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September 30, 2011

"Angels Among Us" - October 27

Soup Supper October 2011

Angels Among Us

with Joanne Hardy
Local Author

Joanne Hardy will tell the story of Angel View Children's Hospital and reveal the "angels" who have been part of its success.

Soup Supper
Enjoy our famous Soup, Salad, Bread and Desserts
Presented by the DHS Historical Society - DHSHistoricalSociety.com

Thursday, October 27, 2011
6pm-7pm Soup Supper
7pm-8pm "Angels Among Us"
Lozano Center, Tedesco Park, 12800 West Arroyo Drive, Desert Hot Springs, California
Donation $15
RSVP to 760-251-4549

[I have learned, to my regret, that Dwight and Mamie will be unable to attend the Soup Supper.]

Filed under Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs | permalink | September 30, 2011 at 12:33 PM | Comments (2)

September 29, 2011

MSWD Board Meeting - September 19

Employee Recognition

Employees Rick Lyneis and Shane Wienecke were recognized for five years of service.

Award of Contract for Well 28 Uranium Treatment

Approved 5-0.

Horton Belt Press Purchase

Approved 5-0.

Initiating Changes In CalPers Contributions

This is to direct staff to move ahead to making the changes. The actual changes will come to the board later. Director Martin suggested that the employee labor representative be informed of this action as a courtesy.

ACWA Appointments

President Brown said he is interested in the policy committee. His nomination was approved 5-0.

Consent Agenda

Approved 5-0. This included the staff recommendation that the claim by Jorge and Analia Garcia be denied.

Director Furbee pointed out that the payment of $259,491.81 on August 25 to Bank Of America Leasing was the final payment on one of the district's debts.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | September 29, 2011 at 08:02 PM | Comments (0)

DHS Economic Development Committee - September 28

The meeting was chaired by Scott Matas. Jan Pye was out of town.

Real Estate Familiarization Tour

Mike Bracken talked about a real estate agent familiarization tour that is being organized on October 28. The idea is to bring brokers, investors, developers and others to the city for a tour of the city and an update on what's going on. They are expecting possibly as many as a hundred guests. They've arranged for a discount price from Cardiff for some tour buses. Wes Ahlgren, Chief Operating Officer at CVEP, will be the host who will assure the tour stays on track, and everybody gets on a bus. Patrick Evans, meteorologist at KPSP-TV, will emcee at no charge. Mr. Bracken asked Scott Matas and Jan Pye to be the tour guides on the buses. The tour will meet at 12085 Palm Drive, one of the RDA storefronts downtown. They hope to have someone from Walmart talk to the assembled mass and explain why they decided to invest in Desert Hot Springs. If they can't get anybody from Walmart, they'll try to find someone else who has invested in the city (whether expanding a business or brining a new business to town) to give a testimonial. Fred Noble has agreed to walk about wind energy opportunities in the DHS area. A representative from NAI Capital will participate as well. They have been retained to lease out the downtown storefronts for the RDA. At the southeast corner of Dillon and Palm is land held in trust. An agreement has been struck with a developer who is putting together a conceptual retail project there. That developer will also speak to the tour participants.

To entice tour participants, a 42-inch TV will be given away. The TV is being contributed by Mr. Bracken's firm. It's not coming out of public funds. Information on several investors who are about to launch projects in DHS will be presented to the tour participants.

Maria Lease said that they are welcome to bring the tour by The Spring Resort so that the participants could come in and see the basic reason why we are all here. Mr. Bracken said he planned to try to keep them all on the bus because he wants to keep them focused. He said that this first year it will be a low budget tour, but next year they may add a choice of outings to the tour: golf for those who like that, or an afternoon at a spa for those who don't. Mr. Bracken named a couple of the top real estate brokers in the valley and said neither would play golf, but they'd jump at the chance of a spa afternoon.

The whole point is to get the developers to see that there's more to life than Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. Tim Brophy said the tour needs a brief segment about what's happening in residential multi-unit housing in DHS. He also offered to match Mr. Bracken's contribution (the TV) dollar-for-dollar to help offset expenses of the tour.

Food will be catered into the storefront on Palm Drive. They are trying to work with Subway to do the catering because Subway is looking to expand into one of the downtown storefronts. Their analysis shows that Desert Hot Springs could support three Subways (we've got only one).

Al Schmidt said he would like to see a local realtor go on the tour as well. Mr. Bracken said the tour is open to anyone, including especially local business and real estate people. Local participants will get a name tag that looks different from the visitors'.

Rick Daniels said commercial brokers are completely unfamiliar with Desert Hot Springs and that's why we need to get them up here to inform them. Chief Pat Williams will address the tour participants on the stereotype of DHS being "crime-ridden." Al Schmidt said the real estate people need to be informed about the MSHCP as well. Mr. Bracken said that's a valley-wide issue, and should be handled in a broader setting.

Mr. Bracken said that a developer is in negotiations on a site that will be used as a "wind lay down site." That's a place where wind turbines are repaired.

Update On The Strategic Plan

Mr. Daniels said that the previously released economic development plan listed 20 things the city was going to do. The City Council picked out the top 10, and Mr. Daniels has been focusing on those ten.

