Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Happy New Year!!

It's only two weeks into the new year, so I'm not too late to wish everyone a happy 2016, right?

I'm not sure what happened to 2015. It just sort of disappeared after I finished up tax season. We really didn't get much of anything done on the house. In fact, we barely kept up with the day-to-day stuff. And now the first two weeks of 2016 are already gone.

As far as books, Debbie held up her end, but I was seriously slacking for some reason. For one thing, I've been doing more reading on the Kindle, and I have to say, I'm not really a fan. It seems to take me forever to finish up a book. At first I thought it was just getting used to not holding a physical book, but after a couple dozen books things haven't improved. It doesn't seem to be an eye-strain thing, and I'm not any more distracted than when reading a regular book. I just read painfully slow. Anyway, I only managed to read 49 books; less than my annual goal of one book a week on average. According to my Goodreads page, the least popular book that I read in 2015 was Shavertron: The Pre-Gafiation Years. Only two people other than myself read all about Teros living underground and being rayed by evil Deros, etc. Frankly, I'm surprised that there were that many. The most popular was Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice. Than surprises me as well. I figured with all the Lee Child, Clive Cussler and other pop fiction writers in my 2015 reads, one of those would take the top spot, not something published in 1813 that (like most books of the time) takes a great many pages to tell a fairly simple story. (Dear Dick from the Internet: This isn't a criticism; I enjoyed the book and think a great many modern pop fiction authors could learn a thing or two about story-telling from Jane Austin. I'm just saying that her style of writing as well as subject matter doesn't seem to appeal to kids these days as evidenced by the first link the googles came up with when I typed in "pride and prejudice publication date".)

(And get off my lawn!!)

(And yes, we are going to see that when it comes out. I'm not that old....)

Last year, I stated that our only goals for 2015 were to not end up homeless and not murder our wacko neighbor. I'm happy to say that we managed both of those things!! Woohoo! Go us! In fact, the neighbor situation actually improved slightly in recent months after she figured out that no one in the park or at her church would do a damn thing for her, so she is better off not actively harassing us. She still ignores us, but I can live with that.

The big news for 2016 is that for the first time in a long time, I won't be working for a tax prep outfit. I'll still be doing the dozen or so returns that I do under my own EFIN, but no more Walmart Cubicle from Hell. Instead, I'm working an actual full-time, year-'round job for the first time in a long time. In fact, I started as the Administrative Assistant at the Zephyrhills Moose Lodge almost exactly nine years after leaving Munson. So far, it's going well and I'm back doing what I've always been comfortable with; spreadsheets, databases, making CAT5 cables, messing with routers and switches, etc. We have a new point-of-sale system that I've been setting up over the last six weeks that is going live at the end of January. I'm assuming I'll be living at the lodge for the first week or so after we go live. This is going to be a big change for the bartenders and a huge change for the waitstaff. But I think that ultimately, it will be good for the lodge and will give the board a much better handle on what is going on from week to week.

Debbie is still cranking out cruises and expects to keep on cranking out cruises until the entire cruise industry belly-flops or she becomes eligible for Social Security.

Or we hit the $1.5 billion Powerball tonight. Which is really a $930 million jackpot. It would be tight, but we could probably get by on that.

It's the beginning of a new year (or at least close to the beginning...), so that means one thing: predictions.

My personal predictions are fairly straight-forward. The air will continue to leak out of the fracking bubble, resulting in more bankruptcies, layoffs, etc. The former boom towns in the various frack fields are already starting to turn back into the near-ghost-towns they were a decade ago. As I said last year, this will impact more than just the oil companies; the junk bonds are lurking everywhere. Due to over-supply and increasingly, under-demand (is that a term?), I'd expect oil prices to stay low, continuing to damage the oil industry's productive capacity. At some point down the road, the production and consumption lines will cross and oil prices will jump back up to where they will benefit the oil companies at the expense of the rest of the economy. But I seriously doubt that will happen in 2016.

