Friday, December 30, 2011

Alaska Cruise Day 4: Skagway and the Safari

This article is long over due. Allie, her mother and father, and I went on an Alaskan Cruise in 2010. The cruise was fun and enjoyable. Day 4 was a visit to Skagway, Alaska.


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Swagway is a small town near the end of the Chikook Inlet. I think (don't quote me on this) that this was one of the Alaskan Gold Rush towns.


On this stop, Allie and I went on an excursion. It was called a safari, though I think any trek in Alaska might be considered the antithesis of "safari". Either way, it was an adventure. We were a part of a larger party that rode a ferry from Skagway to an outcropping of land about an hour's ride south. From there, we took a bus up to the camp in the rain forest. We geared up with rain gear and went for a hike through the forest. Finally, we arrived at a river where some canoes were ready. After rowing up river in the canoes, we reached the foot of a glacier. The glacier was very jagged. Most of the facing surfaces were pristine white, though part of one side had mixed with a recent avalanche for a granite-like appearance. The glacier made the cold day even cooler at its base. As we canoed around the melt pool, we noticed plenty of birds and fish.

Our safari guides had one thing on their mind. They didn't likely get paid much for spending their spring and summer at this outcropping of land between the bay and the glaciated mountains. To pass the time, they enjoy a local beverage. I forget the name, but it's a beer made from spruce tips. To augment their income, they collected spruce tips from the surrounding forest. When they return to town, they trade their spruce tips for the beer that is made from the spruce tips. The guides talked about this beer quite frequently.

When we turned to Skagway, Allie and I set out to find the bar that served this beer. It is at the end of the street directly down from where the cruise ship was docked. If you get a chance to go to Skagway, make sure you try to find this bar and have the spruce tip beer. It's not the best beer you'll ever have, but it is pretty darn good, and a great way to experience Skagway that most other people will easily miss.

Please see the full Alaska Cruise article list.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Second cross-country road trip of 2011: Day 8 (refuelling made hard and the moon made easy)


(I know this recounting is a bit late.) Day 8 of Allie's and my road trip across the USA was a drive home. This leg of our journey seemed to drag on, even though it wasn't the longest segment on our trip. Along the way, we found this rather humorous posting of a No Parking sign. Clearly, patrons of this gas station are willfully ignoring the posted instructions. Frankly, I'm not sure how one might fill up at a gas station without parking, especially since the motor is supposed to be turned off while refueling. Maybe the driver can have buddy pump the gas while he puts the car in neutral and pushes his car a few feet in one direction and then pushes back a few feet in the other until the gas tank is topped off?

Upstate New York isn't quite as beautiful this time as it was the last time I travelled these lands. Fall had long passed its peak, and winter has not yet claimed the earth with snow.

On a personally interesting point, while I was not driving, I had plenty of time on my hands, of course. The evening and twilight hours had passed. The moon was out and looking beautiful. I decided to try once again to take a detailed shot of the moon with my automatic camera. Successful execution of this operation has eluded me for 30 years. However, there's enough settings in my Canon Powershot to finally pull this off with a fair amount of success. Usually, when you try to take a photograph of the moon with a standard camera, all you get is a ball of light. This time, after some experimentation, I was actually able to capture some level of detail. Additionally, this photo is taken upward through the passenger side window in a moving car! It's not the best shot ever of the moon, but an achievement, nonetheless.

Alas (yes, I actually used that word), we made it home in Massachusetts. This is our home now, not just my home. This is a point that will soon sink in for Allie, but I fear she's going to have a bit of homesickness coming on soon, just like me a few months prior. Tobzilla has been a bit unsettled on our entire road trip. However, today, he seemed to know something was different. He was less nervous. He seemed to know that this home wasn't just another hotel for one night. Time to unpack and recover from the trip.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Second cross-country road trip in 2011: Day 7 (Niagara Falls)


The relatively short drive from Columbus, OH to Niagara Falls, NY meant that we could take it easy. We got started late, yet still arrived in the Buffalo, NY area around 3PM or so. After dropping Tobzilla off at a local Petsmart, we checked into our hotel. (It was very dated, and not really worth saying much about.) Unfortunately, because it's winter and because we are now so far North, the Sun was going down too quickly for us to walk to the American side of Niagara Falls before nightfall.