  1. Promote tourism, Cabot's, access to Joshua Tree, the hot water. The new Visitor Center is part of that. Work continues with Senator Feinstein for a visitor center for the new national monument. That visitor center will be phase 1 of the Miracle Hill plan.
  2. The festival. The committee is working on it, and is about to approve an RFP to send to the city council.
  3. The city has established an account with Business Wire. This will allow the city to send news and press releases out to 1,200 west coast media outlets.
  4. The real estate tour, already discussed.
  5. The new general plan will come to the city council in February 2012.
  6. Review of the land development process is underway. A new development code will be brought to the council in March 2012. It will streamline the development process. The number of types of zones will be reduced by about 75%. Many things that now require conditional use permits will become outright permitted uses. The entire city will be pre-zoned, so developers will not have to re-zone. The intent to is to speed up development, reduce costs and avoid the need to hire more staff just to deal with changes.
  7. Public safety. The panhandling ordinance. Part 1 crime is down 23%.
  8. Attract a movie theater. The RDA/City is close to acquiring the building on the northeast corner of Palm and Pierson. (The RDA is the big hold up there). When that is done, the RDA will own that entire block except for a couple of small parcels. Then the city will try to market it to a developer who can bring in some kind of entertainment, whether it's a movie theater, bowling alley, or something else. The goal with the RDA buildings with new facades at Palm & Pierson is to get them occupied and then sell them, because the RDA can get a higher price that way.
  9. Infrastructure financing measure. Mr. Daniels said he hasn't had time to get that. But the economic development plan has been taken to the federal Department of Commerce. They were impressed and have offered to fund half the cost of a $6 million project. The city is looking at something in the Indian and Dillon area - possibly widening Indian going south from there, or Dillon heading west to the new power plant, or heading east as far as Long Canyon. Mr. Daniels said that the key to this is that the Department of Commerce sees that there is now stability and rational thinking in Desert Hot Springs.

(Yeah, I know, that's only 9 points - I must have combined two points into one, but I can't see which it is.)

Marketing

There's a billboard on I-10 and the Hoteliers have a TV ad that will be running in southern California markets soon.

Rock & Art is on hiatus. It may now look at developing an arts colony.

Tim Brophy said he is working with Martín Magaña on creating a live/work property on Palm.

Capri News

Jim Provance had more detail on the deal with Capri restaurant that was announced the the Chamber of Commerce luncheon by Mike Bickford earlier in the day. Starting next Thursday, October 6, the Capri will re-open in the Miracle Springs Resort. What is now the Chuckwalla restaurant will gradually become the Capri. One of the Santucci grandsons is now the executive chef at Miracle Springs.

News From Rick Daniels

Property values in Desert Hot Springs went up last year. This is the only city in the Coachella Valley to have increased property values. Only one other city in Riverside County had rising property values.

Sales tax receipts in the first quarter of this year are 35% higher compared to last year. Part of that is due to gas prices, but also due the annexation which took in several gas stations. This is the highest increase in Riverside County. County-wide sales tax receipts are up only 3%.

Maria Lease suggested it could be beneficial to encourage people to buy their gas in Desert Hot Springs.

The Walmart EIR process is underway, and it will be at least a year before any of that comes before the city council.

Dollar General is a big retail chain. Mr. Daniels described their stores as being like a small Walmart, generally about 20,000 s.f. They've got 10,000 stores nationwide. They are big in Texas (2,000 stores), but they don't have any stores in California. They are correcting that deficiency now. They have acquired property on Palm Drive, south of Ironwood. Their applications will come to the city later in October. They've built a 2-million s.f. distribution center in the Ontario area. By 2013 they are expected to have 50 to 100 stores in southern California. You can see this is a development process similar to that of Fresh & Easy, but we hope it's less jerky. Stores are underway in Apple Valley and Lancaster.

The eye doctor is looking to relocate from Palm & Pierson to a city building. Subway, as mentioned before, wants to locate downtown.

The Snellenberger property is in the process of converting from residential/golf courses to 45 wind turbines. The value of the investment will be $100 million - by Florida Power & Light.

Auto Zone is looking to double the size of their store.

A Hispanic grocer is looking at opening a location on south Palm Drive.

The 400 acres around Desert Dunes are in the process of applying for annexation.

Mr. Matas said Canadian-American Days are returning. It will be "Canadian-American Fellowship Days." Rotary is involved in reviving that. It will be connected with the golf tournament.

Mr. Daniels said he had been contacted by a man from Idaho who wants to move his business, American Flyer travel trailers, down here. [I've Googled all around for "American Flyer" trailers and have been unable to find anything.] He needs a 40,000 s.f. facility.

The Redevelopment Agency

Because of the freeze on all redevelopment agency activity, the RDA cannot sign a lease on any of the downtown storefronts, even though tenants are lined up for every empty store. The RDA can't pay for new signs for downtown, even though the designs are ready to go.

The Desert Healthcare District is investing $6 million in the city. $1.4 million for the site where the new Borrego clinic will go. The rest is going to the Health & Wellness Center. In the future the Healthcare District will operate the Health & Wellness Center.

The Chairman of the district's board said they were willing to invest in DHS now because there are people here now that they can work with. There's a real government with stability and leadership in the business community.

