FREE PREVIEW: Normally, only an abridged version of KGB Report is available on the kgb.com website. As an introductory offer, this issue and the next one will be posted in their entirety. Current subscribers will have two issues added to their subscription.
Online Ordering: Just in time for the holidays, we've implemented secure online credit card ordering on the www.kgbreport.com website. You can now indulge your heretofore-suppressed impulses to buy gift subscriptions, pop-up calendars and our curmudgeon tee shirts. Experts say online ordering increases site sales up to 1000 percent. Let's not prove them wrong, okay?
A Bit Late. Sorry for the delay with this week's issue. I was in Chicago last week teaching a class for the great folks at Datalogics, Inc. and got a bit behind.
Don't Get Me Started. When I first became self-employed in 1984, Blue Cross/Blue Shield indemnity coverage cost me about $115 a month for my family of four.
Currently we're paying $491.06 a month for Select Blue's managed care program for husbands and wives.
Beginning in January, the monthly cost jumps to $523.19. And for the extra cash, we get a reduction in allowable mental health and chiropractic visits as well as an involuntary switch from an open to a closed formulary for prescription drugs.
This is particularly upsetting, especially when a drug you're taking isn't in the formulary and the suggested substitutes have already proved to be ineffective or have side effects.
We have some major ethical objections, too. The estrogen replacement currently used by my wife, a synthetic called Estrace, isn't in the formulary. The suggested replacement is something called Premarin, which happens to be the most widely prescribed drug in the United States, used by about 9 million women. The number increases annually, as more baby boomers enter menopause.
Know where they get the name Premarin? It's short for pregnant mare urine.
They don't collect pregnant mare urine by hiring people to follow expectant horses around with little specimen bottles.
The urine is harvested, assembly-line style, from mares under conditions that are not precisely humane.
Anywhere from 30,000 to 75,000 horses, some in North Dakota but most in Canada, are impregnated every year on 500 or so pregnant mare urine farms. They're confined to stalls where their urine is collected and sold to drugmaker Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories who processes it into Premarin.
Of course, the mares produce more than urine. Some of the mares' foals, which are an unwanted byproduct of the process, are sold as companion animals. Unfortunately, most are slaughtered and sold for human consumption in Asia and Europe.
The pregnant mares are tethered in stalls measuring three and a half to five feet wide and eight feet long. For six months, while their bodies are producing the most estrogen, the mares are unable to take more than a step or two in any direction, turn around, or even lie down comfortably. Many become lame.
The horses are forced to wear urine
collection bags 24 hours a day, which chafe and cause sores. To
increase the concentration of estrogens in their urine, reduce
the cost of shipping the waste and for the convenience of the
farm operators, the horses are given only limited amounts of water.
Some farms use automated systems that provide water only twice
This leads to renal and liver problems. The mares also injure themselves as they frantically rush for the water when it's finally offered.
Within days of giving birth, the mares are immediately reimpregnated so they can go back into production. After years of grueling service, when they've become old, infertile or lame, they're auctioned off for slaughter.
The farms are unregulated, but Wyeth-Ayerst says it has its own standards which the farms must follow. The Humane Society of the United States, among others, have found the standards to fall far short of what most reasonable persons would consider to be acceptable.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm no animal rights activist. I have no objection to killing animals for food. As John Cleese said, if God didn't want us to eat animals, why did He make them out of meat?
I am, however, opposed to abusing or killing animals when man-made alternatives are available, especially when the substitutes are better than their "natural" counterparts.
In its advertising, Wyeth-Ayerst boasts the estrogen in Premarin comes from a "natural source". I'm no doctor, but I doubt horse estrogens are native to the human body.
And honestly... why would anyone want to ingest processed animal waste when there are higher quality synthetic forms of the hormone available?
Excuse me if this seems to be off-topic
for this newsletter, but every week I talk about the dehumanizing
effects of technology. Here's a rare instance in which technology,
specifically synthetic estrogens, can actually enhance our humanity.
I once saw a sign in a veterinary office that made a great impression on me. It said, "When God gave man dominion over the animals of the Earth, He intended for us to take care of them."
