Monday, December 29, 2008

How to buy gifts for a man: a chick's guide

I know what you are thinking.... I should have posted this before the blessed Solstice event. But I might firstly say I didn't think of it. And secondly: I didn't have examples.

A few weeks before the holidays, I heard more than one chick ask what the hell to buy her significant other. They think we are so complicated. And we are so damn simple. Here is a quick guide:
  1. Tools. I suggested this and one girl said "He has all of the tools he needs." That is like Carrie Bradshaw saying "I have all the shoes I need."
  2. Booze. Beer, Scotch -- you name it.
  3. Unmentionable. Not that this is a family oriented blog, but it ain't adult oriented either. Fill in the blank here. Use your imagination. And yes, it does count as a present. Of course, you might want to limit the number of folks this is bestowed upon ... and maybe don't give it to immediate blood relatives.
  4. And finally: Meat. The universal guy gift. You just cannot go wrong here. Pork chops, sausage, bacon, steaks, big ass roast, anything lamby. If it is warm blooded and walks on 4 legs, you can bet he would like to see it slither onto his plate in a big quivering bloody pile. (That description didn't turn his stomach, but has his complete attention... and possibly has him oddly and inappropriately aroused.)
Just a few personal examples... leaving #3 totally off this portion.

bacon is universal. It will make the toughest man cry. It lets him know you care.

Lamb hunk. Yummy. Rare please.

Bacon flavored floss: tastes like meat while being used to remove excess meat. Win/win.


...and let's not forget the quintessential tool: the spork

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

coffee geek

I am a geek. I embraced that fact long ago. But there is more than one way to be a geek. It's not all pocket protectors, homebuilt computers and glasses with tape on it. I am also sort of a financial geek. No, I am not a multi-million dollar market maker. But I watch the market, read some number of books and watch a whole lot of financial TV. One (of many) I watch is Suze Orman -- who I might add is sort of hot in spite of her being over 50 and a lesbian.
I have always known of David Bach's Latte factor, but my knowledge of it is sort of second hand. (Sometimes when Ellie Mae reads something, she enthusiastically shares the data in such detail that I feel like I've read the book even if I haven't. Seabiscuit.) But the point never really hit home until a show about a week ago.
If you haven't seen Suze's show, she has a cute little segment called "Can I Afford It?" where folks call in, give basic financial information and say "I want to buy a ___". Suze tells them if they can afford it.
So a doctor calls in. She wants to buy her Starbucks triple something or other half decaf mocha blastoff every day for a year. And while I think this was sort of a setup, it truly illustrates the point. The cost is something like $1733 a year. And, as a doctor with a boatload of student loans, she cannot afford it.
This pretty much illustrates my whole philosophy of life: It isn't what you make, it's what you spend.
And (borrowing from Mr Bach) if you make some assumptions about the new doctor you start finding some serious cash. Let's assume she is 28 (she is newly out of med school) and will retire at 65. That's 37 years of latte. At that price, this comes out to $64 thousand dollars. Add in the power of compounding interest it comes out to $185K at 5%, $394K at 8% and $1.1 million dollars at 12%. Now I'm not saying you'll necessarily make those rates, but historically they are feasible. And even if you stuff it in a mattress, $64K will buy you a whole lot of Costco coffee that you brew yourself. I recommend the dark roast Costa Rican coffee.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bailouts: Official change of my position

I have thought about it a little. I hate to say it. Maybe I was wrong about bailouts. Maybe they are a good thing. Now: where's mine?

No, wait. Before you just write me off, remember: these are not ordinary times. They call for different measures. Under normal circumstances, I really shouldn't get one. In the midst of a financial crisis and a recession, allowing me to collapse is not a responsible course of action. The current economy just cannot allow me to fail. If I fail, what's next? Who else will fail? The chain is endless. We must stop it now with swift and decisive government action. The government must immediately allocate $12.7 million in TARP funds for my bailout.

Doing so will increase market stability. I will agree in writing to invest 50% of the suggested $12.7 million in the US stock market. To be patriotic, none of my investment decisions will be made based on strength of the company or implied abilities of its leadership. And all investment will be in companies registered in the US. No ADR's in foreign companies will be purchased.

The remaining $6.35M dollars will be utilized to promote consumer goods. $1 million will immediately be invested in the down real estate market as a stimulus. I will build an opulent house. This will also stimulate the local government by increasing property taxes -- not only my own, but it will bring up the value of my neighbors land as well. The remaining $5.35M will be spent haphazardly over time on various consumer goods. All of them will be purchased from good ole' American stores -- again creating required stimulus. Of the $5.35M, I will spend $250,000 on tractors, farm equipment and implements. This should be a boost to the poor downtrodden family farmer. I am also seriously worried about the airline industry, given the problems they have had recently -- and really since 9/11. To attempt to boost aviation, I will immediately commit $500,000 to purchase a Beech Bonanza A36. Any monies left over from this purchase will be put back into the aviation industry in flight instruction and avgas.

I have been out of work for almost 30 months. This puts me high on the list as a prime candidate to receive this money. During this time I have not been paying significant income taxes. The $6.35M investment will generate significant capital gains tax income for the US government. This will be a superb return on their investment. It also shows the necessary compassion of the Federal government to help the unemployed. Note that I am living in a metal shed, which really does not feel like a "home". Thus, the government will also be helping the homeless.

I do not currently hold any debts. Some may see this as a problem. In order to stimulate borrowing, I also am offering to borrow an additional $2.9M at the suggested Fed interest rate of 0%. This will get the banking market moving.

I realize that commitment of this large amount of funds seems risky.... maybe even foolhardy. To keep me in line, I propose Ellie Mae be appointed immediately as Spork Czar. She will oversee the distribution of these funds and make sure I am acting in a reasonable manner. Of course, I do not expect her to do this for free. I think I can get her to take this position for about $150,000 annually. Again, this will stimulate the economy and increase tax revenue. Win - win.

