Sunday, January 02, 2011

Happy New Year!!!

It's 2011 and we find ourselves in Florida. It is currently sunny and 75 degrees outside with people outdoors enjoying the day off.  We are considering a trip somewhere today or tomorrow (when the temps are supposed to top 80), but given that today is pretty much over (it will be dark in a couple hours) and tomorrow I work at the library right during prime time (1:30-4:30), we will most likely stay home and do some cleaning and organizing, or maybe some shopping given that we only have chips and Klondike Bars for lunch.

So it's a New Year and everyone is supposed to give a wrap-up or a top-ten list or make some predictions and/or review how last year's predictions turned out.

The wrap-up is pretty easy: Personally, 2010 was another giant turd for us. Not as big a turd as 2009, but a giant steaming one none the less. At least we got out of the snow in time for winter. I think we are going to enjoy Florida; just not the particular part of Florida we are currently in. Don't misunderstand; I've spent my entire life living on the wrong side of the tracks (both metaphorically and, in the case of our place in Flint, literally), but this place is just, well, yeah. The problem is, as always, money. As in we don't have enough of it to live anywhere else except in the ghetto. That won't be changing until I find some kind of job. Just like last year, the only thing that seems to be working out involves tax preparation. Again. Same gig as last year only less money and probably not full time. Like most people south of the Mason-Dixon, the people in charge move slower than molasses in January, so no one has any idea what is going on in spite of tax season being two weeks away. Next week is the 2010 tax change class, so maybe I can get some answers then. After tax season is over, I have no idea. Every job here has hundreds of applicants, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Peaking outside of our little Ric-and-Debbie bubble, 2010 was a bad year to work in the energy sector. Things started with an explosion at a Middletown, CT power plant that killed five people. Twenty-nine miners were killed in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in early April, only to be pushed off the front page by the 11 killed in the Gulf oil spill. (The total coal mine deaths for 2010 hit 48, the highest in nearly 20 years, but they were virtually ignored in favor of dead shrimp and oiled beaches in the Gulf. The priorities of the news media are nothing if not endlessly fascinating.) All of these have been blamed on intentional disregard for safety due to constant pressure to go faster, better, cheaper. As everyone knows, you can't have all three; the energy industry defaulted to faster and cheaper with the expected result. We blame the usual suspects; greedy company owners/stockholders, short-sited managers engaged in ass-covering, insufficient/inept/corrupt regulators. Here's my take: look in a mirror. Those people died because we are a nation of wastrels.

As far as top-whatever lists, I don't have one of my own, so I'll just coast on the work of others. Gotta love them internets. The first goes along with the whole job-hunting theme that predominated 2010 for us. We've all been there: You're in an interview when out of left field, the interviewer comes up with the most ludicrous, off-topic, nothing-to-do-with-anything question. Well, the good folks at have compiled a list of the Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions of 2010. If you want to know how people without the common sense to come in out of the rain ended up running our banks, one look at the questions they were asked in their interview explains it all. On a more positive note, we have the Top Ten Scientific Breakthroughs of 2010. My personal number one spot is a tie between water on the moon and knowing what color the feathers were on dinosaurs.

I'm not big on predictions because in a chaotic universe, being correct means that a) you made predictions so obvious or so general you have no chance of being wrong; b) you are good at twisting events to match your predictions; or c) you got lucky. In spite of that, I took leave of my senses last year and made some anyway. Let's look at how poorly I did:

Bachelor degree that cost 10's of thousands and took 27 years to finish helping get me a job. Um... yea. Parents; if your kid wants to go to college, encourage them to instead do something that may prove useful in their life. Like taking up curling.

The War Against All Rational Thought continues to be waged by the global warming hysterics against anyone who dares to question orthodoxy. The public seems to be taking note of the arrogance and lack of integrity among the politicized "scientists" that dominate the IPCC and the UNFCCC. My fear was that as awareness that political manipulations have trumped the science became widespread, the politicians would do what politicians always do: abuse their power to double down rather than change course. This is one case where I would have loved to have been wrong. Expect more of the same in 2011.

Obama: After signing two of the most disastrous pieces of legislation in the history of these United States then watching his own party gutted in the mid-terms, Obama seems to have withdrawn into some sort of shell. The good news: Obama is still on track to a one-term presidency. The bad news: two more wasted years that we can ill afford. Expect another year of inaction in DC in any matter that doesn't directly inflated the Swiss bank accounts of Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, et al.

