The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Buy, sell, and run around in circles

It's a calculated risk, a gamble where your odds are improved by knowledge. At least, that's what we'd like to believe. And what we are told by the brokers and investment counselors and money managers. They are lying, of course. The only knowledge that would make the odds in your favor is knowledge of the future. Outside of that lady at the amusement park that predicted I would grow older in time, nobody really knows the future.

I have done well enough in the market in the last year or so, making a profit of approximately 27% in that time period. Surprised? Yeah, so am I. I had no idea until I went through and checked my withdrawals from my stock market stash. By the way, that "stash" is money I could live without so we aren't talking about great wealth here.

I am not bragging about this. I had no idea how much I was making although I knew I was ahead of the game. I couldn't offer you any advice in how to beat the market and I wouldn't even try. Mostly, I ignored the advice I read in various financial periodicals and websites. In fact, I often did the opposite of what was recommended. This strategy is one I learned while going through a period of ill health back in the late 90's. Toward the end of that period, after not improving in 18 months, I started "firing" doctors and going my own way. To my surprise (and the doctors', if they had known), I got better.

I didn't apply this to financial matters until well after I found myself in charge of my parents' finances. At first, not knowing much about investing, I followed the recommendations of a financial adviser at Merrill Lynch. And, to be honest, it seemed to work well. In a short period, their investments increased by more than 20%. Looking back, I realized that that was much less than others were doing during the same period. It was the period of the Dot.Com expansion and it was a major bull market.

When the market stagnated in the mid-2000's, all of those gains disappeared. In truth, they had mostly disappeared when the Dot.Com bubble burst. But the growth should have returned. The market was going up but my mother's investments weren't. I stopped listening to the financial adviser and began learning on my own.

One of the basic premises of investing is "buy low, sell high." The only problem with that is knowing when to buy and when to sell. And having the nerve to do it when the time comes. Not to mention resisting that voice of greed that hinders good judgement.

If I was to distill my strategy down to something almost as simplistic as "buy low, sell high", it would be "buy at 40, sell at 80." What that means is: look at the target stock's last 12 months, find the (52 week) low and high; buy when the stock at 40% (or less) of its 52 week high and sell at 80% of that high. Of course, it is not that simple. Some stocks tank completely. Do not ask me about my purchases of GM stock a few years ago (just about a year before they declared bankruptcy), for instance. Or about my not buying Ford at about $2... which my "idiot" brother did.

I got interested in high dividend stocks at one point (after the GM debacle); first delving into municipal bond funds and later into others when it looked like governments at the state and local levels were contemplating defaulting.

There is one other thing one needs when investing.... Incredible luck. It is, after all, a gamble.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Just let it happen, ok?

One of the benefits of having a blog is that you have a "canvas" on which to paint word-pictures of everything around you. One can make fun of people (individuals, ethnic groups, whole nations, etc), one can offer sage advice (with or without tongue in cheek), one can push pet projects or movements, or engage in just about any form of word art you might imagine. Me? I mainly just babble... sometimes coherently, mostly not.

While watching a Science Channel series called "When Earth Erupts", I began to muse about human beings and their raison d'ĂȘtre. I long ago came to the conclusion that we are simply a fairly successful parasitic species. Shocking, eh? That a cynic like me would look at the human race as parasitic?

Of course not. It is to be expected. I have a very low opinion of the human species. We are fascinating, though, because of our massive collective ego. We think the world exists pretty much just for us. Our religions reflect that and teach that.

Consider what a parasite is: "A parasite is an organism that lives on or inside another organism to the detriment of the host organism."

That's a micro-definition. In reality, a parasite must be outside the food chain, it should not have a natural species (as opposed to, say, domesticated species) dependent upon it, and it should cause harm to its host.

While there are species dependent on us, they would survive just fine if we ceased to exist tomorrow. Most are what we call domesticated animals, like cattle, non-feral dogs and cat, and so on. But there are others which we mostly call pests which have thrived in and around our civilizations. Rats come to mind immediately.

We don't generally look at ourselves as parasites, do we? We look at our cities, our structures, our roadways, our trains and planes, our technology, and we are in awe at how clever we are. Only the radical environmentalists would likely agree with me about us. But I differ from them in that I relish our parasitic nature.

You see, I believe nature is self-correcting. It probably goes back to a teacher explaining a theory that herds of wild horses will shrink and grow in accordance with abundance and ebbing of grazing resources. If the herd does not, or cannot, migrate (as when they are penned into a box canyon) when the food supply dips then the herd will shrink from attrition. The weaker members will die, the size of the herd will shrink, and the herd will survive.

We don't do that. Well, we used to... migrate, that is, when our food supply was no longer sufficient but we've run out of pristine arable land to migrate to. We are stuck in our "box canyon" called Earth. We do not yet have the technology to migrate to other planets. We might not have the time to develop that technology.

This is why I formed an hypothesis about pollution which says we need to stop trying to reduce it. (I don't worry about anthropogenic global climate change either.) You see, when we reduce pollution all we do is delay the inevitable. Let me offer an analogy:

The very first freeway in the country was the Pasadena Freeway in California, the urban legend is that it carried three times the traffic it was designed for within a month of its opening.

