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April 29, 2008

Plump Juicy Raisins

The front of the box of Raisin Bran I have in my cupboard says "Hundreds of plump juicy Sun-Maid raisins." But they aren't plump and juicy. They are dried and shriveled like all raisins. If they were plump and juicy wouldn't they be grapes? It just bugs me they would go out of their way to put something so blatantly false on the box.

It's not much different from when they used to say that some cereal was part of a nutritious breakfast. The rest of the nutritious breakfast was the milk you'd put on the cereal, orange juice, eggs, toast, and fruit. Take the cereal out of that equation and you'd still have a nutritious breakfast, but with fewer calories. What they should have said was that the cereal was a completely unnecessary part of a nutritious breakfast.

April 27, 2008

Series I Savings Bonds

While visiting Clark Howard's website to find out where I could recycle my computer, I saw an alert saying to hurry and buy Series I Savings Bonds and earn 6% interest. Since my PayPal and ING accounts are earning less than 3%, that sounded pretty good. Of course, there's a catch. The big catch is that 6% is only available if you buy bonds before the end of the month, which is just a few days away. The second is the 6% rate won't last forever and in fact it won't even start until November. The last is that if the rate then goes down and you want to sell your bond before its 5 year maturity, then you forfeit 3 months of interest.

In order to buy the bonds you have to visit a bank or buy online. For a person finding out about this on the evening of April 25, this presents problems. The bank doesn't sell the bond directly but just applies for a bond. The date of sale is once the Treasury Department executes the order, which is done by mail and can take a couple of weeks (not true; see comment below). The electronic purchase method has a big drawback as well: You have to open an account and then receive a card in the mail before you can buy anything. The card can take two weeks to arrive. However one person on Clark's website said he ordered his card on a Friday and received it on a Monday, so anything is possible. Even if I get it on Monday (unlikely since I applied in the evening) there is still a delay as the government doesn't issue the bond until the funds are received from your bank account, which can take a couple of days. The good part is that if this works, I will get interest for the entire month of April since Treasury doesn't do partial months.

The deal with the 6% return is tricky. The rate consists of two components. The first is a fixed component which is currently 1.2%. Once you buy a bond, the fixed part stays the same for up to 30 years (when the bond stops earning interest). This rate has gone as high as 3.6% but is expected to drop to 0.5% on May 1. The second component varies with inflation. It is currently 3.06% (giving a combined rate of 4.28%) but on May 1 will rise to 4.84% since the consumer price index rose by that amount from the determining period of September 2007 to March 2008 (to further complicate matters, the Treasury's website shows the fixed interest rate as a yearly yield, but the inflation rate as a six-month yield, so they actually show 1.53% as the current inflation rate). In another six months that rate will change again. By buying by April 30 you lock in the 1.2% fixed rate, but you also lock in the current 3.06% inflation rate. When the bond turns one half year old in October, the rate will reset to the current inflation rate which will still be 4.84%. If you buy on May 1, you get the new fixed rate as well as the 4.84% inflation rate right now. In November the May 1 bond's inflation rate would change to the Nov 1 inflation rate. For a while inflation has been pretty low and yields on these bonds have been fairly miserable. You could have done better with money market accounts or CD's. But now that interest rates are very low and inflation is up, the bonds start looking a lot better.

If I can get the Treasury Direct card on Monday or Tuesday and if PayPal transfers to the $5,000 to my checking account in time (that's the maximum you can buy per year electronically, though you can get another $5,000 worth through a bank), then I will try these bonds out. If inflation goes back down in the next few years, I will need to wait until the inflation component drops for three months and then sell the bonds, taking the 3-month penalty, but keeping all of the interest earned when rates were higher.

Digging a Hole to China

I was reading some comments from Thursday's episode of Lost. There is a reference to Tunisia and someone pointed out that the opposite side of the earth from Tunisia is the South Pacific off the coast of New Zealand (about where the Lost island is thought to be located). They linked to this website:


So I spent a while playing around with that and learned that most places have ocean on the other side of the earth including all of the continental US, Europe, Africa, and Australia. What a boring planet. South America has an opposite in China (must be where the idea of digging a hole to China originated) and Indonesia.

April 26, 2008

Computer Recycling

This week I took Mom's old "Dell" (actually a Compaq) home and erased the hard drive so that the computer could be junked. She didn't want me to take it home because she knew it would just end up in my junk room with other obsolete stuff that I haven't thrown away. I told her that every now and then there would be places set up where computers could be recycled. Unfortunately, they had just had one in Dekalb and I missed it. She called the next day and said she had heard on Clark Howard that you could turn in old computers at the Atlanta stadium today. I dug up my oldest Dell (bought in 1996), which was the one that Mom and Dad used for a few years. It had two hard drives in it. One was 1.6 GB and the other was 5.6 GB. As I had done with the Compaq, I took out the hard drive and connected it to my Dell so that I could format the drive, load it up with junk files (TV episodes) and then format it again. The 1.6 GB drive made a loud clicking when it spun up, so I could access it. Then I just put the hard drives back in the computers, but not connected.

