Monday, September 30, 2013


Day 1: Colorado: Day 1

My mom and I left last Friday to go to Colorado for the weekend and help at a charity event that my sister and her boyfriend organized and ran. The charity was the EOD Wounded Warrior Foundation (EOD stands for explosive ordnance disposal – which is what my brother does in Afghanistan.)

We had to leave our house very early (4 am) and after eating breakfast at a McDonald’s we got to the airport. We had no problems: checking-in, going through security, waiting for our flight or boarding. The flight was completely full (we have taken this non-stop flight many times in the past few years and it is always full – yet Southwest Airlines is getting rid of it on November 3rd.) A large – ie fat - woman sat next to me on the plane and kept coming into my space. She also smelt really bad. I really wish Southwest would enforce their policy of making fat passengers buy a second seat so they don’t make it uncomfortable for everyone else. I tried to sleep the majority of the flight so I didn’t have to deal with the woman.

We landed in Denver with no problems and then saw that it was completely covered in dense fog. We had to sit on the tarmac for about 20 minutes because there was a plane at our gate that had to wait because of the fog. When we did get to the gate we managed to get off pretty quickly. You then have to take the train to the main terminal (which isn’t handicapped accessible as the doors don’t line-up with the train. We got to the main terminal and met-up with my sister-in-law. Our bags came off pretty quickly and the only issue was trying to find the car in the parking lot (and dealing with some pretty dumb people who wouldn’t get out of the way.)

We drove to Colorado Springs. It was still very cold and foggy until we got to the Springs and then it was like the heavens opened-up. There was sunshine!

We had a late lunch at the Edelweiss German Restaurant - a place we have eaten at before and like. Then we went to my sister-in-law’s house and hung-out with my niece and nephew when they got home from school. My sister-in-law had to go to work so we took the kids to our hotel and checked-in. We stayed at the same Embassy Suites we did last June, but this time it seemed nothing worked. There was only one elevator working and it took forever to come, the heater in the room didn’t work and it was pretty cold and the staff weren’t polite or professional (more on that later.)

We waited for my sister and her boyfriend to get off work so we could have a late dinner. We had reservations at My Big Greek Restaurant. We have never eaten there before, but most of the food was good and plentiful (the baklava for dessert wasn’t that good though.) After dinner we dropped the kids off at home and went to our hotel.


Colorado: Day 2

We had a rough night and didn’t get much sleep (that along with the 2 hour time difference) made us extremely tired. We had breakfast with my sister-in-law and the kids at IHOP (which has become a tradition for us whenever we are in Colorado.) Afterwards we went to the Event Center to help my sister with her event. Throughout the day we dealt with the raffle (well it was called something else since CO has weird raffle/gambling rules) and a silent action. There were many different kinds of martial arts groups doing demonstrations, vendors from different businesses, a hypnotist and several other things going on. It was a pretty fun day. The Event Center had their own food place (Hawaiian BBQ) but it didn’t look good and the guy was pretty rude so we had lunch at a place called Village Inn – which is all over Colorado Springs.

 I was really impressed with how hard my sister and her boyfriend worked to set this event up. There was a lot of different things that people could do and win. By the end of the day everyone was tired, but in a good mood since we knew it was for a great cause. I just wish more people came to the event – but you can’t help that.

After cleaning everything up we had dinner at the Mason Jar. We had eaten there last June and it was good again this time. We dropped the kids off at their house (their mom was working again) and then went to my sister’s house to download pictures we had taken of the event. When that was done we went to our hotel.

We had an issue with the guy at the Front Desk (it took 2 calls, 45 minutes and then me walking downstairs to get what the maid had not left in our room when she cleaned it.) I made sure to get his name and did officially complain the next day at check-out.


Colorado: Day 3

We got up and were ready to go home. Unfortunately, our flight wasn’t until that night. We had lunch at On the Border Mexican Restaurant (with my sister-in-law and the kids) and then went back to their house where my sister-s boyfriend picked us up and drove us to the Denver Airport. I know I have said this before, but I don’t care for the Denver Airport – it looks ugly and doesn’t have much inside.

We had no problems checking-in or going through security, but did have some issues trying to get into the train to our Gate (there were lots of people also wanting to get on and yet just stood there watching us rather than offering to help.) I made sure we took a good amount of space inside the train so those “helpful” people had to fight amongst themselves to find a spot.

At the gate we learned that our flight was delayed 20 minutes because Southwest was waiting for a connecting flight. I have never had an airline wait a plane for me when my connecting flight was delayed and I have been around the country and the world. This flight was overbooked (as was 5 other Southwest flights.) We boarded with no problems and the woman who sat next to me this time was skinny and polite. I read a book the whole time. We landed and deplaned quickly – usually we have to wait for them to bring the chair up. We met my dad, got our bags, had an ok dinner at a local diner (one of only 2 places open 24 hours – although starting tomorrow they close at midnight) and then headed home. We had some fog on the drive back, but it wasn’t too bad.

We got home around 2 am and then got up at 8 am to get my dogs from the kennel. I have been spending the rest of the day getting things back to normal.
All-in-all it was a good trip with very few issues. It was nice that we were able to help my sister and the charity. I still don’t like Colorado Springs as a whole. It was cold there yet the leaves hadn’t started changing. Back home here it was sunny and warm.

US Shutdown

From USA Today:
"66 questions and answers about the government shutdown"

It's been 17 years since the federal government last faced a partial shutdown because Congress and the president couldn't agree on a spending bill. A lot has changed in that time, leaving federal employees, citizens and even government decision-makers confused about what a shutdown would mean. Every shutdown is different. The politics that cause them are different. Because of technology and structural overhauls, the way the government functions has changed since 1996. Much of what will happen is unknown.

