Monthly Archives: August 2007

Fighting Us Over Here So They Don’t Have To

I’ve been in a blue funk lately. Reading the news is so god damned depressing I just want to drill holes in my head and become one of those loopy bastards who believes he’s gonna live forever. Here are some highlights from my week.

Being charged with a Class One “We overreacted and now we don’t want to look dumb.”

  • Running club uses biodegradable and easily testable non-toxic and nonmarring substance to mark route.
  • Box shop employee calls police.
  • Total cluster fucking insanity.
  • Running club route marker comes back to explain what the substance is.
  • Running club route marker is charged with Felony Disturbance of the Peace.

It’s pretty easy to write this off as in the same category as the Boston Police Mooninite Ultra Flat Bomb Scare of 07, since it has the same pattern. Idiots squawk, other idiots overreact, in the interest of looking less idiotic, charge an innocent person with a very vague crime. If this had happened in 1997, the worst that would have happened is that a hazardous materials team would have come out and tested it. They would have classified it as “non-noxious” and that would be that. But we’re living in a post-911 world, where we can’t tell the difference between a pile of wheat flour in the shape of an arrow and TERRIBLE TERRORIST DANGER. The fact that one of the people charged with this is not a citizen probably means they’ll end up on some terrorist watch list for the rest of their natural lives. This goes into the same category as the guy who got convicted of checking his email, or the “wiretapper” who had the unmitigated gall to record his buddy’s traffic stop.

Man dies. I love stories like this, because they show a lack of respect for language and for the idea of an unbiased media. Man dies after pulling gun on deputy. I wonder how he died. It’s a little trick to make you think maybe it’s not because a cop shot him. I don’t care that he likely deserved what he got, the headline shouldn’t be deceptive. This is like a headline that says “Bicyclist dies after assaulting car tire” or “House burns after gasoline application”. This headline should have read something more sane like “Motorist shot in altercation with police”. It still avoids laying the blame at the foot of the officers, but doesn’t give the vague impression that he was getting on in years and just kind of keeled over.

After reading these sorts of stories and these sorts of headlines day in and day out, coupled with things like the ever popular “Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal”; The stories of regulation gone insane that greet everyone who wants to open a restaurant or bar; Perusing the too little and far too late media realization that the Virginia Tech killer wasn’t a video game controlled murder zombii… I had a thought.

When people compare the United States to Rome, they always talk about hedonistic excess. The ever growing SUVs or the $3000 brownies or the botox ass lifts. Two million dollar houses with private jets and chanel number five in the toilets. But I think what they’re missing is the spirit of convoluted bureaucracy and random enforcement, turned in on itself until government itself is unable to effectively defend it’s populace, identify it’s enemies, and enforce it’s laws. What we are seeing with these extreme convictions is that our laws are not just, and our enforcement is not uniform. I think that the growing trepidation and lack of faith in the good intent and efficacy of our government is a far greater measure of how far we have fallen than some douchebag eating gold foil wrapped chocolate cake.

Frugolympic Competition

Recently I came home from work, grabbed the mail, and received a slap in the face. I’ve been doing really well lately about not letting accounts meander on me, checking my balances, paying off my card every month, everything nice and tidy. But just goes to show that even if you think you’re on top of your finances, you would do well to keep an emergency fund around. Turns out that in 2005 (I believe this was the first full year I lived in Multnomah County) I didn’t pay my ITAX, a tax which I only have a vague inkling of existing. But, as it transpires, it was never withheld from any paychecks, and was instead just paid (or not paid, in my case) in bulk at the end. $360 tax, plus late fees and interest = $494. This was three days before my week long vacation, where I imagined going out to eat at Biwa or finally trying Toro Bravo and generally frolicking with my decent fiscal buffer and my newly minted $200-and-growing emergency fund. This ate my emergency fund and the little bit of mad money I was going to use on the vacation, and made it into a week of getting things done around the house (not a bad thing at all but it was still pretty stressful).

