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Jungle Musings

Thoughts, links and tips from the suburban jungle.

Updated: 2018-03-06T18:48:55.822-05:00



TL:DR: Not a good option for carpets that are very soiled with real dirt/soil.This is my personal review of CitruSolution carpet cleaning. I contacted the local franchise, paid with my own money, and didn't tell them I was going to write a review.Background:I'd been looking to get the carpets in my home cleaned again. I've cleaned them myself a few times with a Bissell hot water extraction unit. The Bissell gets them decently clean but it's a lot of work, I'm dead tired afterward, and it takes a whole night and part of a day for them to dry afterward.I was particularly interested in finding a way to avoid wearing myself out while at the same time having the carpets dry when I got home or at least when I went to bed.After studying all the options (steam/hot water extraction, "carbonated" extraction, and citrus based "buffing"), I ended up going with CitruSolution.The Good:The owner of the local franchise was FANTASTIC. His customer service skills are on the level I would have expected from Land's End before they were assimilated into the Kmart/Sears borg and ruined.The cleaning process doesn't leave a lot of water in the carpet. They spray on what seems to be a mixture of water, alcohol and citrus extract (probably d-limonene). Then they go over it with a floor buffer that has a cloth bonnet on it. This leaves very little remnant water in the carpet. When the guys left, the carpets were just damp to the touch.It does smell good if you like the scent of d-limonene and citrus cleansers. I've never been bothered by the scent of what I cleaned the carpet with but some people are more sensitive than others.The guys who came to do the actual service were friendly and went about their business without much direction from me.They left a bottle of spot/stain remover for me to have and use to keep the carpets "clean" between cleanings.The Bad:When they're done, the carpets aren't really clean. My high traffic areas were still visibly dingy. I'll post pics at the end of white towels rubbed over them with spot cleaner AFTER the carpets had been cleaned.I never had that problem when using the Bissell. When I hot water extracted them previously with the Bissell, the high traffic areas would come out the same color as the rest of the carpet.There were spots left in the carpet which did not come up during cleaning. Most of them I KNOW the guys had to have seen. A few were cola stains. A few others were latex paint stains from the painters who had been working in the house the week before. The latex paint stains I had even marked with painters tape and pointed them out directionally and verbally as I walked the guys through the house when they got here.Apparently they don't (or at least didn't for me) pre-treat stains with anything like an oxy cleaner or strong solvent to help the citrus/alcohol/water solution do it's job. If citrus doesn't take it out, it ain't coming out![To remove the paint stains I ended up having to go to Lowes and get some Mötsenböcker’s LIFT OFF #5 Latex Paint Remover and remove the stains manually myself. To remove the coke stains, I sprayed them w/ peroxide and the, used the CitriSpot spot remover that they left me.]Once the carpet had dried, I could tell it was cleaned with something that left a residue. It felt kind of "slick". I assume that was the citrus oil residue. I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. We'll have to see over time. At least with hot water extraction, I could make an extra pass with just water (or two) and know that pretty much nothing was left in the carpet.I guess there's a reason we wash our clothes in a tank of water to get them clean. It seems the achilles heal of CitruSolution is actual dirt. Their system just isn't designed to deal with much of it. Dirt gathering capacity is limited directly by the absorbency of the cloth bonnet on the buffer.Closing Thoughts:If you got your carpets cleaned every month so there was never a build-up of dirt, this would likely be an excellent solution. Seems it would be good at keeping clean carpets clean but to actu[...]

Republic Wireless Caught in a Public Lie


I just caught Republic Wireless ( in a public lie today. They opened Beta Wave C today for people who signed up earlier in the year for their beta offering… which is nice. Here is a screenshot of the email I just received: Wave C Beta Now Open NotificationThe LIE:They are only giving people who are in Wave C only sum total of 7 days to claim their spot and pay for their new phone(s). They had originally promised they would give everyone in a given wave “a week or more in advance by email” before sending out the notice that it was time to buy.  This would have totaled a minimum of 14 days for people to act.  Effectively, they have cut the wave timeline in half.  See #2 in this screen shot below of their beta signup confirmation email.  This is not being done.  So Wave C beta registrants have only 7 days, including today, to find an extra $200 if they want in.When confronted with not following what they had promised to do, their public representative on Facebook, Tiggs, replied: “We said we’d send a heads up email to let you know your invite was coming in seven days, but we were excited to finish our items earlier than expected and decided to open Wave C rather than making Wave C wait another week. Sorry about the inconvenience! (Just to clarify, if you received your Wave C invitation, they’re set to expire on August 23, so don’t delay!)”This is not the first time that, their parent company, has played fast and loose with product rollouts.  Their Phonebooth product rollout was marred by multiple slipped software update timelines, the inability to purchase additional minutes of use on their free product, and significant outages on their paid product as they went through growing pains.I have an email in to Brian Dally, Republic Wireless’ General Manager (, asking him to honor their original promise to beta customers by extending the invitation deadline.  As of 4:15pm on Thursday, August 16, 2012, he has not replied.  My request was that they extend it until at least August 30th in recognition that they did not provide the promised 7 days advance notice that the beta wave would be opening opening.If you think companies should actually honor what they send to customers in writing, please drop him an email to let him know that and all its subsidiaries need to learn to do what they say they are going to do, when they say they are going to do it, and to do right by their customers - even when they are excited.The main reason this pisses me off is that some of us live on a budget and live within our means.  We do not charge impulse purchases to credit cards and this sort of thing does not qualify as something I should take money out of my emergency fund for.Effectively, Republic Wireless is thumbing its nose at all the customers who practice sound budgeting and financial management.  For a company who is focused on cost conscious customers, that would seem, at best, backasswards![...]

