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Category Archives: Wondering

Get Off My Lawn, And My Beach, And My City, And My Country, And My Planet

Over the weekend, I got to spend some time at the beach and it was pleasant.  The key to that pleasantry was going early in the morning, before the large families arrived.  As I was basking in the silence, actually able to hear the waves, I thought about how nice it was right then and how it wouldn’t be so nice in a few hours.

I thought about these groups of people with screaming children and boom boxes and thought it would be really nice to not have to be around them.  But obviously, they have just as much right to any public space as I do.  It’s just that my quiet presence wouldn’t intrude on them, but their boisterous presence would intrude on mine.  Somehow, that doesn’t seem fair. 

I thought up a label for these people.  They are “environment modifiers.”  Wherever they go, they modify their environment to suit themselves.  Natural beauty?  The sound of nature?  Unnecessary. We have children and portable stereos.  It’s just like being in our house or our back yard, only the visuals are different.

I mulled over different ways to handle this.  One idea was segmenting the beach into noisy and quiet zones.  Of course you don’t say it like that.  The beach is divided into “those who love the sound of children playing” and “those who love the sound of the sea”.  And those are truly mutually exclusive.

And sadly, this little microcosm is applicable to our society as a whole, when the loud and obnoxious drive out the polite and quiet.  When decisions are made based not on merit, but on amplitude.  Where resources are acquired sorely through aggression.  When acquired resources are resold to others at a profit, when the justification of that profit is solely getting there first.

“And the meek shall inherit the earth.”  What a wonderful, ruinous place it will be to inherit.

Collecting, For The Eyes And Ears

A co-worker of mine has recently fallen into the rabbit hole of sci-fi novels.  Every day, it’s read, read, read.  And because of that, it’s also become buy, buy, buy.  He does his research.  He knows all the prominent authors, their styles and topics and their bibliographies.

Recently, he’s been talking about “collections” and first editions with increasing interest.  As we discussed the viability of being a sci-fi novel collector, the parallels between his book collecting and my CD collecting became ever more obvious.  Here’s some of the connections I made:

  • Novels will move around between publishers.  Albums will also move around between publishers.  In both cases, the publisher determines the quality of the end product.  The artwork may be different between different publishers.
  • First editions of popular novels are just like first pressings of albums.  They are desirable by those that care and can command higher prices.
  • Both books and albums are reprinted in special collector’s editions, which collectors of each can have a great interest in.  Because the content is usually the same, the improvements are usually better packaging and bonus material (extra songs for albums, drafts or letters or forwards by the author’s peers for books).
  • Both can be turned into compilations and churned out for quick bucks by publishers.  Although I don’t know for sure, I suspect the royalties to the writers suck in all cases.
  • You can “remaster” a book with the same expected results as remastering an album.  You’ll have purists that hate the changes and progressive modern types that embrace the changes.  In the book world, they call it “revised and expanded”.
  • The collecting of this “old technology” is a mystery to the majority of the public.  The details of the versions and editions are lost on them.  “It’s all about the music”/”It’s all about the story”
  • You can find used copies of either at specialty used stores and save a lot of money.
  • You can also find digital copies of either for free (legality aside), but for a collector, this is insufficient.  The physical product is paramount.
  • When a collector starts “talking shop”, it sounds exactly the same; only the authors/bands and titles/albums are different.  They all have exclusive details and timelines and history, but they are completely interchangeable.

On the topic of money, he and I have both been doling it out.  Him maybe a bit more because he’s been buying new, where I buy used almost exclusively.  Yesterday, I gave him the opportunity to validate himself.  I asked if he wanted to visit my usual CD haunt during lunch.  I warned him it could be dangerous for me because the last time I was there, they had some very hard-to-find albums I wanted.  Being hard-to-find also means hard-to-justify-the-price.  I’ll spend up to $10 for a used CD I want, with gold CDs being the rare exception.

