Friday, March 29, 2013

The One $ Rule



This is The Only Financial Advice You'll Ever Need.
If you can follow one simple rule your financial life will be forever simplified. Ready? Here it is:
Don't buy something if you don't have the money.
If you prefer more positive statements:
Only buy if you have the cash.

Everything else is commentary, including the dozens of techniques which tell you how to manage your money so that you have the cash.
I don't use the common phrase "only spend what you make" because too many people get a nice job making, oh, say, $40 thousand a year and think that means they can go spend it all right now. Buy a new car. Buy a bigger house. That's incorrect logic. You don't have the money if it isn't in your bank and available to buy what you want. If you have debts, your money is earmarked to pay someone else; it isn't yours to spend. Don't spend the money you need for this month's rent or car payment or groceries or utilities or child care or gasoline - you get the idea. And if you don't get the idea, then I'm sure the One $ Rule just doesn't make sense to you.
I know there are exceptions, dire situations of unemployment and people making sacrifices for their family, perhaps with credit the only thing sustaining them in these tough economic times. Obviously, we do what we must for those we love, to keep them safe and secure. For those who have some extra money, it really is a good principle to be generous and help those who need help.
I firmly believe in tithing for my church, because the church does good things with money. I also look carefully at my church budget every year to ensure they are being wise in how they spend the hard-earned dollars of the church members.
Oh, and the money and the things? You can't take it with you. Just after your last breath it all belongs to someone else. We are only caretakers of the things of this life. The Bible calls us stewards, and emphasizes that all your wealth, your money, your possessions, your time, all belong to God. That's a good attitude, whether you believe in God or not, because it takes the focus off what you have and focuses on what good you can do with it. (I suppose, technically, if you are an evil mad scientist you could focus on all the bad you could do with what you have.)
We all like nice things. Most of us want nice things. Delay your gratification until you can pay for the things you want and you'll always be better off.
If I could leave my children with only one piece of financial advice, this would be it. Yes, I could have said spend less than you make and that's a good principle, but when you are reaching in your pocket to pull the cash out to pay for something, you really think a lot harder about your purchases. You will spend less than you make.
I wish you Good Fortune and may you be a blessing to all those who know you.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Meaty Ribs



I don't usually blog about what and where I eat. For one thing, that would be a lot of blog posts. For another, I don't want people to know what I'm eating. Besides, I need something for Twitter!
Yet, tonight we just had the best ribs I've ever eaten.
Let me explain. Darling found a coupon for ribs at the local Spring Creek Barbeque, a buy one Rib Meal at the regular price, get one free. Today was the last day for the coupon, so we had to go – use it or lose it. We decided to use it.
We've eaten there once before and it was okay. I had the beef, and we had a salad. That seems odd for a BBQ place, but I felt like a salad that day. They brought fresh bread to our table – little loaves hot from the oven. I'm not supposed to be eating much bread, but I couldn't resist those. They smelled just like the bread my Aunt Nora used to make for us as boys. If you've ever seen the movie Ratatouille, when the food critic is transported back to his childhood – well, that was me. Except he is thinner and has a longer nose and no whiskers.
I'm not much of a rib fan. I've had good ribs before and have some good memories of eating ribs at Tony Roma's with friends of mine in Ohio. Those were good ribs, but they never really seemed like a good deal to me. Messy, with sauce all over my fingers and just a tiny bit of meat. Good meat, but I guess I'd rather have the beef and eat it with a fork.
But the coupon was for a couple rib dinners. I figured it was worth it. I'll get a lot of pickles and some potato salad and some cole slaw (which I am not a big fan of either, but I should eat something healthy, right?).
The cook – I'm guessing he was the cook because he kept going over and flipping the ribs and he was the guy slicing the beef for the people ahead of us – anyway, the cook takes our orders and plunks down a couple slabs of ribs on our plates. He says “You want sauce?” and I say “Sure” and he puts a nice amount of sauce on them.
Now another nice thing about this place is that you can come back for as many sides as you want. That's really smart, because I'm willing to bet that most people are like me. I pile the sides on my plate when I get it and by the time I've finished with that and most of my meat, more side dishes are the furthest thing from my mind.
I'll get to that in a minute.
So I get some sweet tea, and I'd like to add to restaurant owners in the North, would you guys please get a clue about sweet tea and start brewing it. Sure it isn't good for you, like regular tea, but a lot of people, myself included, add sugar to our tea. I don't have to do that with sweet tea. I probably have to explain that for some of you Yankees. (According to Texas friends, I'm a “damn” Yankee because I came down and stayed.) Sweet tea is made by adding sugar to the water you use to brew the tea, so it's sweet when it's finished. Adding the sugar after the tea is brewed just isn't the same thing. I'm just trying to help you northern cooking places out – if you offer sweet tea, people will buy it. Trust me.
So I get the sweet tea and head to the table. I had one of their little ears of corn, and that isn't the best in the world, but that's okay. It's hard to get good sweet corn except fresh from the garden. I look a bit askance at the ribs and then figure what the heck and grab one from the end, expecting, as in the past, a small bit of meat around a large rib bone.
My first bite was a mouthful of tender meat, satisfyingly tangy from the bbq sauce the cook added. The rest of the ribs were just the same. Three ribs into my meal and forget about the side dishes. I eat the pickles (Darling grabbed me a couple also) and the hot peppers, but the ribs have me mesmerized.
A lady we know from church comes by and asks if we want some fresh bread. We do, of course, but were surprised to see her working there. Turns out she doesn't work there. She's a teacher and Spring Creek Barbeque is having a night for their school, where some percentage of the proceeds go directly to the school. This is the second time they've teamed up, and the school loves this place. I'm agreeing with her as I dive back in.
I'm chomping away and Darling asks me if I'd like something else. She's had about four ribs and puts the other two aside. I'm considering snagging those too.
Chewing I grunt a simply no and Darling goes and gets some Mac and Cheese, some pinto beans and some green beans. She likes the green beans. The pinto beans are okay. She simply beams as she puts a forkful of Mac and Cheese in her mouth. She stabbed a bit for me as I swallowed my bite of ribs and took a long drink from my sweet tea.
Their Mac and Cheese is fabulous! Absolutely the best I've ever eaten! And they bring a couple loaves of fresh bread to the table!
So here's the bottom line. I ate all my ribs – I think there were six, but there was a lot of meat on those ribs. I'm glad I didn't eat the two that Darling boxed up for later. I wish I'd saved a couple ribs and had some Mac and Cheese.
Now I'm a big fan of ribs. At least the ribs at our local Spring Creek Barbeque. If you get a chance, go get some.
And enjoy the bread, too. I might see you there, because I'll be going back. Well, next time we get a coupon for ribs...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