Trash Service in Fort Mill, SC - The joys of privatization


So over the past week, I've been doing some research on garbage pickup in Fort Mill, SC. I ended up having to do the research because I was asked about service in the area and neither the county, nor city, nor Google had any information. It turns out that in York County, SC there is no such thing as coordination!In the Fort Mill Township areas of York County SC, trash pickup is a totally private affair. You have to go to the yellow pages, call around and find someone who services your area. There are a few different companies and prices and service vary widely.I needed to know about Regent Park, specifically Baden Village at Regent Park, but I couldn't find a single page on the internet with more than a sentence about it. In the information age, you would think the county or even the city would have this info on their website. Nope. And if you call them, they just refer you to the yellow pages. What if you don't live there and don't have a printed copy of the yellow pages?! Comporium, the local phone company in Fort Mill, does not have squat on their website. I searched for "trash service" in Fort Mill and got 1 result - for a company that serves Indian Land & Van Wyck, not Fort Mill! Grrr!Thus I set off on a research project to find out who actually provides garbage service in Regent Park. And in case you found this page looking for the same, here were my results:Garbage Options in Regent Park, Fort Mill, SC1) Sharon Trash Service (STS)2120 Garvin RoadYork, SC 29745803-684-7777- Offers service weekly or twice a weekly.- Weekly = $22/mo- Twice Weekly = $25/mo- Pick up days, Tuesday and Thursday.- Recycling at no charge. Picked up on Thursdays. Customer provides own box or bags in clear plastic.- Billed quarterly by mailed invoice, 1st day of quarter.- Payments accepted: Check via mail, Money Order via mail2) Morningstar Waste Services Inc (Not affiliated in any way to MorningStar Church)651 Red River RoadRock Hill SC 29730-7434(803) 324-2966- Offers service weekly.- Weekly = $17/mo- To get the $17 rate, tell them Daniel Pentecost sent you. Usual rate is $22/mo.- Pick up day, Thursday.- Recycling at no charge. Picked up on Thursdays. Customer provides own box for recycling or bags recycle items in clear plastic.- Billed quarterly by mailed invoice, 1st day of quarter. 1st quarter prorated.- Payments accepted: Check via mail, Money Order via mail3) Signature Waste Systems660 Westinghouse Blvd,Ste 106Charlotte, NC 28273704-714-9400- Offers service weekly.- Provides 2 rolling carts. 1 for trash, 1 for recycle.- Weekly = $23/mo- Trash pick up day, Wednesday.- Recycle picked up every other Friday- New Customers receive first month free ($46 billed for 1st quarter of service)- Payments Accepted: Check via mail, Money Order via mail, Credit cards incur 5% service fee4) Allied Waste Services of Fort Mill3358 HWY 51FORT MILL, SC 29715(704) 377-0161- Trash pickup available with and without recycling- Weekly w/o recycle = $34.95/mo (104.85 billed quarterly)- Weekly w/ recycle = $37.97/mo (113.90 billed quarterly)- Payments Accepted: Check via mail, Money Order via mail, Credit Cards, Payment by phone, Payment onlineFor those willing to haul their own trash and recycling, there is also a free option. York County offers "Convenience Centers" for recycling and low-volume trash drop-off. They are open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. The two nearest Baden Village at Regent Park are Baxter and Fort Mill East. The list of centers is here.So... What did I learn about waste services in Fort Mill SC? That everyone takes it for granted and no one has thought about what new businesses and residents go through when they move to the area. The trash guys rely on people seeing names and numbers on the curbside garbage cans for advertising. Too bad that doesn't work when you're not actually in the area to see the cans. Only *1* company out of the three reasonably priced ones even has a website![...]

AT&T can't even excel at 3rd place


Verizon Wireless and Sprint each carried over 16 billion more megabytes of mobile network data than AT&T in 2009. But yet in major cities iPhones brought AT&T's network to its knees.

That is the closest to a flat out indictment of lack of network equipment spending and network engineering you're ever going to see. A servant cannot serve 2 masters... nor can AT&T. Pick one... serve your customers or serve your investors.

Other wireless and landline carriers should take note. If you serve the interests of your shareholders over the needs and future needs of your customers, it will eventually catch up with you. You cannot systemically short change the capex of your network and hope to cover it up with marketing.

Just imagine how many potential customers AT&T lost due to the network problems and news/insinuation of network problems. Those losses equate to squandered mindshare, marketing and acquisition dollars. I don't have exact figures (b/c AT&T would never in their right mind release them) but I'm sure those squandered dollars amount to at least double what they spend on capex in 2009.

Saxapahaw General Store on UNC TV


UNC TV, North Carolina's premier educational television network, featured Saxapahaw General Store on their North Carolina Weekend program on April 4, 2010. Bob Garner shares his experience with the fabulous food and the atmosphere that is Saxapahaw General Store.

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Sue Hausmann Gets A New Website


She may be "semi" retired but she still gets around! After blazing through age 65, last year Sue decided to slow down a little and 'retire' from her full-time position as Executive Vice President for Consumer Motivation, Education and Training with VSM Sewing (now part of SVP Worldwide, makers of Husqvarna Viking, Singer and Pfaff).

Now for Sue, "slow down" and "retire" may not match up with your expectations. She still has over 50 appearances and educational sessions on the schedule this year.

Many people know Sue from her host role on the TV series, America Sews, featured on most PBS stations around the country. There is also a new show called America Quilts Creatively. Regardless of how you meet Sue - on TV, in person, or on the phone - one thing you can't miss is her energy and true passion for sewing, quilting, embroidery and all the sewing arts.

Now there's a new way to meet Sue. She has a new website and will be using it to coordinate and communicate all of her scheduled appearances, project sheets, and soon promises to wade into the waters of video blogging.

"Sew" for all things Sue Hausmann, check out:

(And yes, I helped her organize the website.)

Design Your Own T-Shirts for Christmas



EPA Recognizes 1&1 Internet as Leading Green Power Purchaser


1&1 Internet, Inc., the world’s largest Web host by known servers, today announced that its Lenexa, Kansas Data Center has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a Green Power Partner for its annual purchase of 17.5 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power (electricity that is generated from environmentally preferable renewable resources, like wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal). This is equivalent to 100 percent of the purchased electricity use for the Kansas Data Center.

