Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mitt the Romney

Or what Mitt considers $374,000
in annual income from speaking fees
Well, if the pollsters and pundits are right, Mitt Romney is the next Republican candidate for president.

He's got the hair, the physique, the "right" color of skin and he's filthy rich. He's right out of central casting from GOP headquarters.

But, one thing Mitt doesn't have is charisma. He lacks sincerity. He seems phony. Maybe he is.

He flip-flops so much he must need a chiropractor every day to keep his back in alignment.

As Stephen Colbert said recently, "The only difference between Mitt Romney and a statue of Mitt Romney is that the statue never changes its position."

For a man as public as Romney, we don't know much about him.

Sure, he oversaw the Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002. He was governor of liberal Massachusetts from 2003-2007. He made his fortune at Bain Capital that, among things, helped ship American jobs overseas.

But, he seems unknowable.

First off, what's with his name? I thought Mitt was short for Mitthew. Or that he played catcher in baseball and had a big mitt.

Actually, his name is Willard Mitt (shorthand for Milton) Romney. 

Yes, he is a serious about his Mormon faith. His family's Mormon roots go back to the Christian sect's first decade when polygamy was an established practice among Mormons. His dad, George, was born in Mexico.

His undergraduate degree is from BYU and his post-graduate degrees are from Harvard. He took his Mormon mission in France and, yes, he can speak French.

Of course, like many men of his day, Mitt had a number of educational and religious deferments to keep him out of the military and away from Vietnam. (It's interesting to note that serving in Vietnam does not help a candidate -- see John McCain and John Kerry. But, evading service in Vietnam didn't prevent Bill Clinton or Bush II from becoming president.)

Romney was a registered Independent until his failed bid to defeat Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1994, when he became a Republican in Name Only or RINO.

He seems likable and he does have impeccable "family values."

Still, when asked during his failed 2008 campaign about why not one of his five sons didn't serve in the military during a time of two wars, he said they were "serving our country" by working on his presidential campaign.

He's been understandably leery of discussing his wealth, estimated at more than $200 million, during this presidential run. 

When asked about his income, he said almost all of it was derived from investments and that he made some money from speaking fees, "but not very much." (See the damning video here.)

That "not very much" was actually about $374,000 in 2010. 

It's the sort of thing many Americans distrust about Romney. He has little understanding of what $374,000 means to the average American.

His comment that he likes "to fire people," which was taken out of context which is SOP in all politics, the statement rang true. He's representative of the kind of man who has no qualms about sending American jobs to Communist China.

Plus, he'll have to answer why he is against "Obamacare" when his "Romneycare" was the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act.

Or, why he was against abortion, then for abortion and then against abortion in the last 20 years. Political expediency, perhaps?

His Mormon faith will likely suppress the evangelical vote, since many of those voters consider Mormonism a cult or insufficiently Christian.

But it should galvanize the female vote because the modern woman who does not appreciate any religion, especially Mormonism, that relegates women to second-class status.

Anyway, Mitt's the man, at least for Republicans.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Apple of our eyes

                                                              From The Telegraph
We all were wowed this week when Apple reported profits of $1 billion a week for its latest quarter, "blowing past Wall Street expectations on robust holiday sales of its iPhones and iPads," gushed MSNBC online.

From October through December, Apple sold 37 million iPhones and 15 million iPads.

Incredible numbers for incredible, must-have products.

It's a sign of American ingenuity and a rare source of pride during these tough economic times.

Coincidentally, the New York Times has a series this week about "The iEconomy" that everyone should read.

Beware, though, the stories are devastating. They call into question our values, priorities and the nature of capitalism itself.

Although, the series focuses on Apple products, the same could be said about our televisions, video game consoles, clothes and much of the produce we eat.

Much of our well-being these days, unlike in the 1950s, is dependent upon the terrible exploitation of others.

But, Apple is by far the richest, most glamorous player these days and so it gets the scrutiny in the media. As well it should.

For a time Wednesday, Apple was a more valuable company than Exxon Mobil.

The Times' first article focuses on the iPhone and probes the reason why Apple products will never be made in America again. The second article is headlined: "In China, Human Costs are Built Into an iPad."

"Last year, (Apple) earned over $400,000 in profit per employee, more than Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil or Google," the story notes.

Apple employs 43,000 in the U.S. and 20,000 overseas. But, Apple contractors, primarily in China, employ 700,000.

