Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Say hello to Jr.

I'm taking a chance, a risk, plunging in.

I'm undertaking a project beyond my current skillset. I'm full of excitement and aprehension.

I'm making a guitar. Actually, truth be told, I'm making two. Ambitious? You bet.

I knew I had something boiling in me. Since the beginning of the year, I've had a feeling it would be making a simple tube amplifier. Truth be told, that would probably be a much easier project. You can be sloppy with wires so long as the connections are in the right place. A guitar requires actual precision and planning. Oh, and patience. Oh, and the time to act as a container for the patience. Oh, and tools. Lots of the right tools. Oh, and expertise and advice in many aspects- wood selection, plans, woodworking techniques, luthiery, and patience.

Pieces fell into place.

The local high school offers adult education courses and tooling in woodworking. Basically, access to some experience and most of the big tools- jointers, thickness planers, band saws, table saws, rasps and files and clamps and glue. Bring your own ideas and materials and you've got access to the tools you need one night a week for ten weeks.

I was considering building a replacement neck for my Telecaster copy; I never liked the neck on it. Then, in a build thread on Harmony Central's Electric Guitar forum on a Les Paul Jr Double-Cut, the author had a CAD file of the guitar- body shape and measurements. And an LP Jr. is my kind of guitar. Simple flat top; mahogany body and set neck, Gibson scale (24 and 3/4), single P90 dogear pickup in the bridge. I asked him for a copy and he was happy to forward. It did occur to me that a neck is the hard part; the body is the easy part. So why not just add in a body to that neck project I was contemplating and call it a guitar? Hmmm? Not only that, but here was someone building the same guitar from the same kind of wood. I could learn a thing or two along the way.

My friend Birger has been working on a custom guitar for me, called Four, over the past couple of years. It isn't a couple of year project, but life keeps getting in the way of finishing it. Having six kids and a travelling job myself, I completely understand.
Ask my bikes and golf clubs.

Anyway, if you have a luthier or woodworking question, Birger is the man to ask. Just sit back and take notes to the answer- you'll get more than you asked for.I had plans, a shop, and advice.

I went wood shopping.

You can spend as much as you like. I don't like to spend much. By great fortune, there's a real woodworker's supply store (what we used to call a lumberyard) close to my parent's house in Loudon. I was in Boston for a presentation and swing by last week on the way home. $96, tax free, got me much more mahogany and maple than I'll need to complete my projects.

By way of comparisson, I was willing to pay $70 for just a body blank on ebay. The wood was a much better bargain than expected. I hope I treat it well.More on this pr0ject as it develops.

I'll post pictures of my completed stages; but I would feel pretty akward bringing a camera into the workshop to snap pictures of every step. The workshop is for work, is it not? Maybe a few.So I hope you can say hello to Junior by end of year.

I've already made a good start, but more of that in another post.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The 80/20 rule. Or: There is no ROI in a college education.

Anyone know anything about the time value of money?

Let's assume a mediocre college education (let's call it vocational training for professionals) costs 20k a year, totalling a smooth 80 grand. I know, it costs more than that, but bear with me.

And let's assume you're prudent and wise and you've saved that 80 grand by the time you're twenty. I know, I know, you're laughing now. But wait- it gets better!


More accurately, leave that money alone and find another way to get the money to go to college. Study something FUN for crying out loud. Not accounting, business, engineering or, heaven forbid, law or medicine. Study music or literature or philosphy. Find a nice girl. Get married. Have kids. Tithe. Buy cars, a house; take vacations. Don't save another penny for retirement. Play some golf. I don't care, play the ponies. But live on cash-flow, not debt, and leave that college fund alone.

But leave that college money alone. Let it sit in a retirement fund until you're sixty-five and earn the (worse than market) average 10% per year on that money. When you look up at sixty-five, assuming the government lets you keep your own money, you'll have


sitting in the bank waiting for you. Enough to cash flow you $63,282.12 a month if you can live on that.

It's what I call the 80/20 rule. Get 80 grand by age 20, and you'll be a multi-multi-millionaire when you're 65 without any other investing.

What's it take to get 80,000 together by the time you're twenty? Well, if you start late, like, oh, say age 16, it takes $20,000 a year. Which you can earn, net, in a 40 hour work week at $14/hour. When you're 18-20 you can work more than 40 hour work weeks and get it done quicker. But that's work. How about saving from the moment you're born and not working a lick? Just convince your parents to put aside $100 a month for you until you're twenty and resist the temptation to buy a Corvette when you graduate from high school.

