Thursday, April 30, 2009


My apologies if this has been done already. I'd hate to hear "It's a Ziggy."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Return of the son of the loan shark

I am about to defend a bunch of real assholes -- no not in government, in the private sector. But sometimes you have to do it. You sometimes have to defend the porn theaters, Klansmen and Nazis in order to protect free speech. In the same regard, you have to protect the pawn shops, payday loans and credit card companies in order to protect a free economy.

Don't tune out just yet. I am well aware these guys are the ugly underbelly of the financial world. I am well aware that they charge outrageous interest rates. I am well aware that often it is the poor and uneducated that get caught up in all this -- though I can surely say I've seen more than my share of college educated middle class folks driving their Lexus and sipping a caramel macchiato while they stuff their big wad of credit card receipts into their Coach handbag.

The fact is: like it or not these companies provide a service by providing (often unsecured) risky loans to people that want them. And while none of us outside the legal profession probably read the 8 pages of fine print reduced to the size of a 3x5 card for easy storage, we pretty much know what the deal is. We get something, we pay more later. And I will argue and argue and argue and argue until I turn blue in the face that this is an irrational way of going through life, but just like I don't want to outlaw your church, I don't want to outlaw risky credit.

But that's just what House Resolution 1608 and Senate Bill 500 propose to do. They would cap interest rates at a pretty gosh darn freakin high rate of 36%. But think for a moment: what would that do? Obviously rates above 36% exist, or they wouldn't even be discussing this. Obviously there is a demand for loans at that rate. So illogically, let's cut the supply, shall we?

I'd like to point out here... again... what happened with the housing industry. Oh, there was lots of stuff that went on. (Read this for a detailed, annotated history.) But the gist of it is: in a lovely human gesture to save the poor and less educated, the government encouraged, cajoled and sometimes forced loans to be made at interest rates below market value. Result? Calamity. Housing and banking will take years to recover and the folks that were being "helped" are now in worse shape than they ever were.

I'm not saying that closing a few pawn shops will crash the economy further. What I am saying is that the more you restrict the risky credit, the less options are available to exactly the segment of the population you are trying to help. We are already seeing banks retracting credit and reducing credit limits. This is for their own protection. They've been overextended for a long time now. They're trying to fix themselves. Restricting this will only prolong their agony or ensure their failure.

And when you move the "fair" credit to the pawn and payday loan market, the results are much more ominous. If you think these guys are scum, think for a minute what they're going to do if you don't pay: wreck your credit, pester the living crap out of you, sell your hocked power tools and make you miserable. The alternative lending sources for the same segment of the population is going to be Uncle Vito. He's more likely to burn down your house, threaten your kids or break your kneecaps. (Oooh, a good excuse for universal health care!)

In short, the left will do to finance what the right would like to do to abortion and mind altering drugs. This sort of short sighted law does not squelch demand. It just makes it riskier for the supplier -- creating higher dangers for everyone. This bill isn't about protecting consumers from unreasonable credit rates. This bill is about launching the careers of a bunch of new loan sharks.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Suze Oh-Man!

This is really a geek rant, but before I get off on that bit... when the hell did Suze Orman go all soft? She used to be a hard ass, tell-you-what-you-need-to-hear chick. Now she's all "poor you. It's the economy." This is the same chick that ranted and raved when folks bought more house than they could afford and leveraged it with some god awful interest only loan.... Now she's feeling all sorry for those folks. But like I said. This is a geek rant.

So its "Green Week" this week and Suze has all these ever so helpful tips from her viewers -- how to save money and save the planet. One viewer calls in and says she is teaching her child to be green by turning off all the lights for one hour every day. And low and behold, she's saving $40 a month by doing just that! That's awesome. That's terrific. That's great. That's also a big load of crap.

Let's just take a look at this, shall we?

  • $40 a month savings by turning off the lights for one hour a day
  • that boils down to $1.33 a day
  • assuming $0.1202 per kWh (which is what I pay, and our rates are known to be a little high)
  • that means 11.0026 KWh savings a day (or 332.78 KWh a month)

Holy frickin moly. That's a lot of lights burning in an hour. Consider a standard CFL with 100w equivalent burns 25w. (She's saving the planet, remember, she MUST be running CFLs.)

Given one bulb for an hour is 25 w/h and she is saving 11,002.6 w/h -- she is turning off 440 lights. If you're burning 440 lights at in your house at any given time, your problem isn't with lighting. She's either full of crap, has a house the size of Home Depot or she's got a marijuana farm in the basement and she's turning off the grow lights.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Teabagging, post script

[This is a post script to Teabagging. If you're reading this top down, you might want to read that first.]

