Sunday, January 31, 2010

Absolutely lazy

Today we are being totally lazy. Such a luxury! We've both worked 6 days a week for the past two weeks and again next week for both of us. We were going to go out to do some major shopping, but figured we had something to fix for dinner, so it can wait.

Saturday we had our eye doctor appointments. Ric's eyes have not changed at all; mine have, one worse than the other. I forgot about having to have my eyes dilated, so told them to skip mine this time and do Ric's since he is diabetic and needed it more than I did. So, he got to walk around after we were done with the spiffy fake sunglasses. (Had me laughing a few times!) We were going to go shopping after work yesterday, but Ric was getting a headache trying to focus after his eyes were dilated. I ran into Hannafords and grabbed something quick for dinner, a bag a chips and some ice cream. What more could you ask for?! LOL

Lazy Sunday

We've spent the entire day so far camped on the couch under blankets watching as the outside temperature slowing creeps up from 1 degree this morning into the double digits. We need to get out at some point and buy some food so we have something beside pepperoni and popcorn to eat all next week, but neither of us is really running for the door at this point. I got a little ambition going when I first got out of bed and got all our January accounting stuff caught up, but that seems to have been a passing thing.

Nothing really stuck out while running through my usual news sites other than The One trying to run college football. My God; is there anything, anything, that Obama believes should not be under his personal control? Personally, I'm no fan of the Bowl system, but I would think the POTUS would have more important matters on his plate.

Well, that's all I have for now. I think I'll get off this internet thing and read a book. I was just looking at what I've read in 2010, and it ain't much.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Qualified Busy

Work seems busy at times, but when it's all said and done, the returns just are not adding up. The next two weeks are sort of the make-or-break point; we should be around 80% of goal by February 15. Given that we are running about half of what we should be so far, it ain't looking good. At least the loony's seem to have crawled back into whatever hole they came out of. With luck, they'll stay there (yea, right...).

Signs of the times: we have more door and phone traffic asking about work than asking about getting taxes done. And this is in an area with relatively low unemployment. I feel bad, but all I can offer until things pick up is a job standing on the side of the road waving at traffic.

We don't seem to have time for much else other than work and/or juggling one car trying to get ourselves back and forth to work. It is likely to stay that way until February 15th when my hours will be going down a bit, and even then it will be somewhat hectic. Not like we really want to do anything other than sit in apartment anyway. This week went from 50 degrees and monsoons to blizzard conditions on Thursday, changing to bitter cold (current temp is 1) and crazy wind. All in all, may as well be working all the time.

I stumbled across an interesting essay titled The Coming of the Fourth American Republic. I'll admit that I started reading it expecting some kooky bit about a coming civil war in the US like a lot of those nutty blogger write [looks off into the middle distance whistling to himself]. But instead it was a fairly reasoned piece on the sort of natural cycles that seem to govern everything from families to international politics and ends on a fairly optimistic note. But then I read this week's Archdruid Report on the passivity and the culture of victimology that has taken over and wonder if there is any reason for optimism after all.

Something random about Flint, Michigan where both of us were born:
There's something missing on the state's new "Pure Michigan Living" Web site — the entire greater Flint area.

State officials say that won't always be the case but, for now at least, visitors to the site won't get a chance to read about Genesee County or its assets.

Um, maybe that's because there aren't any? Unless you consider empty houses and boarded up businesses to be "assets."

Anyone that uses Facebook will appreciate How to Suck at Facebook. I really have nothing to add.

NASA has given up on getting Spirit unstuck and is now focusing on how to keep it alive through the coming winter. At least it got stuck in an interesting area so it can spend the rest of its life as a stationary science platform. Meanwhile, Opportunity is still chugging along.

Experts see another dip in the economy. The current blip is an opportunity to put yourself into a defensive position, not to go on a spending spree.

And that's all I have time for. Gotta run.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Something to Skim

I haven't looked outside lately, but I'd swear it was a full moon yesterday. I'd barely gotten my butt in my chair when my phone rang and I was treated to some crazy lady screaming loud enough the client on the other side of my desk could hear her. She was mad about how much she paid to have her taxes done. Last year. My response: "So does that mean you haven't done this year's taxes yet? Would you like to make an appointment?" I never knew you could slam down a cell phone, but she managed. Another happy customer.

Couple hours after that, Loony Tune #2 calls because one of our guys tagged his car with a flier. Now to me, this isn't the greatest form of advertising, and I find it mildly annoying. But we are talking about a literal 4" square Post-it note stuck on the driver's side window. I'm always amused at the people who can't just toss the thing, but have to take the time to call and bitch about how much they "don't appreciate this." Seriously? You have so much time on your hands you don't have anything better to do? Well, this guy must have really had a lot of spare time, because he kept repeating himself, probably because he wasn't getting the reaction he wanted. Some assholes don't consider a day complete unless they get into a screaming match over something completely trivial. Then he pulls out his ace: he's going to call the police, because he is absolutely sure there is a law and I better start shaking in my shoes. (Aside: I have absolutely nothing to do with marketing other than taking verbal abuse on the phone from assholes.) I asked him if he wasn't going to use the coupon on our flier if he would mind passing it along to the cops when they got there and tell them any safety officer (cop, fireman, EMS) gets half off. Once again, a slamming cell phone. I really need to figure out how people do that.

So I go into the main office later in the evening to take care of some issues there and I notice everyone is a little tense, which is odd because one thing that is a priority is to try to keep things light. Dealing with taxes is bad enough without clients having to come into an office that has all the cheer of a funeral parlor. Well, it seems they had their own Loony Tune yelling, slamming doors, threatening to call a lawyer, the local paper, blah, blah, blah. You see, his Refund Anticipation Loan didn't go through because he owes money to the IRS. So of course, it's all our fault because we did his taxes wrong. I'm guessing he owes his drug supplier and needed the money in 24 hours rather than the week it's going to take now.

Anyway, the fun rolls on.

In weather related news, we dodged a huge bullet on Monday. It rained hard all day long; monsoon-type rain, only it lasted for nearly 24 hours. There was water everywhere when I drove home from work. All I kept thinking was, "What if this had been snow?" But it stayed warm, getting into the 50's at one point. Lucky dog, lucky dog; I'm a lucky dog.

Anyway, I have to get ready for another exciting day of watching while people who consider themselves adults act like a six-year-old that has been told, "No more cookies!" So I'll just leave you with a couple cool science-type tidbits:

Bigelow is moving forward with plans to launch a full-sized inflatable space habitat. He has already launched two small-scale versions to test out the concept. This one will be big enough to be usable by people.

And the military continues to refine a human exoskeleton. Seriously cool.

Well, gotta go.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

No need to skim

Happy Sunday to All!

We had a nice quiet Sunday ... it got up to almost 40 today. We never left the apartment though. Instead of walking across the street for more bread, we decided to use the crust and two regular pieces of bread and make a sandwich for each of us . We just opened our last package of Koegel bologna. Luckily we still have 3 packages of Koegel hot dogs left! I doubt they will last until we get back to Michigan in August. If anyone wants to come visit us before we go back for the Wiklanski reunion, BRING KOEGEL stuff!!!!

Short and sweet -- no need to skim like with "somebody's" long rambling posts!

Day Off

The official schedule is up and it looks like I'll have Sunday's off through the big push over the next few weeks. I had expected 7-day weeks, but it looks like we have enough bodies to make that unnecessary. Yesterday morning was crazy-busy, then everything just died. That seems to be the pattern; one rush lasting a couple hours, then everything just stops. Which is good, because there is substantial back-office stuff that has to happen, and it gives us time to keep working on figuring out the software, especially all the little quirks with the state forms. The problem is that we are no where near goal, not that goal was ever that reality-based to begin with. Ah well, probably a one-off job anyway.

And just because I love doing taxes so much, I need to start working on our taxes, which will be a mess this year. Nothing like spending what little free time I have doing what I do all day. Not that we actually have any of our forms; other than one interest statement and Debbie's unemployment, we haven't received anything. A lot of people I talk to at work are in the same boat, waiting on W-2's that normally come out the first week or so of January. I'll probably start plugging numbers into the forms this weekend to get a rough idea of where we stand, then wait to actually file until late in February.

And because I'm freakishly ADD, I just stopped typing this, jumped on the internet, grabbed some tax software and plugged in all our 2009 numbers. Not too bad; Uncle Sugar is giving us more money than we paid in by a fair amount. I guess that giant sucking sound you hear is us firmly latched onto the federal teat.

Anyway, other than doing taxes on my one day off this week from doing taxes, we don't have much planned other than a possible walk across the street to the grocery store for bread and snacks. We've both been cleaning out the file cabinet and I'm probably going to start cleaning up the Drobo in preparation for my month-late annual backup and soon as I'm done messing around with this.

