Friday, October 8, 2010

'Cause I'm my own Grand-pa

While reading through next year's health plan coverage from my employer, I came across this simple explanation of a dependent:

"In general, an eligible dependent is any individual who received over half of his or her support from you and is your:

􀂃 Spouse

􀂃 Son or daughter, or descendent of either

􀂃 Stepson or stepdaughter

􀂃 Brother, sister, stepbrother or stepsister

􀂃 Father or mother, or ancestor of either

􀂃 Stepfather or stepmother

􀂃 Brother’s or sister’s son or daughter

􀂃 Father’s or mother’s brother or sister

􀂃 Son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-inlaw

􀂃 An individual who resides in your home as his/her principal residence and is a

member of your household

􀂃 Same-sex domestic partner and his or her children (considered eligible dependents

for the Health Care FSA only if they are your legal tax dependents)

If you are divorced or separated, either parent can claim a child as a dependent under the special income tax rules for divorced or separated parents. Medical expenses paid by either parent are expenses incurred on behalf of an eligible dependent for purposes of the Health Care FSA, even if the parent does not claim the child as a dependent for income tax purposes"

Does this read like a country music song or what? 

Wouldn't it be easier to list who isn't a dependent?  Or just stay married, raise your kids, and kick them out of the house when it's time?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Refrets, no regrets

You're looking at my Christmas present, a Nelsonic Starliner Les Paul clone.

Years ago, at the local guitar shop, I picked up one of these, used, in absolutely mint condition, for a whopping $150.

Other than having a bolt-on neck, which is, admittedly, against the grain when it comes to Les Paul style guitars, the thing was extremely well executed:  it weighs a ton, has a great sound, and the fit and finish are, frankly, much better than the Epiphone Les Pauls I find in shops for $400-$700.

It turns out that Nelsonic made a number of clones at great prices (contract manufactured in Korea and sold for $150-$300 or so), but lost a lawsuit with big G., and that was pretty much that. Nelsonics are pretty rare. In the last 3-4 years, there have been only 3-4 that have come up for sale on eBay. I've never seen one anywhere else. When this one showed up on eBay last November, I pointed it out to Mrs. Toadroller, who took my hint.

I was excited to open it up on Christmas day, but was shocked at its condition. Rusty strings, a few nicks in the paint, and, what's this, a belly curve? Doesn't seem right. Worst of all, the fist three frets, the ones in the "cowboy chords" position, were dented beyond repair.
I never even plugged it in.  It wasn't playable.

Being the brave and curious soul that I am, I wondered if I could do a refret on it.  You're looking at the results.  I used a soldering gun to heat up the frets and a set of fret pliers (nippers) to pull the old ones out.  The fret-board is bound, so the replacement frets' tangs had to be nipped off before pounding them in.  I had full length fret-wire from my other projects (Remember those?  Still in progress.), but would need to build a wire bending machine and, well, I came across pre-cut and pre-snipped frets delivered from eBay for $10.  I took the easy way out.  Hammered them in; filed the edges down; hand sanded them.  I strung it up and it played well, but was definitely in need of a leveling.  You just can't skip a step, can you?  I did the leveling yesterday and set the intonation today.

Boom.  I've done a fret leveling. No longer a virgin there.  I'm not ready to do such work on, say, my Taylor...  But a broken down $100 guitar?  You bet.  Now it plays well; the action is right.  Only the slightest buzz on the 6th string (the 12th fret is pesky).  It photographs well and yes, I do have the pick-guard components, which I'll be putting back on.

It just isn't the same as my other Nelsonic; the tone isn't the same; this one doesn't weigh as much and therefore doesn't feel as solid; some of the hardware is cheaper.  They're the same model, but probably from from very different batches.  Nelsonic was short lived.  I'll keep my eye open for more of them and, doubtless, will snag another some day.  In the meantime, I'll be putting this fish back in the water for someone else to enjoy.  

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ah, Craisins

I love raisins, "nature's candy."

But over the last few years, and partly due to the volume based discounts available at Sam's Club, I've become partial to Craisins.  Cranberries are from my region of the country; Maine/NH/Mass(holes).  Craisins are the cranberry equivalent to raisins.  Dried cranberries?  Dried grapes?  Not much competition, honestly.

If you've never been to Fresno, California, go.  My first (and only, now that I think about it) trip to Fresno was on business.  My flight took me from Denver (where I used to live, and might someday live again.   Oh, Denver pulls at me every few months) into Fresno.  I turned to the person next to me on my flight (gosh, this must have been 2003/2004) and remarked at the incredible sights as we were getting close to landing.  "Oh, you mean Yosemite?"  ..pregnant pause...dope-slap... "oh.  of course."*     I had dinner in a local restaurant that had once been a Chili's.  (How do Chilis franchises go out of business?  Well, in 2004 I can't comprehend it.  Of late, though, I wonder how they stay in business).  A mother in the booth next to me was loudly on her cell phone, talking to her divorce lawyer, with her teenage daughter and friend in-booth with her.

It's funny what you hold on to from business travel.

The next morning I traveled south for an hour through raisin country.  Sun-maid signs here and there along the highway.  If it had been corn, I would have thought I was in Ohio.But the smell of drying grapes was raisins.

But I was in northern California for, of all things, a sales call.

If you don't know me, I am and am not a sales-person.  I'm a pre-sales engineer.  I'm the techie guy in the technology sales process.  I know what the product does; the sales-guy sells it.  The customer asks, "Can it do it?"; the sales-guy says, "Sure!  Dennis (that's me), show him, and I say, (to myself) "What?" and then to the customer, "Yes, of course, watch this," and proceed to demonstrate my product.