A similar thing happens with pollution. The less the pollution per person, the larger the population can be. So, we reduce smog from each car and that means we can put more cars on the road and still have a net reduction in smog. Eventually, however, we'll catch up. Eventually, the pollution level will be the same except it will now impact many more people.

There is something else I brought into the hypothesis. That is "build up." In earthquakes, the longer the interval between quakes, the stronger the eventual quake may be. Pressure builds and builds until it is released and the result is greater than if there had been several quakes occur in the timeline. I believe that model can be applied to pollution. The sooner an area becomes unlivable, the sooner the population will migrate elsewhere.

As I said, though, we no longer have the room to do that. What will happen is that we will learn to function in a less benign environment. Our population will eventually shrink and balance will be restored. We won't be wiped out, we are much too tenacious. And parasites are tough to eradicate. So we'll survive... in much smaller numbers and in a less benign environment. Our life spans will shorten and our infant mortality rate will increase. We will devolve, if you will.

Or maybe I have seen too many Mad Max movies.

Monday, August 29, 2011

I thought that little creature was tamed?

I guess you could say I am hard on mice. Not the furry little ones but the plastic ones we use with our computers. I happen to love the wireless laser types, which have greatly improved in recent years. No cable between computer and mouse, battery power lasting much longer than it used to, no mouse ball to be cleaned after collecting lint.

However, like all things, they break down. In my case, the left button stops acting properly. I suspect this may be a singular problem with Logitech mice but I cannot be sure. I just happen to use Logitech mice more than any other and it always seems to their mice under my palm when the problem starts up.

It's also possible that it has something to do with my frugality. I buy cheap mice. Under $15, preferably $10 or less if I can find them.

What happens is that the button doesn't hold. Or it double clicks on its own. To be honest, I use the heck out of a mouse. I play a lot of games with them, I use them on online jigsaw puzzles (drag and drop) and I navigate through folders with them almost exclusively, so I suppose it is to be expected. I wasn't always like this. There was a time where I would rather use a command line interface on a computer. But I eventually succumbed and now hate it when the mouse starts acting up.

This means another trip to the computer store or to WalMart for some little item. And that often leads to the purchase of a larger item that I don't really need. Maybe it's all part of a plot to make us buy more computer stuff than we really need...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The danger of cooperation

Some people don't like partisanship. Quite a few, actually. That might be the wrong position to hold.

Political partisanship can be a problem. It's difficult to reach a compromise when there is a lot of that. On the other hand, compromise is not always a good thing. I refer to the several compromises made in the decades leading up to the Civil War as examples. The ultimate goal of these compromises was to avert the disintegration of the United States. They failed. All they accomplished was to delay the inevitable Civil War. And that could have made the war worse than if it had happened 20 years earlier.

There are times when compromise is impossible. When it would be the same as capitulation. Principles have to be violated in order to compromise. It doesn't start out that way, of course, the idea is to give up only that which is unimportant to you while getting the opposition to give up that which is important to them. Compromise is simple if one side is weak. Compromise is hard if both sides are firm in their principles.

I read a lot of political articles and the comments they generate. The Democrats want the Republicans to go away, to disappear, or (at the very least) just not impede the goals of the Democrats. Likewise, I see Republicans advocating the end of the Democratic Party. There is no chance of compromise in that kind of environment. Any compromise would require one side to cede power to the other.

If I align with a political party, it is because that party represents the principles I strongly believe in. Why would I want that party to violate any of them? Why would I want it to cede power to the opposition? I wouldn't. Nor would the opposition.

We call that partisanship. It's actually a good thing. It is part of the foundation of our system of governance. Of any form of multi-party democratic system. It helps prevent any one ideology from getting too much power.

Dictatorships consolidate power by outlawing, or marginalizing, any opposing party. Look at China, look at the former Soviet Union, look at the rise of Mussolini and Hitler. They gained enough power to outlaw all other political parties. Before that happens, they gain control or the sympathies of the dominant part of the media. Constant repetition of the party line encourages the party in power and attracts more adherents. We are, after all, herd animals for the most part. We also like to jump on bandwagons. Watch the crowds at stadiums and political rallies swell as the teams improve their records and political candidates rise in the polls.

It is why you read and see/hear about political polls. It's akin to the advertising strategy that portrays a product as wildly popular. The more popular a product is deemed to be, the more popular it becomes. Or, as my mother used to put it... "Them that has, gets."

We do not want a single party system. We do not want one party to be wildly popular, much more popular than any opposition party. Too much power will adhere to that party.

It is better that we have constant bickering, political arguing, and even gridlock than have cooperation that leads to one party becoming dominant.

At least, that's how I see it.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Thar she

By the time you read this, hurricane Irene will have moved away from endangering my little bit of paradise and is scaring the Bejeezus out of those in the Carolinas and points north. Did you know that "Irene" was derived from the Greek word for peace? And was the name of a Greek Goddess? Hurricane Irene seems the antithesis of peace, doesn't she?