Yahoo News had an article this morning about just how bad people are at choosing passwords. Towards the end of the article, they have a couple tips, but it's really not a complete plan for managing personal passwords. But before getting into what we do here, there is one thing that needs to be cleared up. Anyone who has worked someplace "knows" that it is a cardinal sin to ever write down your password. In fact, most places have made doing so a firing offense. And in a work environment where your work space is open to anyone from coworkers to people from other companies to the night janitor, having a password on a sticky note somewhere in your cubicle is a problem. But the home environment is very different. First, if someone breaks into your home and rifles through everything, you have bigger problems than a stranger logging into your Facebook account and posting insulting messages. If someone has your passport, bank statements, birth certificate, social security card, etc., they pretty much own you. Second, in a work environment, you might have two or three passwords at most. I just counted up ours and we have nearly fifty user ID/password combinations, and we create and/or discover more every day. The only way to remember all of them without writing them down would be to make them all the same. This is what many people do, but there is a big problem with this as well. Your bank may put a great deal of effort at securing your login information from outsiders, but what good does that do if you use the same user ID/password at Bob's Website? Or worse, a web site designed for the sole purpose of harvesting user ID/password combinations? All that to say this: you will need to write stuff down. Not on sticky notes tacked to your monitor or a sheet of paper taped to the wall. And don't Don't DO NOT record them in a Word document on your PC. Think old school; a pen and a spiral-bound notebook of some sort. Keep the notebook someplace out of plain sight, but not hidden so well you forget where it is.

With that out of the way, here is what I do. I write down everything I need to get into a site; user ID, password, answers to security questions, or anything else. My brain filled up a long time ago and there simply is no room left. Also, I've mentally divided the websites that require a login into three categories; secure, semi-secure and don't-care. Secure sites are things like on-line banking, credit card sites, that sort of thing. Semi-secure is mostly places that involve purchases and have credit card information. The don't-care's are things like Facebook or Hulu. (Seriously, I can save you the trouble of guessing my password and tell you what I watch on Hulu if you really care.) Don't-care sites have the same password (but not all the same user ID; more on that in a second), semi-secure sites all have the same password that is different than the don't-care one, and secure sites each have their own unique password. So far, that seems to work and strikes a balance between security and convenience. Unless it's been a while since I've visited a site, I don't need to consult the password notebook to log in for routine web tasks, only when I'm getting into a bank or credit card site. YMMV.

Getting back to the article I linked to, picking a password is a bit of an art. Obviously, you should avoid those listed in the article, like 12345 and 123abc. Also avoid using the name of your spouse, kids, parents, friends, significant other, pets, etc. Most articles on passwords tell you to not use words in the dictionary, but I somewhat disagree. My don't-care and semi-secure passwords are nonsense combinations of words with some numbers and/or special characters tossed in. For example, I would consider "squaredance" to be a poor choice, but "unbeliefjupiter" would be good. Toss in some unusual capitalization and/or numbers (unBelif57jupiTer) and you have a fairly strong password that's going to be hard to guess or even brute-force hack. This system also allows fairly long passwords that can still be memorized after using them a few times. But my secure passwords are completely random sequences at least 10 characters long and made up of upper- and lower-case letters and numbers that I get from Perfect Passwords, with a different password (and even different length of password) for every site. I make no attempt to memorize these. Maybe 20 years ago, but no way now.

And in case anyone is still awake, a few words about user ID's. Most web sites now require you to use a valid e-mail address as a user ID. I understand why they do this, but it does make things slightly easier for the bad guys by making your user ID a gimme. Fortunately, all the sites on my secure list do not do this so I can use something other than the user ID I use other places. I would recommend this whenever possible. I even have a couple different e-mail accounts so there is some variation in user ID's even on don't-care sites.

One last thing before I move on to other topics; those pesky security passwords questions. On don't-care sites, I use real information. On other sites, I fudge the truth somewhat in terms of my birth city or mother's maiden name. Remember, all these things are part of the public record if you know where to look, and increasingly, they can be found online by simply googleing someones name.

Alright. Done with that. Wakey-wake.

In other computer security news, the recent attacks by the Chinese government against Google made use of back-doors the federal government forced Google to write into their code to enable them to comply with search warrants. Yea, no one saw that one coming.

The new year is starting off a lot like the old one ended in terms of bank closures:
Regulators shut down banks Friday in Florida, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington, bringing to nine the number of bank failures so far in 2010, following 140 closures last year in the toughest economic environment since the Great Depression.

I don't expect 2010 to be much better in this respect than 2009.

And to round things off with some climate non-news, the IPCC is a political organization masquerading as a scientific one. I'm sure we are all picking ourselves off the floor with that revelation.

Well, Debbie is sitting here next to me with her glasses on, a bowl of popcorn in her lap, and a glass of lemonade next to her. I guess that means it's time for me to wrap this thing and watch a movie or something.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Getting Busier (and Crazier)

Lots of traffic in the office, but mostly tire-kickers and people looking for jobs. (Side note: if you think you may be interested in being a tax preparer, the time to inquire is before tax season begins.) The walk-out rate seems to be increasing faster the the filing rate, which given that most people had it as bad or worse than we did in 2009 makes sense. Money is tight for most everyone. At least anyone likely to come to our office to get taxes done. I'm heading in today, even though I wasn't originally scheduled to be there. I'm hoping to just play receptionist/traffic cop and let my other person get some practice doing returns. I may have to jump in if we get a lot of walk-in's, but that hasn't been happening much. Yet. I'm sure the tsunami will hit next week and the first couple weeks in February when everyone has their w-2's in hand. Are we having fun yet?

Our former home town is getting washed away. Many of the people we know who own businesses are getting hit hard either by flood damage or just a complete lack of business. Our former apartment building was built into a steep slope which makes me wonder how we would be fairing right now if we had been able to stay.

There is a lot in climate news, but it still boils down to the same thing: are we willing to destroy the world economy trying to prevent something that may or may not even be happening, or, if it is happening, is the result of natural processes over which we have no control? Given the enormous costs, would it not be prudent to spend a fraction of a percent of that in order to reduce the uncertainties? Of course none of this addresses the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) problem. People don't want wind farms, biomass facilities, or any other green technology anywhere near their homes, and with good reason; they are either loud, ugly, smelly or some combination of the above. Which makes the promise that the US will ever generate 20% of its electricity with wind generators seem a little reality-challenged.

Gotta go make the donuts.

From the Trenches

Via Chaos Manor:
Report: Boots Back Home: Haiti, piece by piece...

Jerry, FYI.

---- To my family, friends and friends of friends -

First of all, I am humbled by the outpouring of support that Carla and I have received since last Friday when I received the offer to jump on a medical supply plane to fly to Haiti.

The details of our journey would challenge even the most interested of you to endure, so I won't belabor that. I would like to distill my experience down as best I can and share what I've learned from my time on the ground among the Haitian folks I was blessed to encounter.

The Haitians are an amazing culture. I found them friendly, patient, appreciative and incredibly resilient. They are, for a variety of reasons, thoroughly impoverished, and most in the country lack what we would consider even the most basic of daily needs. The average per capita income is $300.

Per year.

The damage resulting from last week's earthquake is devastating. As I watched CNN coverage this afternoon, and replayed the events of the last few days in my head, I can assure you that the images are every bit as tragic as they seem. The damage is beyond belief. The suffering is palpable. The smells are real. But the people are not broken in spirit.

One Haitian told me that his advice to those around him is "patience". He said they have a saying in Haiti, "Piz a piz" (phonetically) which translates to "piece by piece".

There are amazing missionaries representing Christ throughout the country. Most of the guys and girls I met are pouring their energy into the children, either through childrens' homes, orphanages or support centers. Two in Jacmel I would direct your support to are "Hands and Feet" and "Joy in Hope". I've rarely seen people "walk the walk" like these people. They are changing lives every day.

We also had the opportunity to interact with various military personnel on a daily basis.

We joined with a Canadian expeditionary force on Monday in Jacmel to assess the injured people in that town. Jacmel was cut off from any possible ground support from Port au Prince (as if there was any to share, right?), though greatly effected by the quake as well. The Canadians have chosen to direct their efforts into that town, and should have a field hospital up and running by Friday. They will ease the suffering quickly when that is done. They were very professional and clearly motivated to help.

After we arrived at the airfield in Port au Prince, we connected with the US military medical personnel as well. These guys are working hard and doing great work. We also met several other civilian orthopedic surgeons and medical personnel that were trying to get more supplies flown in. The docs in the local hospitals had lots of patients, but few beds and were either out of medical supplies or medications.