Wow. I just read Janeane Garofalo's rant on tea party supporters:
"It's not about bashing Democrats, it's not about taxes, they have no idea what the Boston tea party was about, they don't know their history at all. This is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up. That is nothing but a bunch of teabagging rednecks. And there is no way around that. And you know, you can tell these type of right wingers anything and they'll believe it, except the truth."
Oh Janeane. I had such a crush on you. Why do you have to end it with us this way? So, the logic goes "if you disagree with a black man, you hate black men." According to this logic, I disagree with Hilary Clinton. I hate all women. Oh, and let's throw "carpetbagging Yankees" in there as well to stir up trouble. I disagree with George Bush. I hate all white men. I did not much care for Alberto Gonzales, thus I obviously hate all Hispanics. I really detest and fully disagree with Kim Jong Il and I guess that means I hate all Asians. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad really sets me off sometimes, showing, I am sure, my pure unfettered display of unilateral hate of all Muslims and Middle Easterners. I have never found a love of the taste whale blubber, which obviously shows contempt for the Inuits. I've never spent any time reading Perez Hilton's celebrity gossip drivel and obviously this is my latent homosexuality showing which creates my internal strife and makes me violent towards all gays and lesbians.

If there was divisive, bile spitting, prejudiced hatred with no rational thought going on, I assure you it was in categorically crying "racism" over "disagreement." The truth is that if someone can have a peaceful disagreement over the policies made when a black man was in the white house -- that alone is a positive sign of the changing times.


First off, I must admit: I am a coffee drinker. Tea doesn't do it for me. That said, I like the whole tea party concept -- but I think it missed the boat. I think it was ignored. And I think I know why.

First off, it got no media coverage. Oh, sure, Fox News was there -- and almost seemed to be a sponsor. This probably drove the other media outlets away. Who wants to be seen covering someone else's event? Some will see this as the "awful liberal media" but I don't see it -- at least not at the moment. And I don't care if Fox was the only one covering you -- this is not a benefit. Fox News is divisive. Sure there may be a handful of pundits on Fox that occasionally spout a rational point of view, but they are so buried in over dramatization, fear promotion and pandering to the religious right that it gets lost in the shuffle. And the right so doesn't understand they are getting hoaxed -- that Fox News is a lefty's joke to make money off the right and funnel it to the left.

And, oh my god, shut Rick Perry up. I understand his message. And the right person can say it in a way that is a little more balanced. But this is Texas. And in Texas there is something extra special about the whole "Secede from the Union" thing. In Texas, there is a whole subculture of crazies that preach secession all the time. They don't need anyone pushing them. In Texas, secession brings out the confederate flag waving, monster truck driving, hood wearing lynch mob. These folks don't need a push. They are scary enough without the Gov standing up and giving them a shout out. Take your Rod Blagojevich hair and go back to the governor's mansion.

But most importantly, if this movement were to be effective, there needs to be a very loud criticism of the right. Yes, I said the right. We all know that the tea party folks hate the insane spending of the left. But they need to embrace the insanity of the spending of the right as well. Don't you sit there and defend Bush and criticize Obama when their spending and bailout plans are pretty much explicitly the same. Bush and Clinton got us into this mess with their idiotic financial policies. Obama's plan to get us out is right in line with the plans that got us here. To criticize one without bashing the other is a farce.

This needs to not be a left vs right or liberal vs conservative issue. This needs to be a reason vs irrationality issue. And it needs to be loud. And it can't just be something we do on "tax day." The protest needs to happen until the idiots in Washington step down. Right now, they're not even scared. Right now, the tea parties have been dismissed and ignored.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Why is tech so hard to understand?

I don't get how the media can so miss the boat on technology. And I'm not talking about splitting atoms or hacking kernels. I'm talking about just normal every day stuff that a 10 year old understands. For example, this morning on the Today Show there was a report about a murder possibly linked to an ad placed on craigslist. The story was rife with the dangers of craigslist (though it seemed to be missing the ominous music of an impending shark attack). They had a security expert on to tell us of the online danger and how we should have a virus scanner installed. (And, I might add, that is just a sign that you are running the wrong OS... but... I digress.)

The fact is: this isn't a story about technology at all.