1&1 Internet’s new partnership with the EPA is the company’s next step in its efforts to protect the environment. In 2008, 1&1 first purchased certified Green-e renewable energy certificates (RECs) from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, a leading national supplier of green power products, as an initiative to lessen the company’s impact on the earth’s climate. The EPA calculates that 1&1’s new green power purchase for their Kansas Data Center will equal the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of more than 2,000 passenger vehicles per year.

“This is a huge honor and we are proud to be recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” said Oliver Mauss, the CEO of 1&1 Internet. “1&1’s continued purchase of green power helps our organization become more sustainable, while also sending a message to others companies across the U.S. that supporting clean sources of electricity is an important choice in reducing climate risk.”

Globally, 1&1’s five data centers are among the most energy efficient data centers in existence. In addition to purchasing RECs for the Lenexa, Kansas Data Center, 1&1 continues its green efforts by using highly efficient power supplies with less than 20 percent heat loss as well as omitting any unnecessary components within its servers.

"EPA commends our leading partners for their continued commitment to protecting the environment by using green power," said Kathleen Hogan, Director of the Climate Protection Partnerships Division at EPA. ”By supporting green power, 1&1 Internet's Kansas Data Center is reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, supporting clean energy technologies, and contributing to a clean energy future."

The Green Power Partnership is a voluntary program organizations can participate in to help raise awareness about green power. Generating power in these ways creates a net zero increase in CO2 emissions. Purchasing green power also boosts the support for developing new ways to generate renewable energy nationwide.

1&1 is the one-stop-shop for Web solutions, providing a high quality service with the security of its five state-of-the-art green data centers. Globally, 1&1’s green efforts will offset emissions of over 30,000 tons of CO2 per year.

For more information or to order services, visit:

AT&T Now Blaming Customers for Its Problems


By David Coursey

AT&T, the whiny wireless carrier, is back at it again. Fresh off whining in court about Verizon's map ads, AT&T is now whining to financial analysts about its customers. And it is warning that customers should use less of the company's all-you-can-eat data service, lest it become portion-controlled in the future.

Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, told analysts yesterday that 3 percent of the company's customers account for 40 percent of its data usage.

"What we are seeing in the U.S. today in terms of smartphone penetration, 3G data, nobody else is seeing in the rest of the planet," de la Vega said, quoted in the New York Times . "The amount of growth and data that we are seeing in wireless data is unprecedented."

OK, so de la Vega is saying customers are responsible for the company's service issues? Or is it more like a) AT&T should have built a more robust network or b) should stop accepting customers until its network is less overloaded, so that existing customers get the connectivity they are paying for.

Blaming customers for AT&T's internal issues is just whining. It sounds almost like AT&T is sorry we bought iPhones, which it may very well be, given the problems the company faces.

However, is it fair to blame those who send the company fairly large checks each month in support of their iPhone addiction?


Mr. de la Vega told analysts that while AT&T is rapidly adding capacity, it also plans to educate all its customers about data consumption in hopes they will cut back.

My solution: Why not have a heart-to-heart with those in the 3 percent club and leave the rest of us alone?

The AT&T chief also held out the possibility of pricing changes that could promote changes in how customers use data.

One positive step AT&T could take would be to help users understand how much data they are using and how their own usage compares to other users. Many in the top 3 percent probably have no idea their data usage is way above average, and might cut back if they knew.

This could be the companion application to "Mark the Spot," a new AT&T iPhone application that lets users tell the carrier about service problems.

The app, introduced this week, was met with mixed reaction: Negative that such an app is needed and positive that it gives the impression that AT&T wants to hear from customers about coverage issues, dropped calls, and other complaints.

As I've said, I don't think AT&T is the devil's spawn of the wireless industry (at least no more than the other carriers). We customers understand that the success of the iPhone has been a bit of a mixed blessing for the carrier, but, really, AT&T's whining needs to stop.

Customers are a good thing and AT&T needs to stop blaming them and the iPhone for its problems.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

Tier 1 networks becoming less important


Broadband Reports is reporting on a study by Arbor Networks: 'The majority of Internet traffic now goes through direct peers and does not run over tier one incumbent provider networks. That's not particularly surprising, given the number of companies like Google that are building their own fiber networks. According to the firm, about thirty so-called "hypergiants"(Google, Facebook, Microsoft) manage about 30% of all Internet traffic. The study, which tracked traffic over 3,000 peering routers on 110 different networks, also notes that P2P traffic has "declined dramatically."'

The Bitter End


My grandmother lived a full life and sought a quiet death. America's health-care system had a different idea of what was best.By Jesse Ellison | Newsweek Web Exclusive | Reprinted from Newsweek, Sept 14, 2009.In the two weeks leading up to my grandmother's death from lung cancer last January—three months shy of her 92nd birthday—she was transferred through four separate health-care facilities and six different beds. First, there was a hospice, where she was not allowed to receive more than just "respite" care. Next, she was moved to an assisted-living facility, where she fell, twice. After her second fall, she was strapped to a gurney and pulled along a bumpy sidewalk through a snowstorm to an awaiting ambulance. She was taken to the emergency room at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital. Ten hours later, she was assigned to a bed. She stayed for three days before being transferred to another hospice, where she died minutes after she arrived. If my father hadn't redirected the ambulance driver who took her from Lenox Hill to the second hospice, she would have died in the back of a van headed in the wrong direction.At each stop along the way, my grandmother was handed off to a new set of doctors, nurses, social workers, and case managers. Again and again, she was poked and prodded and tested and assessed. At the first hospice, her health initially seemed to improve, so she wasn't sick enough to stay. But in assisted living, she declined, precipitously, so was too sick to stay. At Lenox Hill, she didn't need the ongoing treatment that would warrant taking up a bed. So she was punted from place to place, always either too close to death or too far from it. It was a pointless nightmare: a Kafkaesque labyrinth of doctors and hospitals and paperwork. When she came out of her semi-conscious state in her room at Lenox Hill, one of the first things she said was, "Why aren't I dead yet? Can't we just get this over with already?"Until her last few weeks, my grandmother had enjoyed a long, full, fiercely independent life—the kind of life, in fact, that many people would envy. Despite being legally blind, she lived alone in Manhattan, visited museums regularly, took the bus all over the city to meet friends for lunch, and went to Shakespeare in the Park and lectures at NYU. One Friday night a few years ago, I called her and got the answering machine. When I didn't hear back, I called again, and then, as I began to get nervous, again. Finally, around 10 p.m. she called me back, laughing. She'd been out drinking wine with her friends on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.Though we were separated by six decades, in some ways we were a lot alike. I moved to New York because of my grandmother. She taught me how to make an omelet like Julia Child, gave me an appreciation for red caviar, showed me how to tie silk scarves, and introduced me to the magic of what she called the "golden hour"—that small slice of the early evening when people have turned on the lights in their apartments but haven't yet drawn the blinds. At dusk, during that golden hour, we used to take walks through Greenwich Village and peer up into the stately townhouses that lined the side streets. I adored those moments. I adored her.She was not some doddering cliché of elderly living. She was astoundingly brave. She learned to use the Internet at age 85 so that she could send e-mails to relatives in Florida and read Frank Rich's column online. She was also blunt and unsentimental on the subject of death. She believed in the circle of life, and often joked that she would come back as a petunia. A couple of times she tried to prepare me for the possibility that I might one day discover her body in her apartment. She told me that if it happened like that—if she died quietly, peacefully, as s[...]

