Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sifting the Rubble

I have some free time this morning. The kitchen manager called me a few minutes ago to tell me not to bother to come in as he already had five people in his kitchen. It would have been six, but the new "friends & family" guy that the owners hired didn't bother to show up on his first day. In any case, I'm on my own until noon-ish, so I thought I would sort through the dozens of open tabs I have in Firefox and inflict them on my five regular readers.

To lead off, we have one from the I Guess You Have To Be Known For Something Even If It Is Massive Suckage category. Referring, of course, to the most ineptly run football team in the history of the NFL. The last Superbowl appearance by the Detroit Lions was... oh wait; Detroit has never played in a Superbowl, hasn't won a championship since 1957, and has only been in the playoffs nine times in a half-century. But never fear, say the Fords; "His [Lions coach Rod Marinelli's] future has not been announced, but team owner William Clay Ford has decided the leaders of the front office, Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand, will be back in some capacity." Lets see; in my lifetime, there has been a brigade of players and coaches with solid to stellar careers before and after playing/coaching in Detroit. Now I know basically nothing about football, but I can recognize a management problem from a mile away. Instead of firing yet-another coach, maybe the Ford family should fire themselves and all their croneys working "in some capacity." Or not. Every organization needs a buffoon, and given the kind of people they elect as mayor, why not Detroit? Paint the Lion's jet to look like a giant clown-car and you're all set.

Next we have one from the Are People Really So Stupid That It Has To Be Said category: don't take health advice from celebrities. I would also add, don't take political advice, scientific advice, economic advice, child-raising advice, fashion advice, or lip/breast/butt augmentation advice from celebrities. In fact, I'll make it easy: don't take advice from celebrities. On anything. Ever. Not even on how to become a celebrity, because most of them had nothing to do with it. They are celebrities due to a combination of family connections, luck and hard work by other people, and haven't a clue as to how it all happened. (I make an exception to this diatribe for Abigail Breslin, the cutest girl to stand in front of a camera since Shirley Temple.)

And one from the combination Holy Crap How Can People Who End Up Running Multinational Corporations Be So Fracking Stupid and the Ten Years Late To The Party file, we have the music industry deciding that maybe there is something to this so-called internet thing after all. Of course, they still don't get it. I've said it many times before. The music industry can have more money than God in four simple steps:

Drop all forms of DRM. It doesn't work. It can never work unless you prevent people from hearing music. If I can hear it, I can copy it. Period. Just accept that this is so, and live with it.

Fire all the lawyers at the RIAA. Suing college kids and grandparents isn't really making you any friends. It just makes everyone more determined to get music for free. Anyone that takes the time to punch the holes necessary in their firewall to make Limewire or Bittorrent work probably doesn't have the money to buy what they are downloading anyway, so the pathetic attempts to stop them will not result in higher sales. Use the money saved to do the next two steps.

Cut prices to $.25 for individual tracks and $2 or $3 for an album. And given that there is no size restriction on a digital album, that price should include no fewer than 15 tracks plus hi-res jpeg's of any artwork, band member photos, etc., and hi-def video of live performances, promotional videos, interviews, music videos, whatever. Set up a $10-per-month subscription service that allows unlimited downloads of anything more than a year old, some limited-but-still-generous downloading of current music, and access to the new stuff a week before the "official" release.

Empty the vault. Drag out all those recordings that are currently disintegrating and digitize them. Sell for $.05 a track, or unlimited downloading for subscribers. Even the federal government has figured out that keeping history locked in a vault doesn't accomplish much.

And that's it. More money than God. The music industry could make this recession their best financial performance ever. They won't.

And last but not least, we have the obligatory Holy Crap He's Still Beating That Same Patch Of Dirt That Used To Be Grass That Used To Have A Dead Horse On It category: 2008 will be remembered as the year that man-made global warming was conclusively refuted.

OK. I'm done for now.

[Updated to add: I officially nominate HCHSBTSPODTUTBGTUTHADHOI as the longest and most obscure internet acronym ever.]

We're Back

We made it back from Vegas in one piece, physically and financially. The credit card didn't actually catch fire, although I definitely heard a faint screaming. We didn't do nearly as much walking around and picture taking as we planned. The word for this trip was COLD. At least the snow was gone when we got there, but it was windy and COLD the entire time we were there.

We saw Ka as planned. It was a bit different than other Cirque du Solei shows I've seen. There was less acrobatics and more focus on the story line. It was good, and the engineering was the some of the most amazing stuff I've seen. There was no fixed stage; just two enormous hydrolic platforms. The one in the back was limited to moving up, down, forward and backward. The front platform was fully articulated, moving forward, backward, left, right, and tilting from level to fully verticle, and rotating 360 degrees while in any position. There was a six-on-six verticle fight scene that was awesome (as well as a bit vertigo-inducing).

Best line of trip was from a girl around three years old while we were waiting for the tram that connects to Excalibur, Luxor, and Mandelay Bay: "Daddy! It not a twain, its a twam!

Biggest annoyance of the trip (other than the COLD) were the timeshare sales people disguised as Excalibur hotel employees. Now if the Excalibur wants to pimp the timeshare they are investing in, that's fine. Set up your kiosks and have at it. But getting out of our room, getting in or out of the hotel, or getting to the registrations desk involved running a gauntlet of timeshare pimps that would do anything including stepping in fromt of you and blocking your path to drag you over to their stupid desk where they would go on and on about free nights and half-priced show tickets, but never ever mention "timeshare" or that you had to allow them to charge large sums of money to your credit card that they promise to give back. Over the course of our stay, we found ourselves becoming increasingly rude to the pimps, which only seemed to encourage them. The only defense seemed to be hiding in the ubiquitous large groups of Chinese whenever we had to pass one of the timeshare pimp checkpoints.

Speaking of which, I think we saw more Americans in the Vatican City than in Las Vegas. Large packs of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese could be seen everywhere and we heard a pretty fair cross-section of EU languages and well. I guess that's a better way to get all those dollars back than having the Chinese lending them to our government.

We had planned on stopping at the Hoover Dam on the way back, but when we got there, it seemed the rest of North America had the same idea. We got through that mess and didn't stop until we hit Chloride, Arizona. If there ever was a hair on the zit on the wart on the left butt-cheek of the world, it's Chloride, Arizona. 'Nuff said. (shudder)

Anyway, I need to get our Christmas pictures and road trip photos off the camera and on Flikr. Hope to get to that tomorrow or maybe Wednesday. So far, I'm scheduled to work all week, but my time at the cafe may be drawing to a close. I found myself saying out loud all the things I normally just say in my head. The owners seem to take great pride in displaying their stupidity in increasingly-obvious ways as well as pushing out all the original hires and replacing them with their friends and family. Especially friends and family that are as stupid as they are. Good luck with that, but I don't need to be a part of it.

Anyway, I need to try to get some sleep.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Economic News

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Retailers are so desperate that some are reverting to the Middle East bazaar model. What next? Retailers become like Egyptians and physically assault people in a vain attempt to turn them into paying customers?

Looks like my $25 floor on oil prices may have been overly-optimistic. Parts of this story make me want to cheer:
...Americans continue to cut back on driving amid the worst recession in a generation, leading to growing stockpiles of gasoline and eroding demand for motor fuel....

...Oil traders so far have brushed off attempts by OPEC to boost prices through production cuts....

Keep it up, America. Lets see those Arabs drink their oil.

Not really economic news, but we have the Notable Quotables for 2008. Some are economic, but due to the election, most are political. What would the world laugh at if there wasn't a Chris Matthews?

And the economy can't be that bad if the iFart application for the iPhone can make $10,000 a day.

Probably my last post before we leave, so Merry Christmas for real.

More Photos

In preparation for our trip to Vegas, I cleaned off the camera and found Debbie's photos from the Prescott Christmas Parade. We didn't go to the one last year because the weather was so bad and we were still unpacking from the move. Debbie ended up going to alone this year because I was working at the cafe. Someday, I may get to see one if we live here long enough.