This is a story about a smoking hot chick that placed an ad saying she would do a massage in your hotel room. Now, I'm not saying she necessarily was doing anything illegal. I'm not saying being a hot chick or dressing provocatively gives anyone a license to do anything they want to you. What I am saying is: whether it is or not, it smells like prostitution. And if I think it smells that way, so might the dude that killed her. And, while I really don't think that prostitution should necessarily be illegal: the fact is that it is illegal and it's dangerous. It's dangerous if you are walking the sleazy alleys behind a bar on the bad side of town and it's dangerous if you are advertising on craigslist.

And to even mention the dangers of craigslist here is ludicrous. Selling your kid's outgrown baby clothes and selling your hoohoo have totally different levels of risk. Craigslist just isn't a factor here (unless you are a cop tracking down the murderer in this specific case.) Any large city has a whole section of hookers under "massage" and "escort services" in their phone book. Should I be worried about using my phone? What if I need to call 911? Or make a dinner reservation? Are those safe?

And why the hell did the producers get someone to come on and talk about keeping your virus scanner updated? Are they implying that if this poor girl had simply installed McAffee that she would have been safer? That's like recommending proper tire inflation for those times when you are visiting the crack house across town. It's not like it isn't important... it's just not important to the story.

The real story here is that risky behavior carries some amount of ... risk. Whether she was a prostitute or her ad just had the flavor of a prostitute -- a young female going to a stranger's hotel room where there is likely to be hot oil and nudity involved is a risky business. Whether the ad was on a billboard, in the yellow pages or done with one of those fancy new computational machines really isn't part of the story. And no amount of firewalls or virus scanners are going to make it safer.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Important things I have learned from watching TV

What I have learned from watching COPs

Do not ever let it be said that you cannot learn from watching TV. I have long been a fan of Fox's COPS... as well as a lot of those other crime shows (Forensic Files, 48 Hours, Dateline, etc). But also I have seen, from watching the news and the world around me, that there just are not enough people that watch these shows. If they did, they would learn something.

  • Do not rob your next door neighbor (or the guy three houses down... it pays to extrapolate a little). He knows what car you drive and can describe you to the cops. Drive across town, for christ's sake.
  • If you are going to put on a disguise and rob a relative that is close to you, refrain from using those colloquial names that would be quick to identify you. In other words, try "Give me the money Old Man" not "Give me the money Boompah."
  • It doesn't matter if you are bigger than the cop if he has a gun or a TASER.
  • Tasers hurt like hell.
  • Tasers are fun to shoot.
  • Big nasty guys make a big thud when they are tased and usually scream like children and wet their pants.
  • Divorce is cheaper than a murder trial.
  • It's a bad sign if you get kicked out of your court-required anger management class.
  • It is very hard to look innocent with tattoos on your eyelids.
  • If you get away with murdering your spouse once -- and ESPECIALLY if you give them some obscure drug/poison that is related to your profession -- chalk this up as one for the win column. In no way should you consider the exact same plan for your second (or third) spouse. You should come up with a different plan or maybe even consider that you aren't the marrying type.
  • If you run from the cops for a stupid little infraction, they are honestly going to think you did something bigger and are likely to involve everyone in the department and maybe everyone in the departments of all the municipalities in the area. There is a really good chance you will eat dirt before the night is over.
  • If a cop asks you if you have been drinking, there is never an appropriate time for you to say "I had 2 beers." Every person ever questioned gives this answer. Even if you actually had only 2 beers, you are going to be more believable if you say "I had 3 beers."
  • If you get really drunk, don't steal a car.
  • If you steal a car drunk and wreck it, don't think you can cover it all and make it go away by burning the evidence. This is especially true if it is a well beloved classic car owned by a friend of the family.
  • If you are a hooker and have been arrested enough times that you know the names of lots of the guys in the department -- and you get into a car and think the guy looks enough like Officer Todd that you actually say "You look like Todd" -- then at that point it is a good idea to just ask for a ride somewhere and under no circumstances should you offer sex for money, because it's pretty damn likely that the guy that looks like Todd the cop actually is Todd the cop.
  • If you are an overweight balding man over 30 and a 15 year old girl finds you sexually appealing in an online chat, you are invariably talking to a cop. You are already in trouble and going to meet her is not going to turn out well.
  • If you are having an online liaison with a 15 year old girl -- or a 25 year old girl -- or 35 or 45 or 55 -- it is highly unlikely that she wants to see a picture of your penis. If you doubt this, you probably have never met a woman and may actually need a set of rules for dating instead.
  • If you hit a telephone pole under the influence and think you can sneak home, the cops will actually follow the trail of automotive fluids to your house.
  • If the cops show up at your house 30 minutes after you hit a telephone pole and ask you if you have had anything to drink since you got home, say "YES".
  • If the policemen show up to interview you regarding possible domestic violence charges, it's probably best not to yell "I'm gonna fuck you up" at your spouse.
  • If you are not a suspect do not hang around a crime scene or any group of cops being an asshole.
  • Oh my god, remain silent. They actually give you that option. Use it. Ask for a lawyer.
  • Don't spit on the cops. It won't make things go better for you.
  • If you feel the need to see a prostitute and if you feel the need to take her to a bar, then under no circumstances should you take her to a bar you and/or your spouse frequently visit -- especially if at some point you are planning on killing said prostitute.
  • If you see a really good looking hooker with what appears to be a complete set of teeth walking the streets, she is a cop.