Our personal and the national economy will pick up in 2010. Heh. Do I even need to go there? Sure; the fat-cats got fatter and the stock market, in response to direct manipulation by the Fed and the Treasury had a good year. In fact, stocks had a great year. Too bad every other indicator went nowhere or dropped in 2010. I predict that 2011 will be more of the same; the politically connected will do well while the rest of us struggle. Meanwhile the experts say that consumers will finally shake off their funk, quit worrying about that $800 billion in outstanding credit card debt and hit the mall. (When financial experts talk about "pent up consumer demand," what they really mean is "those idiot marks aren't borrowing enough money from us to buy crap they don't need.") My prediction assumes that people who have recently experienced financial near-death or complete financial death, will act in their own rational, short-term interest; while the experts' predictions assume that people are complete idiots. Early indications are that the idiots have it.

One thing I love about the internet; I can always find someone with a darker outlook than I have. A flock of black swans....

I had expected us to stay in New Hampshire for at least all of 2010. That obviously didn't happen. We knew we wanted to go south and we were aiming to get close to some part of my family. We just didn't expect things to happen quite so fast. One minute we're all settled into our New Hampshire apartment, the next I'm loading up a Penske truck for the fifth time in four years. While we expect the move to benefit us financially in the long run (our Florida rent is just over half what we were paying in New Hampshire), in the short run, it killed us. But it is done and we have partially recovered already. I expect tax season should get us back where we started.

I said that in 2010, computers and the internet will continue to embed themselves more deeply into our lives even as we become less and less aware of them. This was certainly true in big ways and little ways, but this was pretty much a water-will-continue-to-run-downhill-in-2010 prediction. What I didn't predict was the first proven use of malware as a weapon. Stuxnet broke new ground in many ways, none of them good. It also showed that even scary-smart people, working in a secure facility where breaking protocol didn't just get you fired, but could earn you prison or even a death sentence, routinely violate basic computer network hygiene. And that should scare the frickin' pants off everyone.

As I expected, Spirit rover went silent during the Martian winter and has yet to be heard from. There is still a thin hope among the rover team that it will recover during the Martian summer (March 2011), but it's not a hope I share. Still, a 90-Martian-day mission that runs for 2,210 Martian days isn't a bad bit of engineering. Meanwhile, the Opportunity rover just keeps on rolling.

On the other, not-so-shiny side of the NASA coin, we have the sorry state of human space flight. The last Shuttle flight is currently scheduled for February 2011, but the next-to-last flight has been delayed, pushed back, then delayed some more due to structural defects where the external tank mates with the orbiter. I doubt this is anything new; rather I'm guessing that it is yet-another serious problem that has been reported repeatedly by the engineers doing the real work and ignored by the put-on-a-happy-face management. Just like the O-rings and shedding insulation that killed two other orbiter crews, and the gods only know how many other serious problems that have not (yet) caused catastrophic failure. If this is the best we can do, we don't deserve human space flight capability. Fortunately, the fine folks over at Space-X are doing great things with the Falcon Nine.

OK, enough of that crap. On to some 2010 numbers. Between the two of us, we read 138 books over the last year. That's an unexpectedly high number even for us, especially for a relocation year. Probably not a record, but definitely in the top ten. Unlike our reading, our blogging has slacked off with only 233 posts. That puts 2010 dead center of the pack; of the seven full calender years we've had this thing, three years had more and three had fewer. I expect the downward trend to continue with us settling somewhere between 50 and 100 posts per year. The number of visitors has also fallen off as well, which is totally expected. We've also lost the vast majority of visits from people hitting Blogger's Next Blog button. I expect Facebook, Twitter, etc. are to blame for that. People have only so much time and why waste it reading a complete stranger's opinion about Obamacare when you can read what people you actually know in real life are up to. Over 85 percent of our readers are running Microsoft PC's, and of those, nearly three-quarters are still on XP. It seems the adoption of each new generation of Windows takes longer with each iteration. That can't be good for Microsoft. Yet while Microsoft has had trouble getting people to upgrade their OS, the users have shown themselves more than willing to upgrade their browser. IE8 is the top dawg around these parts by a wide margin. Firefox is a distant second and Chrome is lost in the noise. It should be interesting to see what happens when IE9 (which only runs on Vista and Win7) and Firefox 4 (which as far as I've heard, will also run on XP) are released in 2011. Will this be the year that The Empire Strikes Back or the Return of the Jedi?

Anyway, that should be enough for a while.

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