London and Paris on a Budget


A million dollars for a couple of days in London and Paris for the Vice-President?
Are conservatives crying wolf again? Let's remember the conservative pundits who claimed President Obama's trip to India in 2010 cost $200 million per day. That quoted cost was ridiculous and thoroughly debunked by Anderson Cooper. No one knows the actual costs, but it was probably closer to $50 million for the whole trip.
We do know some figures that are not in dispute: 04-Feb-2013 Hyatt Regency London for $459,388.65 and 05-Feb-2013 Hotel Intercontinental Paris Le Grand for $585,000.50.
Okay, I'm trying to be fair here.
Mr. Biden is the Vice-President of the United States. We respect the office and that respect should reflect on the person in office. We elected him, so we owe him that.
He deserves protection. A lot of people in this world are unsavory characters and might try to harm him. It probably won't be anyone working in those two hotels, though.
He deserves some comfort. He works hard. Well, I think the job of Vice-President must be difficult, though I honestly am not sure what it entails. Any help here? Regardless, the VP is always busy doing something (like Mr. Cheney shooting lawyers? j/k).
I'm upset that the conservative media grabs the numbers and cries foul without doing some investigation.
Yes, the USA is tumbling down a Fiscal Cliff, has no viable budget, has raised the debt ceiling to keep the government functional and is in the middle of Sequestration. These are all facts and we should be embarrassed that our government officials do not address the issues like the courageous men and women we elected them to be.
Yes, a million dollars seems like a lot of money to the ordinary citizen, especially when the median household income in the US is about $50,000 and the average income closer to $46,000. (There is a really nice breakdown of this information here.) A million dollars is relatively nothing to the US government, though. In 2011 (the latest year I can find published data) the net operating cost for the government was $1,313 billion, which was significantly less than the $2,080 billion in 2010.
So Mr. Biden's trip to London and Paris is chump change for the government.
Again, let's try to get some perspective.
In 1998 President Clinton made three significant trips. His trip to Africa, with 1302 people, cost $42.8 million. His trip to Chile, with 592 people, cost $10.5 million. His trip to China, with 510 people, cost $18.8 million. Each of these trips is an order of magnitude higher than the cost of Mr. Biden's trip. Of course, the numbers for President Clinton's trip do not include travel and support personnel which would add a few million to each trip. (According to one report, in FY2012 the average cost of flying Air Force One for one hour is $179,750. That adds up.)
Well, to be fair, the numbers for Mr. Biden's trip also don't include those costs, nor the added costs of $321,665 for a local driver for his limousine (flown in from the US, and we don't know those costs either).
My biggest issue is when conservatives grab these numbers and use them as a club to decry the wasteful spending in the government. Really? Compared to the non-existent budget (but based on historical expenditures), Mr. Biden's trip is an easy target but shouldn't we look for the items that are costing us more? Of course, if we had a government budget then we'd know whether Mr. Biden's trip was excessive according to an established standard. But we don't have a budget - hello? Congressmen?
Mr. Biden's hotel costs in London, according to the contract with the Hyatt Regency, is for "approximately 136 hotel rooms for 893 room nights" - which is about six nights for 136 rooms. Except they only stayed one night. That's an accounting problem. According to some figures the per diem rate for Federal government employees in London is about $390 (which on my business trips means room and meals and transportation). Even though that figure seems a bit high, it is London. Now doing some quick math I calculate $459,388.65/893 nights = $514.43/night. Now that's just an estimate, but it's probably close. I can believe the VP of the US might pay a 32% premium - but what about the other rooms? Well, maybe the VP's room was really  expensive. Let's say that we have 135 rooms for $390; that would be $52,560. That would make Mr. Biden's room about $17,400 for the night.
Okay, that does seem pricey, but I'm sure there's security costs required.
Hey, how come they didn't get a group discount? My church got one when we went to Israel. I don't suppose anyone knows the answer to that one, so let's move on.
Or, as Dr. James Boys pointed out in an article in The Commentator, why didn't he stay at the Ambassador's residence in Regent's Park? He finishes his statement with "Either way it's a totally unnecessary expense at a time of a $17 trillion deficit."  Well, that's true, Mr. Boys, but a million dollars is barely a drop in the bucket when compared to $17 trillion. Are we focusing on the right things here?
I think not. Mr. Biden's trip seems excessive, at least to me. However, an ABC article quotes the State Department saying
"These costs are nothing out of the ordinary. They are in line with high-level travel across multiple administrations," the State Department official said. "The contract costs cover the entire range of support, including accommodations for military, communications, secret service staff, and other support professionals. Security experts are also required to travel in advance of the president or vice president. Safety and security are not negotiable."
These costs are "nothing out of the ordinary."
There, my fellow taxpayers, is the problem.
(If we had a budget and budget oversight that would help, in my opinion.)

