Is this where my FEMA tax dollars are going?

I just received this in the mail and I can’t decide if it’s some insurance companies pretending to be represented by FEMA or if FEMA is shilling for the insurance companies. I didn’t really think it was the job of our esteemed government agencies to arbitrarily recommend insurance companies to us.

Regulate, maybe. Rate, perhaps. But, in spite of the disclaimer (last image below), this seems like outright endorsement to me.

What do you think?

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Envelope from FEMA

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First part of message on over-long paper

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Second part of message with David Maurstad’s signature on it

Relative sizes of our planets and various stars

[Update 2009 12 22 – It was just pointed out to me that the domain under which this is hosted belongs to an idiot. While I have my own views about the amount of attention and assistance the Jewish people get from our media and government, the owner of this website is completely over the top.

This does not take away from the scientific relevance of this astronomy page. End Update]

For some great pictures showing the relative sizes of our solar system’s planets as well as some contrasting the size of our sun with that of other stars out there, click here.

Advertisements in Podcasts

As podcasting begins to mature, it is only natural that some folks will work to profit from it. I think, for the near future, the vast majority of podcasts will remain free. But for those that move into the commercial realm, they face the daunting task of finding a monetization model that will be acceptable to users who have absolute control over their listening (and viewing, for videocasts) devices.

Some profit models will simply be that you need to pay to subscribe and be done with it. This is challenging as, with so much content available out there for free, there will have to be very compelling content for folks to pay for it up front like that.

The most probable model will fall back to advertising. The targetted demographics of podcasting are astounding. An audience that has actually made the effort go seek out particular content, download it and then listen to it. TV of old with its “elephant gun” approach to advertising (we have x million folks watching our (one of three competing) station, they’re loosely in this demographic so hopefully we can convince advertisers to sell stuff with us), was somewhat successful and it was the best model available for a long time.

I was watching “Star Trek” (the ancient series) on G4 a couple of nights ago and was pretty amazed how tightly focused the advertising was.

But the thing I have been finding with the podcast advertising is that they haven’t clued in yet that the advertisements need to be as entertaining as the content. Listening to a daily show with the exact same ad every day will have you skipping the ad in no time flat. As with radio and TV, especially with TIVO, if the ads are not engaging they will not be viewed. Even if folks do not outright skip the ads with a flip of the finger – there is legislative and technological bumbling to try to prevent such making its way through their courses now – in this era of “continuous limited attention” folks will simply tune out the drivel and focus on their laptop, their blackberry, that other channel, that magazine in front of them. In short, you can no longer force folks to pay attention to content that they don’t wish to.

With more entertainment and diversions available to us than ever before in the history of this planet, people are not going to waste their time with what does not appeal to them.

July 4th from the Air

Mich, Robbie, one of our friend’s kids, and I spent part of this past July 4th enjoying the view of the dozens of fireworks displays from the vantage point of a rental airplane.

The weather up North (Pennsylvania and the Northeastern states) was stormy and there were some storm systems to our West but none of these were going to affect us in the time frame I wanted to be in the air. However there was a ceiling at 11,000 feet and scattered clouds in the area at about 4,000 and 6,000 feet. There were also thunderstorms and light rain showers in the area, but according to the weather reports, none that seemed near us.

We took off from Briscoe field shortly after some of the displays began and travelled North toward lake Lanier. The cloud cover kept us pretty low (at about 3,000 feet) but that was ample to keep us safe.

To our left as we departed runway 25 was a grand display that was probably Lawrenceville’s official fireworks show.

There were dozens and dozens (perhaps even hundreds) of little residential fireworks displays to be seen scattered across the myriad neighborhoods that we flew over.

I did not see the grand display of fireworks over Lake Lanier but I did notice that the cloud cover seemed to be increasing more rapidly than expected over the lake so I decided to head South toward Atlanta’s displays instead. We could see several other major displays taking place as we headed downtown. While en route I started to notice some buffeting, which is unusual for night flying, and then we saw Mother Nature’s own fireworks display. Off in the distance there were some spectacular lightning strikes going on. So we knew that one of the warned-about thunderstorms was not only nearby, but approaching our area.

180 degrees and a landing later we got the first drops of rain while I was tying down the airplane.

I found out, after the fact, that the Phipp’s Plaza and Centennial park displays did not happen that night. I haven’t researched whether they did the shows early or cancelled them altogether.

But in the brief time we were up we *did* get to see far more than I ever get to see on the ground watching a single show. And I cannot tell you how amazing it is to see all the little shows going on as far as you can see in every direction. Picture the landscape of the movie “Blade Runner” (one of my all time favorite movies).

Longevity and the Human Condition

I’m having a back-and-forth with one of my friends and thought I’d share some pieces of it for perusal and maybe some discussion.

One Hand: I’ve read from several sources that with a healthy lifestyle, it is actually natural and normal for human beings to reach the age of 120 (the people of Okanawa are a good example). But how practical would that be on a large scale? As long as the western world is polluting the air, water and food, eating processed food, not exercising, creating stress in the pursuit of status and material gain etc. the extension of human life will only be achievable artificially and where is the quality of life in that? What would be the point? Can people even afford to live to 100 and beyond? What would it do to our economy? I don’t know what the current situation is in the US, but the Canadian medical establishment is on the verge of collapse because the cost of medical care is so extravagently expensive. Add to that a large population of centenarians needing replacement body parts, organs etc., how is it possible to sustain? Certainly an interesting subject to ponder.

The Other Hand: I have to disagree that the artificiality you cite as being necessary to the extension of human life would be a bad thing. How natural are antibiotics? Or living inside of heated dwellings with clean running water?

I read an interesting article about a year or so ago where a fellow with “Doctors without Borders” was working with folks in very remote locations where “modern” life had not yet encroached. Very contrary to his expectations he found that valium was a popular drug being dispensed there. It seems that stress and anxiety was a normal part of life out there, at rates very comparable to what we first-worlders experience. The only difference being the foci of the problems.
I think we can all relate, look at how worked up children get over simple things. They have no taxes, no job obligations, yet their concerns and worries are as real to them as ours are to us. I would put it to you that folks are either anxious or they are not. It is part of the human condition and very likely always will be.

I agree with the considerations that you raise about increased longevity. But don’t forget we’ve already dealt with many of these issues before as the average lifespan has been steadily increasing decade by decade. It’s now just a question of degree. Other cultural shifts have just as much potential for messing up actuarial tables. One that comes to mind immediately are partners in lesbian couples that can now benefit from each other’s pension and health schemes. I see many rate-setters scrambling to come up with revisions to such plans to keep them viable in the light of such new reality.

I recall that, in the 70s, there were dire warnings that the planet would never be able to support X billion people and we’d all starve in the early 2000’s if not sooner. Technology has a brilliant way of putting the lie to such doomsaying and I suspect that is a trend that will only continue.

I have a fixed confidence that both human civilization and the biosphere are much more incredibly robust than we allow ourselves to conceive. There will always be tragedy and problems on a small scale, but the larger context will end up accommodating and even booning from the break with old patterns.

Jeep Thoughts

I saw a picture of my old jeep pop up on my screensaver and thought I’d post a few pictures of it as a tribute. I only had the jeep for a couple of years, but I did enjoy it.

It also made me appreciate my Honda cars a lot more too! 🙂

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These are pictures of Mich and I on one of the North Georgia mountains on a fun weekend trip.

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Overly somber pose by me travelling through one of Georgia’s towns

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Wisteria hunting with Mich so she could take pictures. You don’t see her in any of these since she insisted on taking all the photos!

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Here we were out doing a “pre-jeeping” trip on Rich Mountain with a fellow called Jay Bird who was introducing us to a local jeeping club. Yes, that’s mud and water and yes, we had to keep our feet on the drain holes in the floorboard to keep the water from pouring in!