At one time, hurricanes were not named at all. Then they began using feminine names. I would guess that wasn't intended as a slight to women. Perhaps it was because of sailing traditions. Ships were always referred to as "she", as well as the sea itself. It's probably due to the male dominated aspect of history and culture. Anything unpredictable was tagged as female. It isn't Father Nature, is it? No, the masculine names were reserved for deities that ruled and were darker in nature... like Hades. Which makes me wonder about Neptune and Poseidon who ruled the seas. But I digress...

Hurricanes have been a part of my life. Even before my family moved to south Florida, I was affected by a hurricane. Hazel was her name. And she blew through in 1954. In October. A late season storm. One of 8 that year that threatened the east coast of the U.S. A deadly storm that wreaked havoc wherever she touched land. We did not get the brunt of her in our little town of Farmingdale.

I went through a number of them in south Florida during the late 50's and early 60's. We never suffered much damage from them, though. They were just exciting things to me since I had nothing of consequence to worry about. Our house in North Miami Beach (nowhere near the beach at all) had sturdy (and heavy) wooden hurricane awnings which provided shade for the windows most of the year and good protection from the debris that flies about in these big storms.

Hurricane parties were common back then. People would gather at a well-protected house, break out the booze, and keep each other company while the storm passed through. Sleeping through a storm was nearly impossible, the howling wind and the wind-borne debris banging into things kept you on edge. Most storms seemed to hit at night or in the evening. At least, that's how I recall them. I am probably wrong, though. There are no timetables these monsters follow.

I am happy Irene didn't follow the track the weather folks (bless their erroneous little hearts) provided initially. It would have come right through here. I am not in a hurry to test the weather-proof ability of this house. Nor did I look forward to putting up the panels I had had made to protect the windows. And, of course, there is always that worry about how the house (especially the roof) will handle its first big storm.

When I was young, houses down here mostly used cement barrel tiles. Now, they use asphalt shingles almost exclusively. I don't recall ever losing one of those barrel tiles but I sure lost some shingles from my home in West Palm Beach when we caught three storms in two years (Frances and Jean in 2004 and Wilma in 2005). The third one, Wilma, also wrecked my water system (pump and filtration system for my well) as well as tearing up the Mansard cage that surrounded my pool. Wilma took enough shingles from the roof that I had to have it re-roofed even though I had no leaks.

When I first went to California in 1965, I began to learn how differently people outside the hurricane zones viewed them. They feared them much more than anyone I ever met who had been through a couple.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"bang!" Next case!

A little while ago, I wrote about how I got my first ticket. This is what happened afterward.

It was my first introduction to the traffic division of the justice system. It may be different in your town, city, country or whatever but this how things were done then (1963) in Hollywood, FL.

The citation told me to appear at a certain place, at a certain time, on a certain date. I thought that would be traffic court. I was wrong. It was an informal meeting at the judge's office. I was not alone, the other 15 or so people who had been cited in the past couple of weeks were also there. We sat around, silently wondering what would happen next (though I am sure a few already knew). A man came into the room, introduced himself as the judge's clerk, and proceeded to explain what the proceedings were about and what we should do.

"In a few minutes," he stated, "you will be called into the judge's chambers [office] where the judge will explain the charges and ask for a plea."

Your choices are: guilty or not guilty. If you plead 'guilty', the judge will assess a fine and you will be on your way, no need to come back again. If you plead 'not guilty', the judge will assign you a court date and you will have to miss another day's work (he glanced at me) or school to attend court where you will likely face a larger fine plus court costs."

I recommend you plead 'guilty' because the fine will likely be lower and you won't have to take any more time off. Any questions?"

I raised my hand.

"What if you aren't guilty?" I asked, wide eyed and as innocent looking as I could manage. There was some snickering among the others.

"Well," he said, "if you insist on pleading 'not guilty' then a court date will be provided and you will have to return for that... probably in about a month. Of course, you will likely face a larger fine if you are then found guilty of the infraction."

So I waited for my name to be called and was then ushered into the judge's office where I found the judge and a female clerk. The judge was seated in a large, comfy looking, chair behind a large desk and the clerk was sitting a few feet to his right. the judge pointed to an uncomfortable looking chair in front of his desk and said something to the effect of "Have a seat, son."

He then recited the infraction number and the plain language translation ("failure to stop at a stop sign") and, in a bored voice, asked me for my plea.

"Not guilty, sir," I replied.

"Are you sure you want to do that, son? I will then have to assign you a court date where you will appear before me. You will have to miss work or school on that date and take your chances with me. I'm sure that was explained to you by my clerk."

I repeated my plea. He asked his clerk for the next available court date and sighed as he told me to appear on that date. He also told me to wait in the waiting room and I would be given a piece of paper with the date and time I was to appear.

I did so. It was about a month's wait, as promised.

Court was quite interesting. I was the third or fourth case, I don't recall exactly, and the others were handled swiftly and found guilty and the judge assessed fines and court costs and told the defendants to "pay the clerk to your left."

In each case, an officer would step up, be sworn in, and would relate the case as he saw it. The judge would ask the defendant if he had anything to say and they would either say "no" or offer some excuse. It obviously didn't matter.

My case was called and I stood behind a rail in front of the judge's bench as the officer walked up and was sworn in. He was dressed in uniform including those high boots that motorcycle cops wear. He then proceeded to recite the circumstances of my being ticketed.

