Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Good Saturday

A lot seemed to go right for me yesterday. For instance, after two weeks of trying to put a new computer together, I found a local computer shop that had a part I needed and took my dysfunctional assortment of parts in and got their help. I now have a working PC again, and this old laptop I'm using can take a little break. My XBox 360 now plays DivX video files, so it can play all the video stuff I have been digitizing from my old tapes.

On the non-computer side of life, we gave another performance of our Christmas concert with the Symphonic Band of the Palm Beaches. The crowd were very enthusiastic and we got one and a half standing ovations. One and a half? In the first one, only the upper balcony stood up, so nobody downstairs got the hint and joined in :) I played my part in "Russian Christmas Music" better than last week and got compliments from the other trumpet players, and an invitation to practice some duets with one of our top guys! He lives pretty far away, though, so I don't know if we'll be able to meet up.

I didn't notice it until last night, but this program of music had a lot of very exposed playing - long sections where only one or two people are playing. It is said that it is more difficult to play slow music than fast music, but I think we did very well. My part wasn't difficult, particularly, but quite exposed and I could feel my pulse racing and my throat pressing up against my bowtie as I played those long piercing notes.

During the intermission I saw a gentleman in the percussion section looking through a set of collectible playing cards. This was an unusual sight, but I told him my favourite game, NetRunner, was designed by the same man who designed the cards he had. "NetRunner? Oh yeah, I love NetRunner too!" What a surprise! I thought I'd never meet anyone who'd heard of it, let alone played it, but we're going to start playing regularly next year.

Next Friday I begin my long trip back to Australia! I'll be there until the New Year so if any of my old friends want to meet up for lunch or dinner, I'd be delighted!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Going To Auctions

Auctions are a lot of fun and, if you're careful they can be a good way to make money too. I started going to my local auction house after stepping out of a nightclub one evening (yes, I went to a club!) and hearing the auctioneer's sales patter, which I'll try and reproduce here: "we've got a dishwasher, GE, guaranteed to work I'll give you 24 hours...and whatamIhear...shabadadadahundreded dollars...gimme a hundred a hunhunhunHundreddollars shabadabadbadafifty dollars hey gimmee fifty say fif-fif-fifty dollars who'll give me TWENTY FIVE DOLLARS FOR *THAT* DISHWASHER!! Anybody? Anybody somebody sommmmebody maybe anybody? Throw that one in too - twenty five dollars you're getting TWO dishwashers, guaranteed to work! You tell me folks, they're here to be sold. Tell me where else you'll find a deal like that!?.

A minute later he was offering three dishwashers for $10 and nobody took them. It was 11 o'clock at night, there were maybe 20 people there and this guy was trying to shift appliances to a tired audience. I looked around the room at the paintings, shelves of random household contents and thought "...this looks interesting."

I came back that Wednesday, and the next Sunday and learned how it works. You can hold up a couple of fingers and offer a price - you don't have to wait for him to come down that far. He doesn't have to take it, though, and might say "I'll come back to you." If you wait long enough he might make a big pile of stuff nobody else wants and sell the whole lot for one price. I did this and got a box of interesting objects for $3 that I split up and sold for $30 (and counting).

I also learned that it's easier to to sell common household items and "stuff" than to look for antiques. I've done really well on simple things like insulating window film (bought 25 boxes for $3, total and sold them for around $150), wine bottle totes ($400 for a HUGE amount of them, made $1200 and counting), LED baseball cap lights ($2 each, selling for $5).

Here's how the *ideal* scenario works, and it involves "haulers", travelling salesmen who come to 3-4 auctions a week with a truck loaded with overflow from warehouses, business closures and the Home Shopping Network! Write down items they're selling that you can easily store and ship, along with the price. When you get home, look them up on eBay and Amazon. If the price is higher, there's a chance the hauler will sell the same items next time he is at the auction - you can even put in requests ahead of time through your auctioneer (as I have found out.)

Sales can be seasonal - Christmas is an excellent time for little toys and gadgets like the cap lights. I bought 60 on Sunday and have sold 13 this week. They're small, strong and won't get damaged in shipping.

Be Patient
Remember that most items in the auction house won't sell right away - there's simply not enough time to get to them all, especially stuff on the back shelves. Write down interesting items, go home and research the current market prices on eBay and Amazon. If you think you can buy it cheaper than that, ask them to put it up at the next auction, take it home and try your luck. And if you get caught in a bidding war, just let it go. There's always more bargains to be had later.