Allie was a little annoyed that I didn't bring my passport so that we could cross over to the Canada side (the fun side). Oh well, some other time. The Falls are huge and incredible. You can easily find the Falls by just following the massive and constant rise of water vapor into the sky.

We had diner at The Dove Restaurant. By far, this was the best food we had on our entire road trip. It is an Italian restaurant with excellent and high quality dishes. The service is great. The pace is intentionally leisurely to provide a relaxing and enjoyable experience where you aren't rushed in and out. We wished we could've brought our leftovers with us, but as before, that's not practical on a road trip. If I'm ever in this area again, I would definitely dine here again.

After picking up our little dog, we returned to the hotel. I think he's starting to get use to the travelling routine.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Second cross-country road trip in 2011: Day 6 (slow start, comments about various hotels)

Our sixth day of travel across America was marked by a late start. Though our trip from St. Louis, MO to Columbus, OH was one of the shorter drives, we didn't get into Columbus until 5PM or so. We didn't do much in Columbus. Actually, we didn't do anything other than get a meal at Chipotle and watch some TV in the motel, er "hotel" room. That's the problem when trying to plan ahead for a trip in cities that you don't know. Finding good hotels for a good price in a good area of town is very hard, even with online reviews.

Our hotel in Lake Havasu was spacious, but dingy.

The original hotel I booked in Albuquerque was in a very sketchy neighborhood, so we opted to cancel the reservation and stay at a Homewood Suites near the airport instead. Homewood is very nice and does accept pets, though for a very hefty fee of $100. The average (even at other nice hotels) was $25, so $100 is a bit over the top; particularly since you can just drop your dog off at the nearest Petsmart for about $30 overnight lodging, and that includes one-on-one human attention and a free meal. Note to Homewood, lower your pet fee!

The motel, er, again I mean "hotel" we stayed at in Oklahoma City, OK was also very sketchy and dingy.

The lesson I'm slowly learning is to stay away from the less expensive nationwide hotel brands that are in the big cities. Spend a little more to get a decent place, and try to pick towns that are a bit outside of the area, as smaller outlining towns tend to have higher quality versions of the nationwide hotel brands.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Second cross-country road trip in 2011: Day 5 (St. Louis)

Although the drive from Oklahoma to Missouri was fairly uneventful, we did take time to stretch our legs. Tobzilla was happy to be in Missouri, or maybe just happy to have plenty of green grass to take care of his business.

We drove through the state all the way to St. Louis. Allie has never been to St. Louis before. My first time here was actually back in June of this same year. We dropped off Tobzilla at a nearby Petsmart to be sitted for a few hours while Allie and I had a date night to ourselves for the first time on this trip.

We dined at Zia's on The Hill. Located in a quiet Italian neighborhood of St. Louis, simply called The Hill, this restaurant was a pleasant surprize. Eating almost nothing but junk food for most of our road trip, good Italian food was a welcome change from all the fast food we had been consuming throughout much of our journey. Overall, the food was very good. (See Yelp for my full review.)



Our hotel was The Cheshire. This is a "British author themed" hotel with rustic atmosphere, yet modernized appeal within the rooms. The bonus is that this hotel is very pet friendly. They even provide Beggin' Strips, doggie bowls, doggie bed and other amenities for your dogs. (Only the Beggin' Strips is complimentary. Everything else should be treated as belonging to the room.) The Cheshire is a comfortable place to rest your head. The only drawback are the old style windows which let a lot of heat escape the room. This means you'll need to keep the heater running on cold evenings. That's not bad for the guess, per se, but it is wasteful when taking the entire hotel into account. Overall, I recommend staying here if you are in the St. Louis area.

Allie, Tobzilla and I visited the Gateway Arch later in the evening. Though the weather was clear, the temperature was very cold. We took a few photos, then quickly left to return to our cosie hotel room.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Second cross-country road trip: Days 3 and 4

These two days was occupied by watching the landscape change from pine forests to sparsely sthrubbed desert, and from hills and mesas to nearly completely flat land. One surreal aspect of driving across America is the straight highways that extend off to the horizon.