Anyway, the customer made prescription cattle-feed.  I had a product configuration tool.  For a whopping $20k transaction, my product helped them cost-effectively and time effectively (instantaneously, as opposed to 3 days) quote, manufacture, and deliver prescription cattle-feed for individual dairy cows.  Yes, that's right, I helped cost-optimize the construction of dairy cattle feed.  What of it?  From happy cows comes happy milk, or cheese, or whatever California dairy-product you desire.  If there weren't so many regulations, the industry wouldn't have hand to find a new way to compete.  Economics, my friends, economics.  Anyway, that was my meeting, and that was my trip to Fresno.  I'm guessing.  I hope to return some day.

Oh yeah.  Craisins.

I challenge you.  Have a box of raisins.  Then have a handful of craisins. You won't be able to go back.  Craisins are to raisins what Audi is to VW, what photography is to a cartoon, what a gin martini is to vodka.  Another class.

Try some.

Especially with your RiceChex breakfast cereal. When you're celiac, this is q quick breakfast.

*I remind myself of a woman who sat next to me flying into Boston. See this post: travel

Monday, July 19, 2010

Some recent travel observations

Every once in a while I'm forced to resign my hermit lifestyle to venture and stroll among the rest of America in all its secular glory.  Last week I spent time in Washington DC and San Francisco, CA, with a couple of layovers in Denver International Airport en route.  Here are some of my observations of spending many hours dealing with airlines not named Southwest:

JetBlue was able to notify me of my impending flight and upsell me a few offers via email, but they weren't able to tell me that my flight was delayed until I saw it on the departure monitors at the airport. 

I'll skip the long story about attempting to determine my options by calling them (let's just say that their phone number is not on their tickets, and really only is set up to sell new tickets).  The lady at the counter was happy to sell me a ticket direct to Baltimore (not my orignal destination but, ironically, closer to my next day's meeting location) for a $40 change-fee and a full appraisal of what she would do if she were in my shoes.  Not that I asked.

Call me negative, but here I was getting emergency travel advice from someone who should have had the empowerment and serving attitude to help me, but was limited to policies and her best guess at what she would do.  She told the customer at the station next to me what she would do if she were him.  It turns out that he couldn't change his ticket from tomorrow to today without a $100 change fee and the difference in fees until 12:01 am when it would no longer be the next day and since the flight he wanted to change to was the same flight I wanted to get off of and it was delayed until 11:30 but the inbound flight hadn't left Ft Lauderdale yet, I mean really!, it probably wouldn't get in until at least 12:01AM anyway and what she would do was maybe wait until it came in but then he'd have to stay in the airport for a while and if it did come in early he'd still have... I stopped paying attention after she handed my my boarding pass and receipt for the change fee.  She was mid-thirties; nice teeth.  I had assumed she was pro-actively helpful and empowered to serve customers as she saw fit to the benefit of the customer and the organization and its reputation... but I assumed wrong.

Asif, the cab-driver who took me to the Holiday Inn Express downtown Baltimore (highly recommended!), asked after my travels and offered a card and a discount if I wanted him to carry me to Dulles the next day.  I had schemes of catching a ride to Baltimore, taking the train to DC's central station, then another train and a bus to Dulles...  My customers recommended I not do that, so I gave Asif a call. 

He arrived five minutes early, took me to Dulles, gave me a discount and I more than happily made up for it with the tip.  Best part of my trip.

United's check in terminals will attempt to upsell you multiple offers before you can get to the simple task of (hoplessly) attempting to change your seat* or printing your boarding pass.  Be careful, as they're not ashamed to default you into accepting the offer, which you might only realize when they ask you for a credit card number.  Back!  Back!

United's seats are uncomfortable.  From the distant past came the memory of a habit I had developed when contantly flying United from Denver to points east and west.  I'd grab a pillow from an overhead compartment and slip it under my thighs.  That served the dual purpose of improving the seat's (lack of) comfort and kept me from slipping forward off of it during the flight. 

They no longer provide pillows in the overhead compartments of United flights.

At Dulles Airport, they've replaced some of the moon-buggie routes to the concourses with a high speed train (like in Denver and Atlanta and other airports) from the main terminal.  At what I'm sure was exhorbitant taxpayer expense, you now have the pleasure of going through security with all passengers of all airlines, then walking a not-insignificant distance to an escalator to the train platform.  A run on the train leaves you with an escalator up and then a much more significant non-insignificant hike and people-mover stroll to get to the concourse. 

The moon-buggies took you door-to-door, terminal-to-concourse.  Sure they were dorky and weird; sure they were a huge vehicle designed solely for Dulles; but that capital has been sunk.  Why build a train?  You drive by a lot of fifty or so of those things.  Surely there's enough material there to have them last for another twenty years or so.  If this were Cuba, it would be good forever.

Shure's SE115 headphones, the in-ear type with foam padding to seal the ears, absolutely rock for shutting out the engine noise of airplanes.  I've used variations on ear-plugs through the years, but these take the cake and can usually be found for $70 on Amazon.

The best restaurant in the Denver International Airport's B (United) concourse is Pour la France.  Their Martinis are filled to the brim; they did not card me as they could probably tell just by looking at me that I'm over the age of twenty-one; they brought the check quickly so I could move on to my next flight.  The food is very good.

I caught up on last season's sit-coms and a few movies in flight.  Let's just say that they made Two and a Half Men look like a family show.** 

San Jose Airport has sort of improved its rental car process with a fancy new building and a shuttle bus to it.  I did, however, have to walk an even more significant non-insignificant distance from my gate to the point at which I could pick up the rental car shuttle, which drove me a distance shorter than the one I hiked to catch the bus.