At the Village at Mission Lakes, the city expected to issue the grading permit the next day which necessary to prepare for on-site paving. After that comes landscaping and offsite improvements. Mr. Daniels said "We're looking at 30 to 45 days."

Highway 62 Business

Mr. Matas said that the AM/PM store is one of the city's top sales tax generators. The new Arco station at Indian and I-10 is owned by the same man who owns the big gas station plaza on 66th at highway 86S in Mecca. He might be the right person to develop a similar large travel center on highway 62 at Pierson. There are no gas stations between Morongo Valley and either Cabazon or Indian & I-10.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | September 29, 2011 at 03:00 PM | Comments (0)

"In The Garden Of Beasts"

I've recently read In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City.

In the Garden of Beasts is the completely non-fictionalized story of William Dodd who was FDR's first ambassador to then-Nazi Germany. Dodd, a southerner and a professor of history at the University of Chicago, was far from being Roosevelt's first choice for ambassador to Germany, but nobody else seemed to want the job. Dodd, much more of an ordinary American than experienced statesman, a small "d" democrat, a close friend and great admirer of Woodrow Wilson, was thrust right into the opening months of Hitler's chancellorship.

Today our 20/20 hindsight is remarkably keen, but in 1933 Dodd was one of only a very small number of non-Jewish Americans who foresaw the horror of what was being built in Germany. His views did not carry much weight in either the State Department (which was mostly concerned with recovering the German debt) or with Roosevelt himself.

The "night of the long knives," which solidified the army's support for Hitler, occurred while Dodd was ambassador. He left his position as ambassador at the end of 1937 and participated in a nationwide campaign to alert Americans to the racial and religious persecution that was underway in Germany. Dodd died in 1940.

The fascinating side story is that Dodd's adult, divorced daughter carried on socially with several political and diplomatic figures in Berlin. She must have bumped elbows with Christopher Ishwerwood at some point. She dated not only the first head of the Gestapo (who actually managed to survive the war), but also an NKVD agent from Moscow, who she tried to marry, but Stalin denied permission. The agent was later killed in one of Stalin's purges, but Dodd's daughter continued to have friendly feelings for the Soviet Union. She got caught up in the HUAC hearings in the 1950s and left the U.S., eventually settling in Prague. Her illusions about communism were shattered when the Russian tanks rolled into Prague in 1968.

Filed under Books,History | permalink | September 29, 2011 at 12:25 PM | Comments (0)

A Different Sort Of Yosemite Adventure

On Monday, a rock climber on El Capitan fell, severing his thumb in the process. The thumb landed on a little rock outcropping 80 feet below. His climbing companion retrieved the thumb. A helicopter was used to rescue the injured climber. Ultimately, he went to the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco where his thumb was re-attached.

A side note is that the climber is Austrian. It would be interesting to do a follow-up article a year from now to see what he thinks of the American health and health insurance systems. His adventure has only just started.

Filed under California | permalink | September 29, 2011 at 10:33 AM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2011

MSWD Public Affairs Committee Discusses Caliente Springs Billing - September 27

The Public Affairs Committee consists of Director Nancy Wright and President John Brown. The district's rules on disputes about the accuracy of bills say the customer has the right to meet with the Controller (I assume that's now the Finance Director) and then the General Manager to try to resolve the dispute. If that fails, then the customer may appeal to the Public Affairs Committee. If the committee can resolve the issue, then that's the end. Unresolved issues can be further appealed to the full board of directors.

At issue is that Caliente Springs has a billing dispute with the district. Here's the abridged chronology:

January 2003 - Service is started with a single 2-inch meter.

October 2003 - Meter replaced at district expense (leaked).

October 2004 - Meter replaced at district expense (complaint of low pressure and meter "over worked").

February 2005 - Meter replaced at district expense (took out the Precision meter, put in a Sensus turbine meter).

May 2006 - Replaced the register - which is, I believe, the doodad what shows the numbers that tells the district how much water went through the meter. Remember when car odometers only went to 99,999.9? This was sort of like that, if Caliente Springs had been putting on more than 100,000 miles a month. The most significant digit disappears.

September 2008 - The district notifies Caliente Springs that as of July 2008 (two months prior) their bill would be estimated. Their meter was not big enough to handle the volume of water being used. District staff determined that three 2-inch meters would do the job. The total cost for two more meters would have been $52,752. Until other arrangements were made, the bill would be estimated based on past usage.

November 2009 - Caliente Springs applies for one additional meter, but does not pay for it.

December 2009 - The district installs one meter at its own expense so that Caliente Springs has one functioning meter and the bill is no longer estimated.

April 2010 - Caliente Springs pays for a second meter which is installed. There are now two operating meters.

April 2011 - Caliente Springs disputes its bill, saying it has been overcharged during the period of estimation by $51,696.71. They request a credit in that amount.

June 2011 - Staff denies the request for credit. Caliente Springs immediately requests appeal.

September 2011 - Here we are today.

The meeting began with General Manager Wallum laying out a few of the basics. Then Finance Director Matt McCue gave his presentation. He had put a timeline up on the whiteboard and provided handouts of all the relevant documents. Throughout the meeting the period from January 2010 through December 2010 is referred to, for convenience sake, as the "future period." This is the period after the estimated period, when there is accurate metering going on.