The twenty percent of the country doing well will continue to do well. The eighty percent who have been getting beat down will continue to get beat down. How much longer all the various debt-fueled plates can be kept spinning is anyone's guess. Some will inevitably fall while others will be kept going a little bit longer. One thing about doing taxes at Walmart; I saw a lot of what those crashing plates do to families in the 80%. It ain't pretty. I won't have a front-row seat this year, but I expect those folks are in for yet-another rough year.

Stocks are sure looking sad so far in 2016. As we know from the last several years, stock prices are fairly easy for companies and the Fed to manipulate, so it's probably significant that a) the annual Santa Clause rally was a no-show, and b) nothing seems to be able to halt the decline in the markets. My personal opinion is that the indexes are simply returning to rational levels, but I also know that a lot of people bought in well above those rational levels and will be wiped out in the process. The talking heads can say all they want about "paper losses", but that doesn't mean it has any less of a psychological effect on the person watching his 401K falling. The bottom could really fall out of the markets this year, but I expect instead we're in for another exciting roller coaster ride with the stock indexes flying all over the place with no relation to the underlying economy.

And that's probably enough from me. Some predictions from others:

John Michael Greer: Down the Ratholes of the Future

The ongoing depletion of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources will keep squeezing the global economy, as the real (i.e., nonfinancial) costs of resource extraction eat up more and more of the world’s total economic output, and this will drive drastic swings in the price of energy and commodities—currently those are still headed down, but they’ll soar again in a few years as demand destruction completes its work. The empty words in Paris a few weeks ago will do nothing to slow the rate at which greenhouse gases are dumped into the atmosphere, raising the economic and human cost of climate-related disasters above 2015’s ghastly totals—and once again, the hard fact that leaving carbon in the ground means giving up the lifestyles that depend on digging it up and burning it is not something that more than a few people will be willing to face.

James Howard Kunstler: Pretend to the Bitter End

Those terms might be somewhat negotiable if we could accept the reality of this re-set and prepare for it. But, alas, most of the people capable of thought these days prefer wishful techno-narcissistic woolgathering to a reality-based assessment of where things stand — passively awaiting technological rescue remedies (“they” will “come up with something”) that will enable all the current rackets to continue. Thus, electric cars will allow suburban sprawl to function as the preferred everyday environment; molecular medicine will eliminate the role of death in human affairs; as-yet-undiscovered energy modalities will keep all the familiar comforts and conveniences running; and financial legerdemain will marshal the capital to make it all happen.

Oh, by the way, here’s a second element of the story to stay alert to: that most of the activities on-going in the USA today have taken on the qualities of rackets, that is, dishonest schemes for money-grubbing. This is most vividly and nauseatingly on display lately in the fields of medicine and education — two realms of action that formerly embodied in their basic operating systems the most sacred virtues developed in the fairly short history of civilized human endeavor: duty, diligence, etc.

Dmitry Orlov: My Prescription for 2016: Collapse Early and Often

Not too many people, I expect, will want to follow my prescription; not too many of my family members, or friends, or acquaintances, or you who are reading this. And that's fine because, as I have learned over and over again, there is no strength in numbers. Quite the opposite: the probability of any given trick working is in inverse proportion to the number of times it is tried, or the number of people who try it. And so, if you are reading along and think “I can't possibly do this because of [insert lame excuse]!” then—good! Fine with me. Fewer people equals more oxygen.

And that applies to the few people who will actually bother to read this. Lots more people will not want to read this, because—what collapse? Gasoline prices are low, Obama has shut down most of the wars, the economy is strong enough for the Fed to have started hiking rates, and once Bernie Trump gets into the White House, everything else will be set right too. To the people who think that, someone like me, who predicted collapse a while back, was clearly wrong, and needs to be psychoanalyzed, not followed. Again, fine with me, so long and thanks for all the bullshit.

Gail Tverberg: 2016: Oil Limits and the End of the Debt Supercycle

What is ahead for 2016? Most people don’t realize how tightly the following are linked:

1. Growth in debt
2. Growth in the economy
3. Growth in cheap-to-extract energy supplies
4. Inflation in the cost of producing commodities
5. Growth in asset prices, such as the price of shares of stock and of farmland
6. Growth in wages of non-elite workers
7. Population growth

It looks to me as though this linkage is about to cause a very substantial disruption to the economy, as oil limits, as well as other energy limits, cause a rapid shift from the benevolent version of the economic supercycle to the portion of the economic supercycle reflecting contraction. Many people have talked about Peak Oil, the Limits to Growth, and the Debt Supercycle without realizing that the underlying problem is really the same–the fact the we are reaching the limits of a finite world.

