Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Rat Meat Inflation

I was checking the news online this evening and found a story that really troubled me. The headline, "Price of rat meat in Cambodia quadruples as inflation bites", caused my stomach to clench. The story itself was worse.

The Cambodian per capita annual income, according to, a news forum dedicated to Chinese, Indian and Asian trade, is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 US. To put this in perspective, the average annual income in the US is around $36,600, which means we in the United States make around 36 1/2 times what a Cambodian makes.

To be fair, things cost less in Cambodia; according to, on the average, an item costing about $1.00 here in the US would cost about .16 cents in Cambodia. Basically things cost six times more here than they do in Cambodia. Which, for a moment, allows you to breathe a little easier.

But let's break the numbers down a bit further. If the average American makes 36 1/2 times what the average Cambodian makes, but that same American pays 6 times the amount the Cambodian does in order to live, is there a so-called "wealth-gap"?

Imagine that you're one of those average American wage earners. You make $36,600 per year (not a substantial living, to be sure, but an average American one, according to the statistics). You pay today's prices for everything you buy. Now imagine that tomorrow you go into work, and you're called into the office and told that, due to low profitability, your wages got cut to $5,000 per year; you still work the same number of hours doing the same job, but for this new wage.

Your stuff all still costs the same amount. Fuel is still $4 a gallon; the milk prices haven't dropped; it's still $6 for a Big-Mac Extra Value meal at McDonalds. You just make 1/6 the amount of money you're accustomed to.

How does it feel? Can you live? The most recent census places the poverty level for a family of four at about $20,000 of income per year. Your $5,000 doesn't get you much. Tack onto that inflation of 37% per year, and now you're starting to feel what it's like to live in Cambodia.

You kill rats in order to feed your family. And if you're entrepreneurial, you kill many rats, and sell them to other hungry people wanting to feed their families.

I have no intention of turning MyndFood into a social diatribe (although many of you, I'm sure, are wondering what my intentions ARE for MyndFood; more to come on that. I will say, stick close if you're interested in reading installment two of "The Funeral". There's also a contest coming, so check back frequently). But this is, after all, intended to be your favorite online eatery, and occasionally, you should be fed something weighty, and full of protein--something that requires some work to digest, and perhaps a little pain. This is one of those meals.

In recent years we've all read the stories of American companies relocating manufacturing operations to any of a number of Asian countries. Horror stories of 11 year-old girls slaving away making shoes for .19 cents per day get half of us fired up about "wicked, greedy American business"; the other half of us applaud, perhaps crudely AND cruelly, the ingenuity of American business. And both sides have their arguments--all reasonable and well-thought out. The "business is evil" group says that we Americans have a moral obligation to not take advantage of underprivileged citizens of other countries; we have a minimum wage, and laws pertaining to lawful working age and acceptable working conditions; those laws should apply to ANY operation, no matter the country it's located in. The "hooray for big business" folks say things like, "the business makes more money, and I save a little bit on my shoes, so the government gets more in taxes, and can turn around and distribute that to needy folks all over the world." Or, even more radical, the argument that says that our government is bailing out poor countries all over the place; why should we help?

Valid arguments, all, but each a little extreme. I, for one, feel that we DO have an obligation to treat other countries fairly. NOT to make them wealthy, but neither to take advantage of them. There's a problem when countries have masses of their population actively hunting rats to eat. It's not our problem to fix mind you; I don't think we (the US government) needs to jump in and save the day. But if our companies go there to do business, we should compensate the employees there--not at the income levels THEY'RE used to, but at the proportional income levels we see here. They're used to utter poverty; and so we justify paying them wages that do nothing more than perpetuate poverty. What's the Cambodian (cost of living adjusted) equivalent to our current minimum wage? Somewhere around $1.25 per hour. Wouldn't that wage still prove a windfall for an American business? Yet wouldn't it also be like winning the lottery for some Cambodian who has historically made less than .25 cents per hour?

I don't know that there are enough American businesses in disadvantaged Asian countries to make much of a different, but I'd like to think that if those that were there were operating with any sort of social conscience, they'd be operating as I've described, and perhaps there'd be fewer stories about inflation in the price of rat meat.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Customer Support

Our internet service provider, Comcast. has an online tech support system. You log on and some techie (in India, I'll bet) logs on, and chats with you (via some chat room thing on their site). I'm having a problem with our service, so I had to try to use it tonite. Below is my entire conversation, transcribed (with no modifications whatsoever).

>>>Beginning of Conversation

user Paul_ has entered room

Paul(Wed Aug 20 05:07:01 PDT 2008)>cannot connect more than one comp through wireless connection; freezes the modem.analyst

Pearl has entered room

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:07:07 PDT 2008)>Hello Paul_, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Pearl. Please give me one moment to review your information.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:07:13 PDT 2008)>Hi there! How are you doing?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:07:17 PDT 2008)>good. how r u?