Rental car:  Toyota Corolla.  It works.  Nice stereo- great bass response- tight and detailed.  It was parked in the middle of a row of Mazda 5's, which I really (really!) want to drive.  I didn't get one.

Seeing the half-moon floating above Half-moon Bay is pretty.  Well named. 

I was really zoned out when I checked into the Hilton San Francisco Airport.  I noticed the wall behind the counter was orange.  No, blue.  No, green. 
     "Is that thing changing color?" 
     "Yes, it is."
     "Okay then.    ...Does that drive you nuts?"
     "Yes, it does."

Speaking of which, I wonder if they've charged me for the on-site parking, which was a non-optional $18/day.  It wasn't on my checkout receipt.

United (no, I'm not finished with them yet), after attempting cross, up, and side selling me a few times, pulled me out of line to measure my suitcase.    It fit in their little template, though it stuck up about an eigth of an inch over the top.
     "We'll have to check that sir"
     "Seriously?  It fits.  I've only been carrying it on flights for a year now."
     ""  (which represents her silent non-answer to my question).
This gate agent reached for the bag as I was pulling it out of their template.  It pinched her finger but good.***  So that sealed the deal.  My bag could, she said as she slapped my claim check into my hand, be picked up at the caroussel in Dulles when I got there.  Looking back, it was about as close as she could get to saying go to hell; go to Dulles! I'm glad I wasn't headed to Newark.

Normally I'd have been glad to let them take my bag (since they charge $20 or more for a checked bag), but this meant that I now had to go out through security to baggage claim, and then take the security and train route back into my concourse.

At Denver International Airport, I got to Pour la France just after the kitchen closed.  No dinner for me.  The martini was still superb.  No pressure.  Finish your martini as they cash out the till and stack chairs on the bar next to you.  It was still 10:20.  I had ten minutes.

I actually fell asleep on my red-eye from Denver to Dulles.  That is until Mr. Flight Attendant bumped me with his $7.00 each box-meal cart an hour and a half into the flight.  I was awake from then on.  More crappy sit-coms.  Okay, 30 Rock was funny.

You know what?  Airport wi-fi thoughput is pretty good at 5:30 in the morning, when there's no competition for the bandwidth.  I watched The Big Lebowski though Netflix streaming.  I gotta say, "meh."  Goodman's character freaked me out.  But there was a scene in a diner where I did a double-take.  Was that Aimee Mann?  Googled it.  Yep.  Who knew?  Sorry about the toe.

Getting closer to Boston, the lady in 33C (which is my way of complaining about being in seat 33B.  There was a row 34, so it could have been worse) tapped my shoulder.  I pulled the Shure SE115s from my ears and she repeated... 
     "What time do you have?  Is there a time zone change from DC?"
     "It' s 9:30.  No, there isn't a time zone change"

A few minutes later another tap, another removal of the SE115s, and she repeated...
     "Is that the ocean?"
     "...Have you ever landed in Boston?"
     "No...  Oh, there's the land over there.  I was getting worried."
     "Well, I'll warn you now.  When we land, we'll be over water until the last second.  I mean, we'll be just a couple hundred feet above the water and it will look like we're landing in the water.  Just so you know."
     "Okay.  ...Thanks."

Back on solid ground in Topsfield, MA, at the Friendlys, where I hoped to get some breakfast, my high-schooler waiter apprised me that the breakfast kitchen was closed and the lunch menu was active, but if I knew of such and such a local eatery, they serve breakfast all day- just the other side of the highway. 

Lesson learned: when the waiter advises you to go elsewhere for food, pack your bags.

Of course, packing my bags is what got me in all this trouble in the first place.

* Exit row seats are now a $15 surcharge!  I shit you not!
** Seriously, is this what people tune in to watch?  I remember being embarassed by Brady' Bunch during my childhood.  I couldn't help wondering what Russian spies would report back to the Kremlin about American culture.  Something like "Nothing to worry about Comrades, their minds are mush.  That Marcia's cute though.  It's a good thing she works for us."
*** I did apologize right as it happened.  But she was now determined.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I don't understand people.

Mr. Thomas Sowell, editorialist and clear thinker, wrote a simple to understand piece about the dangers of government re-distribution of wealth and determining how much money was "enough" for someone to earn.

As expected, there were comments to the piece and I, fool that I am, decided to respond to some of the insanity.  We'll see what happens.  Here is my response to the ignorance, comments in-line with the other poster's drivel:
@Loren: After reading your post, I took some time to explain a few things. You will find your full text below, with my comments marked as "toadroller."

Thank you for being such a concerned comrade. I mean citizen.

Sowell’s erroneous argument comes from the wealthy who have in this economy avoid taxation as compared with ordinary working people. That’s you and I Paul, but you surely know this. Money buys special tax avoidance schemes used by the wealthy to avoid taxation.

toadroller: Why yes, the "wealthy" do pay the taxes. At a rising percentage rate, the more you make. Those who are not wealthy, receive unearned income from the government.

There is presently the greatest shifting of wealth from the “middle class” to the wealthy under the cheney/goofy tax code.

Use of taxation has always been used to “redistribute wealth” in this and most countries of the world.

toadroller: That is untrue. Taxes were used, in this country, to fund the limited and enumerated purposes of goverment as defined in the Constitution ( see section 8: "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States").

Taxes began to be used for the re-distribution of wealth in this nation.. a) when the income tax was instantiated, 1916, and b) truly when Social Security was created, 1935.