The way Port au Prince is currently managed, the UN has responsibility for the city and the US military has control over the airspace and the airfield and is managing the huge amounts of material being brought in for distribution. This is an air field that typically sees 5-15 flights a day. It is a single runway. They are now coordinating up to 280 flights a day! Every incoming flight has a specific time slot assigned. It is not negotiable. Every flight and its contribution is carefully and specifically assessed with regard to its need and time/space available.

I have chosen to address this specifically, because reports through the media have - either out of frustration or the need for even higher drama - continued to highlight the lack of supplies, portraying it as some sort of dereliction. I spoke with a Major in charge of assigning flight slots about this specifically, since I had been in contact directly with a major orthopedic trauma supplier that was having trouble getting to the island.

What we all need to understand is that the one airstrip that is available must supply 2 million people a day with food and water. The number of flights necessary to make that happen is enormous, maybe more than they can handle. So they are always playing catch-up just supplying the necessities. Add to that the influx of military personnel, both US and UN, and you have a logistical nightmare. If they are able to restore the port to a usable state, the supply side of the equation will quickly be solved.

In the meantime, decisions have to be made with regard to what is essential at that time, based on best information, and I'm personally glad that someone else is making those incredibly hard decisions. They care, deeply, about what they are doing, and they are doing their best. I've never met a finer, more dedicated group of young men and women in my life, and I am proud of what they are doing in this crisis in the name of our country.

Medically, all around Haiti, the problem appears purely logistical as well. Every health care provider I spoke with said the same thing: the problem is not personnel. Doctors, nurses and the rest are in the country and ready and willing to work. There are no facilities that anyone could identify that needed more help at this time. Remember, mounting injuries do not necessarily equate to an increased need for providers. The rate-limiting step in this arena is access; access to facilities, beds, OR's and supplies.

As an illustration, The Methodist Hospital has 900 beds; Ben Taub, 650. There are 30 "hospitals" in the entire Port au Prince metropolitan area on a good day. Three have over 100 beds. Total beds, all institutions, 3.5 million people: around 1600. And that was before the earthquake.

There are an estimated 250,000 injured to a variable degree.

Do the math.

They need more beds and more supplies (from a medical perspective) more than anything, regardless of what Anderson Cooper tells you. It broke my heart when messages starting pouring in about how "doctors were desperately needed" in Port au Prince, according to the media. I knew that surgeons all over the country would be thinking about doing what we did - jumping the first flight to Haiti to try and ease the need.

What they need are more hospital beds and OR's, and that is exactly what is happening day by day. The arrival of the USNS Comfort today adds 1000 patient beds, 80 intensive care unit beds, 950 naval hospital staff and 12 operating rooms.

So what do YOU do?

My family will be praying - for the broken folks, for the hungry, for the thirsty, for our soldiers, for the pilots and drivers, for the medical staff. They need wisdom, discernment, faith, safety, protection, hope, courage and patience.

My family will be giving - to the orphanages, to the suppliers (like World Food Program), to the Red Cross, to anyone else that I think needs it more than we do.

My family will be planning - on how we can contribute with our "hands and feet", walking the walk, as it were. I want to go back soon. I will plan better next time. I will connect with an organization that can best direct my skills, perhaps to a facility where the staff needs a break or a respite of sorts. And I want to take my family to Jacmel, to meet these folks that have given their lives to love children that no one else would love.

I'll close saying thanks again for your prayers for me and my family. I felt every one. Through God, they gave me the courage to do things that were beyond what I could do alone.

Let's not waste this earthquake. Let's be both persistent and patient. Let's make life better for these wonderful people in the end and show them more of what the love of our Saviour looks like.



When you hear talking heads criticizing the US role in Haiti, ignore it. The media is populated by attention whores who think the rest of the world wants to listen to them whine.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Busy (Sorta)

Good traffic in the office this morning; I even managed to eek out the daily goal (still way behind on cumulative). I also had a chance to try my hand at the various ways people can get a refund these days, which I had not been able to do up to this point. Things seems to be clicking along, although not as quickly as the boss man anticipated. We're also getting schedules hammered out and Debbie and I are trying to figure out how to share a car while working in two different states. The answer, unfortunately, is that for a couple weeks, one of us is going to be doing a lot of "hanging around." Still beats owning two cars, and it's only for a couple weeks in February, then the last week of tax season in April. Then we'll be back to one income until I can land the next gig.

Our warm spell continues with temps well above freezing most of the day, and a lot more sun than we ever saw in Michigan during January. I'm sure it won't last and we'll get dumped on with 100 feet of snow and -20 temps and 60 mph winds at some point in the next 60 days or so. Then driving all over creation will get veeeery interesting.

Remember the Simpson's episode where Homer finds his long-lost brother (voiced by Danny DiVito) who owns a car company and lets Homer design the ultimate car? And it's so bad that his brother's car company instantly goes bankrupt as soon as the car is shown in public? Well, for some odd reason, Mountain Dew's crowd-sourced product development scheme instantly reminded me of that episode.

One good thing about all the cap-and-trade nonsense is that the longer we delay doing it, the greater our competitive advantage vis-a-vis nations who voluntarily kneecap themselves economically. Go France! The best part is the economic illiteracy front and center:
Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said he would propose plans to preserve most of the earlier bill, vowing not to hit families and key sectors hard, while seeking an agreement on how to tax heavy industry by July.

Simple Econ101 fact: you cannot "tax heavy industry" and not "hit families." Who do you think buys the products that "heavy industry" makes? French and a putz. One wonders where poor Jean-Louis finds the will to live.

Now Obama wants to nationalize student loans because the greedy banks make too much money and Obama is all jealous and wants the federal government to make all that money instead. And we all know it will work because of the glowing record the federal government has in running train service, health care for the elderly, education, the space program, or any of the thousands of other things it does. Badly. But this time will be different; it will work for sure! But just in case, lets raise the debt ceiling another couple trillion.

People used to think that a person's true character was revealed by the company he kept. I hope no one does that anymore.

And just to round things out before I totter off to bed, John Greer has some interesting thoughts on community and fraternal societies.

Good night.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Quiet Hump Day

Things have been pretty quiet at the office the last couple days. Not much door traffic or phone calls other than people looking for a job. If we don't get some returns through the system, no one is going to be working there. Maybe it will pick up closer to the end of the month, but I still think the original goal is horribly over-optimistic.

We got a care package yesterday from Michigan. It had Thin Mints in it!!! They've been in the freezer for about 24 hours. Anybody want to guess what's for dessert tonight?!??! Woohoo!!! Thanks Mom!

And that was probably the most exciting thing that has happened in the last week.

And likely the most exciting thing that will happen for the next week as well.

Speaking of excitement, a Republican won the Senate's "Kennedy Seat." This may be the beginning of the best of all possible worlds; a Republican-controlled Congress and a Democratic president. In my lifetime, we've always seemed to do better with a divided government. We would be hard pressed to do worse than we have in the last year.

Once again, Star Trek replicators they ain't, but now HP is getting into 3D printing. I expect these will now follow the same price trajectory that laser printers did. The first desktop unit I ever used was built by Xerox; in the mid-1980's it cost $5,000, printed 3 pages per minute at 300 dpi, and required two people to carry. Debbie and I just bought a laser printer a month or so ago that cost $50, prints 23 pages per minute at 1200 dpi, and can be carried under my arm. I can think of all kinds of fun I could have with one of these. Keep this printer in mind while you watch this:

Good night, internet. I think I'm going to turn in early.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Got into a bit of a groove yesterday; did a couple returns, talked to a dozen or so people on the phone, another dozen or so walk-in's. Still nowhere near hitting the numbers that I'm supposed to be hitting, but I have a feeling that those were over-optimistic by a factor of five or six. For one thing, the little strip mall we're located in doesn't seem to have much traffic. Combine that with a new location in a state where there is only one other office about 100 miles away, and it's going to take a while to build up. The work itself is easy; the knowledge required to do the federal taxes is pretty minimal given that almost all of them are just a w-2. The killer is the state returns. It takes twice as long to deal with those as it takes to complete the federal return. Worse, because states out here are the size of counties, most people have to file multiple state returns. I'm sure once I do it a few dozen times, it won't be a big deal, but right now it's a bit of a pain.

It begins already. Less than a week into the massive rescue operation in Haiti, people are already bitchin' that we're not doing enough even as we do more than anyone else, and that we are using a natural disaster to build an empire. (Side note to Mr. Chavez: If we were going to build an empire, we would take over someplace that has something we want, not a place where people are reduced to eating dirt in an attempt to stay alive. Someplace that has... well... lets say oil. Like Venezuela, to pick a completely random example.) Some things will never change.