I will adjust my salary, much like the automaker CEOs, to $1 annually for the remainder of my natural life. (I do not want to appear greedy.) If there is a meeting, I promise to arrive humbly. I will not take a chartered jet. I will drive my beat up 1981 Chevrolet pickup (made with American pride!) with flame decals applied only to the driver's side, rust holes in the bed and an unrepaired collision dent (from a backhoe falling on it.)

I urge you to consider this bailout. Of the $700 billion TARP funds, this paltry $12.7M is less than 2 one thousandths of a percent -- less than a drop in a bucket ... or ocean. The Wall Street money helped the white collar workers. The auto bailout helped the blue collar workers. It is time now to help the no collar workers -- those that wear only T shirts and wife-beaters.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Spaceface Book

Imagine this scenario:

You are sitting at home, minding your own bidness and the phone rings. You check your trusty caller ID and see "Anonymous." You answer anyway.

The voice on the other end begins to ask you questions. Personal questions. What's your full name? What's your birthday? What is your political affiliation? What is your religion? Are you married? Dating? Who? Sexual orientation? Email address? Can you list your phone numbers, including cell phones? And how about a list of current and past employers? Where'd you go to school? Mailing address? How about a list of people you know and/or trust? Oh, yes -- one more thing.... can you list your credit card accounts and numbers for us?

I could go on, but I suspect most people would have sworn "nunya effin bidness" about 3 questions in and hung up. Hard. Why? Well apart from not being their bidness, this just smells like a scam. I'm not sure if they're just going to charge something on your credit card or steal your identity... or some bigger nastier scam involving your entire network of friends.

And yet, it seems almost anyone is hunky dorey with doing exactly this... as long as it's done via an anonymous web interface.

Now before I rant on further, a little about me: I am a computer geek. Historically I specialized in security. I am not saying I was some guy on the front lines digging extensively through source code of the Apache Web server or identifying the latest virus and disassembling it to figure out it's threat. There are lots of guys doing this -- some that are geek celebrities. In the geek circles no one knows my name. But I've had a fair amount of experience dealing with breakins, data theft, chasing some virtual bad guys, blocking things with firewalls -- the normal everyday security geek. Think of me as the General Practitioner, not the hot shit cancer researcher or the guy that invents an artificial heart.

Being in the IT security field makes you paranoid. If you aren't paranoid, then you aren't doing your job. If you aren't thinking of a thousand ways the bad boys are out to get you, then you are just surfing the net looking at porn and getting into trouble. By the way, this is a position where you get paid to look at porn and your boss knows it and is okay with it.[1]

Okay, so I am predisposed to thinking everyone is out to get me. I am experienced, but not a super-duper, high falutin' specialist. Use your judgment as to whether I am a whack job or not. (I believe in full disclosure).

That's out of the way, so back to the story... A few weeks back, my niece begged and pleaded for me to join facebook. (Maybe "begged and pleaded" is an overstatement.) This is the same niece that begged and pleaded for me to grow a beard for absolutely no reason (and then didn't remember a month later -- showing me I was listening too verbosely.) I felt the urge to remain... or maybe become... the quirky cool uncle. I joined.

Now "joined" is maybe an exaggeration. I did sign up. But I refused to drink the kool-aid. How did I do this? Well, I lied. Oh sure, I filled out some things truthfully, but name, phone number, credit card, birthday... well, those are not just white lies, they are outright lies. I am pretty sure that violates the terms of service of the site -- though I figure I paid nothing for their service. If they pull it out from under me -- I lose nothing. The downside of the lie is that it sort of makes the service not work. If you are looking for a friend you have lost contact with, you may not be likely to know their pseudonym.

I've poked around on it for a week or two and I gotta say: I am amazed. If you've never been there, let me give you the rundown. I assume (possibly incorrectly) that myspace is similar (though I understand the app threat is not as great.)

  • As I mentioned, they want a lot of personal data. A whole lot. It's a free service and I can only assume they are using this data to pay for the service. Fair trade? I guess, if that's all they are doing. Bare minimum they can deliver seriously detailed data to an advertiser or marketeer: How many single females between 18 and 24 are politically liberal, attending the University of Virginia and are against abortion? If I assume they are more diabolical: What's their phone numbers? Or: I'd like to spam them, what's their email?[2]
  • There is a serious push to get you to give them your mobile telephone number. The upside of this? There just isn't a directory that is even remotely useful of this information. Everyone changes numbers all the time and it is impossible to keep up. Facebook is a theoretical way to keep tabs on your friends numbers. Let them move around or change jobs -- the number is still there for you. The dark side? This is a marketing company (or worse). They want your mobile number. They want to call you or sell it or SMS you or god only knows what. If I had to pay a maintenance fee and got some nice language in the acceptable use policy about how they were going to keep this in Al Gore's lock box and kiss unicorns on sunday -- If that were true, I would almost think about giving it to them. But the fact that they are paid by marketeers -- that gives me the shivers. They regularly pop up captcha boxes to prove you are a real person.... unless you give them your cell phone number. Then they stop. I find that strange. But like I already said: I am paranoid. Someone used to pay me to be paranoid. It's who I am now.
  • And while we are talking about policy... Their terms of service are odd. What's a "terms of service?" you ask? That is the tiny little box with 30 pages of scrollbar that you never read -- right before you click "I agree". I am not a lawyer but some of the wording there and in the privacy policy are a little odd. You've agreed that they can collect all sorts of data about yourself from other sources... and you've given them an irrevocable, transferable license to use that data and any data you give them. It sits wrong in my belly.
  • In a way it is a really cool data mining operation. And one where there are a billion unpaid workers doing the mining. If cute little Suzy from math class has a picture of you doing a naked kegstand at a frat party, she can post it and tag it with your name. (And I am sure no future employer will ever be tempted to look at this or your affiliation with the Ole' Miss underground Nazi party.) And if data mining bothers you, the nefarious possibilities here are endless.
  • But there is a pinnacle to this paranoia. And it doesn't lie with facebook per se. It is their API[3]. In other words, the little cutsie facebook applications. At first, they are merely annoying. Everyone wants to send you a drink or a christmas card or a quiz or a game. Sure, some of them are cool, but if you "accept" it, you get some little verbiage about "allow application access to your personal data?" Hmmm. That's weird. So I sort of took a look at it (from the 10,000ft level.) It turns out all those cute applications are not run by facebook. Nor are they hosted by facebook. They run on someone else's web server somewhere else. And when you click "give them all my scary childhood secrets" (or "yes" -- I forget which one it is) then that site more or less has the ability to get at all your data.... and the data of all your friends. So you really are no longer even relying on your own judgment of what privacy settings are safe. Now, you rely on the judgment of your least technical "click on anything that pops up" friend and the worst application they can find. Nice.