Its fairness has always been the issue from the perspective of the rich. A society which allows unlimited accumulation of wealth fails.

toadroller: please explain and provide examples of this. Sowell's example of Rockefeller explains the fundamental concept of economics (especially in a price driven economy in a free market) that wealth results from providing an improved service, to the benefit of society.

World history is replete with failed nation states because of this issue.

toadroller: Again, please give some examples? While it is true that nation-states have failed throughout history, I wonder in which nation-states (most all of which have been, historically, states governed by fiat rather than deferrence to a higher power (that above man's government)) the citizens were "permitted" to accumulate wealth without "control?" And please, do not cite cartels as examples.

Sowell argues that we dare not allow politicians to control the issues of allowable wealth accumulation. Think about what he has just argued. First he in fact recognizes that somehow wealth accumulation should be controlled,

toadroller: that is projection on your part. You fundamentally believe that wealth accumulation should be controlled (or am I wrong here?), and since Sowell pointed out the dangers of governments controlling wealth (with specific examples), you assume that he believes someone should be in control of wealth accumulation. That's a bold assumption. And a very dangerous one.

the issue in his view is who should do this task fairly.

toadroller: again, projection. And what is this assumption that it is good to control wealth, be it fairly or un-fairly? How about a fair Opportunity. Opportunity in this country is as close as any government (nation-state) (limited and consented by those governed) is and, sadly, will likely ever be, to fairness. I would recommend equal opportunity, not equality in results. It's what has led to American success for which President Obama insists on apologizing to the world of nations.

He asserts that we must not allow “politicians” to do so. Mr. Sowell would you please enlighten we mere morals as to how exactly wealth accumulation/concentration is to be dealt with?

toadroller: via free markets, which raise the standard of living for all involved. Including governments who collect revenue from the resulting wealthy. It is ironic that you should have the typo of morals for mortals; it is human morals in free markets (see below) that is the solution.

Since Mr. Sowell you have excluded politicians/government from this function how will this important issue be resolved fairly?

toadroller: It was resolved fairly in 1776, when leaders from these collective states and commonwealths risked everything and declared their independence from tyrrany, pointing out: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." This is fairness- equal opportunity, not redistribution of wealth and property. Our country was founded and thrived on the belief that you have a right to pursue (not necessarily achieve) happiness, and that right cannot/should not be infringed upon by the laws of men. Oh, and it works, too.

Mr. Sowell I don’t believe you want any control at all of accumulation/concentration of wealth.

toadroller: ding ding ding, you win the prize! “Our economy rests on a three-legged stool—political freedom, economic freedom, and moral restraint.” —Michael Novak. This is a lesson you should contemplate on long walks. If you will, this is a satement of optimism- that humans are essentially good. And, of course, that liberty is a good thing. You might not understand that if you wish to redistribute wealth for the "benefit" of others. Are you so cynical as to believe that people have no moral restraint?

You recognize the issue but offer no solution other than the status quo.

toadroller: Keep in mind, Loren, that the status quo currenlty is redistribution of wealth. The status quo is: Half of households in the US pay no taxes (they don't earn much money). The other half does, at a rising rate (10% - 35%), plus state taxes (5-10% depending on state, unless, of course, you live in NH, TN or another income tax free state), plus social security at 6.1%, plus taxes on all you consume (with a few exceptions). So, the status quo is roughly a 40% burden if you're a breathing wage earner. Is that enough wealth distribution for you, to take 40% of others for the purposes of running the state? Keep in mind that the top 1% of taxpayers pay 32% of the income taxes. Expand that to the top 5%, and we're at 51% of income taxes. Expand again to the top 10%, and it's 63%; top 20% is 78%. In other words, the status quo is that the tax burden is upon the rich. If you'd like fairness, how about spreading the tax burden around to the 80% of taxpayers who pay the other 20% of income taxes? Wouldn't that be more fair? More logical?

I don’t think Mr. Sowell you are a qualified arbiter of this issue.

toadroller: I think, Loren, you should read Mr. Sowell's book "Basic Economics," and then consider weather he is qualified to comment on economic concepts, which include taxation and wealth re-distribution. Oh, and you'll learn something, too.

I think Mr. Sowell your argument is disingenuous and meant for simple minded people who have imposed upon themselves the security of ignorance.

toadroller: the ignorant, who are not paying attention, have the right to vote. And they do. That has been to the detriment of America, especially so with President Obama, who was voted in by the ignorant for something as vague as "hope and change."

Let us recognize a plain undisputed fact Mr. Sowell, our tax code created by politicians/government has long been used to “redistribute wealth”.

toadroller: again, 60-80 years (federal income tax through social security through welfare) is not a long time, especially in a country that is young- 234 years.

The system works in a straight forward fashion, politicians are bribed by their benefactors (corporations and the rich) to draft tax codes which are beneficial to their financial interests. The present tax code is the result of such forces and private interests.

toadroller- The rich wanted to be taxed at 35%?? Boy, the rich are dumb. Of course, it's better than the 50% tax rate Reagan repealed.

We did not hear or see your argument during the lower tax rates for the very rich during the bush adm.. Only now when “politicians” are removing some of those substantial tax breaks for the rich do we hear your voice.

toadroller: Should anyone complain when their tax burden is lowered? Let's implement tax rates (which is, mathematically, the same thing as removing tax breaks) on those not currently paying taxes and see if they complain. I'm willing to bet they would.

I think you, Mr. Sowell are an “expert” who’s opinion may be for sale to the highest bidder and therefore your ethics are suspect. I question your ‘expert” status in this issue and recognize you may be little more than a common street “hooker”, with no insult meant to that ethical profession

toadroller: Loren, thank you for ending with name-calling. That's mature.