What I have learned from watching Police Dramas

Oddly enough, police dramas teach us things that are totally different from the real life docu-dramas. These lessons are important too.

  • All chicks in law enforcement are super hot. Most are under 30 -- even if they are the high ranking officer. There are no mannish lesbians or grizzled aging women on the force. A corollary to this is that most police uniforms are highly tailored to show the beauty of the female form.
  • Police departments and government offices in general are have ominous mood lighting. There is no bright stark fluorescent lighting in government buildings.
  • When possible, dry erase boards are not actually white. They are clear. Presumably this is so bad guys have no place to hide.
  • Police officers have magnificent vision. They can pick out stuff written on a clear dry erase board.
  • When doctors perform autopsies, they use some cool 3D room that is similar to the holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
  • Any phone call or internet based protocol can be traced accurately to a physical location within +/-5 feet in a matter of seconds. It's done by the police, not the phone companies and never seems to require a warrant. It would be quicker, but the programs that do the trace have to do some neat animation showing all the hops.
  • Fingerprint matching software must physically show a picture of each fingerprint they match against on the screen while it iterates through them. This rendering is a required part of the matching software.
  • Fonts used on all law enforcement computers are 48pt or larger. The officers have ruined their eyes staring at clear dry erase boards and cannot see anything smaller than that.
  • The chief is always corrupt, stupid or a jerk.
  • Any out of focus, underlit picture taken at the lowest resolution, shallow depth of field and at a distance of 500 yards can easily be run through an enhancement computer program which can read fine print on a sheet of stained up notebook paper. However, the photographs of your wedding will forever be blurry, even though you paid $10,000 for them.
  • City offices all use computer monitors that are 70 inches or larger.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Support the EPA, I am not talking about the Environmental Protection Agency... the Enumerated Powers Act. Let me take one serious moment here. No snarkasm. No attempts at being funny or crude. Dead serious, okay?

For every year since 1995, a bill has been introduced in Congress that would simply require new bills to state what part of the US Constitution gives them the authority to pass the bill. In other words, it is a simple matter of "why is this bill constitutional." No big deal, right? Wrong. It has never passed and has never even gotten a sponsor in the Senate. In short: they know what the laws they are passing are unconstitutional. Right now, the bill is making its annual trip through Congress again. I urge you to write your Representative and your Senators. Right now. I might also suggest you write Rep. Louise Slaughter, chair of the House Rules Committee, and Rep. John Conyers chair of the House Judiciary Committee -- that's where the bill currently sits. You can even steal my text if you are too lazy to write it yourself. I give you permission.

I am writing to you in order to express my support for the pending HR450 resolution, aka "The Enumerated Powers Act." In my view, this is not a left vs. right or liberal vs. conservative issue. This act merely answers the question "Should the US Congress be required to follow the Constitution?" As a concerned, voting citizen, I can only imagine that the logical answer is "Yes." And as a member of Congress, I should expect the same answer.
In fact, I believe you probably swore an oath at one time that said "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." This and this alone should make you legally and morally bound to support this bill, or any subsequent bill like it. Support for this bill just means you are doing your job. Lack of support (be it a no vote or even just ignoring it and hoping it will go way) should be considered an affront to the Constitution. In fact, I consider non-support to be an admission that the laws you are passing are unconstitutional.
[Later Edit: Louise Slaughter seems impossible to contact in a timely manner. The electronic form forces you to use the state of New York and clearly states "Due to safety concerns regarding U.S. Postal mail sent to Washington D.C., mail delivery is severely delayed." John Conyers seems to have a timely server error that states "The document you requested can not be found or is undergoing routine maintenance." If you have a better way to contact them, leave it in the comments.]