The April 27, 2011, letter from Caliente Springs to the district said that their actual consumption from January through December 2010 average 3,500 HCF/month [actually 3,507] and that the district had for 18 months estimated their consumption at 5,500 HCF/month [on the nose]. The difference cost Caliente Springs $51,696.71, according to their calculations.

Mr. McCue cited the governing ordinance which says, in part, "If a meter is found to be not registering, the charges for service shall be based on estimated consumption using previous consumption for a comparable period or by such other method as is determined appropriate." [I added the emphasis, for reasons you shall see.] The estimates are made "by the General Manager, subject to the right of appeal."

Let's show some numbers:

MonthsEstimated
consumption (HCF)
New, better,
recommended
estimates (HCF)
July 200852006800
Aug 200850006500
Sept 200884175000
Oct 200847875000
Nov 200853005000
Dec 200855004200
Jan 200951004200
Feb 200950004500
March 200952004100
April 200953004600
May 200953005100
June 200955005000
July 200931996200
Aug 200956006000
Sept 200962006200
Oct 200960005200
Nov 200962005100
Dec 200962004900

The average of the "New, better, recommended estimates" is 5,200 HCF/month - or 300 HCF/month less than what was billed.

Mr. McCue said he went back through the records to try to establish how staff arrived at the estimates that were used. Due to the length of time and personnel turnover, he was not able to find all the information he wanted. So he reviewed Caliente Springs consumption records for three years prior to July 2008. That's how he came up with the somewhat lower, better estimates.

One problem with the data is that the numbers for July 2005 through December 2005 are obviously wrong. With real consumption running anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 HCF/month, the figures for July through December 2005 were in the 500 to 600 range. Clearly, this was a meter error. So Mr. McCue threw out that data and calculated his estimates based on either 3-year averages (for months where three valid years were available) or 2-year averages (for those months where only two valid years were available).

BTW, one hopes that now the district has in place some means of being alerted when a commercial customer's consumption drops by 90% so that a human can look at the data and see if there is an error, rather than under-billing for 6 months.

Using Mr. McCue's better estimates, Caliente Springs would be due a credit of $7,579.07 - much less than $51,696.71. But Mr. McCue also estimated how much the district lost during those six months of low reads. That number is $27,762. He suggested that since the district under-billed by something like $27,652 and then over-estimated by $7,579.07, both sides should shake hands and walk away - no credits, no charges.

One of the representatives from Caliente Springs said that using averages going back 2 or 3 years is not accurate. Caliente Springs has been changing and growing over the years. They've gone up to 500 units, which would suggest that they should be using more water, but the 2010 figures show they are using less.

July '07 - June '08 Compared to 2010
Comparing the actual reads from July 2007 through June 2008 (blue) to the actual reads in 2010 (orangey-brown).
Obviously consumption is way down. The average monthly consumption for July 2007 through June 2008 was 4,796 HCF. In 2010 it was 3,507 HCF/month.

The district switched from bimonthly billing to monthly around about June 2007, so that may be why there was no reading in June 2007 (not shown on the chart) and a very high reading in July 2007. The low reading in June 2008 may have been due to the failing meter, which was taken out of service the next month.

The representative from Caliente Springs said that they had originally spoken with Dan Patneaude about estimating their water flow. He had a "big book" that he referred to, but the book didn't have a formula to fit Caliente Springs exactly. Caliente Springs has no turf. They pump their own hot water for their pools. They use that hot water for irrigation as well. A small amount of water is used in their clubhouse, but almost all MSWD water is used domestically inside the residences there.

Mr. Wallum pointed out that the district didn't know the park's vacancy rates before, after or during the period of estimated billing. He also said that Caliente Springs was notified that their bills would be estimated until they paid to put in a new meter.

President Brown asked the Caliente Springs reps how they would feel about getting a credit of about $7,500 instead of $51,000. They said they thought it would not be fair, but they thought it would be more reasonable to average 2007 and 2010.

There were discussions about why water usage was down in 2010. Was it conservation or just the bad economy that did it?

Finance Director McCue said that he read the ordinance "If a meter is found to be not registering, the charges for service shall be based on estimated consumption using previous consumption for a comparable period or by such other method as is determined appropriate" to mean that the district is not allowed to use future consumption. As I understand it, however, it does NOT forbid the use of future consumption if it's determined to be "appropriate." In this case, where the "future period" is past and we have solid data for it, and that data shows a significant decrease from the previous period and from what was estimated, then it may well be appropriate to use that data in arriving at an estimate. Mr. Wallum said doing so would require the board to change the ordinance. I disagree. It seems to me to be within the ordinance for either the Public Affairs Committee or the full board to consider "future periods" in arriving at the proper estimate.

Mr. Wallum asked why it took so long for Caliente Springs took so long to put in a meter. They answered that they thought that the district's opinion that they needed to add two meters (for a total of three) was not accurate, and when they talked to staff they got agreement from staff about that. Dan Patneaude told them they could get by with only one more meter (total of two).

Mr. Brown suggested that they take time to think about it and reconsider the numbers that were just handed to them at the beginning of this meeting.

The conclusion was no conclusion. Caliente Springs will look at the info and talk more with Matt McCue. Whether the next step will be to come back to the Public Affairs Committee or go to the full board was not addressed.