Try and keep your house neat and the stuff you bring home organized, or it'll be a real drag. Ship items promptly and well-packaged - a good reputation on eBay and Amazon is a valuable thing.

And lastly, there's a great social atmosphere at auctions. You'll make new friends, trade tall tales about the one that got away, and see arguments, disputes and fights...I saw the cops get called once :)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

I Resurface

Goodness me, it's been a long time since I was here. I've been doing a lot of interesting stuff lately but I didn't know if I should write about it or not. But my public demands it, so here I am again.

Money! Moneymoneymoney. The getting of, and keeping of money seems to be what we center a large portion of our waking lives around. So why are so many people quick to spend it all?! The US has a quite low rate of personal savings; people here are simply bombarded with messages telling them to spend it all, that they "deserve" to own everything their heart desires, and stuff they didn't even know they wanted. This is a bad, bad thing and should be subverted whenever possible.

I've found a really good way to do this regarding furniture and other household items. Buy them at an auction. Our local auction house meets twice a week and you can get major appliances, dining room sets, piles of plates, sofas and chairs etc for pocket change. You just need to resist the urge to "buy new because only dirty, poor beggars buy second-hand". That message is what retailers want you to believe so they can make their ridiculous markups on new furniture. I'll write more about auctions later, but I'll one thing - you can make easy money buying little household items and reselling them on

The eventual aim of taking care of one's finances properly, is that you'll very seldom have to think about it. Once you're financially stable, it should take care of itself quite well with, perhaps, a monthly checkup. And if you're young, you have an irreplaceable asset on your side: time. The richest billionaire on the planet cannot buy more time in the market, and that's what you have at your fingertips. The sooner you start investing, the better off you'll be.

To finish off, here's an email I wrote to a friend that summarizes the simple advice it takes to get one's finances in order. This is mostly aimed at those who are carrying debt - the best investment you can make is to pay it off, especially if it carries a high interest rate - anything above 10%.

Assess the State of Play
So, let's see, I think the first order of business is to write down what you know about the state of play. How much comes in, how much goes out, what are your assets and your debts. What interest rates are you paying on those debts? List them from highest to lowest interest rate, grit your teeth and start making extra payments. There's not much point saving money in the bank if your car's debt is piling up at a high interest rate.

For your assets, remember to value them at how much they'd sell for today, not how much you paid for them. Hopefully you won't need to sell anything in order to get the books balanced, but it's always an option. A good example would be the car. You can use to get an idea of its current value...hopefully more than $8K :)

Choose A Plan of Attack
Once you know how the money is flowing, let's see how bad the situation is? Ideally you want to be able to save 15%-20% of the money that's coming into the house. Saving means money that is locked away as an investment and not spent unless it's a really dire emergency. So, is that achievable? Or are you breaking even? Or are you actually losing money and dipping into savings each month?

Your answer to that will affect how hard you attack the next step - if things are cruising along, you don't need to adjust much. If things are dire, it's time to sell the car, buy a junker, cancel the cable and get a night job delivering pizza. You're probably somewhere in between, though.

Look for easy adjustments. Can you easily lower any bills or bring more money in? Cancel some cable premium channels (or the whole thing!)? Cancel magazine subscriptions? Is there any "low hanging fruit" - easy changes you can easily fit into your life without trouble? I cancelled my cable and reduced my internet dsl speed to the minimum as part of my adjustments. I don't rent DVDs, I borrow from the library. I buy lots of food on sale (and from the auction!) and make sure to eat it before expiry. If you're throwing food out then you're buying too much. Do you bring lunch from home or buy it at work?

Tell your sons what the whole financial picture is like, and what they can do to help. Hopefully they're upstanding young men and will volunteer to make some sacrifices and help you out as much as they can.

Also look into other ways of bringing more money into the house - can you ask for a raise? If one is coming, can it be bigger? Ask your boss what'd you'd need to do to get a bigger raise or a promotion in, say, 3-6 months time. Have a yard sale - if your house is full of stuff, a yard sale is a quick way to clear out junk and make a few hundred bucks. If you have time in the evenings, look up DVDs,CDs, books etc on Amazon and other stuff on eBay to see what the going price is. It's time consuming, but the best way to get top $ for your items. I'm making about $200 a week selling out my old video games, CDs and books - this won't last though, all the good stuff is going quickly. (New note - this has gone up to $500 a week, gross income, and it's at least $300 profit.)