Oh, Great

State and city budgets are or will shortly be collapsing due to falling sales taxes, real estate taxes, building permit fees, etc. No one is really talking about that yet, but they will be early next year. So what else is hiding in the bushes?

Insurance companies are imploding due to what logical people see as the predictable result of building mass concentrations of people below sea level, in the historic paths of hurricanes, on seismic faults and other places subject to periodic mass destruction. Increasing rates to cover the actual risk of living in high-risk areas is, of course, impossible. God forbid that someone stupid enough to build a wooden structure in an area swept by naturally-caused wild fires every year or so actually pay insurance fees in line with having their house rebuilt every few years. I mean, lets get serious. So in the past, insurance companies spread the risk around through re-insurance and bond markets. One small problem: those market vehicles have basically disappeared.

So guess who will be getting a bail-out in 2009.

Another surprise lurking in the hedge is regional banks. All the focus has been on the national banks with their too-big-to-fail status, ignoring that regional banks exist primarily to make residential and commercial real estate loans based on deposits from ordinary working stiffs. Well, the working stiffs more and more aren't and we all know what has happened to real estate. Most regional banks operate under tight scrutiny and don't have the luxury of Washington political connections. But there is a lot of money looking for a safe haven, and thanks to the internet, anyone in the United States can buy CD's from Bob's Bank, whether or not Bob's Bank is solvent or not. In other words, pretty much the same money (or what's left of it) that caused the real estate bubble that popped this year is now flowing into regional banks, many of which are is very bad shape. Deja vu all over again....

Merry Christmas.

In happier news, we will be heading out for Las Vegas first thing Christmas morning and will be back Sunday afternoon. I'm off work today, Debbie has a half day, then we are both free until Monday. We are mostly going to Vegas to see Ka, the Cirque du Soleil at the MGM Grand. We haven't seen it yet so why not? We'll also be heading over to Debbie's (and her mom's) favorite place in Vegas: Tower of Jewels. Somebody has a birthday coming up in a few weeks. The column of smoke you'll see coming from Vegas will be our credit card. We're not sure what else we will do, but we are staying on-strip at the Excalibur, so we will be able to hit Ethel M's for some nutritious snacks, and the M&M place and the Coke place for one day's main meal. And we will certainly check out all the stuff like the sea battle in front of Treasure Island, the fountains in front of the Belagio, etc. etc. We'll also try to get down to Fremont Street and see what's new downtown (other than the hords of tweakers hanging around everywhere). Expect lots of pictures on our Flickr account.

While we are gone, our apartment will be in the care of the killer chihuahuas next door. Seriously. Don't even think about it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cats and Dogs

I don't normally post e-mail jokes because almost everyone has already seen them three or four times in their e-mail. But I liked this one. And it's my blog. Deal.

Dog's Diary:

8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 pm - Ran back and forth in the hall! My favorite thing!
5:00 pm - Milk bones! My favorite thing!
7:00 pm - Got to play tug! My favorite thing!
8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

Cat's Diary:

Day 983 of my captivity.

My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength. The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape.

In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet.

Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a 'good little hunter' I am. Bastards!

They continue to pick me up and handle me, an obvious attempt to subvert me.

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of 'allergies.' I must learn what this means, and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow -- but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches.

The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released -- and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded.

Tonight I will again lay on their heads while they sleep and hope to smother them.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Food or Fuel?

Feed 91 people for a year, or run your car for 21 seconds?

The One thinks this is a good idea. The one-fifth of the planet who are malnourished may feel otherwise. But they're just black (or brown) and poor, so who cares.

Merry Christmas.

...And All the Children are Above Average

Mongomery County will no longer recognize gifted students. Given No Child Gets Ahead, that's hardly surprising. But this is:
Two-fifths of Montgomery students are considered gifted on the basis of aptitude tests, schoolwork, expert opinion and parents' wishes.

Parents' wishes? How exactly does that work?

Parent: Gee, I wish my kid was gifted instead of being dumber than a rock.
School Administrator: Well, ma'am, call me Cinderella, because I can make your wishes come true.

But never fear because "School system leaders say losing the label won't change gifted instruction, because it is open to all students."

Ah. Yes. Well. That would certainly explain our academic declines in recent decades.


Still tweaking the blog layout. Removed some dead links, added some new ones, cut down on the number of widgets/categories, etc. I want to do some changes to the actual blog template at some point.

Yes, I'm bored. As usual.

Welcome to the 1950's

Here is a series of videos on Tech Ticker that feature the economist Gary Shilling. He's an older dude that's been around the block a few times and, unlike most of the MBA types that caused this mess, remembers when debt was considered slavery and saving a virtue.

Everyone would do well to adopt those attitudes. I've been saying it for a very long time: get fast, get small. The comet has hit, but the blast wave (wide-spread state and municipal bankruptcies) isn't here yet. Now isn't the time to stand up on your hind legs to see what that bright flash of light on the horizon is all about. It's time to duck.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Another Mega Post

Going back through the archives on Blogger, I noticed I seem to wander back and forth between making long, rambling posts once every few days that cover dozens of topics with no theme or organization, and making several short, to-the-point posts daily or near-daily. Not sure why that is. I think I prefer writing the long rambles, but when I'm on other people's blogs, I prefer to read the shorter, to-the-point posts. I'm sure a shrink could prescribe a pill to fix that.

Anyway, a group of American companies are joining forces to compete with Asian companies making lithium-ion batteries for cars. A fine idea, but I worry for the success of the project when I read this:
The National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture said lithium ion batteries "are anticipated to replace gasoline as the principal source of energy in future cars and military vehicles."

Um, no they won't. A battery is not a "source of energy" any more than an empty gas tank is a source of energy. A battery is a storage device for electricity generated by things like coal-fired plants that our next president wants to tax out of existence. It is precisely this sort of muddled thinking that forces me to bet on the Asians.

Crude oil futures are below $40. So much for my $100 floor, my $75 floor, and my $50 floor for oil prices. Maybe a $25 floor? Good thing I don't make investment decisions based on whatever is rattling around in my head when I write this stuff, and just shove our money into CD's instead. In any case, I still maintain that this is temporary and our future will look more like what we saw this summer. Probably not next year, but certainly by 2010. And best of all, no one will remember this post by then, including me. Sweet.

I missed the fourth anniversary of this blog, and the 1,000-posts milestone. We've been doing this on Blogger since September 21, 2004 and this is something like post number 1,145. The original web journal that we started out with begins on April 1, 2000. I had intended to transfer some of the more meaningful posts here, but have never gotten a round tuit. I may still do that. All the entries are on my hard drive, although the vast majority of them are "Work and school." Probably what most of the entries here will be from January through May.

And no, there was no point to that paragraph.

Central Athens is still a cloud of tear gas. This all started over a teenager killed by a police "warning shot." I'm not sure that the people rioting even remember that, or what, exactly, setting the town Christmas tree on fire has to do with protesting police brutality. I guess you need to be Greek. The police could probably end this with a few more well-placed "warning shots."

The NewTek TriCaster looks to do the same thing to video production that we saw with music about a decade ago. The current version is $4,000. Moore's Law will halve that in 18 months, putting it in the same price range as a decent PC. Content delivery over the internet can now be considered a solved problem. Anyone care to predict how long before the internet does to cable TV what cable TV did to broadcast TV?

The Trek universe has lost another of its icons. The voice of the Enterprise is now silent.

At work yesterday, we only had about 20 customers all day. I still don't have an actual job that I do while I'm there. I spent seven hours cleaning out and organizing storage areas, refrigerators and freezers, and talking about what exactly it is that I'm supposed to be doing while I'm there. Yet-another line cook was supposed to be the answer, but it looks like they will need a full-time prep guy. Hopefully, when we come back from our Christmas Las Vegas trip, my hours will change to something like 5am to noon and I will be rolling meatballs, making soup, slicing, dicing, chopping, and generally getting things ready first for breakfast, then helping with the transition to lunch, then I'm gone for the day. That will certainly help with the college thing by consolidating my free time into a single block instead of my current three-hours-in-the-morning, scamper-off-to-work, few-more-hours-in-the-evening mode of operation.

