consultants are sandburs

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Back-yard bird picture, suggesting why the back-yard rabbit count's diminished.

The oaks behind the house, to the north, might have a nested pair of horned owls.

At least for now, both are in the picture, perched and asleep in one tree.

Getting a decently good photo from the house is tricky at about a hundred feet or so away through a kitchen window, with intervening branches in the way depending on where the camera is set up.

At -10 degrees, let hard-core bird watchers set up the tripod and all, outside. I'll be satisfied with the confirming photo, through the window, from inside with a cup of coffee on the counter.

One bird's on the branch, the other at the branch base, by the trunk.

If they'd have a nest already with eggs or a hatchling, one would likely be there tending the nest. Hence, they likely are yet to nest.

They are in hunting mode as a guess. With bird feeders and corn out on the ground for some, the rabbits got fat browsing into the late evening. Fewer seem to be there over the last week or two.

It is possible there's an owl nest in that patch of woods. I'd guess it is more likely they'd be nested in trees along the wetland ditch about a quarter to half mile to the north.

The backyard woods patch is only about an acre in size, with greater acreage of woods elsewhere in the neighborhood. Three homes are sharing the woods as back-yard back edge, each about 1-1/2 acre lots.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The politician leading the Supreme Court, and a shameful show of brinksmanship.

Strib reports the dire things said, if the Courts do not get their cash - justice held hostage, not in so few words, but you decide:

As Gov. Pawlenty looks to cut budgets, the chief justice he appointed is playing hardball over the justice system's future.
By PATRICIA LOPEZ, Star Tribune, Feb. 21, 2009

Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson bundled into his car on a recent bitter Sunday, set his satellite radio to a favorite old-time radio serial about a crusading insurance investigator, Johnny Dollar, and headed for Moorhead.

There, he would embark on his own crusade to save Minnesota's justice system as he knows it.

Just seven months into the job, Magnuson is facing off against the man who appointed him, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, over budget cuts.

The clash could be titanic.

Pawlenty proposes a budget, and the Legislature appropriates funds. But Magnuson decides how the court system's money gets spent.

If another budget cut of 5 percent or more comes down, Magnuson will recommend dramatic action -- shutting down conciliation court, cutting hours and suspending prosecution of 21 types of cases, including property damage, harassment, probate, and more than 1 million traffic and parking cases a year.

That last step could interrupt a $200 million flow to local governments.

Magnuson said that shutting down traffic cases is no small move, "but we're running out of choices here, and I will not compromise the prosecution of criminal cases."

What happens when truants, runaways, small-time shoplifters and trespassers realize they won't be brought to court? "That will be a real problem," Magnuson said calmly. "That will be the erosion of the rule of law. That will be the tear in the fabric of society that I'm trying to warn people about."

There's more to the Strib article, read it all here, but that huff-and-puff-and-blow-the-rule-of-law-down diatribe is a plain disgrace. Shameful and false.

The truth is, any simple civil motion gets put onto the calendar, is heard, and taken "under advisement." It can be sat on for ninety days. Some judges move paper quicker than others. Some opinions - you get a decision and an opinion - are helpful, others are thrown together by the law clerks, and often ill-reasoned.

That's Minnesota practice. The most major motion, one for summary judgment where the trial "day in Court" can be forestalled on points of law - those an appellate court will review de novo - new on the law and the record the trial judge had, without deference to the legal reasoning of the opinion the lower court issued.

So why bother?

Streamline it.

In King County, Washington, mainly Seattle and the East side of Lake Washington, and other Washington State courts, the practice was to have a motions calendar, be heard by a judge who'd had and read the paperwork in advance, and then you'd get a ruling that day, and an order signed; no opinion involved to clutter things and waste time.

Less trial court level work, for the same result, a decision well or ill-reasoned, but a decision on a point at issue so that then the litigating sides can move on.

That simplification, and truly severe sanctions for the discovery games lawyers play, each milking a separate cash cow on each side; and where the judges, lawyers themselves, play along and do not put teeth in what the discovery rules say the lawyers should do without any motion needed - honestly and forthrightly respond to discovery requests and interrogatories in good faith and sensibly, and in reasonably expected detail, not evasively with much quibbling over wording as if holding a poker hand under a hat.

There are no real secrets to positions in litigation, facts are to be discovered honorably when not known, but doing otherwise consumes court time, looks impressive to the clients, and is billed impressively.

Kabuki theater, which Wikipedia characterizes as "highly stylised classical Japanese dance-drama" has its fans too.

Trim the fat. Streamline. But don't threaten to cut essential services. Throwing a snit-fit is unimpressive. Dire forcasting can be insincere. Putting public service duty on hold if you do not get your way, what does that say?

Do more, with less time consumed on window-dressing motions taken "under advisement," and without all that other stuff; and then the unwholsome set of scenarios Justice Magnuson dared to try to market to an unsophisticated public can be avoided.

Let judges judge.

Let the politicians in the legislature play "chicken" on the budget.

There's no place for unseemly brinksmanship out of our top State Court, the one we should respect implicitly and explicitly because of its stature, AND because the conduct seen by us from those on that bench earns our respect.

photo from STRIB

Hamas Palestinians on our doorstep - huh? Read it, it does not say THAT.

Thanks to Ramsey Councilmember Matt Look for calling this to my attention.

Federal Register posts an Obama presidential directive, order, determinaiton - whatever, allocating twenty million to aid resettlement of Palenstinians impacted to refugee status during recent Gaza events. It DOES NOT say immigration to the US is any part of the intended use of the allocated funds. Most refugees would be in new camps in Gaza, in existing Gaza camps, or in neighboring refugee camps. The money is for assistance and my reading is for human needs where the refugees are now housed and helped, without any intent to move new numbers of Palestinians to the US.

The language the item uses, "humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees and conflict victims in Gaza," seems to say feeding, clothing, and medical care kinds of thing, not airline tickets to here, there, anywhere.

Read it. It is vague about the allocation's detailed intent, as to specifics of actions to be taken by US personnel.

Some knee-jerk right winger at reads things differently.

There's a gulf of presumptions between what the Federal Register item says, and what the Whizbanger reads it to mean.

Would any Crabgrass reader with more light to shed than heat, please post a comment?

