Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Weekend

So what do you do for Memorial Weekend?

If you're in Tasmania, you can do some insane surfing.

If you're Jed Mildon, you can do the first-ever triple back flip on a BMX bike:



If you live in south Florida, you could smash into a bunch of other cars and get in a shoot-out with the local LEO's:



[Looks like whoever shot this video thinks he's the next Abraham Zapruder and wants to cash in on his dumb luck. Or he was threatened by the cops for documenting what will likely end up as yet-another police brutality case.]

We just went to the zoo, then watched NCIS And Criminal Minds reruns.

Cha-Cha-Cha Changes!

After six years, we've dropped our Web-stats service. I can get most of the same information for free from Blogger, so we decided to stop paying for it. The only bummer is that we lose the cool little world map showing the locations of the last 100 visitors. I'll need to find some other widget to replace it; things look a bit nekked without it.

While we were out on our thrice-weekly banana-and-ice-cream run yesterday, I clocked my current bike route at 7.7 miles. I rode it this morning in 41 minutes which works out to an average speed of 11.3mph. I haven't hit that kind of pace since my ride home from work being chased by tornadoes back in March. Must have been the ice cream.

Ice Cream: The New Wheaties.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Customizing the Tax Geek

Still fussing around with the mechanics of The Tax Geek web site. Still no real content, but it now features a rather handsome portrait of me in a suit. It's an older picture; I have hair.

Expect light blogging both here and at The Tax Geek while I continue to fiddle under the hood.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Quiet Week

We've had a quiet week here in central Florida mostly because the summer heat is kicking in big time. The daytime temps are up in the 95 degree range with things "cooling down" at night to the high 70's. The humidity is always 100%; water actually condenses on my glasses when I'm out riding every morning. We were hoping for some excitement when we got rid of a bunch of the worst sort of lunatics Saturday at 6pm, but that didn't seem to pan out.

Speaking of bike riding, I'm continuing to add to my distance. Last week, I ended at 6.9 miles at an average speed just over 9mph. With the distance I've added on this week, I should be getting close to 8 miles (especially today; got lost on the back streets of Lake Mary and ended up taking a bit of a detour). Once I get up to 10 miles, I'll start working on getting my average speed back up to 11-12mph, then start adding distance again.

I did finally get the photos from our second trip to Epcot sorted and uploaded to Flickr. I added them to the end of the set from earlier this year. It's mostly shots of all the gardens and topiary put in by HGTV. Not that there is much else in the back part of Epcot. It all seems a bit pointless unless you are into eating a full meal every three feet and buying useless tchochkies (a word that spell-check wants to change to "crotchless"...). But the gardens are nice.

I see Flint, MI is number one at something: violent crime. Again. It was the murder capital for two or three years running back during the crack cocaine wars in the mid-1980's until our nation's Imperial City bumped Flint out of first place. Good to see the ol' hometown getting back on its game.

Whenever illegal downloads have been in the news, I've stated that if you make legal downloading logical and cheap, you could print money. Well, Netflix seems to be proving that out. Granted, there will always be a group of hardcore geeks who copy and/or download illegally. They are impossible to stop because if I can listen to it or watch it, I can copy it. A 1080p video camera on a tripod pointed at our 1080p 42" TV and plugged into the headphone jack can easily make a better-than-VHS copy (and probably better-than-standard-DVD copy) of any Blu-Ray movie. Copy that to a bag full of cheap 5G memory sticks and pass them around to a hundred or so of my closest friends. No existing or proposed copy protection method will even slow me down. But if I and my closest 100 or so friends are willing to go to all that trouble and expense to avoid the $1 Redbox rental fee, it's unlikely that even if the MPAA could somehow completely shut us down, that we will ever buy your damn movie. But what Netflix has done with streaming video is to make is so cheap and painless to legally watch movies on computers, game consoles, smart phones, etc., that for the masses, trying to save the $9/month fee for unlimited TV watching simply isn't worth the headaches of BitTorrent.

In news from Mars, Opportunity broke the 18-mile mark in early May. The Energizer Bunny ain't got jack on this little guy. Spirit seems dead-dead although attempts are still being made to make contact. I sincerely hope someone sticks a fork in the Spirit Recovery Committee before it becomes another mohair subsidy.

