Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rock The Boat

(the title seemed to describe this post somewhat, and came to me while listening to The Hues Corporation's 1970s one-hit-wonder)

It's a long posting tonight. But interesting. I hope.

More Economics

I was watching CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday night and they started talking about something I purposely left out of my last posting. I left it out because I thought my ideas were stretching things a bit. In any case, it was reported that the current alleged "recession" that the U. S. economy is facing is due, in large part, to the recent decline of the housing market. The part that was troubling - on so many levels - was that people were defaulting on their mortgages when they found that they owed more on their house than it was worth. Only slightly less troubling were (greedy) people ending up not being able to pay their house payments because they refused to read/understand the terms of their loans, and because even more greedy mortgage brokers allowed them to borrow the money in the first place.

First, this is not a problem of a failing U.S. economy. It is a problem of greed, and of people - a lot of people - who feel they must have what they cannot afford. Then, when this greed catches-up with the people who were living on the edge, the entire country has to sympathize and bail them out. The sad part is that without being disproportionately cruel to these greedy people, there isn't really any other way. If we were to throw them out on the streets, they would turn to crime which would affect everyone in a bad way.

Second, for those who are defaulting on mortgages because they ended-up owing more than their home is worth -- this is greed in the worst way. The housing market is known to fluctuate and, like any investment, has its ups and downs. Unless you live in Flint, Michigan (or someplace like it), there's a good chance your home will eventually increase in value again. But worse still - this underscores the lack of community that is increasingly evident in suburban America. These people see their house as an investment, not a home. They look at their house in terms of where they send their kids to school and how much they can fit inside of it. It isn't really a home in a community of other people.

Because "families" with 1.75 kids and having a house with a proverbial white picket fence and a dog (that f**king barks in the backyard all day) are the only thing that this country seems to care about, our government will again bail these people out, and this behavior will continue without consequence.

Relationships

I've avoided writing about this because there are lots of people who read this who know who I am and commenting on specifics could land me in an embarrassing situation. There has been much discussion among my friends about this topic recently, and with Hallmark's Male Guilt Trip Day fast approaching it just seems like time to tempt fate.

As much as I don't like being unattached I don't feel that being in a bad relationship is a good idea either. I've admired several women in the last few years. There's a simple test I try to use to determine whether there's any chance that it will go any further than admiration: If I try to talk to the person and the conversation is guarded and I don't feel comfortable being myself, then it isn't going to go anywhere. This isn't an all-inclusive criteria, but I feel it is a good foundation. This has been the trouble with a person I've known for several years, admire, but can't move conversation past safe topics like the weather or home improvement.

I have no idea anymore how any of this male/female romance stuff works anymore. I had a good suggestion the other night from a friend to get to know someone (ask for some house decorating advice). While it was a good suggestion, the fact is that being by myself for a long time I have become accustomed to depending on nobody except for myself. Most of the things I am passionate about mean little to most other people, making it difficult to share those with anyone else. Redecorating my house isn't really one of my passions, and while my home is kind of plain, it simply doesn't bother me at all.

I'm not a bad person. I'm not even a selfish person, really. On the subject of romance, clueless, yes. Difficult, definite yes.

Finally

It's taken longer to write this all than I thought .. so one last issue...

Technology has not been good to me as of late. The DNS entries for the dynamic IPs that Time Warner is assigning for RoadRunner are not done right, and as such are causing some issues for me (particularly with accessing some servers at work). I know what the problem is, could even fix it, but can't get to the right person at Time Warner to get it fixed. The DVR I have for my cable TV service crashes and acts strangely when recording certain high definition programming. I'd like to report the problems to the cable company, but my past dealings with them make me feel like the effort will be futile. The cable TV companies have sufficiently crushed the ability to build a DVR from open source software by keeping the CableCard specification proprietary.

It has made me take a step back and wonder if I really feel I should keep doing this as a hobby or retreat into a simpler, less technical, lifestyle. What would happen if I only had broadcast TV? What would I do if I didn't mess with my computer at home anymore?

None of these make me feel comfortable. I feel trapped by the companies that have effectively controlled communication technology. I feel helpless to move beyond it all and find something as interesting as how I originally envisioned the technology to ultimately evolve.

What they haven't invented, even as poorly as the Scientific Atlanta 8300HDC DVR, is a way to function without sleep. So I need to get to sleep.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hannah Montana

I made the mistake of watching the news tonight on TV.

The first story that caught my attention was the "tax rebate" stimulus package that our federal government is trying to pass to "jump start" the economy. The Associated Press story, carried by a local TV station, states:

WASHINGTON -- With unprecedented speed and cooperation, Congress and the White House forged a deal Thursday to begin rushing tax rebates of $600 to $1,200 to most tax filers by spring, hoping they will spend the money just as quickly and jolt the ailing economy to life.

Rebates would be even higher for families with children.

(emphasis mine)

Of course, the reason for the rebates being higher for families with children, supposedly, is to give those parents who are suffering so much trying to provide for their children with much needed cash (which they would, of course, spend).

