Welcome Aboard, Cat
To make Thinking Magazine even better than it has been, I've hired Catherine Yronwode to edit and proofread it before it goes to press. Cat started with the last issue and is doing a great job.
Hello this is cat: Marc asked me to insert my bio here. Well, let's see I'm 46 years old, have a 22 year old daughter, am currently single, and I raise lots of organic vegetables, fruits, and flowers on my fully Mac-computerized two-acre farmette. I earn my living as a freelance writer and editor, working for Eclipse Comics and Organic Gardening Magazine.
I've known Marc since he was a CB radio freak, back in the days Before Computers (BC), when we all lived on communes in the Ozarks and raised goats (1975). Back then, Marc repaired electric and electronic devices for fun and profit, mostly for fun. He was good at what he did, awesomely good. He once dropped by my house and fixed my broken 1935 toaster before breakfast, and then turned around and completely rewired my broken 1947 Seeburg jukebox without a diagram! before dinner. Like I said, he was awesomely good.
Marc sold me my first computer (a 64K Morrow!) while he was in the hardware business, but eventually he dropped out of hardware to become a software wizard. Over the years we stayed in touch via fax and phone, and he always sent me Thinking Magazine. I loved the ideas, but I complained so often about his lousy spelling that he figured the only way to get me off his back was to pay me to correct his mistakes, so here I am.
From now on, I shall be the ghost in the machine, and you won't hear from me again but since this is my one chance to reach you with an idea, please allow me to throw this thought your way:
If the state of Israel or Jews anywhere in the diaspora really mean it when they say, Never Again!, then how come they aren't putting their bodies on the line to save the Bosnian Moslems from ethnic cleansing?
If Israel wants to make a really smart move toward gaining acceptance from their Arab neighbors, they could do nothing better than to drop 500 armed paratroops into Mostar and announce to the world the next day, We are here to protect innocent civilians from religiously motivated genocide and the next Moslem to die will do so over our dead bodies. Wouldn't Israel's Arab neighbors sit up and listen to that? You bet they would!
Sure, I know: the Israeli government is too wimpy to make such a brilliant move, so here's another way to get the same results: 500 American Jews and anyone else who wants to form a new Lincoln Battalion (the original Lincoln Battalion were Americans who fought the Hitler's ally Franco in Spain before the U.S. officially entered World War II) and we go to Bosnia to defend the Moslems. If no government will commit troops will help the Bosnian Moslems, let's do the job ourselves! Never Again!
Okay, enough soap-boxing. I'm outta here and from now on the only voice you will hear is Marc's but if you notice a bit more precision in punctuation around these parts and appreciate it let Marc know so that he will keep me on the payroll!
Note from Marc: If I have my way, I hope Cat will keep writing articles like this one about Isrealies defending the Moslims! I loved it!
My 1993 Predictions (Revisited)
Last year I made a few predictions. Not your ordinary ones, but some real whoppers. Here's what i wrote in 1993:
On the cooperation issue, I was dead wrong until NAFTA. The Republicans stonewalled Clinton for months and I think Clinton took some time to figure out how the game is played. But by year's end,Clinton had managed to move a record amount of legislation through Congress.
The 1994 Election Preview
Well, this is it. Election year is just around the corner and we are all wondering what's going to happen. Will the Republicans gain in the House and Senate under the theory that the party opposite the President always gains in the midterm elections? Will 1994 be a referendum on Clinton? And how will the Perot Factor play into the game? In this exciting article, I will make my predictions and outline the game plan and strategy of the most interesting sports event of 1994, Politics! This is where I make up for lost ground on last year's predictions.
First of all, there is no doubt in my mind that the midterm elections will function as a referendum on Clinton's tenure in office. Both sides will want to frame it that way. Republicans will be first, saying, Those TaxAndSpendLiberalSocialistsDemocrats! They passed the biggest tax increase of the entire universe since the dawn of time. And they passed it by just one vote. One more vote against and we would have been spared! And I want to be that one vote.
In response, the Democrats will say, See what we accomplished! In spite of those BorrowAndSpendRightWingGridlockRepublicans we managed to pass a record amount of legislation and we are turning the country, the world, and the entire universe around. But, if we could clear these Republican obstacles out of the way, we could make progress even faster.
In my opinion, in spite of history, I think that this particular midterm election is strongly tilted in favor of a Democratic win. But with a good Republican bluff, the Democrats could snatch defeat of the mouth of victory.