Here's what we do know about Tuesday's looming shutdown:


1. What causes a shutdown? Under the Constitution, Congress must pass laws to spend money. If Congress can't agree on a spending bill — or if, in the case of the Clinton-era shutdowns, the president vetoes it — the government does not have the legal authority to spend money.

2. What's a continuing resolution? Congress used to spend money by passing a budget first, then 12 separate appropriations bills. That process has broken down, and Congress uses a stopgap continuing resolution, or CR, that maintains spending at current levels for all or part of the year.

3. Why can't Congress agree? The Republican-controlled House has passed a spending bill that maintains spending levels but does not provide funding to implement the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The Democratic Senate insists that the program be fully funded and that Congress pass what they call a "clean" CR.

4. What is a "clean" CR?
A continuing resolution without policy changes.

5. Why is this happening now? The government runs on a fiscal year from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
Shutdowns can happen at other times of the year when Congress passes a partial-year spending bill.

6. Could government agencies ignore the shutdown? Under a federal law known as the Anti-Deficiency Act, it can be a felony to spend taxpayer money without an appropriation from Congress.

7. When would a shutdown begin? When the fiscal year ends at midnight Monday. Most federal workers would report to work Tuesday, but unless they're deemed "essential," they would work no more than four hours on shutdown-related activities before being furloughed.

8. When would the shutdown end? Immediately after the president signs a spending bill. As a practical matter, it could be noon the following day before most government offices that were shut down would reopen their doors.

9. How many times has the government shut down in the past? Since 1977, there have been 17 shutdowns, according to the Congressional Research Service.

10. How long do shutdowns usually last? Most last no more than three days. Some last less than a day.

11. When was the longest shutdown in history? The longest was also the most recent: from Dec. 16, 1995, through Jan. 5, 1996. That's 21 days.

12. Would this shutdown be different from those in the 1990s? Yes. When the 1995 shutdown started, Congress had already passed three of 13 appropriations bills. (They funded military construction, agriculture, and energy and water projects.) Also, more government services are automated.


13. What's the difference between a shutdown and a debt crisis? In a shutdown, the government lacks the legal authority to spend money on non-essential services. In a debt crisis, the government is mandated to spend money — but doesn't have the legal authority to borrow the money to spend it.
14. Are the two related? Only by timing, which is somewhat coincidental.

15. When will the government run out of borrowing authority? Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew says it could come as soon as Oct. 17.

16. Has the United States ever defaulted on its debt before? No.

17. If the nation hits the debt limit, will government shut down? That's a big unknown question. The Treasury Department has said the most likely scenario is that it would delay payments, paying only those bills it can afford, using daily tax revenue.


18. Will I still get my mail? Yes. The U.S. Postal Service functions as an independent business unit.

19. Can I get a passport? Maybe, but hurry. The Department of State says it has some funds outside the annual congressional appropriation. "Consular operations domestically and overseas will remain 100% operational as long as there are sufficient fees to support operations," the department says.

20. Can I visit national parks? No. The National Park Service says day visitors will be told to leave immediately, and entrances will be closed.

21. What about campers already in the parks? They will be given two days to leave.

22. Will Washington museums be open? The Smithsonian, the National Zoo and the Holocaust Museum would all be closed. Private museums, such as the Newseum, the Spy Museum and Mount Vernon, would remain open. Rule of thumb: If it's usually free, it's probably closed.

23. What about the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts? The Kennedy Center does receive an annual appropriation from Congress, but also runs on ticket revenue and endowment funds. The center expects to stay open through a shutdown.

24. What about the National Archives? All archives and most presidential libraries will be closed, unless they're operated by a private foundation — as all pre-Herbert Hoover presidential museums are. The Federal Records Center Program, which supports other agencies, would continue to operate because it uses a revolving fund.

25. Will the District of Columbia shut down? The district does not have complete autonomy and relies on an appropriation from Congress to operate. So during the shutdowns in the 1990s, trash went uncollected, and many city departments closed. In a departure from past shutdowns, Mayor Vincent Gray has informed the Office of Management and Budget that he has deemed all city employees "essential." The district's own attorney general has declared the mayor's plan illegal.

26. Will the Patent and Trademark Office be open? Yes. The office can continue to operate off user fees and other funds for at least four weeks before having to shut down.

27. Would food safety inspections continue? Mostly. The Food Safety and Inspection Service would continue all safety-related activities. The Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration would continue inspections to the extent they're paid by user fees, "but inability to investigate alleged violations could hamper corrective action in the long term and could have an immediate impact on members of industry." The Food and Drug Administration would limit its activities but continue to monitor recalls and conduct investigations.

28. Will the government still release economic data? Probably. The weekly unemployment claims number would still come out, and the September jobs report, due out Friday, probably will, too. The Department of Commerce reasons that some of its data is so economically sensitive that delaying it risks that it will be leaked.

29. Would the government continue to enforce wage and hour laws? The laws will still be in effect, but the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division would suspend operations.

30. Will disaster response be affected? No. However, all "non-disaster" grants — such as state and local preparedness programs — would be postponed, the Department of Homeland Security says.

31. Will e-Verify be affected? Yes. The government system to allow companies to voluntarily check the legal work status of its employees would be shut down.


32. Would a shutdown put the brakes on implementing the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare?" No. The state-run exchanges for the uninsured would open as scheduled Tuesday. "The marketplaces will be open on Tuesday, no matter what, even if there is a government shutdown," President Obama said Friday.

33. Why not? Like Social Security or Medicaid, Obamacare is a permanent entitlement that isn't subject to annual funding by Congress. "Many of the core parts of the health care law are funded through mandatory appropriations and wouldn't be affected," Gary Cohen, the Health and Human Services Department official overseeing the health care rollout, said last week.

34. Would seniors continue to get Social Security benefits? Yes. Social Security is a mandatory spending program, and the people who send those checks would continue to work under a legal doctrine called "necessary implication."