What I think

Water usage dropped considerably from June 2008 to January 2010 at Caliente Springs for whatever reason. I don't think it happened suddenly in July 2008. Nor did it happen suddenly in December 2009. It was probably a gradual process. I also think the goal of estimating a bill for water is to arrive at the most accurate estimate possible. I think one way of doing that is to average 2010 data with the data from July 2007 to June 2008. Here are the numbers I get when I do that:

 Estimated HCFCost
July 20085206$6,195.14
Aug 20085454.5$6,490.86
Sept 20084241$5,046.79
Oct 20084587$5,458.53
Nov 20084553$5,418.07
Dec 20083834.5$4,563.06
Jan 20093436$4,088.84
Feb 20094140.5$4,927.20
March 20093223$5,446.87
April 20093979$6,724.51
May 20094527$7,650.63
June 20092637.5$4,457.38
July 20095206$8,798.14
Aug 20095454.5$9,218.11
Sept 20094241$7,167.29
Oct 20094587$7,752.03
Nov 20094553$7,694.57
Dec 20093834.5$6,480.31

[It should be noted that the MSWD doesn't deal in fractions of HCF, but it all works out in the end.]

The dollar amounts are based on the rates that Matt McCue used: $1.19/HCF for July 2008 through February 2009 and $1.69 for months after that. This ignores the tiered rates, but at these volumes the tiers make only a trivial difference. These are quick and dirty figures.

The total amount that Caliente Springs paid for the 18 months their bill was estimated was $145,163.07. The total of the figures in the table above is $113,578.30. The difference is $31,584.77. I also did the calculation averaging the two years prior to July 2008 with the 12 months of 2010 and it is only a little less favorable to Caliente Springs. Doing it that way the district would owe them a credit of $30,408.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | September 28, 2011 at 04:12 PM | Comments (0)

Sorting It Out

This Wall Street Journal article has an interactive graphic that lists a few basic facts about tablets and ereaders including the Kindle, Kindle Fire, Nook, iPad, Galaxy, Xoom, Playback, Ideapad and Thinkpad.

Filed under Books,Technology | permalink | September 28, 2011 at 09:55 AM | Comments (0)

But Wait! There's More! Kindles, I mean

Let's just list 'em.

Kindle 3G (and Wi-Fi), not new, only $139 with "special offers and sponsored screensavers" which (I am told) are not intrusive and not rude. Without the ads it will cost you $189.

Kindle Wi-Fi only, not new, only $99 with "special offers and sponsored screensavers." Without the ads it will cost you $139.

NEW: Kindle Touch 3G, $149 with "special offers and sponsored screensavers." Without the ads its $189. No keyboard. It's got a touchscreen. Shipping November 21. Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.7 x 0.40 inches, 220 grams. The Kindle 3G keyboard model is 7.5 x 4.8 x 0.335 inches, 247 grams. The display is the same size, 6 inches.

NEW:Kindle Touch, $99 with "special offers and sponsored screensavers." $139 without the ads. It's like the Kindle Touch 3G, but lacks 3G connectivity. Connects via Wi-Fi or USB.

NEW: something at the very bottom, the Kindle. Just plain "Kindle," I guess. Only $79 with "special offers and sponsored screensavers," or $109 without the ads. No keyboard, no touchscreen! Only 170 grams. Slightly smaller dimensions overall. Only 2 GB storage (the others have 4 GB). It's not entirely clear to me, so I have to guess that when you want to enter text into this device, it pops up an image of a keyboard and you use the 5-way controller to point to the character you want to type. I've used this kind of interface on a GPS device and TV remote, and find it maddening, slow and error-prone. But if you just want to read and rarely search, you could probably live with it.

There is still the granddaddy Kindle DX which has a 9.7-inch display and weighs 536 grams and costs $379 with no lower-price option with ads.

Filed under Books,Technology | permalink | September 28, 2011 at 09:42 AM | Comments (0)

Kindle Fire (it's a tablet) - Only $199

Color, backlighted display, touchscreen, video, web access, no camera. Smaller than an iPad (iPad: 9.5 x 7.31 x 0.34 inches, 601 grams; Kindle Fire: 7.5 x 4.7 x 0.45 inches, 413 grams). Promotional video here. Connects via Wi-Fi, and it's got a USB connection. Battery life is said to be 7.5 to 8 hours if Wi-Fi is off. 8 GB internal.

The display: "7-inch multi-touch display with IPS (in-plane switching) technology and anti-reflective treatment, 1024 x 600 pixel resolution at 169 ppi, 16 million colors." It's the "anti-reflective" treatment that's critical in my opinion. The iPad is way too shiny. The plain Kindle screen is very readable. But how does the Fire look with color and backlighting and video? Somebody buy one and show me.

They created a new browser for it called Amazon Silk. Info and promotional video here. The video is reminiscent of Apple's videos when they release something new, only maybe a bit less breathless. You'll see black shirts and men speaking a language somewhere between plain English and tech jargon overload, all of which is designed to make you want to buy. Their point is that the major advantage to Amazon Silk is that most of the heavy lifting is done up on the Amazon servers (one of the "clouds" that are referred to by those who want to be cool). Then your 'umble Kindle Fire sends a web request to the cloud, which quickly responds with what it has already anticipated you will be wanting.