I might mention that there are a set of seriously nefarious rumors that even Oliver Stone and I don't buy into. If you are interested in conspiracy theory, there are ten or more versions of videos on YouTube. But if even I think it is too far fetched -- I wouldn't bother too much.

All in all, the idea here is cool. The idea is that everyone keeps their own data and determines what people can see it and exactly what parts can be seen. The trust factor (for me) just isn't there though. And the applications are about as secure as an unpatched Microsoft product.

  1. And that, my friend is the sound of 25 college business majors changing their major to computer science. I am going to leave out the part that, no matter what your preference is, you are going to look at a whole lot of porn you DO NOT want to see.
  2. I am not saying they do this. But I am saying it is totally within the realm of possibilities.
  3. For you non-computer geek types, this is geekspeak for how you write programs to work with facebook.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The 8 Hour Sandwich

Let me ask you: If you had to name one invention that truly made the world a better place to live, what would it be?
Architecture... maybe the Empire State Building?
The internal combustion engine?
Space Travel?

Nay, I say. I say it is cured meats. Not because it was the means to keep us from dying of various nasty things. No. It's because they taste so damned good.

Let me introduce you to: The 8 hour sandwich. Or maybe it's the 4 day sandwich. It depends on how you measure it I guess.

I have toyed around with the salt cured meat in a couple of baconacious slabs of yummy pork.

And for several years I have played with the smoke cure of the barbecue pit.

And now, the culmination of the two arts: Pastrami. The salt cure of the brine. And 6 hours of heavy smoke. And I must say, it tastes just as heavenly as it sounds.

But I get a head of myself.
It all starts with a brisket -- the tough ass boot of the steak world. And yet, so yummy. Being the cheap ass bastard that I am, I buy a stack of them when they go on sale and shove them in the freezer, which explains the frosty twisted look of this puppy. I keep a hacksaw stowed in the kitchen for emergencies like this one. However, I guess I have not quite ever attacked something quite this big. I was a sweaty mess after cutting this bad boy. I guess I need a coarser tooth on the saw.

Next comes the brine....and 3 days curing in the fridge. Note here the cure is done and its just about ready to go to...the smoker. You might notice the pastrami has a couple of friends in the poultry family. As a rule there is always a chicken in the smoker at our house. If you go to the effort to light it and smoke all day, you might as well have chicken for lunch. And smoked chicken is the ultimate ingredient: enchiladas, chili, soup -- you name it. Smoke 2 or 3 chickens, rip them up and chuck them in the freezer. It's the rule.Isn't she beautiful? All blackened and covered with pepper and coriander.... What can I say. I am hungry all over again. So on to the most dangerous thing I have ever done in my life. I have seen a hundred 9 fingered farmers. They catch their fingers in tractor implements all the time. But nothing prepares you for...the crank slicer.
I got this as a freebie hand me down. But it just isn't long enough to slice a pastrami or a pork belly. And the little hold down isn't big enough. This means your fingers are the hold down. Count them now. Count them again when you are done. Use double entry book keeping. Your goal is that the numbers match up in both columns.And you end up with this pile of loveliness. It's tasty, but steam it for another 2 hours and you have the ultimate sandwich. Oh god, I am going to make myself cry. I swore I wouldn't do this. Not here. Not in front of everyone. I gotta go.

Friday, December 5, 2008

No More Bailouts

3 posts in one day? Inconceivable!

I am sick of the government bleeding itself dry with my money. I just mailed all 3 of my congressmen (and women) to be sure he (or she) votes against the great automotive bailout. I will even call them Loretta if it helps.

Anyway, it's easy just click here and bitch away. You can even steal my message if you so desire:

I will try to keep this short and sweet. I am against bailouts. I am against all of the bailouts that have been done so far and I am against all of the bailouts you would ever plan to do in the future.

Let me assure you of one fact: Any future bailout you vote for will result in me voting for "the other guy" -- no matter who that other guy may be. I have no desire for the US Government to become more socialist than it already has become -- and it currently is as bad as it has ever been.

Please rest assured that the current housing troubles are not due to "the greed of Wall Street" -- but are due to the incompetencies and regulations of Washington DC. I cannot imagine that you could promote home ownership through the CRA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the absurdly low interest rates of the Federal Reserve and then be surprised and shocked that the industry fell. The only thing that would be worse is if you did not learn from the mistakes and continued along the same path. And it seems that is exactly what you plan to do.

The next bailout on the radar is the "US Auto Industry." Rest assured, GM, Chrysler and Ford are NOT "the US Auto Industry." They are a mere part of it. Toyota Hyundai, Honda, BMW, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Mercedes-Benz are probably not pleased to hear that their plants here are not considered to be part of "the US Auto Industry." And they certainly should not be punished for being successful by you promoting automakers that are NOT successful.