The question is, can the Democrats hold their vision under pressure?
Here's what I see happening. The Republicans will attack with their best mud slinging and try to dirty the President as much as possible. The objective of their attacks, in addition to moving public opinion, is to try to get the Democratic candidates to distance themselves from the President. The more Democrats distance themselves from Clinton, the more they play into Republican hands.
The Democrats are facing some divisive issues. There are hints of a split between New Democrats and Old Democrats in which the New Democrats, led by Clinton, are trying to redefine the party to deal with the issues of the 90s in a realistic way and to move away from union bureaucrats who have calcified themselves into machine-party politics.
Even though this is a challenge, the Democratic party has always been divided and somehow Democrats seem more comfortable with internal disagreement than Republicans do. Recently I watched the Democratic Leadership Council on C-SPAN and was very impressed. The were focusing on issues and reality. Many of the speakers were openly critical of the failings of the party and were trying to generate meaningful discussion in order to come to the best solutions. My sense is that the Democrats will unite around the President.
The Republicans, on the other hand, are living in political denial. They are deeply divided. Although they can put together an anti-Clinton message, they have no clue about what America should be doing instead. There is no vision there of a strong political personality who can hold the party together. Some internal factions view the Republican party as ripe for a takeover, and as the election draws near, they will make their moves.
I predict that early in the year we will see the right wing religious types make a move to hit the Republican Party fast and hard and try to define the upcoming elections as a war of morals the God fearing Christian soldiers against the evil liberal heathens who are trying to destroy family values. They will unite with Rush Limbaugh fans to create a message of fear and hatred the same message that lost the 1992 election.
On another side will stand the mainstream traditional Republicans who will want to project a more moderate message. These will be what I call the Bob Dole Republicans, people who are pro-business, pro-rich, anti-government, and generally identify with traditional Republican values.
Finally there are the Republican partisans, the name-calling crowd, the ones who function as obstructionists because they put party politics above all else. These include Newt Gingrich, Phil Gramm, and Jesse Helms.
With these factions fighting one another, it will be difficult for the Republicans to convince the voters that they can govern.
Outside the Republican Party itself you have the Perot factor. Perot is a proud man and he's going to want to prove to the world that he is powerful enough to control who wins and who loses. If Perot is going to have a chance in 1996, he's going to have to show some power in 1994.
As he did in 1992, Perot will have the opportunity to pick up the cynical vote, people who pretend that they are with him, rather than admit that they are merely against the status quo. With the Republican infighting, Perot will garner mostly disgruntled Republican votes, like he did in 1992. But as the Republicans sling mud on Clinton, you will see a lot of nervous Democrats buddying up to Perot as well.
The big mystery to me is will Perot field his own slate of candidates? Or will he just pick races and try to influence the outcomes? I don't know the answer to this one, but it is my feeling that if Perot runs his own candidates, he will lose every election. I also think that if Perot endorses candidates, his endorsements will hurt those candidates who are seen cozying up to him.
Perot will naturally take an anti-Clinton position, which means he's going to get in bed with the Republicans. But, since the majority of Republican voted for NAFTA and take credit for it passing, you would think he'd have to support Democrats, who mostly voted against it. I'm looking forward to see how he resolves that one.
What the Democrats Need to Do
This next year will be a crucial year for Democrats. Can they hold on to their victory? Yes, as long as they don't blow it. If I were God, here's what I'd tell the Democrats to do:
The Democratic Party's strongest card is Clinton. The message they need to put forward is that the President is doing a great job and he needs more Democratic votes to keep doing a great job. Clinton won on the change issue and change is what he's delivering. The focus must stay on reality-based solutions and on putting the needs of America before political expediency.
The Democrats have a long list of accomplishments to point to. Any Democrat who takes the position of opposing Clinton is making a serious mistake. If a voter isn't happy with Clinton, he or she is going to vote for a Republican rather than for an anti-Clinton Democrat. But the Democratic party does need some weeding out, so this will tend to eliminate short-sighted Old Democrats.
I think that the Democrats need to run a unified campaign. There must be a central group coordinating the mid-term campaigns of all Democrats to created a unified message. If I were Clinton, I would place my middle class tax cut in the 1994 federal budget. I think that since deficit reduction is ahead of projections now, a middle class tax cut could spur growth. It would take care of critics who say that Clinton went back on his promises, and it would be very popular among a large number of middle class voters.