Kindle Fire
Here's what it looks like next to a human hand
. Only $199 and Amazon has a good return policy. Pre-ordering now, shipping November 15.

CNet passes along rumors that there is a 10-inch model in the works that will have 3G connectivity and an option to switch between backlight and e-ink.

Filed under Books,Shopping,Technology,Web/Tech | permalink | September 28, 2011 at 09:18 AM | Comments (2)

September 27, 2011

Science Fiction & Fantasy Top 100

According to NPR listeners. A ton of good stuff here.

Filed under Books | permalink | September 27, 2011 at 06:54 PM | Comments (0)

Science Discovers How Miracle Fruit Works

A report by Keiko Abe of the University of Tokyo in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explains how the fruit makes nonsweet foods taste amazingly sweet. It's got a protein, miraculin, that interacts with the tongue's sweet sensors. The degree of interaction depends on the acidity of the environment around the sensor. An acidic environment makes the protein more active. At a neutral pH the protein may actually block the sweet sensors.

The article says that being a protein, it's likely to break down when heated, so there may be little potential for putting it into baked goods.

Filed under Food and Drink | permalink | September 27, 2011 at 06:35 PM | Comments (0)

Los Angeles County Fair

Last week I went to the L.A. County Fair in Pomona where I met my friend Ric. This was my first time at the L.A. County Fair which is HUGE! Got there when the gates opened at noon and stayed until well after 9 PM. Saw most of the place, but didn't ride any of the rides.

L.A. County Fair - Turkey Legs (0624)
Turkey legs abounded.

L.A. County Fair (0744)
You could mingle with the sheep & goats and some other quadrupeds.
I don't think, however, there was any actual farm animal competition like you see at the Riverside County Fair. No blue ribbons, no 4H, no FFA. I suspect the L.A. County Fair rents all these farm animals just so it looks like a traditional fair.

L.A. County Fair - Ric (1030)
That's Ric.

Fairplex (0630A)
The Fairplex horse track is there too.

L.A. County Fair - Dinosaur (0952)
This was not part of the livestock exhibit.

L.A. County Fair (0910A)

L.A. County Fair (0982)

L.A. County Fair (1015)

L.A. County Fair (1029)
Not sure why the hot dog ladies had to wear hats like they were Pan Am stewardesses in the 1960s.

L.A. County Fair (1037)

L.A. County Fair (1076)

L.A. County Fair - Hy Farber Sculpture (0823)

L.A. County Fair (1023)

L.A. County Fair (0973)
I used this tram to help stay oriented on the fairgrounds
, which worked a whole lot better after I realized there were two trams running at right angles to each other.

L.A. County Fair (0876)
It was La Verne day at the fair.
Apparently La Verne has about a hundred schools with marching bands, and several dozen antique car clubs, including some antique fire engines. I don't know how they all fit.

The complete set of photos is here.

Filed under California,Photography | permalink | September 27, 2011 at 02:45 PM | Comments (0)

September 26, 2011

Campaign Kick-Off For Brown, Furbee And Martin - October 6


MSWD Campaign Kickoff

Mission Springs Water District

President John L. Brown

Director John Furbee

Director Russ Martin

Invite you to their Campaign Kick-Off

Thursday October 6th, 5:30-8PM

Skyborne Club House

RSVP and for more information contact

John L. Brown - (760)288-9671 johnlbrown@dslextreme.com

John Furbee - (760)329-6074 jfurbee@msn.com

Russ Martin - (760)329-5145 bonstempsdhs@aol.com

Filed under Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs | permalink | September 26, 2011 at 10:23 PM | Comments (0)

Folsom Street Fair

I am just back from a weekend in San Francisco where the main event was to attend the Folsom Street Fair (possibly NSFW). This was my first time to this event, although I've visited Dore Alley a few times (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - all NSFW).

The Folsom Street Fair is a leather fair that occupies Folsom Street from 7th to 11th, and spreads up and down 8th, 9th and 10th for a bit. They ask for a donation from all who enter, but no donation is required and all are allowed in, regardless of age. Nudity is permitted, as it is on the public streets of San Francisco at all times. But the activities extend beyond mere nudity, although it is supposed to stop short of actual lewdness. My complete set of photos from this year's Folsom Street Fair are here (and NSFW). If you are not sure you want to see them, then let me decide for you: don't. Nonetheless, here are some that probably won't melt your eyeballs.

Folsom Street Fair
Posing with the health department's "healthy penis" models at the health department booth.

Folsom Street Fair (1118A)

Folsom Street Fair flag dancer
The flag dancers were arrayed along the middle of 10th Street in front of St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church.
That was probably not an accident.

Folsom Street Fair
A couple of the advertisements on the barriers at 7th and Folsom.
This is what the driving public got to see as they went past.

Folsom Street Fair (1138)
Bars and restaurants in the neighborhood offered specials to cater to the crowd.
Svedka snow cones were $7.

Folsom Street Fair (1175)
Adult beverages were available for purchase from booths on the street.
Each beer booth was operated by a different non-profit group.

Folsom Street Fair (1106)
You could pose with one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
who was promoting, I think, a lube.

Folsom Street Fair

Folsom Street Fair (1117A)
There were green beverages, too.