"Well, your honor, as I approached the intersection at 19th Avenue on Van Buren the defendant came barreling through the intersection at about 20 miles per hour. I followed him, pulled him over, and wrote the citation."

The judge turned toward me and said, "Have you anything to say to the charge?"

"Well, your honor," I began, "I don't want to say the officer is lying but that is not what happened at all."

"Please explain, son."

"I approached the intersection at Van Buren on 19th Avenue and stopped at the stop sign. I then crept forward so that I had a clear view in both directions on Van Buren. I saw the officer on his trike just finishing marking a tire on a car more than a half block to the east, toward US 1. I then pulled through the intersection, drove the two blocks to the traffic light and turned right on red after stopping there and proceeded down to the Circle where the officer stopped me and gave me the ticket. He was not approaching that intersection nor did I 'barrel through [it] at 20 miles per hour.'"

The judge stared down at me and said, "There's no doubt in my mind that you are guilty as charged. However, since this is your first offense, I will assign you to traffic school and waive the court costs. See the clerk to your left. Next case!"

I was highly disappointed in the outcome but happy that I was not fined nor did I have to pay any court costs. I did learn that traffic citations were about gathering revenue and that cops do lie in court. Blatantly. And that the judges don't care.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How do I get there?

I get a lot of spam sent to me voluntarily. Not the annoying charlatan stuff so much (I have filters and blockers for that) but the ads from various vendors with whom I have shopped successfully in the past. I tolerate these ads because they sometimes offer me a good deal on some item I want. I received one such ad yesterday that, as usual, did not offer any deal I couldn't simply ignore but did give me pause.

One item for sale was for a Garmin Nuvi 1450. It struck me as odd because it had a banner on it which read "Must have for back to school". I own a Nuvi 1300 and I find it quite useful to have on trips. But why would a GPS for travel be an important thing to have for school? I am at a loss for a rational explanation. Clicking on it reveals that the vendor site has no such admonition. What it does have is this sentence:

"The Garmin Nuvi 1450 Auto GPS is the perfect way to manage your long road trips or everyday commuting."

Everyday commuting???? Unless it can keep me updated in real time about accidents and traffic snarls, it would be superfluous for commuting. I used to drive to and from work pretty much mindlessly. That is, I made the turns needed and maintained the speed limits (more or less) along the way without much conscious thought. I used only a portion of my mental capacity to do that navigation. When I was a youngster in school, I only needed to know the location of the school on the first day I ever attended it. After that, I would locate the best route to and from and rarely needed to deviate from it. Same with work.

During what I laughingly call my "career", I moved a number of times. Each time, I would give myself a day or two in advance of when I was to report to my new office so that I could locate that office and learn what routes to it might be best. Locating a telephone office used to be very easy; you would look toward town and then travel toward the building that had microwave towers on its roof. That's changed, of course. But I always had the address and a phone number so I could call in and get directions (which often came with advice on which route was best). I could also consult a map. I knew (and still know) how to read a map.

Are these GPS units going to make maps go the way of the buggy whip? I used to drive across country (did it several times) without consulting a map. I would only need one to find some point inside a town or before I began my trip. Once the internet was open to all and sites like Mapquest sprung up, I didn't need a physical map or atlas at all.

Will the GPS unit have the same impact that the pocket calculator has had? Will it lead to the atrophy of our ability to navigate?

The GPS I use at the golf course has pretty much destroyed my ability to judge distance. I used to play a course in San Diego that had no distance cues at all. Most courses had (and still have) markers or poles that delineated 200 yards, 150 yards, and 100 yards from the center of the green on each hole. Some had distances also marked on sprinkler heads, making it even easier to estimate the distance you needed to hit the ball. But not the course I played most often. You could buy what is called a "yardage book" that gave you distances from easily recognized trees or buildings or hazards (like sand traps) along the course for each hole. I was cheap and never bought one. I just learned to judge them. On an unfamiliar course, I might look for some marker as a reference point. Way back when there were caddies, one of his duties was to provide reasonably accurate distances as well as to point out the less obvious hazards.

Now we use GPS units to do it all. And we have become dependent on them.

As "the Elder" (the one who speaks of floppy disks) says in that Konica ad, we've become "soft."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reasons and rationalizations

One of my pet peeves is prejudice. I don't claim to be free of it myself, mind you. I am human, after all (I think). But try to exert some control over it, keep it from interfering with my relationships with others. The problem is that one's prejudice is subtle and sneaky. It makes you think your reasons are not founded in prejudice but in logic and rationality. It's a liar. we have to be constantly aware of our prejudices.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, I was watching "Your World With Neil Cavuto", a segment about the Republican primaries and who's in the lead and so on. What popped up was speculation about Marco Rubio and whether he might be tapped as Veep candidate for Romney if Romney were to win the nomination. It was the reasons that Rubio is apparently high on all of the current candidates' lists. Marco Rubio is Hispanic and from Florida (an important state come November of 2012).

Marco Rubio is, of course, Cuban-American. He was born in Miami of Cuban immigrant parents. Therefore, it was reasoned, he would be attractive to Hispanics and to Floridians. And that's what triggered my musings about prejudice and our decision making. Oh, mention was made of his political experience in the Florida legislature but it was just in passing. The important factors were his ethnicity and state of residency.

