I wrote a bit ago about the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign‘s efforts to get an ad on a bus here in Bloomington.  The message on the ad: “You can be good without God”.  As I stated previously, I really like this message… it’s positive, it’s not insulting, not even condescending, a great example of the kinds of things I look for to say “I’m proud of what I believe, but I’m not trying to crack on people who believe differently.”

Much to my surprise (and, I think, many others’), Bloomington Transit rejected the ad, citing their ad policy which says that they may reject any ad they feel is ‘too controversial’.  Controversial?  It’s not like what the same campaign is now running in Chicago: “In the beginning, Man created God“.  Now THAT’s controversial… that’s getting in someone’s face and asking for a fight.  To disagree with “You can be good without God” is to assert that every non-Believer, now and throughout time (say, Marie Curie), is/was not good.  Now, I mean, maybe you just don’t believe that anyone can really be good, and in a purist sense, I wouldn’t argue with that.  I’m sure everyone who’s ever lived has done something unsavory.  But, somehow I don’t think that’s the “controversy” here.

Anyway, the ACLU filed suit in support of the campaign, and apparently Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan didn’t want the City’s legal department defending the case, so it was eventually dropped, and it looks like the ads will be showing up soon on a bus near me.  Cool.

Ok, so then yesterday I learn about a similar drama playing out in Des Moines, Iowa.  The Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers ran an ad on buses with this message: “Don’t believe in God?  You are not alone.”  Wow, now that’s really unoffensive.  I mean, that’s basically just saying “not everyone believes in God”, although admittedly with an added connotation of “it’s ok, and let’s support each other.”  I guess it’s that hint of “it’s ok” that led to an “overwhelming” number of complaints about the ads, which the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) cited when they took down the ads!  There’s already talk that the ads may be coming back, although aparently DART “has asked the atheist group to submit a new advertisement for consideration”.

So, the question is: how uncontroversial can you get?  What could the group possibly think of that’s LESS controversial than what was already running?  I honestly have trouble thinking of anything that might be more palatable to the presumptive complainers.  Maybe: “According to many passages in the Bible, non-Believers are all going to Hell.  But we still live in a country that allows us to speak freely and to peaceably assemble.  So, if you don’t believe in God, consider visiting”.  Any other ideas?

Dear Mr. President,

I know, you said you weren’t going to, but… go ahead, Veto that bill.

Sorry that I’m writing you so late, but what can I say, there wasn’t much time.  And there still isn’t, so I’ll be really quick:

  • You ran against politics as usual, and the bill is totally politics as usual.  The party in power (it’s not just Dems, it’s whoever’s in power) throws in earmarks.  Nobody likes it.  You don’t like it.  So, just send it back, and say “pass me a bill without these earmarks”.
  • The congressional Dems are not going to have a standoff over this.  They are not going to turn to their constituents and say “we crafted a great bill and the President vetoed it, but we know that something needs to pass, so we’re just going to keep sending it to him as is.”  They’ll follow your lead, and they’ll follow it quickly.  They’d get a much better bill back to you before the end of the week.
  • Congressional Republicans will think “Wow, maybe Obama’s bipartisan rhetoric ISN’T just all talk.”  They’ll be thrilled, at least publicly.  In private, they might worry that you’re stealing a bit of their thunder, because it’ll be MUCH easier for them to pick up congressional seats in 2010 by pointing to a bloated “tax and spend” Democratic spending bill.
  • Democratic citizens will be shocked, but who cares, they love you deeply, and once they get over the surprise that we don’t just have 100% Harmony amongst the powers in Washington, they’ll easily say “well, it’s not like I really *liked* all of those earmarks…
  • Centrist and GOP citizens will cite the veto as a sign that you really are different, you’re not just a partisan, you are going to emphasize fiscal responsibility, Democrat does not just mean “spender”.
  • The press will say things like “unlike his predecessor, President Obama today sent a clear message that he’s willing to Veto bills that are passed by his own party.”

In short, politically, you’ll spend a small bit of political captial with the people who love you the most, and in return you’ll score huge points with everyone else, including the people who are most skeptical of you.  And you don’t even have to look like you’re making deals or compromising your values to do it.  Indeed, by signing it you WOULD be compromising your stated values somewhat.  A clear winner.

