspen, Nissan Stanza or even my used BMW 325, all great cars. It was my '79 T-top Pontiac TransAm 6.6 liter V8, (Smokey and the Bandit car in gold). I bought it new through the military overseas Exchange (PX) System like my Aspen. I paid $7,500 for it delivered to the port or a top (Five Star) dealer in my home area as with the Aspen. That was not really cheap for a car back in 1979, but less than most US dealers got for one. I ordered only the options I wanted (T-top and radio antenna). I deleted the gaudy bird hood decal ($75 part) with resale in mind. I probably should not have. I put in my own better AM/FM cassette, amp, and speakers saving $350. These days factory radios and speakers are much better and more complex. I also tinted the top and side windows myself. These days complex curves require a professional tinting.

I sold it in one day in the lot at my credit union for book price $6,250. Net cost was under $350 depreciation per year, less than any other new car I ever owned. I lost $1,000 on the Aspen in one year and 12,000 miles when I received orders to Europe. I sold it and my Levi's Gremlin the same way, also in one or two days. Smart credit union managers will let you park your sharp For Sale vehicle in their lot if you promise to bring the buyer inside to arrange financing (do a credit check) and prepare your cashier's check.

Since the T/A was purchased overseas, sales tax didn't come into play until I registered it in a state. Some states are cheaper than others. You might even do as I did and first register it in Texas (my home of record) then transfer the title and registration to Washington state (duty site) to avoid high new car taxes. That was 30 years ago. Check current laws if you have an address or family in other states. Virginia used to tax new cars at only 2% but most states will collect the difference when you register there. Expect to pay 5 to 7% of the purchase price or current value if higher.

My bottom line is this. The best single piece of advice I can give anyone before they buy a car is to consider the most important factor, depreciation, when you select your car. Even if you plan to keep it forever, if it gets totaled in an accident or storm your insurer uses book values to pay you off.

Check the book price of a three year old version of a car you like and note the loss in value. Limit your choice to three of the most popular cars that meets your needs for room, mileage (the second most important factor), etc. and have the least depreciation. Avoid new models and major redesigns. It takes three years to clear the big defects. Check the NTHSA database for defect reports on all your finalists. Popular cars are usually sporty, turn heads, get thumbs up from savvy drivers, and never appear in used car ads unless they need expensive repairs or still owe more than the vehicle is worth.

Hondas hold their value better than any other make but are terribly overpriced. They often have good maintenance histories like Toyotas and Buicks, but that varies with each year and model. I've just noticed a hot used car market for the Acura RSX coupe, a Consumer Top Choice car according to which is a good place to do your research before talking to a dealer. The one I spotted as the best of three available within 75 miles sold in one day. Another was at a dealership with high miles. The third was a factory turbo with six speed manual (street racer).

Finally, with US fuel costs rising but still far below the world average of nearly $9 per gallon, plan ahead. Don't let a $5,000 rebate on a big SUV stick you with a vehicle you won't be able to feed or give away in a few years. My personal mileage criteria was 43 MPG (like my '83 Nissan) but in 2006 the closest I could get with a non-hybrid was the 5-speed Toyota Corolla at 41 hwy, 37 city (add 12-18% after 2007 to compare EPA estimates see Expect to actually get 30% worse city mileage. My Corolla cost $12,000 less than a Prius that owners claim got only 47 mpg at best. It would have taken me 10 years of fuel savings to justify the Prius, assuming it had a repair record and parts availability as good as the venerable Corolla. Corolla is the most widely produced single vehicle model in the world and has been for many years. Unfortunately, in April 2008, US Corollas switched to the Matrix power train which is less economical.

Now all US autos without exception are geared far too low for highway driving. My '75 Gremlin (3-speed manual with electric overdrive) did 60 at 1,600 RPM's (the national 55 speed limit was enforced back then). Today all small cars are doing 3,500 RPM's or more at 70. If you can wait until new fuel standards are required in 2009 or 2010 models you will see a jump in fuel economy and likely lower RPM's in top gear. If not, consider replacing the std. tires/wheels with slightly larger diameter aftermarket versions but be careful. Your speedometer will register low and driveway and/or turning fender clearance may not be adequate. You might need the original wheels to keep from voiding your factory warranty. Avoid low profile tires, they improve handling but add miles to your odometer, wear to your engine, and use more fuel. If you spend more time commuting than racing, stick to cheaper high profile, narrower tires inflated slightly above the printed (full load) rating on the side for maximum fuel economy.

In three years I expect many people to be driving cars converted to run on natural gas or propane which should remain much cheaper than oil. By then most electronic fuel controls will accommodate the fuel switch easily but ask your local conversion shop about your finalists before seeing a dealer. Conversions on selected cars today cost about $250 and require a new fuel line and small tank in the trunk with gage like a BBQ gas bottle.

Enjoy your car purchase experience and remember, be thrifty not cheap.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Forty Years and Still Against War

My medical condition is stabilizing and I'm even getting some basic medical care from the VA so I thought I'd diverge to an issue of more importance, more general value and appeal to others.

I've been around long enough that I'm seeing history repeat itself. This could only happen because people haven't learned a damn thing from history. Of all the things Americans haven't learned, history is one that has surely come back to bite us in the butt.

I remember 1968-70 (really) and how frustrated I was with Lydon Johnson's conduct of the Viet Nam War. His Defense Secretary, Melvin Laird was just as much a rich, ass-kissing, intellectual as Rumsfeld. He wouldn't stand up for what was right but later claims he knew he was wrong. I suppose Rummy is writing his memoirs now to try to vindicate his participation in yet another genocide of a Third World population that did NOTHING to the US. As Yogi says, it is De Javu all over again.

