Monday, September 27, 2010

Week Six

This is the start of our sixth week in this particular place. We still don't have a real routine down, but things are starting to settle. Unfortunately, things are settling into me not working. If I dusted off my good ol' BS degree and fed out a nice, steaming line cow flop tomorrow, I could fix that, but there are just too many things that are making me hesitate. Any one of them alone, I wouldn't think twice, but given the whole package of things that made me go "Hmmmmm," I'm going to tell the guy that I'm going to take a pass. If it was a year or so from now and we were more sure of what we were doing, then maybe. But right now, the whole thing doesn't feel right. I'll probably still end the day with a gig, just not a paying one. More when I know more.

In a headline straight from The Onion, "Tycoon who took over Segway firm dies in freak accident after riding one of the machines off hillside and into a river."

The multi-millionaire owner of the Segway company died in a freak accident yesterday when he rode one of the high-tech two-wheel machines off a cliff and into a river.

I'm trying real hard to suppress the little movie in my head where Mr. Heselden is riding at top Segway speed towards a cliff, yelling in a George-Jetson-esque voice "Jane! Stop this crazy thing!" then disappears over the edge. Yes, yes; it's so very wrong. But I can't help it. And if you think that makes me a horrible human being, wait until John Stewart and Stephen Colbert start in.

Speaking of which, in a move seemingly designed to prove no one in Congress has clue one about what goes on in the real world, Comedy Central comedian and host of fake comedic news talk show The Colbert Report, is invited to testify before a House panel, who then asks him to leave because he makes jokes like this:

This is America. I don't want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan and served by a Venezuelan in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian.

Wow. I confess I would never has seen that coming from Colbert; he is usually such a fountain of reason and seriousness. Remind me again why we let these idiots run the country?

So, now that Congress has decided to not seek the advice of comedians on important policy, maybe they can get to work:

Congress is deadlocked over virtually every major issue still pending this year, including key economic matters such as a detailed federal spending plan and extending Bush-era tax cuts, yet lawmakers still hope to leave Washington by Friday and not return until mid-November.

Or not. Of course, given what this congress has managed to accomplish, it's probably safer to have them either deadlocked or at home.

At least the FDIC is keeping busy:

Regulators on Friday shut down small banks in Florida and Washington state, bringing to 127 the number of U.S. bank failures this year on a wave of loan defaults and economic distress.

Something freaky going on in space:

Researchers say Pioneer 10, which took the first close-up pictures of Jupiter before leaving our solar system in 1983, is being pulled back to the sun by an unknown force. The effect shows no sign of getting weaker as the spacecraft travels deeper into space, and scientists are considering the possibility that the probe has revealed a new force of nature.

This is potentially huge. What next? Is someone going to bring back the aether?

Of course, the last time the laws of physics were about to get tossed, it all turned out to be a false alarm. (Maybe.)

Is someone from Microsoft working for Google now? I just looked at the HTML being generated as I type and Blogger is packing my post with useless div's and span's. There is more HTML code than text, and it doesn't accomplish anything. And auto-save is failing about two out of three times. And a huge storm is rolling in, so I'll likely lose power and my post. I am in serious need of an on-line UPS down here in the lightening capital of the world.

Obama throws gays under the bus. Again:

A former U.S. Air Force flight nurse expelled from the military after revealing she is a lesbian was ordered reinstated by a federal judge on Friday in a closely watched court challenge to the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

The Obama administration on Thursday, however, asked that judge to keep the policy mostly intact, rather than issue an injunction against it, while Congress debates the issue.

At least with McCain/Palin, you wouldn't have gotten your hopes up. Also note our Commander-in-Chief seems somewhat confused about the chain of command; I wasn't aware it went through Congress.

Someone released a computer virus designed to break one of Iran's nuke plants in the worst possible way. It may have succeeded. Cyberwar is no longer Sci-fi.

And to round things off before I go make dinner, here is a more-or-less balanced essay on who should be in college and for what. This is required reading for any parent currently paying, or who will soon be paying, for a college education.

Gotta run.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Getting Closer to Home

As Debbie already mentioned, we finally got the art on the walls, which is usually what makes where ever we are "home." This apartment has been different than our others; it's taking us a lot longer to settle in. Probably because we were so pissed off at the condition of the apartment when we moved in. The kitchen sink wasn't even hooked up to the sewer line and was dumping water into the cabinet. We were very close to walking away from the place when I came back from New Hampshire. This is how landlords treat low-income people. We don't even deserve a superficial cleaning or properly functioning plumbing. I remember much the same attitude when I worked in apartment maintenance back in the early 1980's: Don't bother to fix or clean anything because Those People will just trash the place anyway. Nice to see nothing has changed.