And that should keep everyone busy for a little while.

(Yes, Debbie. I know. tl;dr)

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Moon



The first full moon on Christmas since 1977; the next one won't be until 2038. We thought we weren't going to be able to see it. It was supposed to be cloudy and raining. But that never happened and instead we had sunny skies and highs in the upper 80's for Christmas.

Tomorrow, vacation is over and it's back to the grind.

Merry Christmas!!

Because nothing says Christmas like boring repitit... er... Tradition:








A new one for this year we heard Wednesday while we were at Busch Gardens. This recording doesn't capture the seriously amped-up bass. I'd be surprised if there isn't some sort of structural damage being done to the building.



I've had no luck trying to find out who performed this. My first thought was Trans Siberian Orchestra. They have a version of Carol of the Bells, but this isn't it. Not often the googles comes up completely empty.

Well, today is a full day, so I need to get at it.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Yo Saturnalia or whatever holiday greeting floats your boat.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fundraising Update

Our lodge's final Toys for Tots fundraising event was on Saturday, December 12. I don't think that many (or more likely, any) of our members read my mini-sermon I posted. We certainly didn't come anywhere near my $40K-plus-toys challenge. We did, however, raise more than we have ever raised in the past: over $17,000 in cash plus another $6,000 (very conservative estimate) in toys. Given how badly the Marines were freaking out, it's probably a good thing we didn't raise any more than that. In any case, a bunch of East Pasco kids who would have nothing Christmas morning now will. And yes, it was all we could do to not tear into the boxes and play with some of the toys ourselves. Not to sound like a bitter old fart, but Holy Crap Do Kids Have Cool Stuff These Days!!!!

On the home front, Debbie is gearing up for her busy season at work with some days crazy busy, while other days she may as well have stayed in bed. I'm getting deeply into a new point-of-sale system the lodge purchased. I had hoped to have it all up and running by now, but it appears that my ten-year hiatus from the computer industry has not improved the ethics of computer software salesmen. (Salespeople? Salespersons? Anyway, "salesman" is an accurate description of our particular liar.) It's partially my fault for us getting strung along for so long. The second I saw the default inventory app, I knew there was no possible way it could do what we were told it could do. I've written enough inventory/purchase order systems that I should have immediately twigged to the fact that we had been had by Clover. Not that the system is useless; for small businesses, it is plenty capable. And there is a third-part app that adds the functionality we were promised, but it costs an additional $20/month over the cost of the system. I realize $20 a month may not sound like a big deal to, say, a software salesman pulling down six figures a year, but to a small non-profit it's not nothing. Add in the fact that either my boss or myself have to go back to the board and explain that we were suckered and to make the system do what we thought it would do for us, we have to spend more money.

The other option is that I roll something in-house, but being out of the game as long as I have will make that a challenge. Certainly not impossible, but not easy. I'm not even sure what sort of data we can get out of the system. I know there are reports that can be exported as Excel spreadsheets, but until I have some data to work with, I have no idea what those look like. There is supposedly an API built into Clover, but you have to be a developer to learn anything about it other than that it exists. I should know more by the end of the week. (Meaning the end of my work week, not the end of the calendar week.) One other thing we were promised was that all our data would be loaded into the system for us. I don't know how long that normally takes, but I sent some of the data off last Friday and hadn't heard anything by Tuesday morning. So I decided screw that, and loaded it myself in about four hours. Not sure why I need Pakistani child labor, or whatever Clover uses, to type in a couple dozen categories and less than a hundred items. Anyway, I'm rollin' now and look to have the system ready for training and installation probably this weekend.