At the request of the French, we invaded and took out the legitimate leader we once supported (Ho Chi Min) and replaced him with a dictator in Viet Nam between 1965 and 1974. In Iraq, Cheney planned to install a crooked millionaire dictator (Shallaby) but he was exposed before we could stage a coup, so we held elections. Our policy decisions were equally absurd and devastating. Win Kow Ki was a brutal and crooked dictator so the CIA had him assasinated and replaced with Thieu who wasn't any better. In Iraq Bush's appointed administrator disbanded the Iraqi Army turning 200,000 armed soldiers into insurgents overnight. We let Billions in stolen oil fund the insurrection and the Shiite controlled govt. for years to the dismay of all the Arab neighbors. Military massacres and abuses of power were covered up or denied all the way to the Pentagon when exposed (Mi Lai to Abu Graib). It is both ironic and sickening that we haven't learned a damn thing from Viet Nam.

Iraki PM Malaki is playing both sides but knows eventually he needs Iran's support to survive after we leave. In both wars we were fighting mostly against the indiginous population who was prepared to fight for their homeland forever. We never learned anything from our Founding Fathers or the Minutemen who did the very same thing to eventually win control of America from the king of England after more than a decade of 'armed resistance' {terrorism}.

Stagflation was rampant in 1976-79 and guess what. We've got it again 30 years later caused both times by years of massive spending on an unpopular, unfunded, unnecessary war. The first time we spent $1 million a day in Viet Nam [to stop Communism] and we had to go off the Gold Standard when the next President took over (Nixon). This time we're spending $2 Billion a week in Iraq [to stop al Queda?].

This time the Arabs or Chinese holding hundreds of Billions of dollars could switch to Euros and turn us into a Third World nation with hyper inflation and a worthless currency overnight. Thirty years ago the Volker's Federal Reserve chose to raise interest rates to attract desperately needed foreign capital because we didn't yet have a global economy. Rates hit 18% and Carter's recession was longer and deeper as a result. This time the Fed lowered rates and let the dollar drop. So far Chuck Paulsen (Treasury) and Bernanke are getting away with it, but eventually rates will have to rise to attract that foreign capital we need because the Federal govt. can't stop overspending. If the Arabs keep trading oil in dollars, we'll see double-digit interest rates and inflation that taxes the poor and the rich alike. Let's hope China still wants to sell us $50 Billion in uninspected food, drugs, and manufactured goods every month. Europeans aren't buying nearly as much and they are fussy about standards.

Wake up America. We've already repeated history. It s time to finally get it and move on!

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

New Priorities

It has been nearly five months since my last blog entry and things are only beginning to settle down a bit. I nearly died on October 3, 2007 and spent 15 days in intensive care at the Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville. It turns out I have had multiple myeloma (bone marrow) cancer for some time. It destroyed my kidneys which nearly became fatal before I realized I was really ill. While I still passed water my kidneys had ceased to function and my blood was filled with toxins and old chemical markers that gave my brain bad information about my body. I thought I was hot then cold but my actual temperature never changed. I was halucinating.

I've been on kidney dialysis ever since and will be for the rest of my life. Since I have cancer as well, I'm not a candidate for a transplant. The immunosurpressive drugs needed to prevent rejection of the foreign organ would stimulate my cancer. There is no cure for my type of cancer, but it can be surpressed by very expensive drugs ($5,000 a month). So I'm in no immediate danger of dying. It's the little things that get you. Each of these medical conditions has only a 50% five year survival rate overall. I've learned a lot about hemo-dialysis and what the kidneys do (or don't do anymore in my case).

I must take phosphorus binders with any food I eat and avoid most of the food I like because it is high in phosphorus or potassium or both. Healthy stuff like whole grains is actually higher in phosphorus and calcium than plain old white bread, but I still can't eat that stuff. Once again, the medicine to keep me going is quite expensive ($365 a month for Fosrenol). Without the medication and watching my diet, plaque would build up inside my arteries and blood vessels eventually causing a heart attack, stroke, or deep vein thrombosis.

Ironically, I was better off having no insurance at all. America's medical system is absurd and upside down. The indigent get everything paid 100% including drugs. The rest of us will become indigent in a few years paying outrageous sums for patented drugs that should have become generic many decades ago. I'm only just now getting basic Medicare so I don't know how all this is going to work out, but I do expect it to deplete my remaining assets very quickly.

I plan to post monthly blogs about issues concerning kidney dialysis or cancer patients from now on. I cannot work and hope to eventually collect some disability money, but it won't be nearly enough to pay for my dialysis co-pays and Epogen let alone my other medications. Epogen(R) stimulates the development of red blood cells in my bone marrow extending the time between blood transfusions and relieving the severe anemia but it costs a lot. MediCare pays 80% of the cost of hemodialysis including Epogen and Heparin (to prevent clotting in the catheters) for those like me with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) regardless of age, but it took four months to qualify.

With over 50 million subscribers Social Security is a circus. I'm amazed it functions at all. Even the simplest most straight forward process takes a long time because of the constant backlog and crush of people needing assistance. To make matters worse, the Feds have farmed out the disability and Medicaid portions to the states making these services slower, more complicated and even more difficult to obtain.

My view of the world and my expectations for the future have changed dramatically in the past few months along with my waist line. I've lost 65 pounds so far. I'm slowly disappearing. Food is no longer something I can enjoy. Nothing tastes the way it should. I can't really taste most of it at all, the rest has a bizarre chemical taste to me, unrelated to it's actual taste. I really miss the taste of my favorite foods but I'm lucky I no longer have to carry around all that excess weight. My heart and few remaining muscles just couldn't do it. But overall I'm in a lot better shape than many others. I can stand and walk and take care of myself. I'm no longer in pain and can expect to live for years if I'm dilligent and can continue to obtain the medications.
I'll write more about my experiences next month.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Your War Costs

Perhaps the main reason Americans have left ‘W’ get away with his unfunded war in Iraq for so many years is the amazing ability of govt. to hide expenditures. If there is one thing the Federal Govt. can do well, it is hide massive spending and debt. After all, these are the guys who print the money and nobody knows just how much they are printing. In addition, when they need more they sell Treasury Bonds, the most secure investment on the planet since WW II.