So the place will probably never completely feel like home; more like an extended-stay hotel room that we're trapped in for the next year or so. Anyway, I need to finish up some cleaning and organizing, then take some photos of the place. I realized this morning that I still haven't sorted and uploaded the pictures from Michigan (the Wiklanski reunion and Debbie's niece's graduation open house), so maybe I'll get to that as well. And the homework for tax class. And figuring out something for dinner. Or maybe just a long nap. We'll see.

Best Star Trek ads ever:

These are from Germany, of course. No American ad agency could ever be this clever. The phrase at the end translates to, "They are among us!" There are several more on YouTube, but these two were my favorites.

In news that I am sure will shock everyone, our government is lying to us:

"The Government is lying about the amount of debt. It is engaging in Enron accounting," said Laurence Kotlikoff, an economist at Boston University and co-author of The Coming Generational Storm: What You Need to Know about America's Economic Future.

Any private company that did accounting the way the government does would be fined and the principles jailed. Meanwhile, it's nice to know that a chunk of that debt the government is lying to us about is going to teach African men how to wash their dicks:

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), spent $823,200 of economic stimulus funds in 2009 on a study by a UCLA research team to teach uncircumcised African men how to wash their genitals after having sex.

Gives a whole new meaning to the term "stimulus spending."

On the economic front, U.S. household net worth is falling. And those same people watching as their assets continue to shrink in value are supposed to somehow feel sorry for the morons on Wall Street because their 10's of billions in profits have shrunk to mere billions. Big frackin' boohoo.

On the tech front, in yet-another example of Just Not Getting It, Intel is threatening to sue anyone who uses the recently-released HDCP crack. HDCP was supposed to "plug the analog hole" between your Blu-ray DVD player and your TV. Of course, any system that is built into millions of devices will be trivial to hack for someone with the appropriate skills, but even the brains at Intel can't seem to grasp that. So now HDCP goes the way of Digital Audio and DVD encryption. Obviously, none of this addresses the human analog hole in the form of eyes and ears; pointing a consumer-level video camera at my 42" flat screen would likely yield a copy at least as good as a standard DVD. Anyone attempting to plug my "analog hole" is going to have a fight on their hands.

In the medical field, we have a new super-bug that is resistant to all antibiotics, and a brain amoeba that is spreading through organ transplants. In any race between medical science and the little microscopic beasties that feed on "higher" forms of life, always bet on the wee ones. Sure; doctors may win here and there, or for a time. But long-term, we lose.

Peak Oil, when it has been acknowledged at all in the media, is usually relegated to the "doomer porn" category. Sometimes that is with good reason; there is certainly a strong current of the old fashioned "grab the shotgun, the canned beans, and the wife and head for the hills" storyline if you poke around in certain internet neighborhoods. Maybe it's just because I've been spending time on John Michael Greer's blog which is making me more aware, but Peak Oil seems to be working its way up the respectability food chain; for example, a recent article in Forbes that just lays out the bare facts without any of the usual assertions that all will be well because technology will race to our rescue.

So after all that good news, I want to finish with this. Keep in mind this kid is ten years old:

When I was ten, I spent my time mastering Pong and trying to find new and innovative ways to kill myself on my bicycle. (My cousin Greg probably remembers some of the "awesome" ideas we came up with when we got bored over the summer.)

I should probably cut this off and do something constructive.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Art is on the walls!

Finally, we have the art unpacked and hanging on the walls! We took the last of the bins and cardboard coverings to the storage unit at UHaul on Saturday. The office and my card working space still has to be organized and one shower curtain bought, but other than that I think we are settled in. We've decided for the moment to not unbox and display all my Precious Moment figurines and most of our knick knacks. The only thing we have in the two curios is all of our matryoshka dolls -- and they just sitting there, not opened all up displayed as of yet. Oh well ... another project for another weekend.

I finally got my Florida drivers license on Thursday -- between my work hours and the govt work hours, it was hard to do. Saturday we went to the library and I got my library card. (Ric had gotten his last weekend when we finally went to find the library) Now I have lots of books to read! YEAH!

I'm sure sometime in the next month Ric will get a picture link up to show anyone who is interested our new apartment. Keep checking back ....

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Anybody need to book a cruise? I know work for a company that discounts or adds "value add ons" unless NOT allowed by the cruise line. They offer some pretty sweet deals. Let me know if you want to price something out!