But really, you should veto it because you actually *do* *care* about fiscal responsibility, and while I no very little about the details of the bill, the fact that it’s going by the name “Earmark-Laden” in all the press is certainly not an indicator that it has anything to do with fiscal responsibility.  The stimulus bill was where you had justification for big spending, and whether or not everyone agrees, everyone does know that that’s not going to happen every year.  This bill is different, this bill represents the long-term for Federal spending.  And it’s not the path you want us to head down.

So, in my humble opinion, sir, Veto that bill.

It’s not officially a State Of The Union™ address, but you can read the prepared remarks or watch a video of the delivery thereof all from  I don’t know if that’s an Obama administration original or not, but I LOVE that the Whitehouse is making information directly available to people like that.  Anyway, here are some reactions to the speech, in “bullet list” style to try to keep me from being too verbose:

  • Obama is smoothly referring to the deficit as something “we’ve inherited”.  I’ve long said that the Dems should take the GOP to task for spending so much for the 6 years they were in total power in Washington.  This isn’t exactly it.  And, since the Dems control congress, they can’t really blame it all on Bush. Indeed, I thought Bobby Jindal speech was actually more direct about calling the Republicans failures on fiscal discipline. (In general I found Jindal’s speech to be intelligent, but not very inspiring.)
  • When he says he wants to cut the deficit in half, is he talking about the ~$400 Billion deficit of the budget or the +$trillion deficit of reality?  If it’s the latter, he could cut it in half and still have the second largest deficit in history after the current year.  That is, prior to this year, we never had a trillion dollar deficit, I believe the record was in the $400 billions… so if he cuts it down to $500 billion….?  I may have my numbers wrong, but it seems like there may be a rather unimpressive way to technically meet that goal.
  • He sure is talking about a lot of spending, and even lowering a lot of people’s taxes.  But at the same time cutting the deficit.  How can it be?  Well, one thing is letting the “Bush tax cuts” expire, but that’s not going to make the difference.  What I’m hoping is that he really will go through the budget “line by line” and eliminate programs that aren’t working.  Take, for instance, the war on drugs.  Can anyone say that it’s working?  And it certainly costs a lot of money.
  • I really like his focus on responsibility and accountability in government.  I hope he can carry through on that.  A lot of politicians talk about that kind of thing, but I do feel like he is really more serious about it than most.  I hope I’m right.
  • I also like his focus on accountability and responsibility outside of government.  Republicans have got to love that too… except that they might think that he is stealing their lines… except that they might actually have some effect when he says them.
  • I really don’t think it’s fair to say that the United States is the nation that invented the automobile.  He could have said that we were the nation to turn it from a rich person’s hobby to a near necessity for everyone.
  • Energy, Health Care, and Education.  Democrats are definitely in charge.  I’m skeptical that they’ll be able to succeed at these goals.  But I hope they do.
  • “dropping out of high school is no longer an option.  It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American.”  This is a great example of the kind of thing that I feel like Obama can say in a way that seems like it would actually resonate with an actual young person considering dropping out.  I hope I’m right.  If he could inspire our nation’s under-ambitious youth, he could transform our society in ways that no law ever could.
  • A really dense section of quite specific and often remarkable claims about his upcoming budget:
    • “end education programs that don’t work.”  That could be a lot of programs
    • “end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them”. I had to cheer at hearing this.  I sure hope he accomplishes that, although I don’t know how he can given that the Farm Bill just passed with huge Democratic support.
    • “eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq”, more cheers!
    • “reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use”.  Talk about a place to save money!! Maybe he will be able to spend all that money and still cut the deficit in half.
    • “We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier.” I don’t know much about this, but I can definitely imagine that there could be a lot of fat to trim there.
    • “we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.”  The Dems must love this, although I have to wonder if it’s more symbolic than anything.  Companies aren’t exporting jobs for tax breaks, and I doubt that the tax breaks add up to much.  It’ll still be cheaper to hire people in China or India than in the US, companies will keep doing it.  Having said all that, I do agree with the spirit of the statement that the companies shouldn’t get a tax break for doing it.  But… what exactly is this tax break?  anyone know?