Back to the title. What really is the value of a college education? Most see it as an investment for their career so they can get a better job; make more money; move up the ladder. But most will not come close to saving as much for retirement as they (borrow to) invest in their education.

So here's a different proposal: DON'T GO TO COLLEGE! Leave the college money alone and get a job. Or backpack around Europe. Then work your way through college, paying as you go.

Okay, okay, $80,000.00 is too tough. I know. Here's plan B- the 20/20 rule.

If you insist on only having $1,767,083.62 when you retire, try the 20/20 rule. Get 20K scratched together by the time you're twenty. A year of college, which can wait, I think. Yeah. I'll take 1.8M to wait a year to start college.

In summary:

All of you out there that have college funds set up for your kids, set up retirement trust funds instead. Forty years is a lot of wealth.

The $1,258,221.27 first car

Driving home from Church this morning, more than a little irate at the retired priest's sermon, of which I quote "you have a right to a job, home, and health care. Please call your senators,"* I tried to focus on something else, anything else... and this is what came to mind.

I'm a huge fan of "live like no-one else so you can live like no-one else" financial advisor Dave Ramsey. My favorite Dave-ism is, "Unless you're a millionaire, you can't buy a new car." This is so profound on so many levels, I thought I'd expand upon one of those levels... that rite (or is it a right? *snicker*) of American passage, up there with being dumped at the prom or barfing after too much beer, your first new car.

What's a decent car cost these days? Not a Mercedes mind you, but a decent first car? Something cool like a Mazda 3 or a Mustang? 20k-25k for something a little better than entry level? That sounds about right. Gotta have that nav-system and the satellite radio!

Anyway, for the sake of argument, let's say you graduated from college at age 21** and, as the story goes, trade in your cap and gown for a new Mustang the next week. Assuming it cost 23k or so, your monthly payment is roughly $588.76. Figure insurance on a new car (for a hot-blooded, fun-luvin, all American male under the age of twenty-five), plus registrations, plus plus...

Okay, let's start looking at the Kia.*** Okay, we found a stripper with both power windows and AC (but no nav system or blue tooth. Bummer.) for 16,000. Bringing us payments of $399 a month for four years. And then it's yours, baby! Yours to... trade in for another payment, or a mini-van, because by now that Kia has impressed the ladies enough to get you a steady, whom you've married, and with whom you look forward to a bright future together with Junior in the car seat in the back. A lot can happen between 21 and 25, can't it? Anyway, you've spent $399 a month for 48 months at a reasonable 6% interest. And when you're done, you've got a car or a trade in.


You can invest that money for four years into a good mutual fund, and average 10% a year growth, which is a little worse than the historical average, but then again, I'm just a little conservative in my estimations. After your four years you'll have $23,430.27; which is an extra $7,430.27 for your pains. You could skim those earnings and buy a nice reliable ten year old Toyota with 90k miles on the clock from a little old lady in Topeka. Those Toyotas last forever, don't they? That's what the commercials say.

But let's say you're truly wise. Let's say you leave that money alone, in the mutual fund, for, oh, another 40 years until age 65 when you retire, without adding another penny too it. That's 40 years at a (below) average 10% growth. Waiting for you on the other side of that retirement is...


I don't know about you, but I'm wondering if that new Kia was really worth $1,258,221.27.

Now what if you invested the money you were thinking of using for college? Hmm..? What is the ROI on an $80,000 college education?

* I know! Can you believe it? A Catholic priest, even. How very, very wrong. I asked him to call me so we could further discuss. He was a bit surprised. I hope he calls.
** "What about the high-schoolers, Toady," you ask? "It's awfully snobby of you to assume everyone can go to college and graduate and buy a car. Not everyone is so priveledged!" Oh, but there you are most often wrong. High School grads get a four year jump start on this and, if you're taking the American way through college, the student loans, the High Schoolers have even more of an advantage... they don't have loan payments for the next fifteen-twenty years.
*** What is the plural of Kia? Kium? Kii? Kias?

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's Hamer time!

I haven't done a guitar post in a long time, so here's a quickie.

It's a Korean Hamer Studio with Duncan Designed humbuckers, a beautiful blue burst maple flame top, binding. All the usual Hamer import superlatives apply. The neck and fretwork are fabulous, though not quite the same feel as Goldie. At some point I'll replace the pickups with something more fun or purposeful. Why? Because tweaking is fun, dammit!

Speaking of Goldie, I swapped her stock Hamer P90s with some GFS P90s from a Xaviere XV600 Semi-hollow body. Wow. Fabulous pickups. I'm impressed. The poor Xaviere feels a little silly with Hamer cast off pickups in it, and I'm sure the fine folk over at GuitarFetish.com would be a little insulted by this... but I love Goldie too much.