The Democrats need to position themselves as representing Change, Hope, and Vision vs. Hate and Fear which seems to be the only formula the Republicans know. Even though Clinton's popularity is suffering because real solutions often create real pain, I don't think the poll numbers, especially this year's poll numbers, are going to be an indicator in next year's elections.
To explain why I believe this, let me compare voter polls on Clinton's popularity to a person evaluating a dentist while he is getting a root canal. The person would probably consider the dentist's actions as bad as those of a Nazi interrogator. However, if you asked the person if he wanted the dentist to stop and put the tooth back the way it was or finish the job, the person would likely say, Finish the job.
The Republicans offer nothing to go back to. No matter how bad they make Clinton seem, what do they offer? Do we go back to borrow-and-spend? Do we go back to hating this group and hating that group? Do we go back to stupidity and insanity? The Republican message of We're bad, but they're worse really isn't going to sell.
The Democrats, however, are going to have to fight the brain dead, union mobster, bureaucratic, government expansion mentality. One of the worst Democratic party ideas coming up is the striker replacement bill. This protects union workers at the expense of business, government, and all nonunion workers. The Democrats try to position themselves as being pro-worker, and there's nothing wrong with that. But only 18% of the work force is unionized and that figure is going down every year.
I've been hearing the phrase American Values used by Democrats more and more. This is a very good move. It counters the Republicans' Family Values which in theory should mean the same thing, but does not. The difference between the Democrats' American Values and the Republicans' Family Values is that the Democrats mean it and the Republicans don't.
What the Republicans Need to Do
I have to admit that I'm very pessimistic about the future of the Republican party. Sometimes I think I'm the last true Republican left. There is a huge gap between Republican philosophy and Republican reality. This gap is so great that Republicans have lost their identity. To demonstrate this, all I need to do is show you a few examples of leaders who purportedly represent the vision of the Republican party.
Let's start with Pat Buchanan. He's a Republican leader. But does he reflect the heart and sole of the Republican party? I sure hope not! He represents white male bigots who believe we should just get rid of those people. If Buchanan were ever elected President, investors should put their money in prison construction firms.
Then there's Pat Robertson, a Republican leader similar to Buchanan, except that he is in direct communication with GOD, who provides the justification for just about anything Roberstson wants to assert as truth. Here's a guy who can just make something up and believe it's real. If it sounds good, it must be true. If Robertson were President, Cuba would have nuclear missiles, like they did in the 1988 election year.
Then there are Rush Limbaugh and Bob Dornan. Do they represent the Republican party? Similar to Buchanan and Robertson in that they appeal to the hate the government crowd, they differ by offering a marginally a more mainstream environment to do it in. You don't have to be a Nazi or religious nut to be into Rush. But the message is similar.
Then you have Phil Gramm and Newt Gingrich, who appeal to your basic My party, right or wrong crowd. If Clinton wants it, they're against it. All they have to say is, those tax and spend liberal Democrats. Substance is a word that is not in their vocabulary.
Of course there's Ollie North, for those who want to bring back the Iran-Contra, above-the-law approach to government. Letting Ollie lead would be like having Ronald Reagan all over again, except without the acting experience to make it more entertaining to the public. Is this what a Republican is? Not if I can help it!
Then there's Ross Perot. But Marc, you might ask, Perot isn't a Republican, is he? Not officially. But Perot is planning to try to take over the Republican party in 1996 when he makes a run for the Presidency on the Republican ticket. Perot now controls the biggest single faction of the Republican party and he knows it. But what he doesn't know is that the other factions, which add up to a lot more Republicans, can't stand him. The most positive thing I can say about Perot is that he contributes the best one-liners to the party platform. Anytime you hear The Great Sucking Sound, Perot is near.
Finally, there's the Jack Kemp crowd who position themselves as more reasonable Republicans. But they haven't yet made the jump between positioning themselves as more reasonable and actually being more reasonable. If they actually become more reasonable they would have to side with Clinton, and I doubt we'll see that.
So who does that leave to represent the Republican party? My one last hope is Bob Dole who seems to, on a semiconscious level, remember that a Republican is supposed be pro-business, anti-tax, and fiscally responsible; in favor of reduced government size; desirous of a government that works, and supportive of basic moral values and civil freedoms. I still wouldn't vote for Dole for President, but I think that if there is a single person on the planet who can save the Republican party and bring back its vision, it's Bob Dole.