I guess my wife and I are going to have to raise a stink with Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the Pittsburgh Technology Council (we get our health benefits through their program) and anyone else who'll listen.
We'll keep you posted.
Another Insurance Tidbit: Paul Stockhausen, the only life insurance agent I know who's such a nice guy that I feel he doesn't call me enough, passed along some interesting information.
Notice how cheap term life insurance has been lately? So have the nation's insurance commissioners, who've investigated a number of companies in the highly competitive field. Some of the firms' premiums are so low, the commissioners are concerned they won't be able to pay off on claims.
Expect some monumental increases in the cost of term life insurance at the beginning of the New Year. Now is the time to get insurance or add to your present coverage. The rumored premium hikes are toe curling in nature.
If you need an agent, give Paul a
call. Contact me and I'll put you in touch with him.
At least we know what the Y2K problem is and when it will arrive. Unfortunately, unexpected crises that emphasize the infrastructure's fragility whack our technology dependent society upside the head on an almost daily basis. Some recent events of note:
Better Build a Better Mousetrap: One of the reasons the motion picture industry has gone full tilt bozo over the digital video disc (DVD) is because the format's encryption technology prevents illegal duplication.
Oops. Make that prevented duplication.
Some Norwegian Linux afficianados wanted to add DVD drives to their systems. Problem: DVD software didn't exist for the open source operating system.
So, like the good little hackers they are, the programmers started reverse engineering some of the Windows-based DVD drivers. It was a daunting task, because the software-based players must use a special security code to play DVD movies. This security code is itself encrypted within all the DVD programs.
The designers of Xing Technologies' DVD software forgot to encrypt their key. So the Norwegian programmers not only found a way to read DVD disks on Linux, they wrote and began distributing a utility which defeats the encryption on all DVD discs. Which means that every DVD player will need an upgrade to whatever new encryption code the industry establishes.
(The irony here is that Xing is owned by RealNetworks. It was discovered last week that the company's RealJukebox product tracks songs played by the software, and sends the information back to RealNetworks.)
Entertainment industry lawyers are contacting owners of web sites where the hack has been posted, and it's already disappeared from the most highly frequented locations.
But you can't put the genie back in the bottle.
Shake, Rattle and Roll: Just when chip manufacturers in Taiwan had just about completed recalibrating the ultra-sensitive equipment used to manufacture computer chips and laptop screens, another earthquake nailed the area last week. Much smaller than the 7.6 temblor that wreaked mass destruction six weeks ago, the 6.0 quake was nonetheless large enough to again disrupt the country's semiconductor industry, which makes the motherboards for about half of the world's computers. Expect higher prices, especially for laptops.
Myth Becomes Reality: It used to be that virus or worm-infested email couldn't damage your machine unless you opened the attachment.
Ah, the marvels of advanced programming.
Anti-virus research firm Network Associates says it was sent an anonymous worm that self activates if the machine receiving the message is running Microsoft's Outlook or Outlook Express mail software. It's not necessary to open the message to activate the worm; merely highlighting the subject line in the Outlook Express preview window is enough to initiate the Melissa-like infestation.
The remedy, as always, is to have active antivirus software running on your machine at all times, and to update it regularly.
The new worm is called "Bubbleboy", after an epsiode of the old Seinfeld television series.
says the author of the malicious worm is a hacker named Zulu,
who's posted the code on his web site.
The IRS Understands: The kindler, gentler Internal Revenue Service has announced it will offer relief to businesses who are unable to make filings which are due immediately after the first of the year because of Y2K-related computer problems.
Some businesses must make employee withholding deposits as early as January 3, the first business day of the year. (January 1, 2000 is a Saturday.) The IRS will not impose its normal penalties on a business that has made sincere efforts to insure Y2K compliance and is unable to file due to circumstances beyond its control. Details of the available aid will be announced in December.
Meanwhile, President Clinton said he's not worried about about major Y2K calamities in the US, but he's concerned that some small businesses and local governments are still inadequately prepared.
Travel Notes: I've done more traveling in the past six months than I have in the past six years, and I've become a fan of sorts of Vanguard Airlines, a low cost outfit that's based in Kansas and mainly serves the midwest with its fleet of 13 (!) 737s(!!).