We look at racial bias as if it is always by the other guy. And that it is always a negative emotion. But there is a positive aspect. By "positive", I do not mean there is something advantageous about it (though I believe it had that at its core in primitive man's early history, a part of the survival instinct), I mean it as a manner of interaction. In politics, that would mean voting for someone based on one's own prejudices.

For example, Obama got 95% of the Black vote in 2008. Now, traditionally, Blacks vote for Democratic Party candidates much more heavily than they do Republican ones but not at that rate. Clearly, Obama's racial characterics played a part. It's understandable. But it is an example of positive prejudice.

In 2008, Obama got 67% of the Hispanic vote. If the Republicans are to beat him in 2012, they need to cut into that number. Hence, the attractiveness of an Hispanic Vice-presidential candidate.

What bothers me is that nobody seems to see the bigotry involved. Let me see if I can construct a metaphor...

Theft from a store is frowned upon. But few think too much about taking pencils, pens, copier (printer) paper from their place of work. Not everyone, of course, but let's say most. I am as guilty of this as most of you. We think of it as a perk of sorts while we admonish our children not to do such a thing.

It is probably the hardest concept to grasp as we're growing up, it's called "situational ethics." It's not okay to vote against someone because of his (or her) ethnicity or skin color but apparently just fine to vote for someone for those reasons. I understand the rationalizations and justifications involved, believe me. But I cannot ignore the fact that they are simply rationalizations and justifications for prejudice.

And we add in state of residence. Let's call that a kind of "home field advantage." But why should someone from one's state be any better at a job in the House, Senate, or White House than someone from another state? It is not truly rational. It is completely illogical.

Yeah, I suspect that people could easily find fault with my take on this. I also suspect that many, many people would agree with me completely and then turn around and vote for the candidate who comes from their states or their regions and most closely resembles the persons they see in their mirrors.

I should try urinating on the leeward side of the boat, shouldn't I?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Just because I can, I guess

You know about OCD? Yeah, well... I don't have it. Should have, I suppose, but I don't. Why should I have it? Well, first off, I have this need for email accounts. A lot of them. And I have a very messy desk. One is a sign of some kind of OCD, the other expresses a need for some kind of OCD.

I recently went cable. The primary reasons were to reduce my overall entertainment and communications costs. I was paying around $250 a month for satellite, DSL, and phone service. I have cut that back to just about $200 while giving up nothing and, in fact, increasing my internet connection speed.

In the process, I had to give up my old email addresses. I had, through the telco (which provided my DSL and internet access), 7 email addresses: my primary one plus 4 secondaries for myself and one each for Faye and Frances. Trust me, I used those secondary addresses. When I switched to Gmail, creating (and using) secondary addresses was not as easy, so I set up only 2 for me and one each for Faye and Francis. I recently added one Hotmail account which I foolishly thought would be temporary (used to as a testbed for fixing a friend's email problem) but will likely stay active and activated my Comcast account plus added a secondary address to that.

Faye refused a secondary account. She'll stay on the single Gmail account I set up for her. She's a smart woman. She keeps her life simple... which doesn't fit with her putting up with me.

What will I do with all these email accounts? I will find a use for each, trust me. For instance, I use the accounts and email filters to pre-sort email from various companies with which I do business online and various sites which send me newsletters from time to time. Oh sure, I could simply create folders and let the filters alone do that sorting but I have found the filters to not be as reliable as I would like. My method works, for me anyway, so I will continue.

Comcast assigned me an email account when I signed up for cable service. I promptly forgot all about it until Saturday when I decided to activate a couple of email accounts through them. I mean, why not? It won't cost me anything extra.

The problem with Comcast email setup is similar to every other server I have dealt with; they do it just a bit different than others. So I went around and around trying to access the account by resetting the password (which I did not know) and trying to figure out what my original login name was. I know, I should have written it down somewhere... and I probably did, along with the initial password assigned, but where that is now I haven't the foggiest idea. Possibly somewhere on this desk (whose surface I have not seen more than 6 square inches of in several months) or somewhere else.

Anyway, apparently Comcast lays some cyber traps which trigger chat sessions with support as people like me stumble about. And, so, I found myself chatting with someone who punched out platitudes and assurances (as they were taught and probably are required to do) as they reset my password for me and revealed that long lost login name. I did, of course, have to repeatedly enter the account number and verify name, date of birth, and a couple of other things. Which bothers me. In order to get into the chat, I was shunted off to a form in which I provided all that info. I then went right to chat from there. Why didn't these (alleged) techs have that information right there on their screens?

So, after 2 hours or so, I had two new email addresses (one of which I will have to modify) and a desire for a rather large gin and tonic. And a nap.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I love a scrap

Today is Saturday and so we dip our toes into the political pond... or is that swamp? We should be careful since there may be piranhas in the water. But I am not going to argue a political point today. Instead, I am going to examine the debate.

I like to engage in healthy debate with people who see things differently than I do, politically speaking. This is because I feel that I am right, they are wrong, and I will emerge victorious. So I wander about the internet's more liberal sites where I am sure I will find an argument... active discussion.