So shortly after that story was coverage of the local Hannah Montana concert. For those who are as clueless about this as I was, Hannah Montana (played by Billy Ray Cyrus' daughter, Miley Cyrus) is a Disney Channel TV series that all the kids are going nuts over. Background info aside -- The news story interviewed several kids coming out of the concert, and asked one how much her parents paid for the tickets. She said, "$500."

Yes, you read that right - five HUNDRED fscking* dollars for concert tickets for a kid.
(* fsck = UNIX command for "file system check" but also a nerdy substitute for the word "fuck")

Now I know there are parents out there who really are counting pennies and trying to make ends meet, just as there are non-parents struggling as well. So when I hear about the US government giving $300 per child tax rebates -- put into English, $300 of my tax dollars going to someone else's kid -- so parents can spend $500 for a Hannah Montana ticket, my blood starts to boil.

Let's talk about why the economy is really going down the crapper. First and most obvious: energy costs. When energy prices increase, it has a widespread impact on the economy. Everything consumes energy in some form or another, and with the energy costs going up faster than the average consumer's wage, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that people are going to be just a little more thrifty right now to cover the cost of heating, electricity, automobile fuel, and the indirect cost impact on food and other essentials. Pee-ess, "essentials" does not include Hannah Montana tickets (sorry kids). Nevertheless, when the Lord told 'W,' "Time to cut back expenses and find alternatives to oil," he heard, "Time to invade Iraq and take their oil." Mighty fine decision THAT was (said with thick sarcasm).

The second biggest reason is that wages have decreased, the high-tech jobs everyone thought were never-ending weren't never-ending, and many people have spent a lot of money they now no longer have.

There are, of course, other reasons. I'm a mad computer scientist, not an economist, damn it.

People don't do smart things with tax rebates. Sure, these will encourage consumer spending, but it's short-term spending. It isn't the kind of spending that is going to spawn jobs. Okay, yeah, the people scalping Hannah Montana tickets are doing pretty well right now (hopefully they'll pay off their credit card debt or save it for a rainy day).

What could stimulate the economy? Why not look into serious alternatives to fossil fuels? When I say "serious" I don't mean ethanol or hydrogen, I mean something that actually makes sense. The development of reasonably-priced solar and wind power would be a good start. Let's think outside the wooden box we call a "house" and consider subterranean housing (energy efficient and low maintenance). These are both constructive and they create jobs. Be imaginative. Don't be a dick (Chaney).

Speaking of bashing the current occupants of The White House...

I just saw The Dixie Chicks perform on "VH1 Storytellers" on the high-definition music channel. I never much cared for their music for some reason - perhaps because country radio overplayed one or two songs to death. The songs they performed on this program had much more depth, and it actually was enjoyable and made me think about buying their music. I had heard "Not Ready To Make Nice" before, but hearing Natalie Maines sing this again with such emotion gave me a renewed appreciation of what the group went through a few years ago.

I didn't pay $500 to see The Dixie Chicks perform on TV...and as much as I liked hearing them, I seriously doubt I would pay $500 to see them perform in person, even though The Dixie Chicks have a whole lot more depth than the daughter of the guy who sung, "Achy Breaky Heart." Good grief.

(PS: To Billy Ray and Miley -- no offense, really you both have talent, but c'mon, $500??!?!)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Debbie

Every once in a while, and definitely not too often, someone says or writes something that's absolutely worth sharing with the world.

I don't know whether it's because it's just the kind of smart-ass approach that the phone companies deserve or whether it's the kind of thing I would have done if I had thought of it first, but today's really cool rant goes to Debbie Does Nothing's blog entry titled Dear Qwest.

The funny thing is that I came across Debbie's blog because I was searching for other people interested in cats. Imagine that.

Oh well, I've said enough for tonight. It's 3am and time to stop messing with the computer as an excuse not to sleep and get to sleep or I'll never get up for work!

Roof Pictures

As promised, here are some pictures of the house with the new roof (actually, it looks pretty good and doesn't leak, so far):

The rear of the house...















Side of house above garage...















Front of house above garage...















Other side of house...

Walgreens Sucks

This is the second time in a week and the um-teenth time in, well, a couple of years that I've waited on line in the drive-thru at Walgreens while some yahoo in the car in front of me decided to handle a complex issue with their prescription and make everyone behind them wait. When I say "wait" I mean that the wait is more than 20 minutes.

Even worse is when you just spent 20-25 minutes waiting and three morons look at you from behind the window and make you wait longer.

So as far as I'm concerned Walgreens, as my pharmacy, is history.

As impatient as I am I realize there are circumstances beyond one's control that creates delays. I wouldn't want the airlines to fly me in dangerous weather - better they stay on the ground and cause a delay than die. But a pharmacy? Folks, you know people have these problems like "my insurance should have paid for xxx" and "I need this prescription filled this second while I wait." You'd think they would say, "Sir/Madam, please come on inside and we'll handle you there" or maybe have a second window they can pull-up to for more complex issues.