I have heard it argued that you must bail out the big 3 -- because no one would buy a car from someone that went bankrupt. Well count my voice as someone that will not buy a car from someone that was unfairly bailed out with my tax dollars.

Say no to this bailout. Say no to future bailouts. Stop interfering with the economy and let it heal.

Galveston pics

A couple of weeks ago I flew down to Houston/Galveston on JohnBob Air ("The Triumph of the Skies"). Just in case you are curious ... here's a link to the photos.

Click for photos

Holy Shitake


Back in 2005, I grew a bunch of portabella mushrooms. Mmmm. Tasty fungus. The little buggers grew so fast that I should have done a time lapse on them.

Fast Forward to Summer 2008

Last summer, I got another wild hair and decided to grow shrooms again. No, dinglefoot, not that kind of shrooms, though I am sure there are a handful growing in the pasture across the road. I bought some shitake spores. They come as hardwood plugs impregnated with mushroom spores. Then you take a fresh oak log, drill holes all in it, hammer in the plugs and seal it with wax. I was not expecting any notable crop until spring.


Imagine my surprise as I was going for my daily constitutional with the hell hounds. I glanced back at my custom made mushroom growing rack. (Surely this thing is big enough and sturdy enough that it could probably hold 3 full size canoes!)

What's that? A delicious baby fungus?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Calling all wieners

Ellie Mae has started an attempt at a timewaster blog -- you know, the kind that businesses hate because their employees just have to check Cute Overload one more time before they get back to work. There isn't much content there... and the hope is that the dregs of society (i.e. "the internet") will supply the majority of the content.

So if you have a wienerdog, know a wienerdog, or even love a wienerdog... check out Long Little Doggy. And if you would like to see your favorite wienerdog's face become famous by being on teh interwebs... well send it in.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Didn't believe me?

For those that have never visited and doubt the validity of my profile location -- "In a metal shed in the woods" -- I offer you solid proof:

There she blows, complete with Ellie Mae's car, Sally the goat truck and a glimpse of Tilly the tractor. If you look hard enough you can even see the colored sheets placed over the plants in the garden to protect them from frost.

My buddy and college room mate JohnBob is in town. Back when we were room mates, I made him jealous by getting my private pilot's license. Now he often returns the favor by taking me putting around in his own damn plane. That dirty rotten bastard!

It almost sounds like the start of a great joke: What do 2 college educated, unemployed guys do instead of finding a job? Go flying. I gotta work on that punchline.

JohnBob has a sweet new radio stack.

You know there are too many lawyers on the planet when warning labels pronounce nothing but common sense. If you click on it, you can make it out, but let me spoil the surprise: "Caution: Leaking fuel caps can cause loss of fuel" REALLY? The saddest thing here is (a) this is probably there because someone didn't know that and died. (b) that person was smart enough to earn a pilot's license, but dumb enough not to know leaking fuel caps leak.
And because I know everyone on the planet shares the "joys of tractors" just the way I do: Here is the tractor store where I bought Tilly.
And another item from the wonderful and mysterious world of the tractor: The tractor auction. Sorry kids, this isn't auction weekend or the entire lot would be full to the brim with leaking, smoking, sick tractors with flat tires and worn out clutches. Grab some ether and get over there.And what tour of the city is complete without seeing "Jesus and the money lenders." Stop into the book store and purchase a T shirt or a big box of pamphlets. But hurry while the tiny struggling church only covers 10 acres. As you can see, it's about to double in size. Oh, and that building across the parking lot in the top right... yeah that's part of it too. It's okay they bulldozed all those houses. I am sure the property taxes from the church will be more than the city got from the houses.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Can I be like everybody else? Please?

In a nonconformist attempt to be just like everybody else, here is my Omnivore's List.... as stolen from Ellie Mae. You could follow the stolen chain back to the beginning of time itself. In fact, I bet there is a cave wall somewhere with vague paintings on it... and a big X through haggis.

In general, I am pretty darn adventurous when it comes to food... though obviously I haven't made my way through the entire buffet. If you make it through the whole list, and the check comes, does that mean life is done?

If I counted right, my score is 72%.