Anyway, I drove down to the stadium at about noon. They were very organized with a lot of volunteers that directed me to a group of people who quickly removed everything I had and then I just drove off. It was almost like getting a pit stop. In no time they had hauled off three computers (my old Dell, the Compaq, and Susan's old computer), two Dell CRT monitors (one 15" and one 17"), and two old Powerbooks, the 520c and the 5300c. The 5300 was all dissembled and in a bag after my failed attempt to convert it to an electronic picture frame.

A lot of electronics like this are shipped overseas where the parts are separated as much as possible and the metal extracted (copper, steel, lead, tiny amounts of gold and other precious metals) or the glass melted down (from CRT monitors).

I still have my new laptop, my 3-year-old Dell desktop, and its precursor (from 2000) which I have set up as kind of a media center so that I can play iTunes through my stereo (though I don't use it hardly ever).

April 25, 2008

Linux, Part 4

I haven't been using Linux much lately. But I was still looking forward to the release of the new version, 8.04 Hardy Heron. I had been running 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon. I was wondering how they would jump from version 7.10 to 8.04, but I realized today that the version numbers are just the year and month of the release.

Last night I started doing an upgrade rather than a clean installation. My installation has gotten a little more buggy than usual lately, asking me for my password for a keyring when I boot up. I probably should have gone with a clean install, but with all the trouble I went through last time getting the wireless drivers set up, I thought I'd try the upgrade. It went fairly smoothly, but on my low-speed DSL line there were still a couple of hours of downloads. After watching fairly closely the first 15 or 20 minutes, I went to bed while it downloaded and installed stuff. In the middle of the night, as I was letting the dogs out, I checked how it was going. The computer had gone to sleep for some reason and I wound up rebooting. But the installer recovered nicely and this morning, after clicking a couple of dialog boxes, the installation was complete.

Although all of these upgrades had been downloaded wirelessly (the wireless bitrate for G is about the same as my DSL speed), when I rebooted, it no longer would connect with the network. I checked the settings and it was detecting the network, just not connecting, so the drivers seemed to still be working. Eventually I changed the security protocol from generic WPA to TKIP and re-entered my password. It hooked right up when I did that.

I also downloaded the clean installation and creating a boot disk went much smoother when using Roxio at work than it had using Sonic at home. All I had to do was double-click the ISO file and then make sure I clicked "Make bootable disk" and I had a bootable disk. Last time it took me 5 disks to get that right.

I was still having trouble with Hardy getting on to my wireless network. Plus I was getting some odd shutdown behavior. So I thought I would do a clean install and hope for the best. About the only things I had done after the last install was fix the wireless and download a DVD player and First Class bulletin board client.

In Vista I deleted three partitions. One was for the 40 GB partition I had set up for Linux, but Linux had broken off a 2 GB partition from there to use as a swap file. At first I thought the third partition was a second swap file from the Hardy upgrade, but actually I think I deleted the media player partition because when I was done I had freed up 42 GB. This created free space that wasn't part of a partition. I wanted to put the free space back in my main Vista partition, but when I tried to do that by deleting the free spac, Vista said that by doing so I could make it unusable, so I had always stopped there. But this time I went ahead and the space was recovered. So at least now I know I can get rid of the Ubuntu partition. Then I shrunk the Windows partition to free up 40 GB of space again. However, Hardy seems to have a different approach to partitioning than Gutsy had. So after struggling a little, I went back and deleted the free space again so that Hardy could break off the partition. I had to also boot from the Dell installation DVD to fix the boot record and get rid of the Grub loader.

Once I was done with the clean install, of course wireless didn't work. I had found what was supposed to be an "easy way" to install a driver for the Dell Wireless 1395 card last time, but I couldn't figure that out. So I went back to the long way of installing ndiswrapper. Once I did that the wireless card was activated and I could see wireless networks, but I couldn't connect to my network. So now I'm fed up again.

April 15, 2008

FastStone Image Viewer

For the post on the Williamsburg trip I wanted to take the pictures that Mom and Carol had taken and shrink them down to something appropriate for a web page. I also wanted to handle all of the pictures as a batch, so I didn't have to open each one individually, resize it, and then save again. I visited download.com and found a highly rated (5 stars by the editors, 4.5 stars by the users) free image editor called FastStone Image Viewer that can handle batch conversions like that. I believe this is the same viewer that I had loaded on Susan's computer when I had to crop some files. With my copy of Lview Pro (shareware I paid for in the 90's) getting pretty old, lately I've been using the very basic image editor that comes with Microsoft Office, but with the switch to Office 2007, they ruined the program. For instance, I don't even know how to use it to open a picture file. The obvious menu location, File:Open, is not available.