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:07:40 PDT 2008)>Glad to hear that.I am doing fine, as well. Thank you for asking.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:07:55 PDT 2008)>Paul, may I know if your router comes from Comcast?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:08:00 PDT 2008)>yes. it did.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:08:10 PDT 2008)>im sry. u mean the cable modem?

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:08:12 PDT 2008)>Thank you.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:08:19 PDT 2008)>No, the router.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:08:25 PDT 2008)>oh. no. it didnt.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:09:17 PDT 2008)>I see. Have you tried to bypass the router by connecting the modem directly to one PC to check if the router is the issue?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:10:04 PDT 2008)>the router isn't the issue. I'm connected directly through the modem now, but the whole setup works great as long as there's only a single computer trying to access the net.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:10:11 PDT 2008)>i've been using it for two months that way

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:10:22 PDT 2008)>but we just got another computer, and it won't work now.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:10:37 PDT 2008)>i also purchased another router today and tried that

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:10:47 PDT 2008)>same results. either one or the other computer will work

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:11:01 PDT 2008)>Have you configure the router before you connect it to the modem?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:11:00 PDT 2008)>but as soon as i try to get on with the second comp, it freezes the modem.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:11:15 PDT 2008)>yes. as i said, it works fine, until I add the second computer

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:11:15 PDT 2008)>Have you configured the router?Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:11:20 PDT 2008)>then the modem freezes.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:11:26 PDT 2008)>yes i have configured it.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:12:22 PDT 2008)>Please try to check first if the modem will work without a router. If it will allow the computer to work without a router then compare the results.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:12:50 PDT 2008)>yes. as I said, i'm working directly through the modem now; no router.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:12:53 PDT 2008)>so that works.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:13:11 PDT 2008)>Then it is verified that there is a problem with the router.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:13:15 PDT 2008)>nope.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:13:35 PDT 2008)>because i can plug the router in, and work online just fine with only one computer.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:13:39 PDT 2008)>so the router works great.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:13:54 PDT 2008)>If the router will work fine, Paul, it should allow another PC to connect after you connect the router to your modem.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:13:55 PDT 2008)>as soon as I try the second computer, the MODEM freezes (the router continues working)

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:14:03 PDT 2008)>I should.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:14:05 PDT 2008)>but it doesnt

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:14:08 PDT 2008)>so...

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:14:11 PDT 2008)>we have a problem.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:14:24 PDT 2008)>with the modem.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:15:10 PDT 2008)>May I know what made you say that there is a problem with the modem if it is allowing it has a connection?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:15:20 PDT 2008)>ok...

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:15:36 PDT 2008)>I mean if it is allowing the other PC to connect.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:15:38 PDT 2008)>the modem freezes as soon as a second computer tries to get out on the net

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:15:50 PDT 2008)>i can still see both computers through the router...

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:16:02 PDT 2008)>i just can't get out onto the net

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:16:38 PDT 2008)>does that make sense?

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:17:08 PDT 2008)>Allow me to explain.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:17:12 PDT 2008)>ok

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:18:28 PDT 2008)>The modem will provide connection to the PC. If there is a router, the signals will go through the router before it reaches the PCs. If the PC is not able to get a connection when you connect it through a router then the router is not giving enough signals to the PC, right?

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:18:51 PDT 2008)>Make sure that all the cable wires are plug in.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:18:54 PDT 2008)>i DO GET A CONNECTION through the router though...thats my point. I have been for two months

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:19:25 PDT 2008)>But you are not getting a connection but can connect with just the modem?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:19:38 PDT 2008)>yes. I ALSO have a connection when I connect through just the modem.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:19:47 PDT 2008)>THE PROBLEM is that i now have TWO COMPUTERS

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:19:59 PDT 2008)>and when the SECOND computer tries to connect, the modem crashes

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:20:13 PDT 2008)>NOT the router

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:20:38 PDT 2008)>(i have two routers, and I've tried them both independently tonite, with the SAME exact results, so the problem HAS to be the modem)

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:21:31 PDT 2008)>Okay, if you insist I will send a technician over to fix the modem which comes from Comcast to be able to check this on your end.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:21:47 PDT 2008)>Will that work for you?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:22:03 PDT 2008)>I'm not "insisting" anything...if you'd rather, we can just cancel the service, and I can go with another provider...

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:22:14 PDT 2008)>I'm simply saying that the modem has an issue...