It is simple human nature to emphasis whatever confirms your beliefs while ignoring what doesn't. It's how the brain is wired. Millions of blogs (including this one) prove that every day. Scientists, including climatologists, are no different, which is why there are mechanisms in place to counter that affirmation bias. This is what makes the habit in climate circles of hiding raw data behind copyrights, claiming patent infringement when someone reveals a bug in your computer model, and threatening the livelihood of anyone who dares disagree so damaging. Leaving aside the question of whether there is warming or not, or whether it is man-made or natural. The unethical conduct of those at the center of the global warming apocalypse movement is bad not just for climate science, but all science, giving ammunition to the real nutters out there like the anti-vaxxers who do real damage in the form of dead children.

All that to say this: once again, the IPCC has been caught red-handed stating facts that in fact, are not. Mark Twain is rumored to have said that it's not what you don't know, it's what you know that ain't so. The IPCC knew that the Himalayan glaciers were going to disappear, all because one guy made an off-hand speculative comment on the phone. At yet anyone who expresses the least doubt about anything emanating from the IPCC is a denier worthy of death.

Speaking of bad science, here are a few points to ponder for those who believe that solar and wind power are completely benign and have no environmental impact whatsoever. There are no magic wands. Silver bullets are just an expensive substitute for lead ones. Utopia is not an option. I'm not sure how else to get the point across: If you like living the modern lifestyle; if you like having effortless clean water, flush toilets, safe, cheap and abundant food; if you've become attached to this internet thing; if you enjoy birthing your babies in a clean hospital assisted by knowledgeable people instead of pushing the little tyke out while squatting over a dirt floor; [insert rest of endless list here]. Guess what? They all depend on energy, and that energy has to come from somewhere, and no matter how you do it, there is going to be a cost paid by someone, somewhere, sometime. It's about trade-offs and compromises, not ideology.

And the Security Kabuki Theater continues at our airports. One confused old dude wanders through an unlocked door that leads into a high-security area, and one of the largest airports in the nation is thrown into chaos. Remind me again how this helps us win against the terrorists?

That's all for now; time to get ready for work.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Day Two

I went into the office so I could sit and do nothing for four hours or so. Not bad work if you can get it, I suppose, but the office is already behind goal on the number of returns completed and it's two days into tax season. Not looking good for the end-of-season bonus. At least I was able to finally get my hands on the tax booklet for Vermont before I needed to actually do a Vermont tax return. There are a number of weird quirks and it doesn't look like the tax software handles most of them. I need to poke around the software Monday; I'm really hoping I'm not going to end up filling out forms by hand.

Not much else going on, as usual. We both have tomorrow off, so we are planning to go out and about with the camera and such while the weather is good. It's been up in the 40's and sunny the last couple days and it's supposed to last until Sunday evening. Yea, right. At least it's a chance to get out of the house for a couple hours.

And I really thought Castle was on NBC. Huh. Nice to know that Zucker can auger NBC right into the ground and the effect on me personally will be zero.

I also did some link cleaning today. Some were blogs I was just trying on for size, others had fallen into disuse when the author discovered Twitter and/or Facebook, some had died, some I just lost interest in. It was mostly a time management thing. If it feels like a chore or an obligation to simply click a link, then it probably shouldn't be taking up real estate in my sidebar.

Here's a little thought experiment: You're in a tight political race for what some think is a critical seat in the Senate. You're scrambling for every vote you can get. Would you say something stupid and pointless that would piss off around a third of the people who would have otherwise voted for you? No? Then you're probably too smart to be a US Senator.

There is nothing a bureaucrat hates more than a group of people who think to themselves, "You know, we're all adults here and can manage our own affairs, thank you very much." It's amazing anyone can make it through a day with utopian thinking like that. But never fear, the FCC is here! Ye flippin' gods.

It's official; our government is no longer about governance and is purely a spoils system for those in power and those who put them there. This cannot possibly end well. Read history. Oh, sorry; I forgot that history was done away with to make room for fisting lessons.

There are a great many things that the US is not good at. Some of those are things we shouldn't be good at, like empire, but we try our hand at them anyway. Some of those are things we used to be good at and seem to have forgotten how to do. But Haiti will once again demonstrate one thing that we are unparalleled at: compassion. We were the first on the ground, we have taken responsibility, we will be blamed for every failure, we will get zero credit even as our technology and expertise saves thousands or tens of thousands from death by famine and disease, and we will still be there years from now when the rest of the world has forgotten all about Haiti.

The rumbly in my tumbly tells me it must be dinner time.

Friday, January 15, 2010

First Real Day

Today was my first day as the king of my domain. And what a domain it was; no employees and not a single client in 7 hours. Woohoo! This little enterprise is off to a booming start on the first official day of tax season. But it did give me time to get the place cleaned up and organized, as well as a bit more time for me to get to the point where I can at least pretend I know what I'm doing. I'm going in again tomorrow for another day of being the king of nothing for five or six hours. I have Sunday off, then Monday it will be me and not one, not two, but three employees!

Anyway, with all this going on and sharing a single vehicle, we have done next to nothing all week other than getting to and from where we need to be, eating dinner and sleeping. The weather is supposed to be nice Sunday, so we may get out of the apartment. Or we may just sit on the couch and stare at the wall. Or maybe a little of both.

NBC's Zucker seems intent on dousing his career in gasoline and setting it on fire. Understand that we haven't made a habit of watching the networks for many years (other than a brief bit this summer). We watch some shows on Hulu and such, but mostly ones that have been off the air for years or even decades. (And may I say that most 70's TV shows really don't age well; I can't believe I used to schedule my entire life around that crap.) So I'm probably the last person to ask what's hot and what's not. But NBC just seems to suck and get more and bigger suckage delivered every morning. I never liked Leno on the Tonight Show, and liked him less on his new show. I've never understood the appeal of Conan and never found him funny enough to be worth the effort. I've only seen Fallon a couple times and was likely in an "altered state" both times, but he reminds me of a lobotomized Jerry Lewis. I can't name a single prime time NBC anything other than Castle, and that's only because of the Firefly connection. And Molly Quinn. Duh.

So with that as a painfully long setup worthy of an NBC sitcom, here is my plan to save NBC: kill the Leno show and replace it with Law and Order reruns, thereby doubling the ratings in your 10pm slot and getting the affiliates to holster the pitchforks and torches. Fire Leno, Conan and Fallon and just pay them whatever it costs to make them go far, far away. Troll a couple comedy clubs for a baker's dozen of completely unheard-of comedians. This will save you millions as these guys would work for a year for what you pay Leno per day. Rotate them through the Tonight Show and whittle them down to five so you have a different face for every day of the week. Then from the end of the Tonight Show until whatever time your morning crap starts up, fill in with Laverne and Shirley, Twilight Zone, or whatever you can dig up that's cheap. No need to worry overly-much about quality; anything is better than what you have. A test pattern is better than what you have. You're welcome.

Federal government meeting on transparency in government is closed to the press. It's not even fun when these ass-clown moral defectives make it that easy.

I have to do some serious self-reexamination when I find myself agreeing with the likes of Pat Buchanan, but I guess even a blind hog can find the occasional acorn.

Speaking of blind hogs (only these blind hogs couldn't find their snout with both hooves and a braille map), retail sales "unexpectedly" fell in December. November sales were up a bit due to Black Friday sales starting several weeks before Black Friday, then December dropped back in line with the year-long decline. How unexpected. Holy crap on a stick; whatever happened to stoning? I mean it's not like 2009 was a record year for foreclosures or anything. The economy would be fine if the scaremongers would just shut up so people would go out and spend money they don't have on crap they don't need and can use to fill up the house they lost to the bank.

Well, a bit of vegging then off to bed. Tomorrow will be here before I know it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ramping Up

The tax job is quickly ramping up. I spent over nine hours today trying to complete the sample tax problems that are supposed to be a condition of employment. Unfortunately, I spent most of the day on computer problems, handing out applications, taking in W-4's and I-9's and even doing a preliminary tax return when I happened to be the only one in the office. State tax information has yet to be loaded into the software (because Vermont decided just today what its tax forms are going to look like for the 2009 tax year), and the entire software package has major bugs including the inability to e-file for about 10% of the client base. We have about half the number of trained and certified tax preparers we need, and none of the office managers (including yours truly) have a clue what they are supposed to be doing. But I did get a key to my office, so there's that.

In other words, a typical tax season.

I told the boss man today that the best thing about tax season is that no matter how badly you screw the pooch, it's all over in 60 days and you have the rest of the year to recover. I'm not sure he saw the humor in that as much as I did.