I had to giggle earlier today while reading an article linked to by The Automatic Earth. It seems that all those pushy, self-righteous lefty vegans who claim meat-eaters are destroying the planet are full of crap. Growing vegetables takes more energy, water, etc. than "growing" the equivalent number of calories in the form of meat. The trick that has been used to hide this little fact is to compare the weight of vegetables vs. an equivalent weight of meat rather than the number of calories from each. Granted, Americans consume too many calories, regardless of what form they come in, and it is certainly easier to over-eat meat than it is vegetables. However, simply reducing caloric intake would be more beneficial to the environment (and the person) than switching to plants instead of animals. Of course, my take-away is that this is an indictment of how we produce food in the good ol' USA rather than what a person is eating. A salad or chicken dinner that I grow in my backyard has far less environmental impact that a 3,000-mile Caesar Salad or KFC made from Chinese chicken. But that conversation is not allowed.

Well, gotta go make the donuts. (Actually, pork chops, but WhatEvar...)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Least of These


31When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: 32And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats: 33And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34Then shall the King say to them on his right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35For I was an hungered, and you gave me meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: 36Naked, and you clothed me: I was sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. 37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we you an hungered, and fed you? or thirsty, and gave you drink? 38When saw we you a stranger, and took you in? or naked, and clothed you? 39Or when saw we you sick, or in prison, and came to you? 40And the King shall answer and say to them, Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.

41Then shall he say also to them on the left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42For I was an hungered, and you gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink: 43I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and you visited me not. 44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we you an hungered, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to you? 45Then shall he answer them, saying, Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me. 46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Matthew 25:31-46 KJV

I generally don't start out my posts with long quotes from the Bible (or any other book, for that matter), but there is a specific reason in this case. The Moose Lodge that Debbie and I belong to just had our big kick-off event for the East Pasco Toys for Tots on Saturday. The event was successful beyond anything we could have possibly imagined. We're not entirely sure how many people came through the lodge during the 12-hour event, but we started with 350 wrist bands, then had to send someone on an emergency run for 500 more. Monday morning when the administrator and myself were sorting through the debris, we found a couple dozen wrist bands left over. We thought the original 350 bands would be more than enough. Shows what we know.

In any case, the event was a band marathon running from noon to midnight. We ended up with 18 bands participating. Half were rock bands that we ran on the social quarters side of the lodge, and the other half were country-western and/or oldies acts that we put on the hall side. Both sides were filled to capacity for most of the day. The event was open to the public with admission being either an unwrapped new toy, or a minimum $5 donation. Once you were inside, we had several 50/50 raffles every hour and an entire banquet table of stuff that people had donated that was also being raffled off. In short, the money was really flowing in, and so were the toys.

This is the first of five fundraising events that our lodge is hosting for Toys for Tots between last Saturday and our big, grand finale Christmas Ball on December 12. Our goal was to collect $20,000 in toys and cash. At Saturday's band marathon, we came close to half our goal. Everyone is really stoked about that, as am I.

But I'm also not. Allow me to explain. Yes, it's great we set an ambitious goal, a goal that is much higher than anything we've raised in the past for Toys for Tots. It's fantastic that we look to easily beat that goal. However, before we dislocate our collective shoulders patting ourselves on the back, lets do a little basic arithmetic. Our lodge and chapter have well over 3,000 members between them. I realize that number includes people who are not active and will likely allow their dues to expire next time they come due. And that some of those members are physically or mentally incapacitated and can't realistically be expected to participate in lodge activities. But I think I'm on fairly solid ground when I say that at least 2,000 of them do not fall into either of those categories. (If I'm wrong, I'm sure someone will quickly set me straight. There are people in the lodge who love nothing better than to correct everyone else, and as a natural-born people-pleaser, I try to make everyone happy.) So we'll use 2,000 as the number of active members. A mere $20 per member is not $20,000. It's $40,000.

No matter how you slice it, if you are an active member of a fraternity, $20 is chump change. It's the loose change in your car's ashtray. It's less than you spend every Saturday at Steak Nite. It's the $20 that you just stuck in the pull tab machine or used to buy another round of drinks. I'm not asking for $20 every week, or even every month. All I'm asking for is $20 once a year.

