August 2007

Censored Again!

Anderson County government is again selectively blocking websites from County computers, but only those where content might be found that certain officials deem politically disagreeable.

Two days ago, I praised them for removing the block, but it must have been an accident.  This morning, I’m blocked again, as is BullMoose and Atomic City Talk.  My speculation for the reason is that all three of these have been home to some discussion about double-dipping on the County payroll, critique of the Budget Director (Gail Cook) for refusing to release to County Commission a list of all County employees who are paid out of multiple pay codes, possible insurance contract kickbacks, etc.

In my view, that’s a reasonable topic for public discussion.

Personally, I’m tempted to contact Lewis Cosby — the retired CPA who recently undertook a review of problems in Knox County — and see if he might be interested in digging into Anderson County’s records as well.  The guy could quickly develop a reputation of being the taxpayer’s Superman.

I’ll say it again: if the County deems it necessary to ensure productivity by blocking non-work-related websites, so be it.  But if they’re going to do so, they ought to be blocking ALL non-work-related sites, including those owned by County Mayor Rex Lynch’s direct reports for personal profit.

Unblocked!

I just got word that Anderson County employees have regained a little freedom in their online reading.  A few weeks ago, several local sites were selectively blocked from county computers, including Citizen Netmom, Bull Moose, Atomic Tumor and Atomic City Talk that I know of.

To block nonessential sites from the workplace, while a bit draconian, is entirely within the employer’s rights.  Acting to keep government employees from wasting time on non-work activities is okay too, so long as it’s equitably administered — i.e., all similar sites are blocked. 

That isn’t what was happening at Anderson County, though.  While Atomic City Talk was blocked, the Oak Ridger forum was not, with the key difference being that there was a thread on ACT that might be construed as critical of certain local officials, while Mushroom Cloud was sucking up over at the other place.  It was blocking based upon political opinion, not conserving time.  At the same time, three local blogs were blocked, while at least one county employee’s personal promotional site is not.

In any case, we’re back online.  Thanks to whomever pulled the plug on that bad idea.

Global Warming?

Punk HP raised an interesting topic Saturday evening, as he captained a delightful moonlight cruise.  Maybe it was the moonlight sparkling like diamonds off the surface of the lake that brought the topic to mind, but it’s certainly thought-provoking.

There’s been much uproar over Putin’s claim to the arctic circle, due primarily to the wealth of natural resources including oil, natural gas, and diamonds.  But wait — those are all fossil fuels and carbon derivatives, meaning that they were formed from decayed organic matter very long ago.

This would seem to indicate that at some point, millions of years ago, there were plants and animals in the arctic circle.  Although there is life in the arctic, it isn’t plentiful — seemingly not enough to generate these large deposits of carbon-based natural resources.

There seems to be evidence of prehistoric global warming.  Since there were no cars, no CFC-powered spray cans or coolant, or the myriad other things said to cause global warming, could it be that this is simply part of the earth’s natural cycle?  And if it is, does anybody really think we can stop it?

Hot Topic

Should school start after Labor Day to avoid the heat-induced problems faced this year?

Some people think so.

The reason that most school systems have adopted calendars beginning in mid-August (or earlier) is to allow students to complete the first semester before winter break.  Many systems have also incorporated a Fall break in between the first and second grading periods; here in Oak Ridge we began last year offering a 1-week  Fall break in late October, and the response from parents and students has been overwhelmingly positive.

As our society has changed over the past several decades and extended families tend to live further apart, it is increasingly important to offer long enough breaks over traditional holiday times to allow for travel.

However, we must also meet the required number of days per year, and student attendance grows more important with the addition of higher standards and increasing course loads.  30 years ago, school started later in Oak Ridge, but summer break did not begin until midway through June.  In terms of comfort levels, June is decidedly cooler than late August, but that eliminates the ability to finish the first semester prior to Christmas.

Any thoughts?

If you’re gonna “just say no…”

I thought about liveblogging tonight’s Council meeting, but I’ve settled instead for watching it from the comfort of my bed.

Everyone in Woodland seems happy about the recent police roundup of crackheads, but too many are just as exercised, breathlessly decrying the "encroachment" of business into our community.