The idea of hiding the cost of war isn’t new. Lyndon Johnson didn’t include the cost of VietNam in any of his budget requests for five years. He left the next president so much debt Nixon was forced to take America off the ‘gold standard’ that had been adopted during WW II when the world economy was in shambles.
Only America could back its currency with gold and silver, until VietNam. Even after removing this guarantee, American dollars remained the most secure currency backed by the most prosperous economy for the next thirty years.
All that began to change after the dot com bubble burst in 2001. For the next two years the US stock market struggled. Then, Bush invaded Iraq starting with the most expensive fireworks exhibition in history, “shock and awe”. The most shocking part of that display was the cost [CLASSIFIED].

According to the Washington Post, “…from $48 billion in 2003 to $59 billion in 2004 to $81 billion in 2005 to an anticipated $94 billion in 2006, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The U.S. government is now spending nearly $10 billion a month in Iraq and Afghanistan, up from $8.2 billion a year ago, a new Congressional Research Service report found. Annual war costs in Iraq are easily outpacing the $61 billion a year that the United States spent in Vietnam between 1964 and 1972, in today's dollars. The invasion's "shock and awe" of high-tech laser-guided bombs, cruise missiles and stealth aircraft has long faded, but the costs of even those early months are just coming into view as the military confronts equipment repair and rebuilding costs it has avoided and procurement costs it never expected.”

Each Tomahawk or SHRAM missile cost over $1 Million and so does each of the 3,700 MRAP armored transports now being airlifted to Iraq. We are spending over $322 Million a day in Iraq (vs $1M in VietNam) and some of the replacement costs for equipment and most of the medical costs for injured veterans have yet to be determined. Officially, war replacement parts were estimated at $30 Billion last year. But this week the sixth emergency spending bill (outside of budget) Bush has requested for the war is double last year’s $106 Billion request to which Congress added tens of billions more for MRAPs, medical care and other needed equipment.

All these figures are probably news to you since you never saw a penny of tax increase to pay for this war and the top 2% got huge tax cuts instead –a first during wartime. So far, Bush has spent over $1.5 Trillion dollars more than the govt. took in, almost all of it for his war on Iraq.

But don’t think you got away free and simply added this amount to our deficit. Eventually these huge figures have an impact, even on an economy the size of America’s. When tons of new paper currency is printed without income to support it and huge sums of treasury certificates are sold to foreign investors, there is an impact. The value of the US dollar compared to other major currencies is now at a 32 year low (when Nixon had to pay for VietNam).

Just this year the US dollar is down 8% so far and falling. Oil is priced in dollars so even though consumption currently justifies $70 a barrel, today’s spot price closed at $82. Americans are now paying a 15% penalty other countries are not paying because of a lack of confidence in our economy by other nations and economic policies Treasury Secretary Paulsen has put into place to hide the massive debt Bush has run up and stimulate US exports because of our massive exchange imbalance resulting from “Free” trade. What does this mean to you?

Take all your cash, savings, IRA’s and other investments. Take away 10%. That’s what you’ve lost to currency fluctuations and inflation this year. Over the past four years, you’ve lost 44% of the global buying power on your CD’s if you kept them in US dollars. While you thought you were earning 4.4%, after taxes, inflation, and currency fluctuations you were losing more than 5% in real value.
Retirees and others trying to live on investment income really got screwed and will feel the standard of living change, especially if they want to travel.

While global growth suggests the need for higher interest rates, the US FED lowered interest rates to stay out of recession. This will dry up foreign investment that has been paying for the war as investors move to more lucrative markets. To attract needed investment the Fed will eventually have to match global rates and send our economy spiraling downward as all commodity prices rise. This is called Stagflation. I’ve written about it before (see archives). It is out of our control. Only significant govt. spending restraint and years of low growth will pull us out. But our Congress doesn’t have the guts to cut spending so we may not see the end of Stagflation for a decade or more. By that time, MediCare funding will fail and Social Security will need major adjustments we can’t afford. Worse, individuals can’t even move to another country to avoid this mess. It is already too late for most of us. This is the true cost of the Iraq war to all of us.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Soprano Security

One of my favorite TV shows is the Sopranos because the characters are so well developed. That's not to say they are normal, but in their world they make sense. We get to see more about what makes them tick than Scorsese or Copola have shown us.

We embrace Tony because he's enlightened. He goes to therapy, is getting in touch with his feelings, and even becomes an avenging angel for some of the defenseless creatures he encounters, especially animals. I can just imagine Tony Soprano after his daughter has graduated college and become his financial adviser talking a business owner into an entirely new approach to paying protection.

"I've always felt that making small business owners pay protection under the table was not the smartest way to go. These days the biggest crooks are the legitimate ones. So my financial adviser has come up with a better way. As the new owner of this business you are financing it through the local savings and loan. We've made special arrangements with them to allow you to include your protection payments in your loan package. This way you get many benefits normally denied to you by the system.

By paying your protection up front as mortgage points paid at closing we give you a very special price. While we normally charge 1% a month on the current value of your business when paid out of pocket, we are prepared to let you pay a one-time price in advance on the initial value of your business that will lock in your cost for the next 30 years, at least on a test basis. Once this becomes popular we may have to make an adjustment every ten years or so, but for our early clients we'll take all the risk of inflation.

By paying in advance, we give you all the benefit of compound interest so you only pay the present value of that fixed amount. Let's say the amount is $100,000 so one payment, 1/360th of that would be $278, but the present value of that future amount is only $95. The rest is interest you pay over time like you do on everything else. By borrowing the money from a legitimate lender you pay reasonable rates, not our weekly double digit rates. Plus, you get to deduct all that money from your business income before paying your taxes. With accelerated cost recover depreciation, you'll get over 1/3 of your protection money back from the IRS in the first five years and all of it within 20 years.