I am also concerned about a few other things happening lately, but I haven't yet studied them, so I have no data.
Drone strikes against US citizens IN the US?
V.I.P.R. checkpoints vs Bill of Rights (old news?)
1.6 billion rounds of ammo?
$500 million to Palestinians?
Watching the government could take me a lot of time…

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spam

I remember Spam™ but as a food that Mom liked and we boys tried to avoid. Avoidance wasn’t always possible. Mom always shopped at the Base Post Exchange (PX) for food. I remember those trips, especially when I was a little older.
We went to the base in our station wagon, Mom and me and my three small brothers. I remember Barry about five, Dave about three and Tim two. That would make me nine or ten. Mom would get two carts and put Tim in the seat of one of them. She put Dave into the seat of the other. Barry sometimes sat in the cart itself, but mostly Mom required him to just walk next to one of the carts and hang on. He wasn’t supposed to let go, and he usually didn’t. I pushed one cart and Mom pushed the other. I had to make sure that Dave and Barry didn't do anything wrong - though Dave was pretty well secured and Barry came back every time he wandered away. He was careful that Mom didn't see him for the wrath of Mom was always to be avoided.
The goal was to fill the carts and spend less than we had. Mom filled the carts with the least expensive food that the PX had. That meant a lot of Spam™.
She made fried Spam™ (which I still like, actually) and we ate it at breakfast with eggs or at dinner with Mac and Cheese (another inexpensive item).
Mom liked Spam™ sandwiches – ugh! Seriously, she simply sliced the Spam™ directly from the can, put it on white bread with some mayo and maybe a slice of tomato. This sandwich was one of her favorite travel items actually. We shuddered when we stopped for lunch. Given the opportunity we simply skipped the Spam™ and simply ate the bread.
When we were in Hawaii I discovered that Spam™ is the state food. I don’t get that, but okay. I prefer pineapple. Mom would probably eat the pineapple with Spam™. Maybe she was part Hawaiian and forgot to tell us.
Spam has an entirely different meaning now. It has to do with all the (usually) automated crap that gets tagged onto a blog as comments. About two weeks ago I turned off the verification method for posting blog comments on my blog. The method is a bit cumbersome, and actually tripped me up a few times. I can’t always prove I’m fully human, I suppose.
I have had seventeen spam comments posted since then. Blogger is pretty good about identifying the spam comments and moves them to a special folder, but it doesn’t catch them all. I have to step in and manage those that slip through.
I turned the verification back on, and to all the real human people that I know out there, I’m sorry. To all the spammers, autobots that you are, try somewhere else now.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Psychic Phone Call - a short story