I pick my opponents carefully, examining the strength of their position and noting their ability to spell and to write coherent sentences. Some people misspell a lot of words. This amazes me because virtually every comment application spell checks automatically. Any misspelling is underlined in red so it's virtually impossible to not notice unless you do not bother to look up from your keyboard and read what you have typed before you locate the "Submit" button and click on it. I tolerate quite a bit of improper grammar (mostly because my own can be atrocious at times) and the obvious typos because they are easy to overlook and we've all done it. How many times have you typed "teh", for example? And I don't like being considered a "spelling Nazi."

However, a person's poor grammar and spelling often is a sign of an undisciplined mind. This means his argument will also likely be weak and poorly structured. And so I pounce.

Not really. I would rather have my positions challenged by someone I will end up considering my equal.

Lately, however, I find myself losing my taste for battle. In some cases, the opponent is just not a serious contender. This takes something out of the debate.

I often find the arguments of the Left weak. I suppose some of those on the Left feel that the arguments of the Right are also weak. We have a tendency to always see ourselves as holding the loftier position, do we not? But we all have a tendency to get lazy and use cliches and talking points rather than form arguments with our own intellect.

I recently went through a long debate about the best way to handle our country's fiscal problems. My opponent was very good. His arguments forced me to research heavily before answering. In the end, of course, neither of us gave ground. Neither of us were willing to change our minds.

But we agreed, in the end, to to disagree and to one day "cross swords" again. These re-invigorate me and encourage me to continue. Debate, even if you feel you have been bested, strengthens your arguments, your resolve, and helps you focus. It is what Freedom of Speech is really all about.

And so, like Don Quixote, I will continue to tilt at windmills.

Friday, August 19, 2011

You can Blinq now

I must apologize. To the readers of this blog and to

I wrote a piece about a keyboard [link] the other day (Tuesday, I think) which spoke of my problems with a recently purchased keyboard from that company. In it, I assumed that they would not rebate my shipping and handling charge.

Yesterday I learned how wrong I can be. They did credit the entire cost, including the S/H charges, to my credit card.

I am human. I screw up from time to time. This was one of those times.

In fact, I should praise because they did what few other online stores do. I am impressed. Quite impressed.

Put them on your list of "Good Guys", will you?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Is it still a pet if you cannot pet it?

Some people, when they find out we have no pets, feel sorry for us. They extol the virtues of the unconditional love that pets provide. They speak of the stress relief just from petting the dog or cat, the joys of teaching their parrot to speak, and so on. You know, the joys of pet ownership.

In kindness, I do not lash out at these slavemasters. Perhaps that was a bit over the top. We have had pets in the past. I had a dog as a youngster. My first wife (She Who Must Not Be Mentioned) and I had a dog. Faye had a cat when we first started seeing each other. I added another and then one more when her first cat ran away in the 6 years we danced around our inevitable marriage.

We kept those two when we moved, first to Manassas and then to Jacksonville where we added one more. The Unholy Three (as we affectionately called them) stayed with us until their deaths many years ago. We found that we had more freedom without pets. Plus, there were no unpleasant surprises awaiting us if we stayed away more than a day. We didn't have to find someone to look after the cats if we went off for more than a day or two. We got used to that freedom.

But we do have a pet. Meet Ms Lizard.

She's a beauty, isn't she? The real beauty is that she will never cost me a cent for food or vet care. She's about 8 inches long if you include her tail. She lives on our back porch. She is the one I spoke of in Strange and exotic wildlife [link], she was eventually caught (by me, the ladies would not touch her) when she became accidentally trapped in the shower stall. I put her on the back porch and she has made it her home, as Chester [link]had done before he wandered out under the screen door and never came back after a year with us. Chester, as it turns out, was really Charlene.

I know that Ms Lizard is a female. I know this because I finally did some research on lizards native to Florida. Ms Lizard, like her predecessor, is of the Green Anole family [link]. The females are not like the males who change from bright green to dull brown and back; their change is more subtle, more suggestion than actual change, when she goes "green" from her predominant brown

When I was a youngster, growing up in Dade County, it seemed the males were the more prevalent of the species. I would see them most everywhere. Now, they seem very rare.

We had Chester/Charlene stay with us for a year. I wonder how long Ms Lizard will stay?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Snippet of Life: A night in Olongapo

I was young and stupid and in a foreign land. The port was Subic Bay in the Philippines and the town outside the base is called Olongapo. Pretty much anything goes there. At least back then in the late 60's. It may be a nice quiet town now. I don't know.

It was my 3rd time in that port so that meant it was in the late summer or early fall of 1968. I had a little too much money in my pocket, apparently, because I decided to buy some "reds" (phenobarbital) after I had had more than a few beers. I wandered down the street and came across a young Filipino man who was offering items of an illicit nature in quiet whispers to sailors who passed by. I approached him and asked if he had any reds. He said he could get me some and told told me the price.... so I asked for 4. He disappeared for a few minutes and returned, quietly handing them to me in exchange for a 5 peso bill (about $1.25) as we stood in the shadows near a store window.