Everyone knows that Pat Robertson is complete and utter douche nozzle. If that's all he was, then it wouldn't be quite so loathsome when says idiotic things like the recent Haitian earthquake was God's punishment for the deal Haiti made with Satan to get rid of the French. The real problem is the significant chunk of the US evangelicals who agree with him (browse the cringe-worthy comments under the video written by the True Followers of the Prince of Peace).

John Greer has another three-part (so far) series on reforms that could potentially head off the coming political collapse. In Immodest Proposals, he proposes a tax system based on resources (what Greer calls the primary economy) and on money made by money or interest, capital gains, etc. (what he calls the tertiary economy). What wouldn't be taxed is wages, rents, etc. or what he calls the secondary economy. In part two, Housebreaking Corporations, Greer proposes reforms to what I consider to be one of the biggest mistakes in history; treating corporations as legal persons who are not held to the same level of accountability as natural persons. I'm not fully convinced that Greer's proposals would accomplish that, and the potential for political mischief is high. But the current system is clearly broken and it's hard to imagine the level of political mischief in any alternate system being higher than in the current one. Finally, in The Costs of Community, Greer explores something we hear a lot about these days: building communities. Or, when someone is harrumphing about whatever Evil of the Day, the disintegration of communities. Usually via a form of media blamed in some other person's harrumph for causing that same disintegration. The entire piece will bring up painful memories for anyone who has tried and failed to get a community-based project going. Everyone wants to be a part of it and reap the benefits as long as it makes no demands of their time or effort.

In any case, it is yet-another interesting series that should get more attention than it will. And so it goes.

It's getting late and I have another long day tomorrow. I'll try to post every day or two, but if I disappear for a while, blame tax season.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Done and Done (for real)

Even though I wasn't able to pass the test that was supposed to qualify me for the store manager position, the owner was desperate enough to take a leap of faith and give the job to me anyway. I do some more training the rest of this week to learn their tax prep software and some other things, then start for real on Monday morning. Wheeee!

And for no particular reason other than to fluff up what would otherwise be a really short post (and we all know we can't have that), here are a few brickbats found in some random magazine that decided I was a good candidate for them to send a free sample of their magazine to:
Feeling down sharpens your attention and makes you less gullible. True, happiness makes you friendlier and more creative, but it does so in part by removing a layer of skepticism. In the lab, sad people took fewer mental shortcuts: They could better recall specific events, made stronger written arguments, and were less likely to believe urban myths. Sadness "promotes information processing best suited to dealing with more demanding situations," says psychologist Joseph Forgas. "Positive mood is not universally desirable."

Someone should send a quick note to Eli Lilly, et al. I don't think they nor the legion of GP's who prescribe anti-depressants to everyone that walks through their doors ever got this memo.
Positive thinking can make depressed people feel worse. In general, researchers found, repeating a phrase like, "I'm a lovable person" only lifts your mood if you have high self-esteem to begin with. People with a poor self-image find the phrase so unbelievable that it reminds them of how they really feel - not lovable - and thus makes them feel worse, says psychologist Joanne Wood. "Positive self-statements, despite their widespread endorsement, may backfire for the very people who need them the most."

So if you like having front teeth, take your Little Miss Chipper routine somewhere else. You're really not helping, unless you consider pissing us off even more than we already are as helping.
Fruit juice is just as fattening as sugary soda. Eaten whole, fruits provide vitamins and fiber, but concentrated juice contains more calories per ounce than soda and a big wallop of fructose, which the body soon converts to fat. High doses of fructose, from whatever source, raise the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, says pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig. "The upside of juice consumption is so infinitesimal compared to the downside that we shouldn't even be having this discussion."

The federal government wants to tax soda because it makes you fat. So why are they not taxing fruit juice? Can anyone say "moral defectives"?
Multitasking is a waste of time. People who like to do many things at once think they're more adept at absorbing information. In fact they're worse: They have weaker memories, are more distractible, and are slower to switch to new activities, a Stanford study found. "The shocking discovery of this research," say communications researcher Clifford Nass, is that high-multitaskers "are lousy at everything that's necessary for multitasking."

Which explains a great deal from why our schools suck to why the average office drone accomplishes nothing other than converting Cheetos and oxygen into carbon dioxide and flatulence.

That was all I had. Enjoy the rest of your evening.

An Expected Fail

I wasn't able to guess good enough on the fifth test yesterday to get the required 80% to be considered for a management position. But I did land an interview later today with the owner, so I guess it wasn't all bad. When I talk to him today, I'm going to try to score the class materials that are covered by the test so I can skim through and make another stab at the test (they give you four chances). There isn't much time; the offices are officially open on Friday, so if something is going to happen, it needs to happen fast.

I also have an interview tomorrow with another office temp/placement company all the way over in Manchester (about a ninety-minute drive each way). They have a number of openings in the Keene area, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to be rather busy between now and April 15th. But I'll need something to do after that, so this may still work out. I'll know more by tomorrow afternoon what the next six months or so are going to hold.

One thing that seems rather certain at this point: New Hampshire is going to be a short-term place. We pretty much decided yesterday that we will begin to actively work on getting out of New England in the fall. The biggest problem is that everything here just costs too much money; rent (50% more than Arizona) utilities (electricity is nearly double Arizona), food, everything. There are two likely causes from what we know so far; transportation infrastructure is about 50 years behind any other place we've been in the US, and the tax structure seems intentionally designed to kill everyone. Plus, we just feel like we get nickle-and-dimed at every turn. The latest occasion was when I tried to get a library card and found out that to get one for the library in Keene, I would have to pay $50/year for a "non-resident" card. There are a couple libraries here in Swanzey that would be free (at least I think they would be; I haven't bothered to ask), but I own more books than both of them combined, so what's the point? Bottom line: we'll likely hunker here for another 9 or 10 months, then try to get to Florida again.

Anyway. Enough of that.

Here's a thought experiment: where would technology, especially home entertainment, be without the porn industry? From 8mm stag films to VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray (one big nail in the coffin of HD DVD was when the porn industry went with Blu-Ray) to streaming video and now consumer-grade 3-D. Is there any technology that was not driven, at least in part, by geeky guys wanting to see naked chicks? Example: How much faster were display resolution and color depth increased on PC's because people wanted the boobies in Leisure Suit Larry to look more realistic?

A group of scientists is predicting a mini ice age that will last for the next two or three decades. I'm not sure what makes their climate models any more reliable than those that show the entire globe spontaneously igniting in 2050, but it does show the sensitivity of the models to the assumptions and inputs, and the uncertainty of those inputs; uncertainty that swamps the magnitude of the change in either direction predicted by the models. But no matter; I'm sure it's just a matter of hours before the machinery kicks in and this whole lot of "deniers" is fired, their data and models buried out of reach of any Freedom of Information request, lawsuits filed to shut them up; whatever it takes to maintain the "consensus." I don't know much, but I do know that I fear ice more than I fear warm.

In case nobody noticed, gas prices are edging back up towards $3/gallon. We hadn't noticed because we only need to get gas every two or three weeks. We sure noticed this morning. Ouch. A lot of the increase is probably seasonal, but added on top of everything else, it's still painful.

If you feel like your life still sucks while the Masters of the Universe that blew everything up are riding high, you're not alone:
The labour force contracted by 661,000. This did not show up in the headline jobless rate because so many Americans dropped out of the system. The broad U6 category of unemployment rose to 17.3pc. That is the one that matters.

Wall Street rallied. Bulls hope that weak jobs data will postpone monetary tightening: a silver lining in every catastrophe, or perhaps a further exhibit of market infantilism

...Realtytrac says defaults and repossessions have been running at over 300,000 a month since February. One million American families lost their homes in the fourth quarter. Moody's expects another 2.4m homes to go this year. Taken together, this looks awfully like Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath.

Granted, this is the Telegraph, so a bit of hyperbole is expected. (Steinbeck? Really?) But that doesn't change the reality. We are not in a short dip and everything will be flying high again by summer. There has been a fundamental shift in psychology and expectations. Anyone who assumes that everyone will run out and start racking up the credit cards at the mall and taking out a third mortgage on the family home to fund a Caribbean cruise is delusional. Even if he happens to be the president.

To end on a lighter note, check out a list of the best of the worst in the legal world for 2009 at Lowering the Bar. The poke at the TSA is definitely worth your time.

And I need to get ready for the Big Interview of 2009 2010.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Video Posts

Because I'm sure that everyone gets sick of me, I figured I'd let a couple other people do the talking. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Done and Done (or not...)