Scam: NC Democrat Throws Consumers Under the Bus, Broadband Map Crayoning, & $350 Million Taxpayer Dollars Flushed


North Carolina residents should be outraged at Rep. Bill Faison, the Democratic chairman of the state House Select Committee on High-Speed Internet Access in Rural Areas. He’s set to do for North Carolina broadband what Hurricane Katrina did for urban renewal in New Orleans. Faison, along with some other cronies, are examples of what is wrong with broadband stimulus planning when certain elected officials open their doors on big special interests, and slam them on the fingers of actual consumers.Eight years ago, the North Carolina legislature commissioned the state to produce accurate, detailed broadband maps, depicting who has access to what broadband services, if any, across the Tar Heel State. e-NC, an organization of excellence recognized worldwide, set about not only doing broadband mapping, but also advocating for consumer and business interests across the state by pushing for higher quality and faster service. e-NC’s mapping standard has been recognized by the European Commission, Microsoft, and IBM for its detailed, accurate depictions of broadband service.e-NC has had its work cut out for it. AT&T and other North Carolina telecom providers have stonewalled the group since day one, refusing to disclose “private company information.” Where e-NC could obtain agreements, they came with ludicrous non-disclosure agreements that were the equivalent of ‘here is the information you requested, but you cannot use it in your maps.’That’s where Faison comes in. He sends out an invitation to the media to announce North Carolina finally has a broadband map available, and then proceeds to slam e-NC because it produced maps that, at one point, he compared with “swiss cheese.” Faison is fully aware that e-NC had been complaining about provider stonewalling, and he did nothing to stop it. But then he did something even worse: he praised the very providers who did the stonewalling and are now in charge of producing the “detailed maps” that the providers want the legislature to see.Faison said, “In the face of legislation recommended by the Committee which would have required the providers to disclose precise information to the Legislature for our staff to generate a detailed map of availability, the providers have come together and collectively decided to provide the information through Connected Nation, to not only provide the “street address” map but also to make the map both accessible and interactive through the internet. Special recognition should be given to AT&T, Embarq, Sprint, Time Warner Cable, The Cable Association, the Telephone Co-op association, and Alltel for their work on this matter.”Shameful.Of course, Faison’s anti-consumer efforts on behalf of his good friends in the telecommunications industry are no secret to our North Carolina readers. Faison was one of the proponents of the anti-consumer nightmare legislation S1004, which was hand-crafted by big cable and telephone companies to stop municipal broadband projects across the state. Faison is a menace for consumer interests in North Carolina.Faison doesn’t care, of course. He has his eyes on some of that $7.4 billion in broadband stimulus money he hopes to grab for the state AT&T, Embarq, Sprint, Time Warner Cable, and any other provider that will try and use their own maps to “qualify” for the tax dollars you and I are going to hand over for broadband development.Faison said: “North Carolina will be one of only six states with a detailed “street address” interactive map of broadband availability. It positions us advantageously to obtain a portion of $7.4 billion in Stimulus money available for broadband deployment. A map, such as ours, is now a precondition for obtaining this portion of the Stimulus money. The c[...]

Health insurers want you to keep smoking, Harvard doctors say


Health and life insurance companies in the US and abroad have nearly $4.5 billion invested in tobacco stocks, according to Harvard doctors.

“It’s the combined taxidermist and veterinarian approach: either way you get your dog back,” says David Himmelstein, an internist at the Harvard Medical School and co-author of a letter published in this week’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The largest tobacco investor on the list, the 160-year old Prudential company with branches in the US and the UK, has more than $1.5 billion invested in tobacco stocks. The runner-up was Toronto-based Sun Life Financial, which apparently holds over $1 billion in Philip Morris (Altria) and other tobacco stocks. In total, seven companies that sell life, health, disability, or long-term care insurance, have major holdings in tobacco stock.

Why is it a big deal? “If you own a billion dollars [of tobacco stock], then you don’t want to see it go down,” says Himmelstein, “You are less likely to join anti-tobacco coalitions, endorse anti-tobacco legislation, basically, anything most health companies would want to participate in.”

The letter is the third report that the doctors – who all support a national healthcare program – have published in the last 14 years.

We decided to check in with some of the insurance companies mentioned in the letter to learn more about their policies with respect to tobacco stock. Prudential was unable to respond by press time. Sun Life, however, flatly denied the charges.

“Sun Life does not carry significant holdings in tobacco stocks,” says representative Steve Kee, “We do not disclose specific holdings and, for good measure, we conducted a review further to your inquiry and our exposure to ‘tobacco’ stocks is less than 0.005 percent [about $5 million] of the investment portfolio. Importantly, tobacco-related businesses can be part of a broader conglomerate involving other aspects such as food production.”

Himmelstein rechecked his numbers in the Osiris database, and said, “I fear that if Sun Life has a dispute, it is with Osiris not with us.”

