Thursday, December 23, 2004

Electoral College--It's a good thing

Dianne Feinstein is proposing an amendment to the Constitution to abolish the electoral college. Fortunately, the Electoral College will not be abolished. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't understand what a great thing it is. Dean's World explains nicely why the Electoral College system won't be abolished. It would take the consent 2/3 of the Senate and 3/4 of state legislatures to amend the consitution. So, a lot of smaller states would have to vote to disempower themselves to amend the constitution. Sorry Dianne, not going to happen.

Dean also explains some of the good points of the electoral college. Josh Marshall gives the standard critique of the electoral college and sets up a small state empowerement straw man to shoot down. I would like to point out a couple of advantages that Dean (much less Josh) doesn't elaborate that I think are important. One, the electoral college limits the effect of voting fraud. Two, the electoral college limits the impact of local passions and regional candidates.

Fraud can impact the most votes where one party is totally dominant and voting fraud in favor of that party is essentially condoned by the population of the locality. Imagine an election as close as the 2000 election. As Dean points out, the recounts and issues would cascade nationally as votes in every state could have affected the balance. As Dean does not point, Texas with a Republican Governer, legislature, court, and local election officials could easily have manufactured enough votes for Bush to offset the Gore total. But then of course Massachussetts with Democratic Governor, legislature, court, and local election officials could have manufactured offsetting votes. It would be competitive election fraud to the maximum and for any party or large polically uncompetitive state to unilaterally disarm would be suicidal in any remotely close election. The only solution would be central federal control over elections, which has its own opportunities for pernicious behavior. Under the electoral college system, the states where fraud matters in presidential elections are states that are evenly devided where checks on voter fraud are more likely to be found through party diversity (a Republican governer and secretary state and a democratic election commission and supreme court for example).

We can see the virtues of an electoral college in their absence in Ukrain or within American states. In Ukrain the Russian leaning eastern section of the country was able to manufacture votes for Russain supported candidate. If Ukrain had an electoral college like system, the manufactured high turnout and high ratio of votes for one candidate would have less effect on a national election.

Limiting the impact of local passions, is as important as balancing large and small states. Without the electoral college, a single state or regional candidate could take votes from one of the national parties in one state or region and change the national election result. Or perhaps a state party organization could be so weak, corrupt and discredited they make a very poor showing in a large state and disproportionally affect the national result. Over the years we have seen the regional impact States Rights parties, Green parties, temperance parties, etc. have had. The electoral college limits the impact of those parties to the states where they are strong and relevent, and does not amplify their impact through a single national popular vote decision.

Even though Feinstein is only grandstanding here, she is way off base. Calling for the abolition of the electoral college system is irresponsible.

Internet Photo Service

After our problems with our printer and the experience of printing our homemade 8x10 holiday cards we decided it was time to sign up for a photo service.

I compared Sanpfish, Shutterfly, and Ofoto based on prices and offerings. The main thing I was looking for was their pre-made book pricing. Snapfish has a large format book at a about $1.00 a per page (double sided is a dollar per side). This seems like a better deal than the other services. I think these bound books are the way to go. No messing creating albums. I'll find out over the next few months. Snapfish also has the cheapest 4x6 prints. All the services seem to go for the gusto in pricing their 8x10's (over $3.00 versus under $1.00 for a 5x7).

I'll let you know what I learn about using Snapfish versus printing your own stuff on photopaper versus what I remember about getting prints at Costco from that film stuff people used to use.

New Printer/Scanner

I love the multifunction printer, scanner, copier, fax thingies. I love being able to make copies, color copies, print and scan with only one thing taking up space in my small office. I loved our HP PSC 750. But alas, the HP PSC 75o completely gave up the ghost on scanning (it would only give errors when I tried) and the death of the scanner made the printer unreliable too.

So, it was off to research the latest Multifunctions from HP and Epson (we are down on Lexmark because we bought one and had two of them malfunction before we bought the PSC 750). CNET recommended the Epson Stylus CX6600 in this review . So, we went with the Epson even though we have been fans of the HP Deskjet line since the days were called a Deskjet without a number and the Deskjet 500 and we were pretty happy with the PSC 750 even though it only lasted about two years.

We loaded it up and brought it home from Fry's. I was a bit dissappointed for two reasons:
1. The Kodak glossy photo paper does not work with this printer. Red and yellow colors show cracking on the Kodak paper. It's fine on the Epson photo paper, but photos on the Epson paper I have tried don't look as saturated as the Kodak paper.
2. The state of the art doesn't seem to have advanced much in 2 years since the PSC 750. The Espson is about the same speed, does things with similar quality and has similar capabilities at about the same price. Aren't we supposed to be advancing in the computer field?

I am hoping for a little lower cost per page because of less expensive Epson ink and individual cartridges. I am also hoping for less fading, but in just two years I haven't had a chance to be bothered by fading, so that is a theoretical benefit only at this point.

The Epson does have slots for photo cards, so that is a nice advance on my old printer (especially since our computer has no memory card slots). But I was hoping for more speed, same or better quality at the same money as two years ago. According to reviews, the HP's at the $150 price point have really slow printing for photos (8 minutes for an 8x10!). So, to get more speed than I have now in an HP I would have to go to the 300 price point. Not appealing right now.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Kristin with her outstanding player on her team for the 5th and 6th grade tournement. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

2004 Holiday Letter

We got our Christmas cards out! Yeah!