We spent one night at a good hotel in Albuquerque, but a shady place in Oklahoma City. It's hard picking good places when you don't know the area.

In general, New Mexico is a beautiful state. Oklahoma is a state that does not really mirror that image presented in the movie by the same name.

The weather has been great. Day 3 had gorgeous and sunny skies, while day 4 had a very thin cloud layer for a pleasant break from the sun beating down on us all day as we drove.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Second cross-country road trip 2011: Day 2


Though I'm never likely to end up in Lake Havasu (Arizona) ever again, this is a beautiful place where I would've liked to spend more time. Allie and I got up early to get back on the road in order to get to the Grand Canyon with enough remaining daylight to enjoy the Grand Canyon.


The drive from Lake Havasu to the Grand Canyon was a short four hours with a couple of stops (mostly for our little dog). As you drive to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon from the direction of I-40, the land offers no clues as to the huge hole in the ground just a bit to the North. In fact, there is very little clue as you park at the South Rim's visitor center. There's no clue as you walk along the paved trail from the parking lot. There's only the slightest hint as the North Rim becomes visible over the trees. The full impact isn't realized until you are at the rim and look from East to West, and then nearly straight down. It's really true that photographs do not do justice to the Grand Canyon. Nothing really prepares you for the awe you'll experience when you first see it for yourself.




The Grand Canyon is pet friendly. Although my dog did seem to appreciate some aspects of the canyon, he was most interested in every single bush we walked past.

Our hotel was surprizingly good. I originally had booked with another hotel, but cancelled when they hung up on me three times in a row when I was trying to confirm my reservation. I'm glad I cancelled. The Grand Hotel turns out to be the best choice, not just for pet friendliness, but for general comfort and cleanliness.

We will very likely be back to the Grand Canyon some day to experience more of its wonders.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Second cross-country road trip 2011: Day 1

My second cross-country road trip across America is under way. Not only is this my second time, this is my second time this year! This time, I am travelling with my wife and my little dog too.
Due to the time of year, we had to avoid the heart of the Rockies, opting to drive through Arizona. The first day was a long 10 hours from Silicon Valley to Lake Havasu. We made a lot of stops, mostly cuz of my dog being restless during his very first road trip.
Sometimes it is easy to forget how big California really is. It takes many hours to leave the state from the Coastal regions.
We didn't make any stops to see anything. The goal was to get to Lake Havasu as quickly as possible to have a good nights sleep so we'd be able to take off early enough to enjoy the the Grand Canyon the next day.
Our hotel in Lake Havasu was beachside, but we didn't really have time to take advantage of that.
We did stop off at London Bridge (and got to drive over it twice). I didn't see any World War II damage marks on it, but didn't really have time to look all that closely. It was already nighttime when we arrived.

Monday, November 21, 2011

My wife asked to see proof

So, the reason for my previous posting about crows is this.  Allie doesn't like birds.  In particular, she dislikes crows and wishes ill will upon them.  A few days ago, there was a murder of crows outside of her parents home.  When she drove up, the crows didn't get scared off, but rather just moved out of the way of her car.  This freaked her out.  When she related this ominious tale to me, I jokingly told her that was a good thing, and that crows are a sign of good health.  She asked me to provide an online link to prove this.  So, I added the article to my blog and sent her the link.  I was amused.  She was not.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Casted Branches

I never thought I'd revisit this work, but I believe I've improved it substantially with a rough spot it used to have in the second verse.

Night's pale spirit dashes spiderwebs upon earth,
Like villains cast onto silver screens,
Lying without breath; but breathing, as wind affects,
To spook our children on All Hallows' Eve.

Creaks and cackles echo,
While creep jostles our own essence.
This imparts solace upon howling ghosts,
Who excape from Inferno's demented joy.

Clamoring so, and wailing,
Lost souls seek new abodes;
Haunting our windows as light upon memories;
Whisking about, agitated, frustrated...then night wanes.

Apollo rides out with his own cast of characters,
To sweep away specters and their weeps,
And comfort bring to little ones as they arise,
Oblivious to the crypts under tread.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Never order a Mojito on a plane

I had a particularly bad plane trip early this year. After multiple delays and cancellations, I was finally on my way home. Food was being offered complimentary on my flight, but not the alcohol, of course.