I thought I was done with taxes and tests around 11am this morning when I finished the third on-line test. Then a link to a fourth test showed up in my inbox. Took that test and passed it even though it was at least 90% stuff that was not covered in the class, and neither the class instructor nor the franchise owner said anything about a fourth test. After taking a little break from sitting on the couch to hang a few things on the wall, do some vacuuming, whatever. I came back and checked my e-mail and found the confirmation that I passed the fourth test and a link to a fifth test. OK; I realize I don't pay too close attention when people talk sometimes (Debbie interjected a "Hell, yea" when I typed that; a problem with blogging in the living room...), but I'm pretty sure there was nothing about five tests. Besides, I had barely squeaked by the fourth test; I really didn't relish the thought of spending three hours or so just to have to retake it.

Bottom line: I was done with test-taking until I had talked to somebody in charge and found out what was going on. I e-mailed the owner and he replied that I only needed to pass the first three; passing the fourth was cool and if I could pass the fifth, he needed a store manager about a half-hour drive from here and was I interested. Uh... OK. So tomorrow after I have some food, some Buffy the Vampire Slayer and some sleep, I'll be taking a crack at being a manager based on zero experience with the company and being 20+ years out of date on taxes. Maybe it's one of those if-you-can't-do-it-coach-it things. Anyway, that's where the whole job thing sits just now. And it's the only thing going right now. Out of the nearly 30 resumes I sent out the last week of December, I have received exactly one reply and that was simply an acknowledgment that my resume had been received and would be "considered." In other words, a polite way to tell me to go piss up a rope. So it looks like it will be taxes or nothing.

On the international front, we have yet-another Central or South American country attempting to generate prosperity by printing money (something a sophisticated world power like the United States would never do). It would be funny if not for the misery that will soon visit Venezuela. This experiment has been run countless times and the result is already known.

A little shaking on the west coast late last night. It doesn't look like there were any serious injuries or deaths, but it sounds like it made a bit of a mess with damage described as "pervasive but minor." At least this time.

And because I just can't resist, Europe is in a deep freeze. Eurostar broke down for the second time and had to be towed out of the tunnel, Ireland has the lowest temps in a half century and the oil is freezing in bus engines in Norway. Cold is a far bigger problem than warm.

And if you are the kind of person that likes to watch train wrecks, you will enjoy this excerpt from Game Change that describes in detail how Edwards imploded in the 2008 campaign.

Well, dinner is ready and the tummy is growling. Feed me, Seymour!!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Done (Sort of)

I finished up my tax class today. Either later tonight after my brain stops hurting, or tomorrow morning, I need to take the certification tests. They are on-line and self-grading, so I'll know how I did as soon as I submit each group of questions. There are three tests in all; one that takes four hours, and two others that take about an hour. Yippee. Six hours of multiple-guess testing. It's like a real boring version of the SAT's.

And a job is a job.

Actually, I think it's going to be a fun place to work, if anything that has to do with taxes can be described as "fun." And yes, I realize the training class was as much sales pitch for the company as it was training, but it seems like the guys running the show are looking for more than just data entry mules to sit in a dingy room and crank out 1040's for 16 hours a day. The only thing that is rather annoying is that they have been very tight-lipped about pay, hours, etc. I have no idea if this is full-time, part-time, minimum wage, whatever. I assume all of that comes after I pass the tests and the managers decide what to do with everybody next week. It sounds like they are not getting as many people attending these classes as they expected. I don't know if that's necessarily good, but it surely can't be bad.

Nothing else really going on with both of us working (well, Debbie working and me training) six days this week, and I don't expect us to do much tomorrow given that I have to fit in six hours of testing and catch up on a couple weeks of accounting, and Debbie has to catch up on card-making and learn how to use her new toy from Stampin' Up. (I call it a Salad Shooter; it's a hand-cranked dohickey for embossing card stock and making die-cut shapes.) Adding to the lazy-Sunday incentive, I'm still recovering from my flu and pneumonia shots; I forgot how much the pneumonia shot kicks my butt. I've slept 10 hours the last two nights (instead of my normal five to seven), which seems to have helped. I have no idea if a day of complete non-activity will fix it or not, but I intend to give it a go.

Something different from my usual rantings: 3-D printers. Now, Star Trek replicators they ain't, but these things are still pretty amazing. 3-D printers that work in plastic have been around for a while, but they were crazy-expensive. Now you can get one in kit form for the price of a PC. Working directly with metal is possible, but still involves crazy-expensive equipment. Now, Shapeways will accept a file, print out your whatchamacallit and mail it back to you. I'm sure the fees are, um, impressive, but I would guess less so than a traditional foundry doing a one-off casting. I expect this will become one of the most disruptive technologies that we have seen in a long time.

It's the time of year for the Detroit Auto Show. This year, there will be an "Electric Avenue" devoted to straight-up electric vehicles (EV's) as well as various hybrids of the traditional Prius variety, plug-in hybrids, range-extended EV's and probably a few categories that will be made up on the spot. Every one of these vehicles suffers the same shortcoming: the batteries. New battery technology, driven largely by cell phones, has over-come some of the limitations of electrical storage, such as too-short life-span and the dreaded memory effect. But batteries are still bulky, made from toxic and/or corrosive materials, and cost a lot. Really cost a lot. Like somewhere around $30K for a typical all-electric vehicle. Obviously the car companies cannot charge enough for these cars to even cover the cost of building them and expect to ever sell more than a handful. So in one of those wonderful ironies, the only way for car makers to be able to sell electric vehicles is if they can continue to sell internal combustion vehicles at a high enough profit to off-set the cost of selling EV's at a loss. The picture for hybrids is not much better; Chevrolet is struggling to keep the price of the Volt under $40,000, and a Prius will set you back at least $30K; twice what a Corolla will cost you and 50% more than a Camry. In every case, the problem is the cost of the batteries. They are expensive and the costs have not come down as production has ramped up like they were supposed to. To say nothing of the giant pink elephant of a problem: what are we going to do with millions of highly toxic and corrosive batteries when all these cars hit end-of-life, given that we don't have a handle on how to deal with dead cell phones and iPods? Everyone is looking for simple, cheap solutions to our transportation problems. Unfortunately, they don't exist. There is no, "Just do X." X is inevitably expensive, difficult, and full of trade-offs and unintended consequences, many of which will not be apparent until significant resources have been expended.

Peggy Noonan's column this week warns Democrats that health care is shaping up to be a "catastrophic victory." She also warns Republicans that victories in this year's elections could be equally catastrophic for their party. An optimist would expect both parties to get their act together and begin to act like adults. A pessimist (I would call them a realist, but we've been over that ground before) would expect political collapse (outlined in three parts here, here and here).

Unemployment went back up in December. The percentage would have been higher, but over a half million people gave up looking for work. (The actual percentage of unemployed in the US is over 17% rather than the 10% figure the MSM keep uncritically chirping.) Many of the reports state that (unnamed) persons were "surprised" by this. I'm not sure why anyone would be. Even assuming the current smattering of green shoots are the first signs of a true recovery (they're not, but that's a whole 'nother post), employment always lags in a recovery. Even the optimists are saying not to expect the labor market to improve until summer 2010 or later. The only people I can imagine being "surprised" are the ignorati in the press.

A bit of advice from a professor at Hope College in Holland, Michigan: Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go:
I still get letters from undergraduates.... They tell me about their interests and accomplishments and ask whether they should go to graduate school, somehow expecting me to encourage them. I usually write back, explaining that in this era of grade inflation (and recommendation inflation), there's an almost unlimited supply of students with perfect grades and glowing letters. Of course, some doctoral program may admit them with full financing, but that doesn't mean they are going to find work as professors when it's all over. The reality is that less than half of all doctorate holders — after nearly a decade of preparation, on average — will ever find tenure-track positions.

A Ph.D. is a lot of work and money to wind up waiting tables at Hooters or bustin' suds at Ryan's.

And because I can't resist poking the global cooling deniers with a sharp stick at every opportunity:

Midwest bracing for heavy snow, wind chills of -50.
Texas power usage sets second record in two days.

Well, I'm all done using my brain for today. I think I'll curl up under my blanket (temps are supposed to drop below zero tonight) and do some Facebooking.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A Couple Rainbow-Farting Unicorns

(giggle, snort) Just kidding!

12 Dr. Dooms that make me look like a rainbow-farting unicorn.

The Misandry Bubble at The Futurist:
The Western World has quietly become a civilization that undervalues men and overvalues women, where the state forcibly transfers resources from men to women creating various perverse incentives for otherwise good women to conduct great evil against men and children, and where male nature is vilified but female nature is celebrated. This is unfair to both genders, and is a recipe for a rapid civilizational decline and displacement, the costs of which will ultimately be borne by a subsequent generation of innocent women, rather than men, as soon as 2020.