Sunday, April 12, 2009

It's Eoster!

Well, I guess it is the religious significance of the day... One quick nod and moment of silence...
  • for the one born of a virgin
  • for the one killed and resurrected in the spring
  • for the one representing new life and new birth
Of course, I speak of Attis (Atys) - the reason for the season.

Friday, April 10, 2009

French Kiss Taco

That's right, a taco with tongue.

The raw state. Say "Aaaah"
Now stop right there. Quit your bitchin and moanin and complainin and whinin. I don't want to hear that this is gross or icky or anything like that. Let's visit Aristotle for a little syllogistic happiness, shall we?
  • Tongue is considered a delicacy in Mexico.
  • Mexican peasant food is frickin awesome.
  • Therefore, it is pretty gosh darn likely it will be awesome.
Plus, I am an "everything but the oink" kind of guy. Or moo, in this case. If you are going to eat it, eat it all. What you don't eat, use somewhere else. No waste.

As always, there's a little back story. You see: we make our own dog food. We're not overly crazy nutso, we just started reading the dog food bag one day and -- well it didn't sound like stuff I wanted to feed my best friends. And the corn, good god, the corn. I used to live right next to a corn field. And I had 2 dogs back then -- darn good ones, too, if you ask me. They begged and whined for all sorts of food at various times, but they NEVER EVER went running into the cornfield looking for corn. Corn just isn't a natural food for a dog. (A cow either, but that's another rant altogether.)

Post boil. Still with fiddly bits on it
In fact, corn's just not that great a food or a great anything. It sucks rocks, actually, which is why your tax dollars go to grow it. So anyway, before you diverted me off the point -- we make our own dog food. Usually we buy some form of protein that is on sale. They're pretty happy about it -- they're dogs.
One day we bought a big cow tongue. I cooked it -- totally unseasoned. And as I chopped it up for the micro canines, I thought: "Hey. That smells pretty good." And I tasted it. Remember, this is unseasoned boiled meat... and damn if it wasn't pretty tasty.

De-fiddly bitted

So now I am pretty sure I need to try it for real. And again, I know it looks gross. But not liking a particular food is a weakness. The more you like, the better diversity you get and the better you are able to shop for what's in season and what's on sale. I guarantee those of you that are picky are getting less nutrition by eating the 3 or 4 bland things you like. It's time to branch out. Come with me... taste the food that will taste you back.

Step One

I googled around a bit. The more traditional approach is boiled with spices. There is also a cured approach (which I will definitely be trying). I am going to go with the traditional... and maybe twist it a bit in the middle. I started with a pretty simple recipe I found on JAMSGems4u. I pretty much followed her boiling recipe, though I figured a whole handful of garlic couldn't hurt, so that went in as well.


Step Two

I took a left turn right off the recipe and decided to add a little smoke flavor. So I wrapped that bad boy in bacon to keep it from drying out. (Bacon is the universal flavoring, protector and moistener -- 3 products in 1!) Remember: the skin came off after boiling. There's nothing to hold in the moisture. And then I popped it in the smoker for a few hours of smoke

smokey time

When it was done, I went back to the JAMS recipe. Oddly, it seemed to be missing jalepenos, which I am totally sure was just a typo. No one would make a taco without jalepenos. I also folded all that luscious smoky bacon in. No one complains about too much bacon.
taco meat

the tacos

admire the beautiful hand model

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

AAA figures out the cost of an auto per year

AAA has compiled and released their computations on the cost of owning a vehicle. I think a whole lot can be learned from this... though probably not what they intended. Before I rant on... let's look at their statistics.
They have computed costs both on a cost per mile basis and on a cost per year basis (assuming some average cost per mile). I first looked at the easy road and looked at the cost per year... Hmmm, looks like by their data I spend more than $22,000 on vehicles every year. No so fast there Bub. Something is wrong here. Comparing that data to my automagically generated charts on yearly expenses (and yes, I do that), my cars are about 70% of my yearly expenses. Not.
So I'd better go with their cost per mile...