We printed the card out on photo quality paper at home. I don't recommend doing it that way unless you have a faster printer than we do. I loved the result of having the years picture's on an 8.5 x 11 sheet, but it took a long time to print it all (including running out of color ink in the middle of the job).

The .pdf of the card is here.

Here is the letter we sent out:

Dear Friends and Family,

We missed sending out cards last year. We were lost in our house remodel and just trying to get through normal life. The remodel is finished in the sense that we moved into and had the final inspection so we're done with the city (there is always more to do). Because we were able to move our office stuff into our new bedroom, we have room for each of the kids to have their own room and still have a large playroom/guest room. The playroom/guest room works really well because we got a bed that folds up onto the wall (a murphy bed). When its folded up there is lots of room for the kids to play and Timmy to make a mess without disturbing the rest of the house. My brother Paul is staying in the guest room right now until he knows where he will be working longer term.

Remodeling was much more disruptive to our lives than we could have ever imagined. We were our own general contractors with Ralph's Uncle Ralph and Ralph's cousins (Uncle Ralph's two sons Ryan and Mark) doing the vast majority of the work and designing the remodel. We did some things ourselves like installing Pergo floors, putting in closet organizers, some painting, some trim and fitting. I hope never to do such a major construction project while living in a home again.

Kristin, Grace, and Timmy are doing great. Kristin is turning into quite the scholar/athlete. She is keeping up her soccer playing while taking on basketball for Holy Family's 5th grade team. She is keeping up her grades really well even with the pretty demanding homework in the fifth grade. We are just praying this kind of thing continues. Grace also played soccer this year enjoying playing goal keeper in particular. Ralph was the assistant coach for Grace's team this year, so we were pretty wrapped up during soccer season. Grace is also a Brownie girl scout and is doing well in second grade. Both girls were on a swim team in the summer.

Timmy is in pre-school now. Since he was born in May, he'll be younger (5 months younger than Grace) when he starts Kindergarten. I think he will be ready though.

Things at Ralph's company, Sun Microsystems, were pretty tough over the last couple of years. The usual “doing more with less”, downsizing, etc. In addition, Ralph differed with his manager about how to manage his team and areas of responsibility. He tried hard to work it out and wore himself down quite a bit, but ultimately he was laid off in July. He is looking for a position now in marketing with another technology company.

I have been doing a lot of volunteer work at the school including doing a math enrichment program for 4th grade and helping out in the classroom last year. I really like getting to know the kids and parents at the school. I have been trying to find work that would allow me to spend enough time with the kids, but so far haven't found anything. I had an eBay store going online, but haven't found profitable items to sell.

We were fortunate to have two vacations this year. The first was in June with the kids to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. This Fall Ralph and I went to Italy. We were attending the wedding of Dave and Sabrina. Ralph met Dave in college and he has been our close friend since before we were married. They were married in Sicily and are now living in Deruta (in the Umbria region) working in the family ceramics business. We spent a few days in Rome and a few days on the Amalfi coast in addition to the time we spent in Umbria and Sicily. Of course, we ran ourselves ragged because we we wanted to see so much, but it was a wonderful trip.

Ralph has been doing a “blog” where he put up pictures from the trip, trip descriptions, pictures of the kids, and a few political reflections. He is also put links to letters of Christmas past. If you want to read more about our trip to Italy or see a few more pictures, his blog address is:

We are wishing you and yours a joyful holiday season and all the best in the new year.


Michele, Ralph, Kristin, Grace and Timothy

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

2002 Holiday Letter

OK, I found the 2002 Holiday Letter. So, only the 2000 and 2001 are missing from the online archive (perhaps we didn't write them?). Here is 2002:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Christmas 2002

We are grateful for a relatively uneventful 2002. The children are growing and thriving, we are coping with three growing and thriving children, and I still has a job.

Timmy is every bit the 2 year old. He is working through toilet training making charming discoveries; for example, he has discovered he can not hold it indefinitely. He has quite a wide vocabulary, much of which can be understood with careful listening. I am convinced he understands everything we say.

Grace is nearly 6 and is in Kindergarten. She is getting to really enjoy Kindergarten. She loved her pre-Kindergarten and teacher, so it was an adjustment with her new teacher, larger class and more demanding environment at Holy Family. She is doing well though and is joining the Daisy Girl Scouts, taking gymnastics, and swimming in the summer.

Kristin is nearly 9 and is in the 3rdgrade. She is still very much the soccer player and has her bedroom walls covered with signed posters from the CyberRays, Earthquakes, and Santa Clara Broncos soccer teams. She is singing in the choir at church and doing very well in school considering she talks so much and only occassionally listens to her teacher. She reads quite a bit, especially when she is not allowed to play her Gameboy or watch TV or when she is trying to stay up past her bedtime. Kristin received her first communion and was confirmed this year (our parish received special permission to perform confirmation before first communion.)

Michele is a “stay-at-home” mom, though she is rarely at home; she should perhaps be called a “kid-chasing, errand-running, activity-chauffeuring, school-volunteering” mom. Michele has successfully some of her sanity over the past year. Our vacation in Puerto Vallarto in the Spring and yelling at the refs during Sharks games might have helped with that.

I went from being a Product Line Manager to a Group Marketing Manager at Sun Microsystems. It seems to be one of those promotions where you keep doing the same thing and don't get a pay increase. I haven't been traveling as much though (just a couple of trips early in the year) so that is a plus.

We are hoping that events of year have been happy ones.


