Sunday, May 31, 2009

Johnstown Flood of 1889 - Dam failure

Over 2000 people were killed in Johnstown PA back in 1889 when a Dam failed on this day (May 31) sending a mountain of water roaring through the town.

From the NYTimes article of the time:
"One telegraph operator says he counted sixty-three bodies in twenty minutes floating past his office.

A telegraph operator at Sang Harbor, in the Pennsylvania Railroad tower, twelve miles this side of Jamestown, says that at least seventy-five dead bodies have floated past that point."

Some survivors stories from the Johnstown Flood Museum website regarding the flood:

Anna Fenn Maxwell, who lost all of her children in the flood:
"The water rose and floated us until our heads nearly touched the ceiling. . .It was dark and the house was tossing every way. The air was stifling, and I could not tell just the moment the rest of the children had to give up and drown. . .what I suffered, with the bodies of my seven children floating around me in the gloom can never be told."

Rev. H.L. Chapman who survived by racing up the attic of his home just in time:
"I think none of us was afraid to meet God, but we all felt willing to put it off until a more propitious time,"

Read these and other survivor stories HERE.

From the NYTimes article: "At a point near New-Florence eighty-five persons have been seen floating down the river on driftwood."

Go HERE for some pictures of the devestation

Friday, May 29, 2009


Though wary, I haven't totally given up on our capitalistic system. Even though stocks have been basically flat over the past decade and the past couple of years have been terrible, I'm still looking for places to invest.

I sold the eBay stock I purchased back in January - the first trade I've recorded a gain on in a while. Over the past several weeks I've also opened some new positions that I wanted to post.
DAKT - Daktronics - they make scoreboards and alot of digital signage
DECK - Deckers Outdoors - shoes of various varieties. This has been on my watchlist for a while.
EBIX - Ebix - software for insurance industry customer, insurers and agencies. This one has been on my watchlist for a long time.
GME - Gamestop - video game retailer. There's concern the industry may be changing away from a retailer based model to more web delivery of games, and it's brought this company's stock down considerably. Slower guidance going forward by mgmt also.
VSEC - VSE Corp - government contractor - particularly dept. of defense. I don't really understand all the stuff they do - it's a broad array of services - this pick is more based on the numbers and a strong historical trend.

A few more still near the top of the watchlist: FLR, FLIR, JEC, BUCY

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sand Sculptures

Wow. Look at these sand sculptures I happened upon just blog-surfing.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


A friend of mine at work often wonders what his life would've been like if he'd have spent his professional career working in and practicing a trade instead of pursuing white collar work as he has. In the same breath he usually wonders if he'd worry about his work when he goes home, or think about it over the weekend. And it's not just idle speculation - his thoughts are informed by an understanding of his Dad's work - a former Navy Seabee who now works on large construction jobs.

My wife and I tend to drive older vehicles and my wife and I personally have come to highly value the work of one particular repair shop where the guys there seem adept at identifying a problem and fixing it. I've learned that letting anyone else work on our cars is a risky proposition. And they're also the kindof guys who'll tell you if something is _not_ a problem so that you don't spend money you don't need to.

I know from repair bills that there's serious money to be had for tradesmen who can do a good job. And the older I get I've also wondered why such skilled trade work has become frowned upon by our educational system. As we train more and more people to work in an information economy I wonder if we might be advised to step back and re-evaluate. This article in the NYTimes prompted me to write this as it presents a compelling case for thinking about the "character of work" as having a value in itself - and for our need to be more intimately connected to the product of our labor, and less of a cog in the machine.
Quote: "Everyone is rightly concerned about economic growth on the one hand or unemployment and wages on the other, but the character of work doesn’t figure much in political debate."

"The Case for Working with Your Hands" is one of the better reads I've come across in a while.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Nakamichi 480 and Boston

An ebay purchased arrived today that took me back a bit. It was a Nakamichi 480. Nope it's not an exercise machine (are you serious?). And it's not a roter tiller or a high performance motorcycle. Nope, it a cassette deck.

...and it was possibly manufactured back when I was in grade school.

But this isn't just any old cassette deck. If I believe what I read Nakamichi's are like the Ferrari's of the cassette deck world. (They don't play tapes really fast, but they're just a higher end model of deck.) It's kindof cool to go out on ebay and find ancient technology from a by-gone era - and even cooler to play some cassettes that I haven't heard in years - as I had no other working cassette deck on premises.

This thing does sound really good. I thought I'd never say this about a cassette, and I'm going have to do some more critical listening, but I'm shocked at how good a cassette sounds on a good tape deck.

The first two cassette's I listened to from my collection were from Boston. Their initial album "Boston" and the follow-up "Don't Look Back". Boston was one of my favorite bands when I was growing up and call me nostalgic, but it was really fun listening to these albums again. I'm sounding old, but as they were playing I told my wife "they don't make 'em like this anymore!" "Brad Delp sure could sing"... "You know way back before electricity got popular Tom Scholz founded Rocktron and figured out how to make those cool sounding guitars." on and on. Yep I was sounding like a regular geezer.

One thing I appreciated listening back to the Boston album is how I could play the album straight through and a) every song was quality, and b) the album had a flow and continuity. You could tell it was meant as a full cohesive presentation - not a succession of stand-alone singles. The albums really stand up to history imho.

Anyhow. I have about 200 more old cassettes to work through and I'm actually glad I haven't thrown them out. As I go through I'm trying to archive the old music to my PC before cassettes finally go extinct.