Cost per Mile

I'll focus on what I have... and to be totally honest, I have way more cars than I need. For 2 adult drivers that mostly hang together we have 4 vehicles. That is probably about 2.5 times more vehicles than we can justify -- especially for bums that don't have a productive job. Mind you: I am using their data here... I am being ultra conservative with their numbers. The lowest cost per mile they list is for 10,000 miles/year. Our cars do half of that right now, so in using their numbers, I am way underestimating.
  1. Medium sedan (serious underestimate for a Mustang). The article has 71.9 cents/mile for 10K. According to my handy-dandy, homebuilt maintenance database mileage report, this car did 4700 miles last year, for a cost of $3379.
  2. SUV. 91.0 cents per mile for 10K miles. This car did 5089 miles in the last year for a cost of $4630.99
  3. SUV (best match for a POS pickup truck). 91.0 cents/mile. Sally did 551 miles, for a total of $501.41
  4. small sedan (hmm, there is no category for aging, rusty British antique). 55.1 cents per mile is probably a vast underestimate... but since the odometer is broken I will have to wild ass guess 750 miles for a total of $413.25.
Now, as I mentioned, these are serious underestimates. The low low yearly mileage on the cars means my cost per mile should be lots higher. And the almost non-driving cars have a huge cost per mile. But lets total it up. We get $8923.66.

Actual cost

Now I have only had the entire 4 car corral for about 2.3 years. So I am averaging costs across that amount of time. It would be better if I could go back further and do extrapolations, but -- you know me -- that sounds like work.
  • license/fees: 778.75 for 2.33 years = 334.23 (for 4 autos... which is waaaay under their costs. I must live somewhere cheap by comparison.)
  • insurance: $3560.85 for 2.5 years = 1424 (again for 4 autos... my cost for 4 cars is about what they estimate for one. More on that later...)
  • gas: $4839 for 2.33 years = 2077 (again for 4 autos)
  • repair/maintenance: $2029 for 2.33 years = 871 (for 4)
for a grand total of (drum roll) $4706 per year ... or 42 cents per mile. That's about half of their ultraconservative numbers. Remember: their numbers should be higher due to the low yearly mileage. But I get 42 cents per mile for 4 gas guzzling cars. There is not one efficient car on my used car lot. How in the hell can I do that when the cheapest (and most fuel efficient) car in the AAA data is 55 cents per mile? (And remember: 55 cents per mile is for a 10k mile/year car. Mine do half that and would have much larger cost/mile.)
Am I saying the AAA data is a bunch of bull? No, I am not. In fact, I suspect it is purely empirical data. And I suspect that there are lots of folks like me that drag the averages down. In other words: there are a whole slew of folks that have costs vastly above the AAA data. And I think this says a whole lot more than "how shiny is your car?"

How'd you do that?

It's should be bloody obvious, but the trick is: the newest car is 10 years old. The oldest car is 34 years old. The average age is 21.5 years. But, using their formula:
  • fuel: I used actual costs
  • maintenance: I used actual costs. Don't even talk about how old cars are maintenance nightmares. My 1990's vintage Fords have had surprisingly little go wrong (even if I have bitched about the freaking blend door a few times.)
  • tires: who doesn't include the cost of tires in the cost of maintenance? Oh, I might add the tire thing in AAA's data is BS. It looks like they figure you buy one set a year per car. My figures show one set of tires out of 4 cars in 2.3 years. That was what was actually replaced. I suspect I get more like 5 years per set -- and got probably 20 years out of the last set on the Triumph. (Not recommended... they do age and deteriorate.)
  • insurance: their costs are based on full coverage. Guess who needs full coverage? People with new cars. If you have a 21 year old average, you do not need it. I might mention I live in a state that has one of the highest insurance rates around... yet my cost is way lower than the AAA average.
  • license, registration, taxes: I think I might get off easy due to the state I live in.
  • depreciation: aaaah. Here's your problem. Okay, first off let me give you a little lesson on depreciation. Depreciation is actuary gymnastics. It's a means to justify something you cannot afford. You decide "I need a new car every 4 years." and poof! You have a 4 year depreciation schedule. Well, let me let you in on a little secret: If you keep your car on an open ended schedule -- until the wheels fall off -- you approach an infinitesimal depreciation. It's only when you plan on replacement that you can depreciate. I assure you, by any schedule you can find, my depreciation expenses are nil.
  • finance: here's an easy lesson for you: If you are financing something that is approaching zero value, you're not doing it right. Buy what you can afford. If you can afford a Maserati -- plunk down the cash. If not, I hear you can get a rusty pickup truck for about $25 (cash or pizza trade).