Finally, you’ve got to be impressed by Ruth Bader Ginsberg showing up for work yesterday and staying up to attend tonight’s speech.  She looked kind of dazed to me, though.  I hope she’s doing well.

Well, I finally found an online computer game that suits my personality: NewsFutures.

NewsFutures is just one of many Prediction Markets available online. They come in a variety of flavors, focusing more on sports, Hollywood gossip, financial news, etc. I’m curious about The Popular Science Predictions Exchange, where you can examine the likelihood of questions such as “Will a blood test for breast cancer be released in the U.S. by the end of March?” (presently 50.75%), “Will the Western U.S. suffer a catastrophic water crisis by 2010?” (66.25%), and that question haunting so many of us: “Will a team of androids beat the human World Cup champs at a game of soccer by 2050?” (48% likely).

Whatever their subject matter, these things all have about the same format. You “buy” (usually using a pretend currency) shares that will pay (usually 100 units) if some future event happens, and will be worthless if the event doesn’t happen as specified. In some elections on some markets, shares will pay out the amount of the percentage popular vote of a particular candidate or party… so, if you “buy” a share in candidate X for 50 units, and that candidate earns 52% of the popular vote, you net 2 units.

Exciting, huh?

Well, yes, to some people, including me. The thing is that from that very simple setup, you see extremely accurate predictions. There’s a big debate amongst academics over whether these markets are actually better at predicting elections than polls are. I’m not in a position to even have an opinion on that question, but considering that polling is extremely complex and expensive, it’s remarkable to me that a simple web site and a bunch of self-selecting participants from around the world can even be close in accuracy, let alone possibly better.

Who doesn’t want to know the future? There are many events on which I certainly do want to know, and the upcoming US presidential election is one. Although, I guess it’s more fair to say I want to have a sense of the relative likelihood. So, this is a big draw to me. It also puts an element of fun into listening to news reports and polling data. So, contrary to so many computer games, this one actually encourages me to pay more attention to the news.

I picked NewsFutures mostly because I liked their mix of solid rational approach and usability for average users. Some sites I found I couldn’t even figure out how to sign up, which I take as some kind of indication that they are there only for some “in crowd”. Also, I didn’t want to bet real money, at least not at first (the Iowa Electronic Markets is actually a legal place to play with a small amount of real money). Finally, NewsFutures focuses on news, broadly defined. I’m much more interested in political news than I am in things like sports scores and Hollywood gossip, but you can buy shares in those things too on NewsFutures.

But, who would spend any amount of time playing such a game for fake money? Well, those of us who think it’s fun, of course. And those of us who want to feel like they have a sense of how viable (or not) certain political candidates (or whatever) are… or at least find out if we really do have a good sense of such things or not.

NewsFutures presently claims 19,323 players. I’m presently ranked number 3,340. This is pretty funny, actually, because I’m definitely not in a position where I’d think I’d be above the 80th percentile of players. Almost all of my 12,419 “exchange dollars” (abbreviated “X$”) were given to me through the sites’ program by which people with net worth less than X$20,000 can just get “free X$”, X$1000-X$1500 per day. So, in other words, over 80% of those 19,000 players don’t even bother to play often enough to get all the free fake money they are entitled to. On the other hand, everyone on their “top 1000” board has over X$30,000, so more than 5% of players have played enough (and well enough) to earn a 50% or greater return on their free money.

By the way, the real leaders have WAY more than the rest of us (the present leader presently has a net worth of X$55,697,715). I’m almost positive that most of these earning are coming from “faster moving” markets than these elections. Sporting events are very popular, including trading on outcomes during games! Imagine, there are probably as many NBA games to bet on this week as there will be elections to bet on throughout all of next year! So, I doubt I’ll be among the real leaders at any point.

But I’m fine with that. I like the game I’m playing. I like playing by a very precise set of rules on a bunch of precisely defined outcomes of interest to me. I’ll be curious to see how my status as an NPR junkie stands up to a test.