Michele, Ralph, Kristin, Grace, and Timothy

Our web site, and archive stuff`

We have a website which served as sort of personal blog before there were blogs. The website address is:

The home page hasn't been updated in some time. Long live the ease of updating a blog!

Some relevent blog archive like things are:

Family "blog"
Holiday Letter 1999
Holiday Letter 1998
Holiday Letter 1997

So, the 2000, 2001, and 2002 holiday letters aren't on line. What will the children do to fill in those childhood years when they write their autobiographies? I'll have to find them and put them up here.


Christmas letter 2003

We never sent out Christmas cards in 2003. Michele did however write a Christmas letter. Here it is in case you wondered what happened to the Galantines in 2003.

Christmas 2003

Dear Family and Friends,

We are wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2004. We had a full 2003.

In January we lost my grandfather, George Clinton Murray (Grumpers to me and the kids). It was a blessing that the kids got to know their great grandfather and he enjoyed them. He nearly shared a birthday (-1 day) with our youngest and the 95 year separation in their ages really gave Grumpers a kick. We went to Wisconsin in May (after things thawed) for Grumpers funeral and the kids had an opportunity to see the Midwest side of their heritage and meet some relatives they hadn't had an opportunity to know. We were able to celebrate Grumpers life and family in a very meaningful way.

The last half of the year has been dominated by the remodeling of our house. We are converting the garage into a bedroom suite and laundry room and adding a new garage in front of the old one. Ralph's Uncle Ralph and Ralph's cousins Mark and Ryan have been doing most of the work for us. We hired a few contractors and have done a bit of the work ourselves. The project has kept us hopping and dreaming of the day it will be “finished”. I put finished in quotes because the nice new work only points out how shabby the other parts of the house are, so there really is no finished. Before the end of the year we will move into our new bedroom and have a nice guest room/playroom with a queen wall bed in our old bedroom. That is an important milestone.

Before the heavy lifting started we took our vacation to the Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon. We all enjoyed the parks, the sight seeing, and the bath water warm pool at the timeshare in Saint George, Utah. The driving was a little rougher than expected because our mini-van turned up with problems in the pre-trip check and we had to take our compact sedan (no DVD, much more crowded). The kids (and us) did way better than I expected. It was more reminiscent of the family drives when we were kids.

The kids are all doing very well. Timmy is 3 and is in his first year of pre-school which he loves. He is potty trained both night and day which is quite a relief. He is very good natured and gets along well with his sisters until they start playing too vigorously and he gets hurt. So far, nothing serious, knock on wood.

Grace will be 7 January 1^st . She is in first grade and is doing very well. She picked up on reading just in the last few months and is making great strides and really enjoying school. She played soccer in the fall and had fun with it and is still enjoying brownies and any art project she can get her hands on.

Kristin will be 10 in February and is already a true pre-teen. Fortunately, she is really starting to take an interest in doing well in school (instead of just doing what we make her do). Her soccer interest is still strong and she had a good fall season with Coach Andy's team (some of the girls she's played with since she was 5). Video screens (TV, Gameboy, internet) also have an extremely strong pull on her attention.

Ralph's job at Sun Microsystems has had its ups and downs this year. There have been a lot of changes in the software organization and some of Ralph's strongest supporters have left the company. He didn't have to travel much this year but did take a trip to Asia just before Thanksgiving. He went to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Shanghai and he found it very interesting since he had previously only been to Japan in Asia. As he said, it got him out of the office for a week.

I have been volunteering a lot at the school working with groups of the kids in math and running an enrichment program for some of the fourth graders who would benefit from some more challenge. Volunteering with the kids helps keep my hand in teaching and gives me hours I need to renew my credential. Its rewarding working with the kids and seeing how they take things in. I cut back to just the enrichment program to focus more on the remodel the last couple of months but will probably volunteer some more time in the New Year.

Hope you are well and can make the most of 2004.


Michele, Ralph, Kristin, Grace, and Timothy

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Taxing the rich

I was wondering why people talk about taxing the rich but we never end up taxing the very rich heavily at all. Taxing the rich ends up, at best, meaning taxing the upper middle class. It finally occurred to me, it is vitually impossible to finance any government activity by taxing the very rich. And this is very easy to demonstrate.

Take the very rich to be the Bill Gates, George Soros, Teresa Heinz Kerry, Tiger Woods class of rich people.

-Recognize that the government needs real resources to build aircraft carriers, provide food or housing for the poor, improve homeland security or whatever it wants to do.

-To provide those real resources, taxes must reduce someone's consumption of real resources. Someone's behavior has to change or there are no real resources taken in taxes for the government to use.

-The very rich don't need to change their behavior in response to any reasonable taxes. Bill Gates does not say, "Gee, that tax bill was high this year, I won't do fiber optic to every room in the house, I'll just use wireless in the west wing". It doesn't happen. Teresa Kerry does not say, "Wow, that was quite a tax bite, I'll buy off the rack this year instead having designers come in." Doesn't happen. Even if they shift their assets in response to taxes, they won't change their own consumption. They have sufficient resources they can afford to ignore any reasonable taxes.

-The very rich can't be taxed at an unreasonably high level because they have the political resources to defend themselves. If you try to take 7 or 8 billion from Bill Gates he's going to notice, spend a couple million or even a couple of hundred million, and he is going to win. Though even 7 or 8 billion wouldn't affect his actual consumption.

-So, taxing the very rich only changes consumption or (actually impacts) those less rich folks who depend on how the very rich allocate their assets to avoid or to pay taxes. These folks may be anywhere in the income distribution.