This is the first time I've worked as a travel agent anyplace that does discounting. Sometimes when I see how much we discount or give the client as an on board credit, I cringe since the net commission is way low. How on earth are they staying in business? I know they have the volume, but still.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

This Sucks

I've now been messing around for over a week in order for Debbie's XP laptop to be able to write files to a Win7 share. I just doesn't work. I've done everything suggested by every tech site on the internet, and none of it works. I know Microsoft is desperate to get people off XP, but completely borking things up seems an extreme and counter-productive way to do it. There is an answer, but it costs $200 which we don't have at the moment. I must be getting too old or too stupid for this. In any case, I'm giving up.

After two tax classes, we have made it through chapter 2 in the textbook. We are supposed to be through chapter 6. At this rate, we should be done around January 2012. The upside is that the instructor gave me a job lead; it's far enough away we would have to buy a car for me to take the job and it doesn't sound like he is willing to pay enough to make that worthwhile, but we'll see where it goes. I also have a couple more prospects that I'll be checking on today. If nothing else, I gotta get off this couch before my butt grows right into it.

This weekend is the final push to get the apartment into shape; we're tired of walking around bins and piles. We'll probably have to make some hard choices about what we realistically have the space for in order to get the job done, but it is past time to do that anyway. Downsizing was easy when we started in 2006; we had soooo much crap we had no use for, we had no problem filling a 26' moving van for the auction plus giving away at least that much again. Several iterations later, we're getting to things we... well, use isn't the right word because a lot of it is dust collectors. Meaningful is probably the right word.

Debbie's job is still going well and her numbers are looking good. Not good enough for the bonus to kick in, but getting there. Once she gets a check for a full pay period, we can start re-figuring our budget. If we did the back-of-the-envelope calculations correctly, her check will cover all the routine bills so whatever I make can go straight into savings. We've put a serious dent in our funds over the last two years and we really need to get back on track. We plan to live like monks for at least the next year; two or three would be better yet. We've never gone on a material fast for that long before; we'll likely fall off the wagon a couple times.

All things come to an end: TV series, vacations, roller coasters, M&M Blizzards, societies:

What did your friend the musician tell you after his band, which was successful on album two but not so much by album five, broke up?

“We just drifted apart. Didn’t have much in common anymore, we were heading in different directions.”

That is also how societies die. When they start out, they have a clear mission, and through years of struggle and violence they prevail over their enemies, beat out their own inner demons, find a stable system of values they agree on (the “social consensus”), and then use that value system to blow off everything else and drive hard toward self-improvement.

Once they reach that, these societies are in trouble. They lack wars to unify themselves; they invent internal wars, and spend time chasing Communists, Racists, Satanists, Hackers or other Demons. When that behavior runs out on them, they spend time chasing nothing; the individual becomes more important than the society, and soon what you have is a giant pool of selfish people who barely tolerate each other because they have nothing in common except a desire to manipulate past each other so they can continue their selfish pursuits.

If you read the entire essay, you are sure to find quibbles, but the basic premise is sound: all things end. It's how things end that makes a difference.

Well, off to look for work.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sleepless in Sanford

Guess it's my turn to do the not-sleeping-at-night thing. We'll see how I get by tomorrow on three hours of sleep. At least I had a chance to catch up on bookkeeping and filing, making the to-do pile in the office somewhat smaller. I'm still sorting through computer problems as well; trying to get a Win7 and a WinXP machine to play nice is nearly impossible. I know it can be done, but getting it all to work last time involved me making random changes and rebooting both machines until it started to work. I have no clue which random change actually made things work and I frankly don't have the patience at this point to deal with it. Sneaker-net still works (or will as soon as I can figure out which bin has my thumb drive rattling around in it).

Yea; it's been that kind of a week.

Speaking of which, either Win7, iTunes, Songbird, or some random cosmic ray decided that around 700 or so of our MP3 files didn't really need metadata. Song title, artist, album, comments, everything. Poof. I have not a clue. So while they are available, I'm re-ripping our 350 or so CD's. It needed to be done anyway. Most were ripped many many years ago when relatively low bit rates were the norm and embedded album art was still a distant fantasy. I set up a little mini photo studio in the office to get digital copies of the album art (at least half of the album covers for our CD's are nowhere to be found online) and have been ripping and rebuilding our MP3 library. Now that I have what amounts to unlimited disk space, a copy of said library will be tucked away someplace safe where the crapware can't get to it so I don't have to start over every time some pimple-faced geek living in Mommy's basement fat-fingers the code for something I use.

Anybody remember when computer software used to be tested by the people who wrote it instead of unwitting users? I seem to recall something like that waaaaaay back in the mists of time.