So here it is: I'm issuing a challenge to the members of the Zephyrhills Moose Lodge 2276 and Women of the Moose Chapter 1682 to raise $40,000 in cash plus toys for the East Pasco Toys for Tots for Christmas 2015.

Now lets take a minute to back up and explain the relevance of that long quote at the start of the post. At the beginning of every men's meeting in every Moose lodge, there's this little bit where a guy opens a Bible and declares, "This is the Holy Bible; our inspiration and our guide." Well, that quote is certainly part of the Bible and therefore, is to be considered an inspiration and guide to anyone who is a member. (I'm assuming that the women's meetings have something similar. Never having been to one of their meetings, I can't say for sure. Again, if my assumption is wrong, I'm certain that I shall be set aright.) The writer of the Gospel of Matthew is pretty clear about what we are to do, whom we are to do it for, and what the consequences are if we fail to do so.

[Side note: Yes, I am aware that certain factions of Christianity have a real problem with this passage. As someone who spent the first forty years of his life in one of those factions, I've heard all the overly-intellectualized meanderings I care to listen to as to why this passage isn't saying what it obviously is. So please... just... ya know, don't.]

I know that it is popular just now in these united States to blame the poor for their plight. Anyone with several hours to spare can ask me what I think about that particular bit of neo-liberal bullshit. Regardless, we are not talking about adults; we are discussing children. No child has ever asked to be hungry, naked or homeless. However much we may choose to blame their parents, I see no rational way the parents' "sins" can be imputed to the children, and I'm quite sure I don't want to be associated with anyone who would even dare make the attempt.

And because this is the internet, I need to include the following:

Dear Dick from the Internet,

Nothing in this post should be construed as a criticism of what our lodge has done for Toys for Tots (or any other charity) in prior years. If my wife and I were not impressed with how much the lodge has done and is doing in East Pasco, we wouldn't be members. All I'm saying is that it is not just possible, but falling-off-a-log simple to do so much more.

And yes I understand how poor you are and how dare I ask for money so some poors can have a better Christmas than your own kids. All I can say to that is you have a computer and internet access. If your kids have a crappy Christmas, you need to rethink your priorities.

Sincerely,
Ric

And before this turns into a book, I'll wrap up with this:

C'mon Zephyrhills Lodge! Lets Loose the Moose!!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Triskaidekaphobia

Friday the 13th was on a Friday this month. The day we had at the lodge seemed to fit pretty well with the date. It started out bad, then went to worse, then proceeded to horrible. But we survived; and I get to go back tomorrow and do it again. Wee.

Debbie and I have been traveling, though not together. I flew up to Michigan to drive my parents down here for the winter, while Debbie and her mom enjoyed a free 2-day cruise. I got back here around midnight Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, and Debbie and her mom rolled in Wednesday evening. We both were back at work on Thursday. I played catch-up at my work while Debbie won another free cruise on the Carnival Vista. We have from January 2, 2016 to December 30, 2017 to take whatever 7-day cruise we want that leaves out of the Vista's regular port. Usually, these freebees are for an inside cabin, but this one is for a balcony! Woohoo!!

I was going to write up one of my diatribes about the nonsense at the "University" of Missouri, but my usual procrastination paid off and Fred Reed beat me to it:

How many of the black athletes, or black radicals at Missouri, or anywhere, have any business being at a university? How many have IQs below ninety? How many are way below? How many are studying real subjects, such as chemistry, languages, philosophy, literature, or history—as distinct from subjects for the enfeebled, Black Studies, Sociology, Education, and Breathing for Credit?

How many of the jocks can read? In many universities the black athletes are kept in special dorms and get high grades for courses they never attend and can’t spell. Is that happening in Missouri? Can we see their SATs? No one, I promise, will want to check.

Stray thought: If universities accepted only those with intelligence and interest, the noise level would drop appreciably. I am for it.

I know I keep saying it, but I'll say it again: Anyone who insists their child go into debt for life for the "privilege" of participate in this stupidity is guilty of child abuse. Get 'em a library card instead and apprentice them to a local tradesman.

And I'm off to bed so I can be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed tomorrow.