Insomnia Log

This is what keeps me awake at night???

Who needs sleep? (well you’re never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep? (tell me what’s that for)
Who needs sleep? (be happy with what you’re getting,
There’s a guy who’s been awake since the second world war)

-- words and music by Steven Page & Ed Robertson

Location: Boulder, Colorado, United States

Everything you need to know about me can be found in my posts

Sunday, January 29, 2006

No Slippery Slope Here

There are a couple of issues being discussed for the new session of the Colorado State Legislature that I'd like to comment on. Some of you may think my positions on these issues are contradictory. However, I believe that each issue should be analyzed separately, rather than relying on a knee jerk response, as many politicians (and others) do.

Seat Belt Law: Unnecessary Infringement on Right to Be Stupid

First, a bill has been introduced (HB06-1125) that would allow the State Patrol to pull over a driver for not wearing a seat belt and give that driver a ticket. This would also apply to front seat passengers, as well as to the use of child restraints. Currently in Colorado, you can be given a ticket for any of these violations, but you can't be pulled over for that sole reason.

This proposed law as well as the existing restriction (with the exception of the child restraint clauses) are a bad idea. We are making it a crime for someone to put their own life in danger. By not wearing a seat belt, the driver and passengers are harming nobody but themselves.

Some argue that, because the results of being in an automobile accident without wearing a seat belt are so grisly and costly, others are impacted. Well, the legislature is being very particular about what risky activities it is regulating. Just a few months ago, I fell in the bathroom and broke my back, but I don't see anybody pressing for a law requiring seat belts on toilets.

Plus, and this my favorite reason for not liking seat belt laws, people that are too stupid to buckle up are the ones that will die. Darwinism is at work here.

Anti-Smoking Law: Necessary Infringement on Right to Assault Others

The second issue I want to discuss is a plan by a group of lawmakers (HB06-1175) to introduce a bill to ban smoking in indoor work places, and other public places such as restaurants, bars, and casinos. Currently many cities and counties in the state have such laws (although each is different). This would create a single statewide standard, while allowing individual localities to implement more restrictive rules.

This one is a great idea and its time has definitely come. As with seat belts, the lawmakers are regulating a specific activity, but in this case, those participating in the activity are harming others.

I'm sure many of you remember what it was like twenty years or so ago, before smoking bans came into vogue. Many places had nonsmoking sections, but mostly they were a joke, with no standards. You'd ask for a nonsmoking seat on the plane, and if you were lucky and seats were available in that section, you'd end up sitting a row or two away from the smokers. Same in restaurants. Your nonsmoking seat (if there were any) would be next to the smoking section, you'd have to stand in the smoking section to pay your bill, or the restrooms would be smoke filled. You couldn't taste your food, your clothes would reek when you got home, your eyes would burn, and half the time you'd end up sick or getting a cold the next day. And don't even think about going to a bar or concert -- not even a pretense of a nonsmoking section.

Compare that to today in Boulder, which several years ago outlawed smoking in enclosed public places. You no longer have to plan how to avoid the haze. I can go into any restaurant or bar and know that I won't be assaulted nasally.

Yet even today, when I'm traveling on company business and my boss says let's all meet in the hotel bar, I can't just tell him no. And now that I'm used to smoke-free living, being in a smoky area is that much worse.

Smokers' Rights Groups Don't Agree

Don't smokers have the right to freely associate with whomever they want? Of course they do. They just can't blow their carcinogens in my face.

Aren't we now infringing on the smokers' rights, and giving special preference to nonsmokers? No, smokers can do all the same things nonsmokers do.

Shouldn't this be a matter for the private business owner to decide? Well, there probably was a time several years ago when restaurant and bar owners could have taken the matter in their own hands. They could have come up with a set of rules or guidelines for themselves, and possibly avoided having it done for them. Many other industries have self-regulated rather than facing laws forcing them. This never happened. And now every town, city, and county in the state has a different set of rules, which is unfair to everybody.

Didn't I read that the studies on secondhand smoke are all bogus? Well, I've heard that too, but there are just too many studies that have found so many health issues for me to believe that rumor. Here are a few of the studies:

1992 EPA Study

2004 EPA Study on effect of environmental smoke on children

1997 California EPA

2000 NIH Report

WHO Guidelines

1998 UK Scientific Committee report

1997 report from Australian National Health and Medical Research Council

Many (even most) smokers are courteous. However, as a nonsmoker, the ones I most remember are the ones who are rude, who don't care that their smoking impacts many others near them. I agree, laws should not be necessary. But, as with so many other areas of our lives, the ideal world doesn't exist.