In any event, the doctors’ persistence over the years seems to be working to some extent. They targeted MetLife and Cigna in their 1995 and 2000 letters to medical journals, but neither is listed in the latest reckoning, indicating that the insurers no longer hold enough to stock to be noted on filings for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. In addition, a representative for Cigna says they currently have no direct holdings in tobacco stock unless it is part of an index fund.

But with $4.5 billion still invested in Big Tobacco, many insurers are reaping profits from a cancer-causing industry. As Himmelstein puts it, "Is this who we want running our healthcare system?"

Should Congress investigate why oil is nearing $70 in a recession?


By: Joseph LazzaroIs it time for the U.S. Congress to systematically investigate the oil futures market?Market absolutists cry no, but an oil price pushing $70 per barrel amid the worst U.S. recession since 1982, the first global recession since World War II, and 10-year-high inventory levels argue otherwise.After hitting a record high of $147.27 per barrel during the leverage-fed investment and trading frenzy of 2008, the price of oil collapsed with the onset of the U.S. recession and then the implosion of the financial crisis, the latter of which took numerous hedge fund and investment fund oil futures buyers out of the market. Prices plummeted to a low around $35 in December 2008.Historically, $30 is a high price for oilFurther, it's significant to note that although crude's price collapsed, $35 is still, in historical terms, a strong price for oil, which has averaged $25-30 per barrel, in current dollars, over the past 150 years.Moreover, many experts expected oil's price to recover only slowly in 2009. U.S. gasoline demand declined for much of the past 12 months, on a weekly basis. Emerging market demand growth -- a major factor in oil's price rise during 2003-2007 -- was low, and the world was set to record its second consecutive decline in global oil demand. But the incremental rise in oil's price did not occur: instead, the price of oil skyrocketed in the past six weeks, essentially doubling in a very short period of time, in macroeconomic terms.Oil bulls say the oil futures market, like the stock market, is merely pricing in likely oil demand conditions six to nine months out: investors and traders sense a bottoming recession in the U.S. and better economic conditions internationally, and its implied rising global oil demand, and are pushing up oil's price accordingly. Under this thesis, a $70 (or higher) price is justified given likely, future economic conditions.However, oil industry analysts, among others, are increasingly citing investment funds as the primary reason for the rise."It's the funds that are pushing the market higher," Jonathan Kornafel, director for Asia at options trader Hudson Capital Energy in Singapore, told Bloomberg News Friday. "When everyone reads the same report and comes to the same conclusion, then you're going to have the market moving in one direction. The general trend is for the dollar to get weaker and for crude to get stronger."Or, in other words, some, if not many institutional investors are buying oil futures as an alternative asset – a perfectly normal deployment of capital in free markets, and one that's largely innocuous (except for the speculator or the hedger) if you're investing in oat futures or cotton, so says economist Peter Dawson. However, if the asset is the world's most important commodity - one on which the developed world's, and now much of the developing world's - economy hinges, depending on its price – the deployment of capital could become a concern, particularly if it is concentrated, Dawson told DailyFinance. At least in theory, a sector-wide concentration of institutional investors could 'artificially boost' the price of a commodity well above what supply and demand would typically dictate – in effect grossly distorting its price."No conspiracy or collusion need occur. Just concentration," Dawson said. "Concentration is enough to cause a price bubble, and the U.S. housing sector is an example of that. There was no 'conspiracy' to cause U.S. median home prices to rise to dizzying heights, but rise they did, and a bubble formed, due to the concentration of players, in housing's case, a lot of buyers due to the availability of subprime loans."Tail wagging the dog?Dawson said he wants price discovery to [...]

NC SECU POI for TomTom Live


Special thanks today goes out to Kai H. Cheng at North Carolina State Employees Credit Union (SECU). Kai just sent me POI files for TomTom GPSes that have all the SECU locations for branches and ATMs.

TomTom users who would like to always know where the nearest SECU ATM or branch location can grab the POI file via TomTom Home. To do that:
  1. Connect your TomTom to your PC.
  2. Open TomTom Home if it doesn't start automatically.
  3. Click on "Add Traffic, Voices, Safety Cameras, etc." at the main screen. (Note, Home may prompt you to update some stuff on your TomTom before you get the main screen.)
  4. Click on Points of Interest.
  5. Search for "SECU" in the search box at the top right. Scroll down 3/4 the way down. (Past all the Spanish names.)
  6. You will see 2 POI lists. 1) ATMs. 2) Branches.
  7. Click on the Add button list you'd like to add to your TomTom.
  8. Confirm you'd like to add the community submitted list.
  9. Repeat for second list if you'd like both.
Once you have the list loaded, when you are driving you will see 2 different icons depending on what you are approaching. Branches will have this icon: (image) . ATMs will have this icon: (image) .

PS... SECU has ATMs in every county in NC. And they are all surcharge free. So even if SECU isn't your bank, you can still use their ATMs without having to form over $2-3 to an ATM just for the privilege of using it. (Your bank may still dig in your pocket with a "foreign network ATM" fee. If so, get a new bank!)

State Employees' Credit Union is a member-owned, non-profit cooperative. Membership is limited to persons who meet the eligibility requirements. For more information, visit their website.

If you're not eligible to join SECU, please take a look at the local, hometown banks and credit unions in your area and support them with your business. The hometown banks and credit unions in your area form the backbone of community banking that keeps our towns and small businesses running.

Without your support, they don't thrive and we're left with only banks that are "too big to fail" and too big to know you as a person. So, make it a point to check out your local banks this week. They'd love to get to know you. When is the last time your banker asked how your son's soccer game went last night?

Stop the Time Warner Caps in NC


Greensboro and surrounding area residents are outraged to discover Time Warner throwing their community into the “test markets” forced to endure heavily rationed Internet access plans from Road Runner. Greensboro is the first test market due to lack of competition from AT&T and Verizon. If we don't stop it in Greensboro, the rest of NC will soon follow.

Cities first affected: Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Burlington, Graham, Mebane, and Saxapahaw. Any city in what used to be called the Triad market.