Looking at the food menu, I saw that Mojitos were offered. I let out a brief private chuckle at the very thought of a flight attendant trying to make a Mojito in flight. Mojitos are one of the most labor intensive cocktails, as they require crushing of mint leafs within the glass. How would any of this be accomplished on a plane? So, much to the surprize of others around me, I ordered a Mojito on a plane, just to see what I would actually get.

I was handed the following, along with the same plastic cup you get if you order soda or water.



My travel day had been particularly bad (more than most on the plane) so I give the flight attendant a quick sad story to convince him to throw in an extra Bacardi minibar bottle. A very small consolation for a very crappy day, but nice nonetheless.

That single shot of Bacardi and the bag of mint flavored lime juice was $11....and that's with me "mixing" the drink myself. Without the mint leafs, it would be debated that this was actually a Mojito at all. So, the moral of this story is to never order a Mojito on a plane.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Senseless Sunday: Now that tittle is heavy!



  1. A giraffe heart weighs about 24 pounds.


  2. Plastic sheaths at each end of a shoe lace are called aglets.


  3. The world's largest baseball bat is 120 feet long. It weighs 68,000 pounds.


  4. Pat Welsh was the voice of E.T. in the movie E.T. the Extra-terrestrial


  5. That dot over the lowercase j and i is called a tittle.

Google's Gumby tribute on the 90th birthday of Art Clokey 10-12-2011 (beat)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday Two: saves lives, makes lives

Sipuleucel-T is new treatment from Dendreon that uses the body's own immune system to fight prostate cancer. Each dose is personalized by consisting of the patient's own immune cells that have been trained to seek and attack prostate cancer cells.

Who knew this was even an issue. Broken lobster traps sometimes break free from tethers and wash up on beaches and riverfront properties in Maine. Too expensive and bulky to haul off, Kim Boehm created the Trapzilla as a convenient way to compact the traps to a manageable size.



Epoch fail


The Wedding Countdown Bra puts a clock on a bra to let....well, I'm not really sure what the countdown supposed to encourage. It signifies the countdown to when the wedding ring is placed on the wearer's finger. Ironically, press vidoes and images all show the model with an engagement ring instead. Nothing says "Marry me!" more than a countdown to wedding bells attached to a bra.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Roaming around Boston on the last fair weather weekend of the year

Late last week, I decided to do something to enjoy what some were calling the last great weather weekend of the year in New England. So, while others decided to go see the changing Autumn foliage, I went the oppose route, heading into the heart of Boston.

Not wanting to drive around the city, finding parking spots, paying multiple parking fees, dealing with the traffic, etc, I decided to give mass transit a try. The Commuter Rail ride from Southborough was comfortable. In about an hour, it got me to South Station. From there, Dewey Square was just across the street. This gave me a chance to check out the Occupy Boston camp-in protest. There's a lot of people, but the event is not a big as one might think.


After walking around a bit to explore the surrounding area, I decided to get lunch at Sorelle. The day was so nice, I went for a quick margarita at the outdoor bar in the brand new restaurant at the Russia Wharf. I don't remember the name right now. It has a great view of the inlet.

After that, I rode the T subway to the Museum of Science at Science Park. It's a fairly large museum with a lot of interactive displays and several shows. Some areas are for adults, but much of it is a glorified play land for kids (which isn't a bad thing for the kids).


I then walked over to Charleston and Bunker Hill. Foolishly, I decided to walk to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, all 294 spiraling steps! The view of Boston from the top was great.

Next stop of Chinatown, so called. It's really just a city block or two. There's a few Chinese style restaurants, but just as many Vietnamese places too. The topper is that there's a McDonald's, two Starbucks and two Dunkin Donuts as well. Yes, TWO! So sad.

However, I did stumble upon my second news item of the day. Sirens where everywhere in Boston. It turns out, they where all heading down to Beach St. in Chinatown. A large chunk of bricks fell off several floors from the facade of a parking garage. They smashed up a car below, damaged some businesses across the street and injured one person who was taken to the hospital.



