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.