We get to the store and all the CDs are still available.  Six of them, priced between $18 and $25 each.  I ask him if I really want to do this, because it’s not gonna be cheap.  He replies that he is the wrong person to ask for support.  For both of our entertainment, I ended up buying them.  As the cashier rung up my $144 purchase of CDs, my co-worker, red-faced and grinning, beamed with delight that someone was behaving just as irrationally as he does with his books.

A Little Bit Of Tim Taylor In The Kitchen

Thanksgiving is almost here and that means it’s time for cooking.  I believe I probably think like most guys in that in order to do something properly, you have to have the right tools.  If you don’t exactly know what the right tools are, it’s best to just have all the tools.

And so, in this year, I’ve been building up my kitchen tool chest.  I pitched my ad-hoc cookware and bought a brand new starter set of pots and pans.  Then I augmented that set with a couple more small pots, for flexibility of course.  And last night, I saw two more pieces from the same model line (in the same color, too!).  I hadn’t ever seen them before, and I wasn’t entirely sure I would ever see them again, so I picked them up.  Now I own a stock pot and a deep sauté pan.  Will I ever use them?  Better to have and not need than need and not have.  Clearly, a man composed that line.

That’s not the only thing I’ve done in my tool refresh.  I pitched my dinnerware and bought all new, matching pieces, including things I shouldn’t need, like a serving bowl, a platter, and a gravy boat.  And although my meals are typically for one, I have 4 large plates, 4 small plates, 4 bowls, 2 additional large bowls, and 2 more additional small bowls.  I like soup and salad, but still, that might be pushing it.  I have the additional plates and such in case I have guests.  ha ha ha ha

I also swapped out my flatware.  Just because.  The old set was over 10 years old, and a change was needed.  Also, more knives.  I have two carving sets.  I have multiple whisks, multiple peelers, multiple strainers, multiple cutting boards, multiple crock pots, and more wooden utensils than I can use in a week.  More mixing bowls than I expect to realistically use, but they’re in all different sizes, so I will have the perfect size bowl for whatever it is I plan to do.  You need to have the right size tool for the job, right?

Last night, when I picked up the most recent pot and pan, I made the joke that I was a “completist”.  But then I looked up the definition, which is: “an obsessive, typically indiscriminate, collector or fan of something.”  That doesn’t sound fair.  It’s not an obsession, nor is it indiscriminate for me.  For one, it’s opportunistic. (This also applies to my CD collecting.)  Also, my purchases serve a purpose.  I’m not exactly acquiring these things for the sole purpose of having them.  I do intend to use them when there is a legitimate need.  I just need to create that need.

How Cute.

In my random browsing about CD collecting and storing, I came across a website for “CD collectors”.  Some people were posting pictures of their collections and some would post pictures of their finds at stores.  It was kind of cute, and I mean that in a patronizing way.

Post titles like “Started 2 weeks ago, full collection so far” and “After 6 months, this is my collection”.  And then there’s a picture of a dozen CDs, or maybe two dozen.  And when I think about my 800+ collection, I snicker a little inside.  And when I see that the CDs are mostly new releases, I snicker a little more.

And boy, isn’t that pompous of me?  It is, I admit it, and I accept that.  I mean, I could make a post saying, “After 30 years – my collection” and there would be people snickering at me.  “30 years and only 800?  I bought that much in the last 2 years!  My collection of 3,000 laughs at you.”

Despite the holier-than-thou ranking and hierarchy of collectors in which I probably place in the 70th percentile (The curve is exponential.  Once you break a certain level, you are in rare company), at the same time, I am encouraged.  These are people just discovering the joy of collecting physical media.  Judging by their selections, they are young, which means there is still life in physical media.  It’s not dead.

There is another reason for encouragement as well.  I’m not going to pretend that piracy doesn’t exist, whether software or music or video.  I can admit that I used to be a pirate.  In the old, old days, we used to have dual cassette decks that would copy tapes.  There’s really no legitimate need for a dual-deck unit otherwise.  So, I had plenty of copied tapes.  Why?  Because I was young and poor.  I also had lots of pirated software.  Why?  Exact same reason.  I couldn’t afford $500 for Photoshop.  As I grew older and started making money in my career, I didn’t need to resort to piracy anymore.  I didn’t need to “settle” for a copy.  I could get an original.  And I started valuing having that original in my collection.