After that, I headed home, back on Commuter Rail to Southborough. On the drive back to my place, I stopped of to get some ice cream. Massachusetts is a strange place. It's winter about 1/3 of the year, and cold much of the rest, yet there are ice cream parlors (out door window service) almost everywhere, especially in the middle of nowhere! I'm not really sure why they are called parlors if there is no actual entry, but hey, who am I to argue with a great tasting treat on a warm Summer...er...Autumn evening. Anyway, Ulhman's Ice Cream Parlor was a good capper to a great day of exploration.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Bricks fell from several stories up in Boston, injuring one person,damage too


Here's the photo close-up the bricks that smashed the car, injuried one person and busted windows in shops across the street today on Beach St. in Chinatown, Downtown Boston!

Aftermath of parking garage brick falls several floors in Boston on Beach St. in Chinatown

Sirens everywhere in Boston today, and I didn't know why until I stumbled upon this. Bricks from a parking garage facade fell on to Beach St. in downtown Chinatown, injurying on person (sent to the hospital) and smashing a car and shop windows across the street.

Only in Amish land

Leave it to an Amish splinter group to conduct home invasions where they only steal hair, seriously!


Amish Men's Beards Cut Off; Police Suspect Amish-On-Amish Violence

Monday, September 26, 2011

An old tree at the bottom of the forest

I took this today near the apartments where I live. In trying to get this shot, I had to dodge an aggressive mesquito, who got a taste of me before she died by the swipe of my hand. The battle with the natural elements was worth the photo.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Flying over dramatic clouds between Evansville, IN and Chicago, IL



Video of flight over dramatic cloud formations on my flight between Evansville, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois last week. The clouds are beautiful, but let's not think about the rain and gloomy day beneath them.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

McFlurry at Chicago airport

Today, I got a McFlurry with M&Ms at McDonald's here at Chicago airport during a wait for my flight to Boston. This cute elderly guy comes up after me and tries to order it as "give me what he has but plain". The cashier suggested an ice cream cone instead. He was quite pleased with that option, then procedes to tell me about his trip to Rome with his wife who as to use a wheelchair but can still get up to walk around (as she was presumably doing when he came up to the McDonal's counter with her empty wheelchair).

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Solyndra headquarters during weekday, just after bankruptcy announcement


This video is of the Solyndra headquarters in Fremont, California just days after they announced that they are going bankrupt. There's three large buildings around two massive properties.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Funny use for boobs (or turning your breasts into useful tools)

Earlier today, I witnessed something funny at my hotel. This petite young woman with her hands full (shopping bags and luggage) runs ahead of her boyfriend (who's hands are not full) to push the elevator button to go up. Since her hands are full, she tries to use one of her ample and shapely mammary organs to press the button.

She was bumping herself up against the wall panel like a robot that was stuck in one direction. Had she been paying attention, she would've noticed that I had already pressed elevator button just a couple seconds before. As the elevator door opened, I was like, "I got it already...but you were interesting to watch." She giggled. Her boyfriend looked as though he was trying to pretend the episode didn't just happen.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Today Show jumped the shark years ago (Let's make sperm donors evil!)

Today, on the Today Show (NBC's morning "news" program), Anne Curry did a story on sperm donors who's sperm was used to create many children for many different families. They gave an extreme example of one guy whose donated sperm was used to sire 150 kids. Instead of honoring this effort that brings so much joy to the world, they took another bizarre angle.

They interviewed two talking heads that both expressed they were shocked by this number and that something was wrong and the fertility industry needed regulation to put a stop to this. Really? No one ever once said what was actual wrong with donating sperm and bringing new lives in to this world that otherwise wouldn't be here (regardless to the number). The whole point was that something was wrong.

As expected, the line, "Think about the children" was actually seriously used. Really? You mean, all those people who are alive today (who otherwise won't have been) are somehow detrimented! Again, the detriment was never vocalized. I guess they are suggesting that because there's a 1 in 50 chance some medical knowledge about their biological father *might* help one of them, we should stop any of them from being born at the risk of the one offspring not being able to know. Hey, Today Show, by your own logic, you just killed 150 people (for as much sense as any of this makes) to prevent one person the pain of having to go through and extra medical procedure (usually just a genetic test these days)...oh the horror of it all!