Taxes and insurance don't do that and they go up every year. Imagine your neighboring business owner complaining about his higher insurance and protection money rates. At least you'll know your protection rate is fixed because you had the foresight to pay it in advance.

Of course, doing it this ways causes us some problems. First, the money shows up as taxable income to the bank that they give us under the table, so we had to promise them to invest the money with them for ten years and that means we and the bank must pay taxes on our gain every year. That's the money the govt. give you back in depreciation (like insurance companies, the govt. never loses).

You may wonder why we're willing to do all this when we could just extort the money from you as we've always done. Look downtown and then look up. We want those big office buildings to become our next clients. By offering them a legitimate way to account for the expense, they are much more likely to go along. It's not easy trying to twist a corporation's arm. We can make far more money adding deductible security services, similar to environmental services (automated HVAC systems) to the cost of their building than by picking the pockets of 50 guys like you every month.

We even include an electronic security system that notifies us directly when an alarm goes off. For small businesses the monitoring services are all included in the price. We'll respond promptly and unlike the police have a very good chance at recovering your money or merchandise. Even if we don't, the perpetrator won't get away and you can be certain they'll never be back. We also spread the word that your business is protected by us. That carries a lot more weight on this street than an ADT alarm sign.

I hope you can see how we're trying our best to give hard working guys like you a break and shift more protection costs to those who can better afford it. That's why American is the greatest county in the world."

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Insurance Rates

I just paid the semi-annual auto insurance premium on my mother's car. I happened to come across an old statement in my pile of paperwork and realized the charges have gone up 41% since last summer with no change in risk or coverage. I consider more than a 10% increase for anything to be price gouging. I checked online with six other major and minor insurers and couldn't even come close to my renewal premiums, so I was stuck paying up. All I can do is complain to the Florida Dept. of Consumer Affairs, a waste of time, and write about it here.

Upon closer inspection, I realized one of the reasons my rates went up so much is that I wasn't paying as much as most people to start. My mother and I hardly drive anymore, we don't work, don't commute, total mileage is about 3,500 miles a year on her garage kept seven year old Buick LeSabre with automatic theft security and ABS brakes. LeSabre is one of the safest cars as rated by insurers because it is an 'old folks' cruiser. It is covered only for liability and PIP (FL Personal Injury Protection) for the minimum required amounts. We do have comprehensive to cover glass breakage which in FL has no deductible. With all that going for us we still pay 4.7 cents/mile for this minimal coverage. I would image the average commuter who drives 15,000 miles a year pays over $1,200 or 12.5 cents/mile for auto coverage, maybe more with collision (required if the car is financed).

Just think about that the next time you decide to run to the store or go for a drive. Not only are you paying about 13 cents a mile for gas (on 2.87 @22 MPG) but the same amount for insurance and then there's depreciation. Needless to say, that 5 mile run to the store (x2) actually costs $5 in auto expenses. Hertz estimates nearly twice that amount, but they are driving brand new cars which most of us don't. I doubt that one in 100 drivers could correctly estimate the actual cost of driving their own car ten miles to a store and back. If they could, the roads wouldn't be nearly so crowded. Now, don't even get me started on Florida home insurance rates.

BTW, Blogger no longer works with Firefox so I may be switching my blog away from Google. Also, my webpage has been resized to assume 1024x768 resolution. Not everyone uses that default screen setting. These changes suck Google. Get your act together. I refuse to live in a one size fits all IE only world.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Considering Linux

Unless you've been living in a cave, you've probably heard about the PC operating system alternative to Microsoft Windows known as Linux. Linux has been around as long as Windows because it comes from UNIX, a large computer operating system donated to the public 30 years ago by the original AT&T and subsequently maintained by universities and volunteers. Linux is technically just the basic input output processing code or kernel of an operating system written and still maintained by Linux Torvalds and his associates. Many others contribute the remaining code for a complete OS.

More recently, Linux has been kept going by paid programmers from commercial software companies who follow the free licensing rules known as GNU and earn money by providing support and added services to those using their software which must still be made available for free. This is one key difference between Linux and Windows. Windows may be included with a PC, but it is never free or freely distributable. While commercial versions of Linux are sold, a free, no support version must be available for download.

Linux distributions include free software such as an Open Office suite, DVD playing, burning, and copying software. Much Windows software is not free but the quality of 'purchased' (licensed) software is generally far better than free software. There are notable exceptions including free browsers, office suites, and image software. There are thousands of programs available for both Windows and Linux. How much you pay for most software and the quality of that software is another difference between Linux and Windows. Today, many users of Windows and Linux can find free software that does most of the basic computing tasks they need or want to perform.

There may always be some software or hardware that you want or need to use that requires a specific OS. That's why many users of Linux also run Windows on the same computer in a 'dual boot' configuration. Virtualization software allows one OS to run another in an emulation mode, but this requires more system resources and performance is usually not as good. If you decide to try Linux, you will need to decide what hardware and software you need to use and whether you must run both Windows and Linux.

In the past, there have been few restrictions on what you can do with Windows and many included software applications for things like disk maintenance, media playing, and even some free updates and virus removal tools. Starting with Windows Vista, you will face license and performance limitations in how you may use Windows with certain hardware and high definition media content. These limitations are imposed by Microsoft to protect the intellectual property rights of the recording and motion picture industry at the expense of users. In the near future, you may have to pay extra for software updates, accessories, and other added features. There are no arbitrary limitations on what you can do with Linux on your PC.