School Lunch

What do you get when you let the government run something like, say, social security, the auto industry, health care?

School Lunch. Oh, gross.

Given that, does everyone see the (pathetic) irony in the following interview?

Pack your own damn lunch, Damon!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Favorite Muppet

Kermit the Frog: We will also see a rousing finale from Sam the Eagle. What's it called, Sam?
Sam the Eagle: It's called "A Salute to All Nations, But Mostly America".

I've always felt an affinity towards solid Sam the American Eagle. What is it about him? He's built of simple stuff. He's not dim, mind you; rather his beliefs are founded in fundamentals instead of confused by complex obfuscations. He's full of faith in and love for his country. He knows this is the greatest approach to mankind governing itself that will ever be*.

He is trusting. He has come to reasoned conclusions and now sticks by them. Sam is genuine.

Sam is moral and ethical:
Sam the American Eagle: I would just like to say a few words about nudity in the world today. And I, for one, am just appalled by it. Why, did you know that underneath their clothing, the entire population of the world is walking around completely naked? Hmm? Is that disgusting? And it's not just people, although, goodness knows, that's bad enough, but animals too. Even cute little doggies and pussycats can't be trusted. Underneath their fur, absolutely naked! And it's not just the quadripeds, neither. Birds too. Yeah! Beneath those fine feathers, birds wear nothing. Nothing at all! Abs... [realizes and walks off, covering himself]

Sam loves wholesome entertainment (you know, Wayne and Wanda!):
Sam the American Eagle: Mr. Cooper.
Alice Cooper: [turns abruptly to face him, wearing much goth make-up] Yes?
Sam the American Eagle: Oh, good grief! Let me come right to the point. You, sir, are a demented, sick, degenerate, barbaric, naughty freako!
Alice Cooper: [smiling] Why, thank you!
Sam the American Eagle: Freakos: One. Civilization: Zero.

Sam enjoys classical entertainment, even if he's not so well versed in it:
Sam the American Eagle: Ah, Beethoven. Finally! Well, for Beethoven I will stay. He's my favorite playwright.

Sam has a sense of humor. Sam is hurt when that which is sacred is torn down.

Sam is genuinely, innocently, and rightly shocked that anyone could come to different conclusions about America. For Sam; yeah for all of us: America is wonderful, America is liberty, America is opportunity, America is the melting pot. How could this not be so? How could this be bad? How can success and opportunity exclude? How could anyone surrender liberty for a life of convenience when so many have surrendered their lives for liberty?

Sam pledges allegiance to the flag, with its liberty and justice for all.

Sam is an American Eagle.

And yet, despite all these wonderful qualities, Sam is a punchline. He is jeered and ridiculed in his face and scoffed at behind his back.

Why? Because he is trusting? Because he is simple? Because he stands for what is just and scorns what we all know to be wrong? Do we not have nursery rhymes to teach us these truths? Bible stories? Parents? Priests?

Or is it all in the hands of the schools where they're taught social studies and environmentalism and keyboarding, but not penmanship or math, history or liberty. Skills but not knowledge. They do know that they need to save Sam the American Eagle, not because of who he is, but because he is a member of an endangered species, a minority. How sad. How true.

And so I love Sam the American Eagle. I love what he stands up for. I will teach my children to be Sam the Eagles. I will be Sam's friend, and I would be proud to have him be mine.

* And, being an experienced idealist, I will add that this great experiment, the American Idea and implementation of Liberty, will not be tried again in the future history of mankind. Can you conceive of another revolution for individual Liberty in a world now so connected and organized and, well, regulated as ours? If we continue this path of surrendering individual liberties for a mere change from inconveniences, or sharing the wealth, for the dubious goal of fairness, this American experiment will come to an end, not learned from, and not to be renewed again. to Paraphrase Screwtape, "Oh, we've all been through that phase."

Imagine explaining to your children or grandchildren the liberties we used to have, in our lifetimes, that they now receive from the government in exchange for their fair share. Does this sound far fetched? I'm forty one. In my grandfather's time, there was no national income tax. There was no social security. No federal standards for state-issued identity cards. There was no FDIC. There weren't seat-belts, anti-lock brakes, or airbags.

In my time, I've seen health insurance change from something an individual was responsible for to a required benefit from employers; I've seen beer go from something that an 18 year old with enough facial hair could buy to having to submit, for approval by the 16 year old zit-faced authoritarian-child-pawn-of-the-state-and-the-unions-point-of-sales-operator-junior-class-initial-pay-grade-bureaucrat behind the register, the aforementioned state-issued identification card as proof of my (advancing) age, so that I can buy a drink and drown my sorrows. That pisses me off.