Of course, they tried to humanize and already human story by talking about the kids (many of them adults now) trying to get in touch with each other and their biological father. The offspring never say anything was wrong. They just talked about how they wanted to get in touch with each other. ::yawn::

So, what was the point of the story? In my opinion, it's a distraction. Like so many other stories aired on the Today Show nowadays, this story was targeted to get an emotion response without much regard for the integrity of the program itself. The Today Show has gone down the same road as Maury Povich, Geraldo Rivera and others that ended up making trash TV because they didn't have the skill to talk about real issues that are impacting everyone's lives in a way that most people can understand.

I'd rather spend $100 trillion dollars to solve the National Debt crisis than spend one red cent on creating regulation to control the fertility industry just because somebody feels like something is wrong somewhere or somehow.

You know what's wrong? About 15,000 people die each in America year because of drunk driving. 500,000+ Americans die each year due to cancer. 600,000+ die from heart attacks each year. Or, in government concerns, National Debt and deficit is causing the general decline of our country; as that continues, we have much worse problems to dealt within instead of worrying about some guys secretions.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Two months in New England

Two months living in New England has taught me one thing. The weather outside when you wake up is not indicative of how the weather will be by the end of the day. Always, always, always check the forecast before leaving the house for work. I mean, ALWAYS!

I've also learned ...oh wait, nevermind. I already knew what I was about to say.

I miss my wife and dog. They are still out in California. Allie and I talk every day. I can't wait until she gets out here so we can explore New England together.

Has anyone else noticed that New England and North East have the same initials? If you are ever in the area, you must know the difference between the two. North East includes places like Pennsylvania, and New York. New England, on the other hand, specifically excludes New York (and any state west and south from there).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Brief periods of popularity (kinda)

The Information Age is happening everywhere, some ways stranger than others. It is easy enough to start a blog; but how do you get continuous readership in the information overload of our new era? Do you care that you have readers? Well, if your blog is anything like Its Trouble, you'll get a couple readers each day. However, once in a while, there will be a sudden spike in viewership.

Its Trouble has had a couple of those blips on the radar over the years. These blips last for a few days where viewership jumps like 50 times normal. Of course, 50 x 2 is still only 100 unique visits.

The blips usually come from some popular website noting an article I've written. It's been awhile since something on Its Trouble has interested someone with a popular blog. Google has noticed me recently for my review an online travel booking service feature. As of this moment, my review article comes up as #7 for a particular search phrase. It's moved around. At one point, I think it was #3 and then below #20. How much attention does that bring to my website? It's a a couple of extra hits each day.

SolidWorks Legion

My other blog is SolidWorks Legion. It covers topics related to the engineering field, with a focus on the software SolidWorks (a popular 3D CAD application). That site got a major spike in visitors when my article about DraftSight (a new 2D CAD application published by the same company as SolidWorks) when it was announced that they'd be releasing a Linux version last year. The article got picked up by a Linux-focused website. Normal visitors on SolidWorks Legion at that time was about 500 unique views per day. In one day, the number of visits jumped to 1000, then the next day, 10,000. The traffic actually almost took down my website a few times. Links from that Linux website tapered off eventually, but the number of visitors was elevated for a couple of months.

Sail Ship

A recent example of another spike wasn't for one of my blogs.
It was for a photograph that I just uploaded to Flickr.com. Apparently, my sarcastic comment about a ship with sails caught the attention of an author over at reddit.com. The same day that I uploaded the photo, it got 75 hits from reddit.com. For Flickr, that is a ton of attention. The normal hit rate is usually single digits. I was able to track down the actual link to my photo on reddit.com. (The Flickr.com tools allowed me to see that much of the traffic came from there.) Apparently, reddit.com readers are big on all things sarcastic, ironic and humorous.

Monday, July 04, 2011

In flight maps

Many airlines have touch screens on the back of each seat. One of the tools to view on those screens is an actively updated map of where the plane's position is shown along its flight path. This usually includes data such as "ground speed", "distance to go", "altitude" and "outside temperature".