While the quality of Linux distributions has improved dramatically and is probably as good as Windows in most respects, the amount of hardware that will work with Linux is very limited when compared to Windows. This is the most serious issue for new Linux users. Will Linux install and run on your PC? How difficult will it be for you to find and install drivers to make all your essential hardware work? For many users, Linux is just too hard to install on their hardware and almost no major vendors offer Linux pre-installed. This is the biggest difference between Windows and Linux and the results vary completely with your particular hardware and software.

Microsoft may be working to keep hardware makers limited to Windows Vista in the future with new license agreements that enforce intellectual property restrictions through hardware driver encryption and digital certificates. If a hardware vendor fails to pay or comply with a Microsoft license agreement, it's digital certificate will be revoked and all users of that hardware will no longer be able to use it with Windows. Worse, this may prevent vendors from ever opening their hardware specifications or even providing compiled drivers to work with a few major versions of Linux.

Microsoft dominates the PC market totally. Fewer than 1% of PC's now run Linux. That may be enough to force hardware vendors to ignore Linux completely and comply with Microsoft's newly added level of hardware complexity. Just as VCR makers built in circuitry to prevent 100% copying of tapes and paid license fees on manufactured blank media, high definition digital content will be protected by a new level of hardware driver protection designed to work only with one authorizing operating systems.

It is ironic that this time in history may be the best Linux has ever been and the best it will ever be. I've watched Linux shrink from five percent of the market to less than one percent as it gets better and easier to use. I don't think Linux is quite ready for low-skilled PC users. But more importantly, I don't know if Linux can withstand this final assault from Microsoft and the recording and motion picture industries. Unless PC users revolt over the subtle manipulation of their computers against them to enforce copyright restrictions, the hope of Linux becoming a mainstream OS is doomed.

To read more about Linux:
If you want to learn more about free or so-called Open Software or the Free Software Foundation, search in for Stallman. Richard Stallman, a Harvard predecessor of Bill Gates, made a crucial decision early in his programming career. He felt software should belong to the end user and be free to use, modify, and distribute, not private intellectual property that can only be rented or used only as intended by the developer.

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Monday, June 04, 2007


Apparently, every Century, civilization faces a major new challenge. In the last Century it was the Nazi's who threatened to take control of the world. This time the threat is more subtle but the consequences are the same.

Most people don't have a clue what globalization even means let alone the irreversible impact it will have on our lives. It goes well beyond political ideology and national interests. It will affect us all more than any war. It is called 'Free Trade' but comes at a very high price to both developed and developing nations. Both suffer social upheaval so big business can profit.

Globalization is nothing less than multinational corporations and wealthy investors making big changes in government policies against the interests of average workers and families. Massive amounts of labor, money and natural resources are manipulated to improve profits, lower labor costs, and concentrate power in a small elite class of extremely wealthy individuals. Of course, governments are involved, but in many cases, the interests these governments serve are not those of their typical citizen.

Who are these people? It is difficult to say. But they do hold meetings where the fate of nations is decided. Some of those meetings periodically include govt. leaders who will implement these plans via a supra-governmental organization, answerable to no one. It is known at the G-8. Public protests have had no effect on this blatant exhibition of raw power.

Eight major nations already controlled by these globalization interests implement trade agreements and coordinate to superimpose a new order over nations without consent from any of the citizens involved. If you think I'm kidding, just read about the extensive ground work being done by the Bush Administration on a North American Union without any directive legislation or approval from our Congress. Massive new highways are being built to carry goods directly from Mexico bypassing all border inspection.

Haven't you ever wondered why, almost six years after 9/11, America has no control of it's ports or borders and fails to enforce immigration laws and quotas? Why the law requiring 876 miles of new border fence is ignored? This is not an oversight. It is a massive conspiracy that includes both major political parties, most of Congress, and of course, all recent presidents. No responsible govt. leader or citizen could ignore the overwhelming evidence.

With few exceptions, nations throughout history have had kings or tyrants and a small privileged class who controlled and exploited the masses of poor, helpless laborers. Remarkably little had changed in the past 5,000 years until America's growth and abundance, especially after WWII, built a large Middle Class of citizens who all prospered as our economy grew.

Some will argue this general prosperity was due to the organized labor movement and the rise of Socialism. Others will say it was because of the exploitation of backward nations or industrialization fed by the flow of cheap foreign labor. A few even cite the unprecedented access to public education in the 1950's. Perhaps there is some truth to these claims. Whatever the reasons, things are about to change back to the norm after barely sixty years of extensive wealth sharing with average consumers. Just like deficit spending, for awhile, the entire pie got larger and everyone got more of it. The wealthy never really got poorer and they likely never will. Roosevelt's New Deal that tried to level the playing field just a bit between generations and with progressive taxes has been almost completely undone except for that nagging, unfunded (spent), Social Security entitlement.

The scariest part of this entire story is that we are now so far along in the globalization process that the media must be controlled to prevent the public from learning the truth and stopping it. Like everything else, news and information is big business, controlled by a few wealthy owners. All major news outlets now serve their particular liberal or conservative special interest groups. Ask Dan Rather, who remembers when it was otherwise.

More importantly, it is no longer necessary to prevent the facts from coming out. Even the Chinese are beginning to learn this can't be done. One must only 'spin' the story enough to confuse, obfuscate, or massage the facts to insure no significant conclusions or public response. The Internet helps, but won't change anything. The facts are clear on Bush's invasion of Iraq supposedly to find WMD's that he likely knew never existed. But that news was slow and muddled enough to prevent widespread public outrage.

Propaganda really works and can overcome any facts, even America's blockade of Japan that forced the inevitable war which had been brewing for years. That their official war declaration was translated hours late is an unfortunate blunder. It gave America the moral high ground, allowed the US to cover up our grossly incompetent military preparedness, and finally gave Roosevelt a valid reason for us to enter the war in Europe. History may eventually decipher the real story behind WWII and hopefully point out how it could have been prevented. Until then, Hitler will bear full responsibility. He makes such a great villain and he actually became even crazier with power than Nixon. History is still written by the victors.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Annual PC Backup

Eventually, it may occur to us that our Linux home or Windows My Documents folder is getting thick with old files, making it difficult to locate things. Hopefully, this occurs before we realize our computer is getting old, full, or the hard drive is failing. If you have ever heard that sickening 'clunk, clunk, clunk' of a "dead" hard drive when you start your PC, the next thought that comes to mind is, "when did I last do a backup?"