Now, go to the library my taxes have paid for, borrow Mr. Sowell's "Basic Economics" book, and read. You have some thinking to do.

Friday, May 7, 2010

dippity doo

So, the stock market took a nosedive yesterday afternoon, dropping almost 10% in the course of an hour or so. It was co-incidental (and mayyyybe cause and effect related) with riots in Greece over the passing of "austerity" laws.

Greece is over-burdened with debt and entitlements obligations. So they came to the EU asking for help. Help was offered under the conditions that they cut back their budget, which means entitlements freezes, cuts in union/public services pay, etc. Hence those dependent on such things got scared as.. what they were taking won't be there any more.

There were related riots in Germany; basically German citizens telling their government not to send their money to the Greeks. Well, of all peoples, fiscal concern from the Germans? Good for them! But it shouldn't be surprising. Who wants another person pulling from your buffet line?

Which brings us to the crux of the point. Are you going to be a piglet who fights to get to the sow, or are you going to be the sow?  Granted, the sow will have to take on more piglets than her own...

Are you going to be dependent on something (that probably won't be there) in the future, or are you going to make yourself independent? Will you take or will you have? Will you be a slave or will you be defending your property?  Will you pull the cart or are you going to be a burden?

What will you do when the sow goes dry?

Start saving now.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


I washed and waxed the car today.
It was the first time in over a year. It thanked me by being shockingly shiny.

I'm going to vacuum the interior tomorrow.  If I feel fancy, I might find some Armour-All for the tires and dashboard.

  The sky was clear and blue.

Our house is orange.
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Thursday, March 25, 2010

What to say?

The House passed on Sunday night,  and Obama signed on Tuesday morning, government control of healthcare into law. 

As if on queue, the sunny, gorgeous, pre-spring weather hitting the sixties and seventies turned into cold heavy rain, and finally let up here on Thursday.  Dark, gray, windy, and cold. 

I've wondered for more than a week (as the impending gloom circled and became reality) how I might write about it all.  Should I write an educational piece?  An impassioned explanation of what is so fundamentally wrong with it?  A short story with a duck and cat to explain the issues at hand in a way that even a four year old can understand?  Clever jokes and pokes?

I still don't know. But I will say that it has frustrated and depressed me because of the idea, the lies, the selling, and the process.  I do know that the next generation, my grandchildren, will take it as a given that healthcare is something that comes from the government (by then it will in its entirety- who can compete with someone whose captial is limited to the wealth of the entire population), like social security and medicaid are viewed today.  It takes an education and a thought process to understand that social security is a bad thing.  It takes a change in paradigm from what you've been taught, what you've lived with, the way everyone else does things, to understand this.  Sorry, most people aren't educated.  They don't pay attention.  They are happy to live the way everyone else does.

The unexamined life.  Ignorance is bliss.  Did you see what happened on "Lost" last night?  Sound bites and press relations and getting your agenda across.

Is there a silver lining?  I don't know.  No.  Yes.  Slopes are slippery.  Pendulums swing.  Of course there is.  The worst it's ever been; we've seen it all before.  A downard spiral; a renaissance of conservative thought and action.  Freedom aint free; give me libery or give me death; when in the course of human events; these enumerated powers; checks and balances; the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried;

Consent of the governed.


We are people, we are humans, we are children of God, we are free in spirit even if we, as a people, seem hell bent on surrendering the liberties we have to for freedom from worry.  We have brains.  We can choose not to participate in the insanity. 

I used to think this as withdrawing from society, escaping, going alone, hiding, becomming a hermit.  Funny thing though- I'm discovering more freedom of what God meant for life as we go down these paths of homeschooling, having too many kids, living without debt, living without birth control pills (never had it, never will), living without the crap television and news.  And I'm finding a bunch of people are taking this walk.  So now I'm thinking it isn't withdrawing, but re-forming.  re-defining.  Pursuing happiness.  Which is one of the fundamental freedoms (along with life and liberty) for which we took the risk of giving George the finger, and for which we can continue to fight and choose to live.  And which, for now, we're still permitted by this government which we permitted into being.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cogito ergo conservativus

That is all.  You may carry on now.

Bumper stickers will be made available soon.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

It's been a bit busy over the last week or two...

I can't believe it's been ten days since I wrote. We have been so full time busy with work or travel or moving that I haven't had time.

Gosh, where to begin catching up? I can't remember that far back! Let's see, on the 17th I flew into Philly for a demo.

Up late, up early, all morning the 18th in the demo and a strange sence of confidence came over me- which I had bee working towards. What a great feeling to know you're truly doing what you should be doing. Customer said, candidly, "I've sat through a bunch of these and this is the first one I've liked."

Back to the corporate office for an afternoon rush of learning some new call center features for the next week's demo; to the airport; landed Manchester 8:30; drove to Loudon and had dinner with dad at the Longhorn. He was all relaxed and talking fun (motorcycles, tractors, not politics and doom.). On through the night to home at 12:45 AM.

Friday up early and all day working and preparing. Friday night to Millinocket. Saturday packing Millinocket and back home. Sunday... kids to CCD, Stella needy and in arms. Made a good dinner, to bed.

Monday, up at 6:00 and to the airport. Early call before my flight. Got to Philly and the second leg of my flight was cancelled, mechanical. Changed car rental from Harrisburg to Philly and did a one way- that made it expensive! Got there in the same time it would have taken to fly. Worked 2:00 to midnight with a short break for dinner.