The musical notes of his cell phone pierced his sleep.
Frank sleepily picked up the phone next to his bed, expecting another call from work. "Mr. Jackson?"  The voice was quiet, yet sultry. Frank thought it probably belonged to a slim, athletic brunette. He smiled at the image in his mind.
"Yes, this is he. How did you get this number? It’s unlisted." He tried not to sound sleepy, pitching his voice a little lower than normal.
"Actually, I knew it was you, sir. This is the Psychic Hotline calling."
Frank gritted his teeth and almost ended the call, but being awakened by a crank call, regardless of the voice, was just too much. "Listen..." he growled into the phone.
"Please, Mr. Jackson, don’t be angry. This is not a crank call." The voice sighed quietly. "Haven’t you always laughed at the commercials for the Psychic Hotline and said ‘If they were really psychic they would call me?’"
Frank bit back a retort, realizing he thought that quite often.
"So we’re calling you today, sir, because there is some urgent information we feel you need to have."
"And that would be?" Frank was wide-awake now, sitting up on the edge of his bed. He glanced at the clock and realized it was almost time to get up anyway. Another early morning in his cubicle.
"Well, sir, just to assure you that this call is legitimate, we’d like to point some things out. Firstly, that we called you on your unlisted number. Secondly, I am brunette. Finally, your dog will whine to go outside in about two seconds."
Frank’s German Shepherd whined and headed for the back door.
"That could have been a lucky guess. Maybe you’re stalking me and know I have a dog." Frank walked down the hallway to let Toto out.
Her voice was still quiet and soft, almost like pillow talk, though Frank tried not to think that too loudly, just in case. "Well, sir, you’ll want to get your robe and slippers. When you open the door, you’ll get chilled, but Toto will like the cooler weather." The voice paused. "Toto is certainly an odd name for a German Shepherd."
As Frank unlocked the bolt on his back door and let his dog out, a chill gust of air swirled around his bare ankles. He shivered as he pushed the door closed. "You have my full attention. What is it that I need to know?"
"Well, sir, I’d love to just tell you, since it was such a strong impression on me and if I don’t tell you it will bother me for days. That’s actually the way it works, you see. Once I tell you, or at least contact you, then it won’t bother me anymore. However, we do have expenses, so I’m afraid it will cost you $19.95. I take most major credit cards."
Frank shivered and headed back to his bedroom, closing the room door firmly. "I’m not paying you a penny. If you were really psychic..."
"Then I’d know your credit card number? Please, Mr. Jackson, if it worked that way I’d buy a lottery ticket and take Valium to make the dreams go away." Frank slid his feet in his slippers and thought about putting on his robe, but he’d be going to work soon. For just a moment he thought of his small cubicle and all the documents he had to review for the maintenance crew. A small throbbing started behind his left eye, and he inwardly sighed, sitting back down on the edge of the bed. He felt tired already. "It was a joke, sort of."
"Sir?" the voice was quiet, but seemed interested.
"Toto. When he was a puppy he was just this tiny ball of fur and legs and he’d jump into boxes and things and stick his nose out. I thought of the picnic basket and Toto, from Wizard of Oz and the name stuck." Frank rubbed his eyes with his right hand. "Doesn’t really fit him now, though." He chuckled briefly.
"It seems perfect. Frank Baum wrote The OZ books. You’re the writer of your own life, Mr. Jackson, just like Frank Baum." The voice was quiet for a second. "I’ll tell you what, Mr. Jackson. I know you’ve been thinking about going back to school and finishing your Master's degree. I have a strong impression that this decision will lead you to a job with one of the leading companies in your area, in a real office, not a cubicle. Something will happen today that will allow you to choose to pursue that path, something important and unique - opportunity knocking, if you will. Normally, you'd overlook what's about to happen, but I'll tell you what you're supposed to look for. If it doesn't happen, then you can call the number on your phone and we'll refund your money." Frank glanced at the local number on his caller-id and put the phone back to his ear. Her voice was soothing, transporting Frank to a place in his mind where he could feel the tension drain from him, some purpose filling his bland life.
"Mr. Jackson, I feel you’ll be able to pay off your outstanding bills, including your house, within five years of finishing your degree, if..." Her hypnotic voice trailed off.
Frank stood frozen in place, slippered feet resting on the hardwood floor of his bedroom. The pain behind his eye receded slightly, and goose bumps traveled down his bare arms. "If what?"
"I’m afraid I’ll have to ask for that $29.95, sir. We do have a business to run and bills to pay."
Frank stood and moved toward his dresser. "Let me get my wallet." 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Electric Cars