1. Venison - outside of the backstrap, I don't get it. By the time you pay for the lease, the processing, the pork you have to mix in to make it palatable, the gun, the ammo and the multiple cases of beer you drink while on the lease -- this is probably the highest price per pound meat out there. Especially if you just eat the backstrap.
2. Nettle tea - sure, I'd try it. But what's the point?
3. Huevos rancheros - and stop right here if you've never had it. You're life was wasted. It's over. Go home.
4. Steak tartare - I am forever perplexed by folks that are icked out by rare or raw meat. The more it's cooked, the less you taste it. It's all in your head. Your mom overcooked it and so do you. My steaks hit the grill for the sole reason that I like the smoky charred outside -- not because I want them cooked. (And smoky taste only comes from wood. Not from icky charcoal or propane or propane accessories.) If you don't like them cold then let them warm up to room temperature first.
5. Crocodile - I am assuming alligator doesn't count as a substitution
6. Black pudding - quit squirming. Its good.
7. Cheese fondue - This is just on the list to keep people from scoring a 0.
8. Carp - I've had better fish.
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari - the tastiest fried rubber bands you will find
12. Pho - god I miss pho.
13. PB&J sandwich - my neices now have scored a 2.
14. Aloo gobi - had to look it up, but yeah I recognize it from the Indian buffet. Speaking of missing a food you can't get around here....
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses - the fact that I had to look it up and still wasn't sure makes me think I haven't had it. Though I've been through a good portion of the Central Market cheese wall.
17. Black truffle - nope. The foodie in me wants to try it. The cheapskate passes.
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns - Hey, those are right next door to the Pho place.
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn or head cheese - like Ellie Mae said: She bought it, but on a day I came home sick. It's not that I wouldnt try it -- but not when I am queesy.
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper - give me a jalepeno or a serano any day. There isn't any flavor in these things, just heat.
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters - Can I get a #58 with this please?
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda - sounds good
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi - sounds like it is missing gin
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar - Not a big tobacco fan
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat - the other other white meat
42. Whole insects - not on purpose. I don't think accidentally swallowing counts
43. Phaal - I'm guessing no. I've had my share of hot curry dishes, but I don't think I've had this one.
44. Goat's milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more - Ellie Mae says Glenmorangie 18 counts. It didn't cost that much then, but... inflation.
46. Fugu - Homer likes it
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut - You'd better not say yes to this unless a guy with a paper hat hands you one on a stick right out of the fryer. A cold one doesn't count. A grocery store box of KK's actually should count -1.
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear - maybe
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle - Ellie Mae even bought one of them there spaetzle makers from Amazon.
57. Dirty gin martini - the only way to drink them. And I am so damned tired of ordering a martini and having the waiter say "vodka or gin martini?" It's a martini. There made from gin. If I wanted a vodka martini, I would have ordered one, okay? Or maybe I would have just sucked the diesel fuel out of a car in the parking lot.
58. Beer above 8% ABV - This could be phrased "have you been outside of the USA?"
59. Poutine - I was going to say no until I looked it up. It's okay, though soggy gravied fries are probably an acquired taste
60. Carob chips
61. S'mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin - am I missing the point?
64. Currywurst - want
65. Durian
66. Frogs' legs - if it tastes like chicken, but requires me to hunt on a boat in the middle of a night with a pointy stick, only to get a couple of bites -- why don't I just have chicken?
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis - I had my chance in Scotland and didn't. I would like to try it, but I don't think I want to commit my entire meal to it.
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette - hey that andouillette sounds tasty.
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini - Maybe I've not had "the good stuff". It's not awful, but from what I had -- I didn't see what the fuss was about.
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost - yeah, I had to try it due to Ellie Mae's Norwegian heritage. I'll pass next time.
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie - blech
78. Snail - this is on my list. Too many people love the little critters. Butter/garlic sponges. How bad could that be?
79. Lapsang souchong - hard to get excited over tea
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Har - I am guessing this means Har Gow
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse - translation: if you've been to Sweden and had anything with "ground meat" in it, that is not the same as "ground beef"
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa - Ellie Mae - get on it.
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I'm stumped, Part 3

Did you notice the subtle shift from "day 2" to "part 3" or did I get away with it? Several days of rain and a few days of slow starts (and only a couple hours working) made day 3 turn into multiple days. But I rein superior. The stump king has fallen.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I'm stumped

Day 1

I like a project. Some of you may remember back about 3+ years ago I built a fine retaining wall in a futile attempt to save a big ass oak that was stepped on by a bulldozer. It probably took me 3 months to build it. (Not continuous, mind you. I was only in town about one day a month. And budget constraints had me buying bricks as money was available.) This was in the dark days before tractors. The wall tear down was done in no time at all. I might add that the build up was done by hand a bucket at a time. And at that time "bucket" meant a thing you carry -- not a thing on the end of a FEL.

The bricks have been squirreled away for a future project. The stump is ripe and ready to be picked. (This is a stump farm.) And, yes, this is the same stump that was made into a planter/fire ant condo. (The fire ants have moved in.)

Day 2

Wall gone and several yards of dirt moved. You may or may not be able to see numerous piles of dirt in the background -- each in a perceived low spot. At this point work is done with a shovel. I suspect Day 3 may look a whole lot like Day 2.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I am angry

A friend sent me this article. It bears reading.

"It isn't that a spork is inherently deadly, Olson said. It's the manner in which it was used."

Monday, November 3, 2008

oh thank heaven... its almost over

From my perch in the middle, it always seems like the Left and the Right are irrational on some level. The irrationality ranges from mild to severe. Imagine my surprise when I read a column from someone claiming to be from the Right that actually makes sense. Well played, sir.

If you are too lazy to read it, I will summarize: the sky is not falling. The world is not ending. The Right has been stupid.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Cacti helper: CachedResponse

If you are looking for consistency or a theme here, you're in the wrong place. That's something you will find elsewhere. This is another one of those geek entries.

For many years I have had a serious affinity for cacti and it's underlying cousin rrdtool. Before that, I was pretty fond of MRTG -- the predecessor of rrdtool. I spent the requisite time graphing the performance of computers and routers -- you know... the normal stuff.

But that's so cut and paste. There's no challenge. At some point in time I got started playing with graphing other things. My first big project was taking the opensource financial package gnucash and creating about 70 different graphs on various financial aspects. But over the years I have graphed huricane progress (actually weather buoy data), doggie potty training, prepaid cell phone statistics, TiVo statistics, various Netflix usage statistics, usage statistics for my ISP (since I have a montly data cap) -- just to name a handful. I am a graphing weenie.

The original processing of gnucash processing occurred on a 166Mhz processor. It used to take 30 minutes to crunch the gnucash file and spit out stuff -- and that is before I added "features" to track more things. Needless to say, I couldn't use the "normal" cacti mechanisms that would process the file every 5 minutes. Add to this the fact I had 70-something graphs and god only knows how many distinct data sources. I needed a way to process once, read many.

What I originally came up with was a "recipe." I processed the data, wrote perl code on the fly, then wrote a "read my data" bit of code that included the on-the-fly perl code and spit out answers cacti could understand. This code would re-process the gnucash file every 12 hours or so.

I then cut and pasted this bit of code many many times as I developed other applications to process things that didn't fit the normal cacti model.

The bad side of this was that every time I hit something new and different, the cut and paste code diverted from the original. And there were multiple copies of it, each with tweaks. Want a new feature? You have to add it 10 times to 10 bits of diverging code.

So, I finally developed a library to handle this.