Let's go ahead and pass this new law banning smoking in all Colorado public places. And don't worry, it will not lead to bans on smoking in your home or car, or bans on eating red meat and white sugar, or laws forcing people to wear seat belts. Oops, lost that one already.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

What About the US Constitution Don't You Understand?

Today's pop civics quiz:

When is it acceptable for a religious group to write their beliefs into law?
  1. When their beliefs are based on tradition.

  2. When a majority of people share their religion.

  3. When a majority of religions share their belief.

  4. When a majority of people share their belief.
If you guessed E, none of the above, congratulations, you understand a very basic concept key to the first amendment to the US Constitution. If you said anything else, it is time for a brush up.

Here is clue for next time: The Bill of Rights is not designed to protect the rights of the majority. It is designed to protect the rights of the minority from the whims of the majority.

A coalition of religious groups in Colorado is either not smart enough to understand this, or they are trying to pull another one over on us. The group, called Coloradans for Marriage, is backing an amendment to the Colorado State Constitution that would restrict marriage to one man and one woman. Note that this restriction is already part of Colorado law, and the amendment, if passed, would serve only to protect the law against claims that it is in violation of the state constitution.

If you are a regular reader of my essays, you know that when religious groups push political issues I get very concerned on constitutional grounds. It comes perilously close to asking legislators (and the public, in this case) to sanction an official state religion. In this particular case, there are churches and other religious groups that believe the opposite of what has been proposed, so my alarm bells are going at full volume.

Let's look at the group's arguments, and see if there is anything of merit that is not based in a particular religious belief.
  1. Marriage between one man and one woman is rooted in centuries of tradition.
    Tradition here being a code word for religion. In any case, one person's tradition is the next person's cultural baggage, and that same tradition is completely irrelevant to the third. Tradition does not imply value.

  2. Marriage between one man and one woman is best for children.
    Ok, now you have insulted my Grandma, as well as my wife and me. To say that you are protecting children makes the assumption that the only purpose for marriage is procreation. If your argument is followed to its conclusion, then any marriage in which children are not planned is not valid. You definitely owe an apology to all of us who marry for love or other reasons.

  3. We are protecting Coloradans from activist judges.
    You know and I both know that an activist judge is only in the eye of the beholder. It is any judge that rules contrary to the beliefs of the person making the charge. In my mind, any judge that would allow a law that so clearly violates the First Amendment is an activist judge.

  4. People [gays] do not have the right to redefine marriage for the rest of us.
    Nobody is redefining anything for you. You are free to believe that gay marriage is wrong. You can ban gay marriage in your church. You can boycott gay marriages. You can even refuse to marry somebody of the same sex.
When two gays marry it does not in any way impact the "institution" of marriage, nor does it hurt any straight marriage in particular. No fewer straights will marry, and the straight marriages that happen will have the same success and failure rates.

It may be that you truly believe that gay people are on their way to hell. Fine. Believe that. Tell them that. Just don't try to pass laws to turn life here into hell.

It may be that gay people disgust you. Fine. Be disgusted. I can sympathize, because I feel the same way about people that try to write their religion into law.
However, I will not try to pass a law or a constitutional amendment to outlaw your behavior.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I Know Plenty of Kooks (but I wouldn't let my daughter date one)

If you are a regular reader of my essays, you know that I don't have much respect for Pat Robertson. Personally I think he is no more than a religious nut that somehow gets a significant number of folks to listen to him spew nonsense into the atmosphere.

Pat Robertson does have one redeeming value, however: What he does is protected by the Constitution of the USA. He can believe anything he wants, and he can say anything he wants. And, fortunately for me, I am just as free to label him for the kook that he is.

Ray Nagin, on the other hand, is the Mayor of a major city. When he spouts off, in his official capacity, he is not just proving his nuttiness. He is likely violating his oath of office.

Now, I don't know what the oath of office for Mayor of New Orleans is, but I assume it includes something about supporting the laws of the city, the state, and/or the country. When he talks about New Orleans having to be a "chocolate" city, he is not simply insulting people of multiple races. He is also advocating for one segment of the population, and presumably against another segment of his constituency.

In addition, Nagin has said that God wants it this way. He also accuses God of punishing America for Nagin's specific list of sins with the hurricanes of the past year. The honorable mayor is welcome to believe what he wants. But when he starts to perform the duties of his office to advance his own religious beliefs, that is clearly a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.