Crown Hydro and eminent domain, and overlap with fiber-to-the-home municipal broadband sagas.

On this recent post asking factual questions [even if FERC hearings addressed such issues, updating things to the present Obama-stimulus proposal times would be needed], Two-Putt Tommy left a comment touching upon the eminent domain and other questions and objections raised at the Dump Michele Bachmann blog. That was the incentive, to put up this post.

The question of eminent domain use-&-power to benefit a private entity has a history. Dispute over a governmental body using eminent domain for the benefit of a land development inititive of a private entity (with public benefits) had recent Supreme Court attention (and an opinion was issued favoring the extensive readings of governmental power to take, subject to Fifth Amendment due process [aka fair compensation].

Urban renewal and land use planning involving broad "taking" has been a Minnesota litigation theme, and FindLaw picked up the Walser Auto v. Best Buy and City of Richfield, litigation, with the litigation history being online if you search at the law library site. There a total taking of the auto lot, for the higher and better use [in the municipality's view] of a Best Buy headquarters campus, was at issue. Utility easement/right-of-way taking has been around for some time, with easement [use rights of a limited scope] being less intrusive than a total taking and buyout, with pricing being the main issue litigated. There are indirect "partial taking" questions that relate, for example, to airplane flight paths to airports where the noise might be (and has been) argued to "take" the beneficial enjoyment from adjacent or neighboring lands. Other related flavors of issues exist that lawyers can and have argued. The term "inverse condemnation" is used in such instances, meaning no actual condemnation proceeding went on, but a public action so impacted private real property that a "constructive taking" was attained. "Taking" law, eminent domain law, is extensive, with national precedent and state-by-state variations on the theme.

For now, with a recent Strib article in mind, there is the question of private utility/service providers going to court to stop a government taking "service provision rights" for itself, as somehow unfair or disadvantageous or "anti-competitive" to private providers of such services; specifically, the companies first say screw providing ultrafast broadband bandwidth until we want to provide it, but if a municipality acts, they then say they've a host of lawyers to cause a host of delay. Something like that. And often with the private service provider then jogged off the dime to provide a parallel network and "get there first" while the municipality is tied up in court [preliminary injunction against the municipality being a usual first aim of the "privateers," we'll call them that].

Strib reporting was by Jean Hopfensperger, online here, the gist being:

North St. Paul caught in middle of fiber optic fight -- Who should control our information highways? North St. Paul offers a test case being watched across the state.
Last update: February 20, 2009 - 9:17 PM

North St. Paul hoped to be a suburban trailblazer when it drafted a plan to become the first metro community with a city-owned fiber-optic network that would give residents the fastest available cable, Internet and telephone services. But it was taken aback by the reaction from Internet and cable leaders, who launched an aggressive opposition campaign charging "unfair competition'' and predicting failure.

Opponents spent $40,000 in the past two weeks alone to shape a Tuesday city referendum on an issue being watched by cities across the metro area.

"Why would a company like Comcast, with millions of subscribers, be so concerned about its maybe 2,000 subscribers in North St. Paul?'' asked North St. Paul Mayor Mike Kuehn.

North St. Paul has found itself in the middle of a state -- and national -- debate over who controls the nation's information highways. The telecommunications industry says that cities have an unfair advantage when owning the networks, and that being owner and part regulator is a conflict of interest. Only one Minnesota city, Windom, has a city-owned fiber-to-home network. [There's Monticello also, see below]

"We're very concerned when cities want to get into the business and add to the competitive mix with a subsidy,'' said Mike Martin, executive director of the Minnesota Cable Communications Association, which contributed $15,500 to the referendum campaign this month. "And there is no service the city has proposed that is not available now or could be in the future.''

Leaders in North St. Paul, which has owned and operated its own electrical utility for more than 100 years, said it has no problem letting private industry manage the so-called PolarNet. But it wants to own the infrastructure and tap any future profits for the city's economic development.

"Comcast is interested in selling cable: We're interested in developing a town,'' said city manager Wally Wysopal. "This [fiber-optic network] could be a factor in where a person decides to live, stay or open a business."

This aging suburb has lost nearly 900 jobs, or 25 percent of its workforce, since 2000, city leaders said. It's also losing $810,000 in local government aid in the next two years. Having a state-of-the-art fiber-optic network could give the city a competitive edge over its more affluent suburban neighbors.

Here's how PolarNet would work, city officials told the group:

The city would take out an $18.5 million general obligation bond, payable over the next 25 years, to build the network. Loan payments for the first three years are wrapped into the $18.5 million. After that, the project would fund itself if 27 percent of the city's 4,000 households purchase the service.

There's more to the story, so read the entire Strib post.

I have hoped that City of Ramsey, where I live in Anoka County, would be so progressive. Some in the city have been responsive, but it has not been a high priority of the old mayor, who retired this election cycle and never during an extended tenure in office chose to post an email address on the city's website, for contacting him. Call Tom and chat was his Gestalt.

Bob Ramsey, the new mayor, uses email and might be more receptive to infrastructure improvements that can attract twenty-first centruy business growth to the locale.

But that's a digression.

The Hopfensperger report ignored the ups and downs in Monticello, litigation and all, where so far the City's effort to improve itself via municipally owned broadband has been successful although delayed and impeded by a privateer competitor.

The Monticello situation might merit its own post, since the storyline is compelling, the small town vs the powerful business firm, etc.

For now, this link to the "Community Owned and Locally Operated" municipal venture, "FiberNet Monticello."

From that link you can explore things, however, this "National Broadband Strategy" link page might also interest most Crabgrass readers.

You're either part of a solution, or part of the problem, and that obstreporous telco utility in the Monticello dispute sure looks to be no solution worth mention.

Read what you can, get the telco's side of things, etc., to form an opinion. The telco is identified on the FiberNet Monticello site, here:

Bridgewater Telephone Company, an affiliate of TDS Telecom, sued the City of Monticello in May, challenging the City’s authority to use revenue bonds for a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) system. On October 8, the court issued its ruling dismissing the lawsuit with prejudice on the merits. In his ruling, Judge Jonathan Jasper concludes that “the City has express authority” to “issue bonds to fund the FTTP project as an “other public convenience.” Additional rulings by the judge also denied TDS requests relating to the lawsuit and were filed by the courts on October 10. State Statute allows TDS Telecom to file an appeal within 30 days from the date of the notice.