Which is really long but very detailed and something that we should be talking about but won't. (shrug) What's new.

And with that ray of sunshine, I am off to class.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


I made it through day three of tax class. We had a short quiz today, so we'll see if any of this crap is actually sticking in my brain. I have my doubts, but I'll just have to wait until tomorrow and see what's up. With both of us working and sharing a vehicle, there hasn't been much going on other than getting our butts up and out the door in the morning, coming home, fixing something to slam down for dinner, watch a few Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes on Hulu, then tucking into bed so we can do it again. I do have a few hours between when my class gets out and when I have to go pick Debbie up that I use to do laundry, dishes, etc. And dash off an incoherent blog post.

Anyway, the TSA's security kabuki theater continues. I'm so glad we are beggaring the next several generations to pay for these Keystone Kops to blunder around accomplishing nothing.

On a lighter note, we have the entire eastern half of the United States shivering from the Gore Effect:

Miami has coldest weather in a decade.
Midwest sees record lows and snow by the foot.
Thirty degrees below normal in DesMoines.
All-time record snowfall in Burlington.
And in case anyone thinks this is only local to North America, Seoul sees the heaviest snowfall in 70 years.

Old political joke: How do you tell a politician is lying? His lips are moving. 2010 version: How do you tell a politician is lying? She hides behind locked doors. It seems nothing terrifies Nancy Pelosi more than a video camera. Given her actions in the House over the last year, I can understand why. Being held accountable for your outrageous (and probably criminal) actions can be a bit scary.

After six years, it looks like the next few months are going to be a death-watch for the Spirit rover. The attempts to get in unstuck have not worked, and it now has two non-functioning wheels, the dust continues to build up on the solar panels, it's not orientated correctly to catch the winter sun, and... well, it doesn't look good. But six years out of a piece of hardware that was expected to last six months isn't bad. I wish I had that kind of luck with my cars.

I tend to be a pessimist. Anyone who knows me or has read this blog more than once is well aware of that. To me, it makes sense to be pessimistic and spend most of your life being pleasantly surprised, rather than running around all happy-clappy and being forever disappointed. I would be at the head of the parade if I am pleasantly surprised by the economy (as one example) in the next year, but I'm expecting and planning for the worst. The internet seems to be largely split between people like me and those that are the polar opposite; the whole greens-shoots-are-springing-up-everywhere gang that think because they have a job and their 401k made back a little less than half what it lost in 2008 that everything is pink butterflies and purple unicorns that fart rainbows. Somewhere between us doom-and-gloomers and the rainbow-farting unicorns is where reality is likely to fall. How America Can Rise Again is likely close to that reality. It's a long read for the internet, but it is worth the time.

Well, I need to get moving. They were digging up the street in front of Debbie's work this morning and I have no idea what kind of mess I have to deal with to pick her up.

Stay warm!

Wordle Says:

that I just use the word "just" way too much. The ghost of my high school English teacher just floated into the room.

Monday, January 04, 2010

And People Think I'm Pessimistic

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has an article in the UK Telegraph that makes me look like a naive optimist:
...Weak sovereigns will buckle. The shocker will be Japan, our Weimar-in-waiting.

...The European Central Bank will stick to its Wagnerian course, standing aloof as ugly loan books set off wave two of Europe's banking woes.

...Wage cuts will prove a self-defeating policy for Club Med, trapping them in textbook debt-deflation. The victims will start to notice this.

...In the end, the Euro's fate will be decided by strikes, street protest, and car bombs as the primacy of politics returns.

...America's economy – though sick – will shine within the even sicker OECD club.

The article concludes with this "green shoot":
By mid to late 2010, we will have lanced the biggest boils of the global system. Only then, amid fear and investor revulsion, will we touch bottom. That will be the buying opportunity of our lives.

Nice. I think he covers all 10 plagues except the lice.

In job-related news, I attended the first day of training for a job as a tax preparer. I'm finding not a lot has changed in the 20 years I've been away from it other than some of the details which are easy enough to look up. I'm still not clear on what the odds are that I will actually have a job at the end of all this, or what exactly that job will be (they employ a lot of sign-wavers...). but I do know they are non-zero and were made better by over half the people that registered for the class being no-shows. We're keeping all our fingers and toes crossed.

That's it for now. Expect things to be quieter than usual while I try to focus on faking my way into a job and we try to figure out how to make all this work with one vehicle. We can always get a second car if we have to, but I have really enjoyed only having to mess with one car for the last three years and don't want to go back to the whole two-car thing. The downside is that it makes for a logistic nightmare some days.

Well, I'm off.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

This is Going to be Short

Not much to report and based on the news sites, it's been a slow day for everyone else as well. We made a three-hour road trip today to do some shopping at the nearest Sam's club. As usual when we go there, the cart was over-flowing before we had anything from our list. We are now the proud owners of a one-year supply of various staple foods like Tootsie Rolls. Man do those people have our number. The only thing saving us from complete financial ruin (and a sugar coma), is that it's so far away we can only do it once every month or two.

We got chased home by the first real snow storm with high winds and all sorts of fun stuff, with more of the same predicted for the next two or three days. We are so looking forward to that....

Have I mentioned how much I miss Arizona?

Anyway, we made it home and managed to fit everything in. So far, the pantry hasn't crashed through the floor into the apartment below us, but I wouldn't be surprised if it did.

Monday I should learn something about at least one job I applied for last week. It means getting back into tax prep after a 20-plus-year sidetrack in IT, which I have mixed feelings about. One thing I liked about doing taxes was that I was busy when there was nothing going on anyway, and had three-day weekends all summer. I could live with that, although I think with this place it will be more like 7-day weekends during the summer. But a job's a job and if they want to pay me money, I'll milk it for as long as I can.

As I said, not much new on the news other than the on-going Gore effect that has even Florida in a deep freeze. But I did find one thing interesting (you knew that was coming, right?): a decent article outlining all the ways that the Foreclosure Alternatives Program has been a complete failure. No news there; another well-intentioned government plan that not only doesn't help, but ends up hurting the very people it is supposed to help. But this is what I do find interesting:
Mr. Zandi argues that the administration needs a new initiative that attacks a primary source of foreclosures: the roughly 15 million American homeowners who are underwater, meaning they owe the bank more than their home is worth.

Increasingly, such borrowers are inclined to walk away and accept foreclosure, rather than continuing to make payments on properties in which they own no equity. A paper by researchers at the Amherst Securities Group suggests that being underwater “is a far more important predictor of defaults than unemployment.

So people are willing to make payments while "underwater" on everything they own except their home? Why should my tax money be used to write-down someone else's mortgage just because the value of their home did exactly what the value of every other thing they buy does? Maybe instead of the government continuing to sell the lie that home prices just go up forever, they can turn the collapse of the housing bubble into a teachable moment.

Anyone think that will ever happen? Yea, me neither.

That's it.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Post-Happy New Year Post

The best part of being old and boring is not losing the first day of every year to a massive hangover.

The December statistics were interesting here at Ric & Debbie's Place. For the last several years, new ways of using the internet have been slowly eroding the readership here. That's not a complaint; writing this tripe is mostly for my benefit and I'm frankly surprised at how many people come along for the ride.

And before I forget: Thanks for that. Living like a gypsy is fun, but isolating. It's nice to look at the little map over there on the right and see a good chunk of the people we know checking up on us from time to time.

Anyway, all that was to say this: we had more hits in December 2009 than in any month since September 2008 with a total of 423 visits. The real story however, is the role that referrals played in that, accounting for 49% of all hits. Referrals (people who get here by clicking a link on some other web site) have never been a big part of the traffic here prior to the last couple months. What changed that is Facebook, which drove 27% of December's traffic to this site. We've also become a favorite of Blogger's Next Blog button (7%) as well as readers of the Archdruid Report (4%) following backtracks generated on his blog as a result of links on this blog to that blog. If that makes any sense. How we use the internet is shifting rapidly and will continue to shift; anyone care to guess how? I certainly don't have a clue; I'm just trying not to get thrown off and left in the dust.