China's Foxconn City, where the iPhone is assembled, has "230,000 employees, many working six days a week, often spending up to 12 hours a day at the plant. Over a quarter of Foxconn's work force lives in company barracks and many workers earn less than $17 a day."

In 2007, when Steve Jobs demanded a glass screen for the iPhone, it forced a scramble.

From the Times' article:

"... after a month of experimentation, Apple’s engineers finally perfected a method for cutting strengthened glass so it could be used in the iPhone’s screen. The first truckloads of cut glass arrived at Foxconn City in the dead of night, according to the former Apple executive. That’s when managers woke thousands of workers, who crawled into their uniforms — white and black shirts for men, red for women — and quickly lined up to assemble, by hand, the phones. Within three months, Apple had sold one million iPhones. Since then, Foxconn has assembled over 200 million more."

Working conditions are hazardous with toxic chemicals, dust and smoke.

“We’re trying really hard to make things better,” said one former Apple executive in the second Times' piece. “But most people would still be really disturbed if they saw where their iPhone comes from.”

Unions, by the way, are illegal in China. In other words, Republicans here consider China an employers' paradise.

“Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost,” said Li Mingqi, who until April worked in management at Foxconn Technology, one of Apple’s most important manufacturing partners. 
“Workers’ welfare has nothing to do with their interests,” he said in the Times.
The second Times' article notes “... right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”

Is it any wonder then that at one Foxconn plant the worker turnover rate is 24,000 -- each month.

It was either quit or commit suicide. In fact, suicide is a way out for some workers. 

This from The Telegraph in England:

"A suicide cluster in 2010 saw 18 workers throw themselves from the tops of the company's buildings, with 14 deaths.

"In the aftermath of the suicides, Foxconn installed safety nets in some of its factories and hired counselors to help its workers."

But, employees figured out that threatening suicide was a way to improve their lot in life.

Earlier this month, about 300 workers at a Foxconn Xbox factory in Wuhan threatened mass suicide unless their wage demands were met. Apparently, they were met  since the workers didn't kill themselves.

The Times series goes into great detail how the economies of scale and supply chains in China mean that it will rule this iEconomy for years to come. Plus, China has four times the population of the U.S., so it stands to reason that it will always have bodies to fill its factories.

Again from the Times' story:

"It is hard to estimate how much more it would cost to build iPhones in the United States. However, various academics and manufacturing analysts estimate that because labor is such a small part of technology manufacturing, paying American wages would add up to $65 to each iPhone’s expense. Since Apple’s profits are often hundreds of dollars per phone, building domestically, in theory, would still give the company a healthy reward." 

But, profit margin is what drives the stock market price of Apple and there is no incentive to decrease that margin, only increase it.

“We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”

What he meant was that we no longer produce people willing to work 12-hour shifts, six days a week at any hour for $17 a day.

Meanwhile, Tim Cook, Apple's new CEO, made $59 million in 2010. He was also given stock grants, vested over 10 years, which today would be worth more than $430 million.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Form LID to dredge Mirror Pond

Bend's official seal
The hand-wringing over dredging Mirror Pond in the heart of Bend is reaching sweaty-palms territory.

And, it's ridiculous.

The city has needed to dredge the pond for more than a decade. The last time it was done was in 1984 and it cost just over $300,000.

Today, it would cost up to $5 million. Naturally, a $500,000 environmental study would need to be done. Hearings and endless meetings would flow like the Deschutes River that is Mirror Pond.

The park district is looking at a one-time dredging plan or a permanent taxing district to handle future dredgings of all the sediment that builds up from the dam at the tiny hydro project on the pond's north end.

Of course, the park district, which has parks on both sides of Mirror Pond, is only looking at property taxpayers to fund either proposal.

But, why should property taxpayers shoulder 100 percent of the cost without any subsidies from the major stakeholders in town who benefit directly from picturesque Mirror Pond.

Obviously, all of Bend benefits, directly or indirectly, by having one of the most scenic urban settings in the state. The city even uses Mirror Pond on its official seal. Realtors and tourism groups use Mirror Pond in their marketing efforts to get people to come to Bend.

So, let's look at more reasonable, and inclusive, funding options for dredging.

First off, Pacific Power, which owns the dam, should be on the hook for a third of any dredging effort. Without the dam, the issue is moot.