So, forget trying to finance the government on the backs of the very rich.

Now consider:
-who has sufficient resources to finance significant government activities
-who's consumption is sensitive enough to income that it can be reduced by taxes
-who doesn't have unlimited ability to buy political influence to fight unreasonable taxes
That's right, the upper middle class and the middle class.

-People who own prosperous autoshops, boutiques, hair salons
-Executives at corporations (excluding the highest paid ones who are super rich)
-Real estate investors and successful agents
-Highly paid skilled workers

These upper middle class people are the people who should be pictured when someone talks about taxing the rich, not the super rich. The famous star entrepreneurs, athletes, heiresses are not affected in the least by higher taxes.

People in the super rich class who advocate higher tax policies are routinely given credit for opposing "their own" interests. This is false credit. When George Soros advocates higher taxes, he is opposing the interests of people much poorer than himself. His consumption will not be reduced at all by any tax increase advocated by him or the organizations he funds.

Think of the right rich people when you are thinking of taxing the "rich".

Friday, November 12, 2004

Sabrina and Dave at the Wedding Dinner Posted by Hello

View South from upper town of Taormina Posted by Hello

Sabrina and Dede at Chiara Del Luna Posted by Hello

Mount Etna from the Teatro Greco in Taormina Posted by Hello


The Eurostar train from Naples to Sicily was pretty fast and comfortable. It took about 5 hours to get us down to the Ferry terminal on the mainland for a 40 minute ferry ride to Sicily. The Eurostar as more expensive and no faster than the IC train, but the timing was more convenient. I think on the IC train, the train itself goes onto the ferry and you just stay in the train. That would have been interesting, but the Eurostar worked fine. The ferry took us to the a ferry terminal in Messina that adjoined the main station where it was easy to catch our train to Taormina. We passed the train station for Ali Terme' where my friends' pre-wedding dinner would be the next day and where his wedding would be the final day.

Our hotel, Hotel Villa Caterina, was a short cab ride from the train station. The Hotel says 2 Kilometers but the cab ride seemed a little longer. In any case, it is too far to walk comfortably and about a 10 Euro cab ride from the train station. The room was roomy enough and comfortable. We never got the air conditioning working, but since we were mostly there in the evenings we were able to keep the room cool enough by opening the windows. We didn't have any mosquito problems there.

On the one hand, the hotel is on the Bay of Mazzaro, so it is convenient to the beach. On the other hand, it is less convenient to the rest of the town. The rest of the town is up on the cliffside overlooking the bay. The day is reached most conveniently by an arial tramway about 100 meters from the hotel. We used that tram a lot and found it convenient for reaching the main part of the town. Taormina is a wonderful town with beautiful views overlooking the bay. The main town area is extremely picturesque with churches and squares crowded with people shopping and strolling. We strolled around the town that night and had our dinner in the main part of town.

Our main task was to figure out how to get to the pre-wedding lunch and the church in Ali Terme. The desk clerk spoke excellent english and wanted to be helpful but she didn't have a lot resources like train schedules, maps, etc. It was a real contrast to the Hotel Desiree where they made the effort to have everything at their fingertips. There was no direct dial out of the hotel and the evening operator didn't speak English, so it was very hard to make a call out of the hotel. My English speaking friend also had trouble calling into our room from outside. On the plus side, the Hotel promptly delivered an e-mail to our room that was sent to the hotel's e-mail address. During daytime hours, I went to the front desk to get help with outgoing calls and the desk clerk was helpful in getting us connected. I used my cell phone in the evening. Fortunately, my friend was able to get through to us on our cell phone and he was good enough to set us up with rides to the lunch and the wedding with people staying in Taormina, so the problem of getting there by train was obviated. Since we were following someone who knew the way to lunch, the direction were taken care of as well.

We met the dinner party in the main part of Ali Terme'. Ali Terme' is a near suburb of Messina. It struck me has having a "Beach Town" kind of ambiance. I was surprised how large and spread out urban Messinal was. Suburbs stretch out unbroken along the coast quite a ways toward Taormina. Lunch was at Chiara al Luna, a Restaurant above Ali Terme'. The seafood was a highlight in a wonderful multicourse feast. The view out the picture windows of Chiara al Luna was also a highlight! We only needed to have a little Gelati later in the evening to cover our "dinner" we were so full from lunch.

We didn't plan to follow anyone to the church, so we tried for directions at the hotel desk again. Again, the clerk wanted to be helpful but she couldn't locate the specific address and suggested a way that turned out to be the slower way (though perhaps a bit easier than the toll rode for unfamiliar drivers). Our ride accused me of trying to save on tolls when we followed her directions and it turned out much slower than the way we had taken the day before.

The wedding was in a beautiful little chapel in a school that is a bit hard to find. We had to ask a couple of people on the street to finally zoom into it. The ceremony and mass was lovely. The choir had beautiful voices. Truly a joyful event for everyone present.

The wedding dinner was back in Taormina at the Hotel Diodoro. This is an old hotel with a spectactular view from the terrace where we gathered between the wedding and the dinner. We were amazed to see red lines of lava on Mount Etna. I found this view of red glowing lava to be spectacular. Dinner was another amazing meal. Apparently in Italy they dispense with all the set pieces we insist on at American weddings (dancing in various pairings, bouquet tossing, etc.) and focus on the important activity eating! This was another spectacular meal. We were eating and drinking late into the night. We actually had to leave before the eating was over in order to leave before Michele fell asleep in her plate and before the tram we rely on closed at 1 AM. It was a wonderful wedding and celebration and truly a joy for us to be there to celebrate the day.