Abstract Obtuse Conclusion

I am sure if you've read more than one entry here, you can see this coming a mile away... This isn't about cars. This is about spending and expectations. If you bought more car than you can afford, I am guessing you might have more house than you can afford. And if too many of you have more house than you can afford, well, then that means the bank gave out more loans than it could afford. And if the government is going to fix it all ... they are buying more than they can afford as well. There is just an entire generation of folks that are looking for an angle on how to have what they cannot afford. And there's nothing wrong with wanting it. It's the having it that is the problem. Wanting it is incentive. Having it, when you cannot afford it, sets you up for failure. AAA now welcomes you to your recession. Fasten your seat belt.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

How government is like IT

It just occurred to me how much government is like IT. Maybe those of you that have never seen the interior sausage making bits of IT will get a flavor for how it works (or doesn't) based on what you know of how government works (or doesn't).

First off, in IT, there is what is known as the 80-20 rule: 20% of the users consume 80% of the resources. Now, the numbers are not scientific, but they ballpark pretty well. There is always one group of whiners that take up all of your time, use all the disk space and absolutely refuse to follow protocol. They'll bust into your office when you're right in the middle of really doing something and demand to have a new mouse or something equally as trivial. "Did you call the help desk?" Of course not. And they are the first one's to throw you under the bus when some "IT evaluation" goes around. The guys you spend the most time and resources supporting are always the ones that are dissatisfied with the outcome. Sound familiar?

And there is always a general consensus in the user community that IT sucks. It needs change. And every 3-4 years, someone comes in and promises change. They reorganize everything from top to bottom. There are meetings and announcements and memos and user forums where they ask for input. But on the back side, the same handful of people are all still working on the same issues using the same equipment. The only thing that changes is a few guys at the top and the letterhead on the documents. Still seeing the similarities? Read on...

Decision making in IT is an extremely odd process. More often than not, decisions are not made by the technical people that build and maintain the systems and might have actually done a task before. No, more often than not there is a pointy-haired person that pre-decides how things will work. It might be a project manager that decides "this will take 3 weeks... because that is when we need it". It might be a fiscal manager that decides "this will cost $20,000... because that is what is in the budget." It might be a lawyer that decides "This is what the network will look like... because that is what we agreed to in the merger." No matter what, though, it is rarely the person solving the problem that decides how it will be solved. Someone says "use this hardware, make it look like this and give it to me in 3 weeks" and you just... somehow make it limp along.

And while we speak of limping along, let's speak of the temporary solution. In IT it is extremely common for there to be "trying times" that need some sort of stopgap "extraordinary measures." What this means is that someone says "oh, forgot to tell you: we need this working by 8am tomorrow." And what happens is that you scramble to steal parts from closets, desktops and actual working systems and cobble something together on a late night caffeine high as a "temporary solution" that will be replaced with a well thought out and fully funded solution "some time in the future." Well, just like what happens in government, let me assure you that in well over a decade and a half of IT (which is like 100 years of government) I have never seen a temporary solution upgraded, replaced or turned off. Temporary solutions are permanent fixtures and will need hours and hours of future coddling and babysitting -- because they were never built well in the first place. They are a computer equivalent to a TARP fund or a social security system.

I sort of glossed over it a little, but lets flesh it out. Do you know how equipment is really acquired in IT? More often than not it is common for a non-technical managerial type to have a few free lunches with a vendor (lobbyist), get a few free T-shirts, then just buy a whole truckload of servers for a project -- sometimes without even a hint of a working drawing on paper of how something will work. Those resources are then expected to be used. It would look bad if they weren't... and we won't get enough money for next year's projects if we don't utilize the hardware today. However, hardware needed for normal maintenance is never funded. (Stuff breaks.... it really does.) What this means in the end is that viable parts are stolen from other over-engineered systems, effectively letting one well funded pet project leak its budget into totally unfunded but necessary projects. Note again the 80-20 rule comes into effect: 20% of the projects get funded and the remaining 80% have to steal from them.

And let's talk staff, shall we? I have a college degree, and those who have dealt with me can decide whether I am qualified or not. But from what I've seen it means diddly squat in the IT world. I've seen more than a handful of college trained "computer scientists" that couldn't build a maintainable system if came perfectly shrink wrapped that way from the vendor. (By the way: They don't.) I've also seen more than my share of high school educated folks that can poke around in the kernel code and have things running smoother than glass. Add to that the plethora of useless certifications everyone seems to want and you have a mirror to the candidates for government. It's like the professional politician that cannot even be bothered to pay taxes. Organizational certifications like ISO and SOX consume incredible time and money and accomplish nothing -- think FEMA or any one of 100 other acronymific organizations.

Yes, IT is almost exactly like government: hated, unchanging, necessary but often pointless, expensive and yet underfunded. And, just like in government: a pan of home baked cookies given to the right low level flunky will get you top shelf service.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Pardon me, but can I borrow a half cup of crazy?