Filed under California,Gay Issues,Photography | permalink | September 26, 2011 at 09:32 PM | Comments (0)

September 23, 2011

San Francisco Tonight

Hole In The Wall (0458)
Hole In The Wall.

Dore Alley Crystal (0440)
Dore Alley.

San Francisco City Hall (0449)

San Francisco After Dark (0442)

Marin Bikes (0459)
Marin Bikes.

Filed under California,Photography | permalink | September 23, 2011 at 11:08 PM | Comments (0)

September 22, 2011

We Are Green!

This year's MOOP map for Burning Man is being updated live. Today was the first day, and they swept around the outer two rows of blocks from 10:00 to 4:15, which means they got to our camp at 4:15 and Journey and quit for the day. And the news is very good!

MOOP map

The full map is available here.

"MOOP" is "Matter Out Of Place," which means litter, but also much more than litter. When the cleanup and restoration are done, the playa should look like a virgin playa again. Anything that keeps it from looking like a virgin playa is MOOP. More info here on how they do the MOOP map and what they find.

In previous years, our block was mostly green, but had had some yellow and red spots too. We occupy only a small bit of a block, but any red or yellow reflects badly on everyone who occupied that block. Who neglected to see and remove that MOOP before leaving for home?

I am a bit surprised that we got solid green this year. We had a couple of later arrival ditzes immediately next to us who I saw throw beverages onto the playa. Then on Monday morning, as the sun gradually rose I discovered they had dropped trash willy-nilly on their site, and then just drove away leaving a piece of rebar sticking up about 6 inches from the playa. I suppose I should be happy they left it up where I could find it rather than trying to hammer it down below the surface. I found a half a hot dog on a bun, too. There were also bits of thread and tiny bits torn from food packaging. The worst, however, were a bunch of roasted cashews strewn across the ground. Roasted cashews and the playa are pretty much the same color. I was down on my knees for half an hour trying to find all the little bits, and I know I didn't get them all.

Maybe the four guys I left behind when I drove away got down on their knees and finished the necessary cleanup. Don't know.

Filed under Burning Man | permalink | September 22, 2011 at 04:43 PM | Comments (0)

MSWD Initiatives FAQ

The MSWD addresses the questions on the subject of the water and sewer rate reduction initiatives:

MSWD response to Public inquiry regarding the following:

  1. Why didn't the District let the voters decide on the initiatives?
    1. First, the stakeholder voters did have opportunity to protest the rate action as prescribed through the constitutionally prescribed proposition 218 process. This process puts the "vote" into the hands of the property owners who are, inevitably, the stakeholders in a rate action. MSWD received only 26 verified protests from 13,000 accounts.
    2. There is a special interest group of landlords who did not like the outcome of that process who decided to use a different constitutional process to trump the property owners. The initiative process actually disenfranchises owner-rate payers who don't happen to reside in the District.
    3. Initiative is unconstitutional: After careful consideration and discussion with legal counsel, it was determined that the initiatives are unconstitutional in that they conflict with the court's findings in the Bighorn Desert View case which plainly states that future rate actions cannot be locked in and require a vote of the general public.
    4. Why would the District set an item before its constituents that the District understands to be invalid due to constitutional problems if the law provides the option?
    5. If the proponents wanted to defend their initiative then they had ample time to appeal to the courts to get it on the ballot.
    6. It would have been irresponsible for the board to put a knowingly unconstitutional issue before the voters.


  2. Rates
    1. MSWD's rates are competitive. Multiple surveys, including a Desert Sun survey, identified MSWD's rates as low and competitive in the region. Other surveys put MSWD as low throughout the state.
    2. Rates alone do not tell the story of the cost of water to a community. Most of MSWD's revenue is derived through rates based upon consumption of water. A small portion comes from property taxes. Other districts have a little bit of a different mix based upon their sources of revenue. If, for example, a particular district receives significant property taxes, their rates can be lower but that doesn't mean their cost of water is lower. The community is still paying just in a different way.
    3. Further, MSWD customers pay based on what they use. Where a district uses property taxes to subsidize rates, the whole community is paying for water they may not be using. In our service area, for example, each user pays about 82 cents for each hundred cubic feet of water to Desert Water Agency as the state water contractor. This increases MSWD bills in the DHS area but provides revenue to DWA. MSWD rate payers have, additionally, been paying property taxes to DWA since the 1960s. This is again a source of revue for DWA from local dollars.

  3. Consolidation [with another district]
    1. The problem with consolidating is that at face value it always looks better to reduce perceived redundancy and combine agencies to provide common services to the public. In reality, however, there are a multitude of opportunity costs that need to be considered.
      1. Local control: If MSWD were to be "absorbed" into another District, there is not only no guarantee that rates could be lower, but also the community would lose local governance control.
      2. The priorities of this community would be second to those of larger voting blocs when competing for scarce resources, i.e. budget.
      3. Even if another agency were to guarantee a seat on the board, this community would trade 100% representation for 20% representation.
      4. MSWD has been far ahead of the curve on proactive actions to protect groundwater, attract significant grant funding ($21.5 million since 2000 -- $5 mil for water projects that rest for sewer) and ensure future water supply reliability because the community has made these issues a priority. That couldn't have happened without local control.
      5. Costs for providing water to this community would be affected very little by consolidation and potential resulting staff and overhead reductions. The cost drivers of this district are related to operations and the system itself, debt service and depreciation.
      6. Staff wages currently make up less than 28% of the operations budget. The point is that producing and delivering a gallon of water would not be affected to any great extent. In fact, it is quite possible that MSWD is doing it more efficiently than other agencies! These considerations are necessary.