The revenue bonds in the amount of $25 Million dollars were sold to private investors this summer. The money is currently being held in escrow pending final resolution of the lawsuit. Once the bonds are released they will be used to reimburse the city with interest for liquor store reserve funds used to start the fiber loop project prior to the lawsuit being dismissed.

Google them, see what, if anything, their website(s) have to say.

That last link, containing the quote, has links to allow you to download some of the District Court papers from the suit, and Judge Jasper is expected to be as impartial and dispassionate a commentator as there'd be. Have a look. There's plenty of story there, and the issue is now playing out again in parallel, in North Saint Paul.

The public/private interaction over services provision, public works departments, etc., and the history of private electric power provision [except for TVA, Bonneville Dam, and the railroads vs subways and muni-transit] has had an interesting focus in Texas, over the question of private money for a toll-road superhighway; this Google. Seattle has its own power utility, with its own hydro dam on the Skagit River, while most of the rest of the state has a private firm supply power; and all are on the grid now, gencos, transmission owners, and distribution grid owners; with electric futures being a traded commodity. We live in interesting times. Toll roads are nothing new, although the super-highway turnpikes-vs-freeway distinction is new. Toll roads, instead, were common in our history, Wikipedia stating:

The first major toll road in the United States was the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike, built in the 1790s, within Pennsylvania, connecting Philadelphia and Lancaster. In New York State, the Great Western Turnpike was started in Albany in 1799 and eventually extended, by several alternate routes, to the Finger Lakes region.

Prior to the American Revolution, some smaller toll roads organized by local governments existed, such as the Little River Turnpike which connected Alexandria, Virginia with the farmland of Western Virginia.

Google targeted advertisements? Wondering about the algorithms.

I use Google's gmail. On the inbox screen there's an unobtrusive advertisement line, presumably, given Google sophistication, targeted in accordance with usage patterns. Well, I don't know. I opened and read a Google Alert on "Anoka County" as the term set for the alert, and on returning to the inbox, I got this ad.

Okay, it's always good to know a specialist lawyer if you ever need the speciality, but was the targeting on me, or on "Anoka County?" I'd have to think the latter, since I've never had a DWI and never searched the web much that way.

Second piece of evidence: I went to the spam queue, and emptied it. On returning to the inbox, this was the "targeting" ad.

Okay, there's a twisted tie-in this time, but Recipe Source, as a website that would advertise and make cash off its posting recipes such as "Savory Spam Crescents," I don't know, but Monty Python's Flying Circus might find a skit in it.

And if you doubt Google and its algorithms, what next, denial of divine creation or even denial of intelligent design? It could snowball.

Has anyone else curiously tried one of those Gmail target ads, trying to find rhyme or reason to it? Post a comment.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Now for two wholly unrelated items. Nostalgia and current events on the other side of the world.

Feb. 5, 2004, five years ago this month, Tammy Sakray of Anoka County Union reported:

Ramsey administrator receives review, additional money

by Tammy Sakry
Staff writer

With a good report for his development of a highly qualified professional staff and long range planning skills, Ramsey City Administrator Jim Norman will receive extra money in his paycheck.

When the Ramsey City Council unanimously approved his 2003 review at its Jan. 27 meeting, it also approved an additional $3,000 per year to go into a deferred compensation plan. Council members Patti Kurak and Todd Cook wre [sic] absent.

The review also indicated Norman's performance is commendable in interagency relations and "keeping Ramsey in sound financial position."

During Norman's review process, it was suggested that he give the department heads more flexibility; information, especially regarding the Ramsey Town Center, should be given to the city council sooner for review; and all the boards and commissions are to be informed of things happening in the city.

"I'm certainly pleased with areas the city council cites as commendable and I plan to continue working diligently on areas that were suggested for improvement," said Norman, who was hired as the administrator in February 1998.

Wholly unrelated, there is this [click to enlarge and read or go to the story, here]:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Existing Hydro Power on the River, Downtown - What more is NEEDED?

The question is necessity, and not whether promoters can turn a profit if they can maneuver into a profit via operation of a Crown Hydro facility, with subsidy necessary to make the venture work. If it can work without subsidy, then it's sound and needed. The questions: What's there now? What existing hydro capacity is at downtown river locales, and is existing hydro there having to be run at full capacity or kept there as quaint, and as peak demand backup? What river flow allocations are at play - committed already, needed for Crown Hydro to be allocated in order to operate productively, etc., i.e., what reallocation adjustments would Crown Hydro going operational require?

Asthetics aside, is it sound business - again, the key concern.

For info: Click the screenshot below to read, or go to the Xcel website, here.

If this Crown Hydro Phenomenon is a "feel good" propaganda effort paid and delivered by flaks on behalf of rich people looking only to jump subsidy income without being of a scale and need to justify itself aside from tax breaks and/or subsidy, why should the public, via tax breaks or subsidy, pick up any part of the bill for unsound venturing, if that's what's at play? Is it a justifiable business proposal, if all costs and incomes were internalized, and Xcel were not forced to purchase someone's power at a premium over what it could produce itself? Have the Crown Hydro promoters put sound beliveable numbers on the table, and if not will they? "Trust me," well, why if the numbers are not there to be trusted?

These are preliminary questions I have, and am trying to research, but there's much public record at FERC, from years ago, so what's today's dollars and cents truth? Has any such disclosure been forthcoming?

Only soundness without direct or indirect public/ratepayer subsidy at play would justify moving forward. Why should power consumer ratepayer subsidy or public money be put into a questionable business proposition simply because promoters feel they've found a new, smart thing?

Can Crown Hydro promoters drop feel-good propagandizing, clean energy rhetoric, and show hard numbers and sensible projections?

What's Xcel Energy's view in this? Playing politics and agreeing with friends because of the small scale effect it might encounter, or strongly for or against Crown Hydro? Has anyone asked? Has Xcel definitively spoken? They are a player with chips, sitting at the table.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Crown Hydro Phenomenon --- Isn't it obvious, ... ---

There was a time when it was obvious the sun took a daily orbit around our planet, to our benefit, and many worshiped that process.

This is a lead-in to my thoughts about the Crown Hydro phenomenon.