More good news:

Well, it looks as if one investigator is getting started: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating the mortgage securities operations of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley....

If Schneiderman's investigation -- and other others (hopefully) to follow --show the banks operated legally and merely were caught in proverbial 100-year flood, as industry defenders claim, all the better. If that's the outcome, Americans can take some solace and (perhaps) move on from this nagging feeling the "rule of law" has been suspended for those with the money, power and influence to buy more money, power and influence.

About damn time. Maybe the state's will finally do what Obama's AG is too chicken-shit to do. Maybe. We'll see.

Speaking of criminals in high places, Matt Taibbi has an interview with Vice about Goldman Sachs that is worth reading. Fair warning: some of the language will probably set off klaxons and flashing red lights in your employer's IT office, so save reading it until you're at home and the kids are in bed.

A pretty picture for everyone to think about:



And while everyone digests that, I'm off to digest a pot of ramen.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Finally

I finally got around to doing something with the rdfrost.com domain other than having it forwarded here. For now, it will serve as the home of The Tax Geek. I don't have a clue what I will be doing there other than it will be tax-focused while the completely random stuff will still be here. If I like how things work over at  GoDaddy, I may do more over there, but for now it's just The Tax Geek. One thing I already like: support people who speak and understand standard English available 24/7 on the phone without having to navigate a phone tree designed by Satan himself or sitting on hold so long I grow a beard.

So anyway, that's what I've been doing instead of posting here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th falls on a Friday this month.

The bike riding thing continues. I can now average 10mph for a bit over six miles. Not that impressive, but it's slowly getting there. At the rate I'm increasing my distance, I'll be ready for the Iceman Cometh Challenge in time to enter the geezer division. At this point, I can't even imagine riding 27 miles in one go.

I'm still puttering around with The Tax Geek thing. This weekend, I'm going to give serious thought to domain names and e-mail addresses and web space. If there isn't someone already using The Tax Geek, I may do some sort of Facebook thing. Or maybe not. Facebook annoys me in a number of ways and I enjoy the occasional hiatus from it. Having a business page would commit me to being a regular user. I also found a couple places in Lake Mary that would probably work for office space. One has better visibility, but the rent is more than I'm comfortable with. I've talked to a couple people about setting up shop together, which would help, but that complicates the whole thing by a lot. I found one space that was only $500/month and had a storage area. We would be able to ditch the $65/month we are paying to store our moving supplies as well as give me an office. The problem is that the place is completely invisible. The landlord had told me it was a second-floor office. We had been routinely driving by the building ever since we moved here and never realized it even had a second floor. Worse, there is no external signage other than a small plaque next to the door that leads up to the second floor offices. The plus side is that it's cheaper than anything we've found and he is only asking for a six-month lease instead of a full year. Still a lot of money for what I'm likely to generate in income. I'm also resurrecting an idea from last fall: jumping into an established office. I still have a guy's name who offered me that option. The problem is that his office is a fair jog away from here. It wouldn't be as crazy logistically as it was in New Hampshire when Debbie and I were sharing a car and I worked in Vermont, but it would be close. I could have Debbie dump me off, then bike home, but I would be riding nearly 20 miles. I'd like to think that I'd be up to that sort of trip by the end of summer, but that could get grueling as a permanent thing.

I realized the other day that I had not been uploading photos to Flickr after I took them off the camera. So over the last few months we've been to:

A beach near Bonita Springs. My aunt and uncle have a winter place there so we drove down to visit for a couple days.

Disney's Epcot. These are from mid-April. We just went there again Wednesday, but those photos are still on the camera.

Disney's Hollywood Studios. Twice. The second time was to meet up with some friends we haven't seen in close to 20 years.

Nice thing about having the Florida resident annual passes is that we can drive down anytime we have a free day and hit one of the parks. We don't pay for parking, and even the food is usually free using the Disney points we rack up on one of our credit cards. It's a great excuse to get some sun (OK; a lot of sun) and people-watch.

One sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result each time. A Florida developer has a new program called "A-Dollar-and-a-Dream" that allows someone to buy a brand new $150,000 house for a $1 down payment. Didn't we already try that one? I've also noticed the local car dealers are back with their no-money-down, no-payments-for-a-year deals. We really are quite insane.