Because this is not just the end of a month, but the end of a year, I may as well bore you with some extra statistics. In 2009, we made 353 posts bringing the total since the inception of this blog in March 2004 to 1,508 as of December 31. We wrote fewer posts in 2009 than we did in 2008 when we cranked out a record 435. There are a couple reasons for that. The obvious one is that with all the disruptions and moving around the country, we just didn't have the time. But I also think I'm posting longer posts less frequently. A few of you may remember that prior to starting this blog, we had a daybook-style web site similar to Bob Thompson's site. When I started blogging, I continued in that same style, making a single, long, rambling, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink type post that covered whatever struck me that day. Over the years, I've tried to get away from that and make a separate post for each topic, but I always find myself drifting back to big kitchen-sink posts. Somewhere late in 2008 or early 2009, I accepted that I may as well quit trying to do this the "right" way and admit that I like to write long, disjointed posts. Which is all a long, disjointed way of saying that while we made fewer posts in 2009 than in 2008, we probably inflicted just as many or more words on the internet in 2009.

December was also interesting in the breakdown of what operating system our visitors are running. The Mac came on strong, beating out Windows 7 (6.4% vs. 5.7%). I think Santa stuffed a few stockings with Macbooks this year. The other interesting trend is the sudden appearance of a large number of mobile devices. Over 9% of you are reading this on a pocket computer. I expect that trend to accelerate. In spite of that, Microsoft unsurprisingly continues to dominate at 83.7% with Mac and iPhone accounting for 9.7% and Other (5.5%), Linux (.7%) and Blackberry (.3%) mopping up the odd decimal places.

On the browser front, I've been seeing increasing numbers of browsers that identify themselves as "Mozilla 5.0" which has been obsolete for a while. I'm used to seeing obsolete browsers down in the statistical noise, but this one climbed into the number three spot in December. A distant third with 7.3% of visits compared to MSIE 8.0 (33.9%) and Firefox 3.5 (29.1%), but significantly ahead of Chrome 3.0 (5.7%). It seems to be related to mobile devices, although with how my stats are aggregated, it's difficult to be sure. Overall, Microsoft's Internet Explorer (41.8%) and Firefox (39.1%) continue to run neck-and-neck with Mozilla 5.0 (7.3%), Chrome (5.7%), Safari (4.3%), Other (1.2%) and Blackberry (.5%) scrambling around for the crumbs. Oh, and one, single, very lonely Opera user.

Well, enough rambling for one post. Everyone enjoy their hang-overs!!

(oops, sorry, didn't mean to yell...)

Happy New Year!

Well all I can say about 2009 is, "Thank Cthulhu that is finally over." Not that the year has been completely negative, but it has certainly been more negative than positive.

On the plus side, I finally finished my bachelors degree after starting it in September 1982 while Ronald Reagan was in his first term, and a IBM PC 5150 with 64KB of RAM and a single 5 1/4" 360KB floppy drive sold for slightly north of $3,000. The degree I ended up with is a very different one than I started out working on, and the stops in between have been, um, varied. I think it goes something like Electrical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Music, Accounting, CIS, and ending at the crap-tastic Management. But it's something, I guess, and represents something very rare for me; actually finishing something I started. We'll see over the next few weeks just how much good it is. So far, all it's done is earn me the label "Over-Qualified."

Another item in the plus column is that while we were laid off, we managed to get in a short trip to Maui. Now generally, when people get laid off, getting on a jet and traipsing around Maui isn't the first thing on the to-do list. But we had already booked and paid for the trip and it was mostly non-refundable anyway and we figured that it would be a while before we would be able to have a real vacation, so what the heck. I'm glad we did it; we got to see a really cool place and chill out after a very stressful start to 2009.

And the last good thing from 2009 was the time we spent in Michigan. We were able to attend my niece's wedding in August and my Dad's family reunion that we hadn't been to in several years. But our biggest accomplishment was all the work we were able to do on Debbie's mom's house. We didn't get nearly everything done we wanted to, but I think we at least got things down to a manageable list that can be done piecemeal during visits to Michigan next summer. At a minimum, we finally finished some of the basement work that was started in 1992.

The negatives from 2009 are mostly related to employment. This year I made less money than in any year since I was 11 years old. And yes, that bugs the hell out of me. Combined with Debbie getting laid off on April 15th and not finding another job until November 30th, this is also the least money we've made in the 21 years we've been married and the first time we have both been unemployed at the same time. To make matters worse, nearly every company we've tried to get a job from has been taking full advantage of the current high unemployment to act the part of total douche bag. It's one thing to be unemployed, but to be repeatedly treated like something smelly that someone tracked in on their shoes just sucks. Karma, baby; karma.

"Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for the West as it commits suicide." James Burnham

We have a president and congress that seem determined to prove James Burnham a prophet. Obama is the worst possible combination of arrogance and n00bishness and thus far a failure by any measure. Unfortunately, we are stuck with him for three more years and he will likely get credit for whatever recovery we have during that time no matter how weak or short-lived that recovery proves to be. The Democratic "leadership" in Congress is earning the "ravening wolves" appellation first given to it by Carter, while completing the transition from republic to spoils system.

Meanwhile we continue to pour blood and treasure into the sands of Middle East for no known benefit while starving every feasible alternative energy source in the name of fiscal responsibility. Think how many "trouble spots" where we maintain a "military presence" that we could tell to go piss up a rope if we exported energy instead of importing it? How much more stable would our economy be? As a nation we used to know that abundant energy + freedom = prosperity, but now all the intelligentsia seem to desire is to destroy the middle class in the name of saving polar bears and penguins, while steadfastly refusing to make any changes in their lifestyle that would indicate they actually believe any of the bullshit they shovel. And God help anyone who dare oppose them or even point out their growing hypocrisy.

So that's 2009. What's ahead for 2010?

Climatgate seems to have bolstered the natural immune system called "the scientific method" and at a minimum has called into question the wisdom of beggaring the only economy capable of producing a solution, assuming there even is a problem. And yes, there are huge geopolitical, ecological and economic reasons for moving past a fossil-fuel-powered society; anthropogenic global warming just doesn't happen to be one of them. Maybe 2010 will see actual progress in understanding how the climate works for real (which would be enormously beneficial) instead of the make believe world of climate models that can only turn out politically correct results. The other possibility is that the politicians posing as scientists choose to go down swinging. The collateral damage from that would be severe and wide-spread.

As I mentioned previously, we're stuck with The Obama for 2010, but given the venom aimed at him from the wacky left part of the political spectrum, he seems to be figuring out what every president figures out; it is impossible for a president to do anything outside of a very narrow centrist track. Not that enormous damage isn't being done to the republic, but as hard as it may be to believe, it could be worse. Unfortunately, that "very narrow centrist track" is still on the road to hell; it's just the slow lane instead of the express lane Obama seemed determined to put us in at the beginning of 2009. No political system in human history has endured and we hardly seem destined to play the lead role in The End of History. It is possible for a political system to collapse in a benign way, just not probable. We seem doomed to live in interesting times.

I do expect things to pick up economically in 2010, both nationally and personally. Certainly not in a sustainable fashion; the overall trend for the middle class for several decades has been downward and that will continue, meaning bad years will outnumber good ones. I just expect next year to be one of the good ones for us and for the nation. Debbie is in a solid position with benefits and I have a number of options I can work at starting next week and continuing through January that should help build the emergency fund back up to where it needs to be.

We will probably stay here in New Hampshire for all of 2010 unless something really big breaks down in Florida or Texas before that. As much as we hate it, we can survive a couple winters and it will give us time to explore a part of the country we have never been in before and visit family we don't get to see very often. We will ultimately wind up someplace south of the snow line again, but we're content if not happy with where we are right now.

Computers and the internet will continue to become more ubiquitous than they already are. We now have Pournelle's pocket computers which have several orders of magnitude more capability than the original IBM PC and will only continue to improve as Moore's Law marches on. On December 31, 2019, we will tell funny stories about those ridiculously bulky underpowered iPhones and Droids that everyone thought were so bleeding edge back in 2009. Mobile high-speed internet will continue to change how we do everything and we will adapt while completely failing to realize just how profound the shift is. Think back to the PC you had (if you had one) on December 31, 1999, how you connected to the internet (if you connected to the internet), and what you did once you were there.

I expect us to lose at least one of the Mars rovers in 2010. Spirit seems well and truly stuck and it may not survive the Martian winter. And while Spirit has grabbed all the headlines, Opportunity is hardly without problems of its own. Both are way past warranty and can go at any time. 2010 may be the year that data from the surface of Mars ends.

2010 will also see the end of human access to space in the United States. NASA insists it is just a temporary halt as they continue to design the shuttle replacement. Maybe it will be. Maybe not. I'd put the odds at 50/50 at this point and that's probably being optimistic. The bright spot is that private companies seem determined to pursue an operations-driven approach to humans in space similar to the airline industry. And China seems determined to make humans in space a point of national identity. There is no law that says that English will be spoken at the first permanent moon base. Forty years ago that seemed to be a given.

And just to wrap this up before the ball drops, we have this via Craig:

Happy New Year!!