For Dole to accomplish this, the first thing he's going to have to do is start cooperating with Clinton. In his heart, Bob Dole knows that if Clinton were a Republican, he would be the greatest Republican since Abraham Lincoln. The only salvation for the Republican party is to stop fighting everything and get on the right side of pro-Republican issues.
The first thing that needs to happen is for Republicans to realize that issues are more important that elections. There is no way that a Republican is going to be elected in 1996. But if Republicans were to decide to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, they could win a lot of House and Senate seats and keep the Republican vision alive. They could replace a lot of Democrats who really are tax-and-spend crooks and puppets of union mobsters.
What I see happening in 1994 is a Republican bloodbath in which all the factions fight for control of the party. I think that the Republicans are going to destroy themselves and suffer massive losses in next year's elections. I think that the losses will be so staggering that people will be talking about the end of the party and comparing it to the losses in the Conservative Party in Canada's receint elections.
Personally, I think this would be a disaster. And I'm going to try to contact Bob Dole about this and plead with him to try to get him to see reality. I rate my chances as very slim at best, but I am formulating a plan and hope to at least show a good effort.
In one parting shot at the Republican performance of last year, I faxed off this letter to the press:
One defining issue of next year's elections will be Health Care Reform. Will Congress be serious about it or will they play games with it? This will be something that voters will be watching closely and if voters think that the candidate is screwing them over they will not be happy. On this issue alone, a serious Republican could beat a Democrats who has sold out to a special interest group.
This is kind of a wildcard issue because Health Care is one seventh of the economy. That means there is a lot of money involved and where there's money, there's corruption. And this kind of corruption isn't a party line thing. There will be plenty of Democrats as well as Republicans lining up to take bribes. Clinton will stick to his principles on this issue and he will be counting on the public being smart enough to know when they're being lied to. I'm not convinced that the public is that smart. But, for Clinton's sake, I hope they are.
Clinton and the Media
I've about had it with the national media. Here we have the greatest president in history and all these bastards can do is find any way they can to cut him down, and I'm tired of it. I can no longer bite my tongue in respect for the First Amendment, because I think this goes far beyond innocent stupidity. Some people would argue that a person's right to intentionally lie to the public is protected. I am not one of those people. I wrote this letter and faxed it out to my newspaper list. It represents my view of the latest, so called Clinton Scandal.
The real question is, Why are they doing this? Could it be that they are upset because Clinton is different than other presidents in that he is a genius? In the past reporters have been used to presidents who were less intelligent than they were. The last two presidents, in particular, made reporters think that they were mental giants.
But now there is someone in the White house who is operating at a level that is beyond their comprehension. Not only that, President Clinton identifies himself personally as being a Small Town Good Ole Boy Country Hick. And this hick isn't providing the kind of perks that previous presidents have used to express their respect for the fact that the media have the power to crush their public image on a whim. How dare he!
What I want to see is stories about our future and what we as a society can do to advance ourselves. How to solve the problems we, as a nation, face together. I'm not interested in Bill Clinton's (or Michael Jackson's) crotch. I don't care to see the heinous crimes that occurred that day. I think it's time for the national press to take a long hard sober look at themselves and ask the question, Just what is it that a journalist is supposed to do really?
Normally, smart people learn to hide how smart they are. It's something I've been struggling with all my life until recently, when I decided to come out of the back room about it. But the President and his staff find it very hard to face the nation's problems and try to solve them while trying to play stupid at the same time. The Clintons have had to expose to the nation just how smart they are, for the good of the nation. And I think that it's time that we count our blessings and be thankful that our future is in the hands of nerds.
Announcing the Nerd Liberation Movement
Speaking about coming out of the back room, I'm in the process of filing for a registered trademark on the Nerd Liberation Movement. I've already been making buttons, but I'm going to expand to T-shirts, baseball caps, clocks, and other goodies. Thinking Magazine will be the official newsletter of the NLM and the group is not soliciting members. The NLM will also be a political organization for lobbying Congress on nerd-related issues.
As the founder of the NLM, I have decided that my title will be Supreme Commander (is this too humble?) and that I am member number one. Each new member will receive the next sequential number when he or she joins, and will keep this number forever. That way you can go down in history as one of the founding members if you get in early. This will give you something to tell your grandchildren about how you were there, in the beginning. What a proud moment!