With all the wedding activities we only had time to vaguely plan our way to Palermo. We had spent enough time to figure out that flying out of Palermo was a big mistake. Sicily has two airports. Palermo and Catania. Catania is less than an hour away from Taormina, Palermo is about 5 hours! If your going to Taormina or Messina, use Catania. But we had to get to Palermo. Without a train schedule in site, we left for the train station at a time we thought was plenty early. Wrong. We missed the train we would have needed to catch our flight by about 10 minutes!!!! This is when we really appreciated the way that Hotel Desiree in Sorrento had all the train schedules on hand. We had to take a cab to Messina (an expensive proposition). We made the Messina to Palermo leg of our train trip.

This trip just made us want to spend more time in Sicily and actually see Palermo and environs. From the train, Cefalu with its Duomo perched between a cliff and the sea looked particularly inviting. Our task was to get to the airport in time to make our plane. We had to change trains in Palermo but we managed to figure out which train headed to the airport. We made our plane for Rome. Once back in Rome we were just staying overnight near the airport and then heading for home.

When we arrived home, we found things much better than we left them. The house was squeaky clean, flowers were planted along the walkway, the children were happy. We were amazed. Things at home went downhill to their normal equilibrium once my Mom left.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

What is 1928?

The last time the Republicans won a presidential election without a George Bush and without Richard Nixon on the ticket.

Republicans won in '52 Nixon VP, '56 Nixon VP, '68 Nixon, '72 Nixon, '80 George Bush VP, '84 George Bush VP, '88 George Bush 41, 2000 W, 2004 W

Odd little tidbit.

View from Villa Rufolo in Ravello Posted by Hello

Preserved Wall Paintings at Herculaneum Posted by Hello

View of Sorrento near Hotel Desiree Posted by Hello

Sorrento, Pompeii, Amalfi

The trip to Rome to Naples was fast and comfortable on a Eurostar train. We left one of our big bags at the Rome airport and we were glad of it. We had one big bag and one small backpack and that was enough to be lugging through the train stations. At the train station in Naples we were greeted by lots of people offering to take us to Sorrento or Pompeii or to carry our luggage. We were Savvy enough to wave them off knowing it would end up costing a lot more than the train and it would be hard to get our bags back without surrendering money. We found the Circumvesuviana train and bought our tickets to Sorrento. This is a local transit style train that goes around Vesuvius to Sorrento. Because the train has a lot of stops it took about 90 minutes to get to Sorrento.

While the train itself is rundown and not very attractive, the scenery is quite spectactular for some parts of the trip. You have Mount Vesuvius on one side and the Bay of Naples on the other side. On other parts of the trip you mainly see rundown suburbs of Naples. We noted the stops for Pompeii and Herculaneum because those were on our plan for our stay in Sorrento.

At Sorrento we needed to get tickets for the bus to our hotel, Hotel Desiree. The ticket sellers were claiming to be out of bus tickets (I think the cab drivers might have been outbidding the bus company). I managed to persuade one of the Tobacco shops to sell us bus tickets. We had a long wait for the bus, but it finally left and dropped us off close to Hotel Desiree.

The Hotel was in a beautiful location above the city and above the bay of naples. The view around the hotel was spectacular either at night with the lights from the cities or by day with the sparkling blue water. The room was comfortable and the hotel staff was very helpful. Like all our hotels this was much more "Budget Travel" than "Conde Nast" but this was our favorite hotel of the trip. We walked down to town for dinner and back to the hotel that evening. It was a fairly long but reasonable walk.

We decided to do Herculaneum and Pompeii the next morning. We started to walk out of the hotel and the clerk literally ran after us to make sure we got some advice on our travels. He gave us maps of Pompeii and strongly recommended we only plan on seeing either Herculaneum or Pompeii in one day because Pompeii alone we should allow 5 hours. Probably good advice, but we wanted see both, so we went ahead with our plan armed with his maps and advice about Pompeii.

Both sites are spectactular. Herculaneum is wonderfully compact and has smaller crowds and some amazingly well preserved buildings. Mosaics on the floor of the baths and some houses, even original woodwork on some of the shops. Herculaneum really gives you a compact and digestable Roman city without a lot of crowds and hassles.

Pompeii is huge! Much bigger than I expected. It was clearly a pretty big Roman town and you really get the feeling of walking through a city because you are walking on Roman roads through blocks and blocks of ruined buildings. A lot of interesting buildings, too many to see in the time we allotted but the guidebook they gave us at the ruins helped pick out the high points. Actually, they didn't give us the guidebook, it was sitting out and I found it after poking around the ticket office area in both Herculaneum and Pompeii. Less enterprising tourists were wandering around without guidebook or map. The guidebook suggests two different two hour tours depdening on which entrance you come in. I misread the guidebook and thought this was one two hour tour. By the time I was halfway to the Amphitheatre, I realized this could not be a two hour tour because it took me 30 minutes just to walk to the amphitheater from another site. Michele wisely decided to rest while I ran off to see Roman amphitheatre number 4 or 5 for this trip (there would be one more in Sicily, but it was a greek amphitheatre).
We returned to our Sorrento to have dinner, so it wasn't quite archeological site 1 for lunch, archeological site 2 for dinner).