We said NO to a new, upscale shopping center that would have provided a nice accent to our quality of life. We said NO to growing our tax base, keeping more of our sales tax dollars at home. Tonight, it seems like a fair number of Woodlandites have turned out, pre-written speeches in hand, to say NO again.

Sadly, the proposed hotel would be far nicer, far more upscale than any of the adjacent homes. Let’s hope Council shows some backbone and votes, like the Planning Commission, unanimously in favor of Shalish Patel’s Holiday Inn Express.

Jane Miller moves approval, which was seconded. Tom Hayes asks about the center turn lane (Jerry Kuhaida’s referenced "suicide lane"), which does indeed carry traffic in both directions. It does that regardless of whether or not the hotel is approved.

Ellen Smith says she intends to vote against it, but proceeds to ask a number of questions anyway — about sidewalks, about construction access (which will be off Illinois Ave, not through Woodland), about whether the landscaping will be on the hotel’s property, elevation drawings, etc. A lot of questions, from someone whose mind is already made up?

If you’re gonna say no, don’t be unhappy when no business wants to even look in our direction. Don’t complain that your only choice is Wal-Mart. Don’t gripe if all our rowers end up staying (eating, spending their money) in Knoxville. And please, don’t gripe when your only neighborhood business is the crack dealer.

The rezoning passes 4-3, with Golden, Mosby, and Smith voting no.

“Can I have the keys?”

The more restrictive teen driving laws enacted six years ago aren’t working.  Actually, the death toll has risen rather than being reduced.

From the News-Sentinel:

Studies show that strongly restricting teen driving privileges leads to a 25 percent drop in teen driving death rates because stringent laws protect teen drivers from their own deadly mistakes.

Tennessee uses a graduated driver’s license system, where teens gain more driving privileges with age and experience, but some experts say it may not be restrictive enough.

Among the recommendations by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is to set the learner’s permit age at 16 rather than 15 as it is in Tennessee.

I’ve taught three children to drive now, and there have been no serious incidents.  We’ve had a couple of parking-lot paint scrapes, but nothing even remotely dangerous.  They’ve all learned on a standard transmission (stick shift), all driven at night, in the rain, and the older two have snow experience.  Gamma will too, after this winter, because there’s always snow at Grandma’s house between November and March.

I’m a firm believer that more practice (with a parent in the car) makes a better driver.  If it were up to me, I would allow a learner’s permit at 14 — two years of learning to drive before the license was granted.  I’d also drop the restriction on having more than one sibling in the car, for one simple reason: siblings overwhelmingly rat each other out.  They just do.

*  *  * 
There’s an odd thing, though; it seems like a lot of kids today don’t look forward to driving, and delay getting the learner’s permit, license, and the whole deal.  I don’t understand it, and haven’t seen it in my own kids… but I do know of several others who have little or no interest in learning to drive.

It’s a little scary to think of that many teens delaying the permit, shortening the learning period… and yet, you know that many will receive new or nearly new cars.  I don’t have any stats, but it’s been my observation that a new or expensive car in the hands of a 16 year-old is just asking for a serious accident, while something old and cheap is excellent insurance that any collisions will be of the insignificant, hardly-scratch-the-paint variety.

*  *  *
I do wonder how many Tennessee school systems have dropped Driver Education over the past six years, due to budget constraints.  Oak Ridge did.  Knox County did.  Might the rise in teen driving deaths be due to less instruction and practice?

HVAC for Dummies

For those who haven’t had to put up with me in person over the last 3 weeks or so, my air conditioner has been on the blink.  That makes me cranky.

No, I didn’t call a repairman; I already know that I need a new system (this one’s 15 years old).  I’m just not prepared to spend the $8k-$10k it would cost to replace it right now.  We had it recharged in June and it worked for several weeks, so I’m fairly sure there’s a leak.  That, and the last serviceman who took it apart did a sloppy job of putting it back together, so the insulation was all torn up and not sealing the unit, such that it was sucking in hot outside air and mixing it with the cooled air to blow in the house.