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:22:27 PDT 2008)>and I've verified that against two routers

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:22:45 PDT 2008)>Paul, please understand here in chat there are certain limitations.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:23:13 PDT 2008)>We do have tools that is currently monitoring the status of the PC.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:23:18 PDT 2008)>I mean the modem.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:23:25 PDT 2008)>okPearl(Wed Aug 20 05:23:50 PDT 2008)>I have seen here that the modem status is fine and it is getting enough signals on our server.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:24:33 PDT 2008)>Let me try to ping the modem to further check it here.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:24:45 PDT 2008)>Here is the result.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:24:47 PDT 2008)>PING 64 data bytes
72 bytes from icmp_seq=0. time=54.6 ms
72 bytes from icmp_seq=1. time=54.9 ms
72 bytes from icmp_seq=2. time=54.6 ms
72 bytes from icmp_seq=3. time=53.4 ms
72 bytes from icmp_seq=4. time=54.7 ms
---- PING Statistics----
5 packets transmitted, 5 packets received, 0% packet loss
round-trip (ms) min/avg/max/stddev = 53.4/54.4/54.9/0.59

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:24:52 PDT 2008)>the modem is fine now because i only have a single computer connected to it

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:25:28 PDT 2008)>in order to demonstrate the problem, I'll have to connect the router and the second computer; unfortunately that'll end our conversation

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:25:30 PDT 2008)>so...

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:26:29 PDT 2008)>Yes, please do that is the only way that we can check and verify the real cause of this. Make sure to Powercycle everything once you have connected the router before turning everything on.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:27:00 PDT 2008)>im going to lose do I get back to you?

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:27:42 PDT 2008)>I may not be able to assist you once you chat back however you can inform the next agent who will handle you regarding the steps that we have done from here.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:27:50 PDT 2008)>we haven't done anything

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:28:17 PDT 2008)>When you powercycle the modem please do not forget to unplug the modem for a minute or two.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:28:35 PDT 2008)>yes; i know. i've had to do it like 30 times tonite...

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:28:33 PDT 2008)>Then re-insert cable modem plug into electrical outlet. Allow cable modem 30 seconds to initialize before starting computer.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:28:42 PDT 2008)>ok...

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:28:55 PDT 2008)>thanks.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:29:15 PDT 2008)>You are welcome.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:29:26 PDT 2008)>So are we now set to go from here?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:29:30 PDT 2008)>sure.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:29:32 PDT 2008)>thanks.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:29:53 PDT 2008)>You are welcome.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:29:59 PDT 2008)>We are here for you 24 hours a day 365 days a year! To learn more about your services and find answers to many questions, please visit our FAQ pages:

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:30:07 PDT 2008)>Analyst has closed chat and left the roomanalyst Pearl has left room

>>>End of Conversation.

I give up...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's A Crisis!

Our city only has one taco truck. I know this because I've investigated it.

The good news is that this particular taco truck happens to be the best taco truck in the nation (I know this because I've eaten--and been blessed with a wide variety of digestive maladies--at many of them).

It also happens to be permanently parked (why wouldn't they just rent a restaurant?) on the extreme opposite corner of town. It sits in the parking lot of an adult bookstore, which always makes me feel a little awkward when going to get a taco. I'm never quite sure when going to grab a bite whether I should park in an inconspicuous location, or park right out in front where everyone can see me.

At any rate, I was thinking about the taco truck the other day. We were readying to go visit Shawna's family for a few days, and Shawna was complaining about having to pack all of our considerable accoutrement's into the trunk of our comfortable (but admittedly cramped when full of all of our stuff) family sedan. She was lamenting the absence of her beloved, oversized SUV (which we sold a few months ago). And I realized that there is a problem.

I can get three tacos at this taco truck of mine for a dollar. If we still owned the gas-guzzling SUV, it would cost me more in fuel to drive to the taco truck than it would cost me to eat. That's wrong. I'm not old, but I have been driving for awhile. When I got my license twelve years ago, gas hovered at around .95 cents a gallon. In twelve years, the price of gas has risen by nearly %500, a fantastic investment by any account, seeing as how, generally my investments appreciate, on average, at about -7.7 % per year.

I should have bought a bunch of gas when I got my license.

I think, though, that necessity is truly the mother of invention. If nothing else, these prices are a good thing in that they're causing entrepreneurial, inventive people to come up with brilliant ideas, alternatives to paying $5 a gallon for fuel.

And it's great for the people that make Smart Cars; Shawna told me that she heard that there's a two year wait list for purchasing the things.

But I'm talking about something bigger than just little cars.

Things like moving sidewalks (like they have at the airport); you can jump on to go grab some lunch. It's faster than walking, and costs almost nothing. Or maybe new cities can be planned with canals instead of roads (like Venice). Instead of driving to the supermarket or the taco truck, you can jump in a gondola and take a ride down the canal.

My favorite is virtual entertainment. For example, I envision Disney creating a virtual Disneyland that you can buy and load up on your Wii (assuming you have a widescreen and surround sound, and the rumble pack that goes under your couch leg), and ride "It's A Small World" right there in your living room.

What do you think? What are your ideas for mitigating the "Gas Is Atrocious!" crisis?