My biggest complaint is that I’d like there to be way more things to bet on. We’ve got a lot of very important decisions to make regarding the future. To take one example, environmentalism has largely shifted not to environmental problems of the present but to potential problems of the future. I hear countless people making and denying predictions of future events, but I hear very little accounting for how well people have predicted things. I think it’s a good challenge for the information age to keep track of such things, and, with a bit of clever work, fortune telling might start to become more science than pseudo-science.

I got curious about how the whole Radiohead thing had played out when I heard mention of it on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning. Turns out the band is not presently releasing statistics about it. An independent market research company called comScore, though, released this report on how the downloads have played out. They say that 1.2 million people visited the site, a “significant percentage of visitors ultimately downloading the album” (how’s that for market data?). They were willing to be much more precise with the percentages than the totals, though, saying that about 38% of the people who downloaded the album paid something (40% of US downloaders), and the average voluntary payment was $6 ($8.05 for US downloaders).

Anyway, Radiohead released this statement in response:

“In response to purely speculative figures announced in the press regarding the number of downloads and the price paid for the album, the group’s representatives would like to remind people that… it is impossible for outside organisations to have accurate figures on sales.

However, they can confirm that the figures quoted by the company comScore Inc are wholly inaccurate and in no way reflect definitive market intelligence or, indeed, the true success of the project.”

If by “accurate” they mean “exactly correct”, then I agree. However, comScore is being quite open about their methodology and their approach seems sound to me. Good statisticians can be surprisingly accurate, and the band’s unwillingness to publish the statistics themselves don’t inspire me with confidence that comScore is “wholly inaccurate”. Just how far off does one need to be to count as “wholly inaccurate”, anyway? So, needless to say, I don’t know, but if I had to bet, I’d bet that comScore’s data are not far off the mark (I’ll say +- 5%).

Wired’s blog post on the matter seems to miss the “significant percentage of visitors” part of comScore’s report and thus estimates with faulty reasoning that the band netted $2.7 million from the stunt. Without knowing just what this “significant percentage” is, even approximately, then I do think it’s fair to say that estimates of the total are “purely speculative”. However, I’ll go out on a limb and bet that the band netted over $1 million in the first month of the ordeal. I’ll also stand by my previous prediction that over the course of their experiment they will serve up over a million downloads and gross 2-5 million dollars. That, of course, was and is wild speculation. But comScores numbers are similar. A small but very well-known group of people have access to the real answers, and I challenge them to go public with them. But, they know everyone wants to know, and I suspect they like the attention of keeping the secret. It’s certainly their right to do so, but I think it’s kind of lame.

I heard Robert Kuttner interviewed on Fresh Air today, promoting his new book The Squandering of America. Just hearing the title already had me incredulous, and now I’m thinking it’s finally time that I follow suit to Kynthia’s outing of herself and myself as being more libertarian than most of our close friends, and perhaps more Libertarian than Democrat.

That’s a huge topic, though, so I’ll focus on just this interview. Um, America has not been squandered. I suppose Mr. Kuttner thinks it is in the process of being squandered, and I certainly welcome the presentation of his case. But, it’s amazing to me that he presents this case as if it were stating the obvious, rather than an extraordinary claim.

Actually, in the remarkably long excerpt from the book that’s on the Fresh Air page, he talks about squandered standing in the world because of the Bush administration’s dreadful foreign policy, and the squandering of our environment. There are strong cases to be made in these areas, and I (and many libertarians (I’m being very intentional about my capitalization here, by the way)) likely agree with many of his points in these areas. But, as he says, that’s not what his book is about:

“To write about all the ways in which the promise of America is being squandered would require more than one book. This book is about one large dimension: the connection between a precarious economy and a diminished politics.”

Just how precarious is the economy? Well, of course, we’ll only know if/when it collapses. Of course, we’d have to agree that it had collapsed (even Kuttner said in the interview that there wasn’t going to be another great depression, but he did have the courage (sarcasm intended) to predict that we would have a recession sometime soon). And even then, we’ll speculate about why it collapsed. So, it’s really hard to say just how precarious it is.