Final piece of advice - DON'T DIG THE HOLE ANY DEEPER! If you need to buy anything at all ask yourself (a) do I *really* need this? (b) can I get buy with a second hand one, or a cheaper model? (c) can I buy it at auction for $10 instead ( i.e bed, mattress, memory-foam mattress topper) ?! Don't embark on any risky schemes or high-risk investments and don't believe anything any "guru" says about real-estate, penny stocks etc.

My advice is, hopefully, generically useful, but the library will have lots of books on personal finance (and they're free!). Take an hour to go look through and pick one that makes sense to you - they all say much the same thing. "Spend less than you earn, and invest the rest!" is the core message and it works every time :)

My gut feeling, without knowing the figures, is that your top priority should be clearing your debt as fast as possible, especially anything with a high-interest rate. If you're not contributing to your 401k, it's probably a good time to put it at least the amount your company matches - that's 100% interest right there, tax-free!

Some websites
Instant Home Budget -
Some budget worksheets -

If you google for "personal finance budget" you'll get lots of good hits.

Dave Ramsey's website is not much help, but his show is excellent. Weeknights @ 8pm on *shiver* Fox Business Channel.

Lots of good advice here -

COPF : is a weekly collection of the best personal finance blog entries from around the web. Pick and choose the good bits. is a good read - the articles are about various things, but will get you in a good mindset for saving. There's lot of blogs about saving money; look around until you find one you like. The weekly carnival will lead you to lots of good ones.

Friday, June 01, 2007

So Long, Hangu Nam

I just flew back from a week in Jackson, Mississippi and on the flight I sat next to a young man from Korea who had been an exchange student. Hangu was keen to practice his English so we chatted on and off for most of the flight. Having spent 6 years in Saudi Arabia and 4 in Germany when I was young, I know part of what he went through, although I was with other English-speaking people 99% of the time.

He was very pleased when I correctly guessed his age at around sixteen; he said most people thought he was in college. I thought it was a little odd that he was happy to be picked as younger -- don't most kids want to be thought of as older than they are? I think he must have had a hard time getting along with other high school kids in small-town Mississippi, or maybe adults who assumed he was a better English speaker than he actually was. I later realized that the student who'd recently killed 32 people at his college was also Korean and I wondered if some small-minded people had given Hangu a hard time about this. He was happy that I knew something about Korea too, that Hyundai and Samsung were Korean firms, not Japanese - I guess that a lot of the people he met did not make much distinction between countries of the Far East.

Hangu had been in America for 9 months and was flying to Philadelphia to stay with his aunt for a week before heading back to Korea. I assumed he was staying there after his exchange year, but he quickly corrected me: he loved going to school in the US and had applied to attend another high school in Atlanta. Korea has very long school days, thanks to the "Cram Schools" which can see a student's day run from 6 am until MIDNIGHT...for three years! Surely this is no way to raise kids?!

I asked Hangu what was different between America and Korea. He said Americans loved to eat fried food...*all* the time! "Too many cheeseburger!" But he knew it was a Southern thing and it was less common in the rest of the country, though in Korea he had much less food like that. Americans were also much more religious; one of his host families had taken to him to their baptist church. He went along to learn about it, and to be polite of course, but was a bit surprised when the preacher "tried to convert me". I'm not sure what the "conversion" consisted of - Hangu may not have picked the right word for what could have been anything from a brief chat to a full-on dunking attempt.

He asked me about the book I was reading, Lonely Planets, which I told him was about astrobiology and the search for alien life. He told me his thoughts on the subject (we agreed) and I noted to myself that his English had got steadily better throughout our conversation. When we'd started it was very simple questions and I spoke slowly and used very little slang, and the simplest words to get my point across, and he'd seem to miss some of those, but by the end I was almost at normal speed and using more complex sentences, which he seemed to have no trouble with. When he couldn't think of a word, though, he would press his forefinger against the middle of his forehead as he thought.

At the end of the flight he politely said he'd very much enjoyed talking with me (he said "Yes, sir" or "No, sir" to a lot of my questions) and I returned the compliment. I helped him identify which gate he needed to go to for his connecting flight, and he was on his way. I hope he gets to stay here in the US and complete his schooling.

Oh, I remember he was not 100% polite all the time; when we talked about Korean companies I pulled out my phone to show him it was a Samsung. He almost laughed at it - "that is nearly seven years old model; it is ancient!" - and he showed me his sleek black model with pop out bits and bobs. I told him mine was paid for by my boss, and I didn't get to choose which one I got :)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

TV Writers Need a New Gimmick

I just watched the season finale of Lost and I feel the need to rant. If you haven't seen it, bug out now.