It's almost laughable how thinly veiled this change is. Time Warner is implementing caps so low as to dissuade people from consuming online TV and video content from competing venues like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, NBC, BravoTV, etc.

Customers with teenagers in the house should be especially outraged as the content consumption of their children is likely to net $100+ internet bills every month.

Co-op Market Coming to Burlington, NC



FreePress Visits Person County


Day 2 of the "Five Days on the Internet Dirt Road" series by FreePress' Internet for Everyone project visits my home town and describes what many of those related to my family experience in rural Person County.

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The Flaw in the System: The Bankers Don't Care About the Banks


by Cenk Uygur, Daily Kos Alan Greenspan says he is in a "state of shocked disbelief" that the concept of self-interest did not protect the banks from taking excessive risks and destroying themselves. But he, along with Tim Geithner and Larry Summers and many others, are missing the fundamental flaw in the system. The bankers don't care about the banks; they care about the bankers. The enlightened self-interest of the bank executives has been separated from the interests of the banks they work for. In the 1970's, the banks were still privately owned. So, the guy up at the top wanted to protect his company, his interest and his money. If his executives took unwarranted risks with the boss's money, they were goners. But these days the people at the top of these companies don't own the companies. It's not their money. Here is how the Wall Street Journal explains it (a useful nugget in an otherwise horrible piece): "The Wall Street compensation system has evolved from the 1970s, when most of the firms were private partnerships, owned by partners who paid out a designated share of the firm's profits to nonpartner employees while dividing up the rest for themselves. The nonpartners had to earn their keep every year, but the partners' percentage ownerships in the firms were also reset every year or two. On the whole, everyone's performance was continuously evaluated and rewarded or penalized. The system provided great incentives to create profits, but also, because the partners' own money was involved, to avoid great risk." These days, the way executives make money instead is in the form of bonuses for years where they bring in a lot of return (and often times for years they don't), but the threat of being fired for too much risk taking is minimal. The more risk you take, the more money everyone makes. And it's not the partner's money you're playing with anymore. You're playing with house money. No one is minding the store anymore. Now think about it this way: if you were going to make ten million dollars in bonuses for taking high risks with other people's money, would you do it? The answer invariably is - hell yes! If it's your own money on the line, you might be extraordinarily careful with the risk you take. But if you are going to get a multi-million dollar reward for taking risks, but you expose your company to a little bit more risk, what percentage of people would take that extra risk on behalf of their company? I would venture to guess 98%. And the other 2% are suckers. There is no downside for you. The higher the risk, the higher the return in the short-run (which actually lasted a long time) and the higher your take home salary is. Are you going to be the only guy on Wall Street saying, "Well, golly gee willikers, everyone else is making millions but I really care about my shareholders. I don't want that huge bonus. I want safe investments for my company."? That's not how human nature works. So, now we have Tim Geithner and the rest of Treasury working so hard to prop up not just these failed banks - but these failed bank executives - because we don't want government running these large companies. The self-interest of the market will do a better job of managing these companies. But it hasn't - because of this fundamental flaw. These executives did not actually fail. They succeeded wildly. It's just that they had a different goal - to take home as much money as they possibly could for themselves. Mission accomplished! I don't blame them. The system is set up wrong. Almost anyone in their position would have done the same [...]

Weekend dinner at the local gas station


Ok, so there's this little place out on the Haw River in Alamance County called Saxapahaw. Quite often for me that little place is also called home. Just up the hill we have the Saxapahaw General Store, otherwise known to locals as the "Shell Station".

Well, this little Shell Station is square in the middle of the most radical transformation she's seen in 60 years. We might be 13 miles from everywhere in the middle of nowhere but there's something happening in Saxapahaw you might not expect.

To illustrate my point, here is the weekend dinner menu from this "Shell Station":

Weekend Dinner Menu
5-9 P.M. Friday and Saturday, 5-8 P.M. Sunday
February 6-8

Shrimp Chowder
cup for 4—, bowl for 5—

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup
cup for 4—, bowl for 5—

Crispy Pork Belly
Apple cider glaze, garlic mashed potatoes, garlic and shallot green beans

Pan-seared Duck Breast Salad
local goat cheese, currants, grilled onions, balsamic glaze

Steel Head Trout
sweet potato hash, asparagus
14 —

6 oz. Wagyu Sirloin Steak
sautéed spinach, duck fat fried potatoes

Kurobuta Pork Chop
Portobello mushroom gravy, garlic mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts

Eggplant Parmesan
mixed greens salad

Wild Caught Sea Scallops (after 6 p.m. Friday)
risotto cake, asparagus

Lamb Shank
white bean ragout, sautéed greens

Plate of Mussels
roasted garlic and tomato broth, grilled baguette

Local Sweet Potato Pie, Chocolate Pecan Tart, Local Chevre Cheesecake
Yes, you read all that right and I didn't embellish a single bit. You might want to follow what's going on at the Saxapahaw General Store over at their blog:

Soon a restaurant and pub will be popping out as the upper mill of RiverMill is completed... yep... out here 13 miles from anywhere. If it turns out half as good as the mom and pop run steak place I used to drive 15 minutes into the middle of nowhere to get to in Brandon, Mississippi, it will be the best thing Alamance County has ever seen. (And I'm expecting it to hit a higher mark than that.)

Sometimes it's good to live in the middle of nowhere. ;)

AT&T And Verizon FTTH On The Same Block?


From Things get really weird down in Texas...

Verizon has started laying fiber in some neighborhoods that are already served by AT&T U-Verse. The select broadband incursions may evolve into a broader battle, depending on who you ask. Some believe any AT&T or Verizon direct competition could remain limited to very select greenfield developments in just a handful of Texas areas. Others think that once Verizon gets a taste of greenfield profits, they'll expand the idea into states like California.

Light Reading editor Phil Harvey e-mails me to note they've taken photographs of the only town in the U.S. where you can see AT&T and Verizon FTTH gear on the same block. AT&T forgoes VDSL/FTTN for FTTH in some developments, though they cap the bandwidth delivered back to the same max speed of regular VDSL U-Verse (up to 18Mbps, at least until AT&T perfects channel bonding).