With all that going on and some heavy-duty reading on the to-be-read pile, I'm still relatively out of touch with the goings on in the big wide world. I did notice that Roubini is expecting around half of the 800-plus banks on the fed "watch list" to go under. Given that yesterday saw bank number 119 make its last trip around the drain, Roubini seems to be implying that the economy isn't going to make a big bounce in the last quarter of 2010. It will be interesting to see if Roubini is a broken clock or if we should start taking what he says a bit more seriously that we have been. Or not; ramming face-first into brick walls is way more fun.

A meme regarding the usefulness (or more accurately, the complete lack thereof) of many college degrees is gaining traction, this time in the Washington Post. Many of the subjects studied in college used to be taught by apprenticeships. Why are people racking up debt they will be paying off for decades to take college courses in auto mechanics, HVAC and interior design? One point from the article, then I'll shut up. About this. For now:

"There's a billion other things you could do with your money," Altucher says. One option: Invest the money you'd spend on tuition in Treasury bills for your child's retirement. According to Altucher, $200,000 earning 5 percent a year over 50 years would amount to $2.8 million.

Few families have that kind of money lying around. But if you can give your child $10,000 or so to start his own business, Altucher says, your child will reap practical lessons never taught in a classroom. Later, when he's more mature and focused, college might be more meaningful.

Well, it's now about the time I usually get up anyway, so may as well have breakfast and get at it.

Monday, September 06, 2010

No Comment


We are still digging out after The Attack of the Plastic Bins 2010. We can see most of the carpet now and the bicycles are no longer sitting in the living room, but we still have a ways to go. Today we hope to at least get everything out of the bins and into piles so we know what we have to find room for. We did end up renting a storage space for our empty bins; the closets here are just too small and there isn't any storage space on-site. That was something we had budgeted for when we chose this place, so no big deal. It would have been nice to not have to do that, but we are still ahead of the game money-wise. In any case, we continue with the Great Shrinking we started in 2006. Progress has been slow with occasional reversals, but we're getting there.

Given the distractions, I haven't been keeping up with the news much lately; I assume that the systematic dismantling of the constitution continues, and the stock market is still dithering around where it was ten years ago, and unemployment is officially still 10% with the real percentage being double that, and both commercial and residential real estate continue to spiral downwards, and the politicians and media talking-heads insist it isn't all that bad and all I need to do is quit whinging and go buy some socks made in China.


I think I'm set for employment for the 2010 tax season. I'll continue to look around for something more permanent, but that will keep me busy for at least a few months. I did find out that the IRS is now charging for PTIN numbers. I assume this is yet-another step towards full-blown licensing of tax preparers. Inevitable, I suppose given that you need a license to braid hair or hold a road sign. I had hoped to strike out on my own this tax season, but the timing of the move screwed that up for this year. There is always next year.

Debbie's job is going OK; the company has what I'll charitably call a few odd quirks, but her first paycheck had a bit of a surprise in the form of extra money, so it's not all bad. She now has a permanent desk and is working with real clients, although she has mostly been cleaning up messes left by recently-departed employees and itinerary changes from the cruise lines. Like our apartment, the job may end up being temporary, but for now it's money and it's close by.

I realized this morning after looking at the site stats for the first time in several weeks that I skipped annoying my readers for a couple months. With all the time spent on the road and moving, we only had 14 posts in August, so I was surprised that August had 271 visits vs. the 206 for July (which had 23 posts). I expected August to be somewhat inflated from our own visits (harder to exclude them when accessing the internet from hotel rooms) as well as a single post which got a great deal of one-time traffic from a link I left at the Archdruid Report. But even taking those into consideration, August traffic held up surprisingly well under the neglect.

Google continues to be nice to us by sending around 15% of our visitors. People coming here seem obsessed with flatulent unicorns and scams run by Paolo Soleri (the architect behind Arcosanti). We didn't get our usual quotient of humorous/disturbing search phrases, but we did get "post bypass surgery cognitive dysfunction". So the next time a friend or family member says they did some internet research on your medical condition, do understand that they'll likely be quoting from someplace like this.

Not much has changed on the operating system front with two-thirds of visitors still running Windows XP. Vista was a distant second (14%), Mac in third (11%) and Win 7 in fourth (8%). Given the collapse in the retail PC market, I expect more of the same for at least the rest of 2010. Browsers are a bit more interesting as users fragment over a increasing number of browsers and versions. MSIE 8.0 is still top dog, accounting for just over one-third of visits, followed by Firefox 3.6 (27%). The rest of the visits are more-or-less evenly spread over a baker's dozen of other browsers and/or versions.