35. Can I apply for Social Security benefits, appeal a denial of benefits, change my address or sign up for direct deposit?Yes.

36. Can I get a new or replacement Social Security card, benefit verification statement or earnings record correction?No.

37. Would the government continue to pay unemployment benefits? Yes. The Employment and Training Administration "will continue to provide essential functions, as occurred during the shutdown of 1995," according to the Department of Labor contingency plan.

38. Will I be able to get food stamps? Yes. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is funded through the Recovery Act and from funds that don't expire for another year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.

39. What about WIC?No money would be available to pay the administrative costs of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. But because it's administered by states, there may be state funds available.

40. And the federal school lunch program? Schools are reimbursed for these costs on a monthly basis and are allowed to carry over funds from the previous fiscal year. The USDA expects most schools will be able to continue providing meals through October.

41. What will happen to veterans receiving compensation for service- or combat-related wounds and injuries? The Department of Veterans Affairs said if the shutdown continues into late October, it will run out of money for compensation and pension checks to more than 3.6 million veterans who rely on the money to support themselves.

42. Can I still get a federally backed loan? Maybe not. "Federal loans for rural communities, small business owners, families buying a home will be frozen," President Obama said Friday.

43. Does that mean I can't get an FHA mortgage? No. The Federal Housing Administration says it "will endorse new loans under current multi-year appropriation authority in order to support the health and stability of the U.S. mortgage market."

44. Does that mean I can't get a VA mortgage? No. The Department of Veterans Affairs says loans are funded via user fees and should continue. However, during the last shutdown, "loan Guaranty certificates of eligibility and certificates of reasonable value were delayed."

45. Will deceased veterans still be able to get a burial benefit? Yes. Burial benefits, headstones and death notices will still be available.


46. Would the IRS continue to collect taxes? Yes. All payments would be processed. More than 12 million people have requested an extension on their 2012 taxes, which expires Oct. 15.

47. Will my refund be delayed? Possibly, especially if the taxpayer files a paper return.

48. What about taxpayer assistance? Walk-in assistance centers and telephone hotlines would be closed.
49. I'm being audited by the IRS. Would a shutdown affect me? Yes. The IRS will suspend all audit activities.


50. How many federal employees would be furloughed? The government has not given an official estimate.

51. Does anyone have a guess? J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government employees, said he expects the number will be 800,000 to 1 million, out of 2.1 million federal employees. That's consistent with a USA TODAY analysis of 2011 shutdown contingency plans, which found that 59% of non-defense government employees would continue to work.

52. Why do some federal employees continue to work during a shutdown? The law — or at least, the Justice Department's interpretation of it — contains exemptions for several classes of employees: The biggest exemption is for employees necessary to protect public health, safety or property. But property could include government data, ongoing research experiments or other intangibles. Political appointees are exempt because they cannot be placed on leave by law. Employees necessary for the president to carry out his constitutional responsibilities are exempt. Finally, employees whose salaries are paid from sources outside an annual spending bill can still get paid and report to work.

53. Who decides which employees work and which go home? Each agency is responsible for coming up with its own contingency plan, based on guidance from the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management. Those plans are then sent to the White House for review.

54. Would the president be paid during a shutdown? Yes. The president's $400,000 salary is mandatory spending. If furloughs begin to affect the government's ability to process payroll, his paycheck could be delayed.

55. What about White House staff? Some high-ranking presidential appointees are exempt from the Annual and Sick Leave Act of 1951, which means they can essentially be made to work unpaid overtime. Also, any employee necessary for the president to carry out his constitutional duties would be exempt.

56. And the president's personal aides? The White House has 90 staffers who work in the residence. During a shutdown, 15 of them would stay on the job.

57. Would Congress continue to be paid during a shutdown? Yes. The 27th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1992, holds that "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened." Intended to prevent Congress from voting itself a raise, it also protects members from a pay cut.

58. What about congressional staff? Like other federal employees, they would be deemed essential or non-essential. Essential staff would include those necessary to carry out constitutional responsibilities, such as the parliamentarians, or for protection of members, such as the sergeants-at-arms. Staff of the appropriations committees may also be needed to write the law that would end the shutdown.

59. Would active-duty military be furloughed? No. All active-duty military are essential and should report as scheduled Tuesday, the Department of Defense said Friday.

60. Will civilian defense workers be furloughed? About half of them, or about 400,000, will be sent home, according to the Defense Department's contingency plan.

61. Would active-duty military be paid during a shutdown? If a shutdown lasts longer than a week, the Pentagon might not be able to process its payroll in time for the Oct. 15 paychecks, Defense Department Comptroller Robert Hale said Friday. The House passed a separate bill early Sunday that would appropriate money for active-duty and reserve paychecks regardless of the shutdown — and also pay for support services to make sure they get paid. That bill passed the House 422-0, but still must go to the Senate.

62. Could federal employees simply volunteer their services? No. A 19th-century federal law forbids volunteers because the government doesn't want them filing claims for back pay after the shutdown is over, according to a legal analysis by Washington attorney Raymond Natter.

63. Would federal employees get paid retroactively, even if they didn't work? Maybe. Congress granted retroactive pay to furloughed workers after the shutdowns of the mid-1990s, but that wouldn't necessarily happen again. "I believe this time is going to be much different. This is a much different Congress than the 1995 Congress," said Cox, federal employee union president. "I'm not sure that they'd even want to go back and pay the people who worked."


64. How much money would a shutdown save taxpayers? Most likely, it wouldn't. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says shutdowns cost money in terms of contingency planning, lost user fees and back pay. A government estimate after the shutdown in 1995-96 estimated its cost at $1.4 billion.