Second, the Central Oregon Association of Realtors and Visit Bend, the local tourism entity, need to pony up about an eighth of the cost.

The city collects room taxes and a sizable portion of the money is kicked back to Visit Bend. Half of that money should go towards help defraying the cost of a dredging effort.

Third, an LID, or local improvement district, should be formed to pay it share of the cost. Those owning property downtown directly benefit from their proximity to Mirror Pond.

Also, an urban renewal district was formed a few years ago to make downtown Bend more attractive and the big "improvement" was a $13 million multi-level parking structure, nicknamed the "Taj Garage."

All of Bend subsidized the improvements to downtown Bend, but the main beneficiaries were the property owners in and around downtown Bend. Their property values skyrocketed and "grateful" owners promptly jacked up rents to force out long-time tenants downtown.

It's time for some payback. An LID should pay about a quarter of the cost of dredging.

Lastly, a citywide bond measure should then pick up the remainder of the tab. Those living far from downtown Bend benefit indirectly from the beauty of Mirror Pond and their obligations to dredge the pond should be scaled downward accordingly.

But, of course, these proposals make too much sense, and are too fair, to ever be implemented.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bend's Reed Market fix more than two years off

If you're looking for Bend to fix one of the most dangerous roadways in the city anytime soon, well, forget about it.

Bend city staff unveiled basic maps today of the road projects approved by voters last May in a $30 million bond issue. Details will surprise us later.

The biggest, costliest, and most critical, project on the agenda -- the Reed Market corridor from Third to 27th streets -- won't start construction until April 2013. And that's just the first phase.

The third phase of the Reed Market work isn't projected to finish until August 2014.

If we're lucky.

Since Reed Market is last on the agenda, funds for its completion may get gobbled up by the projects ahead of it.

When construction firms see the public trough filled with millions, they scramble like pigs feasting away.

There will be cost "overruns" and "unforeseen" land acquisition costs that will eat into the $30 million budget like sows on slop.

As many residents have figured out, the city believes the most urgent portion of the overall project, the one we can't live without, is the construction of the roundabout at Simpson and Mt. Washington. It begins construction this June.

Yes, that's right, on Bend's west side.

Westsiders are more equal than Eastsiders. They're special. If the entire city votes for money to be spent on citywide projects, then by god, Westsiders are entitled to have their needs addressed first.

Call it the trickle east theory.

Shockingly, the roundabout at 18th and Empire, on Bend's northeast side, won't see construction until this July.

It's shocking because the whole reason we had this $30 million bond measure in the first place was because the city needed to fix traffic issues near Juniper Ridge, its mixed-use development boondoggle on Bend's north end.

Bend needs to show the state that it is making progress there so that the state will allow further development at nearby Juniper Ridge along Highway 97. Nevermind that nothing is being done to correct the gridlock on Hwy. 97, we need to make it much worse before we make it better. It's the Bend way.

The good thing about all the road construction work is that it will allow the city to partially catch up with its road deficiencies before the next housing boom engulfs Bend.

Here's hoping that, in the future, we see only modest, sustained growth, where infrastructure can keep pace with the next gated community here or the next business park there.

And, that developers pay their fair share so that we won't need a $100 million bond measure in five years.

A more measured, moderate growth rate is better for Bend in the long run.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Colbert energizes dismal political season

President of the United States of South Carolina
Cable and network programming won't change much in 2012, but the space in between the shows will.

Thanks to Super PACs, which came about when the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people, it will be the worst election year on TV in history. 

Thank goodness I'm downsizing my cable plan to PBS and the usual suspects.

Instead of ads for erectile dysfunction, we'll be pummeled instead by vicious, political attack ads that will force us to change channels as fast as possible, which could lead to median nerve damage in the channel-changing hand. 

Even the Olympic Games this summer will be tarnished by ads comparing Obama to Hitler and Romney to Jesus.

TV/cable networks hype the presidential race so much because they make a killing off these "hate" ads.

It is left to newspapers, which no longer make money off federal political ad campaigns, to sort out what's true and what's false. It doesn't matter anyway because no one pays attention to what newspapers print.

TV/cable networks don't bother to even explain what is real or fake because they let "you decide."

It is left to comedians like Stephen Colbert to do the job that mainstream media is incapable of doing: Mocking the political process that is mocking democracy.

Colbert formed a Super PAC called "Making a better tomorrow, tomorrow." He even collected money from devoted fans of his Comedy Central show "The Colbert Report."