Ray Nagin, be a kook if you must. But, given your official position you need to be an equal opportunity kook -- a kook for all the citizens of New Orleans, not just the chocolate-flavored ones. And if you are going to impose your kookiness of the citizens of your city, make sure your kookiness is not just your religion's kookiness, but rather one that we can all enjoy together.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Speed Matters

Last Sunday, the Stardust spacecraft returned from its mission to collect dust particles from a comet. After the fastest return ever of a man-made probe, 29,000 mph, it successfully landed and was recovered, revealing even more cosmic dust than was hoped for.

Thursday, the New Horizons spacecraft took off for Pluto and regions beyond. It was accelerated to 36,000 mph, the fastest ever launch, and is expected to reach 47,000 mph during its journey as it picks up a boost from Jupiter. Eventually, it will get a close-up look at regions of our solar system we have only the dimmest images of.

Here's the lesson: Don't be shy. Get out there are give it all you've got. The harder you go, the bigger the rewards. And, it's damn impressive, too!

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Who Here Thinks This Essay Is Unconstitutional?

According to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 51% think wiretapping without court approval is ok when investigating terrorism, while 47% say it isn't.

Well, here's what I think: Who cares what 51% or 47% of the public think about this issue? They don't get to decide. It would be like doing a poll to see if Michael Jackson should be found innocent or guilty.

Oh, wait. They did do such a poll.

Anyway, I don't know all the facts of the wiretapping ordered by our President, so I can't really say for sure if what he did is legal or constitutional. However, it is a serious charge, and it warrants serious further investigation.

For reference, here is the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

What Price Apology?

A few days ago I condemned Pat Robertson for completely inappropriate comments about Ariel Sharon after Sharon's stroke, the latest in a long line of highly inappropriate comments.

Well, it turns out that Robertson was working with Israel to build a $50 million evangelical Christian center there. And, surprise, after Robertson's remarks, the Israelis no longer felt good about participating in that project.

Well, it turns out that PR can be bought. To get his center in Israel, he sent a personal apology to Ariel Sharon's son. And, yes, that was good enough to get Israel back to the table on building the Christian center.

Seems to me that Pat Robertson owes the biggest apology to the few people who still listen to what he says with even the tiniest bit of respect.

None of this has changed my opinion that there is a special circle in hell reserved for Pat Robertson.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Girl Scout Scandal

I admit it, I stashed a few boxes of Girl Scout cookies on the shelf in my office, for days just like today. Today I broke open the Peanut Butter Patties. As I snacked, I read the label. Zero grams of trans fat. Good, I watch what I eat, and trans fats are right at the top of the list of things I avoid. When I bought them from my niece, I made sure that I picked the ones with none of that bad stuff.

Then my eyes glanced at the list of ingredients. There it was. "One or more of the following partially hydrogenated oils: palm kernel, soybean, cottonseed, palm."

Did my eyes deceive me, or did the box say there were no trans fat but list partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient? I had to get to the bottom of this.

Well, here's the scoop. When the FDA created the new rule forcing food distributors to put the amount of trans fat on the label, they made an important exception. If the amount per serving is less than half a gram, they are allowed to list it as zero grams.

What this means is that when you sit down and eat your realistic serving of peanut butter patties (I won't tell you how many I ate today, but it was more than the official serving size of two cookies), you are probably getting a gram or more of trans fat.

So, the Girl Scouts are just playing within the rules supplied by the FDA, right? What could be wrong with that?

Well, when the Girl Scouts proudly announce that they have made several of their cookie flavors trans fat free and use that as marketing information, when in fact they are not trans fat free, they are sending a very bad message to the girls. They are teaching them that it is ok to lie just a bit, as long as it helps sell your product and as long as the lie is pretty much in line with government rules.

Sounds like these girls are going to grow up to be fine members of Congress!

I guess that's the way the cookie crumbles.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Tyler's Day

Well, Tyler Hamilton got his (final) day in court this week. Did he or didn't he? We may never know for sure, but hopefully in a few weeks there will at least be an official, unappealable verdict.

Here's what I know:

  1. Doping is cheating. No doubt about it, if you dope you are violating the rules and you should not be allowed to compete.

  2. There are lots more ways to dope than there are ways to detect.

  3. Doping is prevalent in the Pro Peloton (at least in Europe). My next door neighbor raced professionally in Europe for years, and I've discussed this at length with him. At least on some teams, doping is allowed, even encouraged, and, according to him, the officials look the other way.

  4. The test is not infallible. Professional Ironman triathlete Rutger Beke was completely exonerated after he tested positive for EPO, and went on to place fourth this year in Hawaii.

So, Tyler, I hope you get exonerated, and I hope it is because you really weren't doping. Anything else, and I might as well go outside and play in July!

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Jobs Does It Again!