65. What effect would a shutdown have on the economy? Economists say even a short shutdown — of three or four days — would begin to shave decimal points off economic growth. A sustained shutdown of three or four weeks "would do significant economic damage," economist Mark Zandi told USA TODAY.

66. What about the stock market? The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 3.7% during the 1995-96 government shutdown, according to S&P Capital IQ. Stocks quickly rebounded after the government got back to work, rising 10.5% the month after the shutdown ended.

^ It looks like this is going to happen starting tomorrow. It is disgusting that Obama and Congress don't take any of this seriously (I guess they don't care as they still get paid.) All of them need to put their big-boy/big-girl pants on and start doing their job. ^

Flight Civility?

From Yahoo:
"Airlines promise a return to civility, for a fee"

Airlines are introducing a new bevy of fees, but this time passengers might actually like them.
Unlike the first generation of charges which dinged fliers for once-free services like checking a bag, these new fees promise a taste of the good life, or at least a more civil flight.   Extra legroom, early boarding and access to quiet lounges were just the beginning. Airlines are now renting Apple iPads preloaded with movies, selling hot first class meals in coach and letting passengers pay to have an empty seat next to them. Once on the ground, they can skip baggage claim, having their luggage delivered directly to their home or office.   In the near future, airlines plan to go one step further, using massive amounts of personal data to customize new offers for each flier.   "We've moved from takeaways to enhancements," says John F. Thomas of L.E.K. Consulting. "It's all about personalizing the travel experience."   Carriers have struggled to raise airfares enough to cover costs. Fees bring in more than $15 billion a year and are the reason the airlines are profitable. But the amount of money coming in from older charges like baggage and reservation change fees has tapered off. Revenue from bag fees in April, May and June fell 7 percent compared to the same period last year, according to figures released by the government Monday.  Airlines have yet to find the right balance between being helpful and being creepy. So, for now, most of the data is being used to win back passengers after their flight is delayed or luggage is lost.   "We want to get back to a point where people feel like travel isn't something to endure, but something they can enjoy," says Bob Kupbens, a former Target executive and Delta's current vice president of marketing and digital commerce. 

^ I just flew last night and would have liked to have an empty seat next to me (the flight was oversold.) I don't see an issue with the airlines offering these provisions for a fee, but I don't like that they will use your personal information to send you offers - that information should only be for the ticket information and payment. ^

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Canada's 34 Million

From the BBC:
"Canada's population tops 35 million"

The population of Canada rose to more than 35 million in the last year, according to a new official estimate. A newly released report by Statistics Canada based on 2011 census data showed a 1.2% increase over the previous year. The province of Alberta saw the fastest growth at 3.4%, which the agency put down to international and interprovincial migration. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick shrank in population. Canada's total growth rate from 2006-11 eclipsed those of both the US and UK.
As of 1 July, the nation's population was estimated at 35,158,300, up 404,000 from the year before, according to the Statistics Canada report released on Thursday. Canada's rate of growth has "shown little variation in 30 years", largely remaining between 0.8% and 1.2% per year, the agency said.
But over the period between 2006-11, the country reported a 5.3% growth rate, which far exceeded the 3.4% growth seen in the US and UK as well as a 0.8% decline in Germany. Several other industrialised nations - including Luxembourg (8.7%), Ireland (7.8%) and Australia (7.6%) - reported higher population growth rates, however. Since 1983, the population of Ontario was found to have grown almost twice as rapidly as that of Quebec. But, among the provinces, Alberta was at the top with an increase of 50.8%.  As of July, three-quarters of Canadians lived in just three provinces: Ontario (38.5%), Quebec (23.2%) and British Columbia (13%), according to the report.

^ While Canada's 35 million is no where near America's 320 million it is still good that the population is increasing. ^

Nuclear War Averted

From the BBC:
"Stanislav Petrov: The man who may have saved the world"

Thirty years ago, on 26 September 1983, the world was saved from potential nuclear disaster. In the early hours of the morning, the Soviet Union's early-warning systems detected an incoming missile strike from the United States. Computer readouts suggested several missiles had been launched. The protocol for the Soviet military would have been to retaliate with a nuclear attack of its own.  But duty officer Stanislav Petrov - whose job it was to register apparent enemy missile launches - decided not to report them to his superiors, and instead dismissed them as a false alarm.  This was a breach of his instructions, a dereliction of duty. The safe thing to do would have been to pass the responsibility on, to refer up. But his decision may have saved the world.  "I had all the data [to suggest there was an ongoing missile attack]. If I had sent my report up the chain of command, nobody would have said a word against it," he told the BBC's Russian Service 30 years after that overnight shift. Mr Petrov - who retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel and now lives in a small town near Moscow - was part of a well-trained team which served at one of the Soviet Union's early warning bases, not far from Moscow. His training was rigorous, his instructions very clear.  His job was to register any missile strikes and to report them to the Soviet military and political leadership. In the political climate of 1983, a retaliatory strike would have been almost certain. And yet, when the moment came, he says he almost froze in place. "The siren howled, but I just sat there for a few seconds, staring at the big, back-lit, red screen with the word 'launch' on it," he says.  The system was telling him that the level of reliability of that alert was "highest". There could be no doubt. America had launched a missile.
"A minute later the siren went off again. The second missile was launched. Then the third, and the fourth, and the fifth. Computers changed their alerts from 'launch' to 'missile strike'," he says.
Mr Petrov smokes cheap Russian cigarettes as he relates the incidents he must have played over countless times in his mind. "There was no rule about how long we were allowed to think before we reported a strike. But we knew that every second of procrastination took away valuable time; that the Soviet Union's military and political leadership needed to be informed without delay. "All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders - but I couldn't move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan," he told us. Although the nature of the alert seemed to be abundantly clear, Mr Petrov had some doubts. Alongside IT specialists, like him, Soviet Union had other experts, also watching America's missile forces. A group of satellite radar operators told him they had registered no missiles. But those people were only a support service. The protocol said, very clearly, that the decision had to be based on computer readouts. And that decision rested with him, the duty officer. But what made him suspicious was just how strong and clear that alert was. "There were 28 or 29 security levels. After the target was identified, it had to pass all of those 'checkpoints'. I was not quite sure it was possible, under those circumstances," says the retired officer. Mr Petrov called the duty officer in the Soviet army's headquarters and reported a system malfunction. If he was wrong, the first nuclear explosions would have happened minutes later. "Twenty-three minutes later I realised that nothing had happened. If there had been a real strike, then I would already know about it. It was such a relief," he says with a smile. Now, 30 years on, Mr Petrov thinks the odds were 50-50. He admits he was never absolutely sure that the alert was a false one. He says he was the only officer in his team who had received a civilian education. "My colleagues were all professional soldiers, they were taught to give and obey orders," he told us. So, he believes, if somebody else had been on shift, the alarm would have been raised. A few days later Mr Petrov received an official reprimand for what happened that night. Not for what he did, but for mistakes in the logbook. He kept silent for 10 years. "I thought it was shameful for the Soviet army that our system failed in this way," he says. But, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the story did get into the press. Mr Petrov received several international awards.  But he does not think of himself as a hero.  "That was my job", he says. "But they were lucky it was me on shift that night."