Ground speed is useful, because when dividing it into distance to go, the calculation well show how many hours remain for the flight. Altitude is interesting, but not so useful. The only metric that doesn't really have any value at all is outside temperature. Why show this? Am I going to open a window and pop my head out for a breathe of fresh air? No. The only function this serves is as a reminder of the cabin's warmth (even if air is a bit on the cool side).

What other useless information could be included? How about outside air pressure, so we can be reminded that the cabin pressure is moderately comfortable? Instead of altitude, why not provide "distance from outer space" to remind us of just how close we are to entering orbit?

Something that might be more useful is if the map provided information on the destination, like the "current ground temperature" so I know to pull the jacket out of my carry-on luggage.

BTW, I'm ranting this from the airplane. I'm glad wi-fi is now being included on many flights.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is state sales tax on interstate commerce allowed?

Did you know that individual States cannot tax interstate commerce, as a general rule? There are some very specific exceptions, and California (and other States) have been trying to exploit extremely loose interpretations of those exceptions.

Interstate commerce is any transaction, transit or business that is conducted across State borders. This includes mail order, Internet, and physically going to another State to purchase an item to bring back to your home State. Many States have taxes on their books that attempt to circumvent this law. Recently, States have been trying to exploit what they think is a loophole in the Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (91-0194), 504 U.S. 298 (1992) Supreme Court ruling that solidified the limitations on taxation by States. In this ruling, the Supreme Court declares that States may only attempt to levy an interstate commerce tax against businesses that have a presence within their State, known as a substantial nexus. Leave it to judges to come up with a term like that. It basically means a business must have a physical presence within the State in order for its transactions to be taxed by that State.

California is now ready to pass a law that will try to specifically impose the collection of taxes from consumers on sales by online retailers, even when the retailer has no physical presence within the State. They are trying to expand on a similar law passed by New York recently. The idea behind the bill is that marketing itself counts as some sort of physical presence. If that doesn’t scare everyone, I don’t know what will. It basically means that anyone with a website that is accessible within California’s territory (i.e., any website on the Internet) is subject to California taxes and law, even if they’ve never set foot in the State. This substantially contradicts the body of Quill v ND, but hey, it’s a taxation party right now!

Now, the common mistake is to assume “oh, the States are just strapped for cash and are trying to find ways to soak us dry.” That might be true if politicians actual wrote the bills that become laws. As a general rule, they do not. You know who does, as a general rule? Corporate lawyers of companies that lobby our legislative bodies. Hmmm, what corporate lawyers would be in favor of raising taxes on businesses? The corporate lawyers that work for companies who would not be substantially hurt by those taxes, but whose competitors would be. Let this excerpt from a recent letter from Amazon.com tell the story.



For well over a decade, the Amazon Associates Program has worked with thousands of California residents. Unfortunately, a potential new law that may be signed by Governor Brown compels us to terminate this program for California-based
participants. It specifically imposes the collection of taxes from consumers on
sales by online retailers – including but not limited to those referred by
California-based marketing affiliates like you – even if those retailers have no
physical presence in the state.

We oppose this bill because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive. It is supported by big-box retailers, most of which are based outside California, that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors. Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue.

Big-box retailers are companies like Target and Walmart. According to Amazon.com, companies like these seek to protect their businesses by fooling State governments into thinking the State will increase revenue with expanded scope on their sales taxes. Instead, this new tax (like any other tax) has a negative impact on the economy. I’m not against all taxation, but I am against any laws (taxes or otherwise) where one industry attempts to screw over another without providing any new benefit to the consumer.

My website is just like any other. It does generate an extremely small amount of income from referrals (upon which I already pay income tax) via affiliate links with Amazon (please see the FTC 16 CRF Part 255 notice in the right column). Now, this law wouldn’t require me to pay any more taxes direclty, but as a customer of Amazon and other online sites, I would be forced to pay sales tax from a law that is probably unconstitutional. Laws that see to “tax the Internet” erode everyone’s rights, and threaten to hold anyone with a website accountable to the individual laws of over six thousand different taxing jurisdictions in America, according the Quill v ND ruling (linked above).