FROM THE FLOOR OF MACWORLD IN SAN FRANCISCO: Yes, literally from the floor of Macworld. After Steve Jobs' keynote speech, I had to pick myself up and quickly brush off all the dandruff flakes.

Yeah, yeah, everybody's gonna be talking about the Intel announcement, and the entrance Intel's Otellini made. They're gonna be talking about the powerful new MacBook. But, what really got me was the announcement of the new iPod Mega.

Think about it. They had us going for a while with the smaller is better. Nano this, pico that. But this is pure genius. Big is truly beautiful.

The iPod Mega does it all. Imagine a portable device that supports widescreen high-definition video, and a screen that you'll want to watch it on. It connects to your cable system, your DirecTv or Dish. It has a built-in DVR, with half a gig of disk space. The dual tuner model will probably be out within 8 months. 6.1 channel Dolby Digital sound. Wireless network with full Internet access. DVD/CD player (DVD writer model expected within a year). PDA/phone/4 Mpx camera.

Steve Jobs at Macworld 2006, praying to his water bottle that his iPod Mega demo will work correctly.

Imagine getting on the bus, plane or train with one of these babies. You hang the HD monitor from the ceiling (hook provided), spread out the speakers in the other seats in your row, and just relax for the long ride home. The other passengers will be drooling!

Or, you're sitting in your cube at work. Nobody need be the wiser. The speakers are perfectly designed to fit on your bookshelf and in your filing cabinet, while the monitor can sit right in front of your computer monitor. Your boss walks by, and you just push a button. Magically, your HD movie is paused and your spreadsheet pops up on your iPod Mega monitor. Yes, that spreadsheet is real -- Apple has a deal with Microsoft to run MS Office on the Mega! And, with wireless networking, it may even be the one the boss just emailed you.

As you can see, I'm pretty psyched about this new product. There is even a special carrying case, complete with hand truck and backpack components. So, get with it, get your Mega, get to the gym and work on your back exercises. Because this is it!

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Monday, January 09, 2006

First Amendment Caution

James Dobson, the religious nut just down the freeway in Colorado Springs, has announced that he supports the appointment of Samuel Alito to the US Supreme Court. The Senate needs to beware when things like this come out.

The First Amendment to the Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". Whenever a religious leader or organization establishes a position for or against an issue or candidate before Congress, there is a significant chance that the position reflects their religious views. It also likely is in opposition to the religious views of other citizens. Therefore, although not necessarily always true, voting in Congress in line with the leader of any religious group has a good chance of being in violation of the First Amendment.

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

How Not to Run an Election (without even trying)

Here in Boulder, controversies related to the running of elections are once again in vogue. You may recall, after the last presidential election we were pretty much a laughingstock due to the fact that we were still counting ballots for days after the winners were announced, essentially disenfranchising the entire county. Now, the county is putting out a new request for proposal for a system to replace the bad voting system put in place in 2004 in response to the Help America Vote Act, which was in response to the debacles in Florida in the 2000 presidential election. Got that?

The latest RFP specifies, among other things, DRE (electronic voting) systems. This is undoubtedly one of the stupidest ideas ever sold to the public by the influence peddlers.

Let's be clear. I have been in the software development business for over 25 years. This includes holding dozens of patents on various aspects of software. I love technology. I think there is a place for technology to improve many aspects of our life, including voting. However, I know enough to know that we should not trust software with something as critical as voting, with no backup plan. How often does your computer crash? How often do you hear about a new virus/worm/spyware, or other malicious software attack? How valuable is the ability to control the vote, and what would it be worth to develop a way to be able to pick the winner in advance? And know this, that no developer of an electronic voting machine is ever going to allow any outside person examine the design and code of their system.

Electronic voting is acceptable with two conditions:
  1. There must be a paper backup. The paper ballot must be shown to the voter for approval, so they can confirm that it matches their vote. And the ballot must be available for recounts. When this system is first put into place, we must start with liberal recount policies (lots of manual recounts) until the system has proven reliable. At that point, we should continue with spot checks, plus forced recounts whenever there is anything suspicious.

  2. A manual backup voting system must be in place. If you get to the voting location and they can't get the darn thing to boot up, you need to be able to vote manually.

Anybody who puts a system in place that does not meet these conditions should be subject to immediate recall election!

So, what went wrong with the 2004 presidential election in Boulder? The most obvious problem was how long it took to count the ballots. However, look at the voting process itself. After waiting in line at the polling location, there were four additional stations at which you may have to wait (look you up in the computer, print your ballot, wait for a polling booth, place your vote).

The ballot itself is designed for an optical scanner. If you are thinking number two pencils and small ovals you get the idea, except that here you use a ball point pen and huge rectangles. The technology sure has gotten worse since I took the SATs. You could have carpal tunnel syndrome by the time you are done filling in your choices.