Introducing: CachedResponse...

The whole idea here is that you write one script that creates data. And you write a second script that spits cacti-approved data. The library marries the 2 and manages the cache. It provides cache statistics. It rebuilds the cache in the background when it is out of date. It notifies you via SMTP when things fail.

Anyway, if you want it, let me know. I would post it to CPAN, but there is such a limited audience... and it is pretty beta.

Right now the performance is well... not nearly as good as before. My cacti run queue used to take about 45 seconds. And now it runs about 70 seconds. Sure, I could make it more parallel, but that isn't really a benchmark. [BTW: those spikey things in the graph are bugs where I accidentally spawned a zillion subprocesses.] I expected a performance drop. Before it was a simple file include and now it is a chatty disk operation. I would like to think it is more robust though. Before when things hiccuped, the graph would stop. Now little errors don't stop it -- and all errors generate an email.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Howl O weener thoughts

In general, in addition to being a cheap ass bastard, I am also a lazy ass bastard. I can be all sorts of different bastards when I try.

When it comes to Halloween, I usually err on the side of laziness. One year I cut arm, leg and head holes in a garment bag and went as "Sam Sonite." Another year I draped myself in Christmas garland and lights and went as "Kathy's Christmas tree.[1]" There was only one year that I actually planned ahead. That was the year I went as "John Boy.[2]"

So when Ellie Mae mentioned a pet costume contest, nothing came to mind. And I wasn't all that thrilled about going.... until she told me two of my favorite celebrities were going to be contest judges: Bill and Star. If you don't know Bill and Star then that means you didn't watch the summer reality show "Greatest American Dog." I watched -- mostly because I am a dog nut. But once it started Ellie and I were hooked on Bill and Star. Both were so likable.

So, being a lazy ass bastard... and a big kiss up, I immediately came up with the easiest and best costume. We went as Bill and Star.

Here you see me, my little buddy Arlo posing in costume with Bill and Star.I might also mention that my pandering made them add a category for the judging. Here is Arlo modeling his winning T-shirt for 3rd prize in the "let's just make something up" category.


[1] The previous year Kathy had a halloween party and we noticed she still had her Christmas tree up. Yes, from the previous year. No, it was not an artificial tree.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

You just cant make this stuff up

In a comedy of errors, our power feed and broken power pole suffered a second, almost deathly blow this evening.

You would think our power feed would have been fixed, seeing as it has been broken for six weeks. However, reliable electricians are just not as easy to find out in the sticks. A local guy has been forgetting about me and putting me off for 6 weeks.

And this evening... crash. A second branch has fallen on the power line, making the bubbified tippy electrical feed even more scary to look at. (Excuse the extremely brightened photos... it's dark out.)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Random quotes from the past

I came across a couple of quotes that really ring true... even though they were from many years ago.

One of the methods used by statists to destroy capitalism consists in establishing controls that tie a given industry hand and foot, making it unable to solve its problems, then declaring that freedom has failed and stronger controls are necessary. —Ayn Rand, 1975

Sound familiar?

What about this one:
The excess credit which the Fed pumped into the economy spilled over into the stock market--triggering a fantastic speculative boom. —Alan Greenspan on the cause of the Great Depression

Friday, October 24, 2008

Shame on you Mr Greenspan

It is quite possible that there is nothing in this world more pointless than a Senate or Congressional hearing. It is the ultimate example of the futility of a committee. The same has to be said for the "Why is our Economy going to Hell in a Handbasket" hearings... but at least they are not talking to professional baseball players. [As an aside, I'd love it if someone could pull out their copy of the constitution and point me to where Congress has the authority over the rules of professional sporting events. I used to have a sticky on that page and I just cannot find it now.]

First off: Congress has some nerve asking "why" to the SEC and the Fed. "Congress" is why. And if they didn't know the answer to "why" then why the hell are they in congress in a position of "Economic Policy"?

But the real thing that makes me mad here is Mr. Greenspan himself. In a ridiculous move, Mr. Greenspan, in effect, said that his past history of pushing for deregulation of the economy -- he made a mistake. What? I know the world sees Mr. Greenspan as the chief proponent of the free market. I do not. I hold him to a much higher standard. Mr. Greenspan knows better. Calling himself an opponent of regulation, while holding the position of regulator-in-chief is such a tremendous contradiction that it is likely to make my head asplode. It's like some guy spouting the virtues of vegetarianism while eating a bacon wrapped celery stick. Mmmm. Bacon.

It was the Fed, Mr. Greenspan that set interest rates. Set. Interest. Rates. What bigger control over a lending debacle is there? If you set them too low, then too many people get loans. Some people that can't afford to get loans get them. Some people that can afford to get a smaller loan decide to get a bigger one they cannot afford. The self-regulating businesses [his words] cannot self regulate. What bank can compete with other banks rationally if other banks are loaning out cheaper loans because of the interest rate the Fed sets. The only way to compete with those banks is to lower your lending standards.

I said I hold Mr. Greenspan to a higher standard. This isn't your average idiot economist. First off, the guy is brilliant. Secondly, I have actually read the ideas he held in the 60's -- the very ideas he claims to be rethinking now -- and the very ideas that his job at the Fed was intent on destroying. If you are just starting to rethink these ideas now, then what made you work so hard to destroy them for the past 20 years?

[Later edit: Not that I am the one that gave them the idea, but a couple of hours after I wrote this published something very similar.]

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How to use your nose

  1. grab something stinky
  2. inhale

You would think, as humans, we could memorize those 2 steps. We cannot.

I hate internet rumor. Sure, it can be entertaining -- mostly laughing at the folks that believe it. But there are serious consequences as well. But if the folks involved could just use their damn nose, they could smell the stink.