^ Had Petrov not done what he did we wouldn't be sitting here today. The world is lucky that he was working that night and decided to use his head - something the Soviet authorities did not want their citizens to do. The Soviet nuclear specialists at Chernobyl did not use their heads and merely followed stupid Soviet rules that killed lots of people and gives millions health problems to this day. Petrov was the opposite and while most former Soviets think he did the wrong thing (the way they do about Gorby) the rest of the world considers him a hero. ^

CO Here I Come

I am going to Colorado to work at a charity event. Will write more when I come back.

Health Care Exchanges

From Yahoo:
"Health care exchanges open Tuesday: What you need to know"

On Tuesday, the health insurance exchanges that are a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act will open for the first time, and the White House expects 7 million uninsured people to sign up during the six-month enrollment period. But don’t fret if you have no idea what these exchanges are — you are not alone. In August, 45 percent of people polled by Kaiser said they had heard “nothing at all” about the health insurance marketplaces mandated by the law.
Here’s a guide to the exchanges:

What is the health insurance exchange?
The health insurance exchange, or marketplace, will allow people who don’t have coverage through Medicaid, Medicare or their employer to comparison-shop for the best individual plan in their state on In 34 states, the exchanges are managed entirely or mostly by the federal government; the other 16 states have set up their own exchanges. About 95 percent of uninsured people will have a choice between at least two insurers offering an average of 53 different plans, according to the White House. The plans are divided into four categories: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. A bronze plan — the cheapest — covers 60 percent of an individual’s estimated health care costs, while the platinum plan will cover 90 percent of costs. (Some states also offer catastrophic plans that cover even less than 60 percent of costs.) Starting in 2014, insurers cannot charge customers more based on their pre-existing conditions or their medical history, and all plans must offer a minimum of services, such as maternity care, that some plans did not offer in the past.

Do I have to buy health insurance on the exchange?
If you’re uninsured, you have to purchase health insurance or face a fine of $95 or 1 percent of your income, whichever is larger, on your 2014 tax return. (That fee will go up to 2.5 percent of income in 2016.) Consumers making up to four times the federal poverty level will qualify for tax breaks when they purchase the insurance, to offset the cost. If purchasing insurance would cost more than 8 percent of your income, including the tax break, you’re exempt from the fee.

How much will it cost?
The costs for insurance will vary widely by state, and even by county. The White House estimates that the average monthly premium for a low-cost silver plan will be $328 a month for an individual, before tax credits are applied. A family of four with an income of $50,000 before taxes could pay as little as $205 a month for insurance in Alaska, after the tax credit is applied, and as much as $282 in North Carolina and several other states. (Before the tax credit is applied, the price for the family varies from $584 per month in Arizona to $1,237 in Wyoming.) With tax credits and including the Medicaid expansion, nearly six out of 10 uninsured people will have access to a health plan that costs under $100 per month for next year. You can peruse the White House’s premium cost estimates by state on its site, but be aware the figures cited are averages for the entire state and might be different based on which county you live in.

How do people enroll?
In order to process millions of applications, the Obama administration built a website called where applicants can comparison-shop for insurance offered in their state.
Users log in and create an account and are then asked a series of questions about their income, family size, employer name and contact information. The site connects to other federal agencies’ databases to verify the information provided, and it then informs the user if he qualifies for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. If not, the user is then directed to the marketplace, where he can compare different plans and see exactly what tax break he qualifies for and how much the insurance would cost per month. If you decide to purchase the insurance, you’re led to the website of the insurer to finish the transaction. There’s also a 24-hour hot line people can call if they have any questions while navigating the application process, which can assist them in 150 languages. The Obama administration also doled out millions of dollars in grants to train “navigators” who work in community health centers and other locations to enroll people in person. Uninsured people will have six months to enroll starting Oct. 1, but must enroll before Dec. 15 if they want the insurance plan to kick in on Jan. 1.

Can the insurance prices change?
The insurance price quoted on the health care site is locked in for 2014 and can’t change. Next year, the insurer could change the price, but consumers also will have the option to shop around again and switch plans.

Will the enrollment website work?
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the computer system was not accurately calculating the costs of the insurance plans. But David Simas, White House deputy senior adviser for communications and strategy, says these bugs are being ironed out and that the exchanges will be ready to go on Oct. 1.