We had dinner at the restaurant I worked at way back at the beginning of the year. They are still hanging on, with with less than half the staff they had when I was there. There were only four other tables while we ate. When I worked there, Thursday night was the busiest night of the week. (It's a Prescott thing; don't ask.) They are now open only four days a week. I haven't been by the bakery lately, but based on the rumors around town, nothing has changed there, either. Every prediction has next year being pretty much more of the same that we have seen this year, so Prescott may start looking like Flint did in 1982.

Time to scamper.

Almost Not Funny

This exact scenario played out so many times in my 22 years in a cubicle that it almost isn't funny. Almost.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Work and Randomness

As I predicted, the uptick in business at the cafe after the radio ad blitz on Thanksgiving weekend has proven temporary. It looked for a while as if it would sustain, but as of about a week ago, it completely fizzled. The last two days have been the worst since the place opened. As of yesterday, I don't even have a job to do while I'm there. I literally stand around polishing the tile on the walls for six hours a day. Everything I was assigned to do has been given to other people, but for some reason, I'm still there. The best part is that the owners seem determined to keep me for reasons that are a complete mystery to me. Monday was absolutely hysterical. There was one person running the cash register and waiting on customers with only occasional help running food and bussing tables. All day. One person handled every single customer. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, there were five people working to make the food orders that that one person was taking.

Anyone expect this place to survive long? Me neither. The owner freely admits he knows nothing about the restaurant business. Ya think?

In other news, global warming strikes North America with ice storms, snow storms and record cold temperatures. And it ain't even Christmas yet.

Flat-dead-tree media continues to decline into irrelevance. I can't remember the last time I read a newspaper, and I was about twelve when I figured out that the most truthful part of a newspaper was the comics page. Dead man... er... make that, "Flat dead tree walking."

Speaking of global warming, our temps here have been running about the same as in Michigan. There was even snow on the ground when I walked to work yesterday. Well, more like slushy water. We were supposed to get hit with a snow storm today, but it didn't materialize. Just cold, windy and cloudy.

Paul Graham has an interesting post about credentialism and the changes taking place in the US economy. I think it answers the questions that Scott Adams posted a couple days ago about the future of capitalism. In many ways, smaller is better now that technology has removed many of the barriers to entry that for over a century have made "bigger is better" synonymous with capitalism. The question is will Washington mandate the bigger-is-better model? Bigger is certainly easier to regulate, and we seem to be heading toward every facet of our existence being micro-managed from the Imperial City. Will small once again out-manouver the regulators? The next ten years could be very interesting indeed.

I mentioned a while back that I will be starting up college again around the end of January. The load will be pretty heavy; I will be taking regular on-line classes plus dropping into a series of cohorts to finish up as quickly as possible. At a couple points, I will be in three classes at the same time, something I haven't done since the last time I was a full-time college student in 1983. I don't know if I can do it, but it would be nice to be done by next summer. Then I would be a dishwasher with a BS degree. Or more likely, an unemployed dishwasher with a BS degree. I'm almost hoping to get canned before my first class starts up January 26. It won't help our budget any, but at least I would have time to sleep.

Speaking of which, I need some.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


[Update: According to Scott Adams's blog, this is most-linked-to Dilbert comic ever.]

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Want a pen pal?

I came across an article in a magazine --- you can visit this website (http://www.adoptaplatoon.org/) and sign up to be pen pals with an active service person.

I just started --- they will call you to explain their programs -- I chose the pen pal program -- and then will send you an email with your person's name and some info about them. I have two -- one is from NJ and the other is from Hawaii. They were both deployed to Iraq. (No, you don't have to worry about international postage --- you mail things to the APO address given)

I may ask Ric to write some notes also ... I think it would be great if a family "adopted a soldier" ... then each person could take a different week to write/make a card/send pictures etc.

I know how much I love getting cards/notes/emails/phone calls. Just think about those that are not here in the USA and have easy access to those things. Take a moment and see if you would like to give somebody a quick note each week.


Yellow, pink, blue, orange, green....some colors of highlighters.

What was the highlight of your 2008? Something that stood out/that you want to remember/something that you would highlight when reading about your life in 2008...............

The year is coming to a close, think back on the events of your life; the good and the bad. We all have our ups and downs. I hope your ups outweigh your downs. I wish I was like my friend Kim back in Michigan --- she journals --- and never has to wonder what happened and when or forget "little" things.

I think that will be one of my New Year's resolutions. I have a small journal that I received from a coworker when I was leaving. I did write in it when we started our trip from Michigan to Arizona (via Florida). I like revisiting it --- especially the day I wrote down that Ric told me loved me first. It meant so much to have him say it to me -- not repeat it back to me. And to see my note the day we left Michigan --- I believe I wrote "the first day of the rest of our lives" -- or something like that.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Moral Defectives

Moral defectives in Washington DC are refusing to disclose to whom $2 trillion was given and in exchange for what. One presumes an honest accounting will include a great deal of booze and whores, but even a less-than-honest list of just what collateral a bunch of bankrupt banks could put up in exchange for $2 trillion would be enlightening.

Meanwhile the moral defectives in Chicago, political birthplace of our next president, are... um... doing what the moral defectives in Chicago have been doing for going on two centuries.

In other words, nothing new.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

MPEG Player

OK, so I'm poking around this morning and happen to visit the VideoLAN web page. There is a new version of VLC (still pre-release, but newer than what I'm using) that has a much better user interface and video playback is much closer to what Windows Media Player and the Quicktime player give. So strike what I said about epileptic camera men. VLC is shaping up to be a decent video player while not being "improved" to the point of inutility.

See? Complaining works! Better yet, my powers of self-justification and rationalization are undiminished. Even if I'm still out $20.

Hungry. Must eat generic Lucky Charms NOW!

Catching Up

And a week flies by while I try to finish off Infinite Jest. The book covers a lot of ground, then just sort of ends on page 981. OK. Well.

So today was catch-up-on-everything-I-haven't-been-doing-for-a-week-because-I-was-plowing-through-a-book day.

Yea. One of those posts.

Anyway, human-caused global warming continues to get hammered. And even really smart people who think there is something to it argue that there are more important things to spend resources on. Not that any of it will make any real difference. I do find that news of layoffs at Yahoo! and Google getting more attention than the world ending in 20 years hysterical. Nothing like the threat of having to use the same PC for 18 months to knock that whole everyone-will-die thing right off the national agenda. Good to see we still have our priorities right.

A guy invented a robot wife that can cook, clean, hold up her end of a conversation and slap at anyone other than the husband who tries to cop a feel. Apply Moore's Law. Factor in sex-selection abortions and China's one-child policy creating a generation of men with no hope of marriage, and it's pretty easy to see where this is going. (No place good, if you were wondering.)

The EU is starting to fray a bit about the edges. As the most entitled-feeling generation in human history gets pinched harder and harder in the next 12-18 months, we'll see much more of this. Realizing of course that "pinched" in this generation's estimation means Basic Cable, a Dell instead of an Alienware PC, and making due with last year's 40" LCD instead of a new 60" plasma TV.

Scott Adams is a god:
Comic strips are supposed to be an exaggerated world, but lately it has been hard to concoct ideas for Dilbert that are more absurd than reality. For example, when Dilbert's company develops a new product, I want it to be worse than any product you have ever seen in real life. I thought I was ahead of the curve until I saw my dog's reaction to her dog food. Let's start by saying she doesn't care for it.

Now you might think this is not the least bit unusual. Pets have preferences just like people, so it should be no surprise that she wouldn't like a particular brand of dog food. At least that's how I saw it until I reflected on the things she DOES like to eat, including every other type of food, the cat's food, mud, twigs, bugs, cat vomit, and her own turds.

If you ask me, the bar has been set low. How bad does your company's product have to be before your target market prefers eating its own poop? If I wrote a comic along those lines it would be too absurd to work even as comedy.

Remember that line as you Christmas shop: "How bad does your company's product have to be before your target market prefers eating its own poop?" That pretty much expresses what I feel walking through any store at Christmas.

Did I mention that Scott Adams is a god?