Let me tell you a story

Once upon a time, I worked at a very big company. I was managing email servers. At the time this company had about 100,000 employees. (Those were the days.) I forget exact numbers and dates, but at the time it is safe to assume the servers I managed handled mail for 20,000+ people (and it is more likely to be 40,000+. I just don't have notes of dates/numbers). So about this time there was an internet rumor that directly affected me. This rumor caused millions of emails to bombard my servers -- enough that the servers had to be upgraded. Before the rumor the servers worked fine. After the rumor they were not enough. The internet rumor cost about $40,000 in hardware.

The Rumor

FYI. In case you didn’t already know. This was sent to me from an attorney friend of KC’s.


Original Message-------

It has recently been discovered that is owned by a flaming liberal and this man is in the tank for Obama. There are many things they have listed on their site as a hoax and yet you can go to Youtube yourself and find the video of Obama actually saying these things. So you see, you cannot and should not trust for anything that remotely resembles truth! I don't even trust them to tell me if email chains are hoaxes anymore.

A few conservative speakers on Myspace told me about a few months ago and I took it upon myself to do a little research to find out if it was true. Well, I found out for myself that it is true. This website is backing Obama and is covering up for him. They will say anything that makes him look bad is a hoax and they also tell lies on the other side about McCain and Palin.

Anyway just FYI . If you continue to use at least be aware of their political leanings as well. Many people still think is neutral and they can be trusted as factual. We need to make sure everyone is aware that that is a hoax in itself. You might try TRUTHORFICTION.COM ---- wonder who owns that . . . . . . . . . .


Let's forget Snopes here for a minute and just look at the mail. Geez, you would think people had never seen the internet before. Okay, though I have mentioned it before lets just go through what makes a good rumor:

  • an authority figure. Usually it is "Sheriff Bradley of Winslow County" (just made that one up myself) or something that just bubbles authority. In this case it is "an attorney friend of KC's". Now this guy is an attorney, so that means he is smart and went through lots of school. And you can trust him because he is KC's friend. Of course, it makes no difference that no one in the chain of this has a clue who KC is.
  • State an absolute fact. "There are many things they have listed on their site as a hoax and yet you can go to Youtube yourself and find the video of Obama actually saying these things. So you see, you cannot and should not trust for anything that remotely resembles truth!"
  • Give a pseudoreference. "you can go to Youtube yourself and find the video of Obama actually saying these things".

Okay, in the real world, if this was factual, you could easily have said this in a way that was provable:

The problem here is they stated no real fact. And they stated no real proof of the fact (though you can find that proof on youtube.) And we know everything on youtube is factual because it is video. I mean just to prove it to you: as I sit here I am eating the popcorn I made with my cell phone.

Full Disclosure

  • I am neither "left" or "right". In fact, I have pretty negative opinions of both.
  • I really like Snopes. In fact, if you go back to my internet rumor story above, I should add to that. Snopes was a huge part of quelling this rumor. I do not know them. They do not know me. But I sent the aforementioned rumor to them and acted as the unauthorized (by management) voice of authority for my company. Within a few hours, my comments were on their web site. I won't say this stopped the bombardment of my server, but I am pretty sure it helped.

In defense of Snopes

I have no earthly idea what the political leanings of David & Barbara are. (Note how I call them by their first names, like we are buddies. I must be a lefty pinko commie too.) In fact, I don't care. I have been reading their site and using it as a reference for many years. Truth doesn't lean left or right. It just is. And falsehood just isn't. I have seen enough "true" and "false" references to both "the left" and "the right" to get the gut feeling that their goal is just to publish fact. I seriously don't think they are slanting the facts. All I can assume is that there are other internet rumors that are false that snopes has marked as such and that this is a smear to make you disbelieve them.

I might also add a bit of irony: Let's just believe the thesis for a minute: "If a liberal owns a media outlet, everything they say is a lie." Okay. Now do the words "Fox News" and "Rupert Murdoch" mean anything to you?

And irony bit number 2: Again, let's believe what the rumor says. Screw snopes. Trust Here's their story on this story.

A Ranty Conclusion

As I mentioned in Polly Ticks there is one facet of this I do not understand. And it bothers me. A whole lot.

Religious folk are typically given "a pass" by our society. They are immediately believable. They are "good". Think how many times you hear "he was a good religious man" in a obituary or as a comment about a poor victim on the news. Its as if "religious" automatically enforces "good."

But I cannot begin to tell you how many times "religious folk" are the ones sending out this type of rumor. And it just is not accidental. It is so formulaic that it is impossible for it not to be intentional. Tell a lie for political gain... so we can get someone in power that is "trusted and religious." Hmmm... Isn't that self disproving?

Or is it just that since the whole concept of religion is an unverifiable source telling you something that is difficult to believe. Maybe these folks are just overly gullible. Gullible is important in religion.

I am not saying the person that sent this to me is lying. Or the person that sent it to them. Or the person that sent it to them... but there is a liar in the chain. And a whole lot of gullibility.

Monday, October 20, 2008

We're Electing the Wrong People

You would think I could let it go. I can't. It's the upcoming election. It's the "economic crisis." It's the 80 gazillion dollar bailout. It's my last post on how taxes work. I can't let it go.

We are electing the wrong people. I don't mean Republicans vs Democrats. I mean they are all wrong. Way Wrong. One party is just a sham for socialists that also want to take away all your individual freedoms. And the others party is a sham for socialists that want to retain some of your individual freedoms. There was a time when it was "economic freedom" vs "personal freedom" -- and each party had a tiny bit of something to offer. But ever since W. has proved to be even a bigger socialist than FDR, "economic freedom" has become a thing of the past. Pundits on the late night talk shows giggle of our naivety -- how we could have been so silly to think "economic freedom" was a good thing way back when. It's a forgone conclusion.