Speaking of housing, Zillow's housing data is still showing housing in a complete free-fall, down another 8% year-over-year with no end in site. Sixteen million families are upside-down and will likely never see prices get back up to what their mortgage balance is. Good times!

Breathless Headline of the Week: No Breakfast for Kids Wearing 'Wrong' Shoes At Gradeschool.The basic story is that after ignoring a dress code violation for the entire school year, some bored school administrator decided to deny a couple kids their free-to-them-but-very-costly-to-the-taxpayer breakfast because they were wearing black tennis shoes instead of black dress shoes. Mom is so confused. But the real gem comes from the boys' auntie:

“I don’t care if they had on orange shoes, they were in line to eat,” Robin Price  says. “I’m not going to feed you because you have the wrong shoes? Shoes? No, no.”

Here's a thought: Why don't the two "adults" in these boys' lives drag their drug-and-alcohol-addled asses out of bed early enough in the morning to fix breakfast? It's not all that hard. I'm not suggesting laying out a six course spread or anything. What does a bowl of oatmeal or grits (Cream-o-Wheat for you Yankees) cost? Maybe a nickel if you include the cost of boiling water on the stove? And it's done in less than five minutes so Mom and Auntie can go back to bed to sleep off whatever they ingested the night before.And then schools could focus on oh... I don't know... teaching something? Other than entitlement, that is:

“I felt sad. We’re always supposed to have breakfast,” first-grader Noah Nicholson says.

Yeah kid. You are "always supposed to have breakfast." At home. You need to talk to the big people that live in your house with you about getting on that.

Pigs are petri dishes for evolving human diseases. Thanks to factory farms, those diseases are now evolving under selection pressure from antibiotics. The bottom line: nothing good will come of this. And we'll keep right on doing it anyway.

The federal government stopped building the border fence, so now Arizona is taking donations. So far, $1.5 million from nearly 35,000 donors. Anytime the economy tanks, immigration becomes a political hot spot. Living in an area of heavy Mexican immigration (legal and illegal), I can tell you things are already getting ugly.

I almost skimmed right past this one: a former coworker decided to give herself a $1.1 million raise. Lack of controls was an ongoing concern when I was there. Maybe now those in charge will stop sticking their fingers in their ears and la-la-la-ing when the subject comes up.

Well, I need some lunch and then start sorting the 230 or so pictures from Epcot. The biggest advantage of digital is also the biggest pain: it costs nothing to take photos so I keep pulling the trigger. Then I get home and have to sift through all those photos.

Later.

Monday, May 09, 2011

"Maximum shields, Mr. Worf!"

Our lease says we can't change the outward appearance of our apartment. Technically, what that means is that we cannot change out the blinds (for ones which are actually capable of keeping out light, for example) or hang anything between the blind and the window. Walking around the complex, what it seems to really mean is that it's OK to rip your blinds half down or allow your dog to eat the slats, but don't you DARE hang anything between the blind and the glass that would save energy or even block out light.

There is clear heat film that goes on the glass, but it would have cost around $50 per window. I doubt we would ever recover the cost in the time we are likely to stay living here. So after wasting time and gas trying to "buy local", I headed over to Amazon.com and picked up a few things [edited to add - total cost was about $50 with enough leftovers to do our next apartment]:


It only took a total of about three or four hours to do all the windows in the apartment except the office. (The way we have it set up, it would be impossible to open and close, and in the 10 months we've lived here, the sun has shone directly in that window exactly once.) It's a little dark, but that's the whole idea:


And we can open up to the outside world if we wish:


Now we know what it feels like to be a Hershey Kiss.

The hope is that by keeping the heat shields down during the day, then opening them and the windows at night, we can keep the electric bill below $100/month. (Doing the opposite in the two months of "winter" will likely eliminate the need to heat.) Today was the first full day with them all in place and it seemed to work pretty well. The indoor temp stayed below 79 degrees F even in our little sunroom, which usually runs up well over 80 when the sun starts cooking the windows.

We got our letter today from the front office telling us what our new rent will be. They only jacked it up by $25, so it looks like we won't have to send out an address change with our Christmas letters.