But, of course, the thing all the lefties are citing right now as why free markets are patently bad is the “subprime mortgage crisis.” Perhaps there is a crisis going on, but I really disagree with the way people like Kuttner and Gretchen Morgenson (also recently interviewed on Fresh Air about the “subprime mortgage crisis”) characterize it. Here’s my take:

  • Interest rates (2002-2005ish) were low
  • Some financial hotshots started experimenting with new ways to lend people money
  • They went looking for people to lend money to
  • Countless middle-to-upper-class people already had mortgages they liked, so they turned to people of lower income and poorer credit ratings (hence “subprime”)
  • A few years later the adjustable rate mortgages are adjusting way up, and the lower-income borrowers can’t afford their mortgage payments anymore. So, there are record numbers of foreclosures.

I suspect that just about everyone agrees with that characterization of things. So, who are the victims of this crisis? The obvious sympathy would go to the borrowers who are facing foreclosure. While my heart definitely goes out to them, these are people who, almost by definition, had no hope of getting a home loan before this bubble. So, it will be difficult for them, and I do not mean to belittle their situation. But in the end, they will end up renting, just like they were before.

This is a good time to distinguish here a related but different practice, the one commonly called predatory lending. To the degree that borrowers were defrauded by people using criminal or unethically misleading methods, they are extremely worthy of protection under the law. Free markets depend on the rule of law, and any libertarian will tell you that fraud should be considered an extremely serious crime.

But, I don’t think that predatory lending accounts for the majority of this “crisis”. I don’t even think it’s that big a chunk. Most of these borrowers were riding a wave of excitement that they might be able to own a home, and the lenders were doing all of their legal and ethical disclosures trying to find potential sources of revenue.

The victims of this crisis are the lenders. But, unlike so many cases, blaming the victim here is entirely appropriate. These companies knew they were dealing with subprime borrowers… how could they forget? The entire practice was known as “subprime lending”. And they did it. A LOT! They literally bet billions of dollars on people they wouldn’t have lent money to just a few years earlier. And, a substantial number of those bets are failing. And, they’re losing money, executives are getting fired, they’re scrambling to keep things running, banks are pooling funds to prepare themselves to bail each other out if necessary. Definitely sounds like a crisis. But my heart does not go out to them. They are reaping their rotten harvest. The fact that none of them are going to end up hungry or homeless does not, of course, make me feel any more pity.

Now, people like Kuttner and Morgenson look at all this and say “you see? if we had more regulation we could prevent crises like this!” They are probably right. But this is where a free-market type says that the market is correcting itself. The people who made bad bets are the ones in crisis.

It’s interesting to compare this all with the other recent “bubble”, which was of course the “dot com bubble”. Morgenson referenced this while she was criticizing Alan Greenspan saying that he “never met a bubble he didn’t like”. Brother. Obviously he didn’t LIKE them (does “irrational exuberance” sound like praise to you?), he just believed that the proper solution was to let the people making bad bets lose. Kuttner and Morgenson would clearly prefer that the bad bets not be placed in the first place. The question in my mind is, which is better: a society where you can make whatever bet you want, but you have to pay for your bad bets; or a society where the government limits the bets you can make?

Who were the “victims” of the Dot Com crash? Mostly people who had invested heavily in dot coms. And actually, it was mostly people who invested heavily late in the game. A friend once joked that if he had a time machine he might tell people not to buy tech stocks during the craze. I said “Are you crazy? The correct message is “sell your tech stocks before March of 2000!” If you bought a NASDAQ index fund on January 1 1999 and sold a year later, you would have made very roughly 100% annual return. But if you bought on January 1 2000 and sold a year later, you’d be very disappointed. By the beginning of 2000, everyone knew this was a bubble. That was a high risk, and people who made it might have lost a lot. Meanwhile, after countless companies folded and a terrorist attack that destroyed one of the most important financial centers in the world, the US experienced a mild recession. Sure, a lot of dot com millionaires were no longer millionaires, but this was not a broad crisis. Indeed, service industries boomed during this period, I suspect many of the lowest-wage workers felt the boom but the bust not nearly so much.