As a child of 50s who closely followed the space race, the name Vanguard has a rather negative connotation to me. But then, I don't understand why people buy Amelia Earhart luggage, either.
The four times I've flown Vanguard, they've pushed off from the gate exactly on time. Even more impressive, I found myself in the destination terminal and on my way to ground transporation within five minutes of the scheduled arrival time. On my last flight, we were already on our way to the runway at the 12:30 CT departure, and I was inside Greater Pitt at 2:44 ET, a minute ahead of the published arrival time.
Vanguard's schedules are also based on reality. USAirway's flights to O'Hare, for example, can have departures and arrivals far enough apart to allow you to drive the distance in an old Studebaker and still beat the schedule.
Vanguard's flight attendants are formidable as well. Composed mostly of healthy, well-bred Kansas stock, they're simultaneously attractive and somewhat intimidating.
On my first trip with them, one of the attendants was guarding an overhead luggage compartment. She explained that it had taken her ten minutes to get its door to latch, and she was afraid that if someone reopened it she wouldn't be able to get it to close securely, as required by FAA regulations.
Vanguard doesn't have its own maintenance in Pittsburgh. It depends upon Delta, "and Delta," the attendant said with faintly disguised displeasure, "can take 90 minutes to respond to one of our calls." A pilot-ish person wandered back from the flight deck and asked the intense attendant if the maintenance guy could stop by the cockpit after fixing the luggage bin. "We're not calling maintenance," the attendant said forcefully. "Okay," the crew member mumbled sheepishly, and retreated quickly to the cockpit.
The attendant then turned her icy gaze on me. "You're sitting in an emergency exit row. I can count on you for assistance in the event I need it. Right?" It was more a threat than a question.
"You betcha," I said, stuffing my newspaper in the seat pocket in front of me. Throughout the flight, I sat with one hand on the seat belt buckle, the other tensed on the seat arm, ready to propel my not inconsiderable bulk toward the safety hatch should duty call.
It wasn't a particularly relaxing flight, but at least I felt as if I had some control over my fate.
And she gave me an
extra bag of peanuts.
Answer to our last question: The touch-tone telephone was introduced in Carnegie, PA and Greensburg, PA on November 18, 1963 after initial marketing trials in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Congratulations to Andy Green of Datalogics, Inc. in Chicago, IL for being the first person with the correct answer.
This week's question: There isn't one. Not enough time to do the research. Look for a doozy next week, though.
"Thousands of couples all across the world are planning to get married at the stroke of midnight this New Year's Eve. Isn't that romantic? And guys really like this idea because if they can't perform on their wedding night they can blame it on Y2K."-Conan O'Brien
"And God said: 'Let there be Satan, so people don't blame everything on me. And let there be lawyers, so people don't blame everything on Satan.'"-John Wing
"On the one hand, we'll never experience childbirth. On the other hand, we can open all our own jars."-Jeff Green
"Trust your husband,
adore your husband, and get as much as you can in your own name."-Joan
"I'm a registered Republican and consider socialism a violation of the American principle that you shouldn't stick your nose in other people's business except to make a buck."-P.J. O'Rourke
"Fools look to tomorrow. Wise men use tonight."-Scottish Proverb
"Executives hate talking to employees because they always bring up a bunch of unresolvable issues. Salespeople just buy the executives lunch. It's no contest."-from The Dilbert Principle
"Ever notice how irons have a setting for permanent press? I don't get it."-Steven Wright
"Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian."-Dennis Wholey
"You mean Ignatowski spelled backward isn't 'Starchild'?"-Reverend Jim, Taxi
"There are three side effects of acid. Enhanced long term memory, decreased short term memory, and I forget the third."-Dr. Timothy Leary
The KGB Random Quotations Generator has over 3,800 entries and is frequently updated. Visit it online at http://www.kgbreport.com/kgbquote.shtml, and be sure to try the search feature. Many of the quotes are also available on our Curmudgeon Tees... check out http://www.kgbreport.com/tshirts.html.
http://come.to/theweirdalshow is dedicated to "The Weird Al Show", a now-defunct children's program starring Grammy Award-winning entertainer/parodist Weird Al Yankovic. Only 13 episodes were made for CBS, which aired the show during the 1997-98 season. The next year, the network cancelled its entire Saturday morning kiddie block.