He then made ridiculous, but hilarious commercials to run in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, so far.

Check out this link for Colbert's classic political ads.

But then, even though Colbert's not running for president, he polled better than Jon Huntsman in South Carolina. This forced Huntsman to drop out of the race and led Colbert to form an exploratory committee to consider possibly running for "President of the United States of South Carolina."

This meant he could no longer "coordinate" with his Super PAC. He ceded control of it to someone he does not "coordinate" with: Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," which airs just before "The Colbert Report."

Hence, the new name of his Super PAC: "The Definitely Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert Super PAC."

Colbert, apparently, is having an impact on the "process." 

He appeared on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," a show usually devoted to more "serious" political discourse. 

When Stephanopoulos asked Colbert if he believed Mitt "The Ripper" Romney was a "serial killer" as alleged in one of his Super PAC ads, Colbert calmly responded: "I don't know if Mitt Romney is a serial killer. That's a question he is going to have to answer."

Even the Christian Science Monitor weighed in with an article titled, "Ron Paul: Are his voters being stolen away by Stephen Colbert?"

Colbert can't get his name on the South Carolina ballot and no write-ins are allowed either. So, he's doing the next logical thing, he's asking everyone in S.C. to vote for Herman Cain, who dropped out of the race last month, in order to gauge his support.

Also, Colbert is holding a rally with Cain tomorrow in S.C. 

It is so wonderfully wacky and surreal.

Colbert and Stewart are the only ones making any sense out of our senseless political process. 

Consequently, they're the only ones worth watching during this dreary election season.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

End of the Reagan era?

President Obama once said he admired Ronald Reagan for being a "transformational" president.

Reagan slashed taxes for the rich, but raised them on the 99 percenters. Yes, that 8 percent tax on waiters and waitresses came about during the Reagan years. In all, Reagan raised taxes 11 times during his presidency.

Reagan pushed the tax burden downward and it became known as the "trickle-down theory."(1)

It is no small wonder then that while the 1 percent's share of the pie has expanded dramatically, it has come at the expense of the rest of us.

The middle class is now the muddled class.

Reagan also famously said the "government is the problem" and he aimed to shrink it.

Of course, he did the opposite.

Spending escalated during the Reagan years while revenues fell or were flat, thanks to whacking the top tax rate from 70 percent to 50 percent in 1981 and down to 28 percent in 1986.

As a result the federal deficit tripled on Reagan's watch.

The message of Reagan was simple: we can have it all and not worry about paying for it.

(Under Bush I and Bill Clinton the top tax rate floated back up to 39.6 percent and it helped hand Bush II a surplus, which he quickly squandered, and then some.)

By spending far more than was coming in, Reagan demonstrated that "deficits don't matter," which Dick Cheney reiterated a few years ago.

It became so ingrained in the culture that George W. Bush waged two wars without seeking any additional funds to pay for them. In fact, Bush reduced revenues by cutting the top tax rate to 35 percent.

Well, it is now 2012 and the government, thanks to the Reagan "revolution," is drowning in debt and our future depends on the Communist Chinese, which is ironic since part of the Reagan lore is how he, in "High Noon" fashion, stared down and defeated the Communist Soviets.

Since a Democrat is in the White House, the deficit is an all-consuming passion for teabagging Republicans and for those who equate their personal debts with that of the federal government.

But, we have a president who may transform, or even reverse, the Reagan legacy: If we want something, we must find a way to pay for it.

When faced with the opportunity to let the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2010, however, Obama blinked, which annoyed the hell out of his base.

But, Obama kicked the can down the road so that one of the major issues of the 2012 presidential race will be: should the Bush tax cuts expire, thus pushing the tax burden up where it belongs and help our government get a grip on the deficit, or should the tax cuts continue, which will further destabilize our fragile economy.

Obama is not talking about raising taxes to the pre-Reagan era of 70.1 percent. No, he may be lucky to boost taxes on the wealthy from 35 percent to 37 percent. Actually, it should be at least 40 percent, if we want to get back to some semblance of fiscal sanity.

Raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans is something that even the majority of the richest Americans agree with. Warren Buffett, the "Oracle of Omaha" and one the richest men in the world, is leading the call to raise taxes on people like himself.

Buffett is the cover story of the latest Time magazine. He has some choice words that will rankle those who revere Buffett for his stock-picking acumen.