That would seemingly give Verizon, whose top speed is 50Mbps, the advantage in any head to head battle. At least in terms of speed -- AT&T could offer more alluring bundles. In many high-end greenfield developments though, price isn't going to be as important as just getting the best product. Most budget-minded consumers in lower ROI regions will probably never have to worry about AT&T and Verizon fighting to offer them FTTH.

The photos are from a new Frisco, Texas development, and (probably to AT&T and Verizon's chagrin) show both carrier's cabinets all up close and personal like -- both inside and out. Despite the boxes being so close, they're still serving different upscale developments. For now, anyway. Verizon will be lighting up FiOS in AT&T areas over the next few months -- the first time the two giants will go head to head.

N.C. Contradictions: Mapping General Election Territory


This is a republication of Angie Santiago's May 2008 article from her NC Contradictions series in The Huffington Post.---Historic Saxapahaw, N.C. -- As I continue to travel east on 54 from Graham to Chapel Hill, I pass by a sign that reads, "Mebane - 10". I remind myself to take that turn sometime. Here 54 is wide enough to accommodate trucks transporting logs or livestock, allowing them to avoid the Interstate, where they're a target for highway patrols regulating weight and seeking permits. During the day, the drive along 54 East is uneventful but come sundown it transforms into a dark foggy deer-ridden obstacle course. The first thing I learned about navigating this area at night is that deer travel in packs. If you see one grazing along the road, there are probably three to five of them just waiting for their chance to run towards your car rather than away. Here they are a nuisance that eat my neighbor's crops or the food intended for their livestock. It's a beautiful drive and it's hard to believe it's just fifteen minutes from town because it seems so distant. I can listen to full NPR programming when I take this nice road. The next sign directs me to turn left toward Saxapahaw, a remote self-contained five-and-half square mile community once known for its state of the art hydroelectric powered yarn mill founded and managed by B. Everett Jordan's Sellers Manufacturing and later expanded to Sellers Dyeing and Jordan Spinning Company. Saxapahaw is 13 miles from everywhere in the middle of nowhere but it may have been the home of the mysterious extinct tribe of Native Americans, the Sissipahaw Indians. The mill was sold to another company in the 1970's. Like so many manufacturing and textile concerns, it fell victim to NAFTA and closed its doors in 1994. Armed with their trusted family name and a degrees from Duke and NC State, including a Masters in Architecture, Mr. Jordan's son Mac led the charge to raise funds to re-purchase the mill and develop it into the historic Rivermill Village. I walked the stairs to the musty office and waited for John Jordan, another descendant of the famous Saxapahaw family, to arrive. Surrounded by blueprints, family pictures, historical photos, and political cartoons, Mr. Jordan came in with a packaged lunch for his wife, Irlene, who was waiting for him at home. Peppered throughout the state, there are monuments, dams, lakes, and schools named in honor of his father, B. Everett Jordan, a Democratic U.S. Senator from 1958 to 1973. This Mr. Jordan, however, is a registered Republican. Now that's a story I need to follow up on. When asked about what change meant to him during this election he asked: Change from what? Change to what? Interest rates are low. Do we want them higher? Terrorists have not attacked America again. The unemployment rate is low. Stocks are good. Americans spent $100 million dollars at the movies this weekend. As a property investor and manager, Mr. Jordan cited the fraudulent bait and switch practice of sub-prime loan industry as the real reason people are losing their homes. Given enough time the housing market will straighten itself out. "Things aren't as bad they say," Mr. Jordan defended. History will show that the current Bush administration was inaccurately portrayed. With respect to rising fuel prices, Mr. Jordan shared that the number one problem in this country is our dependence on foreign oil and people's lack of ownership to do their part. Since 9/11 Mr. Jordan purchased two hybrid ca[...]

How I chose to live greener


A lot is being said lately about going green but the fact of the matter is that a few of us have been living greener than most for quite some time. Quite honestly we look at it as a good personal decision and don't make any fanfare.This past week, I surprised a few friends of mine with the details of how I've made greener choices they didn't even knew existed.For example, I have an office out an in rural area of North Carolina known as Saxapahaw. Most people have never heard of Saxapahaw and even fewer can spell it correctly the first time. When i was looking at the area, a few things intriqued me.First, the Saxapahaw River Mill was restored instead of being torn down. Something that examplified the death of the textile society in North Carolina was converted into townhouses, apartments, business spaces, and soon condos. In the process of the conversion there was conservation. Brick walls were kept and restored. The old hardwood floors, posts and support beams were kept and restored. Wherever possible, as much of the old skin of the building was retained while upgrading key components (like windows) for efficiency. Plus the super high ceilings provide a natural cooling effect in the warmer months.Then there is the particular location. I had found myself driving between Roxboro, Burlington and Chapel Hill. Saxapahaw is located almost exactly half way betweeen Burlington and Chapel Hill. So locating there instantly cut 1/2 of my driving - and fuel consumption. And even deeper cuts in fuel consumption were made possibly by my being able to work so close to home now that I don't need to drive at all some day. Even in the midst of tremendous gas price increases, I managed to cut my monthly fuel budget by 40%.Now what surprised my friends was how the Saxapahaw area is powered - hydroelectric. Back in the days of the cotton mill there was a hydroelectric dam which provided power to the mill (and originally provided sheer mechanical energy through wheels and pullies before the days of electrification).The hydroelectric dam had set unused from 1964 until 1980 when a group known as Haw River Hydro Company bought the dam and began the process of restoration. In 1982, the generator was brought back online, a contract was signed with Duke Power and it began distributing clean energy into the Duke Power grid - and subsequently the surrounding Saxapahaw area. The dam generates enough power to continuously provide clean power to about 700 homes. This means that Saxapahaw is carbon neutral for its electric power... and we don't even have to pay extra for it.More importantly though, this same sort of restoration is beginning over at the old Glencoe Mill on the other side of Alamance county from here. Glencoe, like Rivermill, has a small hydroelectric plant that is being brought back online to generate clean electricity. Glencoe promises to become an interesting mixed use community. Again turning something that was lost in the community into something valuable and sustainable.Other greening projects are underway here in Saxapahaw. Some are simple - like changing out all of the incandescent lighting that was historically in the building to use florescent and compact florescent bulbs. Some are a bit more complex - like water conservation and sewage mitigation. Since Saxapahaw runs its own water system, conservation is able to take a local flavor and truly reflect the community here.On a closing note, I must admit I get a little giddy thinking about[...]