I have failed you. I really should follow the signage on crazy vet guy's office more. I have posted one example in the past, but this guy... he takes the crazy cake.

I snapped this one today:There is really nothing funnier than when someone unknowningly insults themselves. I've argued with religious folk before that the absolute pinnacle of their value system was suffering, non-self and martyrdom... and just how completely backwards and wrong that is. A lot of them will argue and actually say their beliefs are based on some amount of selfishness or self love -- and while that isn't at all compatible with the bible, it is at least a breath of fresh air to hear them have some sense that there is good in putting their own interests first.

But this pretty much sums it up. The purpose of life is to suffer and die and worship martyrdom. Wow. How about the purpose of life being to prosper and live?

I have not read anything that was so ethically backwards since I read the story of Adam and Eve. This rates 10 of 10.

[Editorial note 3 days after posting: Ellie May says this post seems harsh. I reread it and ... I just don't see it. So, in an effort to use more simple language, I will restate my intent:
  • The sign is put up by a religious person. Not me.
  • The sign is, in my belief, biblically accurate.
  • The slogan on the sign represents something I think most people (religious or non-religious) would find morally repugnant. ]

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Interview with our brilliant Fed chairman

[Editorial note: Normally I tend to dance around language. I try to avoid terribly explicit language or overtly sexual content -- not because I give a rat's ass -- but because it's more fun to dance around it than to blurt it out. It's a ballet vs a cannonball, okay? I didn't quite manage to do that this time. Forgive me, but the inappropriate seemed... appropriate. If that bothers you, bail out now.]

Brian Williams interviewed Tim Geitner on last night's Nightly News. In the immortal words of To Catch a Predator: Oh cwap.

Williams: Why did we have to leverage our future? Why couldn't some of these entities be allowed to fail? Why do we have to spend so much taxpayer money? What do you feel like yelling back at the television?

Geitner: Well I wouldn't yell back. I would just say that the tragic thing about financial crises is that when you go through a long period where people have borrowed too much you let your system take on too much risk. The adjustment process can cause more enormous damage and you can't sit back as a government, responsibly, and hope it will burn itself out -- at acceptable cost. That's not an acceptable option. Just look at the history of financial crises -- when governments step back -- when they don't act aggressively -- the crises cause far more damage to business, to families, to future deficits. The basic lesson is: the government has to act to help contain the damage otherwise you're going to have to face a deeper more long lasting recession. And we're not prepared to do that.

You gotta be fucking kidding me. Is this guy really this wooden headed? I've bitched about the previous chief of the Fed before.... but this guy is starting to make Bush look like a rogue scholar. And at least with President Bush, there were checks and balances in place. I mean: he had to answer to the leadership of the Vice President. This guy is the Fed chairman. He can ruin us quicker than anyone.

I'm a big fan of plain English. Say it simply. Let's translate, shall we?

Question: Shouldn't we be worried about all this god damned debt?

Answer: We got into trouble because we borrowed too much so we figured we could fix this by borrowing a whole bunch more.

What. Planet. Are. You. From? And better yet, what planet can we send you to? And don't you double talk me by saying that there is a difference between private debt, corporate debt and government debt. Let's be clear here. Crystal, okay? Government debt is fucking debt of the individuals within the country. What was risk of some is now risk held by all of us. And "opening up credit lines" is marketing doublespeak for "encouraging us to borrow", which ... come on... creates more debt. (You control the interest rates, remember?) Debt is debt. Overindulging in private debt is bad. Overindulging in private debt and combining that with government debt is really fucking bad. Got it pinhead?

Okay, Chairman Zippy... let's look at where governments have acted to keep us from facing a more long lasting recession. Let's look at FDR -- whose ponze scheme legacies we still pay for every damn day. Let's ask rational economists -- and you will hear them say he drug out the depression for much longer than it ever would have lasted.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I got new socks

(I got them at The-walmarts, of course.)

I know to most of you this is not really... newsworthy. But lets take a look at them shall we?

Did you get a good look at the bag? Look closely... there at the top. Here... I'll point it out for you:

Now, what on earth is the point of this? What marketing genius came up with this idea? I know what you're thinking: "It's so they are fresh from the grower." But I'd like to point out that none of the bags on the rack were what I'd call air tight (or water tight). So again I ask: who opens a big ass bag of socks, removes one pair, and reseals the bag so the other 9 pairs are snugly tucked in? And why?