By that I mean this largely moribund hobby-project that has languished for years, appearing always to be motivated as a subsidy-garnering thing of some wealthy individuals who have banded into a profit-seeking effort having the business name, "Crown Hydro." Set a Google Alert for that, and stay informed.

This post is from a failed effort to post a comment to a recent post at Political Muse's Liberal in the Land of Conservatives blog, the failure being probably due to the browser security settings I have for third-party cookies so that the "are you a human" copy the letter-number thing fails to completely load giving me an image to respond to. Blue Man also posted recently about the Musings, and I will simply republish my comments to him, along with what I had intended to add to the very interesting comment thread the Muse attained.

These two linked posts are not the start of the Crown Hydro Phenom, but rather the most recent blogging. Two-Putt Tommy at MN Progressive Project also has posted a bit about it, e.g., here.

Start with those three links, those three blogs, and focus upon the Muse's comment thread to see there are skeptics and names surfacing. And maintain your own healthy skepticism, in learning more. Please, also, someone do the research, and get a cast of characters for this drama, and bio histories of the lifetime-long moves and shakings these folks have done. The view, instead of a window on the view. That's starting to enter the discussion; but people at play, motives and economics - follow the money - always is illuminating. That said, again the Muse's link AND comment thread that this failed intended comment touches, is HERE:

This is an interesting comment thread. I might easily agree with my friends.

Question: Who's looked at whether, absent subsidy, this hydro thing would be a sound business investment?

Question: Why does Minneapolis have a separate Park Board, as a political entity, paying substantial lobbying fees for its interests, in competition with the City itself, lobbying for its interest? Is Balkanization of a City's political interests, incentives, powers, and needs a good idea, or a bad one?

Question: Does anyone have a good quick history on how the Park Board became so autonomous?

Question: Crown Hydro languished for years. Why the present insistent drumbeat? Who's behind it? Eva said a thing or two about people getting on payroll.

After watching the Tinklenberg campaign and looking at the man's ways and means, I have less respect for lobbyists than before. "Oberstar" seems to be Elwyn's favorite word, and despite lore, we seem to be a government of men more than one of principles.

Big question in it all: absent a subsidy most appealing to those on the higher income spectrum where tax breaks count most heavily, is this a sound venture - or a tax-break small scale hobby proposal of fat cats?

Does anyone have a cogent, well-researched answer? So far, Eva's been best at naming names and delving into motivations. What about the economics - sound or unsound, absent subsidy?

On Blue Man's post, here, I wrote this comment:

The devil always lurks in the details. You, Muse, and Tommy are seeing the executive summary, and looking for opposition detail. If it is an iceberg you believe threat free, shouldn't the pack of you also be doing a bit of looking below the water line? Just a thought. Only that. There have been superficially charming people I've met, but manipulative when you get to know them. Just a thought. Part of information is origin and communication. Who's beating the loudest drum, off blog?

Avidor's a skeptic and I would not dismiss that easily, although he and I have had differences of opinion. Who are the proponents, and how are they getting their position out, using which advocates?

Just a thought.

Beyond the two inquisitive comments, I am still too ignorant of what's happening, the ins-and-outs of the Crown Hydro Phenomenon, to say much else.

Questions always are easier than answers, particularly in the realm of scientific method where the evidence and supporting arguments must be cogently presented for community scrutiny.

However, without questioning, heliocentricity might have taken several more centuries to gain sway.

So, who are the people with meat in the fire, and what are the true motivational economics to the Crown Hydro Phenomenon?

Let's have less rhetoric and more truth. Less naked opinion, and more information. Less heat and more light. If you want to parade this issue, this thing around town, first what is it, who's behind it, and why?

As a first step for commentators, who's got meat in the fire, who's only expressing disinterested opinions? I have no economic stake, no fees from any source, and that's my public disclosure in writing about Crown Hydro. No close friends or family have any stake in it. Is any blogger in a position of interest with the thing, so that conflict of interest arguably is at play? Brodkorb's had that skeleton shaken at him at least once, so let's flesh out that as a first step to logical and dispassionate analysis.

Thus far, it's been more argument than information, the executive summary tip of the iceberg shown and then pro and con opinion over the iceberg. Put another way there's the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid dimension:

"Who are those guys?"

Is it substantial, or little beyond tax-shelter play of the rich?

All of us have made mistakes, sometimes making us look a bit foolish. Political Muse, here, linked to lobbyist MaryAnn Campo's website, this screenshot is from the Campo LLC website, this lobbying "successes" page [click to enlarge and read]:

Were I a chiropractor, ...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The site says BestBuy DOES NOT fully warrant against all impact damage to a flat screen TV. Hence a TV Screen Protector shield makes sense.

[as always, click an image to enlarge and read]

I don't own a flat screen TV, laptop, or flat-screen monitor. The 17 inch CRT I've been using with the large footprint on the desk still works, it's aged as I have without quitting, and that means this is more flagging an idea because it looks both simple and effective, rather than resoundingly endorsing something I have never used.

That said, the product called a "TV Screen Protector," an is an optically clear impact-resistant acrylic protective shield, to fit over a vulnerable flat screen [many probably have seen the Southwest Airlines throw-me-a-hard-one ad], with the cover designed to absorb threatening impacts while not degrading image viewing quality [enlarge the screenshot]. Aircraft and racing hydorplane cockpit canopies are polycarbonate, but acrylic is more common and probably a shade bettter in optical quality. The protector comes in a range of sizes, per the vendor's faq page, here.

The screen protector's vendor's website is here; and says:

It happened to me...
After my seven-year-old smashed a hole in my new $2,500 LCD TV with a Wii remote, I realized that there was no way I would chance it again with my new TV. So here is the TV Screen Protector! It's made of ultra high strength acrylic and nearly indestructible.

And if that wasn’t enough
The Best Buy Product Protection Plan does not cover damage to the LCD TV screen. Bye Bye extra money :(

A little web searching revealed Best Buy apparently will not generally warrant against all possible ways of impact damage to the screen on flat-screen devices they sell consumers.