FastStone is kind of complicated for what it does with some funky screens and previews. But after making copies of the pictures I wanted to use on the gallery web page in a single folder, FastStone made new copies in a subfolder that were resized perfectly.

April 10, 2008

Trip to Williamsburg

Mom, Carol, Andrew, and I enjoyed a great trip to Virginia. We got to spend a day at Busch Gardens Europe (Florida's park has an African theme) and ride the terrifying Sheikra . . . I mean, Griffon. We got to see some shows, go on some 4-D rides, go to a beer tasting, and see some of the gardens. Crowds were fairly light and the lines for most of the rides were short. Thanks very much to Mom for the tickets to everything we would go to.

Gallery of Pictures

We spent a cold rainy day at the Yorktown National Battlefield. We saw a film, went through the exhibits, and attended a talk out on the battlements where we learned about the siege and battles of the final major battle of the American Revolution, resulting in the surrender of General Cornwallis to General Washington. We learned that although there was some fighting and a lot of shells fired back and forth, it was more of a strategic victory after Cornwallis was cornered in Yorktown without supplies and no way of escape since the British navy, which was supposed to pick up Cornwallis, had been defeated by the French navy just a few miles away. Carol got a CD so that we could go on a narrated driving tour of different sites in the area.

We spent the next couple of days touring Colonial Williamsburg. After dinner we visited Dr. Chris Strawberries and Andrew got to play Star Wars Risk with Chris' son, Hance.

On the last full day we visited the Jamestowne Settlement, a recreation of the first permanent British settlement in North America. Although most of the original settlers would die and the settlement was abandoned after about 60 years, it literally planted the seeds of American success, introducing tobacco farming to Virginia. They built a nice museum there last year to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the settlement. We didn't have time to go into the national park, but we did stop to see the glassblowing shop there, located near the ruins of a historic glassblowing works. They were making small green pitchers, so I bought one they had made earlier (you can't get fresh ones because they have to cool off slowly or they will crack).

On Thursday we drove to Washington to stay with Joe and Sandy. We pretty much invaded their house, but they were great hosts and both Sandy and Joe made excellent food (Uncle Joe cooks breakfast) and did a great job of showing us around. We visited Arlington Cemetery and watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and also a wreath-laying ceremony. It was too rainy to stay for long. The cherry blossom festival was in full swing in Washington, and even though it was overcast, it was impressive visiting at this time of year. The pictures don't show how pretty all of those pink blossoms are. There were tons of people walking around and taking pictures. We saw a V-22 Osprey flying around the city with its giant propellers in the vertical helicopter position. We rode in the next day on Metro and took in every monument we could. Andrew finished his Junior Ranger workbook and was sworn in at the end of the day and given a badge.

Thanks to Mom for such a jam-packed trip!

April 6, 2008

Q1 Report

This was a pretty dismal quarter for my web page revenues. In mid-January I moved all of my web pages from SpeedFactory to the new website at iGirder. Traffic was way off (stabilizing at about 200 hits per day from 300 previously) as the search engines slowly started referring people to the new location. But even so, my page rank was down to zero from a respectable 4 previously. This meant I did not rank as high when people did searches and probably also affected the AdSense rates that Google charged to people clicking on ads at my site.

As a result, my AdSense revenues were down to about $10 per month and the results for the entire quarter were about the same as I had in December. For Amazon, I still had a great January ($75) due to a couple of large purchases, but after that sales trickled in at $13 and $16 a month in February and March.

I feel like I needed to make the change at some point, but certainly in the short term I am losing much more money in revenues than I can possibly save by no longer keeping SpeedFactory which only cost $8.33 a month. I do feel that even if I had stayed on SpeedFactory that I would see declining revenues since the primary revenue-producer, the battery pack web page, isn't producing much revenue as Apple's latest players have better battery performance and fewer companies are producing battery packs. Also, the recession has probably forced Google to lower their AdSense rates as fewer people are willing to pay top dollar for ad clicks.

The Amazon sales were greatly boosted by sales of a Nintendo Wii player for $428.89 which qualified for the higher commission rate for video games rather than electronics, generating $27.88 with a single sale. Someone bought an iPod nano for $189 which, even at the lower 4% electronics rate, still generated $7.56. I also sold a DeWalt Cordless impact drill generating $6.17 which was probably also the most unusual thing I sold this quarter.