Gotta go; dinner is getting cold.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Debbie Says "Watch this!"

Up Hill Both Ways

When I started out on yesterday's ride, the wind was hitting me head on. I figured that was perfect; I'd have a tailwind for the ride back. Nope. Strong headwind. Both ways. Huh?!? Today I get a bit of a break; Debbie is riding with me so we're only doing a couple miles.

I see oil is below $100/barrel this morning. So much for $5/gallon gas. Not that we're out of the woods in the long term, but this will give people a bit of breathing space over the short term. Given the amount of froth in commodities in general, we'll likely see oil prices driven into the ground again, then bounce back up. Speculators don't change the direction of commodity prices; they only increase the volatility. Which makes the long-term picture for oil even more bleak. With prices whipsawing from $140 to $30 to $110 and now dropping again, all in a three-year period, it makes the sort of long-term planning and investing needed to significantly increase future oil production very difficult. In any case, at least the pressure is off for now so we can all go back to sleepwalking off a cliff.

Another Florida bank bit the dust yesterday, bringing the 2011 total to 40, well off last year's pace. And it was a pretty small bank, relatively speaking. Losing 40 banks in four months is disastrous by historical standards; that it's good news tells you just how bad things have been over the last three years.

The other good news is that businesses are hiring, which ironically caused the unemployment to go back up to 9%. The just-so story is that the increase in hiring caused people who had stopped looking for work (who are not considered "unemployed") to start looking again (causing them to be counted as "unemployed" again). Statistics brought to you by the same people who run Amtrak.

The backlash from killing bin Laden begins:

Pakistan's army broke its silence Thursday over the U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden, acknowledging its own "shortcomings" in efforts to find the al-Qaida leader but threatening to review cooperation with Washington if there is another similar violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

...The tone of the army statement was in sharp contrast to the initial response to the raid by the country's civilian leaders. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had hailed the operation as a "great victory" but made no mention of any concerns over sovereignty.

This will not end well. And for the gods' sake, can we have just one military operation that doesn't feature the mechanical failure of a helicopter?

The Mozilla team tells the Department of Homeland Security to go piss up a rope:

Mozilla's legal department didn't immediately comply with ICE's request to take down MafiaaFire and instead asked for more clarification. "Our approach is to comply with valid court orders...but in this case there was no such court order," Harvey Anderson, a member of Mozilla's legal team, recently explained on his personal blog. "Thus, to evaluate Homeland Security's request, we asked them several questions...to understand the legal justification."

Bravo!

Hobby or obsession:



A Storm has Arrived (NSFW):



AT&T will no longer provide unlimited broadband. This has little to nothing to do with keeping prices down or the cost of bandwidth. This is a blatant attempt to bollix up Hulu, Amazon UnBox and Netflix Streaming:

The blunt-force approach of a bandwidth cap does have the advantage of making users think twice about streaming HD movies from Netflix. That is, perhaps not coincidentally, doubly to the advantage of most big ISPs, because they’d rather have you spending money on their video services than paying a third party. Bandwidth-intense services threaten to turn the likes of Comcast, AT&T and Time Warner Cable into utilities — a dependable business, but not one that has the huge profit margins these companies have come to enjoy.

For now, the caps are high enough that most people won't ever hit them. An hour of high-def video is around 2.5GB, so a 250GB/month cap is 100 hours of streaming video. That's a lot in our case, but could be a problem with a connection shared by a family. And I'm sure those caps will come down once they are in place.

First we had earthquakes, then fires, and now floods:

Government engineers will blow up a third section of a Mississippi River levee on Thursday to manage flooding, as a wall of water roared down the nation's largest river system, threatening towns and cities all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

What next? Famine? Pestilence? We've been able to ignore the Four Horsemen for a century due to our cleverness. But Nature always wins in the end.

It looks like yet-another computer worm has targeted Iran. No information yet on what specifically is being attacked. This is all great fun until the retaliation starts. To imagine that only the US and Israel are smart enough to create these is to be dangerously naive.