Oddly enough, I no longer live in California. But, how long will it be before more States try to pass similar laws? Congress needs to act on this issue soon to prevent this economic nighmare from growing any further. I’m not making this a call to action because each person much act on their own. As such, I am going to be contacting my *new* Congress representitives about this issue very shortly.

For additional reading, please see The Problems of State Taxation of Interstate Commerce and Why Congress Should Act

Sunday, June 19, 2011

States I have visited (USA, Canada, Mexico)



As of today, the maps above represent the states and provinces that which I have visited. On the world map (not shown here), I also add Bahamas and Hong Kong to my list. My ultimate goal is to set foot on all seven continents. As of right now, I don't really have a goal about any specific number of states or countries. I do eventually want to visit particular places that would naturally add states, provinces and countries to my list of visited areas.

Not counted in my list are places where I had never left the airport in between legs of multiple flights. However, it wouldn't change the maps all that much if I had.

Monday, June 13, 2011

4th Annual Taste of Downtown Marlborough (and 1st Annual Brewfest)

I was driving to a Diary Queen near downtown Marlborough yesternight when I saw a rather small and unimposing sign that advertized something called 4th Annual Taste of Downtown Marlborough. Yesterday was Sunday, so I thought I had just missed an interesting event. No so. This event was held this evening (Monday). It seems a little unusual to have an event like this on a Monday night (and bad timing to have it the same night as game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals in which the Bruins must win or lose completely), but it didn't seem to deter the crowds from coming.

I'm very new to the area, so this was the perfect event to see tons of restaurants in the Marlborough Olde Town area at one time, all for only $20. Overall, I think I was able to sample tastes from a couple dozen places. Some places I might come back to later this year. Other places I might not consider again. To each their own.

The 1st Annual Brewfest portion of this event cost an extra $5. There were a couple dozen beer vendors giving out 1oz samples of their offerings. Some of the beers just aren't suited to my taste. I had one that tasted like I was sucking on a 10 week old lemon, and not in a good way (if a good way could even be imagined). Other beers were good. I enjoyed some of the beers from Brooklyn Brewery. It was impressive that a New York company would show its face at a Massachusetts event.

There were lots of long lines to sample the various restaurants. Later in the evening, it was a little easier to get samples, but some places had run out by then.


There was also various live acts, ranging from the classic to the drum beat based. One rock group played Turning Japanese and then She Bop right after. I couldn't help but grin when I saw parents dancing with their kids to those particular songs. Sometimes you have to wonder if people know what those songs are supposedly about.


There are also some interesting old buildings.

It was interesting to see what this town of Marlborough has to offer. I have some ideas of which places to visit in the near future.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ran over a bird (dang!)

Many birds have flown into the path of my car over the years, yet always seem to get out of the way. Many others have been in my path already (chillin out on the road or something), and have also flown out of my way. They generally respond quickly enough that I've rarely have to react as I drive at them. Well, that all changed on my recent cross-country trip. Easily, hundreds of birds flew into and out of the path of my car on this trip, with no incident.

One bird in Missouri, this stupid Red Winged Blackbird, did not. In fact, it flew right into my path so quickly that I could not respond in time to avoid it. Although I quickly applied my brakes, I heard it bump against some portion from under my car. I don't think I actually ran over it, per se, because I didn't see any remnant left on my car. It likely just bumped into my car, and got knocked about. I didn't see it on the road behind, so I'm guessing it was able to fly off.

Still, it was very annoying. It's bad enough having all these birds rush in front of you all the time, but actually hitting them just sucks.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Cross-country trip photo (Flickr)

Rest stop in UtahMe in front of Utah desertUtah desertMy G8 in front of LDS conference building Capitol of UtahChurch of Later Day SaintsOne of many construction zonesRoadside landform Wind power in WYIMG_0859My G8 at a rest stop in WYDriving in WYThe hills have full moonsKansas from the road IIA small old town gardenApproaching the Gateway Arch in St. Louis

Cross-country trip, a set on Flickr.

I've uploaded all of the photos (many shown here) from my recent cross-country trip to a Flickr set. There's a few of my car, and many others taken from my car. I didn't get a chance to stop at many interesting places (for various reasons discussed in earlier articles), but there are still some interesting shots. Enjoy!