As I register new members, you will be entered into the official NLM computer database and, unlike Ross Perot's United We Stand organization, I'm not going to jump the membership count up into the millions just to make it look like there are more members than there really is. So if you're number 25, you will keep that number and even if you don't renew your membership, no one else will ever be number 25.
Joining the NLM is easy. All you have to do is be a nerd, and send me $25 for your first year's membership. That's all there is to it! For your 25 bucks you will receive your membership number and a Nerd Liberation Movement button that also says, Coming out of the Back Room. I will spend the money I receive any way I see fit, but it will initially go to help pay my phone bill for faxing Congress and the press. Just fill out the form at he end of this issue of Thinking Magazine and send it to me by mail, fax, or E-mail. To can send a check or use your Master Card, Visa, Discover, or Diners Club. Sorry, we don't take American Express or COD orders.
What Exactly is a Nerd?
You may be saying to yourself right now, Marc, your NLM sounds really cool to me. But you said that I have to be a nerd and I don't know if I qualify. How do I tell if I'm a nerd or not? I don't have a pocket pen protector or thick glasses taped in the middle. I don't even have a cellular phone or a laptop computer! Could I still be a nerd?
I'm glad you asked that question because I've given this a lot of thought and I think I have the answer.
A nerd is someone who like to think. A nerd is like an athlete of the mind. An athlete is not someone who just runs an athlete is someone who likes to run who lives to run. And it doesn't matter how well you run or how fast you are you just have to love running.
A nerd is someone who loves to think needs to think lives to think. It doesn't matter how smart you are or if you can program computers. What matters is that you are someone who is interested in everything. A nerd wants to know about things, to understand things. A nerd wants to know, How does it work? Why is it that way? Why is there something rather than just nothing? Where can I get more information on that subject? If God knows the future, but he created us anyway, then isn't it his fault? When did that turn of phrase become popular? Who says I can't go faster than the speed of light?
A nerd is someone who wants to live forever, just so he or she can understand everything about everything. A nerd feels the frustration of being limited to communication with only words wishing there were a way to increase the bandwidth somehow. A nerd believes that there isn't anything he or she can't eventually understand, given enough time and the desire to understand it.
Are you frustrated with people around you because they don't stop to think? Do you think it's hard to find people with whom you can really discuss the things you're fascinated with? Do you ask yourself, How did I end up in this reality? Do you feel the pressure to hold back your mental abilities in public because you don't want to offend people? Have people told you to your face that your breadth of knowledge is fascinating but told others behind your back that you are a droning bore because you persist in enthusiastically talking about obscure subjects they've never heard of? If the answer to these questions is Yes, then you're probably a nerd.
I said I was going to lobby Congress on nerd-related issues. But what is a nerd-related issue? What do nerds want government to do? To me, nerd-related issues are those that deal with policies and the workings of society as it relates to nerdom.
What are a few specific nerd-related issues? Well, lets start with education. Football is a game, not a career. When I look at the money that America spends on sports, as compared to what it spends on science or computer labs, it makes me sick! It's not that I'm against sports. It's that school is supposed to be for education and games for entertainment. I think less state and federal money should be spent on games and more money budgeted for education.
Other nerd-related economic issues include supporting the information highway, research and development tax credits, faster depreciation schedules for computer equipment, and investment tax credits for the purchase of high tech equipment. Furthermore, nerds tend to favor the exploration of space, creating workable solutions to environmental pollution problems, and increasing international cooperation in scientific research.
Ordinary people rarely accomplish anything. Society advances because of its extraordinary people. Now, existentially speaking, when ordinary people do something extraordinary, they are no longer ordinary. But most of the time when someone does something extraordinary, it's because he or she was already extraordinary and had been working long and hard to accomplish it. Yet, despite this, there is little social acceptance of extraordinary people in this culture, so many of them pretend that their breakthrough accomplishments were something that just happened because they were lucky.
People who run high-tech businesses but are not inventive themselves sometimes explain their companies' new developments by jokingly saying, We have this nerd that we keep locked in the back room. Friends, this is no laughing matter because in reality, nerds are locked in the back room! And that's what the NLM is really all about. We're coming out of the back room to take our rightful place as leaders, breaking our bonds of oppression at the hands of those who think it's somehow uncool to be smart..
House Wiring for Nerds
I've been an electrician this weekend, doing a little house wiring. I don't know how many of you are familiar with it, but I installed some X-10 based home automation equipment. What's X-10?, you ask. Well, X-10 is really cool stuff.