  4. Compensation:
    1. In 2002 wages constituted 36% of total operating expenses. In 2010 wages constituted 28% of operating expenses.
    2. There has not been a cost of living increase since 2009 for MSWD staff.
    3. The District regularly compares compensation with the industry. MSWD competes with the industry and the private sector for qualified employees regardless of the income demographics of the community we serve. We compensate our employees lower than neighboring districts but not so low as to become the breeding ground of another company's employees.
    4. Public employees in California make 6% less than their private sector peers of similar work and education according to a recent UC Berkeley study. Public employees are compensated slightly higher in benefits but lower in wages.
    5. It costs more to hire and train than to retain. We must be competitive and guard against costly turnover.
    6. Quality employees, such as those employed at MSWD, cost the company less because of productivity as opposed to lesser quality employees. It pays to retain the best and most qualified people possible.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | September 22, 2011 at 03:47 PM | Comments (0)

September 21, 2011

I Go Off Half-Cocked

Don't get too excited. I'm going to go off half-cocked because I've got to get out the door, but the Desert Sun has an article this morning on the five candidates for the three seats on the Mission Springs Water District board of directors. It's got brief video interviews with each of the candidates that show, once again, the TV stations in the valley have nothing to fear from the newspaper. Here's a suggestion for the Desert Sun: put a microphone in front of the person being interviewed!

With one (or possibly two) exceptions the article misidentifies Malcolm McLean as Michael McLean. Another rough night at the newspaper, I guess.

So far I've watched only the videos of Malcolm McLean and Doug Sherman. I haven't watched the ones for the three incumbents: John Brown, John Furbee, or Russ Martin. If they say anything embarrassing, you let me know and I'll take a look when I get back.

Mr. McLean tells us he's a "scientist first." Doesn't say what his particular science is, but that he did study geology for two years...so I think geology is not his specialty. He has lived in Desert Hot Springs for 2 years and has an interest in the aquifer. He didn't know anything about the initiatives before filing his candidacy! He would like to remain neutral on that subject and take a look at the whole thing (presumably after he's elected). He was surprised by last year's rate increase and would like to know why the rates went up, and that's why he's running. (There are easier ways to get that information.) He feels the district should not fight the initatives...so he's not entirely neutral.

To summarize: almost completely ignorant on the issues facing the water district.

Doug Sherman lists off some of the highlights of his long political experience. He has been 40 years in the printing business and he once (more than once, I would bet) agreed to help Jim Jones. That's it. In his video interview he said nothing about the water district, the rate increase, the initiatives, or about any issue at all related to the water district. In the text article he said the district's communications to the public about the rate increase were not as good as he would have liked them. "I would have liked to see them demonstrate to the public what they did to save money and what they couldn't do." I seem to recall the district staff doing that over and over and over again. What district staff failed to do was to go directly to Mr. Sherman's house and re-do one of the town hall forums in his living room.

To summarize: kept himself ignorant and blames the district for that.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | September 21, 2011 at 09:53 AM | Comments (1)

Kindle Adds Public Libraries

Amazon's Kindle has caught up with other ereaders by adding access to ebooks in 11,000 public libraries, Amazon announced today. The service is handled through OverDrive who have made virtually the same announcement.

The process for borrowing a public library or school eBook for Kindle is similar as for other devices. Most eBooks already in the library's catalog supplied by OverDrive are compatible with Kindle, so users simply browse or search for "Kindle Book," check out a title with a valid library card, and then click "Get for Kindle." Access to the Kindle Book will occur at Amazon's website after signing in and selecting delivery to the user's Kindle device or any of the free Kindle reading apps. As with all eBooks and other digital content at OverDrive-powered libraries and schools, titles are available 24/7 and incur no late fees because they automatically expire at the end of the lending period. For more details on Kindle compatibility, including the availability of Amazon's Whispersync technology, please visit OverDrive's Digital Library Blog

The only question, then, is 'What about Desert Hot Springs?' And the answer is here. Ebooks are available from Riverside and San Bernardino county libraries. Currently the most popular ebook at those libraries is The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.

Filed under Books | permalink | September 21, 2011 at 09:21 AM | Comments (1)

Study Of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries & Crime

A Rand study of crime near Los Angeles medical marijuana outlets showed an increase in crime after the shops were closed. They say it showed a 59% increase in crime in the ten day period after a shop was closed. City attorneys and police dispute the validity of the study - cuz like what else did you expect? Rand also admits the data are noisy: "The researchers acknowledge that the results are subject to a large margin of error, so the increase in crime within less than a third of a mile could range from as low as 5.4% to as high as 114%."

Here's an important datapoint: "The report looks at such crimes as thefts and assaults, but not "disorder," nuisances such as loitering, double parking, loud noises and graffiti that sparked anger among neighborhood activists."

The police, of course, count all trouble as trouble. We may be talking oranges and kumquats.

Filed under California | permalink | September 21, 2011 at 01:04 AM | Comments (2)