For others, the start of a new calendar year and resolutions to do things right and better may invoke a preventive backup or maybe it's tax time. If you are technically minded, or just avoiding the actual work, you will first consider how to go about it. I've been doing my writing exclusively on a PC for twenty years now and I've learned a thing or two about backing up. To explain what I've learned I need only describe what I've managed to retain.

It turns out that the least effective method of backing up is proprietary backup software. Such software should never be your only means of storing files for future use and never backup to tape. I have managed to retain not one single system backup that is more than about three years old because that's how often I change computers and except for Windows XP, how often I change operating systems. Microsoft always changes the format of their free backup software (now only included in Professional or Premium versions of Windows). That means all your old backups become useless and inaccessible with each new release of Windows. Thanks a lot Bill!

Backup mediums have certainly changed a lot over the past twenty years as well. I remember making the difficult transition from 'real' floppy diskettes to 3 1/2" disks. I still have one computer with a floppy drive, and about a thousand diskettes. I never bothered copying most to CD or DVD because they were usually just outdated software I'll never use unless I'm stranded on an island with a 1995 PC or start a museum. Soon DVD (even dual layer) will become obsolete so the RIAA and movie industry can force us into new DRM copyright restriction standards and limit Blue Ray/HD DVD use to MS Vista.

I did copy my letters to family onto my hard drives and migrated my LTRS folder with each new drive and PC so I still have a LTRS directory in My Documents (even after 2 drive failures) with some very old letters to my mother in the following formats both zipped and unzipped: .ws (WordStar 3.3), .wp and .wp5 (WordPerfect 4.1, 4.2, and 4.5 DOS, wp6 Windows). Thereafter, I was forced to use MS Word but knew enough to store my documents in a generic format like Rich Text (.rtf) or briefly .htm. Office used to have add-ins to read old formats, but I doubt that Ofc 2003 would be able to open them. I should make an effort to convert these old files to a newer format if I still can.

I still haven't used so called Open Document formats (.swf, .odf) because these standards are so rare, fleeting, and require specific software to access. What is open about that? XML doesn't really apply well to text documents. So, for the past twelve years or so, I've been storing all my documents in Rich Text Format. All Linux and MS editors support it. It took up a bit more space than the various Word formats, but was not subject to macro viruses and if all else failed, it could be read with any editor. Of course, plain ASCII text (.txt) is relatively consistent varying only in end of line characters but compared to 16-bit Unicode, it lacks the use of language marks, Euro symbol and other items I might need, not to mention bold, underline, point size and typeface I can't do without. For me, RTF has been the only adequate constant in a sea of changing hardware and software. I recommend it highly for any documents you write. I save everything, so why not save it in the most accessible format?

The best method of preserving data is the simplest. Copy your documents to another hard drive and migrate old files and folders to each new drive or PC. Storage is cheap enough and constantly expanding so compression is optional and simply trades your time for storage space, if you use a standard compression format. Zip and .tar have been around forever and don't appear to be going away anytime soon. But why complicate matters if your data will fit on a drive uncompressed? Today, you can buy a huge USB external hard drive or 8GB flash memory drive for under $100 and a spare internal disk drive for under $50 (even SATA). There is little excuse for not having spare drives for every PC. Optical media changes more often and is more limiting but I may buy a cheap SATA dual layer DVD burner and media for under $50 when they are being phased out, just to augment my various hard drives.

Once you have a spare drive (internal or external) you still need to segregate your old files before backing up. 1. Change the View in your documents folder to show details and sort files by ascending date (click the date heading until the tiny arrow points up) . 2. Make a new sub-folder for the previous year, 200x. 3. Scroll past sub-folders to the oldest file and click to highlight it. 4. Scroll down to the newest file from the previous year and holding down the Shift key, highlight it to select the entire list. 5. Drag your selection into the year sub-folder moving your old files. 6. Open the year sub-folder in a second window on your desktop so you can see both (in Windows right-click the taskbar and choose Tile). 7. Recreate your sub-folders as needed inside the year sub-folder and repeat the above process for each to move old files into the year hierarchy. If you do this in January, just append the year to folder names or move them all.

8. Now to backup... Move the year window scope up (big arrow) to show your spare drive then open it. 9. Move up one level in the My Documents window then drag (copy) My Documents to the spare drive window. If you already have done so, say 'Yes' to overwriting. Remember, in both Windows and Linux dragging files on the same volume moves them by default, dragging to a new volume copies by default. If you aren't sure, always Right-button drag in Windows to get a choice menu. I copy any significant new document or spreadsheet to my spare drive immediately upon finishing it, just to be safe. Someday I'll write a Perl or Java program to automate daily copying all files in my home folder with the archive bit not set. Computers have always flagged a new file or one that is changed with a single archive bit property so it can be easily identified for backup and then marked as having been backed up. It is still the key strategy used by most proprietary backup software.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Religious Civil War

One of the problems Americans have reconciling the daily news and photos from Iraq with the political rhetoric is that the most basic description of this war has been 'spun' by professionals to be anything but what it truly is. It is now a RELIGIOUS CIVIL WAR for control of of billions of barrels of oil reserves and vast natural resources not to mention the lives and future of 25,000,000 Iraqis.

The players include Iran (Persian Shiites) and most Arab nations in the region (Sunni's) in addition to the US and our few remaining partners.