You can read. Here, Best Buy clearly says:

Accidental Damage from Handling
Accidental Damage from Handling (ADH) coverage is a benefit that can purchase (on qualifiying products) for an additional price over the standard Performance Service Plan. During the term of the Accidental Damage from Handling Performance Service Plan, we will repair or replace the product as necessary to correct any damage to the product. Accidental damage from handling is defined as: "Unintentional damage to a product as a result of daily usage; such as spills and drops." Immersion in liquid is not covered. ADH covers product from normal daily usage and the way the manufacturer intended the product to be used.

(italics emphasis added) Words of warranty limitation, qualifying and narrowing language, is problematic -- as well as "additional price" having to be paid Best Buy meaning how much, exactly, for what exact coverage on which product, etc. "Weasel words" is the term sometimes used for limitation of risk wording, especially such as, "normal daily usage" in "the way manufacturer intended," which is open to misunderstanding.

Don't drive nails with the flat-screen TV, but aside from the obvious, what's "normal" is as open a question as who's "normal," and foreseeing what folks an ocean away at Toshiba "intend" is less gospel than guesswork.

There's the devil in the details and a lawyer's writing behind every warranty, remember that, and Tom Waits' "Step Right Up" teaches,

step right up
You got it buddy: the large print giveth
and the small print taketh away
Step right up

It may sound like fraud to some uninitiated people to hide such disclaimer language in paperwork or online where nobody reads it anyway except obsessive types, but that apparently is common retailer - consumer product practice. The norm, not the exception.

I don't pretend to know ins-and-outs of consumer warranty coverage drafting, and Best Buy has Costco and Sam's Club as competitors where it must be at least approximately even, in customer treatment. But none of the three wants to take risk two years after a sale, without exacting a price. I do not know what market share ratios exist between those three, or what basic and extended warranty coverage you can purchase for a few hundred extra from any of them [but this protective shield product is not adding a few hundred extra, and instead is sold at well below "few hundred extra" pricing].

Moreover, some have published online dissatisfied commentary over service and warranty terms even when extended coverage is purchased; see, e.g., here, here and here.

Go a step further - you bought a 42-inch super-hummer flat-screen from Circuit City. With an extended warranty. Yet recently the entire company and franchise chain went kaput. Guess about the ongoing effectiveness of your warranty coverage. Consumers can face caveat emptor, for a host of reasons. Things happen.

Have a look and give it a try. While under ten years of age in a sibling dispute I threw a metal toy cap pistol at my sister's head from about six feet away. She ducked about as well as Bush with the shoes, and I put out a window pane. It was a learning experience and had flat screens existed then and she'd stood in front of one, I'd have learned an even harder lesson. Things happen. A protective shield against childhood mistake is a sound thing.

You might not be best using a steamroller to crush a peanut. For any who cares for a convoluted story, there is one. I discovered this screen-protector product while looking online for software to install to be able to use the CD/DVD burner drive on the Windows XP workstation I use, so that I might be able to burn to DVD-RW for data backup [seven gigabyte DVD data backup capacity per burn]. I have an 8-gig thumb drive for up to that, and then I hoped to burn the DVD, while then holding incremental data between burns on the thumb drive. We had a disk crash in the household recently, so mending one's ways is timely, backup-wise. And, even a single seven-gig data space is a whole lot of data. The thumb drive alone should satisfy most backup needs.

But wanting DVD writing capability only for backup and not entertainment needs meant I was looking for a lean, quick and easy answer.

A tech consultant, Matt at ECI in Coon Rapids, (Enterprise Communications, Inc.,, 763-783-0100) who is quite capable and knowledgable, suggested I download the Nero product trial version off the web, install it, and see if my hardware/firmware/operating system combo would get that to write DVD from the drive.

Nero and Roxio appear to be the leading multi-feature DVD products at present, as best as I can tell off the web after hours of looking - each being quite multi-featured.

The ECI technical and engineering advisory people have to be able to answer a range of questions, and provide product support for a range of client needs so that a single proven reliable multi-feature product - one and not a bag-full of several specialized tools - is best for them to provide clients - given customer support at pricing at the hourly rates that corporate phone and data network custom customer needs are serviced at these days for systems beyond the Geek Squad level and market niche. Like Vegas, you pay to play.

Nero 9 took quite long to download. Their servers must have had high bandwidth demand that day. The DSL can support hundreds of K bandwidth, but the Nero server was chugging out the download at 17 +/- 3 K, low, low, low speed, in servicing the download.

Installation of the 800-meg plus product took comparably long, and the range of options and product spectrum seemed unlimited. Bottom line, I got data files burned onto a DVD, from Windows XP, with the firmware of the TSST [Toshiba Samsung Storage Technology] HS-S182D drive in the desktop station. I had first updated the system via the latest vendor firmware available on the web. Prior to that Nero use I could not get the drive to recognize the writeable DVD-RW format, but the vendor configured installation --software/hardware/firmware before Nero and the firmware update did burn data files to writeable CD [at far less capacity than DVD].

It would recognize a commercial DVD [but I did not have a codec needed to decode and view it, while Microsoft had a screen error message link to a Microsoft support page telling me of several vendors selling codec software - it not being a Microsoft product for Windows XP, but only supported by Microsoft in Vista (and presumably in the beta version of Windows 7)].

In any event that established the drive.

For me, and my needs, Nero was not the answer. It was the steamroller for a peanut crushing task. I could take weeks to learn it to become an optical media specialist, (not a personal goal), or I could look for something sleeker. I found the Cheetah line of products, homepage here, and it indirectly led me to the screen protector sister-site. Cheetah has a command line product for scripting, a quick burner that inserts burn options when you right-click a directory or file, and a lean gui interface product for DVD burning,their DVD Burner 2. Reasonably priced, and appearing to meet my needs. Fifteen day trial download for anyone needing less complexity than Nero. Have a look. I have days left on the free trial to play with each item, each with a good niche, and assuming it works as I expect and I can use it with the Windows XP Pro backup utility to meet my requirements, I will be a happy user. Nero is great for those who want all it is. I want and need less, and the speed differential and learning curve advantage fits me with the product better fitting my needs.

DVD is new, and multi-session protocols uniformly accepted are absent, so it looks as if you do one write as if it's one-shot medium whether DVD-R or DVD-RW, or with the RW option you can copy back to a temp space on the hard drive anything partly written to a DVD that has NOT been closed, erase, add the new material to the backloaded stuff, and do a single write to the DVD-RW of old and new data. But rewritable optical media, for backup, should not be over used in write-erase-rewrite cycling, and it should be reasonably stored. If you need the backup data you need it uncorrupted, so think things out for your procedures in advance. Measure twice, cut once, as tailors and seamstresses say. It saves time. It avoids grief.