And just in time for Christmas:

Speaking of preferring to eat my own poop, I bought something at the Apple Store last night. See, I've been in the market for a decent video player that supports MPEG-2 (the encoding used on standard DVD's). I have been gradually building up a movie collection for a couple years now. At first, I watched them in Windows Media Player. It worked, the video was good, blah, blah. Somewhere along the line, Microsoft "improved" the software so that it gets all confused because the video's have 5.1 surround sound and our laptop only has stereo. The movie plays, but the only sound is left-front and right-front. Given that 99% of the dialog is on the center channel, our movie watching began to lack something. Although given Hollywood's typical output, some movies were improved.


The first try was VLC, an open source project that gets a lot of positive geek chatter. And installing and using that did indeed solve the audio problem. The downside is that the video quality is, to be charitable, slightly less visually appealing than WMP. So for several months now, I've been on an on-and-off quest for another media player. I found several mentions of a Quicktime (Apple's video player/format) add-on that would allow Quicktime to play MPEG-2 videos. But it costs $20. Not a lot of money, but still. I kept poking around, not finding alternatives and ending up back at the Quicktime add-on. So in a moment of weakness, I bought it last night. Download, install, fire up a movie. The video is gorgeous.

And amazingly silent. That may work for Charlie Chaplin, but not for The Dark Knight.

There is, even in the universe of paid software, nothing that remotely resembles a help desk. So I hit the forums, and, not finding anyone with my particular problem, started a new thread. The answer was a link to a FAQ page in 6-point text, with an oh-by-the-way buried two-thirds the way in saying that the add-on doesn't support AC3 audio.

Which is what every movie made since the invention of the DVD is encoded with.

So the add-on will work with any MPEG-2 file other than all of them, excepting (some) home movies.

So I'm still watching movies that jerk around like the camera man has uncontrolled epilepsy and my wallet is $20 lighter. Merry Christmas to me.

Work has been up and down. Since firing the manager, sales have increased dramatically, food costs are much lower, we don't run out of things nearly as often. I've gotten most of my hours back on next week's schedule, although we still have at least one and more likely two superfluous kitchen staff. The owner is still injecting cash to keep the paychecks from bouncing, which wouldn't be bad in a two-month-old business, except I don't think he has enough cushion to do it for much longer. And, as is natural when something like this happens, there are a lot of babies getting tossed out with the bathwater. Inevitable, but unfortunate.

And I'm off to bed. Enough for now.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Sleepless in Prescott Again

Sitting up and blogging because every time I lay down and try to sleep I wake up choking from my lungs filling up with fluid. I went to the doctor Tuesday who said I need to just "fight it off" because it was "just a virus" as he ran off down the hall, having already given me my 2.47 minutes of face time.

Pneumonia can of course be caused by a viral infection. Must be another bit of knowledge that hasn't made it out here to the Territories yet.

As predicted, the cafe manager is history. I hung around and talked to the owner and it sounds like they had good reason to doubt the guy's competence and basic integrity. I'm sure I would hear a very different story were I to bother to look up my now-ex-manager. My personal experience lends a certain credibility to the owner's version of events, but every story has at least two sides. In any case, I have no intention of falling on my sword for the guy. Every one that works there gets along pretty well and business has, against all odds and expectations, been picking up since The Big Day. Who knows? I may have found a job that will last more than three months after all. Mild optimism is beginning to intrude.

Then I make the mistake of looking at the market data from today. Maybe not.

Well, I'm off the see what other happy news I can find on the web. Then I'm going to bury myself into Infinite Jest until I get the thing done. It's 1,000 very-dense pages of the most convoluted storyline I think I've ever encountered. Don't get me wrong; it's a great book and gets better the further I dig into it. But a casual read it ain't. And it's due back to the library on 12/12, so I need to put it to bed.

And maybe sleep. Or not. Waking up feeling like I'm drowning in the fluid from my not-pneumonia isn't a lot of fun.

Monday, December 01, 2008


So much for the market rally.

Holiday sales were up, but only with discounts that resulted in a cash loss on every item sold. And so far, the numbers say the usual loss-leader effect was not there. People came in, bought what was 50% or 60% off and left. Given that a record percentage said that they were done Christmas shopping, don't expect even this vaguely good news to hold up.

The automakers are due back to beg Congress for money again. Maybe this time they'll car pool. Idiots.

At least gas prices will stay low. OPEC is leaving production at current levels, driving oil back below $50. I just hope people are smart and keep doing what they've been doing. We may be at a turning point where people are tired of being jerked around by inbred Saudi princes, and dumb-ass auto companies, and the profit-before-all-else oil companies, and are just refusing to play anymore.

Uncle Henry talks to Congress. Whenever I see one of these ass-clowns talking, I respond to every single statement with "Why?" "How?" "Says who?" Probably one reason Debbie doesn't stay in the room. Domestic tranquility aside, I think I have a valid point. When Uncle Henry says more people should own their own home: "Why?" All the data shows that a lot of people own homes that shouldn't. The only way to make it possible for more people to be able to own a home is for homes to be cheaper. But then Uncle Henry says that we must stop the slide in home values: "Why?" It's pretty clear that a lot of people can't afford a home at current pricing levels. So which is it Uncle Henry? Higher prices or more homeowners? Don't tell me that the head of the US Treasury never took Econ 101.

Anyway, give it try. At a minimum, you'll annoy the crap out of your spouse.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Terror in India

Speaking of things that could get interesting. A terrorist organization from Pakistan has spent the last several days killing people in India. Both countries have nukes and both hate each other. Maybe we need to bring back the Brits.

Are we downwind from Pakistan?

Just What We Need

A new genetic test that will allow parents to "steer" their children into their proper athletic field.

Just what the world needs: more Dennis Rodman's.

...Or Maybe Not

Maybe getting together with family for Christmas isn't such a great idea after all....

The Big Day

Yesterday was The Big Day at the cafe. We had DJ's in the parking lot and free cinnamon rolls and free coffee if you said "Willy sent me." (Willy is the name of the giant rooster mascot). Obviously, we were busy, but not as busy as I would have expected. I didn't hear what our sales figure was for the day, but from the orders coming in it looked like people did more than just pick up the free stuff. Next week when everything goes back to normal (meaning slow) will certainly be interesting. And I'm sure that the other coffee places, like the bakery I used to work at, enjoyed having the radio DJ's repeating endlessly for four hours that the cafe has the best coffee in Prescott. I'm sure there won't be any blow-back from that in a small town.

I've been really sick the last few days, which made working yesterday even more fun. When I got home, my temp was over 100 degrees, which isn't bad for me (102 and even 104 is not uncommon), but it made being on my feet in a hot restaurant somewhat interesting. I assume from the other symptoms it's pneumonia, although I haven't had that since leaving Michigan. I have an appointment with my doctor on Tuesday, so I'll know for sure what's up then. I'm sure some magic pills will take care of everything. Better living through chemistry.

Black Friday seemed to have been good for retailers, if you ignore that they were basically losing money on every item they sold. But I'm sure they will make it up on volume. And you have to factor in the cost of repairing their stores and paying off lawsuits. At least all the kiddies will have plenty of useless crap to unwrap on December 25th.

And now that we are officially in the "holiday season," I'll do my annual Scrooge bit. Every year, Christmas seems more pointless and stupid. Sure it's a good excuse to get together with family to eat and drink too much. That part I have no problem with, even though we won't be this year. But the whole gift thing just annoys me to no end, especially when it involves people I barely know. Family and friends are no problem, but co-workers and bosses and casual aquantances and the mailman and classmates and teachers and the guy that sweeps the sidewalk in front of Salvation Army and the old dude I nod and "huh" to when I pass him on the way to work and... Why? What possible meaning can be behind a gift to someone I barely know? What could I buy them that wouldn't just end up in the next garage sale? People at the cafe, some of whom can't even afford a place to live, want to do a secret Santa thing. But it will be so "fun," sort of like sticking a fork in my eye is fun. And don't even get me started on those buy-video-games-for-poor-people lists that now seem ubiquitous in the work place. Please explain what criteria allows someone to be defined as "poor" while having an Xbox/PlayStation/Wii in the first place, then expecting me to buy them new games for it? I don't even have an Xbox/PlayStation/Wii (although Rock Band may yet convince me to pick up a Wii).