Over 1,440 days ago the President declared Mission Accomplished in Iraq. Since then, the inevitable civil breakdown that James Baker and Bush's father had predicted and warned against has taken place. It was predictable, inevitable and unavoidable. Numerous examples of our inability to stop this civil war exist. One of the latest is the town of Tal Afar which had been occupied and pacified by the US for several years but once we left, resumed extreme levels of violence and bloodshed. A Sunni martyr giving away a truck load of free flour blew up a crowd of 80 civilians. In retaliation, Shiite government police or militia raided Sunni homes during the night, executing over 60 Sunnis. We are powerless to stop it except in a few isolated areas and then only temporarily. John McCain put it best when he called this situation a gruesome game of 'whack-a-mole'. Ironically, McCain has reversed his view and now supports continuing this futile strategy.

Tal Afar is but a preview of what will happen in Baghdad, when we inevitably leave. All out religious warfare (the worst possible kind) will continue until one group nearly exterminates the other and takes total control of the government and the country or some portion of it.

ALL parties have contributed hundreds of $Billions of dollars worth of war materials over the past four years to influence the outcome. The US is spending $12.5 million a MINUTE in Iraq, supporting our troops and the Shiite dominated government we helped establish. Iran funds the Shiite militias which at 1 million strong constitute the largest military force in Iraq, by far. Saudi Arabia and it's allies have been supporting the former ruling Sunni's who are natural allies with al-Qaeda but together are still losing ground and limited to extensive acts of terrorism. US taxpayers are spending 100's of times more than any of these groups but because of crooked US politicians and contractors are not getting much bang for our bucks.

Only Iran and wealthy Arab oil sheiks could afford to conduct warfare on this scale for over four years. Cheney knows this and was recently summoned to Riyadh to be told in person that Arab nations would not allow Iran (through it's Shiite militias) to take control of Iraq, whatever the cost. Expect a new commitment by Arab nations of arms and maybe even troops to prevent a clear Shiite takeover. This could be our brief opportunity to extract America from this conflict. If we wait and try to leave later, Iraq will explode into open regional warfare. Perhaps it is already too late.

Considering the stakes for all in the region, total victory can't be allowed, so the likely result will be a division of the country into at least three defensible areas. The Kurds in the North have wanted independence all along and will try to take and hold the oil fields around Mosul while establishing a Kurdish state, if we help them. If we won't help them, they will be destroyed by Iranian or Shiite fighters. The Sunni's still control Western Iraq, but will likely lose the valuable oil fields and Persian Gulf access in the South to Iran-backed Shiite's who have both legitimate and purely numerical claims to the government and most of Iraq. Baghdad will become another Beirut, shelled into a virtual ghost town. The battle for Baghdad will never stop. Baghdad will never recover it's former glory or prosperity. America has nothing to gain by staying in Iraq. We've already lost far more than we have gained by destabilizing this country and the entire region. If we don't pull out soon reducing the scope of this battle to a regional conflict, the entire Middle East could explode into a Third World War that will spread across Europe beginning the End Days, as many believe was foretold in the Bible.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

PC Evolution 2007

The original IBM PC released 27 years ago ran a 4.77 Mhz 8086/8088 CPU, 512 Kb of RAM memory on a 4.77 Mhz system bus with CGI 8-bit gray-scale video. It was meant to be a glorified adding machine, multiplying and adding columns of numbers and doing simple word processing. The XT model added an expansion slot and the AT two years later included the new 80286 processor at 10 Mhz.

PC's built in 2007 are expected to download and play video from a broadband connection, record and play HDTV simultaneously, or at least decrypt and output BlueRay or HD-DVD movies in surround sound to your plasma or LCD HDTV and home audio system. To do that, the video capabilities and system bus have to be jacked up like they are on steroids. Just compare one of these new monsters to your old PC.

The video card is a PC on a card. It may even have it's own fan and certainly has a huge heat sink. The CPU now dominates the board with a giant block of aluminum and fan atop it that makes your old CPU look puny. That's not because the silicon is bigger. It is now ¼ the size of your last CPU but contains two or more processors and 50 million transistors. All the rest is to support the 939 pin connectors and to dissipate the tremendous heat. Celeron CPU's run above the boiling point of water, 52 degrees Celsius (125F) but newer AMD processors run at room temperature if the huge heat sink and fan are working properly. The clock rate is being reduced, often 2 Ghz or less as the performance has continued to expand geometrically per Moore's Law.

Windows Vista Home Premium expects 1 Gigabyte of DDR memory, now 6400 times faster than SDRAM, a video card more powerful than your last PC with 256MB of dedicated video RAM and a CPU comparable to at least a 3 Ghz Pentium. To record and play high definition video in real time (without jerkiness) the main system bus has to run at 800-1000 Mhz with extra high bandwidth channels for video beyond what the AGP bus offered. The new PCIExpress16 standard handles 16 times more video data than it's immediate predecessor which blew away the old 8xAGP bus used a year or two ago. For gamers, this means you can see Shack sweat while playing the NBA video game. For the rest of us, it means our PC's will play or record high definition TV and movies from various sources. The PC is moving to a new role, more than just a communication device, it will coordinate our super high definition digital home multimedia experience.

I mentioned all that to explain what happened to me. I offered to upgrade a PC I had built for a friend a few years ago. I couldn't use the CPU, memory, or motherboard since all the standards had changed, but I thought I could use the old case, power supply, and CD-RW drive at least. I was wrong. The new board I purchased has a PCIExpress16 video slot that uses 75 Watts of power. So the board has an ATX12V 2.2 standard 24-pin power connector. If you check your old PC's power supply it has only a 20-pin connector. This standard hadn't changed since motherboards went from 5v to 3.3v almost a decade ago. So don't expect to upgrade that old PC without replacing the power supply. New ones also should include a special power tap for the newer SATA drive bus and maybe even a special vCore power connector for the new multi-core CPU's.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ubuntu Linux 2006.10

With Windows Vista hitting the streets and users cringing at the hefty hardware requirements it is appropriate to look around to see what other choices are available. Apple's OS X is a highly polished, well respected, and too expensive alternative by now but at 2.5% market share or less, it isn't even an afterthought at Microsoft. Linux has failed to gain control of the desktop too, not because it lacks features, polish, performance, or software, but because few hardware vendors offer Linux drivers for their printers, scanners, cameras, wireless cards, and other PC accessories.