We had a good Italian meal at the adjoining restaurant to the hotel, but the service was horribly slow. I often would order an antipasto to share, a primi plata to share, and two plata secondi's. This seemed to either annoy waiters who would serve us slowly or signaled to waiters we wanted very leisurly service. In this case, the service was beyond slow to really being offensive. Even after asking for the check, he took a very long time to bring it. Michele actually made a paramid out of the glasswear we were so annoyed waiting. Another American couple who was enjoying very slow service across the room enjoyed our antics. We got our check before they did, perhaps because we were more obnoxious.

The next day we were off to Amalfi. The bus ride to Amalfi was spectacular but a bit nerve racking. The highway is about 1.5 lanes, so passing cars going the opposite direction is an exercise in patience and driving skill. Especially for a bus driver. I was glad we weren't driving even our little Smart car, let alone a full sized vehicle. We drove through Positano, but we had to choose between going to Amalfi and Ravello or staying and walking around Positano (we got a late start that day). We chose to see Ravello which had spectactular views. We could get a little sense of Positano on our drive through, but that is a go back to really get much feel for it.

Amalfi coast and Sorrento are high on our go back list and the area that we wished we could have stayed longer. This is a spectacularly beautiful area and we didn't even scratch the surface. We didn't go to Capri, or any of the islands, we only drove through Positano, we spent no time in Naples. So, that is all left for another trip. Maybe the one where we go to Pisa and the Cinque Terra or the one where we go to Venice.

We had planned to go to Salerno to catch a ferry for Sicily. But in talking with the hotel desk clerk he pointed out that a bus to Salerno would take three hours. We would have to leave early to catch a ferry that wouldn't get us to Sicily until late. He suggested taking the Circumvesuviano back to Naples and getting the train to Sicily (via a short ferry ride from Reggio di Calabria. He thought this would be faster than going to Salerno and catching the same train later in the journey. He had all the schedules there which made a huge difference in figuring out what to do. We went back to Naples. We passed through Salerno about three hours after we left Sorrento, so the apparent back tracking didn't cost us anything.

Next installment will be on our stay in Sicily.

World phone

If you are considering renting a phone for international use try

You can buy a phone that works all over the world with no monthly fees from them for $49.00 including delivery. By minute rates are fairly high, but if you only plan to use it only occassionally it is a good deal. The only thing free is incoming SMS messages.

We used this in Italy. They delivered it promptly and it worked in all the areas in Italy we were and in Switzerland. It was great to have the phone as a fall back where people could reach us even with the high per minute rates.


Sunday, November 07, 2004

Duomo at Spoleto. The inside isn't as impressive as the square and the outside. Posted by Hello

Michele at Orvieto. Posted by Hello

Ralph at Assissi Posted by Hello

Umbria: Hill Town for Lunch, Hill Town for Dinner

This is day 4 through 7 of our trip to Italy.

After trying to see as much of Rome as possible in two days, you would think we would rest in the quieter environs of Umbria. Wrong. We had a car, we got bored staying in one place real quick. We were staying in Deruta, which is a wonderful place to buy pottery but not a hotbead of tourism or night life. So we embarked on our rampage through Umbria. We found we could drive to one hill town in the morning, eat lunch there and while everything is shut down for Siesta, we headed for another hill town where we would sightsee until the restaurants opened for dinner (the magic 7:00 hour that we found ourselves waiting for wherever we were).

So, we saw Todi (Dinner, the day we drove in from Rome), Assissi (Lunch), Perugia (Dinner), Orvieto (Lunch), Spoleto (Dinner) and in between we managed to see Deruta which is a cute little hill town although the part we stayed in was the flat part at the base of the hill. By seeing so many Unbrian hill towns we came to be something of hill town connoisseurs. We could appreciate the medieval layout and atmosphere of Todi and compare it to the combination of Roman, Medieval, and baroque sites in Spoleto.

Assissi has the wonderful churches associated with Saint Francis and the Franciscans. Assissi has a beautiful medieval layout and views to the agricultural plains layed out below the hill town. It competes with Todi to be the architypical Umbrian hill town. Assissi is a great place to buy religious oriented souvenirs as well.

Perugia seems a little more alive and less of a preserved tourist attraction than the other hill towns. Perhaps because of the University and the fact that it serves as more of a regional hub than the other towns. A highlight in Perugia was the Collegio del Cambio (Exchange Guild) decorated with wonderful frescoes by Perugino. The other unique thing about Perugia is that it has a laundromat! Laundromats seem to be very hard to come by in Italy. We asked all over Deruta, Orvieto, and Spoleto and couldn't get anyone to point us to a laundromat. Part of it may have been our inability to convey what we were looking for. However, it seems that while there are plenty of dry cleaners around, laundromats are rare. We found from our Lonely Planet guide book that Perugia had a laundromat so we were rushed back there to get to the laundromat before it closed. Running through a medieval town at night stopping at an internet cafe to ask where a laundromat is somehow was a strange highlight of our trip.

Orvieto has a unique Duomo with black and white striped exterior and an impressive interior. Orvieto is also famous for its white wine. The sample we enjoyed was a somewhat sweet but not too fruity white wine with a very clean after-taste. A very enjoyable wine.

In Spoleto we enjoyed the Roman museum and amphitheater as well as the impressive bridge that was built from a Roman aquaduct. We also unexpectedly met a friend from the U.S. who was also traveling on vacation.