So yet another character gains an advantage and doesn't lock it in. How many friggin' times am I going to see someone shoot/hurt/knock down their enemy, then walk away and have a conversation with somebody else, only to turn around and see the enemy at their throat again. Are writers just getting lazy? Take Lost, for example, where the characters have been trapped on the island for months and terrified by "The Others". Charlie and Desmond shoot one of them down, a very bloodthirsty one, but instead of taking an extra two seconds to shoot him again, or push him into the pool where he'd die for sure, or just jump on his head and make sure he's dead, the writers leave him alive, and he takes his revenge at the end of the episode.

I feel insulted if the writers of the show expect me to suspend disbelief this far. I don't think the characters are *that* stupid to not lock in their advantage when they have the chance. If I was trapped and scared and managed to knock down my enemy, I can promise you they would not stand up ever again. I like to watch smart characters, but I can only conclude these characters are not. Or that the writers are lazy. I'll go with that. On the show "Heroes", Hiro did the same thing after stabbing Sylar - ignore the body and fail to finish him off. BTW Do you buy that Sylar let Hiro charge him from twenty feet away and didn't stop him? Me neither.

The finale had a few too many of the "You must do I tell you, but I won't tell you why" moments, mainly from Ben and Locke. Ben has, of course, done this many times before and seems genuinely perplexed that the Losties won't take his advice, after he's kept them in terrified isolation and killed some of them. Can't anyone on this show communicate properly? If it's so important that things be done your way, just explain it. Or explain why you *can't* explain it. Anything *but* repeat the order while commiting random acts of kidnap and violence.

Are the writers trying to drag this whole thing out by having people not ask obvious questions. Like the new character, Naomi, who parachutes onto the island and says her boat is waiting offshore. Did anyone ask her who sent her, or is it going to be a big surprising reveal that her intentions are not good? I hope more of the Losties get taken out of the gene pool, because such incuriosity and bovine acceptance is frankly infuriating to watch.

And the way they shot it, he could *totally* have got out of that chamber before the end.

If you're a fan of the show and haven't seen Lostpedia yet, you're missing out!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Can't Catch a Break

I bought a Nintendo Wii a little while ago and I like the sports game that came with it. I was most interested in the bowling game, but that's turned out to be harder to master than I thought. Here's a frustrating game I played - I got a spare in every frame, including a tricky split in the 6th, and not one solitary strike. Even the last bonus throw in the 10th resulted in a nine!

Have you ever heard that joke by Steven Wright about buying a humidifier and a de-humidifier, putting them in the same room and let them fight it out? I saw this principle in action at an office a couple of days ago while I was running errands. The a/c was set rather low in this office building and the staff in the lobby had no control over it. So they fought back with a small heater down by their feet. A few years ago I'd have laughed it off, but the energy usage is nothing to laugh at. I hope they get their a/c sorted out, but its more than likely they'll just keep things as they are. As long as the power bill stays where it is and there's enough profit to handle it without blinking, they'll leave the settings alone.

I spent a week in Jackson, Mississippi for work, where we installed some new software I've written. It's a billing system, which again demonstrates a principle I've noticed. Most software in businesses is built to move data from one place to another; simple as that. I wonder if anyone has, or will, come up with a computer language specifically designed to make such a task easier. I love writing in Delphi, an object-oriented extension of Pascal, but you do have to re-invent the wheel somewhat with each project, building objects and structures which do much the same task as the last project you wrote.

I'm reading a very interesting book at the moment, called Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life. It's a summary of the science which informs our speculation about life, so that when we go to places such as Mars and Europa we'll be able to make intelligent guesses about what sort of life we'd find there. Recommended if you like reading about science and history.
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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Negotiating the Vending of some Cheesy Comestibles

I like cheese, but I'm not sure how to feel about Pasteurized process cheese food. Are you? If you hadn't noticed yet, many of the sliced cheeses you buy at the supermarket is labelled with some starkly plain wording, untouched by the hands of the marketing department. Cheese food, cheese product, imitation cheese and pasteurized process cheese product...all these terms seem chosen to scare off anyone who reads the package and thinks "But...I just want to buy some cheese!"