"We can rise to any challenge but not if people feel we're in a plutocracy," he told Time. "We have to get serious about shared sacrifice."

"People who make withdrawals from societies' resources -- like me with my plane -- should have to pay a lot for it," Buffett said in Time.

The article continues: That means not only higher taxes for the rich and an extremely progressive European-style consumption tax but also fewer loopholes for corporations. Buffett says it's "baloney" that corporate America's tax rates are too high and says companies should not be allowed to repatriate profits tax-free.(2) (It'll just encourage more investment to flow overseas.) In general, he says, "I find the argument that we need lower taxes to create more jobs mystifying, because we've had the lowest taxes in this decade and about the worst job creation ever."

The key phrase from Time's feature on Buffett is "shared sacrifice."

Will the electorate endorse that view, re-elect Obama and let the top tax rate rise?

If it does, Obama will be the "transformational" president he has longed to be.

(1) Also, known as "supply-side economics." Republicans claim it gave us the "booming" economy of the 1980s. The economy revived, however, not because of tax cuts, but because there were no oil shortages like the two that sucked the life out of the economy during the 1970s. In fact, during the 1980s, oil prices declined as the global market stabilized with a glut of oil. Plus, the Soviet Union was collapsing from within.

(2) Read this article by David Kay Johnston for some background. Or this piece from the Tax Policy Center.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Went to a movie, but saw a video game

Dude! Ya got me!
It's been known for more than a decade that we live in the video game era of movies.

I didn't realize how true this was until I read a little factoid in the most recent Time magazine.

In 2011, which was a down year at the box-office due mainly to the excess of franchises rather than films, the money champ was "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2."

It snagged $381 million during its entire domestic run.

But, it was less than the video game "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" made on its first day on sale.

It's no wonder, then, that producers want to mimic video games on the big screen. They have to figure out a way to get butts out of easy chairs and into cineplex seats.

I'll admit, I obliged them. I did see the last installment of the "Harry Potter" franchise during the summer and caught "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol," the fourth in that franchise, during the Christmas break.

I mean, why go to the movies at all if it's not going to be visually dazzling.

Except that, with maybe one or two exceptions, most of the video game (VG) movies or franchises run the gamut from dreadful to mediocre.

The first "Pirates of the Caribbean" film was mildly entertaining, but the rest were awful.

I did see the first two chapters of the "Twilight" franchise, but the first was far better than the second, which isn't saying much.

And, why did George Lucas even bother resurrecting the "Star Wars" franchise with leaden sequels/prequels? Apparently, he wanted to get in the (video) game.

It's no small wonder, then, that "The King's Speech," a simple movie really, won best picture last year. It had what all the VG movies lacked: good dialog, plot, character, cinematography, direction and acting.

But, all those traditional elements of great filmmaking take a backseat to special effects (also known as CGI or computer-generated images) in the VG era.
So, if Hollywood wants to fully exploit this VG trend at the multiplex, it needs to double or triple down. IMAX and 3-D are just fads.

It's time that movies become interactive. I know, scratch-and-sniff "Odorama" has already failed.

This time, they should be bold.

A first step is to have viewers use Xbox controllers so they can direct the action. Of course, it could get chaotic, with automatic weapons chewing up the scenery. But, would it make a difference in most VG movies? Not really.

Another way is to let the Wii crowd bring in their light-sabers and go mano-a-mano or tete a tete with some Corellian Jedi master. Headgear is recommended.

Of course, it will get really wild when they incorporate a Kinect-type interactive element to the CGI. With arms flailing about in the seats, it could resemble a mosh pit at a grunge-rock concert.

But, by going interactive, films will be far more entertaining than the current crop of loud, obnoxious and, ultimately, dull VG movies.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New year, higher cable rates

We can expect this every January: Another big increase from our only cable provider, BendBroadband.

A year ago, we signed up for their "special" promotion and got internet and the "essentials" TV package for $75 a month.

Well, the promotion just ended and our new bill is $92 and that's before the annual increase. No, it doesn't include HBO or telephone service.

Next month, the bill rises to $97.20. Only $2.72 of that goes for taxes and fees. The lion's share of that is TV at $48.49 per month. Wow.

In this economy, it makes no sense to keep pushing rates up because there are options available for TV service.