Well enough bitching, heres what I’m doing about it. Mostly, trying to simplify and reduce some costs. Cancelled my Eve account (I spent an entire week at home in front of the computer and wasn’t tempted to log in once) and the TV portion of the cable (Spent a week at home, periodically turning the TV on, scanning for entertainment, and it was pitiable – Being bored at work is better than daytime TV). This will give me approximately $80 a month to help build my emergency fund. There are more steps to this process that aren’t money related. Here are some additional (and possibly restated, but I can’t find the post) goals.

  1. Ride my bike to work at least 3 times a week. Doing pretty good on this one. On track for 4 times this week, and aside from oncall weeks and my vacation, I’ve done it all summer.
  2. Bring my lunch to work at least 3 times a week. Doing OK on this. Fargo keeps tempting me away from my packed lunch with promises of Joy Teriyaki or Burgers, and I keep letting him, because Joy Teriyaki is delicious. My real problem is failure to prepare meals the night before, leaving me with morning snap decisions and somewhat lame lunches like PB&J or Ramen. I am doing good on bringing healthy snacks to work instead of buying candy.
  3. Reduce my caffeine intake. I was doing OK on this for a while, but now I’m back to a presspot of coffee in the morning, and a soda at lunch, and soda when I get home. I’ve been trying to trim it out from the end of the day first, since it was negatively impacting the quality of sleep, which has been pretty successful (nothing after dinner).
  4. Reduce my wardrobe. I don’t buy many clothes, but I do keep clothes far beyond their useful life for sentimental reasons. I also tend to wear clothes that are too small or uncomfortable instead of getting rid of them. I managed to man up about it and get rid of about half of my clothes, donating the uncomfortable or too small to charity and throwing away the shirts with holes in them and jeans with no knees. Now I just need to learn to do this with my holey New Balance sneakers.
  5. Reduce the crap in my house. I have a house that is by all measurements too large for me and one roommate and two dogs, but every single nook and cranny has crap in it. I don’t have an effective tool storage solution, I don’t really have an effective food storage solution. Groceries that don’t have a home get piled on the dishwasher, or on the countertops. There is a layer of tools, in progress project parts, and debris from completed projects that covers the entire dining room table, two chairs, and a portion of the floor. There is still a room full of boxed items from the move, and every time we want to do something in the garage, it involves moving stuff either into the traffic corridors of the living room or out onto the carport. And a lot of it is just crap. Stuff I can’t bring myself to throw away. Legos (fuck your retarded corporate fake etymology Lego), car parts for things that don’t even exist, broken tools, useless bric-a-brak. I don’t have the patience to sell it at a garage sale, and for the most part, I can’t imagine anybody wanting to buy a half-set of brazing goggles or an almost-full box of nails that are larger than any project I could ever imagine doing would call for.
  6. And as always, pay off my car, then drive it payment free until it explodes. Save up so next time I can buy a sensible used car in cash. This will be difficult and significantly longer term than the rest. I have a plan that mostly involves rolling any year end bonuses and tax refunds into the principal of my car loan. Once I’ve finally gotten my emergency fund up to the three month level (which will probably be about $8-10k), I will start making additional monthly payments to get this loan done with. This loan was not a mistake, as it allowed me to rapidly build my credit, which ultimately let me purchase my house, but now that I am in the house, I have no interest in continuing to pay through the nose on the car loan (which I believe is somewhere in the 9% apr range – Will check later).
  7. Start socializing. I’ve never been a very sociable person, I tend to lock up around other real people. I get embarrassed easily and have a nasty habit of replaying conversations for days afterward critiquing the dumb things I said. So I simply avoid social situations. This has led to the expected level of romance in my life, and as I am getting older, I am realizing that without drastic changes, I will miss out on a significant portion of the human experience. Without risk, there is little reward, without others, there is little point.