Well, gotta go make Debbie some waffles; she's sitting next to me whinging about getting her breakfast before it's lunch time.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Thighs Be Burnin'

I realized that since the end of tax season, I haven't been on my bike one single time. I've been looking at office space in Lake Mary for The Tax Geek, so I decided to see if I could ride from here to there. It's only 2.6 miles each way, a bit more than what I was riding to my old job, but I've been pretty much flat on my butt for the last couple weeks. The first attempt was yesterday. I made it. Barely. I had to jump off and stand in the shade for a bit when I got to Lake Mary, which is when I noticed that my tires were low on air. No wonder I felt like I was riding on loose sand the whole way. When I checked them this morning, there was only 25 pounds of air instead of the 60-65 I usually run when I'm on pavement. This morning was a much easier ride. I made the round trip in about 35 minutes which is a bit more leisurely than my usual pace (9mph vs. my more typical 11-12mph). In my defense, there was a stiff headwind for the return leg; hence the burnin' thighs. I hope to gradually increase my ride over the next couple months and see if I can get up to 10 miles or so. We'll see how it goes when morning temps are in the 80's instead of the 60's.

Well, I need to go wash off all the sweat.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Monday, May 02, 2011

Mission Accomplished (?)

[Edited for a few minor details.]

I woke up this morning to news of dancing in the streets. The Great Satan, Osama bin Laden, is dead and his body thrown into the sea:

Osama bin Laden, the face of global terrorism and architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was killed in a firefight with elite American forces Monday, then quickly buried at sea in a stunning finale to a furtive decade on the run.

Some random thoughts in no particular order:

I certainly hope our soldiers thought to wrap Osama in a fresh pig skin before they tossed his body out the chopper door over the side of the ship.

Whoever fed President Obama this line has a dark sense of humor:

The U.S. official who disclosed the burial at sea said it would have been difficult to find a country willing to accept the remains. Obama said the remains had been handled in accordance with Islamic custom, which requires speedy burial.

Heh. I'm sure our special forces were very concerned about Islamic custom as they dumped a bullet-riddled corpse out the chopper door over the side of the ship the instant they had proof that the body was indeed bin Laden.

This concerns me:

"Intelligence analysis concluded that this compound was custom built in 2005 to hide someone of significance," with walls as high as 18 feet and topped by barbed wire, according to one official. Despite the compound's estimated $1 million cost and two security gates, it had no phone or Internet running into the house....

The compound is about a half-mile from a Pakistani military academy, in a city that is home to three army regiments and thousands of military personnel.

A compound that cost a million bucks to build surrounded by 18-foot walls was built a half mile from three Pakistani regiments and a military academy. And no one noticed. In the movies, the super-villian can build a massively-fortified compound complete with nuclear missiles and a small army of guards in complete secrecy without the need to purchase or transport any of the necessary materials. Sorry, but this is the real world. The materials for those 18-foot walls and whatever was inside them had to come from somewhere. I don't care how well hidden in the hills the site itself was, the materials and people needed to build it didn't just materialize in situ. The most likely source for said materials and people is the near-by town. Ya know; the one with "thousands of military personnel." Which probably tells us all we need to know about how trustworthy this particular "ally" in the War on Terror really is.

[No attempt was made to hide bin Laden's compound. It was built in full view in the middle of a suburb populated by military personnel two New York City blocks from Pakistan's equivalent of West Point. As John Stewart observed on Sunday, if the military academy was a Domino's Pizza, they would deliver to bin Laden on foot. And again, this tells us all we need to know about our Pakistani "allies". ]

On a related note, how will this impact Pakistan's stability? The government that the US recognizes has at best a tenuous hold over what the lines on our maps identify as "Pakistan". Now imagine three regiments of the military pissed to the teeth that Islamabad allowed US forces to kill and body-snatch bin Laden, whom they were likely protecting, from right under their noses.

Personally, I feel the world is a better place with Osama bin Laden a corpse in an undisclosed location at the bottom of the sea. I hope this gives closure to the families of those who died on September 11, 2001. But I doubt this is over.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Derren Brown

Texas faith healing fraud exposed by Derren Brown.



I especially love the Sheriff Lobo wanabe threatening Derren Brown and his crew. With the economy in the toilet, I expect these faith healer and prosperity gospel douche nozzles to spring up everywhere just like they did when I was in high school.

If you don't remember, Derren Brown is this guy.