If these budding collectors are anything like I was back then, that means they are beginning to advance in their life, making a living wage, where they can afford the luxury of not stealing.  That means the world is getting better.  Also, they take pride in their collection.  Consider the pride between showing someone 200 gigs of downloaded albums (which may elicit some praise from some people) vs. showing someone a collection of 100 CDs.  “They’re all real.  They’re permanent.” 

You can copy off that 200GB of music to your friend and not feel a ounce of pain.  But, giving up a CD from your collection, you’re actually losing something.  It’s the same psychological trick pundits use when they encourage you to live a cash lifestyle.  By handing over physical cash when you buy things, you feel a loss, more so than when you just swipe a credit card.

So even as these beginners are showing off their tiny collections, it’s still something to encourage and cheer on.  They have many years ahead of them and decades and decades of music to discover and collect.

En Garde

My CD collection continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  My spinning CD rack that holds 800 CDs is just about full.  I’m planning for the purchase of the bigger model that holds 1600 CDs.  Yeah, it’s a problem.

Anyway, while on one of my shopping runs, I came across a CD from a band I don’t see very often at all – The Residents.  I have a couple of their albums and I don’t really get them.  Regardless, I had to buy this CD anyway, just because their catalog is so infrequently seen.  I popped it in the stereo on the drive home.

I don’t think a lot of people have even heard of The Residents.  More people have probably heard of Frank Zappa.  And of those people, fewer still have actually listened to Zappa.  And of those people, fewer can even “get” Zappa’s music.  Now, I listen to Zappa and can get along with even some of the weirder stuff, but The Residents are on a whole level beyond that.  I can’t even really handle it.

So as I’m listening to this album of terribly performed songs, I’m trying to think of what I’m supposed to be experiencing, other than, “This is ridiculous.  I did stuff like this when I was 15.”  Although, I really didn’t.  I didn’t have a full studio and multitrack recorders and other period technology to make sounds like that.  That’s kind of the idea to keep in mind.  A lot of The Residents stuff might be described as “creation of sound”, rather than “making music”.

And the fact that I was exploring how the music made me feel, rather than enjoying the music, made me characterize the album listening as more of an artistic endeavor.  And The Residents would be clearly classified as “avant garde”.  Coming to this realization was almost like taking a burden off my back.

When I’m faced with “music” that is just so difficult to understand, that seems to make no sense, that is completely unstructured, I try to figure it out anyway.  In the end, I’m just frustrated and come to the conclusion that “this music sucks.”  But I’m unsatisfied with that conclusion because obviously the artist spent time on this “music” and it makes sense to them, somehow.  But, approaching the album in the same way as visiting an art museum, it becomes palatable.  Similar to visual arts, you just absorb it and consider how it makes you feel.  Are the sounds menacing?  Humorous?  Does it stop and start unpredictably?  Are there multiple “subjects” conflicting or cooperating?

With that new perspective, I could classify some other CDs in my collection as “avant garde”, too.   Buckethead’s Cuckoo Clocks of Hell makes absolutely no sense to me.  The best I could come up with when I listened to it was that it was primarily rhythm-based.  There wasn’t really a traditional song structure with a melody line and a defined chorus.

And my final takeaway from my epiphany is that I granted myself license to only listen to an album once.  Like visiting an art gallery or a performance, you take in the whole experience in the same way you take in a speech.  You leave with a singular overall impression – motivation, happiness, uneasiness, or whatever.  And that experience is done.

Whole-Life Hatred

If you follow any financial pundits, eventually you will hear them say that whole-life insurance is a bad choice, how it is a poor “investment”, and sometimes, how you’d be stupid to buy it.  Well, I was just reviewing my numbers and I’m not sure I understand what all the hatred is about.