Join me later today or tomorrow for a big weepy post about my current huff with my parents!

Trying not to drown…

It was presumably some type of trip for a competition, my brain was decidedly unspecific about it. We packed up, the eleven of us, mostly shadow people from high school memories. Mark the short one, Pete the crazy one, it gets a little hazy from there. The trip up to Chicago for the ill-defined knowledge jamboree.

Until the plane crashed. At least one of them did, the larger just kind of landed. Fell out of the air anyways, taking the four of us (me, the short one, the crazy one, the one with no defining features) down into the worlds most tepid lake. Pete and I swam like rats through the pitch black looking for shelter, and came upon the perfectly squared edges of the lake we were drowning in, to find it was some type of giant Chicago public pool. When we looked back, we could see dawn rising behind the Beechcraft Bonanza that had put us here.

Time skipped and I was back at my house, trying to explain to the Chief of Police from Super Troopers why my mortgage payment was late (He could not understand why a plane crash in Chicago would have affected my ability to pay the mortgage and to his credit, I wasn’t bringing up any significant arguments). Then the first period bell rang and I knew I had to run (still soaking wet, apparently Chicago rescue workers are total dicks about towels). Pete was there and he told me that Mark grew up in Chicago, so the fact that he was missing was probably no big deal. No idea what happened to the other seven. I met up with Fargo on campus, and we went to his “shop locker” so he could get his books for next period. The area was covered in sawdust, and the only things in the cages were industrial tools. He took a scratchawl and a set of woodlathe spoons out and put them into his bag. I knew I needed a new shirt at least, so we were going to go by the gym and I’d put on my stinky but relatively dry gym clothes.

Though he was initially in a rush that caused him concern about whether or not he could follow me to my locker, we moved on to his dorm room and microwaved some ramen. When I asked him if it was really lunch, he told me that he just so happened to have misjudged his schedule. I looked at the clock and noted that it was only ten and I wasn’t sure why I was so hungry. He told me it was probably all the swimming.

Skip time. We’re back in my house, Fargo apparently keeps a dorm on campus only for ramen eating and smalltalk. I went into my room to get some nice clothes on, and when I came out Sara had stopped by. We sat in the front room to talk, and I asked her if she had heard about my fun in Chicago. She said she hadn’t in that way she does (“Oh, no what now”) and I heard Fargo laugh as if from another room… something about the scene wasn’t right. There wasn’t enough doghair on things. And Sara just dropped by to talk. And I tried to ignore it, I wanted to push in because it was such a fun story and I thought it would be charming and maybe she would want to hear more of my stories and maybe everything would just be right and we would laugh and have a good time and then I looked over at her to start explaining it, and she looked me in the eye, and I knew it was a dream.

Five fucking twenty three. I wasn’t really able to get back to sleep after that, just some tossing and turning. Delaying the inevitable.

Blogging from Linux

I’ve had linux installed on both my laptop (Ubuntu 7.04 32bit) and desktop (Fedora Core 6 x64: updated to 7) for some time. I use it every now and then to play with, but never really made the “big push” to switch over. I always needed something Windowsey sooner or later and rebooted. With the desktop, it was the frickin’ wireless card (“ra2600 called set to 2 : Unable to set to 2 : Success” then the whole shooting match freezes or some such nonsense) holding me back (and some occasional game related stuff). With the laptop, it’s linux’s absolutely PISS POOR and UTTERLY UNACCEPTABLE bluetooth support (I gotta be able to bluetooth to my phone for internet on the go, no, usb tethering isn’t acceptable). And recently, I started using Microsoft’s Live Writer blogging software, which may be the finest piece of software that has ever come out of Redmond, ever. Ever. Haven’t found much competition in the FOSS world for it. ScribeFire is OK, but it is just OK.

However, I have one important thing to note. First off, linux installed drivers for 98% of my hardware without making me do any retarded stuff, and I was able to install most of the software I use during the system installation.