When they asked me last time if I needed to speak to the pharmacist at the drive-thru window I said, "Thanks for your concern but if I needed to speak to the pharmacist I would have come inside rather than make everyone behind me wait." The person behind the window looked strangely puzzled. Guess they don't have anything better to do with their time...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Roof!

Today the roof got replaced. I need to take some pictures to post.

It's probably a bit premature to say that this was a good experience, but so far it's a good experience. The workmanship seems to be good and what was really impressive is that they did more than just replace the roof. I knew full well that there were problems in the roof's structure that needed to be fixed - the vents were too low on the roof, there were issues where the water drained onto the wooden fascia board (and rotted it), and there was a leak that was elusive.

All these things were identified and solved. In addition, they brought the flashing around the chimney to current building codes.

My bet is that most roofing companies would have just torn off the roofing and replaced it with new. In this case, problems with the underlying structure were fixed before putting on the new roofing.

It also took one day.

It's supposed to rain in the next few days -- so we'll see how things go when the real test comes.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Evanesence

Her (Amy Lee's) mpmgsic sbfnds iwrentrsting bnt I can't uvbndrstnd a wpfrd she's svnging.

Back to my own gibberish: Maybe this is why nobody can seem to understand what I'm saying half the time if they can understand Amy. I mean, this woman has a beautiful voice and can play the piano wonderfully. So why in the world does she sound like she's singing in some foreign language? I was hoping that I could turn on closed captioning so I could understand the words, but there wasn't any captioning. Argh.

This kind of thing started with The Hollies' "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress" and Desmond Dekker and the Aces' "The Israelites." Maybe I am a musical dyslexic or something.

For more of this kind of thing and some really funny misunderstood lyrics, see http://www.kissthisguy.com/ (the archive of misheard lyrics).

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Special Place In Hell

Today I finished caulking and painting the spots on my house where the satellite dish cabling used to be. At the same time, I also did a lot of fixing-up of the alleged wood rot repair and paint job that was done a few months ago. I say "a lot of fixing-up" rather than "completely fixing-up" because to completely fix-up this fuck-up of a job, it would require a lot more work than I'm prepared and equipped to do.

I didn't realize how bad this really was until I was on my ladder and realized that because the jackass (let's call him Vic Alvarez, because that's his name) never primed the wood he replaced before he painted it that the woodgrain is now bleeding through the paint. It also isn't entirely painted and that's because Vic has never heard of a paint brush. If it couldn't be sprayed, he did next to nothing. I'm really not entirely sure he used treated wood like he was supposed to do. It appears that he didn't remove all of the rotten wood and put some of the new wood over the top of the bad, so this repair will last as long as the new wood doesn't rot (note: rot is caused by fungus).

I would call Vic back to fix his work, but the one time I already did that he nearly caused serious damage to my air conditioner. If there's one thing I've learned over the years is that when you've discovered you've been screwed by someone who doesn't care, don't invite him back to make things worse. I really believe there is a special place in hell reserved for people like Vic who take people's money to do a home repair job and does a half-assed job (his is approaching a "full-assed" one).

So here's three things I got from TV this past week that seemed interesting:

The first is a show called "Holmes on Homes" on Discovery Home channel. It's this guy who goes around to people's houses and fixes up work that contractors have completely messed up (hmmm...sound familiar?). The episode I saw (entitled "House Arrest") was about a couple that purchased a home based on the recommendation of a contractor who was a family friend (and who said he could make improvements on the house). After $170,000 the guy did such horrible work that Mike Holmes and his crew had to tear out all the plumbing and most of the wall improvements. It's worth watching.

The second was a chance viewing on MHD (Music High Definition) -- it was a live performance of the song "Hanging On" by Cheyenne Kimball. I'm not sure I like her stuff normally, but this was a completely acoustic performance (three acoustic guitars, or maybe two acoustic and one electric bass) and her singing. I messed up trying to record it using the DVR, but found it on the web (argh, requires flash, but the video is at http://www.mtv.com/overdrive/?vid=82320 (with a dumb 30 second commercial)) and was able to connect my laptop to my desktop to get it into an audio file. I have no idea how to coerce frigging flash to allow me to capture audio/video and keep it in a file for later viewing/listening. In any case, the song is about hanging on in the aftermath of a really bad day.

Finally, one more thing of note that I've found to be quite good: Arthur Smith, chief engineer at KEYE-TV, has a bunch of excellent articles about HDTV (actually he and other staff have written them). I'm very impressed with the quality of the articles. One thing he mentions is that cable and satellite TV providers are actually compressing the HD signal that the TV stations provide, and that over-the-air reception is actually superior. This actually gave me the motivation to get the rest of the cabling in place so I can use my HDTV for over-the-air viewing as well as cable TV. There is, indeed, a difference in the quality of the picture, but the cable signal isn't all that bad. The moral of the story is that if you're only watching network TV, you may as well just view it over-the-air instead of buying cable. KEYE's web site is at http://www.keyetv.com/.