So, coming back to the present, the housing bubble is bursting. Yes, some low-income people are losing their homes, and this is definitely sad. But, they didn’t die, they have some major cleaning up to do, and hopefully they’ll be back to try again someday soon. Meanwhile — and I can’t believe no one talks about this — a substantial number of these subprime loans are not going to fail. That means that a huge number of people who in the 1990s would have been entirely unable to get a home loan will be home owners for the rest of their lives. They should be careful about their mortgage, they should work on negotiating with their lender if they are in trouble (banks hate foreclosing, I believe the financial advisors I’m hearing that are encouraging people to call their lenders and work on restructuring their loans if they are in trouble). Those who succeed should proudly enjoy the home that they have earned the right to call their own. Meanwhile, many of us in the middle class are paying unbelievably low interest rates on our mortgages, locked in when rates were so low. And of course, most of our houses are worth much much more today than when we bought, even in cases where the price has dropped a bit recently.

According to the census bureau, (and this graph in wikipedia) in 1970 the home-ownership rate in the US was just over 64%. From 1985-1994, it was never more than half a percentage point away from 64%. The most recent reported number is 68.2%. That’s down from a year ago, and I bet it will fall more from here. But, I bet it will not be down below 64% again for a long long time. So, amazingly (sarcasm again intended) home ownership will have increased substantially during this “crisis”.

In short, the people who made good bets are doing well. The people who made bad bets are suffering. The left in America reads this as a reason to regulate this process. The free-marketeers are saying “well, the moral of the story is: make good bets, stay away from bad ones.” As to which way things work better, we’ll never know for sure. But I’m with the free-marketeers.

Wow, is this the new thing? Yes, I guess it is, the thing they call  reverse 911. Now I get it.

10:55pm: the phone rings. I figured only a close friend would call so late, I answer:

“This is the Bloomington Police Department”

WOAH! Well, they weren’t after me for any reason, it was a recorded voice, saying they wanted help finding some dangerous man on the loose. I remember some of the description, but I can’t give his name or anything (that was part of the recording). And, worse, I figured there’d be some website you could go to to, say, check the facts again, maybe see a mug shot… Well, if there is, I can’t find it. Seems pretty lame.

Does seem like something is afoot though. I found these two newsy clips about IU police having acquired such a system. I swear this said Bloomington Police, though, and I don’t know why IU police would call out here. On the other hand, the place they said this guy was last sighted was nowhere near my house, so… who knows.

Anyway, a sign of the time, my first reverse 911 call. I wonder how long before I feel ashamed that I didn’t know what it was. :)

Some of you will know I’m not just saying “I thought of it first” when I say that I’ve long thought that a gratuity-based system could be the answer to the woes of the music industry in the era of digital music (the rest of you will just have to take my word for it… or not believe me… I don’t care). The basic question is “how will artists get compensated if music can be downloaded online?” and my proposed answer is “what if it became part of our culture that you paid artists whose music you enjoy?” We voluntarily give money to our waitstaff, often even when we don’t appreciate their service. Why not try something similar with musicians? The worst that can happen is that people don’t choose to pay and we’re right back where we started. Well, that’s a particular point of view. If you’re the RIAA, the worst thing that can happen is the dissolution of your industry.

Anyway, I thought a lot about how to try to make this a reality, but let go of the idea mid-2005 when I found out that it’d been tried before. And that Amazon and Paypal were both flirting with the idea as well. But obviously, it hasn’t really gotten any traction. And the RIAA continues to rule the land of music (with a big, huge, clumsy iron fist, I might add).

Well, now a fresh counterattack from Radiohead, a band that many friends of mine love but that I’ve never taken to, largely for lack of trying. Go to their site, and name your price (as little as one Brittish Penny) and (after October 10) you’re able to download the album. Some see this move as a publicity stunt. I doubt it. I think it’s more them being fed up with Big Label mentality and searching for something new. I predict that their fans will eat it up, I bet they serve up over a million downloads and gross 2-5 million dollars. But of course, even if I’m right, it cannot be denied that they already have a huge fan base, and that most bands would just be penniless voices in the wilderness if they tried this. There’s still a role for someone like the Big Labels. But whoever it is will have to start by acknowledging that the rules of the game have totally changed. The RIAA seems about as likely to do that as they are to start selling wax cylinders again.