But I miss the hell out of Livewriter.

Reinstalling mediocrity…

Well, after weeks of dealing with instability (relative instability, this is XP after all, and not 95/98, read as: I was forced to reboot twice a week instead of once), and utterly bizzare behavior (why shouldn’t it take 15 minutes for the shutdown dialog box to come up? why shouldn’t trying to access folder properties cause explorer to lock up?), I finally gathered the tuits and formatted the windows partition, laying down the fresh glossy sheen of a fresh install of XP. Snappy as hell. There are some files I forgot to backup, but hey, they weren’t that important.

Reinstalling Windows is like eating fast food takeout. When you first do it, it’s a revelation, it’s hot and fast and there’s a little bit of mess but think of how much easier it was than the alternative. From then, it’s kind of a compulsion. Computer is acting slightly strange, wonder if it’s time to reinstall again? This seems slower than it was two weeks ago, wonder if it’s time to reinstall again…

I then spent some time installing drivers for my wireless card, then downloading drivers for my motherboard, then downloading drivers for the sound card, then downloading drivers for the video card, then copying back over my utilities directory and pictures and then got Live Writer installed and then got Foxit installed and then got Keepass installed and then got Tweakui installed and Gcaldaemon and Rainlendar and notepad++ and 7-zip and Launchy and Avast and that’s when it hit me.

I’ve reached the end of my patience. Reinstalling Windows is repulsive.

 The whole pantheon of arcane rights and rituals to get Windows back into fighting shape is laborious and horrible and idiotic.

It took me two hours to get my frickin’ onboard sound drivers. The manufacturer throttled the downloads at around 20k/s. The only alternative I found was throttled at 30k/s. They would both spontaneously reset my connection and didn’t support resume. Seriously guys.

Installing Gcaldaemon is a fucking exercise in picking nits blindfolded. The whole process is idiotic and repetitive. If it weren’t for Fargo spending several days building a nice, neat install program for it, I’m not sure I’d have gone to the trouble of using it.

I’m still missing dozens of critical programs, frameworks, video codecs, Firefox add ons (being able to easily back these up would be a godsend you guys), tweaks and settings that will make this install viable in the long run.

Honestly, the only thing I _am_ satisfied with at this point is Foxmarks and Gmail, which kept the important parts of my online life in check. Everything else has been underwhelming.

Adventures in Cheapersitting

So, once I quit smoking, I started riding my bike again. That pretty much coincides with moving up to Oregon, so say 2004. I rapidly remembered that riding bikes with soft soled shoes kind of sucks, so the Trek 4900 I was riding got a pair of Shimano PD-M535 pedals. I got my IRO Rob Roy in early 2005. At that time it was wearing the same SPDs, which were switched out for a pair of used Time ATAC pedals when I started having spud problems (false engagements and a couple of high rpm disengagements). After two years of rock solid service, I figured my pedal worries were largely behind me aside from some bearing maintenance down the road.

The other day, I had another disengagement at speed, which almost resulted in a crash. I knew this was different from the first moment, because trying to re-engage the pedal just wasn’t working….

I had pulled my foot from my shoe.

See, I had noticed some poor velcro performance before. These were, after all, 3 year old entry level MTB shoes. The velcro had kind of fluffed out, so I gave it a little trim about a year and a half ago. It did it again, so I gave it another shave about three months ago. Apparently two shavings is the limit for velcro, because my non-drive-side shoe just let the two upper straps go and then nature took it’s course.