No. 1 is cut the cable TV portion, put up rabbit ears and enjoy high-definition TV, but with just a handful of channels. Supplement that by cranking up the laptop to watch The Colbert Report and The Daily Show.

No. 2: Scale back cable TV to the "limited" level, for about $23 a month, which is basically what you get with an antenna. Again, the laptop will be needed to watch the Comedy Central shows.

No. 3: Choose between Roku, Boxee or Blu-Ray DVD player with wi-fi. Too complicated.

No. 4: Go for the dish in satellite TV, but that brings in another level of cost and complexity that is really not worth it.

For us, it's either option  No. 1 or No. 2.

As we all know, no matter how many channels you have, it always seems as if there is nothing to watch on TV.

Cable companies don't offer a la carte service where TV viewers can choose the channels they want.

The internet does offer this flexibility and it is the direction in which all TV viewing is headed.

Unfortunately, it's all going to get more complicated until Apple or Google simplify this crazy world of TV. With Apple, you'll pay a premium. With Google, you won't.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Iowa cockeyed

It's hard to find a sane person, outside of Iowa, who pays any attention to the Iowa caucuses.

Whoever wins the Republican vote there almost never wins the nomination.

So, you would expect Rick Santorum to win in Iowa.

But, he didn't. He lost by 8 votes to Mitt Romney.

This is bad news for Romney.

Iowa has its fair share of evangelical Christians who don't cotton to Mormons. And, 75 percent of Iowans on Tuesday voted against Romney.

Santorum, who has extremist views on social issues that place him far out of the mainstream, got the same percentage as Romney, who will win in New Hampshire next week.

But, in South Carolina, evangelicals, fundamentalists and religious extremists will once again come into play.

The die-hard Christians in the South, don't care for Mormonism or Catholicism or Judaism or Islam. They don't even consider them Americans.

They'll go for anyone but Romney.

Factor in those voters who don't care as much about religion and you'll find they don't like Romney because he is a cold, calculating politician who will flip-flop when necessary to get any vote possible.

But, he is lily white, which plays well in the South.

Romney's problem is that when he becomes the GOP nominee, many of the evangelicals may not vote at all next November. This could have a negative effect on down-ticket Republican candidates.

Getting out the vote for Romney could prove problematic for the GOP.

In some ways, though, it's sad to see Michelle Bachmann leave the field after one event. She was fun to have around because she was so wacky.

So was Herman Cain, one of the handful of black Republicans in America.

But, the GOP field is still flush with loonies like Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

They'll provide us with hours of entertainment over the next few months by saying and doing the craziest things.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New year's resolutions

It's high time I join the 21st Century, tech-wise, and so I have a few resolutions for 2012:

Learn how to use Twitter: I really don't know what Twitter is or how to use it, but, like Google which I use daily, I like the name, and Tweets, too. Plus, any technology that can take down dictators or force corporations to abandon outrageous fees, like $5 per month for debit card use or $2/month for paying your bill online, I'm all for it. Just gotta commit to Twit. Of course, I signed up for Facebook last year and I still haven't figured out how to use it. It's a mystery.

Join the smartphone brigade: I don't know if using a smartphone will make me any smarter, but it will make me poorer. The telecom giants extort exorbitant data charges for spotty service. Plus, with the emphasis on data-use in smartphones, the clarity in actual phone calls suffers. And, the real reason to have a cell phone in the first place is to make phone calls. So, I'll wait until I have no choice but to buy a smartphone, which I know will be sooner rather than later.

Watch TV through the Internet: With cable TV escalating to unaffordable levels, I've gotta figure out how to watch The Colbert Report or ESPN through my existing TV. We finally joined the flat-panel crowd last month by replacing our 28-year-old 20-inch TV with a 37-inch LCD unit that is mid-range on the features, but I hope it can connect somehow to the Internet. The options for that can produce a migraine headache. Let's see, I can get a Blu-Ray DVD player with wi-fi, or try Roku, Apple TV, Boxee, Tivo, Wii or god knows what else. The goal in life is simplicity. Watching TV is anything but simple these days.

Self-publish online: With e-readers all the rage, now is the time for any would-be writer to try and publish through Amazon or Barnes & Noble for their e-readers. Of course, it would help, I suppose, if I had a Kindle or a Nook. If I sell anything online, maybe I will buy one.

The above items made the short-list of overall resolutions. The long list includes the usual mundane things like make more money, lose some weight and exercise more.

Are there apps for that?