I put them in my shirt pocket and climbed the stairs to a nearby bar. It was called "Ocean's 11" and one of the favorites of the Brinkley Bass crew. The bars aren't all that different, they have a lot of tables, a dance floor (to dance with the bar girls on), and a stage for the band who plays Rock and Roll or Country/Western (depending on the bar). Ocean's catered to the Rock crowd. I found a couple of friends and sat with them. I washed down two of the reds with a bottle of San Miguel beer.

That wasn't smart. Two is one too many to mix with beer or any alcohol. One may be too many, for that matter. By my second beer, I was having difficulty dancing. I use the term "dancing" quite loosely. I never could dance as I have no sense of rhythm. But the drunker I get, the more I think I can actually dance. And do a great job of making a complete fool of myself. That is exactly what I was doing when I started falling into people and the occasional table. Even the bar girl I was dancing with thought I should sit down.

I did sit down and had difficulty remaining in the seat without sliding off onto the floor. As I was sipping my third beer, I decided I was too wasted and needed some coffee. Just before I got up, I realized I still had two more reds in my shirt pocket. Not wanting to get in trouble bringing them back onto the base, I started to think about what I should do with them. A smart person with a clear head would have wrapped them in a napkin and put them in the same pocket or in his pants pocket. They would have been safe there.

But, as I said, I was young and stupid and I also did not have a clear head. What I had was two pills and a beer. So I put the pills in my mouth and washed them down with the remainder of that beer. Got up and staggered out of the bar.

That exit was hazardous. The bar was on the second floor of the building, the way in(and, therefore, the way out) was by those stairs. I managed to get down the stairs by leaning heavily against the wall as I went down. Once at the street level, I wobbled toward the diner next door.

Brightly lit (a bit too brightly, I thought) with a counter and stools and a few cheap formica covered tables, the diner served food but all I wanted was coffee. I sat at the counter, took my hat off, and placed it on the stool next to me. As I sat down, I became aware of the two Shore Patrolmen who had followed me in. Perhaps they saw me drifting to and fro and bouncing off the windows of the diner as I made my way there.

I ordered coffee. Black. Ignored the sugar. Lifted the cup to my lips and took a sip. And promptly turned and filled my hat with the contents of my stomach.

It was doubtless not a pretty sight.

As I sat up straight (or so I thought anyway), I noticed the two SPs had moved closer. Much closer. Right next to me. I put out my hands, as if to be handcuffed, and said... "you got me."

They took my arms, one to a side, and helped me to the door.

As they walked me toward the base gate at the end of town, we came upon a couple of sailors. They told the SPs they knew me, that they would get me back to my ship. The SPs released me to them and the two sailors helped me get to the gate... where they turned me loose to find my own way and they headed back to the bars.

I managed to get through the gate and to the "bus stop" where what we called "cattle cars*" would pick up sailors and take them to the docks. I climbed into one of the cattle cars and found two of my shipmates on their way back to the Bass. A good thing, too, because one of them ended up carrying me piggyback (while I made disparaging remarks to the a couple of Coast Guard sailors we came across) up to the pier where we were the third ship out and then across the two other ships to the Bass and then to my bunk. I don't remember anything after that because I slept for 24 hours straight.

I think puking my guts out in that diner just might have saved my life. Or prevented some brain damage. One never knows.

I never did find out who those two guys who rescued me from the SPs were.

* A "cattle car" was a semi tractor and trailer with a few poles and rails inside the trailer for us to hang onto.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Don't Blinq

I purchased a keyboard the other day... well, a week or so ago. It arrived on Tuesday of last week. I purchased it from The price was low but the shipping was high. Overall, it was still cheaper than I could have got at a brick and mortar establishment. Except it hasn't turned out that way.
The keyboard was sent through USPS "priority" mail. The first thing I noticed was that the box was damaged. Not in shipping but sometime before it was packed up in the flimsy plastic envelope it was sent in. The flap on the box was torn... like it would be if someone tried to open it without first pulling out the little tab that holds the box top in place.

The keyboard itself looked fine. The box suggested that this was a used item, one that was returned for some reason. I remained slightly optimistic... there are many reasons why someone might return an item like this; didn't like the feel of the keys, for example.

So I plugged it in. One thing about a USB keyboard installation, you need an active, recognized keyboard to log into my computer. A new USB interfaced keyboard must be found by the system and installed before it can work. Therefore, I must leave my existing keyboard attached, log in and then plug in the new keyboard. The machine will then "find" it and install it. I can then shut down, remove my old keyboard and fully test the new one.

Unfortunately, that didn't work out. The machine found the new device ok but it failed to install. I was informed that the installation failed. What little optimism I had fled, scurrying away like the little coward it really is.

I sent an email (using my old keyboard, of course) which read:
"Keyboard arrived today. However, it fails to install properly (no driver found). Going to provides no relief. No device driver for this model. Keyboard will not work without driver. Please advise."

And received this response:
"Thank you for contacting Blinq.
KWe are so sorry to hear of this. We do not have any replacements to send to you at this time. I have gone ahead and authorized a request for a full refund. There is no need to return this item back to us, please DISREGARD any emails stating otherwise. Please allow an hour for the funds to be credited to your Paypal account; they will be the ones to refund whatever the money originally came from in 3-4 days.
Please let us know if you have any other questions.

ind Regards,

-- Patricia
Blinq Customer Care

(the typos are theirs, not mine)

It's as if they knew they had sent me a defective keyboard. They didn't tell me to try anything to install it, they didn't suggest I go to (the maker) or anything like that, just said "don't send it back" and "we'll credit you back." Problem is that the keyboard was all of $1.99 but the shipping (which we know won't be refunded) was $9.99.