And with that I'll leave you with this oldie but goodie. Feels good don't it? I think I want a hairy vest like the drummer is wearing. Or maybe I should just settle for his 'fro. And we all need shiny jump suits.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Spore Banner

I've long since stopped playing the video game Spore (it's kindof a boring game), but still enjoy looking at the creations users build (the creator editors are more fun than the game itself). Alot of creators on the Spore boards have cool signature files, and I took this weekend to build one. For pure hubris's sake I'm posting here. It was kindof fun building this.

Interview with Steve Ballmer

This interview with Steve Ballmer of Microsoft is good.

"And so, if you really want to get the best out of people, you have to really hear them and they have to feel like they’ve been really heard."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Happiness Project

I was visiting some economics blogs I hadn't visited in a long time - I changed computers and lost alot of links - and came across a link to this post on The Happiness Project:

"If I’ve learned one thing from my happiness project, it’s that if I want my life to be a certain way, I must be that way myself."

What's this got to do with economics? There's this idea out there that despite all the stuff we've got and our "high standard of living," most studies indicate we aren't any happier than we ever were. Something in economic theories and efforts of maximizing utility are at a disconnect with overall happiness created in society.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Quote of the Day

I've never heard this quote - but it's a good one apparently erroneously attributed to Ben Franklin expressing what democracy is like without a bill of rights.

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.

Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!"

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ayn Rand - Atlas Shrugged

OK. I'm watching C-Span and they're interviewing a guy from the Ayn Rand Institute and he's arguing (my interpretation) about how the government intervention into the current economic crisis is a huge problem and that free market is instead the solution to the current economic crisis. Since I think too much free market activity combined with leverage is the root of the problem, I obviously disagree. (Some will argue that what produced the crisis is not sufficient to meet their defintion of a free market - all I can say there is that on the continuum of free to controlled economies, I think we've seen the result of swinging too far toward the free end of the spectrum).

Now, I liked Ayn Rand's book "Atlas Shrugged", and even though I read it aobut 20 years ago I think I still recall the free market principles it's built upon - that we all own our own productivity and the government is a parasite that takes what it doesn't deserve.

Here are some observations where I have problems though:
- in the book the most entrepreneurs are all honorable, noble, highly productive, smart. I don't think that applies to those in business who caused the economic problems of today. The bad actors were overstimulated by greed and were rewarded for excess risk taking. End result: If things go right they cash in big on their bets with huge bonuses. If things go wrong the entire economic system suffers. While self-interest tends to produce desirable results and positive spill-over effects in an economy, we've seen that over-leveraged self interest works the opposite way and produces negative spill-over effects. In Ayn Rand's books the heroes by definition would never place the bad bets that bring down not only their companies, but negatively impact the lives of thousands. What does it say about or free market that this appears to have happened with regularity?

- government actors in the book are portrayed as inept and only seeking ways to leach off of the productivity of others. The book sees very little role for government - a very Darwinian outlook of let the strong survive and let the weak die. I'm on board with that idea to point, but I do think there is a role for the government to protect the citizens from predatory activities like we've seen - if for no other reason than no other entity can.

With economic interdependence, our interests grow increasingly interconnected, and it does appear that the actions of a few bad players in the free market today can produce very bad outcomes for the many. To me it seems a form of highly leveraged economic terrorism at work when bad bets placed by corporations, banks or hedge funds can create domino effects that can topple economies. In warfare I've heard analysts use the term "asymmetric" warfare - where a small # of actors can create a large impact.

I see that there is a place for government to step in and prevent the kind of predatory activity we've seen recently. I clearly think the government is the only institution that is able to step in and stabilize the economy currently. Since the free market created the current collapse, I obviously do not trust it to prevent or self-correct the problem that it created. In fact, I think Ayn Rand would despise many of the actions of free market risk takers in creating this mess.

I think there's the danger uniformly interpreting pro-business as free market as the "good guys", and interpreting government as "bad guys." It sees to me business has the potential to create a system where it becomes a parasite (just like the government has the same potential). I think knee-jerk pro-business stances need to be tempered. There's something to be learned here, and an honest evaluation I feel will only make the resulting business climate more sound and stable going forward.

More Marcus Aurelius

I haven't posted a Marcus Aurelius quote in a while, so figured I'd do so. Here's a couple quotes I like related to perspective and his ongoing theme that everything is part a universal theme and we all have our part to play:

"4.40 The world as a living being – one nature, one soul. Keep that in mind. And how everything feeds into that single experience, moves with a single motion. And how everything helps produce everything else. Spun and woven together."

"2.8 Don’t ever forget these things:
The nature of the world.
My nature.
How I relate to the world.
What proportion of it I make up.
That you are part of nature, and no one can prevent you from speaking and acting in harmony with it, always."

From Marcus Aurelius's "Meditations", Gregory Hayes' translation:

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emporer from 161-180 A.D. Read more from Wikipedia.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Let the Beat Build

I saw info about this song and video on, a website about band promotion. This video was shot in one take, and the music was recorded live at the same time the video was being shot. Very impressive that they could get all of this to come together with so many different moving parts while at the same time making it work in a video format. Creative Stuff.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Life in the Green House

A friend at work sent me this link to a new type of manufactured home based on "green" principles and designed by Clayton Homes. $100-130 per square foot still sounds expensive to me, but I guess it does bring green construction down to within reach of mainstream homebuyers/builders. I kindof like how the design has you able to walk up and sit on your roof like a deck.