Hell, a decade ago there was no Sarbanes Oxley. Last year, I wasn't an owner of General Motors or Chrysler, though I do own one of their products, which has served me well and with value. Next year, my income will surely continue to fund everyone else's health coverage (I mean beyond what it's already funding in medicaid and other forms of already available health coverage for those who can't or don't want to get it by themselves) while the AARP membership will now be able to afford a monthly payment on a new Cadillac (whew! thank goodness, because that whole recession thing was awful last year, hope it doesn't happen again in four years during the next election), which they bought because my tax dollars supported their cash for clunkers discount. In the future, my tax free Roth IRAs won't be, and Social Security? I've never considered it to be part of retirement planning. It's just stealing from me throughout my working career. It is aptly named a tax on my paystub.

But I digress. My point was that America (and Americans) once protected rather than consumed liberty. If liberty dissapears from America on its slippery slope , then who else is free or oppressed enough to try it? Who? Who? When? Where? Tie a rope and hang on, Americans. Get a friend on that rope and start pulling. Tug-o-war, Americans. Tug-o-war. Get an anchor and start moving our flag back.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Spotlight: Album Reviews 03- Gwen Stefani


is a guilty pleasure. And she's not for the kids. But damn if this syntho-pop ear-candy woofer-work out doesn't make you scream really loud when you're cruising down the highway all by yourself at 75 mph on the way to or from the airport.

To quote one of her songs, "The sh*t is bananas- B.A.N.A.N.A.S." What the heck does that mean? I don't know. I don't care. Some of the music is drivel, some of it is nasty, some of it is obviously inspired by the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince (an entertainer whose talent and stage presence, if not his subject matter, I've really come to appreciate in recent years, if only my Zune would stop playing "Take Me With You" every eight songs when it's set on random).

But from her past with No Doubt's "Rock Steady" album, who's Hella-Good I've adopted for chatting wit hmy daughter Stella, to her Sweet Escape album, she's carved out a unique mix of synth, hip hop, and downright Dale Bozzio quirkiness that infects. Picks are:

Rich Girl, Harajuku Girls, Hollaback Girls, Bubble Pop Electric, Cool, Waiting Room.

Silly stuff, but that's what a guilty pleasure is, isn't it?

Somewhere in England, oh, 1977...

The door banged open and slammed the wall, rattling its hinges and recoiling from the hole in the wall where the knob had been impaled so many times before.

"I've got it, lads, I have f-ing got it!" came the bombastic shout.

"What's that, Freddie?" Brian inquired, distractedly, unable or unwilling to separate his intense focus from the knobs, dials, meters and guages on the board in front of him.

"Ho-there, Fred, what-ye got?" chimed in John and Roger.

"Three words lads, three stupendous, outrageous, gorgeous words. These are the news of the world, my friends, so prepare yourselves."

John and Roger looked briefly at each other; exchanged a "here we go again," as Brian, not as distracted as he appeared, mumbled an "oh, shit" under his breath.

"We're sitting down, let us in on it then."

"Now get this," Freddie said, addressing each one in turn. "Fat," he lobbed to Roger. "Bottomed," he threw at John. And pausing, forcing Brian to look up, he flailed, with triumphant finality, "Girls."

"Oh shit," iterated Brian.

"That's right, blokes, it's f-ing fat, f-ing bottomed, f-ing girls. If that isn't rock and f-ing roll immortality, what is? I mean, fat bottomed girls, they make the rocking world go 'round! Am I right or am I right? You can you feel it, can't you?"

"Freddie," said Roger, "The name of the album is Jazz. Where's the bleedin' jazz in fat bottomed girls?"
"Freddie," said John, "you don't even like girls."
"Freddie," said Brian. "Freddie," sighed Brian, "Freddie."

"Pah-look at me. Though I'm just a skinny lad, when it comes to rock and roll, I know good from bad. Give 'em the naughty ladies every time. This is going to kill'em! I can see it now, hundreds of fat bottomed girls on bicycles on stage. This is better than Tie your Mother Down!"

"Roger, give me a baudy heavy bass drum, John, a thumping low E. Give it all you've got. Brian, join in when you're done fiddling with your little knobs. We've got a glamour-rock world to dominate and this is the ticket of the year"

My friends, can you see this important moment in rock and roll history playing out in any other way? Yes, I know Brian may wrote this one. But this is much more fun, isn't it?