While Weird Al's satirical skills are a level of magnitude below those of the immortal Tom Lehrer, he is the current king of popular parody. His most successful venues continue to be his touring show and occasional MTV rotation, where it appears some of his better lyrics skewer his target audience:
the biggest joke on the Internet
Your database is a disaster
You're waxin' your modem tryin' to make it go faster
Hey fella, I bet you're still livin' in your parents' cellar
Downloadin' pictures of Sarah Michelle Gellar
And postin "Me too!" like some brain-dead AOL-er
I should do the world a favor and cap you like Old Yeller
You're just about as useless as jpegs to Helen Keller
Weird Al has a special place in my heart for penning the world's shortest blues song, I Didn't Wake Up This Morning, under the name "Blind Lemon Yankovic".
More Shameless Self-Promotion: Culturally enrich your employees or clients by getting them a subscription to the weekly KGB Report; quantity discounts are available. Items from KGB Report may be used in other media with proper attribution. And for heaven's sake, buy a calendar, will you?
They're Here! As seen on ABC World News Now, (Hi, Sharon!) the KGB Consulting Y2K Compliant Multi-Dimensional Tetradecagon Pop-Up Calendar is now available! Visit our newly designed and interactive Desperate Sideline Enterprises web page at http://www.kgbreport.com/tshirts.html, which also features our Curmudgeon Tees, now with new lower prices and secure online credit card ordering.
News Now Plug:
Beginning Monday November 15, ABC will begin streaming World
News Now every morning at 2 am eastern time. Check out http://abcnews.go.com/onair/worldnewsnow/WorldNewsNowIndex.html.
This is a spectacular development. Currently, WTAE in Pittsburgh doesn't pick up WNN until 3:10 or so, after The Roseanne Show. On Tuesday mornings, thanks to Monday Night Football, WNN isn't seen at all; just World News This Morning, which is sort of like WNN on thorazine. Ick.
Tune in, turn on, and do the World News Polka!
The Official KGB Y2K Beanie Now Available! Nobody knows what the dickens is really going to occur on Y2KDay, but the odds are about a million to one that anything bad will happen to you personally. You say that's not good enough, bunkie? Step right up, here's the answer to your problem! Through the miracle of modern mathematics, you can virtually eliminate the chance of any Y2K calamity visiting upon your person by purchasing and wearing The Official KGB Y2K Beanie. It works by exploiting the elegant if little understood concept of statistical probability. Now here's the deal... The odds of getting personally zapped by a Y2K bug, according to various generally reputable mass media sources, are, as we previously noted, about a million to one. But the odds of getting zapped... while wearing The Official KGB Y2K Beanie... are virtually incalculable! Do the math yourself! See what we mean? In order for The Official KGB Y2K Beanie to maintain its statistical validity, it's necessary to restrict the seeded universe (the number we sell) to... wait a minute... carry the two... say, 100,000. At a mere 20 bucks, it's the best insurance you can buy! Each beanie is unique, hand-modified to further increase the odds against personal catastrophic happenstance! No two are alike! Beware of inferior, mass-produced Y2K Remediation Headgear... those duplicate beanies may save you a few bucks, but do you dare tamper with the delicate mathematical balance of our pristine calculations? Don't muck around with celestial mechanics, my friends! Accept only The Official KGB Y2K Beanie! Plus, it'll be a great way to break the ice at that New Year's Party! The Official KGB Y2K Beanie is more attractive than a lampshade, not to mention far more functional! Order The Official KGB Y2K Beanie now, save your butt, beat the odds, and make a timely fashion statement!
Kevin G. Barkes publishes the KGB Report, a somewhat curmudgeonly-skewed weekly look at business and technology-related issues. We operate the www.kgbreport.com website, which contains an online version of this newsletter, the KGB Random Quotations Generator, additional information about our company and links to other interesting places on the Internet.