Over the weekend, HWTFM borrowed a recharge kit (some gauges and a tank of R-22 refrigerant) from a friend, and taught himself a little something about HVAC systems.  [Reason #457 why it’s good to be married to a farm boy/engineer

We now know, for example, that the vapor point of freon is about 100 degrees, so putting the tank in a bucket of hot water greatly assists in getting the last bit of freon out of a less than fully-pressurized tank.  We know that the coils are probably a little dirty and less than fully efficient, because the pressure differential between the "low side" and the "high side" was off just four or five pounds — not enough to call for a $$$ triple-digit repair, knowing that we’re going to replace it anyway next spring.

We’ve also figured out that it would probably be a good idea to put in an auxiliary duct fan on the west side of the house, because the HVAC system is on the east side, but the kitchen is always too hot in the summer with those west-facing windows.

My family’s gotten tired of the "if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen" philosophy, since I’ve refused to cook on a good number of these recent nights.  A gas stove is a lovely thing in January, but not when it’s 95 degrees inside.

Do-it-yourself home repair isn’t for everyone, but for us, there’s significant satisfaction in learning how stuff works.

Tidbitz

No cash for Ophelia: thankfully, there is a judge in Memphis with some sense.

There’s something unethical about these required ethics classes for lobbyists.  It’s just the latest in a long line of what appears to be profiteering from required training or testing that seem to yield little value.  Is there something magical about charging $150 for a class or test required by the state (especially one where the participants feel like they didn’t get anything out of it, and couldn’t even have a cuppa joe to keep them awake)?

A candidate’s worst transgression (the last of many, it seems) loses him a vote (tip: Kleinheider).  As more people switch to cell phones in place of landlines, this could really impact polling and politicking.  Already, polls are skewed toward the older voter, who is more likely to 1) have a landline, 2) not screen their calls, and 3) be home to answer it.  I do realize that older citizens are more likely to vote than their younger counterparts, but that could change — and when it does, tactics will have to change with it.

Happy Thursday (for those of us on a 4×10 workweek: Functionally Friday)!

Mark this day…

Nineteen years ago today, I gave birth to a beautiful 7 lb. 1 oz. baby girl.  I knew virtually nothing about babies, as I was just four when my youngest sister was born and hadn’t been charged with much responsibility for her care.

It seems like it was just a few months ago.  Somehow, we muddled our way through it, learning along the way. 

Today, she came home with the news that she’s engaged to be married.  The date isn’t set yet, but it will be sometime after both obtain Bachelor’s degrees — probably a little under three years from now.

Truthfully, if I could have chosen a son, Mathman would have been my pick; he fits right in with this family, and most especially, with Alpha.  They spent the summer apart, with Alpha taking a class, working at Y-12 during the week, and at Pet Supplies Plus on the weekends.  Mathman was at Texas A&M on a research fellowship. 

They went through a few cell phone minutes over those 2 months, but seem just as content together as ever.  After dating for two years, they’re quite comfortable together.

So, I guess I’ve got a couple of years to procrastinate on making the wedding dress.   Alpha’s the child who always wanted her dresses custom-made, so I know there’s no getting out of that one.  She’ll design it, pick out the fabrics, and turn it over to me.

Nineteen years ago, I was trying to figure out how to change a diaper, put clothes on a wiggly little doll, and trying to figure out how to be a good mother.  On the day we brought her home, HWTFM held her upright on his chest as he lay in bed, teaching her the alphabet.

I remember laughing at him then, but not now.  Somehow over the years, we got something right.

Time to weep a little now.

Stargazing

For an hour and some this evening, Mother Nature provided an enjoyable show via the Perseid meteor shower.

Alpha, Mathman and I found the outfield at Big Turtle Park an acceptable viewing location. Not great — there are streetlights on the turnpike, in the parking lot, and otherwise nearby — but it was the best place we could find close to home.

The narrowing of our viewing area provided another educational example, as the cooling night air after midnight brought about a rising fog over a low lying field and stream to our east. It was not like the nights over Northern Michigan (which has several times the number of visible stars simply due to clearer air and less light pollution), but it was a lovely show nonetheless.

One more for the list of great things to do at no cost whatsoever.

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