I admit it. I talk on the phone in my car on the way home from work almost every day. I do it hands-free, of course, and wouldn't even consider talking on the phone if I didn't have some sort of hands-free device. For the longest time I simply used my upgraded Apple™ headphones, the ones with the soft earpieces that should have been included with all their phones. For the last month or so I've been using my new Bluetooth™ LG HBS730 (yeah, I mentioned it in the last post, too). I discovered I like not having wires. So I usually talk to Darling on my forty-minute commute home.
What does this have to do with electric cars?
I don't have an electric car. I have a white 2003 Toyota Camry which I bought at CarMax (and then removed the "Max" part of that). I like my car. It's getting a little old but it runs well and I'm comfortable with it.
Darling would like me to get a new car. I don't really want one. As I explained to her, if someone bumps into me at a light (it happened) I can simply get out, look at my bumper, mutter "You're an idiot" and we're done. I'm not concerned if someone opens a door into my car in a parking lot. I don't worry about parking my car in the driveway instead of the garage (though I'd remedy that if I could).
Prius. Why so odd looking?
A new car would change all that. Darling, however, still thinks I should upgrade to a "used" car that is newer than what I have and pass this one on to our youngest son, JV. I'm not averse to this plan, but I am reluctant to spend the large amount of dollars required to implement it completely. Cars, for me, are not a source of ego gratification. (Gadgets might be…) And I have no idea what kind of car I would get. Replacing my car with a newer version of itself seems … silly. Being the life-long champion of renewable energy that I am, I considered the hybrid cars out there.
They are very expensive, so I didn't make the leap.
Once in a great while, though, I'll see a car and go "Wow! That is a nice car." Darling perks up when I say that.
I said it yesterday, on the way home from work while talking with her on the phone. (See how all those background elements just converged? Aren't you glad you read this far?)
I was halfway home when a car in my rearview mirror caught my eye. The clean lines swept back and there was a futuristic look to the headlights that drew me to look closer. I slowed for a light and it moved past me so I pulled behind it to see what it was.
A Tesla Model S.
Darling wanted to know what kind of car it was so I told her. Now I've been reading about Tesla Motors for a few years, so I knew a little about them, but they aren't common dinner table topics. They were incorporated in 2003 and had their IPO in June, 2010. If the electric car market is truly viable, they are a leader.
I still had to look all that up. When I got home we looked at the web site for the cars.
Oh my. Beautiful, but pricey. Their base model costs about $59,900 (though they advertise it with the $7,500 tax credit as $52,400). The upper end vehicle will set you back $94,900, though you can add further options if you like. At that point, what's another ten grand? You'll still need to make some modifications to your garage electrical system to handle it, though.
So I still say "Wow! That is a nice car."
I was on the way to work and started thinking about electrical cars, though. I mean a hybrid you simply start the engine when your batteries are drained. As I drove to work I pondered whether you needed to have a lightweight cycle in the trunk with some sort of power converter in it so you could pull over and peddle some extra juice into the batteries.
Twike drives with a joystick. Really.
Someone else already thought of that. The Twike is driven predominantly in Germany and Switzerland and you peddle as you drive. That would get us all back in shape in a hurry if we had to drive that car to and from work. They recommend a peddling speed that is just short of breaking into a sweat. I think my commute would be a lot longer. Just for fun I did a back of the envelope calculation on the cost for a Twike and it still comes to probably over $30,000. And I have to peddle it. You'd also need a motorcycle license for it. (To be fair, for my distance to and from work I wouldn't have to peddle; the on-board batteries would have sufficient charge.)
There are other electric cars, of course, like the Elf. I didn't even bother looking at the price point for that one.
When I mentioned this to my buddy Wes, he said he tried finding information on the internet about how much an electric car costs in electricity. He couldn't find any such information.
That's like a challenge to me. Using the numbers on the Tesla site I came up with some calculations. If you figure a yearly driving distance of 12,000 miles (very low in the Houston area) an electric car would cost about $396 for a year versus $1560 for a gasoline powered car. Of course, there are quite a few assumptions in those numbers, as follows:

The Tesla is beautiful and Darling pointed out it is the kind of car a millionaire might drive, except I'd be a millionaire because I didn't buy it. If I was a billionaire I'd get one. And I'd worry about someone opening their car door into it in the parking lot. I'd probably buy a different car to drive around in - maybe a 2003 Toyota Camry. Maybe something I could peddle, but it would look like this:


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

New Pebble Watch arrives



Two days ago I received my Pebble™ watch in the mail. I was one of the 68,000+ Kickstarter™ backers and have kept an eye on the progress of Pebble since the crowd-source funding succeeded. A fascinating business case, I watched the memos from Pebble™ as they finished the planning, the designing, the manufacturing and the inevitable redesign and streamlining before the final production run. So now, a few months past the expected delivery date, I received my watch.
I'm not in the least bit disappointed. A couple things you need to know about me if you don't know already: I like gadgets and I like watches. I get gadgets all the time, so Darling says I need to stay employed just to buy my toys. I haven't worn a watch in about twenty years, ever since I removed a wrist watch given to me by a couple that I dearly loved and it was stolen from my desk. Still, I have quite a few watches I don't wear. I like pocket watches, too. I have one that belonged to my Grandfather Victor and has his initials engraved on the back (VAB). My college girlfriend gave me a fantastic pocket watch and the winding knob came off. When we broke up I gave it to my younger brother, so I have no idea where that one is now.
What's special about this Pebble™ watch? Not much, really, except the promise of what it might do. It doesn't look like much, just black plastic with a comfortable though not extraordinary band. A button on the left is "back" and the three buttons on the right are "up," "select" and "down." There is a very cool charger on the left that is magnetic and non-intrusive, and the watch is waterproof, rated to 5 ATM (and I have no idea how deep that is, but not much, I think). I don't plan to swim with it, but I don't worry when I'm washing dishes either (yes, I wash dishes occasionally - ask Darling). 
I put this under my shirt collar
Paired with my iPhone I can control the music from it, but I can control the music with my new stereo headset (LG HBS730). If you told me I could only keep one, I'd keep the headset. Both use Bluetooth, so there is extra drain on my phone, which will help determine what my next phone will be (expect an update on that one in MAY!). The watch also tells me who is calling, something the headset doesn't do (though it might be able to and I don't know how to set that up). Any other message that normally goes to my screen-locked iPhone also goes to my new watch which vibrates and displays the latest message until dismissed. In the car that's pretty sweet. Combined with my headset I never really need to take the phone out of my pocket and I like that.
Pebble™ says there are a number of companies who will update their apps to display notifications on the watch, and I look forward to that. My Runtastic™ is among the first I expect to install.
Aside from that I can switch watch faces, though I like the one I finally chose. It's displayed in the picture.
With the available SDK for the watch I might be able to jump in and create some apps of my own that I can distribute to other Pebble™ owners. I look forward to doing that as well, though the e-ink display is small.
The real beauty of this watch isn't the watch itself, but the mindset driving the creation of the watch. This market will become huge, eventually eclipsing and possibly replacing the phones we wear. Dick Tracy would be proud!
With my new stereo headset, Pebble™ watch and iPhone I am slowly becoming a cyborg. Resistance is futile!
Right, like I'd put a BORG picture here!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Rules for Casual Bloggers

Your way

"Good Heavens, Man! You didn't write that, did you?"
I'm still waiting for someone to put that in my comments and start a furor over something I wrote. That comment may never happen…
I always thought that "Blog" was some shorthand for "Binary Log." It is not. It is short for "Web log." The web knows everything…

There are some rules for writing blog posts. If you do a web search for writing blogs you get thousands of hits. When I started my blog I had no idea what I was doing. Maybe I still don't.
Most of the web sites for doing blogs are aimed at people who want a lot of traffic to their site. That makes sense if you consider that a lot of blogs are designed to be income-producing in some fashion. I didn't find a lot of information for casual bloggers.
I'm certainly a casual blogger.
So I'll write what I think are some "rules" and we'll see how it goes.
1. There are no rules. Hey, write what you want - it's your blog.
2. Focus. Have a point. Don't just dribble thoughts onto the page and expect them to be coherent. Or babble on - it's your blog.
3. As in most writing rules, keep your audience in mind. If you are your only audience, go ahead and write about that strange navel lint you found. If your audience includes your family, then bear that in mind and don't write something that will hurt people's feelings. That might happen anyway, but don't be intentional about it. Unless you want to - it's your blog.
4. Short is good. Liz told me that most blog posts shouldn't be more than about three hundred words. I break that rule almost every time. Apparently people will spend less than two minutes on your blog post and they won't read it - they'll scan it! You might think of that while you write. Lists are good for people who scan.
...even if unrelated
5. Pictures are good. What I have discovered is that a picture always enhances any blog post, so I try to put a picture in each one, even if the picture is barely related to the post. Google helps me immensely on this with their Google images, but I try to choose images that are public domain. Don't ask me how I do this.
6. A great title is good. I fail at that one quite often! Grab them with the title, then with the first sentence. Make the post immediately appealing to your audience - even if the audience is simply one person.
7. Proper formatting is good. Formatting matters. When I first started I asked Darling if she read my posts. She almost cried. The font was too small and too hard for her to read and the formatting was poor. Choose a good font and stick with it (I prefer Bookman Old Style). Put some spacing in (I usually do six points after each paragraph). Normally I write my posts in Word and then copy/paste into Blogger. The formatting is simply better for me that way. I add the pictures after I put the text in.

I'm just a casual blogger and those are the basic rules I follow. If you are a casual blogger, maybe these rules will help you too. Or not. The bottom line is it's your blog. Have a good time with it.