^ I have said before that I am against Obamacare, but it is coming into force now so I wanted people to know what was going on - especially because even government officials don't seem to understand it. ^

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Internet's 15%

From Yahoo:
"15 percent of American adults do not use the Internet, study finds"

To most Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Foursquare, Skype, Instagram, YouTube, Vine and/or Pinterest users, this may sound crazy, but there are actually people who do not use the Internet. According to a study released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, some 15 percent of American adults aged 18 and older do not use the Internet. Among those non-Internet users, about a third (34 percent) say they are "not interested, do not want to use it, or have no need for it." Another third (32 percent) say it is "difficult or frustrating" to go online, that they are physically unable or they are worried about security issues "such as spam, spyware, and hackers." About 1 in five people who do not use the Internet say it's too expensive, and 7 percent lack physical access. “A lot of people are surprised to discover that not everyone is online,” Pew's Kathryn Zickuhr said in a release accompanying the findings. “Most offline adults either don’t see the internet as relevant to them, or feel that it would not be worth the effort." According to the survey of 2,252 adults conducted earlier this year, 44 percent of Americans aged 65 and older do not use the Internet. And the 65-plus set make up nearly half of non-Internet users overall, Pew found. But "offline adults" are not totally disconnected from the Internet. Forty-four percent say they have asked a friend or family member to look something up on the Internet or complete an online task for them. (Twenty-three percent of non-Internet users live in a household that has Internet access.) And 14 percent say they used to use the Internet, "but have since stopped for some reason." Most non-Internet users say they have no plans to become users anytime soon. The study found that the vast majority (92 percent) of offline adults have no interest in going online in the future, while only 8 percent would like to start using the Internet or email. The disinterest may have something to do with ability. A majority of non-Internet users (63 percent) say they would need assistance getting online. The survey's margin of error was 2.3 percentage points, Pew said.

^ I guess it doesn't matter what I wrote about them since they won't get on the Internet and read it. I couldn't live without the Internet. I remember the "dark" days before the Internet and I moved around the country and the world and couldn't really keep in touch with friends or family. Today I can write to people around the world (I only "friend" people I have physically met) and have even started getting back in touch with people I knew in Elementary and Middle School and it is pretty interesting as we have all moved around so much since we last saw each other. ^

Ontario Online

From the Globe and Mail:
"Ontario becomes first province with online drivers-licence renewal"

Ontario is allowing drivers to renew their licences online – the first jurisdiction in Canada to do so.
The digital service, which was officially launched Wednesday, is expected to save the province about $700,000 over five years while also allowing drivers to renew without going in person.
Moving some of the 1.6 million renewals that happen in the province every year is also certain to cut down on waiting times at government service centres.  “It’s a very important service. It’s one that always happens on your birthday, and I think people would rather be doing other things on their birthday than standing in line,” Government Services Minister John Milloy said. “We do anticipate some savings from it … it’s a win-win.” Drivers will still have to update the photo on their licence every 10 years, which they will have to do in person. But the renewal during the five-year period between photos can now be done on the Service Ontario website. When renewing their licences online, drivers can also get licence plate stickers and other vehicle-related things at the same time. Service Ontario now takes Interac as well as major credit cards. The development is part of the government’s long-term plan to move most services online. Currently, such things as applying for birth certificates and renewing licence-plate stickers are already offered on the Web. There are a handful of exceptions to the new service. Those with outstanding fines, suspended licences or enhanced drivers licenses will not be able to renew online. Mr. Milloy said the online service will not affect any jobs at Service Ontario.

^ It's about time Ontario and the rest of Canada got with the 2nd decade of the 21st Century. I thought my state was backwards since they only started allowing online renewals a year ago, but I guess I was wrong. Canada is. ^

Stamps Up

From USA Today:
"Postal Service proposes 3-cent rate hike for stamps"

First-class postage stamps could rise to 49 cents starting in 2014 under a Wednesday proposal by the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service. The increase would raise about $2 billion in additional revenue a year. Under the plan, first-class mail postage would rise 3 cents, or 6.5%. Pricing for other mail, including postcards and packages, would also rise on Jan. 26. Recently, the Postal Service proposed other cost-saving measures, including ending door-to-door delivery for millions of consumers.
Mary Berner, president of the Association of Magazine Media industry trade group, said higher postage rates are a stop-gap solution that would clip member's profits and accelerate the Postal Service's losses. "No private company would increase prices when sales are already plummeting,'' Berner said. "(This) will cause significant declines in mail volume and further job losses across the industry without addressing the USPS' core issues. The consequences of this decision will be felt by the entire mailing industry, the Postal Service, and consumers."

^ This seems to be a trend for the USPS. The cost goes up while the quality, care and service goes down. ^

Soldiers' Dress

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Soldiers told new rules governing tattoos, grooming standards on the way"