My worn out Body Geometry Sports Side view, fucked out velcro

I started shopping for new shoes, dreams of some fancy expensive Lake or Sidi shoes, the kind where you can get actual widths and whatnot (my wide feet aren’t particularly comfortable in most narrow-as-shit bike shoes, though the Body Geometry shoes were comfortable enough). After getting hit with some unexpected expenses, $170-$250 shoes just weren’t in the picture. I started looking at Nashbar for cheap shoes, but I had ill visions of ordering some $30 closeouts and not being able to ride in them without footcramps. I was kind of staggering around the whole thing, thinking about maybe going back to clips and straps (I have a spare set on my as-yet-unfinished-but-not-abandoned Beater/Grocery bike project) and normal shoes. I got as far as trying to figure out how to keep my shoelaces out of the chainring (which is an annoyance on a freewheel bike and damned near a tragedy on a fixed gear) when it hit me.

Shoelaces.

So I headed off to the craft store (Since when did Michaels only have one aisle of sewing stuff?) and pick up some eyelets ($2 for 25 eyelets, $2 for the setting tool which is handy but probably not necessary) grabbed my hammer and clicky knife and set to work.

The Mise en place for eyeletting

They’re more comfortable now than they were with velcro, but time will tell if the laces are more trouble than they’re worth. Here’s a shot of one completed shoe (less laces).

Mommy I'm a cobbler! DSCN2001

Update : All laced up and done with the first test ride.

Ready to ride

Conclusion? Cheap and effective. They’re comfortable and I feel more secure in the shoes than I have in a long time. When the laces are double knotted there isn’t much chance they could get into the chain. Aside from the ugliness factor of bright white tennis shoe laces, the vague chainsuckdeath paranoia, and the last metal ring (which I may or may not just leave there, maybe I can think of a use for it), I’m quite happy with the results. If nothing else, it has saved me from having to make a rush purchase of an item and gives me the freedom to search for a good value (and try on shoes in the store).

It also reminded me how long it’s been since I rode my bike without my laptop in a pannier bag, I got up to sprint a little and the back end went all wonky on me. Time to start doing that more.

Power Griddification.

Power company came out to look at the supply lines coming from across the street on Tuesday. I had called them asking about burying the line, but they seemed to indicate it would be a pretty expensive proposition (to the tune of a couple grand). I figured I’d have somebody out just to look anyways and see if there were other options (read: free options). The guy took one look and agreed that the situation was kind of scary, what with the feed lines rubbing up against the gutter downspout. He said they’d be out to reroute my service from another pole (closer to the house, he wasn’t sure why they hadn’t done it in the first place). Best part was it was going to be completely free and done within a week. What he meant to say is “they’ll be out here on Wednesday and have it done in 20 minutes”.

This is the best customer service experience I’ve had in five years. Hands down. I called, they sent out a guy at exactly the time they said they would, he had a quick assessment of the situation, let me make a decision, and put it into action quickly and effectively. The technicians who showed up to make the repairs were punctual, let me know when they were getting started (so I could shut down my computers), and did the work faster than I would have guessed possible.

Interestingly, they work in an industry that has absolutely no impetus to provide good customer service. Much like land-line phone providers and cable providers, you just live in their zone and they’re the ones you have to use. Sure you could argue that cellular phone service is competitive with land line phones (which is false, because they sell different services), and that Dish TV competes with cable (which is a more accurate comparison). I can no more choose the power company I do business with than I could choose to have Verizon phone service instead of Qwest or SWG instead of Northwest Natural. If the guy had rolled out and told me that the line rubbing was a result of me messing with the line and that there was a $1500 fine and they’d be out in nine months to fix it, I could have done nothing more than a phone-tree-based bitch and moan campaign that would likely have gotten me a payment plan instead of a straight fine and it would be fixed nine months after I finished paying it off. What could I have done? Buy a generator?

In contrast, Cingular AT&T wireless (whose technical and customer service foibles I have blogged about before) is in an industry that is extraordinarily competitive, and outside of certain superhyped phones and the inevitable multiyear contracts that certain phone promotions will get you, you are not tied to one provider at all (in the US. Things are presumably different elsewhere.). Whenever I contact them, it is a with a sense of pre annoyance, and I am inevitably greeted with the sort of contempt that most would reserve for door-to-door evangelists. It’s almost as if they are daring me to leave and find another provider with our every interaction. I can only assume there’s some kind of depthcharge-style fee for backing out of a contract by using the phrase “fuck you inside out you rottencrotch mouthwhore”.