So, kudos to Radiohead, I’m tempted to go buy their album just as a sign of support, even though I’ve never been a big fan. But I’m sure feeling like something of a fan at the moment.

Outdoor on the left, Indoor on the rightI don’t have air conditioning. I’m not a big fan of AC, and it’s expensive and uses a great deal of energy. But it does get hot in the summers here in Indiana. For years I’ve done just fine with the heat, but I always knew I was cheating a bit because my workplaces were all air conditioned, so during the worst heat of the day I was in cool comfort.

Well, now that I work at home, that equation changes. I’ve been musing all summer about how I would deal with the bad heat if/when it comes. Up until this week, nothing was a big deal. I never felt challenged. Simple use of window fans kept things quite comfortable, especially for the casual attire that is appropriate in no workplace other than the home workplace.

But, I knew it would get more difficult, and this week is presenting the first challenge. So far, so good. I got a lot of work done today without feeling very uncomfortable at any point. But I’m using just about every trick I can think of:

  • I have a couple of indoor/outdoor thermometers, and although their accuracy is questionable I still base my approach on the simple question: is it warmer inside or outside?
  • At night when it’s cooler outside, I run my exhaust fan with doors configured so that only my main living area gets the benefit.
  • Once it gets warmer outside in the morning, I close all the windows and doors. I keep fans running inside for the evaporative effect, but no fresh air until evening.

So, no magic there, not even anything very clever. And the result? Well it’s been relatively consistent that I can be ten degrees (F) cooler inside at the hottest point of the day outside (see thermometer above). What’s funny after that is that the temperature starts dropping outside, but inside continues to warm up (it’s still warmer outside, right?). So, the worst part of the day is actually the very early evening.

Perhaps more impressive than the 10 degree difference is the range… outside temperature range today was over 20 degrees (25 degrees by my thermometers), but my inside range was under ten degrees. So, the house definitely has a moderating effect. It’d be nicer if I succeeded at getting the overnight low inside. I’ll keep trying.

The last little behavior modification is taking showers late in the day… Nothing like a cold shower to help one feel cooler. And then, there’s the return of the “swimming pool”, which is what my friend Ann called her invention of leaving cold water in a bathtub for when she was ready to relax and cool off.

So, that’s it, I’m feeling good about it. Of course, my ace in the hole is that if it ever gets too much, I’ll just take my laptop to some air conditioned Wifi hot spot and work there. I figure there should be fewer than 10 Bad Heat Days(TM) per year.  I’d say three so far.  Stay tuned!

In my email this morning, from

As someone who has purchased “The Road Less Traveled” or other books on religion and spirituality from, you might be interested to know about these new inspirational books…

Woah! I haven’t purchased “The Road Less Traveled”. I didn’t even know it was about religion at all. I have purchased several books about atheism and religion from the point of view of atheists. So apparently that put me in a category to receive notices about religious books. So I received this list of suggestions, which all sound pretty Protestant at first blush:

  • Faith and Inspiration
  • Transformation Journal
  • Writing Tides: Finding Grace and Growth Through Writing
  • Vessel of Peace: A Guide for Pilgrims of the Spirit
  • Film & Religion: An Introduction
  • A Doubter’s Guide to Heaven: Walking a Path from Doubt to Trust
  • The Eight Blessings: Rediscovering the Beatitudes
  • Strong Was Her Faith: Women of the New Testament
  • Soul Tending
  • Soul Shakers: Inspiring Stories from a Presidential Speechwriter

Of course I don’t really think that Amazon’s computers are trying to convert me, but the thought has to enter your mind when you order books about atheism and are told “you might also be interested in A Doubter’s Guide to Heaven: Walking a Path from Doubt to Trust“. Presumably people who ordered the Qur’ān were put into the same “interested in books about religion” category, I could imagine some of them might be much more offended than I am (I mostly think it’s funny). If I were Amazon, I’d be a bit more careful about this.

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