In the works for more than a year, strict new rules governing things like tattoos and grooming for soldiers have been approved by the Secretary of the Army and are only awaiting a final signature, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler said Saturday. Speaking to troops at bases in eastern Afghanistan, Chandler said Secretary John McHugh has approved but not yet officially put his name to the changes to Army Regulation 670-1. “We’re just waiting for the secretary to sign,” Chandler said during a town hall meeting with soldiers from the 4th Combat Brigade Team, 10th Mountain Division, at Forward Operating Base Gamberi. He made similar remarks to troops at FOB Fenty in Jalalabad. The regulations cover things such as tattoos, grooming, and uniforms and apply only to soldiers. Other branches of the military have their own grooming and appearance rules. Chandler said he expects the changes to become policy in 30 to 60 days. Media reports last year identified potential changes to rules governing things such as make-up and fingernail polish, hair styles, body piercings, and the length of sideburns, among other items. Chandler, however, only confirmed changes to the policy on tattoos. Under the new policy, new recruits will not be allowed to have tattoos that show below the elbows and knees or above the neckline, Chandler told troops. Current soldiers may be grandfathered in, but all soldiers will still be barred from having any tattoos that are racist, sexist or extremist. Once the rules are implemented, soldiers will sit down with their unit leaders and “self identify” each tattoo. Soldiers will be required to pay for the removal of any tattoo that violates the policy, Chandler said. While some soldiers at the meeting asked whether the Army will ever allow more visible tattoos, Chandler said it is a matter of maintaining a uniform look and sacrificing for the sake of the force. When a soldier gets a tattoo that contains an curse word on the side of his neck, “I question ‘Why there?’ Are you trying to stand out?” Chandler said. He said the Army wants soldiers to stand out, but because of their achievements, not because of the way they look. In addition to the changes to the regulations, Chandler said officials will be separating many of the more specific policies in Army Regulation 670-1 and placing them in a Department of the Army pamphlet, which will make it clearer for troops to understand, as well as make it easier for future changes to be made. On a separate note, Chandler told troops that the new Army combat uniforms will likely be phased in starting eight to nine months from now. The uniform will feature different colors for different environments, but the pattern will be very similar to the mottled “multicam” currently used in Afghanistan under the designation “Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern.” The uniform will have different coloring for varying environments like jungle and desert, he said, rather than the widely panned “universal” color of the current ACUs. Congress has also pressed the military to use standard patterns across branches in order to save money. Chandler said the most expensive part of moving to the new uniforms will be the gear like backpacks, body armor, and other items that are issued to all soldiers. Additionally, the Army is pressing vendors to standardize boot sizes, Chandler said. Boot sizes often vary wildly, especially among women’s sizes.
^ Every country wants a military to look professional and clean. I agree with part of the new tattoo policy. If it is racist or have swear words I think it should be removed (at the soldier's expense) but anything else should be allowed.  I don't know what the new uniforms look like, but hopefully they are better than the current ones. ^

Canadian Names

From Wikipedia:

And now for the names of Canadian Provinces and Territories.


-          Alberta:      Named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta (1848–1939), the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and wife of the Governor General of Canada Lord Lorne in the late 19th century.

-          British Columbia:      Takes its name partly from Britain and partly from the Columbia whose crew first explored the area. It also references the Columbia District, the British name for the territory drained by the Columbia River, which was the namesake of the pre–Oregon Treaty Columbia Department of the Hudson's Bay Company. The adjective "British" was added to the name to distinguish it from Colombia and from what became the state of Washington in the United States, whose name was originally going to be Columbia, after the river. Columbia is a poetic name for the American continent discovered by Christopher Columbus.

-          Manitoba:  Is most commonly believed to have come from the Cree word manitowapow or the Ojibwa word manitobau, both meaning "the strait of the spirit". It is unclear why this name was chosen for the province, though it is generally thought to be named after straits in Lake Manitoba.

-          New Brunswick:  Named in honour of Brunswick-Lüneburg, the ancestral home of the British king George III.

-          Newfoundland and Labrador:   Newfoundland (Latin: Terra Nova) Was named by its European discoverers around 1500; possibly by the Portuguese explorer João Vaz Corte-Real in 1472, making it the oldest European name in North America. Labrador = Probably named after João Fernandes Lavrador, a Portuguese navigator who visited the area in 1498, of whom the honorific "lavrador" means "landholder".

-          Nova Scotia:  Latin for "New Scotland". In the 1620s a group of Scots was sent by Charles I to set up a colony, and the Latin name is used in Sir William Alexander's 1621 land grant. Although this settlement was abandoned because of a treaty between Britain and France, the name remains.

-          Ontario: Named after Lake Ontario, which got its name from a First Nations language, most likely from onitariio, meaning "beautiful lake", or kanadario, translated as "sparkling" or "beautiful", or possibly from Wyandot (Huron) ontare ("lake").

-          Prince Edward Island:  Named in 1798 after Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, the son of George III and lieutenant-general in British army in Canada. The next year, he would become commander-in-chief of North America, before being transferred to Gilbraltar in 1802.

-          Quebec: From the Míkmaq kepék, "strait, narrows"

-          Saskatchewan: From the Saskatchewan River (Cree: kisiskāciwani-sīpiy, "swift flowing river").


-    Northwest Territories: Named for its location northwest of Lake Superior. The territory once comprised virtually all Canadian land northwest of that lake; it has since been split up into several other provinces and territories, but has retained its name.

-   Nunavut:  Means "our land" in Inuktitut, a language of the Inuit.

-   Yukon: Takes its name from the Yukon River, whose name in turn means "great river" in Gwichʼin.



State Names

From Wikipedia:

I did the names of countries and now here's the names of US states.

-          Alabama:  Choctow (albah amo)      = "Thicket-clearers" or "plant-cutters". The modern Choctaw name for the tribe is Albaamu.

-            Alaska:  Aleut via Russian (alaxsxaq via Аляска) = "Mainland"

-          Arizona: Basque (aritz ona) = The good oak".

-          Arkansas:   Kansa via French (akaansa)  = Borrowed from a French spelling of an Illinois rendering of the tribal name kką:ze.

-          California: Spanish  = Probably named for the fictional Island of California ruled by Queen Calafia in the 16th century novel Las sergas de Esplandián by García Ordóñez de Montalvo.

-          Colorado: Spanish (Rio Colorado) = "Ruddy", originally referring to the Colorado River

-          Connecticut: Eastern Algonquian (quinnitukqut)   =  "at the long tidal river", after the Connecticut River.

-          Delaware: French via English (de la Warr) = After the Delaware River, which was named for Lord de la Warr (originally probably Norman French de la guerre or de la werre, "of the war"). Lord de la Warr was the first Governor-General of Jamestown.

-          Florida: Spanish ((pascua) florida) = "Flowery (Easter)" (to distinguish it from Christmastide which was also called Pascua), in honor of its discovery by the Spanish during the Easter season.