DISCLAIMER. I have no ties or cash interest in any product or service vendor mentioned. Terry Hendriksen, ECI's owner, is a personal friend dating to when he was on the City of Ramsey council. The Cheetah and TV Screen Protector people are in Florida and I've never met anyone from that business. If I put a link on the blog I can get free Cheetah product, but I don't carry ads; and a review-commentary is posted without any idea of whether it gets me anything but "Thank you" and full price for the product. Whatever, it was worth a mention or I'd not have mentioned it. Free product would be nice, but it's not an expectation in posting.

I put the post up last night. Nothing more to say about the Cheetah DVD software except I expect to be using it. On the TV screen protector, warranties, return policies - links and data may change and you should nail that down yourselves when purchasing - but here's starting info - Best Buy, again, here; Sam's Club, here: Costco, here; (and Walmart presumably comparable to Sam's Club so I did no searching there).

The point to consider when you see as-manufacturer-intended limitations language such as Best Buy uses, does that mean they might argue you void even extended warranty coverage by using a screen protector because the manufacturer does not market and ship one? Can it be suggested that a screen cover impedes intended heat dissipation on a flat-screen wall mounted? If you don't tell them you used one, how will they know to argue that?

The TV Screen Protector website notes, here, that on the face there are perimeter "feet" spacing the protector away from the TV allowing "breathing room" and elastic spacers on top for a snug fit [and hence allowing air flow space on sides and top].

Here are two screen shots, click either to enlarge and read.

I don't know how hot differing flat screen TV units can get after a day's viewing, and whether there'd be any incremental heating from using a facing screen.

Consider that, consider the extended warranty cost, and see if any of the stores have an in-house protective cover feature for sale. If so, then they endorse use of such an item, etc.

It can all be spun out, and there is upside and downside to every choice and option.

If you buy a facing screen and the TV fails say 17 months after purchase of the TV and shield, and you did not buy vendor extended coverage and want to blame the shield vendor, then what?

Go to Florida and file a small-claims court action? Hire a Florida lawyer to do it? Those are not realistic options.

So, bottom line, if you in your judgment want to partially "kid-proof" an expensive entertainment item, and decide to do so with a device that obviously sits on the TV in a way that lessens air-flow somewhat and is not supplied with the TV by its manufacturer, that's a consumer choice - an informed choice since overheating is a possibility and running the unit a month or so after purchase and before ordering the shield is an option - see the heating w/o anything between children and the optical flat panel first. You then can guess whether your unit, in your house, at home comfort heating/AC levels you use, has any overheating threat if you put the TV Protective Screen onto it.

If you already have a big expensive flat screen TV, and think, "I'd like that protector, it would make me feel better," you have the TV on the wall to see how much heat it appears to put out, before buying a shield product.

Do what you think best, it's your world and choices.

I will email a post link to the shield vendor - they can email back or post a comment about whether they have ever had a single complaint out of how ever many units sold, alleging overheating. That would be useful. They can buy an inexpensive digital thermometer with remote sensor, and test a representative TV with or without the shield on, and put the numbers on their website. There are options. Consumers deserve the best total informaiton available. That, all consumers hold in their hearts and minds as "only fair."

More on data backup. One final thought, if I set up the DVD and Cheetah products and it does a bang-up job of what I want, a data backup option, I will provide detail to Hendriksen of ECI so they can add such fact to their knowledge base. If service time is billed at $90+ per hour, no customer wants to pay for learning curve, so I expect any such info will be welcome.

They might like the Cheetah software as an option for customers.

Buying a large stand-alone hard drive with near tera-byte capacity is now a small network option these days, prices are such that it's so, and such a unit can be a "backup server" for the remainder of the network. It's infrequent that a hard drive fails. It would be far more infrequent that two would, a workstation drive AND a backup server, so it's sensible. The backup server is not stressed daily and as long as it is monitored enough so that a failure would be noticed, it's a way to go on a small network, especially for a business user having government obligations to preserve data.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Belated notice of a quick anti-Luddite Twenty-First Century Obama policy shift.

Reagan did it, Clinton removed it, Bush redid it; and it's both stupid and offensive.

And mean-spirited and divisive.

Ms. Magazine blurbs it with a link to a longer story:

UPDATE | winter 2009

UPDATE: Global Gag Rule Repealed

On just his third day in office, President Barack Obama lifted the odious policy known as the Global Gag Rule, which prevented family planning clinics outside the U.S. from receiving U.S. aid if they dared to refer women to safe abortion providers—or even advocated abortion law reform in their countries.

The rule was first instituted by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, repealed by President Bill Clinton in 1992, and reinstated by President George W. Bush. In part because of restricted access to reproductive health services caused by the rule—including a halt in condom shipments—more than 70,000 women die annually from unsafe abortions worldwide, and the incidence of HIV/AIDS is skyrocketing.

To get a sense of what the lifting of the gag rule may mean to women, please read again, or for the first time, “Global Sex Rules: The Price of Silence.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Minnesota DFL Senior Caucus notes Health Care hearings and the need to pressure non-believers.

The website info is here.

It probably is too late to influence the Feb. 10 hearings.

But note the Feb. 25 hearings, which I believe will be chaired by governorship candidate, Paul Thissen.

No excerpting.

Go to the webpage, get the emails and other contact info of those who as yet resist or have not signed onto healthcare reform in Minnesota.

If they stand intransigent, let them know you'd like to see them voted out of office next chance for it. My state senator, Mike Jungbauer, is not on the committee list, but for those on it not yet committed, having constituent contact will be stronger than from out of district.

Seniors vote. Remind them of it.

The DFL Seniors Caucus uses a Wordpress blog, with its homepage here.

Community National Bank in the news again - this time the county prosecutor reportedly has an interest in elevating their practices.

The "elevating practices" image has been used before in Crabgrass reporting about that banking chain, [see reported ownership detail below to avoid confusion], see here, and here, for prior Crabgrass info on Community National Bank, North Branch.