Blogs I Read


I have three younger brothers, and two of them now have blogs.
My brother Dave has some interesting stories about our childhood. Don't drink anything while reading them - you might snort your beverage out your nose. I almost did. His blog is called "Dave Bernhardt's Blog" and he uses WordPress (sort of the advanced tool for posting blogs).
My youngest brother Tim just set his blog up. So far he hasn't posted much. I look forward to reading his future posts. He's a funny, funny guy and an excellent writer. He finished writing a book a few years ago and started a second one. I'm afraid I hurt his feelings when I reviewed them and he quit writing novels. Maybe he'll start again, but novels are a lot of hard work. His blog is called Brotilla the Hun. He tells a funny story about the name.
My next older brother Barry doesn't have a blog yet. If he started one it would probably be called Awesomeness or something.
My daughter Liz convinced me to start this blog a few years ago. She was in college and her instructor required them to have a blog for class. Once she had a blog she decided to start another one, and told me she was thinking of using one of my favorite phrases: O-Dark-Thirty. Of course that forced me to go create a blog with that name and I used my church speech on our Africa trip as my first post (still one of my favorites). She started another one after that, so she has three: Fairy Tale Fragments, The Smallest Hours and Writer's Block (which is specifically for a class, I think). I always look forward to her new posts. She's funny and her one on Being Scared always cracks me up (and makes me look over my shoulder for lurking ducks).
My sweet cousin Kathleen also has a blog called Kath's Creations, which I love to visit since she has pictures of relatives I haven't seen in a long time (or have never seen in a few cases). Grandma Jen was the linchpin that got everyone together in family reunions and that hasn't happened in decades. A lot changes in a few decades… Kath keeps me in touch, albeit virtually.
Darling has a blog also, but doesn't post to it. I posted to it a few times, so I guess it's sort of my second blog. I might re-purpose it for some thoughts I have on Bible, Religion and God. It's called Amazing Grace.
Most of us use Blogger. Tim and I just logged onto Blogspot and said "Make me a blog" or something, came up with a name, and off we went. Wordpress seems the more robust and configurable of the two ways to do a blog (I know of). There are a myriad of ways to track web site views with Wordpress. Blogger is much simpler - which appeals to me a lot, actually. That was my big draw for Blogger. I like simple.
I also follow the blogs of a couple other people, most notably James Altucher (for whom I wrote an app for iPhone and Droid - currently my only cross-platform app). His posts taught me more about writing posts than he can even imagine.
One of the funniest blogs I follow is Jason Janicki's Single Edge Studios Blog. Jason's sense of humor is bizarre, which, of course, appeals to me. He created an on-line comic that I read.
I look forward to hearing some of the stories of my brothers.
They just better be nice to me in them! 

Friday, March 8, 2013

ISS


Maybe I'm lacking perspective. Maybe that's the cloud hanging over my head. I've lost my perspective. I wonder at the daily toil in my life and am curious whether any good will come of my existence. I'm pretty sure the ISS will fly even without me at the helm (which I'm not, by the way).

Speaking of the ISS, here are some tidbits for that.

The International Space Station orbits an average of about 250 miles above the surface of the Earth. It travels at an average speed of 17,240 mph (7706.6 m/s). It takes the Station a little over 90 minutes to orbit the Earth. The orbit slowly decays so fuel is expended on a regular basis for a reboost. 

There are currently six astronauts on board the station. They get up at 6AM and go to bed about 10PM. On average they work ten hour days M-F and five to eight hours on Saturday. They have Sunday off.  Now the real question should be what time zone do they use? I don't know. I'll check on that.

The Station is about 238 feet long by 366 feet wide, but that includes the solar arrays. The pressurized volume (area the astronauts can maneuver in) is about 30,000 cu ft (perhaps a bit more now; I'm looking for an update). That seems like a lot, but it's about the same size as a five-bedroom house that has 3000 sq ft of living area and a ten foot ceiling. The difference is, of course, there is no ceiling on the ISS, so it's a lot of area. However, I think privacy is still a bit of an issue. If they get tired of their roommates they can't just go outside for a walk.

Astronauts can attach their sleeping bags to any surface for sleeping. Technically they could just float and sleep, but they might bump into something sensitive, so they tether their sleeping bags (and usually velcro their arms down because their arms would float straight out in front of them). The station has a lot of air circulation fans. If the air is not pretty vigorous while they are sleeping they can die from the exhaled carbon dioxide which collects in front of their faces.

Everyone asks about going to the bathroom up there. I don't have any answers, though I've seen most of the blueprints. You basically pee into a vacuum device since there's no gravity to help you. That makes me think of Iron Man 2 during Stark's birthday party.

Any other biological needs are a mystery to me. I do know almost everything is recycled, though each mission has a trash disposal stage built in. The trash supposedly burns up on reentry. Water is precious so I'm sure all water is recaptured. The astronauts take blood and fluid samples on a regular basis and these are sent back to Earth for analysis.




Thursday, March 7, 2013

Dark Clouds and Sequestration



Work seems tedious to me. Don't get me wrong - I like the paycheck and I still do a good-sized workload, especially now that the Sequestration tumbled the government expenditures.

Contracting companies like mine will certainly get hit hard by the government cost-cutting measures. Democrats blame Republicans. Republicans blame Democrats. The bottom line is that most of our representatives, regardless of their political affiliation, have forgotten what it means to be a normal US citizen. They forgot how hard it is to make a living in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
It does seem the government wants to step in and control more and more of what we do in our private lives. Gun control? Impossible - quit pandering to the supposed poll results and try to find something you can do to limit the danger to the citizens. Drones? Are you kidding me? Shades of Big Brother and Terminator. Irresponsible spending? I wasn't a big fan of Mr. Clinton, but at least the National Budget did better under his watch. At least I have some numbers for that latter opinion.
I include 2012 twice because the number differs in the federal document from the other web site. There is a lot of creative accounting in the federal world, I think.