Then you put your ballot into the security envelope, walk up to the ballot box, take it out of the security sleeve (in front of the election judge and everybody else) and deposit it into the ballot box. Am I being super sensitive, or is that just an obvious security problem?

Another problem that got no press was the handling of absentee voters. If you are out of the country, the only way to vote is to mail in your request for an absentee ballot (you can't do this very far in advance, even if you know you are going to be gone), receive the ballot by return mail, and then send in your ballot by mail. By my count, that process relies on quick mail delivery three times in a row within a short period of time, which is not a given if you are in some countries. I have friends who were in Mexico and were unable to vote because this process broke down.

But the fundamental problem is HAVA. It was passed after the 2000 presidential election, mostly so that congress could say that they were doing something. There was no trying to figure out what the best solution would be, or what reasonable timetables would be, or how to experiment with different processes in different locations to find the best. There had to be a quick fix. In Boulder, we had a punch card system that had worked reliably for many years. But this was no longer acceptable. We had to trade it in on something untried, because people in congress had to feel good about themselves.

So, bring on the new system. But be careful, because we voters are paying attention, and the second thing to get voted may be the people who put the new system in place.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Judge not that ye be not judged

Pat Robertson. This is going to be so easy.

Ariel Sharon's stroke is God's punishment for withdrawing from Gaza.

The citizens of Dover, Delaware, are going to get what's coming to them because they rejected teaching of so-called "intelligent" design.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez should be assassinated.

The September 11 attacks were deserved because of our moral failures, and there is more to come.

The government of the US should be overthrown.

The constitution only applies to Christians (and only the GOOD kind), and only Christians and Jews are qualified to be part of the government. Everyone else should be fumigated like termites.

And so on, and so on...

Well, Pat Robertson, you have judged, and now it is your turn. You will eventually die, as all of us mortals do, and you will proceed directly to hell. If there is no hell, it will be created just for you.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

How to be a Jerk, Blame Someone Else, and Spoil a Good Thing for Everybody Else

Here in Boulder, there are lots of great trails. People love to walk their dogs, run, bike, hike, and enjoy the great natural areas. One of these areas is Boulder Reservoir. From the Boulder Reservoir north for about 11 miles is the Boulder Feeder Canal, and along the canal is an unpaved access road. This road is perfect for long runs (my favorite) and walks.

The only problem is that this access road is private property, owned by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. All along the path, there are No Trespassing signs. There are gates at each road crossing (easy to hop over). Plus (the coolest), signs all along the canal saying "Certain Death If Entered".

The city has been negotiating for years for the right to build an official trail along the canal, but it will likely be many years before that ever happens. In the meantime, there has been a mutual unstated agreement. People use the road, and they are pretty much left alone. They stay out of the canal (I guess the certain death signs work). Until recently.

It seems that a dog that was being walked along the canal got into the water and got caught in the current. The dog's guardian (we're not allowed to say "dog owner" in Boulder) was able to rescue the dog, but followed the incident up by threatening to sue the NCWCD anyway.

Let's see if I have this right. You ignore the no trespassing signs, you ignore the certain death signs and allow your dog to swim in the canal, and you are shocked that the water really is dangerous to your pet. Luckily, you are able to rescue your dog, but in spite of this, you still threaten to sue the owner of the canal. That's got to make the NCWCD feel good about letting you (or anybody else) come back and use the access road.

Occasionally, the water district uses the road to access and service the canal, the reason the road exists in the first place. When this happens, you'd think that the runners who are technically trespassing would stay out of their way. But apparently not. Some runners have been refusing to yield to their trucks.

So, now it's over. The water district has asked the sheriff's office to start enforcing the no trespassing signs and has stated that they will press charges against people who violate them. I can't say that I blame them.

I have one less place to run now, and for this I thank the selfish people who mistook their ability to use this restricted resource as an entitlement rather than a gift. I hope that these jerks learned something, or at least that they move somewhere where folks are less friendly to dogs and runners.

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Monday, January 02, 2006

Why Can't Everybody Just Agree (with me)?

For grins, I read William Kristol's New Year's column. (For fun, try calling him Billy Crystal.) Ok, liberals are unamerican, embarrassing and out of touch. But come on. In his conclusion WK states that Democrats cannot be accepted as critics. Because they don't agree with him, they aren't a valid opposition party. So now we know. In order to be a responsible opposition party, the Democrats only have to become Republicans. And in order to be taken seriously, the media has to stop asking questions.

So, let's all go down to our couty courthouses and change our registration, so that we can be taken seriously.

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