Luckily for us, Steve Ritter wondered the same thing a few years ago and wrote down what he found out. It turns out they each describe a cheese made from different blends of cheese, fat, moisture, curds, whey etc. It doesn't appear than any of them are hideously unnatural, but I'm surprised they use such odd, direct terminology to describe each of the "non-cheese" varieties. I know a lot of businesses go out of their way to make sure their products have "nice" names that won't cause potential buyers to hesitate if they read the packaging carefully.

I ended up buying some sliced Havarti today - real cheese :)

Other than that, I had a very productive morning - I ran several errands and did the laundry and grocery shopping, and tonight I have the final concert of the band I'm in, and then we take a break for the summer. We have to show up early tonight to have a band photograph taken - this happens every five years, so I'll post a picture when I get a copy.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Getting Better Mileage From My Car

When I first bought my car, a 2000 Saturn SL2, I got excellent mileage. Low 30s near home, 40 and up if I did a lot of highway driving. Over the years it seemed to drop away - I used to get around 320 miles on a tank and lately I'd been having to fill up around the 260-270 mile mark. I wondered what was happening?

The last time I took it for an oil-change I asked the mechanics what it might be. They said it was just part of cars ageing, and for a while I left it at that. But in the last month or so I've been on an efficiency kick, seeing if there was anything cheap and easy I could do that would make better use of what I buy, and reduce my carbon footprint. I'm recycling more, I bought CF light bulbs and raised my a/c temperature a little bit...but not too much :) Everyone who knows me knows I don't enjoy heat at all :)

So I thought about my car again - was there something I could do? A quick net search turns up plenty of web sites (like this "real world" test report) and I noticed a one easy change right away - don't accelerate so hard! I'm accelerate fairly quickly at the lights and thought it didn't make much difference, but it really does. On my last full tank of gas, which just ran out today, I made sure I took about 12-15 seconds to get up to my target speed, and I kept my speed to 55-60 wherever I went, even on the freeway.

Bottom line: I got 320 miles on this tank, using about 10.5 gallons. That's over 30 mpg, which is about a 20% improvement from my previous results. Every little bit helps :)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

I went to a neighbourhood meeting on climate change yesterday. It was part of the national "Step It Up 2007" program, which saw over 1400 events around the country designed to teach people about climate change and hopefully get the U.S Congress to notice and increase their efforts to curb our impact on our environment. Here's what I wrote for the site afterwards.

About 20-25 people came to the church to hear three speakers, each of whom spoke for 15-20 minutes. Deacon Steve started with a message putting the issue into a moral framework; the "stewardship" approach that has thankfully taken hold in so many churches around the nation.

Next up was Associate Professor Bill O'Brien (Environmental Studies) who took us through the science. He emphasised the scientific consensus and how long it had taken to reach that. He described the IPCC process and how cautious the scientific establishment is about announcing large-scale findings. A simplified description of "radiative forcings" followed and a quick tour of several graphs, and a good look at different explanations for global temperature rise and why each was discarded, leaving human-driven climate change as the only explanation that fit all the data.

He also looked at a couple of the lingering questions that still get raised sometimes: discrepancies in data sets that were not eliminated until quite recently, such a satellite and weather ballon temperature readings that showed cooling instead of warming (in case you didn't know, it was design differences or calibration problems).

Graduate Rob Bates took the stage next to give a summary of what we could all do to help reduce our carbon footprints. He drew on the "Low Carbon Diet" book by Dave Gershon to give us a list of what we could do and a handout summarizing it was passed out.

Questions from the audience followed and it was a very interesting session. Almost all the questions were of the "but what about X" variety, where X was another possible explanation for increases in global temperature. X included volcanic activity and a warmer sun (Mars is warming slightly). There was also some mistrust of the UN (an "anti United States organization", and more than one question asking where the debate was; that the presentation seemed very one sided.

The questions were all answered well, I thought and the questioners were not aggressive; they were, shall I say, "skeptically curious", and rightly so. There's a lot of information to absorb and if a scientific body pokes it head out and says "we've discussed this since 1990 and yes, we all have to change, hard, now" then not everybody was ready to hear all the information at once. One gentleman asked what global warming actually was - just a 1 degree rise in temperature didn't seem much to worry about. The answer given was that climate change could be seen as an instability in the climate, making the future unpredictable - this is bad in a world of 6 to 9 billion people mostly depending on things to stay much as they are.

I commented privately to Prof. O'Brien that he seemed to stay away from the "catastrophe" scenarios - the melting Russian permafrost, the frozen methane on the Arctic ocean floor, the stopped Gulf Stream. He said that was on purpose, given that you didn't want to terrify people into acting (or worse, into NOT acting), and I agreed.