OK, now that I've lost my five regular readers, I'll shut up.

"They're Savages"

Obviously the economy isn't as bad as everyone thinks if 2,000 people can trample some temp employee to death trying to buy electronics. It's not like this was a rush for food.

Savages indeed.

This happens every year, although this is the first death that I recall. Why do stores do this? Is it really worth replacing your front doors, losing God-knows how much merchandise to breakage as mad hoards run through your store, and now paying a wrongful-death lawsuit?

Or maybe it's just another cost of doing business the Sam Walton way.

[Update: More information here including this little gem: "Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man, and customers stepped over him and became irate when officials said the store was closing because of the death, police and witnesses said."]

Friday, November 28, 2008

Locked out

Well, we had an interesting Thanksgiving. We started good with doing laundry to get it out of our hair early. The big problem was when we both went down to get things out of the dryer -- somehow -- our door locked behind us! We stood there laughing and blaming each other for locking the door --- neither of us can remember pushing in the button. I was in my shorts and Ric in his sweats with just socks on.....we looked like something the cat dragged in. Oh well --- I sweet talked Ric into going to knock on some apt doors to find anybody at home. On the third try, we found somebody and he had our landlord's cell phone number. He called for us and luckily they were just leaving there place to go someplace for dinner. He was at the complex in about 10 minutes. Talk about embarrassing!

Of course, I told Ric we should blame our landlord for our problem. If he would get the lock fixed on the laundry room, we would ALWAYS have our keys when going down to the laundry room. When Jim came over -- we didn't mention it though. :-)

I did buy a spiral cut ham and some potatoes to cook for dinner. (We didn't have any frozen pizzas in the freezer!) We figured out how long the ham would be and got that in okay. Then I went to look up some slow cooker recipes for potatoes. I found one that sounded pretty good that had sour cream and cheddar cheese soup in them. By the time we got the potatoes cleaned and quartered and going and read the recipe about how long they would take......they ended up being done about 2 hrs after the ham.

Today at work was pretty slow for travel and the auto travel/trip tik people. I had two whole phone calls before 130pm! And I was the only travel agent until 1p. I asked to leave early and permission was granted. Hopefully next week starts picking back up again. I know I have pushed alot of call backs until after 1Dec.....so, at least I will have some follow up calls to do to try to drum up some business.

Take care and I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving and will have a great weekend. Go out and buy something today to help with "black Friday". Traffic was pretty steady around our mall and the Prescott Gateway mall at lunch time --- so somebody is out to at least window shop.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holding Our Breath

The world watches America to see if we run out and rack up a ton of new debt on Friday. Meanwhile, the markets all dither around without any real direction. At least the DOW edged over 8,000 (which is about where it should be anyway).

The cafe is also dithering around with sorta busy days and slow days and days we all lay outside in the sun and take naps. Which is pretty much what every business in Prescott is doing right now. Everyone continues to hang by their fingernails hoping Christmas will bail them out. What has been funny watching at the cafe is the owner-vs.-manager dynamic. The owner knows nothing about restaurants, so he did the smart thing and hired someone who did to run the cafe. I wondered when I hired in how long that would last. The answer: About two months. We still have the manager (for now) but the owner is interfering more every day. What that tells me is that he is running out of cash already. The panic is obvious. Everything hangs on us being busier than we have ever been on Friday and Saturday. There has been a media blitz on radio, articles in the papers, even spots on local TV (not paid advertising; just local access channel stuff). Saturday, a local radio station will have DJ's at the cafe doing a remote and giving away stuff.

I'm sure we will be busier than normal on Friday just because people will be out and about, even though I believe that Black Friday is going to be a bust compared to previous years. That doesn't mean that it won't still be a good day to stay away from the mall, just that people will be spending a lot less than in recent years. I'm sure we will be mobbed on Saturday just because people hear the word "free." What I doubt is that come Monday, there will be any real sustained difference in the level of business. Then the real fun starts.

Sunday we saw Cirque du Soleil's Saltimbanco. The arena is pretty small and was less than half full. I don't know if that was because it was the last day of a three-day engagement, or if all the shows were as poorly attended. But it was fun and if you have ever seen a Cirque du Soleil production, all the standard things were there. Being a traveling show means that some things were slightly less dramatic or smaller scale than at the permanent ones, but it was still worth going to. And the Hanz and Franz guys made my shoulders ache. Like always.

We are thinking of a quick trip to Vegas sometime in late December or January to see Cirque du Soleil's Ka at the MGM. The cafe is supposed to be closed between Christmas and New Year, so Christmas weekend is one possibility. All the Cirque shows are dark in the middle of January and my college classes start up towards the end of January, so that leaves the first week of January if pricing for hotels and such are too high over Christmas.

Blogger just went down. Nice.

Anyway, I found out yesterday that the cafe will be closed on Thanksgiving. They were originally going to be open until noon, but decided to close sometime in the last few days. As usual, I found out about it during a casual conversation with a co-worker. God forbid the manager say anything or post a notice or even put the schedule where people can find it.

And Blogger is back. Sweet.

Our plans for Thanksgiving will likely revolve around a stack of books and frozen pizzas. And movies, of course. Lots of movies. Debbie works Friday and I work Friday and Saturday, so no sense in making any elaborate plans. We both need a day to recover from sinus/resperatory problems anyway with seasonal colds and a fire somewhere nearby blanketing Prescott with wood smoke. It's probably a prescribed burn out in the national forest, but a storm front moving through is holding all the smoke right at ground level. Everything smells like burning pine needles.

OK, I've used up enough electrons for one day.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Not Listening

Once again, we don't listen to the truly smart people:

Instead we listen to a game show host. My question is now that all these CNN and Fox commentators have been shown to be irredeemably stupid, why do they still have jobs? Why is anyone still listening to anything they have to say? At a minimum, where are the apologies for the unacceptably rude behavior? I know Fox isn't exactly a brain trust, but the absolutely juvenile behavior should have some consequences.

People wonder why the only news show I watch is John Stewart's Daily Show.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Speaking Truth

Every time I catch myself complaining about a YouTube video not instantly loading, I recall my first computer. I still complain, but I feel bad about it for a couple seconds.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Losing "their" money

I've been home from work sick since Wed (bad cold). I figured it has been pretty slow and no sense of me being at work with my coughing and blowing my nose every few minutes. I found out today (by email) that if I am off sick 3 or more days, I need a note from a doctor to return to work. Huh? At first, I replied back that I could come in later in the afternoon so I wouldn't need the note. Then I decided I needed to renew one of my RX that I have been out of and might as well as kill two birds with one stone. The doctor's office couldn't get me in today --- first Dr appt was Monday at 230p. I told them that wouldn't work too well, so I have an appt with the PA at 830a. So, I emailed my boss back and said never mind replying to my first email ---- I had a Dr's appt Monday and would be in late!

Anyways --- today I was playing around checking out things on the computer. One was my 401K from AAA. They are matching part of what I put in --- and basically so far this year --- I've lost all "their" money! I have to decide for next year to keep having money taken out and hope things turn around or to take the money in my check and put it in our money market or a CD and earn some money.

I also looked into my medflex acct (pre-tax dollars for medical spending) and it looks out of whack. I guess I will have to print out the history and figure out where they are getting one of the numbers.

The bright thing I looked into today was my Stampin' Up figures. I am set for this quarter for sales. (Thanks to a couple girls and myself at work) Now I will need help beginning in Jan to continue this. Anybody out there need to buy anything for yourself or a relative or friend?????

The other good news is I am almost done with making my Christmas cards (thanks to Stampin' Up things). I have a few to finish up with color or .... once I get back things I loaned out to the gals at work after our last card making party. (So, be watching your mail in December for a hand made card from us. I made a 100!)