Tuesday, got up at 5:30, got the one thing I was hoping to make work... fixed at 6:02. More powerpoint clean up. Showered, got dressed, printed driving directions and demo script. At the customer 7:32. All friggin' day in front of the audience- scenario 1 and the questions came flying in from the forty people in the audience. Exhausting. Hour lunch, no, "could we make it 45 and keep on driving through?" "Sure, mister customer, you're used to standing up in front of a crowd for hours on end." By the way- very low stress levels through all of this; a confidence in what I could handle, and the fact that I couldn't handle all of it, so why worry, and the fact that, well, I know what I'm doing and had prepared a ton. Limped back to the hotel exhausted at 5:30. Half-hour nap, worked for an hour, went for dinner. Best and biggest martini ever, bangers and mash for the meal, back to hotel. Tried to work but fell asleep on bed around 8:00.

Wednesday, 2:30 AM, woke up. "Shit!" worked until 4:00, getting my key plan for the day ready. Back to bed, back up at 6:00, ignored 6:03 email from customer asking if I could come in early (give me a break! talk about not recognizing boundaries!) In front of customer at 8:00, delivering the goods until 2:30, then my partner got a chance to talk while I scrambled the travel logistics due to weather. Kudos and thanks from the customer, they're pleased and going forward. Flight delayed 1:45, so I went for another of Harrisburg's best martinis (Lancaster brewing company, if you're counting), then onto the airport. Hour long turbo-prop to Newark with 15 minutes to catch my flight on a different concourse. Nope, delayed an hour. Hour and a half. Two. Left at 11:45 and landed Portland 1:00 AM. I was, well, dragging at this point. 30 mph winds, absolutely sheets of rain. I drove 50 mph on the highway- me! Home at 2:20 AM.

Thursday, up at 6:00 to let a dog out or something, crawled back to bed. Up at 9:30 for coffee. In and out of too much work, calls, catch-ups, etc. It's 3:00, 4:00, that's it, I give! Torrential rain and strong winds all day. No leaks in the basement or the garage. Hooray, hooray.

Friday, up at 8:00, hammered email for an hour on my day off, many with the customer, and then up to Waterville at 11:30 for Cheryl to close on the house in Millinocket. Kept everyone but Bridget in the van and drove in counter-clockwise direction around waterville for 45 minutes. Back home. Lunch and packed and back north and east around 3:00. 4:30 in Bangor and picked up the mega u-haul 26 footer. Bridget and Henry in the cab with me, trucking. We had walkie talkies with us, but the kids wore the batteries out with silly talk. Wouldn't have minded but, we ended up needing them. Getting dark, Cheryl's headlights weren't on. Ten miles north of Bangor it turned into serious snow and out of nowhere the road is packed solid snow and sleet. Slowed down to fourty. Come on, we're within 40 miles of Milinocket. Stop in Howland so Cheryl can nurse Stella and I can get a coffee. Check out the van's headlights and only the high-beams work. High-beams it is then, as it's blowing and gusting and I'm not about to fix that on the way. Back on the highway, another 20 miles, walkie-talkie battery is dead. Pulled off in Lincoln for a quick off and on to make sure Cheryl's allright. I parked on the on-ramp, careful to leave enough room for people to get by yet not so far to the side that I'm off the pavement. Walked back to Cheryl and Stella was crying again, "could we go through Lincoln to get to Millinocket?" "Sure, let's back out." Started to back out and wasn't going anywhere. Cautiously tried to go forward, but slid to the right. Shit. Left a note with my cell phone number in the window, date, time, that we're all safe. Back to the minivan and I drove the rest of the way to Millinocket at 35 mph- too much snow, the moving truck abandoned. Unpacked in Millinocket and my cell phone rang, state patrol. I have to move it tonight or they'll move it for me, will be a couple hundred no doubt; to pull it is a big, big truck. How in blazes am I going to do that? I can't drive there myself, I'd need Cheryl, which means I'd need to pack all the kids up again. Called U-Haul's roadside assistance which amounted to twenty minutes on hold until a roadside assistance specialist told me he could help by looking up towing companies for me. Gee, thanks. "Is West Gardiner near to Lincoln?" "Only in the sense that New York is near Boston." Crap, I was online and said I could do a google search as well anyone. "Have a nice day, sir." Found John & Son's on Katahdin Avenue here in Millinocket, he picked up on the first ring. Yes, he could tug me out but couldn't tow, how bad was it. Yes, he'd meet me there. "Could you give me a lift? I can't take my whole family out in this." "Yeah, I'll squeeze you in next to my grandson in the cab. Meet me at the bottom of School Street in 10 minutes and call the state patrol, let them know you're fishing it out or they'll tow it before we get there." His name was John Doyle, no relation to Bert, but asked if Cheryl might have gone to high-school in the 80s or so. Yep. Knew the fella buying the house. That's Maine. The roads were now simply wet, rainy and clear- safe as can be. One hour later. Got there and tugged me out in five minutes, $100 cash only, a firm handshake, thank yous and off he went. Drove north to Millinocket and found my way up the hill to park in front of the house. A game of Clue with the kids and it was 11:15, off to bed.

And now we're all caught up. We need coffee. Time to move the Truck.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Optimism in January. In Maine.

I put stickers with my house number on the side of my mailbox today. 

Not so much to help people find the house as to help me identify the mailbox as mine when the snowbanks melt away.  It's kind of like tagging the webbed feet of migrating waterfowl.  Once the plow sends it flying, you might not see it again.  I've been playing with the idea of putting a shooting target on the mailbox as well, to make it a bit more fun for the plow drivers.

Speaking of melting away, we had a torrential downpour and unseasonably warm weather here the last two days.  Into the forties.  Our snowpile is half its former self, and we're down to the actual driveway instead of solid ice.  And to think that just this past Saturday I was contemplating getting a ladder and shoveling the snow off the roof to prevent the ice dams from getting too big.  Now the roof is clear.  Hooray!