If your old PC is running anything prior to Windows 2000, you should seriously consider trying Linux for security reasons if nothing else. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. There are many flavors of Linux which is both good and bad. It is bad because there is no consensus among Linux users so they can't get a significant enough market share to draw the attention of hardware vendors. The upside is that with so many flavors, you can probably find one that best meets your needs and likes. It also prevents anyone from developing a Linux virus that can spread very far. The support community is generally better for Linux as well, out of necessity, so you will find lots of free help getting started and may even enjoy helping others follow the trail you help to blaze.

I've tried many different versions of Linux over the years but I believe mainstream PC users should make the transition as easy and painless as possible until you get more familiar with the terminal (command line) and find a support community you really like. For those reasons I suggest you download the single Live CD of Kubuntu Linux (Ubuntu with the KDE desktop environment). This one CD has everything a beginner will need and you can even mail order one for about $3. While you are trying single CD distros, PCLinuxOS 0.93a is pretty smooth and has a great Mandrake installer to partition your drive or setup multi-boot menus.

Those with more time and a good broadband connection may want to try the five CD distribution of Open Suse 10.2 on an old PC or spare partition of your regular PC. It shares the KDE desktop but is not a Debian based Linux. It is closer to Red Hat's Fedora Open Source version. Mandriva is a third choice you may want to consider, especially if you are buying disks. It is cheaper that SuSe, with fewer disks, and very user friendly. If the distro you try is from October 2006 or later it will include Firefox 2.0, the best new browser available. Check the feature versions at

If you go with an Open Source (freeware) distro, you will have to add-in support for proprietary formats like PDF, Flash, DVD movies, etc. There may be an entire CD available with most of these on it that can bring your OS up to an approximation of the retail version.

You will have to download and install extras via the package manager that comes with your distribution. Ubuntu/Kubuntu uses the Synaptic GUI for the Debian APT installer, while SuSe uses it's own RPM package manager in the Yast Control Panel. Even a newbee shouldn't have much trouble downloading and installing software in these newer Linux distros.

Like Vista, all the new Linux operating systems assume you have a network connection to the internet. If you are still a dial-up user, there is no good news (except ...referred by STRAPANE). I managed to get Ubuntu working with my full external modem, but the OS didn't see it or my serial port. Kubuntu has the KPPP dialer which should allow full modem users to avoid the terminal window entirely. If you have a WinModem, SuSe is your best bet, but even it is unlikely to have drivers for any but a few Intel or one Motorola chipsets. Most major video cards by major vendors like ATI and NVidia have Linux drivers and you might even be able to print with the CUPS printing system or using TCP/IP.

Linux is not the perfect desktop replacement for Windows and won't be without some major changes in the industry, but it can be a rewarding alternative to dumping a perfectly good PC to buy one that runs Vista. I suggest most users can run it dual-boot with Windows 2000 or XP and enjoy the best of both worlds. Here are some places to order CD's. Kubuntu Ubuntu Edgy 6.10 Open SuSe 10.2

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Firefox 2.0

Here's a brief overview of the newest, best web browser and why it is better than Internet Explorer. is a link to download it at the top of the page.

It is easy to download and install, even with a dial-up connection, and won't interfere with Internet Explorer. You can use either or both. Just leave the box to always ask checked in the preference dialog that pops up and you can easily make either your default browser. Even your bookmarks (Favorites) and homepage can be migrated automatically, if you wish.

I've tried the new Internet Explorer 7 and find it a poor copy of Firefox 2.0 that has obvious bugs. I'm really disappointed that Microsoft rushed the release of IE7 just to get it out a few days before Firefox 2 and left so many bugs in it. I couldn't even resize the browser window by grabbing the borders. That means IE7 isn't written to basic Windows standards, but Firefox is. Also, there are far more useful add-ins for Firefox than IE, not that you need them. With built-in phishing (bogus web domain) warnings, easier to use tabs, and a cleaner interface on Firefox 2, I think you will agree with me that Microsoft has lost the right to claim they have the best browser. Just having RSS feeds built in is a welcome addition. Don't miss the weather add-in that sits on the status bar.

Experts recommend switching from IE6 due to the numerous security problems it has. If you are switching to a new browser, give Firefox serious consideration. Generally, most users will find Firefox 2 easier to use than IE7 and it has options that are easier to figure out and select. The only shortcoming I see so far is the lack of zone security control. But the Noscripts add-in with icon options to temporarily allow scripts for a particular website for example is much easier and faster to use. This add-in allows everyone to run with higher security by default than with IE.

There seems to be fewer security issues for basic browsing with Firefox so that offsets the ability to lock down the browser (disable most features) for most websites as you must do with IE6 using zones.

Both issue security patches promptly and regularly and update automatically or manually (from the Help menu in Firefox). But security issues in IE are exploited much more often and much faster.

It is much easier to remove personal data stored by Firefox than Internet Explorer 7. As Martha says, that's a good thing!

Overall, I don't feel like I'm missing anything by using Firefox 2 which also has Adobe extensions and there are lots of add-in features not available in IE7 (I love the forecastfox add-in for the status bar along the bottom). If I do come across a website that simply won't work with Firefox (Microsoft's requires scripts normally not allowed by the Noscripts add-in), I can make a temporary or permanent website exception or even use Internet Explorer. The two are mutually exclusive.

Try Firefox 2 and decide for yourself. I'd like to know what you think.