Sunday we are going to see a Cirque du Soleil production in Prescott Valley for Ric's birthday. (Yep, we are the same age for just under 2 months) It will be interesting to see how good it is compared to the others I've seen in Vegas and Disney World. I"m sure one of us will be blogging about that after we see it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


My birthday gift from my employer was a 50% reduction in hours. Happy birthday to me. Of course by the end of my new, shorter shift, the cafe manager was already back-pedaling when he figured out that if we weren't there, he would be doing a lot more scut work. So now I have some of the hours back that I lost just 24 hours ago. Next week, there is supposed to be a big ad blitz that is going to pack the place to the rafters and all will be well.


Meanwhile, in the real world, consumer prices fell more last month than any time since the invention of the consumer price index. A lot of that was the sharp decline in gas prices, but even factoring that out, prices still dropped.

Probably has something to do with people being forced to live on what they make.

Oil prices continue to drop as people stop burning gas. I've talked to a couple people over the last week and it seems that many people have made permanent, structural changes to their lives and have no intention of jumping back into the SUV and driving all over the country just because gas prices have pulled back. We made a decision two years ago to become a one-car household and have no plans to run out and buy a second car. Even though my job is once-again turning to crap, we are still ahead of the game by sticking to one vehicle that goes about 5 miles a day instead of two cars that cover over 100 miles a day combined. I've said for years that our national focus should be to make the damn Arabs drink their oil.

More bad news for the Big 3 auto companies: It looks like there is a great deal of resistance to making taxpayers pay for 10,000 guys to sit in a room and do crossword puzzles every day while the assembly lines continue to churn out over-priced crapmobiles that no one in their right mind would buy.

And unless you are in the south or west, don't plan on making money building houses. I'm not sure where in the west all this construction is going on, but it ain't around here. Lots of empty buildings all over town.

And the DOW closed below 8,000.

Enough bad news for one day.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Climate. Yet Again

A good summary of why the whole man-made global warming thing is a crock.

It's over an hour long, but take the time to watch it all the way through.

[Update: When you're done with the video, read this. We've put the fate of the West in the hands of a complete moron.]

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Remember the name David Bookbinder, the chief climate counsel for the Sierra Club. Remember him when you are sitting in the dark freezing to death. Remember him as you watch China, unhampered by David Bookbinder and his organization, catch up and surpass us on every front. No technology, green or otherwise, can replace coal in the short term. Nukes could replace some of it in the medium term if someone were in possession of a magic wand that would eliminate the political and regulatory blocks. Wind? Solar? Feh. Double Feh.

In more positive news, GM may not survive to the end of the year without federal tax money. Unless they don't get it, in which case I'm willing to bet they find a way to hang tough. But somehow I doubt any scenario is going to be pleasant for anyone working for GM or any of its suppliers.

And the Santa Clause bounce has yet to materialize. The biggest shopping day of the year is a couple weeks away. We'll see how that goes. We are mostly opting out of Christmas this year. For one thing, we don't buy stuff for each other and it's too much hassle to get gifts across the country in one piece. For another, both of our jobs are looking more tenuous by the day. The cafe had a busy day today, but the rest of the week was a disaster. And most of the work Debbie has had over the last couple weeks is canceling cruise bookings. I passed a moving truck clearing out yet-another retail space while walking home from work today. The mall where Debbie works is losing its three largest tenants and numerous small ones.

And it ain't over.

The good news is that if I do lose my job, I'll be able to get done with college sooner. I had hoped to finish up at the end of the Spring '09 term, but trying to squeeze in six classes in five months and working (almost) full-time just isn't going to work. That means stretching things out until at least the end of 2009, maybe longer. But if I'm not working, it would be a cake-walk. Although I'd rather not have to tap into it, we do have enough cash to pay the bills for a while and pay my tuition and books. It's not the way I'd like to go, but we could do it.

I do try to end on a positive note on occasion.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Death on a Stick

I always new that surfers were never quite right in the head. This video proves it.

Ye flippin' gods.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It Ain't No Darth Vader Toaster...

but I still want one. A plug-in hybrid scooter that gets 141 mpg and comes with a hot chick and a puppy. (Sorry. Two obscure musical references in two days. That probably exceeds some sort of quota.)

Those Wacky Japanese

Sorry, but this just cracked me up.

Yea, yea; I know this could help reduce stress injuries in manufacturing and probably has applications for the elderly and mildly handicapped, but it still looks like a giant sex toy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Phoenix Is Dead

The Phoenix lander is officially dead. But we can now say that we have touched (albeit remotely; very remotely) water on Mars.

Big Random Post

The cafe was actually a little busy today. I even did something other than set up and tear down my work station, wash dishes, and stand around with my thumb up my butt. Wow. Business still dies a couple hours before close, but if we can make the rest of the day consistent, then I think we will be OK. Maybe.

At least I don't work for (or draw a pension from) GM. The stock hit a 60-year low at around $3 a share. That's not a typo. GM, which since I've been old enough to read the stock page in the newspaper has traded $50, $60, $70 a share with spikes over $100 is now at $3. And according to Deutsche Bank's Rod Lache, the stock is still over-valued. It's actual worth is $0. But never fear! That's what we have suckers... er... taxpayers for! Bailing out companies that can't figure out how to make products that people want to buy!

In other news, internet DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks are growing in their volume and sophistication. We're not talking about bored college kids anymore. These are government-sponsored attacks. I realized after reading the article that is has been a while since I ran Shields Up!, which does a very thorough job of checking for cracks in your defenses. It found none, which I believe is the first time I've ever had that happen with a Windows PC. I don't believe for a second that Microsoft has magically plugged every security hole, but rather that my cable company did an excellent job with the default firewall settings on the cable modem.

Obama plans to start converting us over to socialism with a bang. The nice part about falling out of the middle class is that we won't be funding it directly (just indirectly through reduced employment, lower wages and higher prices). On a side note, I would think Obama would prefer to avoid metaphores employing words like "bang." And off the side of the side note (with most humble apologies to Arlo Guthrie), we have Fred Reed's thoughts on Obama, blowing up weddings, the economy, and more.

Good news. The sun appears to be starting the next solar cycle. That's probably a good thing. If Uncle Al and Friends think global warming is a problem, try an ice age. Even a mild one will convince you that cold is a much bigger problem than warm.

Still not depressed enough to quit reading this? Yahoo! Finance has a new feature called Tech Ticker. In spite of the name, probably fewer than one-in-five of the video shorts deal with technology companies. Anyway, just click on the link. The latest video will start automatically, then the next previous, etc. in typical backwards blog order. Just sit back and let 'em run. It's a very interesting experience. Makes you want to just run out and start buying stuff.

Feh. I don't think Santa will be coming to North America this year.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Black Swan

Just finished up Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan. The copyright date is 2007, meaning he was writing it in probably 2005 and 2006. In the book, he takes issue with how "risk" is calculated by banks and Wall Street types and warns of catastrophe if we don't take a serious look at how we think about such things. The footnote on page 225 says:
As if we did not have enough problems, banks are now more vulnerable to the Black Swan and the ludic fallacy than ever before with "scientists" among their staff taking care of exposures. The giant firm J. P. Morgan put the entire world at risk by introducing in the nineties Risk Metrics, a phony method aiming at managing people's risks, causing the generalized use of the ludic fallacy, and bringing Dr. Johns into power in place of the skeptical Fat Tonys. (A related method called "Value-at-Risk", which relies on the quantitative measurement of risk, has been spreading.) Likewise, the government-sponsored institution Fanny Mae, when I look at their risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup. But not to worry: their large staff of scientists deemed these events "unlikely."

(The ludic fallacy simply refers to people trying to use the restrictive world of games and dice to make predictions in the real world. Fat Tony and Dr. John were two acquaintances of Taleb's that he uses to illustrate the street-smart vs. the overly-intellectual approach to life.)

This is likely one of those times that Taleb wishes he was wrong. And remember, every time you see some Wall Street type crying about how they "didn't know" and their "models all said..." that they could have known and that they had been told that their models were crap. The guys like Taleb that work in the trading pits have been saying for years that what we are seeing now was going to happen. That there were massive amounts of risk that lay outside all the fancy computer models being used by the researchers and managers. So don't spend a lot of time crying in your beer for any of these fools. Just like I don't feel any pity whatsoever for someone who loses their house after failing to make the very first mortgage payment. Willful ignorance has a price.