-          Georgia: Latin via English (Georgos) = The feminine Latin form of "George", named after King George II of Great Britain

-          Hawaii: Hawaiian (Hawaiʻi) = From Hawaiki, legendary homeland of the Polynesians.  Hawaiki is believed to mean "place of the gods

-          Idaho: English (I-dah-hoe) = Probably made up by George M. "Doc" Willing as a practical joke; originally claimed to have been derived from a word in a Native American language that meant "Gem of the Mountains”. The name was initially proposed for the state of Colorado until its origins were discovered. Years later it fell into common usage, and was proposed for the state it now names

-          Illinois:   Algonquian via French    (ilenweewa) = The state is named for the French adaptation of an Algonquian language (perhaps Miami) word apparently meaning "speaks normally".

-          Indiana: Latin = "Land of the Indians". The names Indians and India originally came from the Indus River i.e. from Sanskrit sindhu "river

-          Iowa: Dakota via French (ayúxba/ayuxwe via Aiouez) = By way of French Aiouez, and named after the Iowa tribe.

-          Kansas: Kansa via French (kką:ze via Cansez) = Named after the Kansas River, ]which in turn was named after the Kaw or Kansas tribe.

-          Kentucky: Iroquoian = Originally referring to the Kentucky River.

-          Louisiana: French (Louisiane) = After King Louis XIV of France. The name Louis came itself from Frankish hluda "heard of, famous"

-          Maine: English (Main) = A common historical etymology is that the state's name refers to the mainland, as opposed to the coastal islands

-          Maryland: Hebrew via English (Miryam) = After Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I of England. The name Mary originally meant in Hebrew "bitterness" or "rebelliousness”

-          Massachusetts: Algonquian = Plural of "Massachusett" meaning "Near the great little-mountain", or "at the great hill", usually identified as Great Blue Hill on the border of Milton and Canton, Massachusetts.

-          Michigan: Ojibwe via French   (mishigami) =  Large water" or "large lake"[

-          Minnesota: Dakota (mnisota) = "Cloudy water", referring to the Minnesota River

-          Mississippi: Ojibwe via French   (misi-ziibi) = Great river", after the Mississippi River

-          Missouri: Illinois (mihsoori) = Dugout canoe". The Missouri tribe was noteworthy among the Illinois for their dugout canoes, and so was referred to as the wimihsoorita, "one who has a wood boat [dugout canoe]".

-          Montana: Spanish (montaña) = Mountain

-          Nebraska: Chiwere (ñįbraske) = "flattened water", after the Platte River, which used to be known as the Nebraska River, due to the flatness of the plains, when the river would flood, it would blanket the region

-          Nevada: Spanish = "Snow-covered", after the Sierra Nevada ("snow-covered mountains)

-          New Hampshire: English = After the county of Hampshire in England

-          New Jersey: French via Old Norse = After Jersey (the largest of the British Channel Islands), birthplace of one of the colony's two co-founders, Sir George de Carteret.

-          New Mexico: Spanish via  Nahuatl  (Mēxihco via Nuevo México) = A calque of Spanish Nuevo México. 

-          New York: English = After the then Duke of York (later King James II of England).

-          North Carolina: Latin via English (Carolus via Carolana) = After King Charles I of England.  The name Charles came itself from Frankish karl "man, husband

-          North Dakota: Sioux  (dakhóta) = "Ally" or "friend",  after the Dakota tribe

-          Ohio: Seneca via French (ohi:yo’) = "Large creek", originally the name of both the Ohio River and Allegheny River.

-          Oklahoma: Choctaw  (okla + homa) = Devised as a rough translation of "Indian Territory";in Choctaw, okla means "people", "tribe", or "nation", and homa- means "red", thus: "Red people

-          Oregon: Connecticut Pidgin Algonquian (wauregan) = Beautiful". First named by Major Robert Rogers in a petition to King George III.

-          Pennsylvania: Welsh and Latin (Penn + silvania) = Penn's woods", after Admiral William Penn. The name "Penn" comes from Pennaeth which is the Welsh word for "head

-          Rhode Island: Dutch (roodt eylandt) = "Red island", referring to Aquidneck Island.[87] The Modern Dutch form of the phrase is "rood eiland

-          South Carolina; Latin via French (Carolus via Carolana) = After King Charles I of England. The name Charles came itself from Frankish karl "man, husband".

-          South Dakota: Sioux (dakhóta) = Ally" or "friend".

-          Tennessee: Cherokee (ᏔᎾᏏ tanasi) = Tanasi (in Cherokee: ᏔᎾᏏ) was the name of a Cherokee village

-          Texas: Caddo via Spanish (táyshaʔ via Tejas) = Friend", used by the Caddo to refer the larger Caddo nation (in opposition to enemy tribes). The name was borrowed into Spanish as texa, plural texas, and used to refer to the Caddo Nation.

-          Utah: Western Apache via Spanish (yúdah via yuta) = From the Spanish designation for the Ute people, yuta, in turn perhaps a borrowing from Western Apache yúdah meaning "high

-          Vermont; French (vert + mont) = "Green mount" or "Green mountain"; vert in French means "green", and mont means "mount" or "mountain

-          Virginia: Latin = "Country of the Virgin", after Elizabeth I of England, who was known as the "Virgin Queen" because she never married.

-          Washington: English = After George Washington

-          West Virginia: Latin = The western, transmontane, counties of Virginia; separated from Virginia during Civil War; see Virginia, above

-          Wisconsin: Miami via French (Wishkonsing) = Originally spelled Mescousing by the French, and later corrupted to Ouisconsin.  Likely it derives from a Miami word Meskonsing meaning "it lies red"

-          Wyoming: Munsee Delaware (xwé:wamənk) =  "At the big river flat"; the name was transplanted westward from the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania