The Most Fun on Four Wheels? Artic Cat ATV Tough to Beat

First off, let me say that I should be wearing a helmet, but some complex risk assessment told me it was better to wear my safety orange hat and avoid being shot by deer hunters than protect my head from branches (or a fall) with the helmet. Maybe an orange helmet should be my next ATV-related purchase.

I am grinning because I have just negotiated "Suicide Drive" which is one of the trails on our property in upstate New York. I will post a picture of it as soon as I figure out how to take a shot that shows just how steeply it rises from the back of the cabin going about 200 feet almost straight up (okay, not 90 degrees to the horizontal, but I'm going to say 45, at least it feels like that--I will get out the inclinometer next time).

For those who have not tried an All Terrain Vehicle, these things are a blast. Mine is a 400 c.c. Arctic Cat with 4-wheel drive and a mini-pickup bed behind the seat (you can just make out the chain saw in there, useful for clearing trees that have fallen over and blocked the trail).

We purchased this machine at Performance Recreation of Richfield Springs. You couldn't ask for a better dealer. The help and support we have had from them is fantastic. From helping us choose the right machine for our needs, to basic riding lessons, delivery, and super prompt attention to the one minor problem we have had so far (now fixed, no charge, free same-day pickup and delivery). If you are looking for an ATV or snowmobile and are within 100 miles of these guys, it is worth the trip.

The Arctic Cat web site requires IE but is still worth visiting. And their mail catalogues are stuffed with cool accessories. I have a winch which has already proved to be a very good investment. Next up is probably a shotgun/rifle scabbard and rails for the pickup bed to hold more wood. In the meantime I plan to cut some fresh trails to explore the old stone walls we have found. This machine can take you absolutely anywhere if you take it slow and easy, letting you park and explore places you would probably never see if you had to hike in there on foot. Then, when you feel like a kinesthetic kick, find a smooth trail and open her up. By the time you reach 25 m.p.h. you will feel like you are flying.

Ubuntu Moves On

The rest of my experiences with Ubuntu will be appearing on "Cobb on Tech" which is also located on Blogspot at along with other tech stuff.

See you there!

Teach for America: There is much work to be done

I was struck by the truth of this statement by Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America and an evangelist for education reform in low-income areas:
"Six percent of the kids who are growing up in the communities where we were working will graduate from college," says Kopp. "We believe that that issue has to be our generation's civil rights issue."
Based on my work with Dare Not Walk Alone and my experiences in the predominantly black neighborhood of West Augustine, I am inclined to agree. I think there is a whole sector of American society that has been below most folks' radar for the last twenty years or so. These are families, even entire communities, where nobody, not the parents or the kids, has a high school education.

Not that a high school education is, in itself, a great benchmark, but the correlation between graduating high school and "making it" in our society is well established. Yes, you can get by without one, but it is going to take exceptional effort, and the kind of hope that rarely flourishes in this part of our society. And frankly, if it wasn't for hurricane Katrina, I think a lot of Americans would still believe these neglected souls don't exist.

So, I say Wendy Kopp's organization is to be acclaimed for stepping up to this challenge and framing it in these terms. Read the NBC story here.

Cool Firefox Trick: The "get me out of here" option

I have previously posted about the problems of deceptive URLs, one small aspect of the whole phishing industry. I think I have also noted that one of the reasons I like Eudora as an email client is the warnings it provides when a deceptive URL is present in an email message.

Well, on the left you can see a related feature in Firefox, my browser of choice. It's the "get me out of here" option that appears when you have navigated to a suspect web site. I think it was a stroke of interface genius to provide a simple link that says "Get me out of here!" When you click that link you are indeed taken away from the site, to the Firefox home page. If you opt to "Read more" you will reach a nice little tutorial on phishing and the anti-phishing feature in Firefox.

Nice one Firefox!

The Money Gap Gets Wider: Rich Folks Should Start to Worry

After some of the interesting comments on my remarks about a million dollars, I did some digging and found this staggering fact in an interesting piece by Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer, from July:
Last year, the average CEO of a company with at least $1 billion in annual revenue made $10,982,000, or 262 times what the average worker made, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released Wednesday....Put another way, the average worker--who earned $41,861 in 2005--made about $400 less last year than what the average large-company CEO made in one day. That assumes 260 days of pay (52 weeks x 5 days a week).
Now, as a business person who gets some of his business from other business persons, it might be wise of me to keep my thoughts on these numbers to myself. After all, at times I have been hired by companies with at least $1 billion in annual revenues and I might like to work for them again. But 262x?!* Come on! That is just too much. (I'd love to hear from a CEO who truly believes he or she is worth that much.)

To picture the size of this disparity I created the bar chart that you see on the left. The black bar is the average big company CEO income. The red bar, more like a tiny red strip is the average employee's income.

And that 262 is an average. Which means some CEOs are taking home an annual salary of even more than 262 times the annual earnings of the average worker. In all my study of economics and all my years in business, I don't see a way to rationalize that. Sure, a CEO might make some amazing deals and lead the company into huge profits, but what about the employees? Any company doing more than $1Bn a year has to have several thousand employees, some of whom must have helped in the earning of those profits. Spreading the wealth is not only morally right but good business, in the long run.

So, dare I say that CEOs who pocket megabucks lack long term vision? I certainly think there is a good case for saying that sustainable prosperity depends on social equity. Sure, several generations of the mega-rich few may enjoy life conscience-free in the stratosphere of luxury, but how long can that last if the poverty gap keeps gnawing away at social stability?

And yes, I started this blog by saying that $1 million is not what it used to be. But surely there is still such a thing as too much money. I think a salary 262x that of the average worker might be it.

Free Enterprise Security Advice Could Save Thousands in Customer Care Costs

When your company has to notify its customers about a change to online security procedures and decides to use email as part of that notification, make sure that the email message does NOT contain any deceptive URLs. Otherwise the email may confuse a lot of customers who end up contacting your company, putting a dent in the customer service budget and thus the bottom line.

Before you say something like "My company would never use a deceptive URL" be sure you know what deceptive URLs are and how they arise, because they can seem innocent enough. Indeed, I have seen them slip under the quality control radar at big companies like Bank of America and Countrywide that do at least have quality control. Typically a deceptive URL is created by or within html email. Here is an example:

Note that I edited the screen shot above to obscure the name of the company that sent this particular message (about new security measures) and my own email address is also edited to something bogus.

Basically this part of the email is inviting recipients to log in to the company web site. The URL of the site is spelled out rather than just being a click here type link. People often spell out links in order to make it clear to the user where the link leads. In text-only email a URL has to be spelled out in order to work (in most email clients). But the above message is html and so the link text is actually within an href=URL tag. This means that the apparent URL can be different from the actual URL in the link, a fact that phishing scams have been exploiting for years. For example, you might see a link to in a message that appears to be from PayPal, but in fact the link leads to:
both of which are bogus web sites that are in no way connected with the real PayPal.

How do you know where a link goes before you click it? One way is to view the source code of the message, something that is easy enough to do in most email clients (in Eudora, for example, you just right click anywhere within the message and select "View Source"). However, viewing email source, while easy, is laborious, and so a good email client will reveal the URL of a link when you put your mouse pointer over it, then warn you if the link you are about to click is deceptive (i.e. does not match the text of the link). Eudora has this capability and provides further detail like this:
And here you see the problem this poses for an otherwise legitimate company. Good old Countrytom wants you to go to a special page at, but presumably did not want to put that great big [but genuine] URL in the text of the email. So they obscured it but in so doing set off the deceptive URL alarm. As email clients and web browsers get more aggressive in the fight against phishing this sort of thing is likely going to show up more often, thereby confusing more customers. And everyone in enterprise-land knows that more confused customers = increased customer service burden.

So what is the solution. Here is the real money tip in this free security advice: use a simple URL. Could it be that simple? Yes. There is no reason, other than a lack of imagination, for Countrytom to use that great big long URL for a response to email. Sure, marketing would like to track where responses are coming from, and IT might balk at some extra work with redirects and site structure, but a simple phrase and a few lines of code could fix that, as in any of these URLs that could easily appear in the text of the email AND the URL so as not to be branded as "deceptive" by the email client:

None of these strikes me as a turn-off for recipients and I bet they generate less customer confusion than the pesky but otherwise very helpful deceptive URL flag.

The Art of Acting Means Being Different People

Yes, these two people are the same person, my cousin, the actor Nick Tennant. To my mind, that is what great acting is all about, the ability to assume an identity to the point where the audience sees the character and not the person playing the character. Nick has that ability.

Take just a simple example from popular culture: Magneto in the X-Men movies. The character is played by Ian McKellen, but when you are watching the movie you don't sit their thinking "that's Ian McKellen." You're thinking "that's Magneto." And you're not thinking "that's Gandalf" or "that's Richard III" or maybe "that creepy Nazi neighbor in Apt Pupil." The character assumed by the actor is what you see, and IMHO what you should see, not the actor "being someone else."

Another good example would be Hannibal Lecter, engraved on the movie-goers mind by Anthony Hopkins (BTW, young Nick--above--attended the same drama school as Mr. Hopkins). That performance, powerful as it was, does not prevent you believing that Anthony Hopkins is the gritty but harmless New Zealand eccentric Burt Monroe in the must-see sleeper: The World's Fastest Indian (safe Christmas present for anyone interested in motorcycles or engineering feats of any kind).

For the record, the photo on the left is one of Nick's standard "head shots." The picture on the right is Nick duirng his time as Grumio in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2003 production of the bard's "Taming of the Shrew" and Fletcher's "The Tamer Tamed." It was Nick's idea to play the groom's role in a realistic stage of grubbiness. Hence the look you see.

Hooray for The Hogfather: Sky's Rendtiion of Pratchett Discworld Novel Debuts

Two days ago, London's Curzon Mayfair hosted the premiere of "The Hogfather," Sky's hi-def film screen adaptation of the Terry Pratchett Discworld novel that will be show on Sky 1 this Christmas (Sky 1 being part of BSkyB, or British Sky Broadcasting, the Murdoch-owned, UK-based satellite broadcaster that operates the Sky Digital network). For more details of the film see IMDB and Sky's TV guide.

Although I live in America and won't see The Hogfather this Christmas, I do expect that one of the hi-def channels in the US will pick it up. But to be honest, I would not know about this movie if my cousin, Nicolas Tennant (a.ka. Nick Tennant and Nicholas Tennant) had not been cast in it (along with Sir David Jason playing Albert, the alluring Michelle Dockery playing Susan, and Ian Richardson as the voice of Death). This led me to venture into Discworld for the first time and read the book, a step I am very glad I took.

Of course, I had seen a steadily growing number of these novels on the bookstore shelves for years, but had always been put off by the fact that a. fantasy fiction is not my favorite genre, b. the covers looked really cartoon-ish and uninviting (the American editions have recently been released with more subdued covers--but the trick to getting the most from these books is to create your own image of what the inhabitants look like rather than accept someone else's). Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Hogfather--the book, finding it to be a delightful mix of whimsy, humor, surprisingly contemporary political satire and comic allusion, and yes, deep thought (or at least deep-thought provoking notions).

And because the character that Nick plays is Corporal Nobby Nobs of The Night Watch, I worked my way through that sub-section of the series. I found these novels to be a fine anti-dote to depression, or at least a reliable escape from the distress of daily life.

BTW, the 'andsome bloke in the photo is Nick, so anyone who sees him as Corporal Nobby Nobs will know what a brilliant actor he is. (Corporal Nobby Nobs is introduced as "a small but irregularly formed figure" whose ears could look suggestive--in a later book we are told "the only reason you couldn't say that Nobby was close to the animal kingdom was that the animal kingdom would get up and walk away.") The following dialogue is just a taste of what Discworld can be like:

Sergeant Fred Colon: War, Nobby. Huh! What is it good for?
Corporal Nobby Nobs: Dunno, Sarge. Freeing slaves, maybe?
Fred: Absol -- well, okay.
Nobby: Defending yourself against a totalitarian aggressor?
Fred: All right, I'll grant you that, but --
Nobby: Saving civilization from a horde of --
Fred: It doesn't do any good in the long run is what I'm saying Nobby, if you'd listen for five seconds together.
Nobby: Yeah, but in the long run, what does Sarge?

Celeb Trivia du Jour: Michelle Dockery appeared in the original stage production of "His Dark Materials" which is currently being filmed with the latest Bond, Daniel Craig, in the role of Lord Asriel, and starring Nicole Kidman.

Thousands of Voters Were Disenfranchised in Florida

This is where technology meets politics: electronic voting. It is clear to anyone with an open mind that something went wrong in the already infamous Sarasota County this last election when approximately 18,000 ballots cast on the county’s paperless touch screen voting machines registered no vote at all in the congressional race.

And this is where I turned to make a donation to help get to the bottom of things. I have previously made my position on electronic voting clear. Computers cannot be trusted to count votes.

Cost of Diesel Dampens Hopes

While the price of diesel fuel is not directly related to gyroscopically stabilized transportation, it does raise questions about efforts to improve the fuel efficiency of the transportation system and reduce dependence on foreign fuel.

My wife and I own a diesel-powered Jeep Liberty which we like a lot, but the high price of diesel in the U.S. is really making it hard to justify. We regularly see diesel sold for a premium of around 35 cents per gallon over regular unleaded gasoline. In rough terms this means a diesel vehicle has to get 26 miles per gallon versus 22 for a gasoline model, or 35 versus 30. In other words, the economic incentive to use deal just isn't there is diesel is priced significantly higher than regular gasoline.

In thinking about this problem I visited the EPA site which has a cool feature that let's you compare vehicles. I commared a diesel Jeep with a gasoline Jeep, and at first it seemed the diesel was a better deal. But then I noticed the figures that the EPA used for fuel costs. They were not what I am seeing at the pump. Fortunately, and this was a smart move by the site designer, you can input your own numbers. That produced the following:

The diesel is $60 a year cheaper. Hardly enough incentive to overcome the downsides (such as searching for a gas station that carries diesel).

Maybe the new rules on diesel fuel will improve matters and the price will be equalized, but right now there seems to be a pause in diesel production as manufacturers switch over to the new designs (for an explanation, see here and also here).

That means you can't buy 2007 Jeep Liberty diesel right now. But Jeep Grand Cherokee diesels will turn up in showrooms later this year. Sadly, if diesel/gas pricing does not move closer to par, the economic incentive to buy them will not be there when they do.