First off, you need to think about why you have life insurance.  The purpose of life insurance is to make things easier on the ones you leave behind.  Primarily, in my case, it is to pay off my mortgage.  Whoever I leave behind should not have to be saddled with a mortgage payment when that was my responsibility.  Other assets like cars could be repossessed, so what?  My credit score doesn’t matter anymore when I’m dead.  The secondary purpose of insurance is to replace whatever income I was contributing to the family until whoever is left behind can get back on their feet.

So these two reasons are enough to have life insurance unless you are a total loner and have nothing you want to pass on to someone else.  But that’s only good when you’re dead.  What if you keep living?

If you don’t know anything about life insurance, here’s some quick info.  You typically buy a “term life” policy, which is effective for a period of time (a “term”).  If you buy a Term 30 policy, it is active for 30 years.  Buying it today, the policy will expire in 2046.  If you die in 2047, your beneficiary gets nothing.  But, by that time, I would expect your mortgage would be paid off so there’s no burden on your heirs.

Whole-life policies have no expiration.  As long as you keep paying the premium, you get the benefits.  However, they are vastly more expensive (I’ll share my numbers in a bit).  Additionally, whole-life policies have a cash value, which can be accessed as needed, either through an expensive loan or as a retirement account when/if you get to retirement age.

That’s the part that finance people hate.  Whole-life is so expensive, but your cash value is locked up and there’s little way to access that money without spending a lot in interest or waiting until you’re old.  They call it a savings account for people who can’t discipline themselves to save.  It’s almost like a 401k, but without the tax advantages.

Whole-life insurance is a hard sell and brokers will push on you pretty hard to sell it.  As such, there’s some salesman-ish stuff that gets promised.  For example, I was sold on the idea that the dividends from my whole-life policy would eventually pay the premiums for my policy, then I’d basically have free life insurance.  Awesome, huh?  Well, it will happen, eventually.  I just have to be really patient.

Ok, let’s look at some real numbers.  I have $250k in life insurance.  $100k is in a Term 20 policy and $150k is in a Whole-life.  I pay $118/mo for the whole-life and $16/mo for the term.  Now do you see why people freak out about whole life?  It’s almost 10x more a month. 

There’s not much to say about the term policy.  It has no cash value and expires in 2027.  In 2028, I will only have $150k in life insurance.  Hmmm, that sounds like a good thing.  I’m not dropping to zero, and I don’t have to worry about qualifying for a new Term policy at such an old age.  It almost sounds like a “plan”.

So how about this Whole-life policy?  Well, since 2007, the cash value has grown to $9500.  The value is growing at about $1300/yr.  But wait, I’m paying a little over $1400/yr in premiums.  So my net cost is about $100/yr, which is actually almost half the cost of my term policy.

So, what am I glossing over?  For one, the $1300 in cash value increase hasn’t always been that high.  Four years ago it was $1200, and since 2007, the average rise has been $1055/yr.  But, the value should continue to climb through the magic of compounding.  But, I just want to say that I’ve got 9 years into this, and you wouldn’t see numbers like these right off the bat.

You could argue that I’ve spent $12,771 in premiums to gain $9500 in cash value.  That sounds horrible.  But that also works out to getting a 150k life insurance policy for $363/yr or $30/mo.  And that average cost is over 9 years.  That number is going drop over time as the cash value increases relative to my constant premium payments.

One more number to give consideration to.  After 9 years, my annual dividend is $781.  My annual premium is $1400.  I’m a little over halfway to the point where my dividends will pay for my premiums.  That’s going to coincide well with the expiration of my Term policy (which would also reduce my premium by almost $200/yr).

Let’s recap the whole scenario.  I have $250k in life insurance now, when I am most vulnerable with the most mortgage debt and the most to lose if I die.  If I had a family, that money would be needed to pay bills and help replace my income.  11 years from now, my Term life expires.  I have less life insurance coverage, but I also have less financial burden.  If I had a family, they would be grown and on their own by then.  The insurance would just pay my reduced debts.  I would also have $200/yr less in expenses because the policy expired.  Looking even further ahead, when I don’t have any reason to have life insurance because all my bills are paid, then I can start withdrawing money from my whole-life policy.  And guess what?  I still have the life insurance policy.  By then, my dividends will probably be paying my premiums, too, and I won’t have that $1400/yr expense anymore.