First, Strib today online, reports, as excerpted:

$2 million building cost Lino Lakes VFW its charter
Charges, questions surround vacant building.
Last update: February 9, 2009 - 11:08 PM

Five years ago the VFW in Lino Lakes had a mortgage-free building, property appraised at more than $2 million and plans to construct a new building to host wedding receptions And other events in his fast-growing community.

Today, the spanking new VFW building stands empty, foreclosed by the bank. A former post member is facing criminal charges in connection with its construction. And the 40-year-old VFW post is bankrupt and stripped of its charter.

The story begins almost a decade ago, when Circle-Lex VFW Post 6583 -- a veterans' club known for its chicken dinners, Friday Lent fish fries and generous charitable giving -- decided to expand in an attempt to boost its earnings. Carpenter, post commander during the 1990s, said "everything was set'' to build a roughly $800,000 addition to the VFW for a new dance hall and other improvements.

The project eventually morphed into something bigger.

Tom Rachel, an investigator for the Anoka County attorney's office, questioned the loan agreement. First, VFW bylaws require the commander, quartermaster and two trustees to sign legal documents, said Rachel, who looked into the project at the request of the VFW. Second, the post was about to be bulldozed, so no revenue would be coming in.

"Where was the VFW supposed to come up with $12,000-a-month payments?'' Rachel asked. "That's why it didn't look proper. The bank really had no risk because if the VFW defaulted, they'd get the building and the property it was on. Plus their other property. And that's eventually what happened.''

Officials at the bank would not comment for this story.

Southridge Construction, then based in Eden Prairie, was awarded the project contract, even though it was not bonded, and six companies offered lower bids, a county investigation showed. But the owner did know VFW member Gerald (Jerry) Russell Peterson of Roseville, reports said.

Peterson, in turn, ran a company that sold steel frames for buildings, and the new VFW became one of his clients.

During the months ahead, problems with the steel frame delivered to the site delayed construction and cranked up costs, a county investigation showed. There were more than 40 construction change orders by the time the project was finished. Meanwhile, more than a dozen subcontractors were not being paid for their work, so the post wound up with $528,000 in mechanic's liens against the VFW's property for unpaid labor or materials, according to the VFW's bankruptcy attorney.

Soon the goal of getting a new dance hall had a price tag of more than $2 million.

The VFW finally reopened in its spacious new building on Lake Drive in 2006, with the new dance hall, dining room and bar. But its cash-flow still couldn't meet the $12,000 loan payments. It declared bankruptcy by the end of the year, and Community National Bank foreclosed on the property in 2007. A former subcontractor purchased the property for $1.5 million in 2008. The new furniture and appliances -- even the sinks -- were stripped from the building and sold.

Peterson, the steel frame supplier, blames the VFW membership for its problems. He said infighting and incompetence among the VFW members is the real cause of the mess.

Peterson was charged in November with tax-related felonies in Ramsey County in connection with the project. Because of that, he did not want to comment further. Felony theft charges against him for failure to pay two subcontractors were dropped by Anoka County in October. It could not be proved that one of the subcontractors actually had a contract with Peterson, and Community National Bank resolved its civil lawsuit with the other one, according to court files.

[VFW members] want to know more about loan practices at Community National Bank, whose branch bank in Ramsey is the subject of a 2007 federal investigation for bank fraud in connection with the ill-fated Ramsey Town Center. Several bank officials now under federal investigation had worked at the Lino Lakes bank, according to court documents.

The veterans also want to know why Southridge Construction, which is no longer in business, overspent its original bid by so much.

"It's absolutely a nightmare,'' added Rachel. "Was this by design? There's no way to say that for sure. You need to have proof beyond reasonable doubt. But there are a lot of unanswered questions.''

Jean Hopfensperger • 651-298-1553

Three thoughts -

First, while "Peterson" is a common Minnesota name, there was a "Peterson" who was an officer at the North Branch outlet which financed Bruce Nedegaard and his Ramsey Town Center, LLC, venture with the remaining property in foreclosure by the banks that participated in Community National Bank's syndication of the Nedegaard financing to spread the risk. There is an Anoka County lawsuit pending, and the foreclosure amount is $35 million, probably well more than the remaining Town Center land is worth. My understanding, which might be incorrect, is that there was an exclusionary power created by Nedegaard and his LLC in favor of Community National, so that no other bank could open in Town Center, and that Jim Deal [or PSD, LLC] acquired that power about the time Martinson left the Bank to work for Deal [or his LLC], and that is the cause for delay and litigation in Bank of Elk River opening a branch in the Coborn's store, in Ramsey Town Center. I wish they would get their act together, the pack of them, so we could have a convenient Bank of Elk River branch there, where we in Ramsey shop.

The second thought - There's an error in the Strib item, not important to the main story, in that the Ramsey Town Center financing was through the North Branch office of Community National Bank - while the operation has no branch in Ramsey.

The third thought - How is the situation further complicated due to a bank acqusition, per the below excerpted East Central Minnesota Post Review story by Patrick Tepoorten, [with that paper being part of the ECM community newspaper chain]?

I believe from context the story was reported around Sept. 5, 2008, and have an email in to reporter Tepoorten for confirmation. He reports:

Community National Bank (CNB), the North Branch financial institution that has been besieged by legal problems for more than a year, has been acquired by Peoples National Bank (PNB) of Mora [... according to] CNB interim president David Cleveland in a press release issued by PNB.

PNB currently has locations in Aitkin, Brainerd, Crosby, and Mora, and the acquisition of CNB - its first such acquisition since 1995 - will spread offices to North Branch, Lino Lakes, and Vadnais Heights.

Community National Bank was thrust into the spotlight when federal agents served a search warrant there in June of 2007.

It was later revealed that CNB and at least one officer, William Sandison, was under federal investigation for bank fraud in regard to the bank’s role in a failed Ramsey development called Ramsey Town Center.

Also revealed was a host of civil suits against CNB and former officers William, Ross, and Curtis Sandison, Jerome Peterson, and CNB subsidiaries Pentagon Credit and Powerhouse Title.

In the civil suit, brought by several branches of Minnwest Bank, it is alleged that pertinent facts surrounding a $7 million loan participation agreement between CNB and Minnwest were not disclosed. Included as non-disclosures was developer Bruce Nedegaard’s legal difficulties - a 2004 guilty plea for bank fraud - and a litany of issues with the development and other financial dealings.