Obama Deficits
FY 2013*: $901 billion
FY 2012: $1,089 billion
FY 2011: $1,300 billion
FY 2010: $1,293 billion

Bush Deficits
FY 2009†: $1,413 billion
FY 2008: $459 billion
FY 2007: $161 billion

I only include those headers because the web site had them. The note for 2009 stated that an argument could be made that the FY2009 should be Obama's as well. W did lose the election in 2008, didn't he? But I don't make a fuss over it because, frankly, the economy of this country has a huge rudder - the results of financial decisions might not appear for years or they might be immediate. 

~ (in billions also)
FY 2013 $901
FY 2012 $1,327 see above
FY 2011 $1,300
~
FY 2006 $248
FY 2005 $318
FY 2004 $412
FY 2003 $377
FY 2002 $158
FY 2001 -$128 The negative number indicates a NET positive SAVINGS!
FY 2000 -$236
FY 1999 -$126
FY 1998 -$63
FY 1997 $22
FY 1996 $107
FY 1995 $164


I don't know why I felt the need to post these numbers. A colleague of mine said she heard NPR state that Mr. Obama has spent less each year of his terms than W did his last term. Well, yeah, and the figures bear that out, but there's an old saying. "Figures don't lie, but liars can figure."  You have to look at all the numbers.
I truly dislike misleading statements. "Global warming is entirely a consequence of civilization; it's man-made." Numbers, people. In the mid-nineties scientists warned about an oncoming Ice Age. (Update: some articles do provide data, and that's what I like!) I'm looking for perspective. 

I remember this issue

Blog Schedule


I know that I have a couple relatives who read my blog regularly (thanks, ml and my great kids and my awesome brothers and Wes) but I am pretty sure that's about it. I don't understand the stats page for Blogger, so I think what I'm looking at is probably the number of times I log on and correct typos. I don't think I'll create a big stir if I simply quit posting on my blog.
I won't entirely quit. The original schedule of posting on Prime Days just isn't working for me right now. I don't know what the issue is, exactly. It feels as if there are dark clouds hanging over my head, and I don't know exactly why.

So I'll try to post once or twice a week. Maybe I can get past this cloud that hovers over me. Even my happy place (Costa Rica) isn't very happy right now. I finished reading both of Nadine's books and decided I really like the luxury of the USA. I wonder if I can afford retirement here, though.
We all wonder that, don't we?


I ended up breaking this (rather long) post into three posts, since it was really three different topics, all tied into my dark mood. Since I'm able to back-date postings, the next two parts immediately follow this one.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

What love is



Another one of those things I captured off the Internet but don't have the reference for it. I did have some thoughts, and those are in bold italics.

A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds, "What does love mean?" The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. See what you think.
"When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love." I'd say that certainly is love.
"When someone loves you, the way they say your name different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth." Priceless. Your name is safe in their mouth.
"Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other."  There's a lot of truth to this one, even if we don't want to admit it.
"Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs."
"Love is when someone hurts you. And you get so mad but you don't yell at them because you know it would hurt their feelings." Love and forgiveness definitely go hand-in-hand. There were times I forgot this one.
"Love is what makes you smile when you're tired." And I forgot this one occasionally also.
"Love is when my Mommy makes coffee for my Daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK." I like this one. I used to see my Mom do this for my Dad. Or maybe she just wanted some of his coffee.
"Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more." Kissing is important. I forget this sometimes too.
"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen." So that's what that is. It's the same sound you hear when you're sitting with your dog on the back porch on a Michigan summer morning and watch the weeping willow sway in the cool breeze. Your dog looks at you, wags his tail and then puts his head back down on his front paws. For just a moment in time, life is perfect. There's a smell of spring in the air, a soft breeze, the dog's fur tickling against your arm.
"If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate." Profound. Profound is hard.
"Love is hugging. Love is kissing. Love is saying no." Everyone should study the truths here.
"When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you're scared they won't love you anymore. But then you get surprised because not only do they still love you, they love you even more." Sometimes they don't and you know there is no real love there.
"There are two kinds of love, our love and God's love. But God makes both kinds of them." Amen.
"Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it every day." That might be love, but it doesn't smell quite right.
"Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well." Yes, that's love.
"My Mommy loves me more than anybody. You don't see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night." Daddy's love you too. Don't forget that, please.
"Love is when Mom sees Dad smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford." The young Robert Redford.
"Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day." Dogs know love.
"I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones." Sacrificial love.
"I let my big sister pick on me because my Mom says she only picks on me because she loves me. So I pick on my baby sister because I love her." We might want to rethink that one.
"Love cards like Valentine's cards say stuff on them that we'd like to say ourselves, but we wouldn't be caught dead saying."
"When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you." Maybe for a little while…
"You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget." And that's the best line of all. People forget.

I know this isn't a top-quality post, but some might make you think. Some might make you laugh. And some might make you tell your sweetheart that you love them. That's worth the two minutes to read it. God bless you all.