When you hear financial people trying to sell you on a “plan”, it can be hard to swallow all that information and difficult to see what the future will look like.  It was hard for me as well, but I took a leap of faith and now that I’m a significant way into the “plan”, I can see further ahead and understand that yes, it was a good choice.  Early on, it would have been easy to say, “I’m throwing away my money!” But like any investment, it takes time to grow.

Pick And Choose And Confirm

At work today, a co-worker made an unusual comment.  He said he missed floppy discs.  He missed them for the reason that they were self-contained “topics”.  Like, this disc will boot your computer.  This one will load a game.  This other one is a word processor.  That thought is actually going back quite a ways, before hard drives were common.  But his recollection was good, miming flipping through a box of discs, looking for the precise one you wanted or needed.

Later, I saw another (yet another) article about the death of CDs – who was buying CDs?  What kind of crazy people are doing this?  Why aren’t they gone yet?  This made me reevaluate my own situation and I found that I had this same thought earlier in the day talking about floppy discs.

A CD is a self-contained “topic”.  It’s a capsule of time in a band’s lifetime.  It’s how they were “then”.  And when you’re browsing through a collection of CDs, like flipping through floppies, you may be looking for a specific something and you stop flipping when you find it. 

This is not the same satisfaction you get when searching your hard drive, or opening your music software, or browsing your music device.  Although I didn’t think much about it back in the floppy days, that satisfaction was probably found there too.  It’s a confirmation – “I got it!” And that’s reason to celebrate.

Searching (or seeking) physical items is also a totally different mental and emotional experience.  Consider this.  You’re in the mood for some music.  You want something to pep you up.  When dealing with virtual media, you handle your choice “offline” (which sounds backwards, but hear me out).  Your thought is, “What band/album makes me feel like smashing down walls?” And then you run through your mental list of bands or albums and settle on, say, Dokken.

If you have a physical collection, you have the same desire for an album, but instead of processing the results in your head, you flip through the discs and evaluate each disc one by one, an “online” process.  “Does this album make me feel like smashing down walls?”  Maybe yes, maybe no.  And when the answer is yes, it’s a confirmation – “I got it!” and you’re hyped to start.

It’s kind of a stretch to use the floppy disc analogy with everything, because I can’t recall feeling triumphant about finding WordPerfect and saying, “Now I get to work!”  But games, or other sources of entertainment, like CDs, would be.

The point I wanted to make earlier, but now this post is bullshit-long, is that choosing a floppy or a CD is a deliberate act.  This is in contrast to any streaming or cloud service recommendations, or a random pick from a plethora of folders.

Coming Soon, Housing Crisis 2.0

This guy I know, well, I know him because he’s the one who used to own my house, but anyway, he keeps me around to do computer work for him.  And I do it.  And I get compensated handsomely, despite me telling him I don’t really need the money.  Well, anyway, I was at his house the other night doing computer stuff and he and his GF were having a conversation in hushed tones.  But I was right there beside them, and I was the only other one in the room, so I don’t know exactly why they were talking like that.  Except, I kinda do.

But let me first say this about the guy.  He’s successful.  Quite so.  He runs his own business in a subset of an industry where there is little to no competition and he is sought out for that skill and expertise.  He’s down to earth, but at the same time, he’s got plenty of money to spend.  You name it, he’s got it.  Boat, Corvette, camper, truck, huge house on a large plot of land, huge TVs everywhere.  Just got a divorce and is swallowing multi-thousand dollar alimony payments without slowing down.  Has someone who runs over right away when he has a computer problem and pays them much more than necessary.

And he’s pretty business smart.  I mean, he has a very successful business of his own, but he also had the sense to buy the land his house was built on when it only had a couple of trailers on it.  He now rents out the trailers and that pays his mortgage and then some.  So, I guess you would say he’s a successful landlord as well.