Another bank, Northeast Bank, filed its own civil lawsuit against CNB and officers, Pentagon, and Powerhouse, earlier this spring, over a $35 million loan.

In September of last year, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued a consent order calling for what amounted to a complete overhaul of the bank’s business practices. It was relatively shortly thereafter that CNB hired Cleveland.

It was reported in Minneapolis/St. Paul business journal this spring that CNB had “shrunk” for nine consecutive quarters, and had finished 2007 with a $723,000 loss.

According to the civil attorney for CNB’s former officers Mark Larsen, the bank itself and its current officers are not a target in the federal investigation, which is ongoing.

The bank is a defendant in civil lawsuits but it is unclear at this time to what degree the bank would be responsible were any penalties to be issued. Neither PNB Chairman of the Board Jon Gorman or Cleveland could be reached for comment as of Friday afternoon (Sept. 5).

Larsen, who said civil matters concerning CNB could take years to iron out, maintains that neither the bank or it’s former officers committed any wrongdoing.

The acquisition of CNB awaits approval of banking regulators, which is expected yet this year. [approval, presumably by now, attained]

UPDATE AND CLARIFICATION: PNB's Gorman commented Friday regarding the acquisition, saying it involves only the North Branch office. The Lino Lakes and Vadnais Heights branches of CNB will continue to be owned and operated by CNB. Regarding possible civil penalties against CNB that PNB might be subject to as a result of the acquisition, Gorman said, "We've taken every precaution to prevent that."

With the troubled North Branch outlet thus reportedly severed from the [now] reportedly troubled Lino Lakes outlet, questions of what common leadership exists where are cloudied.

Also, you have to wonder in times of bank credit crisis, where writing down a bank's asset portfolio can lead to inadequate capitalization, whether banks in general or in particular are squeezing their good and solvent long-term credit customers in order to raise cash flow, because in these times changing bank credit relationships and standing to elsewhere is most difficult due to the generally severe global "credit crunch."

Whether it's happening or not is speculative, without actual evidence, but the potential for such extreme abuse is there, given the difficulty one wanting to change banking relationships might now experience, if needing sound and ongoing credit to operate a business and/or a household.

It would be an awful added pinch, possibly, in times that pinch us all.

I say, kick them in the Bumstead if they're up to any such mischief, each of them, all of them, if it is so. Using times of general credit crisis to squeeze individuals would simply be unjust. Perhaps unlawful. It should be.

This Google, gives interesting links, and because of a link I could not first get to open right in the return list, here, I opened the Google HTML item, here. Also of interest, the main player [aka the deep pocket] of the Community National Bank's North Branch management and ownership cabal might be Jerome Peterson, per who signs the consent document with the Fed, see here. Finally, because of the adverse news attaching to the trade name "Community National Bank," it is worth noting that an apparently wholly-unrelated bank felt it had cause to change names to avoid confusion and possible derivative ill-will; see here.

It would probably be news if the "Jerome Peterson" who appears to be a key player with the bank, and the "Gerald (Jerry) Russell Peterson" mentioned in the Strib reporting share any kinship. Again, with "Peterson" being so common a name, investigation would be needed before kinship could be proven and I have not investigated the question. I leave that to news outlets, or the Anoka County Attorney, the prosecuting authority mentioned in the Strib reporting.

_________FURTHER UPDATE________

This can get to be like "Who's on first base," routine, or this image from here or here. A doll inside a doll inside a doll, and they all look alike but not quite the same in size or other detail. Start with the sale of the North Branch outlet to another banking chain, but not the Lino Lakes or Vadnais Heights branches.

Who in the situation has a binding consent decree with the Fed, and where are they located - and are they a valid and current corporation? As noted, the online decree was signed by Jerome Peterson, as head of the bank holding company, signatures dated 9 Dec. 2008; but which banks and ownerships were bound and for how long, were the signing holding company to go defunct?

Why ask?

Here's what the 9 Dec. 2008 caption below the signature page [p.5, here] says: COMMUNITY INVESTMENT SERVICES, INC. -- By: Jerome B. Peterson, President, with p.4 of that agreement saying "all communication regarding this Agreement shall be sent to: (a) [... the Fed's contact]; (b)Mr. Jerome B. Peterson, President, Community Investment Services, Inc., 5481 St. Croix Trail, North Branch, MN 55056." That's the street address of the North Branch bank.

The problem, if only that branch has been sold to another operation, is it correct to have the holding company of the bought-out venture using that address still while ostensibly not owning/operating/controlling that bank at that physical location? See this screen shot from a Google:

Add to it the confusion by the Minneosota Secretary of State's records showing the signing bank holding company is a corporation in good status only through 2008, last year, and not into or through 2009.

Dolls inside of dolls. Who runs the site at 5481 St. Croix Trail, North Branch, what is Jerome Peterson's role at that address, and who runs the Lino Lakes and Vadnais Heights sites, from where?

Interestingly, that last site, bottom line, has a "Bank Regulator" link, to here. That must be a requirement the feds imposed as part of reaching a consent. Yet the Comptroller's site differs with the Fed's, and if some violation of the consent decree happens, shouldn't notice go to the Fed, per the p.4 contact instructions, see it, here? What's up?

Are regulators, county attorneys, and the public being misled, when the web still contains info such as here, screen shot below, claiming all three branches remain affiliated? Ostensibly with aggregated financial data given:

What holding company in good and current status as a Minnesota corporation registered with the Secretary of State runs the North Branch site; and ditto for the Lino Lakes and Vadnais Heights locales? What successorship situation, if any, binds whom or what entities, to the decree signed with the Fed, if the signing corporation has been allowed to go defunct? Who would you sue, who would you serve? A can of worms, inside the smallest of the dolls? Why that uncertain? Go figure. Who is happier, possibly, with such uncertainties?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Memory Lane - Paul Wellstone's Senate speech opposing Iraq war venturing - three weeks before his plane went down giving Norm Coleman the Election.

MPR reported, and here's the screenshot; Oct. 3, 2002. Click to enlarge:

Here's MPR's click-to-listen link.

Message to Al Franken - get that weasel out of there.