From the conclusion of the Black Swan:
I once received another piece of life-changing advice, which... I find applicable, wise, and empirically valid. My classmate in Paris, the novelist-to-be Jean-Olivier Tedesco, pronounced, as he prevented me from running to catch a subway, "I don't run for trains."

Snub your destiny. I have taught myself to resist running to keep on schedule. This may seem a very small piece of advice, but it registered. In refusing to run to catch trains, I have felt the true value of elegance and aesthetics in behavior, a sense of being in control of my time , my schedule, and my life. Missing a train is only painful if you run after it! Likewise, not matching the idea of success others expect from you is only painful if that's what you are seeking.

You stand above the rat race and the pecking order, not outside of it, if you do so by choice.

Quitting a high-paying position, if it is your decision, will seem a better payoff than the utility of the money involved (this may seem crazy, but I've tried it and it works). This is the first step toward the stoic's throwing a four-letter word at fate. You have far more control over your life if you decide on your criterion by yourself.

Mother nature has given us some defense mechanisms: as in Aesop's fable, one of these is our ability to consider that the grapes we cannot (or did not) reach are sour. But an aggressively stoic prior disdain and rejection of the grapes is even more rewarding. Be aggressive; be the one to resign, if you have the guts.

It is more difficult to be a loser in a game you set up yourself.

In Black Swan terms, this means that you are exposed to the improbable only if you let it control you. You always control what you do; so make this your end.

Take a week and read this book.

Friday, November 07, 2008

:-( I didn't win

We had a cruise sweepstakes going on at work that ended Oct 31sr. They announced the winners today. The grand prize was a free 7 night Celebrity cruise with airfare and a pre hotel night for two people. Second and third prizes were gas gift cards ($500 and $250). To be eligible to win you had to have at least 10 cabins sold and for the grand prize -- to have sold at least one Celebrity cruise. I qualified for the grand prize. Only 16 of us agents qualified to win the grand prize. 424 entries for the gas cards.

I am bumming ---- I didn't win anything.

But look at the bright side --- I don't have to worry about paying taxes on my "free cruise"!

Want One!!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I Is a Collage Stoodint

It's official. I'm back in college trying to finish up the last six classes I need for a bachelor degree. If I can work out the timing, I could be done as early as May 2009. More likely, I'll stretch it a bit and finish up sometime next fall.

Then I can be a dishwasher with a BS degree. (Yea, yea; I know. I already have a degree in BS.)

Business at the cafe has been nonexistent for three days. Tuesday we expected. Yesterday and today have been just plain painful. To make things worse, we now have a full-time dishwasher. (Don't ask me why, when there wasn't enough work for three kitchen people, that we now have four. They must cover that in one of those six classes I'll be taking next year.) Hope these guys have some cash in the bank, otherwise this will be another three-month job.

Maybe I should become a stock fund manager. I could throw darts at the stock page and do as good as anyone else, and sound more intelligent, what with my BS degree and all. I know the Wall Street guys get paid a lot of money to know what's going on, but let's get real. Stocks go up: "We expected that." Stock go down: "We expected that." Yea. Sure. If you buy that, let me introduce you to my cousin Vinny, seller of Genuine Fake Watches. And the US stock markets drop $1.2 trillion dollars in two days because....


Wait for it....

Because Cisco didn't sell enough routers.

But we expected that. It's all these amateurs pushing the market around more than they should.

If anyone wants me, I'll be in my comfy recliner reading Taleb's The Black Swan.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


So it looks like we are going to do this thing. Socialism, I mean. For some reason, the average voter seems to think that a system that has never worked will work for sure this time. Who knows? Maybe it will. Given that I wash dishes for a living (and didn't vote), I probably should just shut up.

Not that there were any alternatives. McCain? I think I made my opinion of him pretty clear. Libertarian? Were they on the ballot?

Anyway, if Obama has his way, the federal government will be doing for banking, energy, and health care what they have done for NASA, who in eighteen months will be completely dependent on Russia to drag our sorry asses up to our own space station. (I realize that the real estate market is bad, but maybe we should just cut our losses and sell the place to the Chinese. We seem to have lost interest.)

And despair is still a sin.

Honestly, I don't expect to see much change for us at the macro level. For example, instead of spending hundreds a month on health care, we'll have "free" health care and hundreds more in taxes. The economy will continue to weaken, putting both of our jobs in serious jeopardy, and even if we somehow stay employed, our take home pay will continue to decline through higher taxes and inflation.

What will be different are the details: Who gets rich and who gets screwed. Really, just first part of that statement is correct. Who gets screwed will be the same people that have been getting screwed for the last half century; those who go to work every day, pay their bills on time, save money, and don't take out loans they have no intention or ability to pay back.

And despair is still a sin.

I'm going to go cheer myself up reading about black swans.

And watching the stock market "vote" on our new president.

[Update: The "vote" is in. Doesn't look good.]

Monday, November 03, 2008

Another Election Thought

Not from me. From Fred Reed. It doesn't have anything to do with McCain v. Obama:
We would do well to bear in mind the dangers of excessive military influence in national life. Professional soldiers have little in common with the rest of the country. We like to think of them as Our Boys in Uniform, the brave and the true and the patriotic, defenders of democracy, and so on. It isn’t so. The officer corps is authoritarian to the roots of its soul, has little use for democracy, and prides itself on blind obedience. Soldiers do not readily distinguish between dissent and treason. Further, they regard civil society as an unworkable anarchy of weaklings who lack the will to fight.

Something else to think about as the computer touch screen miss-registers your vote.

We watched Man of the Year last night. While the writers of that script definitely need to attend some beginner computer programming classes before they attempt to write another story featuring a "computer glitch" (for starters, no self-respecting geek would ever use the word "glitch"), I think we have a good chance of seeing some of the scenes from the movie playing out on our TV's tomorrow.

The Pre-Election Post

While you are standing in line to vote tomorrow, here's something to consider:
Optical-scan machines made by Election Systems & Software failed recent pre-election tests in a Michigan county, producing different tallies for the same ballots every time, the top election official in Oakland County revealed in a letter made public Monday.

Just remember: every vote counts. Just not for who you thought you were voting for.

More good news for Michigan: car sales continue to decline:
General Motors' October U.S. sales plunged 45 percent, and Ford's and Chrysler's weren't far behind, as low consumer confidence and tight credit combined to bring the industry's sales to an "unsustainably weak level" that is the worst in 25 years.

Anyone in Michigan remember a little town called "Flint"? Is it still there? Will it be in ten years? (Anyone seen Leetsville recently? Last time I drove down 131, someone seemed to have misplaced it.)

Two items of good news so I can wrap this up on a positive note. (And you all know that I make of point of doing that with every post....)

In a effort to reduce "wrap rage (and the 6,500 ER visits every year for "wrap related injuries")," Amazon is working with manufacturers to knock off the shoplift-proof packaging on stuff being bought over the internet. And a fungus has been found that turns wood into diesel fuel. Not that anything will come of it. Better to pour our blood and treasure into the sands of Iraq and burn food in our cars.

Now everyone remember to get out there and vote tomorrow. I won't be, but you must! Civilization is at stake! The survival of the human race! America's place in history! It all depends on YOU!

See? Positive and motivational! I should write a book.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Summing Up the Financial Crisis

Pretty much covers it.

Two Years

It's official --- two years ago today we were in Arizona.

I checked my diary -- 1Nov we crossed into Arizona and stayed the night in Flagstaff. 2Nov was our first glimpse of Arcosanti around noon. My comments from the diary are: "smaller than pictured (from website) dirtier than imagined -- yes, I know "still a construction area" -- but still! I still remember when we were slowly driving down the dirt road leading into it and our first sight, both of us looked at each other and said this is it?! where is the rest of it?

Oh well --- it was an experience -- one we can look back to and chuckle over. I was happy to meet some of the people we did while there. I'm sorry Arcosanti seems to "run out" the good people. If they had a good core of the right people there, maybe it wouldn't be so bad.