Michelle Obama: a new type of First Lady


That rather sad, muffled noise you hear behind the whoops and cheers of Democrat America is not the sound of defeated neocons mourning the passing of trickle-down economics; it is the sound of sobbing in the Élysée Palace. For Carla Bruni, reigning queen of First Ladies, the game is finally up. Cindy McCain would have been a push-over; even Sarah Palin she could have coped with, sexy specs or otherwise. But in Michelle Obama, Ms Bruni has truly met her match. This is a First Lady like none before. In truth, from the moment Michelle Obama stepped on to that podium at the Democrat convention what seems like, ooh, about three million years ago, we all secretly knew which way this race was going. Sure, he had big, sticky-out ears; sure, all those luvvies made that embarrassing YouTube song about him; but if Michelle thought that he was OK — if she chose him — then he just had to be a good man. Everything about this woman speaks to the modern, post-feminist woman: she is manifestly clever, independently minded, attractive in a normal, accessible way (and not in a scary, plastic-fantastic Cindy way). Her demeanour is a reassuring mixture of sassy and self-deprecating; her easy, confident dress sense neither too sexy nor too self-conscious. Most of all, however, she appears to be the personification of sanity, a woman who, while clearly supportive of her husband’s quest for world domination, is nevertheless not afraid to point out when he is danger of drinking too much of his own Kool-Aid. The evolution of the role of First Lady is a fascinating one. Until now, they have essentially been available in two flavours. The first is the meek, supportive grin-and-bear-it model, as exemplified by Laura and Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan and Mamie Eisenhower. Often Republican, invariably well-coiffed, they seem to simultaneously be at the centre of the action yet a million light years away from power. Often, this impression is grossly unfair. Laura Bush’s favourite writer, for example, is Dostoevsky — not that you would have known it from the press release: too intimidating, too intellectual for the wife of the man everyone wanted to share a Bud with. The alternative is the two-for-the-price-of-one First Lady. These tend to be ball-breaking Democrats such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton. They have their own careers, their own lives and their own minds. There is one exception: Jackie Kennedy. She was pure style, a fashion clothes horse who still, 40 years on, has the power to inspire double-page spreads in Vogue magazine. What makes Michelle unique is the way she so skilfully unites all three: supportive, independent and a fashion icon. Sarah Palin blew £90,000 on her campaign wardrobe but let’s face it, it is that blue shift dress that we all remember. In the last American election, the big question was this: who would you most want to share a beer with? In this one, it was more like: who would you like to share a Martini with? The answer of course being Michelle. (Barack could maybe make himself useful by popping out for some crisps.) Michelle is not only invigoratingly intelligent, proud of her urbanity, but also unafraid of showing her abilities. She is certainly the only wife of a presidential candidate I can remember who, instead of playing herself down, played up the general uselessness of her husband in matters domestic — and in doing so not only held her ground intellectually but als[...]

Big Guns Come Out In Effort To Show RIAA's Lawsuits Are Unconstitutional


Thanks to TechDirt for their coverage and analysis of this issue!from the this-ought-to-be-worth-watching dept People have been submitting this story nonstop, but I wanted to take some time to read the details before commenting on it. It's not the first time that folks have argued that the damages sought by the RIAA in various lawsuits against file sharers are unconstitutional. However, the few times it's been brought up in court, the arguments haven't been persuasive. However, this time around, it looks like the big legal guns are getting involved, and the argument seems a lot more comprehensive and compelling.In the past, it's been noted that the RIAA has curiously avoided suing any Harvard students, with one of the theories being that Harvard had made it quite clear to the RIAA that it would fight back hard. And, with Harvard law school at its disposal, and various professors there indicating that they had serious legal problems with the RIAA's strategy, the RIAA simply decided to ignore any file sharing going on at that prestigious university.However, for RIAA critic and well known law professor, Charles Nesson, waiting around for the RIAA to sue someone at Harvard was getting boring, so he went out and found a case to participate in. Along with two third year law students, Nesson has hit back hard on the RIAA's efforts in a court filing, where it's noted that the very basis for many of the RIAA's lawsuits is very likely unconstitutional.He makes the argument that the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999 is very much unconstitutional, in that its hefty fines for copyright infringement (misleadingly called "theft" in the title of the bill) show that the bill is effectively a criminal statute, yet for a civil crime. That's because it really focuses on punitive damages, rather than making private parties whole again. Even worse, it puts the act of enforcing the criminal statute in the hands of a private body (the RIAA) who uses it for profit motive in being able to get hefty fines: Imagine a statute which, in the name of deterrence, provides for a $750 fine for each mile-per-hour that a driver exceeds the speed limit, with the fine escalating to $150,000 per mile over the limit if the driver knew he or she was speeding. Imagine that the fines are not publicized, and most drivers do not know they exist. Imagine that enforcement of the fines is put in the hands of a private, self-interested police force, that has no political accountability, that can pursue any defendant it chooses at its own whim, that can accept or reject payoffs in exchange for not prosecuting the tickets, and that pockets for itself all payoffs and fines. Imagine that a significant percentage of these fines were never contested, regardless of whether they had merit, because the individuals being fined have limited financial resources and little idea of whether they can prevail in front of an objective judicial body. Beyond just questioning the constitutionality of the law, Nesson argues that the court ought to punish the RIAA for its abuses of the law. This Court should exercise its inherent power to allow background image redress to Joel Tenenbaum for Plaintiffs' abuse of law and federal civil court process. As detailed throughout this brief, Plaintiffs are using any and all available avenues of federal process to pursue grossly disproportionate -- and unconstitutional[...]