In Deruta, we stayed at the Assi Di Coppa which is an affordable, comfortable and friendly family run hotel. Most people staying there are Italians, so the staff isn't that strong on English but we were able to convey our needs. We visited with our friend Dave who joined a wonderful family run ceramics store at Via Tiberina Sud 297, Sebastiono Camillen Maioliche d'Arte. Deruta is famous for ceramics and Dave's wife's family has offered a great selection of Deruta's ceramics for a number of years.

After our romp through the Umbrian towns and our visit with Dave, we headed back for the Rome airport to drop off our car and catch a train to Naples (via central Rome). From Naples we would take the Circa Vesuviana local train to Sorrento our next stop.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Ralph and the Smart Car. Filling the smart car in Italy was roughly as expensive as filling our minivan in the U.S. for roughly the same miles. I see why people drive smaller in Europe. Posted by Hello

Ralph at the Colliseum in Rome Posted by Hello

Michele in front of Saint Peter's in Rome Posted by Hello

Roma and Fiumicino

We stayed in Rome three nights at the Bed and Breakfast, I Tetti Di Roma. My review on is here. We couldn't get a good rate on a regular hotel, the convent hotels didn't seem to be returning faxes so we picked this bed and breakfast which is one of two rooms carved out of an 8th floor apartement. It qualifies as a find because the price was very low for Rome from what we could find and the room was comfortable. The location was convenient to the metro and felt safe and residential with a couple of places to eat, a grocery store, and most important Gelati.

We spent our limited time in Rome at the Vatican Museums, the Colosseum, Roman Forum, the Parthenon. Of course we went by the Spanish steps and the Trevi fountain. Since we used those metro stops, we saw both multiple times. I wasn't dissappointed in the restored Sistine chapel. I hadn't seen it since the colors were brought out.

We went back to the airport at the end of our stay in Rome to pick up the car we rented from Sixti car rental. We got a Smart car on an internet rate that was better than any other rate we could find in Italy. We loved that Smart car! Small is a virtue on the narrow Italian roads, especially the roads winding through Umbrian hill towns! Sixti's 5 Euro a day rate is a bit deceptive because it is limited mileage and things you normally need like an extra driver and even cleaning the car are extra. But check them out here because its still a good deal even though it really costs more than they are touting.

At the end of our trip, we stayed in Fiumicino one night. We stayed at the Euro House Fiumicino (my review here) . Staying in the town of Fiumicino is a convenient alternative to going all the way into Rome when you are just making a connection to somewhere else. We were coming in from Sicily and leaving for the states the next day, so it didn't make sense to go into the city. There is an airport Hilton conveniently connected to the airport, but it was much more expensive than options in Fiumicino.

Holiday Gift Exchange--For family members

This post if for family members to document our gift exchange. We do a rotation of buying for different families so we have a chance to buy for all our siblings on a three year rotation but we don't have to buy gifts for 4 different families every year.

The gift exchange for 2004 is:

Family buys for family
--------- ----------------
Richard Carolyn
Carolyn Ray
Ray Ralph
Ralph Richard

Family gift maximum is $100.00

Planning ahead: 2005 will be:

Family buys for family
--------- ----------------
Richard Ralph
Carolyn Richard
Ray Carolyn
Ralph Ray

2006 will be:

Family buys for family
--------- ----------------
Richard Ray
Carolyn Ralph
Ray Richard
Ralph Carolyn

For 2007 it will be the same as 2004 above and we will repeat in
same order.

Layover in Zurich, dayroom at the airport

Because we used frequent flier miles to get to Rome, we ended up with a 9 hours layover during the day in Zurich. The price of saving money!

It is easy to get to the city of Zurich from the airport. A train gets you to the city center in about 40 minutes. You can devise a walking tour that includes the old town, a couple of churches, bridges over the river, and the Stadt museum that would take a few hours and see the city and have lunch.

This proved a bit too much for us. We took the train downtown and did walk around a bit but we were too exhausted to enjoy it. We had been flying for over 14 hours (including changing planes in Dallas) and we didn't sleep on the way out. So we headed back to the airport and looked for a place to sleep. We came across the "dayrooms".

A dayroom is like a little hostel room right in the airport. For about $60.00 we got a room with twin beds for about 4 hours of sleep. A great 4 hours of sleep! The dayrooms seem to be popular with parents with babys to get a rest, but the noise didn't penetrate too much into our room and we were tired enought it didn't matter.

After our sleep we were off to Rome to arrive by the evening.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

New Name---Planet Ralph

After I started this blog, I found that Stochastic Thoughts was taken by another blog already. So, the new name is Planet Ralph. The reason I picked this new name? It wasn't taken (at least from my Google search). Also, this blog is all about my world. It's my world and welcome to it.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Italy (Rome, Amalfi Coast, Sicily) hotels Under $100.00

We recently went to Italy for two weeks. I did quite a bit of planning, so I'll share as much as I can here in case it can save anybody else much effort. This posting shows the hotel research we did looking for hotels around $100 per night. Most of the hotels are in Rome, a few are on the Amalfi coast. I'll follow up with reviews of the places we actually stayed.

Useful web sites--

Useful books:

Lonely Planet Italy 2004
Frommers Italy 2004
Fodors Italy 2004 (didn't find as much insight, good places as Frommers or Lonely Planet)


I tetti Di Roma—78 Euro per night. Bed and breakfast in someone's apartment. Only two rooms with one shared bath, got nice review on Good location, great views from the rooms (8th floor). We stayed here.