I don’t really have a good reason for this, I’d like to say it’s because Pacific Power is a traditional company with lots of great American values or whatever, but I really don’t think that’s it. After all AT&T has been around just shy of forever, 1885, you can’t get too much more traditional than that. Maybe it’s a corporate philosophy that runs to the core (AT&T was never really known for it’s customer focus), but I haven’t really seen that run true in other companies I’ve worked for. Maybe it’s because the guys I worked for are union workers, journeyman trade workers who have done this for years and years and are making roughly twice what I do (and probably four times what the people I talk to at AT&T make).

The paycheck really seems the most likely.

Dealing with my close friends…

It’s always hard. With strangers, I can lie. Tell them convenient things that mirror their own personal belief structure. I figure in the long run, the comfort of having someone say they’re praying for you outweighs being lied to by a stranger, every time. Jesus has a plan. God opens a door. Aaron greases palms with generic solace.

Lying to a friend is harder. For starters they remember your tirades about how the old testament is just a parable about not eating tainted meat and towing the line for an ever grander temple royalty built on your hard work, and the new testament is a “for dummies” faith revision built by some guys who decided maybe there could be two temples.

But I digress. It’s tough to know what to say to a friend who tells you his kid has been diagnosed with autism. What am I going to say to that?

I’m sorry.

You’ll get through this.

Family comes first.

It is killing me inside to think of your struggle.

Life is shit stacked upon shit to keep us out of the water enough to breathe and out of the sun enough not to burn.

 

I want to hit something.

 

Maybe they’re wrong.

Please, let them be wrong.

I can’t imagine what you’re going through.

I don’t know if you understand what you’re going through either.

Don’t let it burn you up.

Don’t let the shit stack too high.

Dollar Cost Averaging…

Dollar Cost Averaging is as highly debated as any topic in finance. Most of the negative arguments tend to fall into the “it’s better to just invest the lump sum” variety, which ignores one of the very important factors that several personal finance “professionals” seem to ignore.

What if I don’t have the lump sum at the beginning? Seriously, simple simon. If I had the lump sum up front, sure, it probably makes no sense to hold onto part of it (unless it’s making some seriously good interest). But redo your table there to indicate a real world situation where you’re trying to save up the $3000 lump sum for 10 months, and extend it some. Let’s see what that gets us (I’m making the same assumptions of purchase time as the article for the DCA investor, and ignoring the dividends reinvestment, for simplicity’s sake)

Mr. DCA ends up with 113.31 shares, and a December 27th value of $3235, give or take some decimal points I left off. Mr. Lump Sum buys all $3000 of his stock when he has the cash saved, on 10/01 and ends up with 112.57 shares with a Dec 27th value of $3213.87. Twenty two bucks isn’t gonna be the difference between life and death, but it certainly is more. I’m willing to bet if you repeated this year after year until now, assuming it takes 10 months to wad up enough cash to lump sum it, you’ll end up with more stock as Mr. DCA, likely (but not definitely) purchased at a better price. Outside of a stock market dump, where Mr. Lump Sum is protected by having his bundle in cash and can invest at a much lower rate, the DCA plan is better for those who don’t have the cash up front. Of course, his “random” assumptions aren’t great either, as it’s not really random, it’s just ten small investments, which is… Dollar Cost Averaging.

The reason I’m thinking about this is because while the stock market is puking up it’s guts right now and everybody is freaking out, I’m trying to remain fairly calm and just accept this as something of a gift. I don’t have a lump sum to invest (and right now would be a pretty OK time to do it in my entirely amateur opinion), so I have to just let my 401k soak up a couple more shares per dollar until this sorts itself out.

Anyone have any good reasons why my DCA example doesn’t work? Let me know.