Oh, and I found the nice square-head shovel the kids left on one corner of the driveway.  Henry's orange hat is still missing, but I know roughly where it is, by the shed.

Other sure signs it's warm in Maine in January: As I dropped off the eldest Toadroller for basketball practice today, the indoor track team was outside, jogging on the high school's entrance road in shorts and t-shirts.  Hey, if it's in the 30s, get your butt outside!  It won't be that warm again until late March.

I believe that it rains for the sole purpose of helping me identify the next leak to fix in my house.  We may have turned the corner in leakity-ville, though: this one was just dripping into the garage, not into living areas, drywall or wiring in order to leave behind a trail of mold.  I did have to clear my car out of the garage; rip down some rotten insulation; empty my toolbox, drying each tool by hand; and rescue my compound mitre-saw. 

Anyone want some slightly damp Home Depot crappy shelving?  Free.

I ended my mop-up duties by going outside to look around for the culprit.   The porch.  Of course.*  The water was coming into the garage where the porch attaches to the house because, well, the under-side of the porch is sealed plywood, yet above that, the floor of the porch, is typical decking.  You see, the roof of the porch leaks, which I can accept as it's external to the house.  The leaking water falls onto the decking of the porch and then becomes, as best I can tell, a little minnow-pool because of the aforementioned sealed plywood. 

"What the hell," I figured, "I'll enjoy ripping the whole thing down and leaving it unfinished this summer.  Good thing it's on the back."  I got my Makita drill and made some swiss cheese (meaning random) drainage holes in the until-recently-sealed-underside.  I felt like a drunk cowboy shooting my Makita into the air.  The results were eerily similar to my attempts to find a stud in order to hang a picture.  I eventually hit some of the right spots and it emptied out like a kid who'd been holding it the whole way through Spanish class.  Or like an interior latex paint-sack on a house renovation in Maine in February**:

Shit, I hate this house.

Take black mold, for instance.  It loves us.  Black mold cost us $7k or so to mitigate and sell our house in Colorado.  Black mold awaited us here in Maine, due largely to a local Master Craftsman's (I can't recommend him, really I can't, despite his services costing twice everyone else's) inability to properly vent or waterproof anything.  That Master Craftsmanship led to this:

We're still in re-construction of that renovation, and will be for the next year or so.  Our second parlor room is now affectionately referred to as "the mold room" and is serving time, unheated, as a storage room for all our crap until spring, when I'll rip out the drywall and insulation, kill the mold somehow, and turn it into my woodshop/base of operations for personally and slowly (time, skill, and money allowing) rennovating the downstairs of this house.

The icing on the mold-cake, though, was the discovery of mold IN OUR FRIGGIN' SELECT COMFORT BED!  You see, the foam layers apparently trap humidity and become a literal hotbed for mold growth.  Yes, there's a class-action law suit.  Yes, I could raise hell with Select Comfort's support lines, Rush Limbaugh, or any of the other mini-celebs advertising the air-bed nee moldy cheese factory and get it replaced.  But then I'd still have a crappy Select Comfort bed.  Quick two-word-review of the Select Comfort beds:  They suck.  So, mold in the bed and we've started up the musical beds, again, until we decide when and how to replace the Select Comfort (did I mention it isn't comfortable?) bed.   I know what the replacement mattress will be, and when we get commisions, bonuses, taxes and house-sale (not this house, which I've mentioned I hate) squared away, we'll get it.

I need to bleed the air out of my hot water heat piping. I'm not so sure that I know how to do that. I think I might have figured it out last winter when I finished the local plumbing and heating company's job for them after paying a good $13k for a half-assed, slow-assed job. I literally reverse-engineered the wiring to the relays governing the valves, re-wired the upstairs thermostat (correctly this time), and marked off which pipes went where and in what direction they were flowing. But now there's air in the system. When it kicks in for the upstairs, it sounds like a toilet flushing.

I still have half a tank of oil and it's late January.  I think I might get through this winter with one more fill up and then a topper in May or June.  I played the "pre-buy" sweepstakes fairly well; I'm probably $100 ahead of the game, but that doesn't mean much when the winter's bill is in the $2k range.

Optimism.  January.  Maine.  If you don't have it, you'd better move.  Before you hurt someone.

That or sing carols as you take down the Christmas tree.  I hope we get to that this weekend.

* It wan't just the porch.  Of course.  Water was coming in through the wiring and piping for the alarm system some bright spark put into the house.  Now, given that this was Samantha Smith's (see:  ) childhood house, down to the Holly Hobby wallpaper in her former bedroom, maybe a security system was to ward off the KGB or the CIA.  We didn't find any cold-war era bugs in the walss during the renovation...  Otherwise I'm at a loss for why anyone would set up an alarm system in house in a small town in a state where most people leave the keys in the ignition while they go grocery shopping.  

** That's right, if you survive January, you have all of February to look forward to***.  There's a reason it's the shortest month of the year.  It's kinda like Select Comfort beds.  A three-word review of February in Maine:  It sucks too.

*** Two word review of March in Maine:  Mostly sucks.  Now, don't get me wrong; I'm serious when I say this piece is optimistic.  It's just that five months of the year in Maine can be dedicated to cold, one month to mud, two to bugs, leaving us three or four nice months depending on the local side effects of global warming.  Or rain.  Shit, I forgot the two rain months, summer**** and October.  Maine sucks.  Why are we here?

**** Yes, I know, footnotes to footnotes to footnotes.  I also know that summer is not a month.  The point is, one random month of summer (maybe two, like we had in 2009!) can be set aside for rain in Maine, which falls mainly on my house, which should more accurately be labeled a drain.