X-10 is a control standard that allows you to turn on and off lights and appliances by sending signals over your house wiring. These signals can control up to 256 devices. With X-10 controls, you can install timers that turn lights on and off at different times, use wireless transmitters to turn things on and off, add wireless alarm and security systems that control sirens and call the cops, or use your home computer to control your house lighting. And the best part is that X-10 is simple to install and requires no special wiring or technical skills. If you have enough skill to replace a wall light switch, you can install X-10.
The most common place to get X-10 stuff is Radio Shack, where it is marketed under the name Plug 'n Power. But if you really want to get into it, you can get a better selection and lower prices from a place called Home Control Concepts (800-CONTROL).
Here's how it works. You plug in a controller that has buttons to turn on and off 8 devices. It also has Dim/Bright controls. Then you take a lamp module and plug it into the wall and plug your lamp into it. You then turn the dials on the lamp module to give it a unique address. Then, if you push the button on the controller, it turns the lamp on. It's that simple!
Now, you set up 7 more lamps with other codes. Use the controller and now you can control all 8 of them. Now you want to make your home look like someone is there when you're gone? No problem. All you have to do is get an X-10 controller/timer and program in a sequence and it turns your 8 lights on and off at preset times.
Now if you want to work the ceiling lights, \all you have to do is remove your light switch from the wall. Connect the two wires to an X-10 wall switch instead and put it back in the wall. Just like your wall switch, you push the button once, the light comes on. Push it again, the light goes off. What's different is that in addition to pushing the button, you can also turn the light on from any X-10 controller.
Sounds cool, doesn't it? I'm just starting. Suppose you want that coffee pot to come on at 6:00 am. No problem. Just plug it into an appliance module and plug the appliance module into the wall, set the address, and let the timer turn it on for you. Can it be that easy? Yes!
But Marc, I don't like to get up out of my recliner. What can X-10 do for me? That's easy, you plug a receiver module into any wall socket. You can then send signals to it from a hand-held controller which will control 8 devices plugged into other sockets around the house. But you're not limited to just one wireless controller. You can buy wireless switches that you attach to the wall with Velcro and they even give you the Velcro! Want to add a wall switch? Just stick it on the wall. Want two switches controlling the same set of lights? No problem! Just stick another switch on another wall.
Yeah, but how much does it cost? That's the best part. This stuff is amazingly cheap. Quoting prices from Home Control Concepts, lamp modules are only $6 each when bought 6 at a time. A three prong appliance module is only $10! A door bell chime module: $16. Wall switch replacement with built in dimmer: $10. 8-channel wireless remote with receiver: only $35. 16-device plug-in controller: $18. Timer/controller with alarm clock: $30.
But it doesn't stop there. There's also X-10 stuff for the really serious nerd. Computer interface: $54. Security console: $98. Wireless motion detector: $50. Wireless window/door sensor: $15. 110 DB external siren: only $30. Smart security flood lights: $40. Telephone X-10 controller that lets you control your lights from any telephone in the world: only $150.
This stuff is amazing as it is, but with the right computer software it could be incredible. Suppose you open the front door and it's dark outside. Obviously you want the lights to come on. The house knows you are arriving outdoors and it automatically goes into arrival mode, lighting the yard for you.
Suppose you get up in the middle of the night heading for the bathroom. No problem. When you get up, the house's motion detectors see you walking around and the house knows that it night, so it turns on the lights for you, but it turns them on dim so as not to blind you or wake up the whole family.
You wire a transmitter in your car that is tied to the ignition switch (not one where you have to push a button). As your car comes up the driveway, the house knows you are coming home and it disables the alarm system and opens the garage door. When you shut off the ignition, the house knows it and waits one minute and closes the door. It also turns on the lights and accesses your E-Mail, so that as you walk in, it tells you if you have any messages waiting. It can also start a pot of water boiling, if you like tea when you get home.
There's no end to all the cool stuff you can do with these toys. So if you have any Christmas money left, head down to Radio Shack and just buy enough to get familiar with the system. Then if you get serious you can call Home Control Concepts for a catalogue. There's also a magazine called Electronic House (405-624-8015) that lists even more vendors. This stuff is FUN and if you want a cheap home improvement project, you should go for it.
And if you are already involved with X-10, please contact me. I want to know what other people are doing with it.