Hotel Panda
—98 Euros per night. Good recommendation of Frommers. Good location. Book by telephone or fax. Good but not effusive reviews on

SAN GIUSEPPE DELLA MONTAGNA –76 Euro per night. Good recommendation on, a couple of positive reviews on Fodor' Nuns are friendly but do not speak English and only a little Spanish. Good location just outside the vatican. Phone: 06/39723807
Fax: 06/39721048

Fraterna Domus—Another convent hotel. Good review from, a couple of positive comments. 1 of the sisters speaks English according to one review. Good location. Phone: 06/68802727 Fax: 06/6832691. Under 76 Euro per night.

Hotel Carmel—100 Euro, good review on, 1 good review on 10 rooms, most with bathrooms. Only Kosher Hotel in Rome. Reservation service but they charge 30 Euro fee.

Phone: 06/5809921
Fax: 06/5818853

Hotel Positano—90 Euro (no breakfast) confirmed from e-mail. They are awaiting credit card info. Reviewed on and BUG Europe. Mixed reviews, most referred to hostel aspect of it rather than Hotel. Good location near main train station.

Casa di Santa Brigida—Frommers liked it, couldn't get anything from their web site. Sent Fax 17 August. They never responded

Colors Hotel—No pricing information on their web site. Booking by fax only. Prices not on web site Faxed them for information on August 17th. Found them on They never responded to Fax.

Hotel Cristoforo Columbo—121 Dollars per night, through About 15-20 minute commute to tourist areas of Rome. Nice reviews from hotel review site.Hotel Contilia—Well liked by Frommer, 138 Euro's per night cheapest rate from Decent reviews online

Holiday Inn Express Rome East Via VIA GIORGIO PERLASCA 50—96 Euros per night. Mediocre location, about 5 kilometers from everything. No reviews. Reservation cannot be modified or canceled once made at the 96 Euro rate.

Hotel Arenula—120 Euro per night. Frommers likes it, Nice reviews on trip advisor but we are waiting for info to come in from apartments etc.

Hotel des artistes—157 Dollars per night direct from web site Good location (near train station), mixed but mostly postitive reviews on Rates on travel sites more than rate direct from hotel.

National Rooms Hotel—164 Dollars per night. Good location, only one review and it was mediocre.

Hotel Executive—116 Euros per night. OK location, mostly bad reviews from people dissappointed it wasn't a four star hotel when it claimed to be (actually a 2 star hotel).

Principessa Tea Hotel—130 Euros per night. Good location, but mostly bad reviews.

The Secret Garden/Hotel Lawrence—63-125 Euro. no reviews. Web site shows really nice hotel. Since they seemed to be linked to Il Castello which is getting bad reviews for ethical behavior and are changing their name, I am wary.

Il Castello—60-120 Euro reviews say Il Castelo did not hold reserved, confirmed rooms and sent customers to another hotel that was hard to find. Nightmare experience. Some reviews—basic accomodations. Link to another similar basic hotel.

Michelangelo Palace Hotel—120 Euros per night. Mostly bad reviews on site (nothing on

Various Hostels at—Not many with private baths, but fairly easy to find private room for 100 dollars per night.

Villa San Pio—$244 per night Good reviews on and Fodors. Too much money.

Hotel Pavia—Min95 Euros-Max 190 Euros per night. Fromers liked it. Mixed reviews on —Road near hotel smells of Urine.

Hotel La Residencia—Highly rated by Frommer, but blacked out for late September dates.

Hotel Pineta Palace—125 Dollars per night, but bad reivews and not near public transportation (15 Euro cab ride to city center).

Hotel Galeno——147 Dollars per night. But small rooms, negative reviews for tourists, not walking distance to sites or close to metro

Pisana Palace— Dollars per nigh. But, mixed reviews, not close to things.


Hotel Desiree—Excellent recommendation in lonely planet. Fawning reviews on Faxed on 18 August. Awaiting reply. Received reply August 18, available, faxed credit card number. This is where we stayed.

Hotel Elios—Good recommendation in Lonely Planet Italy guide. 1 good review on No fax number or e-mail. Call 081 878 18 12. Just signed up for long distance dial around service (everdial) so that I can call.

La Fenice—Positano. Bad reviews lately. Good reviews in the past.

Villa Rosa--Positano. We decided to stay in Sorrento, so this became a moot point.


Hotel Villa Catrina – Sent e-mail form in directly to hotel, 98 Euro per night. Can also be booked from web sites. They have availability per 18 August e-mail. Awaiting credit card info. Sent card info August 18th. This is where we stayed.

Hotel Condor –, 80 Euro per night

Why the blog, why the name?

It's clear that Blogs are becoming an important marketing tool and perhaps an important part of an externalization trend. By externalization I mean the way companies are beginning to publish their internal data and conversations to form a much tighter relationships with customers. I want to be conversant with the practices of blogging so I can use it in marketing and what better way to start than to have my own blog.

Despite having some "professional" goals, this blog will be decidedly personal. Personal just to make it fun for me. If it is fun for you, I hope you enjoy it.

The name "Stochastic Thoughts" means, of course, Random thoughts. I have always thought random processes were pretty cool and was surprised that "Random" become a high tech put down for awhile. I think that "Random" is coming more into fashion along with non-linear while "Determistic" and "Linear" thinking are getting more of a bad rap these days. In any case, the blog will be quite random because my overall agenda for the blog is simply learning and sharing what comes into my mind.