But now, in whispers, he’s talking to his GF in front of me about an opportunity to become a house flipper.  He has heard of an opportunity to buy a distressed house and he thinks he can flip it without investing any time or effort and learn how to do it correctly.  He may be right or he may not be.  But when I hear, “I just want to be the middleman”, it kind of rubs me the wrong way.  Maybe he’s been watching too much Flip or Flop.  Maybe he’s been inspired from stories from his GF (who’s a property appraiser).  Maybe he’s just got too much cash lying around (what a problem to have). 

The thing is, experts say that when the rabble starts acting like experts, it’s time to make for the exits.  I’ve been reading stories about the increase of flipping and I’ve seen the HGTV shows that are promoting this more and more.  It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that we were here.  But here we are.  I’m going to have to get myself prepared for this.

You’re Being My Cat. Stop It.

Sometimes at work, you will have a co-worker who calls you over to look at something they are doing and then continues to work while you are there.  Then when you go to leave, they ask about something else so you stay.  I’m sure there’s a thousand different ways people describe this – hand-holding, babysitting, whatever.  But I know what it really is and I have a name for it.

Most people would probably agree that the root cause of this behavior is insecurity.  Maybe it starts when the person doesn’t know exactly what to do, so they call someone over to make sure they do it right.  Then they need that person to stay there because they are not sure of anything else from that point onward.

There are many times when I am walking through my house that my cat intercepts my path and guides me where she wants.  You do know this is what they are doing when they get all up in your legs, right?  They want you to go somewhere and they will herd you there.  This always happens when I get home from work because that’s canned food time.  It happens other times as well.  But here’s the point.  She always takes me to her food bowl.

Why?  So she can eat.  It’s something I call, “Watch me eat!”  That’s what she wants, for me to watch her eat.  I suppose because it makes her feel safe or maybe because she’s proud of her eating abilities, who knows?  And you know who else does this?  People.  They want you to watch them eat because they’re unsure of what they’re doing or maybe they’re proud of their eating abilities.

Next time your co-worker wants you to watch them eat, just do what I do with my cat.  Walk away.  She keeps on eating, and so will your co-worker.

In Memoriam, In Advance

I stopped by my local pool place last weekend for some chlorine.  At the checkout they had a sign stating that as of August 1st, they will no long accept credit cards – cash or check only.  I asked for more clarification, no debit cards either.  So, I give them about 2 months to live.  Definitely won’t see 2017.

This business had recently tried implementing a “cash discount” and that didn’t seem to work, because I don’t see those signs anymore.  I’m very confused as to what their logic is.  Accepting a check is probably more risky than accepting a credit card.  No one carries $500 around with them to buy a chlorine generator.  It’s unlikely businesses would set up accounts with them unless they can do monthly invoicing and hold out the net 30 terms.

I thought this would make their online sales unworkable, but a quick check shows that their website cart uses PayPal.  This raises even more questions.  Why not get a PayPal mobile card reader and use the same account for store sales and online sales?

I mean, if they are getting hammered with CC swipe fees and TX charges, they need to renegotiate.  Or they need to look at their margins.  I’ve always known that the ones paying cash were getting shafted because a store’s prices had to assume that CC fees would be included.  I’m puzzled by this in the same way I’m puzzled that gas stations can survive with Cash/Credit pricing.

But in the end, my guess is they won’t be sticking around much longer.  Here’s the important thing.  They’ve made a decision they can’t easily take back.  They may get one more transaction out of each customer (they already got mine).  But after that, customers like me aren’t going to return.  If they realize their decision has now brought the business into a death spiral and they want to start accepting credit cards again, who’s going to know?  All the former customers have written the business off.  They could put a banner out front saying “We fucked up and we accept credit cards again!” but that’s some serious crow to eat.  Maybe the banner will be “Under New Ownership!” which might invite old customers back to see if the payment options have returned.

It’s sounds like another case of small-business America dying, but sometimes that death is caused by a self-inflicted injury.