Friday, January 22, 2010

As easy as 1, 2, 9!

I travel on business quite often and, therefore, have to submit expense reports.

My company has transitioned from a process of filling in an expense report system and mailing in your receipts in pre-paid-postage envelopes with your receipts neatly taped (not stapled, no!) onto sheets of paper to a process of filling in an expense report system and then scanning in your receipts - neatly laid out on the scanner as if they were taped (not stapled, damnit!) onto sheets of paper and then attaching the resulting scanned images (well, PDFs, actually, as scammed images are too large to submit) electronically to the expense report system.

This new process saves the company postage and is, I'm sure, is easier to copmy with whatever receipt tracking regulations our collective governments can come up with for audits.*  It has also been a boon to the home-office-multi-function-printer-fax (remember faxes?)-scanner-coffee-maker-guitar-tuner-world-band-radio-ceramic-heater-thickness-planer-all-in-one marketplace.  Being the hip and trendy people the Toadrollers are, we already had a scanner or two laying around the house.  Come to think of it, we have had three... but I think we got rid of one of them as it was a useless color all-in-one ink-jet device.  Eww, ink.  I hold my nose at you, ink.

I bought Mrs. Toadroller a new computer with Windows 7 for her birthday.  Zoom-fast-zing-works!  Except, sure enough, the new, hip HP laser all-in-one, well, it and its software don't work with Windows 7... yet.  There went a weekend afternoon.

Today I face-palmed myself and realized that my work laptop, which has my receipt and expense software on it, is XP and heck, I'll just plug the HP Laser all-in-one into it.  Easy as 1,2,3; it's plug and play.  One problem: as different as Apple tries to be in the name of hip and trendy and fun to use**, HP seems to have this desire to be different too, in the name of "we have  a better, albeit more complex, way of doing things."

Here's what I went through:
  1. Plug it into the USB port, XP recognizes the device and goes through whatever machinations XP does to configure it. Result?  XP says, in a dialog box that's awfully familiar, "We can't figure this thing out.  We know it's an HP CM1015 printer and coffee grinder and all that other stuff, but we'll be damned if you can plug and play with it here.  You might want to look all over your house for any installation CDs that came with the thing when you bought it a year ago.  Sorry.***  Would you like to avoid going through this five minute fruitless search for installation information the next time you, in a fit of optimism, plug this thing into your computer?"
  2. Okay, I'll find the install disc for it. I know I have it somewhere... but where?  Oh yes, that's right, I probably left it in Mrs. Toadroller's cd-drive on the Windows 7 (which, when it crashes, (and it does, trust me) does so in a familiar, comforting way.  Just like Vista!) machine when I tried to install it there and Windows 7 rejected it like so much... bad ink. 
  3. Okay, popped it in.  Autorun.exe eventually catches a clue and fires up and... crashes, something about it can't find a .dll it needs in the Windows directory and, like the magic 8-ball, asks me to try again later.
  4. Screw later, I open the file browser on the CD and skip autorun.exe and find setup.exe.  At least they adhere to some standards.  Double click, some whirring and an install wizard comes up.  I agree, next, next, default, next, no, I don't want to install Yahoo toolbar, no, I don't want to register, please don't ask me again, next, next, next, wait, what did I just agree to do, back, oh, nothing, next again, go.  A few more whirs, clicks, nexts and...
  5. Plug in the device to the usb now.  Oh, it's been plugged in.  Unplug and replug, okay, gotcha, next, no, yes, no,'ll need to reboot, wanna do it now?  Of course I do.  Log off VPN, save all my open files, kill the processes that XP can't, reboot, login.
  6. Wait a while for it to recognize that it left off installation and then finish the job.  No, I don't want Yahoo Toolbar**** or to register (didn't we just agree that you'd never ask me again?).  Finish.
  7. Oh, I have to start the program for scanning?  I thought you'd do that for me since we've just been through this setup.  Fair enough, you put an icon on my desktop which I don't really recall agreeing to in the midst of all the next buttons I pressed.
  8. Scan option, configure scan types and directories, don't ask me agains and, finally, ready to scan and... "Can't talk to scanning device, try again."
  9. Shut down HP solution software, restart, re-hit scan button, reconfigure and re-don't ask me again, and hey, I'm scanning!  The preview is blank.  Oh- I forgot to put the receipt I was scanning in there. Pilot error.
Okay, hooray, plug and play.  I got my expense report done in an hour and twenty minutes.

* Did you know that in Ronnie Reagan's first year in office, one of his administration was forced to resign over a scandal of receiving an improper gift as a government employee?  The media smelled blood and attacked for months until the guy was forced to resign.  What was the situation?  Early in his term, the Japanese press had arrange for an interview with Mrs. Reagan, (you know, the home & lifestyles type of interview- what it's like to decorate the Whitehouse, etc.) and as customary for Japan, had given a gift of $1,000.00 to the Whitehouse administrator for arranging the interview.  Not knowing what to do with it, he put it in a safe somewhere and forgot about it.  Imagine such a terrible (sarcasm alert) thing happening today, where the head of the IRS i nthe Obama administration has cheated on his taxes.

** I've recently dipped my toe into the world of Apple with an iPod touch.  I'll admit it, it's the coolest friggin electronic device I've ever had.  It rocks.

***They didn't actually apologize.  I made that part up, but the rest of the message in the dialog is verbatim.  Really.

**** legislation and regulation I would vote for is a no-Yahoo Toolbar installation questions list.  Kinda like the no-call list for telemarketers, you know?