Tuesday, July 31, 2012


$219,000,000,000 and counting.  That is the value of the smartphone and tablet market for which Apple and Samsung seem locked in a duel to the death. Apple is suing Samsung for patent infringement. Samsung is doing the same to Apple. It is now in a court in San Jose, California. Some of the issues: Apple has a patent on the rounded-corner, rectangular shape of smart-phones. Samsung has patents on some of the transmission technology in smart-phones. Each side is spending many many millions of dollars on lawyers.

Apple claims that the Samsung smart-phones are illegal knockoffs of the iPhone. Well, in our household, we just happen to have one of each kind, and here they are:

   The one on the left is my Samsung Infuse; on the right is my wife's iPhone 3. Yep, they look exactly the same; the Samsung is a direct copy of the iPhone. Not.

What about the way they operate? The Samsung uses the Android OS (operating system), while the iPhone uses the Apple OS. I've tried both, and they are not the same. Sure, there are similarities, but there are many similarities between a Chevy and a Toyota.

We also each have an iPad; mine is the original (iPad 1), hers is the latest (iPad (iPad 3)).  We have not tried the Samsung tablets, but I imagine there are also many similarities.

So what's the deal here? Obviously, it is all about market share and profit. Data for the second quarter of 2012 show that Samsung has 33% of the global market of smart-phones, while Apple has 17%.  Apple has 62% of the global market for tablet computers, while Samsung has only 9%. And the value of these markets? That number with all the zeros at the beginning of this post: 219 billion dollars. Neither company can be satisfied with the numerous billions of dollars it makes every year - each needs more.

I would prefer if Samsung and Apple put more of their billions into supporting the products already in the hands of consumers, as well as pushing their industry into a more sustainable direction. Do we (the consumers) really need a new version of the iPhone every 6 months? Really? Do we really need to be hooked into an industry that tells us that the product we hold in our hand is obsolete almost as soon as we unpack it? What is the true cost of all these gadgets?

One true cost is the earth's climate. Here in Oregon, the battle lines have been drawn between the companies that want to export Montana coal to China through Columbia River ports, and the groups that oppose coal exports on the basis of impacts to local communities and to the climate. The irony I find is that all the smart-phones, tablets, and laptops used to post/tweet/facebook/email about this topic use gadgets made in China and other Asian countries that want our coal to power the factories making these devices. Would the demand for coal go away if we all stop buying these gadgets? (Probably not, but it's an interesting point to ponder for this discussion.)

So Apple and Samsung, good luck to you both. Unfortunately, the real loser in this will be the consumers. All the bull crap about free markets and competition flies out the window when billions of dollars are at stake. Neither of these monster corporations will lose as much as we consumers will.


Monday, July 30, 2012


During the run-up to the Republican nomination, when Americans were witness to one of the strangest circuses of modern times, I thought Mitt Romney was at least sane and intelligent, compared to the rest of the Republican clowns. I was wrong.

Romney is on a trip overseas to demonstrate his capabilities in foreign policy and relationships. Romney has succeeded - in pissing off almost everyone with insults and racist remarks.

Great Britain:
The Insult - the Brits had problems with their preparations for the Olympics that concerned the erstwhile POTUS. That did not play well in the host country.
The Racism -"We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special," a second Romney adviser told the newspaper. "The White House didn't fully appreciate the shared history we have." (Source: ABC News)  In other words, a black President can't understand the secret code of white people. By the way, if you watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics, you surely noticed that the thousands of British people who participated were a very diverse mix - it didn't look like Anglo-Saxonville to me. 

The Insult and The Racism - a double play! The Mittster pissed of Palestinians when he talked about the economic differences between Israel and the Palestinian Territories as being partially based on cultural differences. Saeb Erekat of the Palestinian Authority said of Romney's comments: “It seems to me this man (Romney) lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people,” Erekat said. “He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.” (Source: ABC News)  At best, Romney's remarks were insensitive and simplistic; at worst, they convey a racist or cultural superior attitude. 

Poland: let's see if Mitt can pull off a triple-play! 

I guess I'm not in the mood to cut Romney any slack on this stuff. The level of rancor and racism in this country is high, and we need to call it out every time. 

Mitt Romney, the Presumptive Republican Nominee, appears to be not only insensitive and not very smart, but also has racial and cultural superiority issues.


Saturday, July 21, 2012


A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. Second Amendment, Constitution of the United States.

I'll take a different tack here than most; if the Second Amendment really means that we all have the right to have firearms designed to kill people, then the Constitution needs to be changed. Period. 

Fact: the latest massacre, in Aurora, Colorado, was perpetrated by a person who had legal firearms. He had in his possession four weapons that he had purchased from local gun shops in the past 60 days, and 6,000 rounds of ammunition. His arsenal included: 1) a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with a drum magazine capable of holding 100 rounds that can fire 50-60 rounds per minute; 2) two Glock .40 caliber pistols, probably with 15 round clips; and 3) a Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun that holds up to 7 rounds. The Colt rifle is the civilian version of the M-16 used by the U.S. military. The Glock pistols are popular among police. Both of these weapons are designed for one purpose: killing people. I'm not a hunter, but I assume that the shotgun is a hunting weapon. 

Does the Second Amendment really mean that we all have the right to own weapons designed to kill people? If it does, and I think it does not, then it needs to be changed. There is not one reason for any civilian to own a weapon designed to kill people. There is not one reason for it to be legal to sell these weapons to civilians. In other words, only the police and military should own these weapons (and if civilians didn't have any, then the cops wouldn't need them, either). 