The best part of the experience was getting together with my husband again. Moved away from Michigan and family -- he is a different person. I'm glad I was stubborn and did not give up on him and write him out of my life when he moved out. Thanks again to all the support I received from family and friends during that time.

Only Four More Days

In four days, people will finally shut up. At least about McCain and Obama. But with those two out of the picture, the yapping will be much more diffused, covering all the various topics that people yap about. About the only good thing that comes from presidential elections is the stock market bounce that nearly always precedes them. Not that it will hold, but it does give everyone a break.

The good news from October is, of course, the 55% decline in oil prices. The reason for the decline isn't good news, but the resulting drop in gas prices and the easing of upward pressure on prices certainly is. Like the stock bounce, this isn't a permanent thing, but a nice break all the same.

And guess who's coming for dinner on Monday. Mr. "I wanna be Barry Goldwater" himself will be here to camp on the courthouse steps in direct imitation of the biggest fail in American politics. Good luck with that, John Boy. The bright spot is that the cafe will probably have a busy Monday. Probably. Maybe.

The walk home was grim. I passed a full block of empty retail spaces that were businesses a mere two months ago. The last one standing was liquidating their inventory today. Since we moved here, the section of our street from our apartment to downtown has had a revival of sorts with a lot of renovation and such. The cafe was just one of many such projects along a three-block stretch that had become somewhat neglected. Now it's starting to look neglected again.

And just to make sure I jump around as much as possible in this post (as well as join the campaign yappers I was just griping about), here is a positive article for you to take to the polls with you on Tuesday about how presidents and Congress simply ignore the constitution pretty much all the time. Money quote:
In virtually every generation and during virtually every presidency (Jefferson, Jackson and Cleveland are exceptions that come to mind) the popular branches of government have expanded their power. The air you breathe, the water you drink, the size of your toilet tank, the water pressure in your shower, the words you can speak under oath and in private, how your physician treats your illness, what your children study in grade school, how fast you can drive your car, and what you can drink before you drive it are all regulated by federal law. Congress has enacted over 4,000 federal crimes and written or authorized over one million pages of laws and regulations. Worse, we are expected by law to understand all of it.

But this time we all know that we stand at the crossroads of history. Because, you know, the New York Times keeps telling us that. Just like the last presidential election. And the one before that. And the one before that, and the one before that, and....

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Up, Down, All Around

Stocks crash, then jump up, crash, jump, crash, jump. At least the lower oil prices are starting to kick in. Gas dropped another $.10 a gallon in the last 24 hours and diesel is below $3.00 for the first time in a long time. That should help prices a bit. I've increased our grocery budget by 50% since the beginning of the year and we are still coming up short. There's always the 100% ramen diet if things get really tight....

And the Wall Street Journal has an article on its opinion page by one of the authors of the book The End of Prosperity. Make sure the Prozac is handy before you read it.

Today was very slow at work. I made exactly two salads in a 6 1/2 hour shift. And one was for the owner. And the other was actually a half salad. Half of the smallest and cheapest salad on the menu. Yea. I raked it in. I feel like such an asset to the organization. At least I got a couple dried out hot dogs that had been cooking on the "hamster wheel" all day. They were more like Slim Jim's than hot dogs, but they were free. Debbie has been sent home early both days this week, so things haven't picked up at her job either.


I don't worry much about us as we have a pretty good cushion. I know that isn't true for most of the people I work with. Some can barely make it from one paycheck to the next, so missing a paycheck would pretty much end them. But personally, I'm getting tired of watching my jobs fade into oblivion.

Ah well. I'm going to cheer myself up by reading about cadavers.

Monday, October 27, 2008

"We're Here! We're Here!! We're Here!!!!"

I had a three-day weekend, so I used it to catch up on laundry, reading, and sitting on my butt. Yesterday, we made a trip out to Arcosanti. The place is a tomb. Bell sales are in the toilet, as anyone would expect. Most of the problems that were there when we left are still there or have gotten worse. Every once in a while, I get nostalgic for the foundry. These occasional visits are a good cure for that.

This week, I'm working Tuesday through Saturday so I can fill in for one of the Saturday kitchen guys that needed the day off. So, this week, it's a three-day weekend, but next week it's a one-day weekend. Ugh. Tuesday will be my first full-up paycheck, so I'll finally be able to get our budget back in order. The last couple months have been pretty much a disaster anyway with Debbie going back to Michigan and the closing on the property. Normally, I worry mostly about year-to-date numbers, but I started using a new software package in August, and I was too lazy to enter in all the previous months. That meant that everything was skewed to begin with. Then throw in a bunch of travel expenses and a 5-figure deposit and, well, yeah. And now Christmas is coming up.

Ah well.

That's pretty much it. Just wanted to give a quick "YAP!" in case anyone was trying to boil our dust speck.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Right direction

Finally gas prices went under $3/gallon here in Prescott at some places. Two days ago, it was $2.99, yesterday $2.98 and this afternoon when I came home for lunch -- it is $2.89!

Now we need the other things in life to go the right direction --- like our savings interests rates need to go up, not down. We just transfered some money this week into a 1yr CD -- interest rate at 3% since we have an account still at this bank in Michigan. Too bad our money market account keeps going down and is around 2.9%. :-(

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Gore Effect

Defined as:
The phenomenon that leads to unseasonably cold temperatures, driving rain, hail, or snow whenever Al Gore visits an area to discuss global warming. Hence, the Gore Effect.

Read more on climate cluelessness at Harvard.

Down, Down, Down Again

American markets were down yesterday, Asian markets are down today, and European markets are down so far today.

The good news is that oil is down, meaning gas, diesel, and home heating oil are also down. Seeing gas prices with a "2" in front is good.

The bad news is that the IMF says no growth for at least a year. That may be conservative. Many people like us have made large, structural changes to their lives that we aren't going to instantly reverse because gas prices came down a little. I still walk to work. Debbie still drives 3 miles each way to her job. We still live in a small apartment. We still live in a place where it is 70+ degrees in October. We're not going to run out and buy a $300,000 house just because the credit problem seems to have bottomed out. We aren't rushing back to the frozen north just because propane is a little cheaper. Debbie isn't planning on taking a job 40 miles from here just because gas prices dropped from ridiculous to merely insane. We have no plans to buy a second vehicle. We still only eat out once a month. We still get books from the library instead of buying them.

Over the last two years, we have made major changes to our lifestyle that we have no intention of abandoning now or likely ever. We can't be the only people to have done so, either by choice or necessity. That's very bad news for the companies, even whole industries, (cruise lines?) that have built their fortunes on rampant consumerism.

We all know when it's over, and the fat lady ain't even warming up back stage.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Cafe Update

I haven't mentioned the cafe in a while, so I thought I would catch everyone up to date. And yes, you know you care.

The official opening was repeatedly delayed mostly because of missing menu items. But since the menus are printed on demand each day, the manager finally took the stuff off the menu that we couldn't make and turned on the "Open" sign. With no advertising other than word-of-mouth, business increased every day last week. Today broke the streak. At 1pm, after being open for six and a half hours, we had $50 in sales. Oops. I'd be surprised if total sale broke $100.

But Mondays were always horrible at the bakery as well. Many small businesses are closed or open for reduced hours on Mondays. No one has an explanation. We are all keeping our fingers crossed that tomorrow at least brings in enough cash to cover one person's pay for the day. We also have some articles announcing the opening of the cafe in a couple weekly papers that are due out this week, and the manager is trying to arrange for some face time on a locally-produced TV show to talk up the place.

In many ways, the slow start has been very beneficial. Everyone has had a chance to settle into their jobs and work the kinks out of their work area without the pressure of crowds lined up outside trying to get in. Last week was a very-much-needed shakedown cruise for us.

So we'll see what happens. There hasn't been a worse time to start a business with high elasticity of demand in a decade, so if we survive the next six months or so, we'll probably make it. If not, maybe Debbie and I will both lose our jobs about the same time and go off on a one-year vacation someplace.