One suggestion I'd make to Rob is in his list of things we can do at home. He mixed the easy steps with some rather extreme ones (ride bikes to work, don't dry clothes with a dryer). Although he prefaced each of those with a "if you're really keen, you could...", I think it would've been better to just list the easy steps (change to CF bulbs, turn off lights when you leave room, raise a/c temperature when you're out and at home by as much as you can stand) and *then* move on to intermediate steps and then, if time allowed, some "hairshirt" steps for the hardcore carbon reducers. Give the overall light tone of the event, I think just the easy steps would have sufficed, but their mention was a little diluted by the "heavy" stuff.

Overall, a very good event and hopefully one that will have ripple effects in that church and its congregation.

I've done some of the easy stuff at home; I changed most of my light bulbs to compact flourescents and rearranged my PCs so that the main one is switched off most of the time. I also signed up for the power companies "Green Power" program and bought carbon offsets for the house and car from If you have room in your budget (probably around $10 a month) why not call your power company or look on their website for a green power program, or purchase carbon offsets. The more people reduce carbon emissions, the better off our children and grand-children will be.

If you still need convincing, please take a look at this FAQ. It's a good explanation of the questions raised by climate skeptics and why they are wrong.

And no, you don't have to ride your bike to work, or leave the a/c off in the summer :)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

My Dog, the Cosmological Wonder

In the early years of the 20th century there was much discussion about the origin of the Universe and the matter it contained. The dominant theory was the "steady state", which supposed the Universe had always been here and that new matter is continuously being created, which is why the universe expands. Eventually it was replaced by the Big Bang theory (a name originally given by one of its detractors, who thought a "Big Bang" was a stupid idea), and has not been taken seriously for decades.

But I offer new evidence in support of this dusty idea - my dog is a site of continuous and steady of matter, specifically, a steady stream of fur that comes off his neck no matter how long I brush him. It's astonishing, and it never looks any thinner or produces less fur as I continue to brush. Cosmologists may apply to come and study this phenomenon for just twenty bucks and a plate of dog biscuits.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Your Body's a Wonderland

And it's true, technically. We all know there are bacteria and little microscopic creatures that live on and inside our bodies, but did you know how many there are? I saw a documentary on quorum sensing (a recently discovered phenomena whereby populations of bacteria communicate and organize themselves) and the scientist they spoke to said there are ten bacterial cells for everyone ONE of our own! There's more of THEM in YOU than YOU !

While it's a bit icky to think about, clearly its not a problem, because you're still alive and healthy. It got me wondering, however, about a few questions this leads to.

1) Do we need these creatures? Have we co-evolved with them for so long that we now depend on them? Perhaps we are descended from a being that, if it had not carried a helpful bacteria in its gut, would not have survived. But it did survive, and reproduce, and now we all depend on that it possible we'd not survive without it?

2) What happens if you leave the planet to live in a spaceship? Does your bacterial load keep itself replenished, or do you have to be on Earth to pick up vital new critters? And what if you were born on a spaceship? Could you get this bacteria from other people, or is your health going to suffer?

3) Do all our bacterial buddies have the ability to sustain their populations if we left the planet? What if some of them died, and their job was to keep some of the others in check? Will we be injured by the remaining bugs?

I wrote to a science writer at The Register, an English newspaper, who had answered a question on these bugs recently. His answer just confirmed that yes, these things lived on us and their quantities were vast, but he wasn't asked about their function, or what might happen if (a) something goes wrong, or (b) we leave the planet. He said my questions were very interesting and he's going to publish an answer in the paper when he gets some expert advice on the answers. Should be interesting :)

My own guess is that nothing much will happen. I think the populations are mostly self-sustaining and our body chemistry and immune systems are sophisticated enough to compensate if anything goes out of whack. And there's a whole pharmacy of drugs to help us too, if our un-enhanced systems can't cope. People have lived in space aboard Mir and Alpha for over a year and while they have problems with bone-density and muscle atrophy, I haven't heard of any bacterial/micro-fauna problems.

There have also been people raised in sterile conditions (the so-called Boy in the Bubble) who can live without these bacteria having populated their bodies, so it seems we don't "need" those bacteria - our unadorned "native" body has all it needs to survive and digest food.

Still, these creatures, especially the tiny animals, look really cool (though a bit scary) under microscope. And, just to finish on a cheery thought, when you die, it is THEM who will go to work on consuming your remains.