One side promotes "trickle down" economics. The other promotes "bubble up" economics. They both have accepted that taxation is an ever increasing absolute. They just are arguing over who should pay the most unfair amount. Forgotten in the conversation is the fact that money is being taken from people by force and being spent on things they are philosophically opposed to. It would be one thing if we were being forced to buy the things we want. But that, again, isn't how it works.

When all else fails, oversimplify. There is nothing better than taking a complex topic like taxation and government spending and reducing it to a simpler concept -- even if it isn't logically correct. So let's just compare how government works to how real life works, shall we? The most important lesson I ever learned about personal finance was this (and I have ranted many times about it before): It is not what you earn, but what you spend that determines your wealth. I cannot tell you just how important this lesson is. The biggest raise I have ever received in my life was a 40% cut. Ellie Mae and I were living the typical American life. We were not overtly in debt, but we had car loans and house loans. We paid off our credit cards every month. But at the end of the month, we pretty much had spent the same amount we earned -- spent on crap I might add. Usually it was spent in a restaurant or on something that we didn't even have anything to show for. But when Ellie Mae was hating life and decided to leave the corporate hell she was in, we managed not only to get by on 40% less, but to actually get ahead. In about 10 years, I am semi-retired (which, I might add, is a euphemism for unemployed). Better still, I am semi-retired with no loans.

So when it comes to taxes, let me make the same statement: It's not how much tax revenue you take in ... or even who you take it from. It's how you spend it. I get so goddamn angry as they argue over who should pay more or who should get the next tax cut, when the real issue is "why don't you spend less?"

Let's compare my own economic story with those of our various leaders, shall we?

  • After losing the presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton has been reported to be anywhere between $10 - $36 million in debt. (The amount varies with the source and date of the story.)
  • Dennis Kucinich owed almost a half a million from his 2004 attempt at the presidency before he ran up another cool million and change on his 2008 bid.
  • John Glenn reportedly owes $3 million from his 1984 run for president.
  • Failed Democratic presidential candidates from 2008 include: Joe Biden ($1.2M), Chris Dodd ($380K) and Bill Richardson ($317K).
  • Failed Republicans include: Rudy Giuliani ($3.6M) and Mitt Romney ($44M!).
  • Special Bonus Honorable Retarded Mention goes to Joe Biden. This "common man" has reportedly refinanced his home 29 times since 1972. (And let's be clear here... if you owe $730k on your house, you cannot portray yourself as a common man -- even if you do ride the train.) Okay, Joe: when it comes to economics, you're doing it wrong. Firstly, it sounds like you have a tendency to buy more than you can afford. Next, it sounds like you are willing to leverage your soul forever to do so. If you cannot pay off your house in 15-20 years then you just cannot afford it. Can't retire? I wonder why with an eternal house payment on a $3 million dollar home. Maybe you should just vote up a whole bunch of benefits for retirees so you can pay it off. His net worth at age 65 is estimated to be $150k! Dear jebus, keep this guy out of fixing our economy! I say again: You're doing it wrong, Joe. You want a poster child for how we got into a housing bubble? Look no further.

There has to be something wrong here. I might also suggest that the trail of blood leads to the losers, but isn't it possible... or even probable that the winners hedged their winning on debt as well? And who is more likely to be bought or finagled? Someone that is paid in full? Or someone that owes his soul? Let's not also forget that even the "losers" are still generally in public office and are prime candidates for political favors. Let's also also not forget that with millions in debt, the jobs they are seeking are $400k (president) and $165K (congress). While neither of these is chump change, they certainly are not worthy of multi-million dollar risk unless there are other rewards. I say if you cannot afford to get elected for cash (your own or that of donors) then you should be legally barred from running.

And if you cannot afford your own stupid life, you cannot afford to be economically ruling the rest of us. These folks are leveraging the country in the same fashion as they leveraged themselves: We'll just pay for it later. Or someone will. Or there will be some insurance policy that pays off the estate when I die.

Well, when it comes to the life in the USSA, the payment comes from the next generation. I might also add here that the next generation has been brought up to believe that Mom & Dad will pay for everything. (Mom & Dad did it with a credit card.) So they pretty much feel entitled... and we are expecting them to shoulder this burden? I don't think there is a math scholar alive that can make that one work out.

And the bailout? What's the purpose of that? Well, if you listen to the knuckleheads that got us into this mess (and the same ones we are trusting to get us out) the purpose is to get more credit out there. More credit? Someone is not paying attention in class. It seems to me the whole reason we are here is due to too many people taking too much credit.

If you want out of this mess, you need capital. You need cash. You need assets. Promoting debt is no cure. It is an offering of a bandaid to a man that was just run over by a train.

"Gosh, you are really overweight. Can I offer you a slice of pie?"

Sunday, October 19, 2008

One of those poignant forwarded thingies

I got this as a forward from my uncle. There is no real attribution to its origins (so sorry for busting your copyright, whomever wrote it). However, it is a pretty exact model of how our tax system works. Feel free to call it a straw man... but do the math. It isn't quite as made of dried grass clippings as you would claim it is.

I have one and only one criticism of this: it uses tax cuts as the example... and I just don't see any of those coming anytime soon.

Bar Stool Economics

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.

The fifth would pay $1.

The sixth would pay $3.

The seventh would pay $7.

The eighth would pay $12.

The ninth would pay $18.

The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that's what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement until, one day, the owner threw them a curve. 'Since you are all such good customers,' he said, 'I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20. Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men - the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his 'fair share?' They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so:

The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).

The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).

The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (29%savings).

The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).

The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).

The tenth now paid $50 instead of $59 (15% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But, once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.

'I only got a dollar out of the $20,'declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man, 'but he got $9.

'Yeah, that's right,' exclaimed the fifth man. 'I only saved a dollar, too. It's unfair that he got nine times more than I!'

'That's true!!' shouted the seventh man. 'Why should he get $9 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!'

'Wait a minute,' yelled the first four men in unison. 'We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!'

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But, when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists, and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.