Fact: we have had many mass shootings in this country; it has become all too common. Here's a graphic being used by many media outlets today:

This is nuts! What kind of country do we live in? Is this what the Second Amendment is all about? 

I know people who hunt and fish. They do this for enjoyment and for food. I don't have a problem with this. And by the way, they don't use M-16's. 

Can we prevent people from killing others with hunting weapons? No. Can we reduce the number of lethal weapons in our communities designed to kill people? Yes, and we should. It would take tough laws, made by tough law-makers who understand that it is OK to go against the NRA and other gun lobby groups. Unfortunately, we don't seem to have many people like that in Congress. 

This is nuts. 

Monday, July 09, 2012


The City's street cleaning program removes dirt and debris from City streets to provide a healthy, safe, and attractive environment for the citizens of Portland. Regular removal of leaves and debris is necessary to prevent stormwater drains from clogging, which can result in street flooding. Street cleaning protects water quality and minimizes the burden on the sewer system from surface debris. 

The above introduction is on the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation street cleaning web page.  I agree that clean streets are a good thing, and that the City should regularly clean them for the benefits listed. The only problem is that the City of Portland street cleaning program doesn't do any of the above. 

The method used to clean the streets is street sweeping machines; you've seen the vehicles with the large rotating brushes going down the street. The street sweeper recently went through our neighborhood; this is done 1 or 2 times per year.  

Here's a photo I took near my house soon after the sweeper went through.
Look closely and you will see the track made by the sweeper; it went around the parked cars.
Further into the web page cited above, the City states that 97% of the dirt and debris on the street is within 40 inches (3.3. ft) of the curb. A car typically takes up the area about 6 ft from the curb. So in other words, except when it can get to within 3 ft of the curb, the sweeper only gets about 3% of the dirt. On our block, there are typically no empty parking spaces, so the sweeper misses most of the street dirt. 

I wondered how much dirt and debris the sweeper leaves behind, and on the 4th of July, I had an opportunity to figure it out. On that morning, there were only 2 cars parked on our side of the street for the entire block. So I went our with a square-end shovel and push broom and did the street sweeping myself (I actually try to do this at least once a year). 

What I found was a layer of dirt against the curb, a lot of which had weeds growing in it. There was also debris: cigarette butts, scraps of paper and plastic, bits of metal; you get the idea. And also, a lot of oil and grease stains on the pavement - I couldn't sweep those. 

I shoveled and swept the area within about 3 ft of the curb on one side of the entire block - you remember that this 3 ft is where 97% of the street dirt is found. I piled all of it into a yellow plastic recycling bin. 

I then measured the size of the bin and did some calculations; I had 1.78 cubic feet, or 0.07 cubic yards, of dirt and debris.  The length of the one side of the street I cleaned was 250 ft, or 0.05 mile. 

A standard dump truck holds about 5 cubic yards (cy) of dirt; that is about 75 of my yellow bins full of dirt. One dump truck at 5 cy would hold about 72 of my bins full of street debris. Or, if we consider both sides of the street, a dump truck would hold about 36 blocks worth of street dirt. The City of Portland has 4,700 miles of paved streets. Using the length of my block, 36 blocks would be 1.7 miles. Do the math, and you get a total of 2,765 dump truck loads.

2,765. That is the number of dump trucks full of street dirt that the City street cleaning program leaves behind every time they clean the streets, based on the assumptions of my small exercise and calculations. 

But wait - what about posting "no parking" signs so that the streets can be properly cleaned? In many cities, street sweeping is scheduled for specific days and people know not to park on those streets. Can't we do that in Portland? Apparently not. The second half of the City web site cited above lists numerous reasons (excuses) why the City of Portland can't do that.  And of course, as the City web site states: "Any attempt to provide a schedule online or through the mail would almost certainly result in a frustrated public because too many factors beyond our control always result in delays to our street sweeping schedule." We certainly don't want a frustrated public! 

Read the opening statement of this post again (go ahead, scroll up, I'll wait). Based on my small study, the statement is not true; the City does not really remove dirt and debris from the streets, they leave 97% of it. For me, this begs the question of "why bother?" Why continue a program that does nothing? Either do it correctly, or don't do it at all. 

We are very green in the City of Portland. We strive mightily to protect the water quality in our rivers and streams, to save the salmon, to improve our quality of life and the environment. We all pay stormwater fees, including the off-site stormwater fee that "pays for the construction, operation and maintenance of facilities that manage stormwater runoff from city streets." Part of the above is to deal with the water quality of stormwater runoff from streets. Effective street cleaning is one of the easiest and best ways to deal with water quality from street runoff - remove the contaminants before they go down the drain! 

Now, some of you might be wondering "what did he do with the yellow bin full of street sweepings?" I phoned the street cleaning department at the City of Portland and explained to a very helpful person what I had done. I said that I didn't want to put the sweepings into my green can (non-Portlanders; that's the can we put yard debris and food waste into that is picked up weekly for composting), and he said that was correct because "you don't know what's in it." "Oh, I do know what's in it," I replied. He asked for my address, I left the yellow bin out by the curb, and the next morning it was empty - a city crew picked it up for proper (hopefully) disposal. 

Should the City of Portland sell their street sweepers, re-assign most of the staff, and instead distribute shovels and brooms to every property owner? I think not. I think that the City needs to evaluate their street cleaning program and change to a program that actually meets the intended goals.