And that's probably enough rambling for a day or two. As we continue to empty bins and try to find a home for everything, keep an eye out for some great deals on Craigslist!

PS: Debbie wants me to let everyone know that for the second day in a row, I walked out the door with my shirt on inside out. The heat must be getting to me.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Address Change

Today's task is to work through the three pages of organizations to contact with our new address. We try to keep not just a list of names, but addresses, phone numbers, web sites, account numbers, etc. Every time we do this exercise, I'm amazed how often companies change things around, especially their web sites. I know all those Indian web programmers have to be kept busy some how, but is it really necessary re-hide the address change link every six months or so? We just did this last December; it's not like our list is ten years old or anything.

Found on the label of our new frying pan: Caution For safety, please keep pet birds out of the kitchen.

Of course, this immediately launches a little mini-movie in my head where Mom is swearing and swinging said frying pan around wildly in an attempt to keep the pet bird from crapping in the sauce and accidentally whacks her kid upside the head.

I have no idea what the safety implications are of having pet birds in the kitchen, other than my personal flight of fancy. And given the wording, one assumes wild birds in the kitchen are OK.

Back to work.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Well, That Was a Waste

All that for nothing: partition table is still borked and HDMI still not delivering audio. So we're kickin' it old school with our 1920x1080 running over a VGA cable and audio being taken care of by my trusty, 10-year-old Edirol UA-1A.

This stuff used to be easier. I must be getting old.

As expected, I contributed 600% profit to Best Buy's bottom line. The VGA cable that is $4 on Amazon cost me $25. I wanted to hand a knife to the Check-Me-Out Chick and tell her to point it at me while I swiped my card so I wouldn't feel like such an idiot, but I figure that would just get me arrested as a terrorist.

So now I just have to reinstall everything and get it all set up like I want it. I should have that done about the time the PC blows a drive or something.

I Gotta Go Outside?

More running around today on miscellaneous errands. One involves our main PC. With increasing frequency, the audio will just stop working. Control panel says the HDMI cable is not connected and the sound is going to the default port (that has nothing connected to it). Which is really weird given that the same cable carries both audio and video and the video works fine. The first couple times this happened, a complete power down and reboot fixed it. The last time, the problem was more persistent, but updating the drivers cured the problem. Then yesterday, it struck again. Only this time, nothing was bringing it back. A quick trip around Google just confirmed that there is something seriously wrong somewhere between Win7, the ATI drivers and the ATI Radeon card. Everyone was just guessing and making random changes to their systems which sometimes worked, but mostly didn't. I was already in need of a complete reinstall due to a power failure in New Hampshire that had borked the partition table, so why not? I started the install, which got to a certain point and just seemed to stop with nothing displayed. Duh. The HDMI port ain't gonna work during an install; I needed to drop back to VGA. No sweat. I go rummaging through my cable box: couple thousand feed of Cat5, big roll of coax, various phone cables, a couple XLR audio cables (?!?!?), USB, Firewire, eSATA, spare back plates, every kind of cable converter and/or splitter imaginable. No VGA.


So my main system is setting here semi-dead after putting itself into sleep mode when it got bored waiting for me to respond to whatever prompt is on the screen. I'm sure buying a VGA cable at Best Buy is going to cost me about what a new PC would run instead of the $4 Amazon would charge, but we need access to the files on the Drobo, which is connected to the main system. Grrrrr.

So I have to leave the apartment. While I'm out, I also need to make a bank run and a pharmacy run, so it's not just for a VGA cable. But still. Keeping the car means I have to go out not just once, but twice. Unless Debbie wants to walk home from work. Which I'm pretty sure she doesn't. But I really hate leaving my little cave.

Yesterday, I was nosing around checking on the job situation around here. I found a central Florida on-line job listing service with a couple promising leads. But the interesting part was the little stat box up in the corner of the screen that ran through a series of employment statistics: Unemployment - 11.7%. Available jobs - 1,107. Available candidates - 108,853. Hmmmm. Is this supposed to be encouraging? Anyway, I may put on something more professional that shorts, sandals and a t-shirt and stop in on a certain tax prep chain of my acquaintance and see what I can maybe shake loose.

In weather-related news, the current tracks on both hurricanes have them missing us by a wide margin. There isn't anything else really forming up behind them, so we may survive our first hurricane season without so much as a downpour. That can always change, of course, but as of right now, it looks to be another quiet hurricane season contrary to the increasingly-wrong predictions made by the Global Warming Jihad.

Well, time to clean up and get ready for another day.