So I am stuck with a keyboard (such a nice looking one, too) which does not work and I am out $9.99.

I did come out of this with some positives. PC Gearhead has been trying to help and have offered to repair said keyboard (I will decline since shipping it would bring the cost way out of line) and have made a few suggestions to get it working. I like PC Gearhead because they have been so helpful and I told them that. I will look favorably on them in the future. They also told me about an unknown (to me) feature of Windows 7 (it may also be in earlier versions) called "On screen keyboard." You go to Start, Accessories, Ease of use and that's where it is. This will bring up a virtual keyboard on the screen which you can mouse-type with or operate with a touch screen. I think this would be quite useful if my keyboard fails in some way. You can also access this from that icon on the lower left of your login screen, the one that says "ease of use" when you run your mouse cursor over.

I will not, however, look kindly on

Important Update.... See: You can Blinq now

Monday, August 15, 2011

That first encounter

I was a child of 16; just a boy, really, shaving maybe once a week. And driving. The beast (if I may call her that... affectionately) I was driving was a `52 Studebaker Champion. I had dropped out of public school (not in shame and/or disgrace, I assure you, but out of rebelliousness and boredom) and was attending a private school in Hollywood, FL.

Hollywood was then a small city surrounding U.S. Highway 1 just south of Dania which is just south of Ft. Lauderdale. Maybe it still is, I haven't been there in many years. I am sure it is still south of Dania, though. Since U.S. 1 dissects it, you would think that would be the fastest way to get to it from my home in North Miami Beach (which isn't near Miami Beach at all and is several miles from the ocean and any beach). Well, you'd be wrong, of course. Instead, the fastest way to get there was to head up West Dixie Highway until you reach the "presidents". That is, where the streets are named after presidents. Then you head east a bit and turn north again on 19th Ave then east on Hollywood Blvd, go around the Circle and north again on U.S 1.

Why am I going into all this, you ask? I have no idea... except to give you a vague idea why I was pulling up to a 3-way stop at Van Buren on 19th Avenue. It's a 3 way stop because traffic is one-way north of Van Buren. Once through that intersection, you go another couple of blocks to Hollywood Blvd where it dead-ends at a traffic light.

As I pulled up to the intersection, I glance west and then east on Van Buren (I have to creep forward to do this because there is a large hedge to my right block my my view east), noting the police officer on his 3 wheeler marking tires with a chalk stick so he can give them tickets if they are still there when he next comes around (about an hour or so). There are time limits but no meters on Van Buren. The officer looks up just at that point.

I proceed through the intersection and on to Hollwood Blvd where I stop for the light then turn right on red toward the Circle, yield for traffic heading south and then move into the Circle. At this point, that officer pulls up alongside me and indicates I should pull over. Which I do, being the ever obedient citizen, pulling into one of the diagonal parking spaces which line the outside edge of the Circle and await the inevitable.

The officer, scowling ominously, leans down and says quite loudly,

"There's a stop sign at Van Buren and 19th... and it means 'STOP'!"
"I'm aware of it, officer... and I did."
"Let me see your driver's license and registration."

I hand him the requested documents and he walks back to his Harley trike. A couple of minutes later, after verifying that I have no "wants or warrants" out there, he walks back and writes a ticket for running a stop sign. He hands the ticket book to me to sign, telling me it is not an admission of guilt but merely acknowledging the receipt of said ticket. I briefly entertain the idea of keeping his book and speeding away because even my old "Stoody" could outrun one of these trikes but decide against it because he still has my license and, instead, sign the ticket and hand his book back to him.

His scowl is still there but his gruffness has dissipated as he tells me to be careful. I pull out (very carefully) and continue to school.

Thus began my first lesson in the justice system.

I will learn much and it will enhance my nascent cynicism.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Is it almost over?

The more I look at politics today, the sadder I get. And the more worried about this country's (and the world's) future. Where once we tried to elect people who had honor and integrity, those characteristics have become harder to discern in the candidates.

We have sunk into a political environment that is all about winning and not in the least about serving. We once sought representatives of our values, now we seem to seek people who will take revenge against previous administrations. Perhaps that is indicative of our nation's current values.

I give you this:
"“Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney,” said a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House." [emphasis added]

Read more: Article

It seems to me that there was a call to tone down the rhetoric after the Tucson shootings. It seems to me that the call came from the White House, from President Obama. It seems to me that what he might have meant is "you guys on the other side, you need to tone down the rhetoric while my side will continue to escalate it."

I have wondered since I was young why anyone would want to run for president, especially in times of great trouble such as we are now experiencing. Our traditional thought on this has been that the candidates want to turn the country around, to elevate it, to "save" it in its hour of need.

I have, over the past 30 years, rejected that thought. I now think we are not electing "heroes" but "looters." Backed by various interests, the candidate seeks office so that he can loot the treasury and enrich those interests. Maybe the candidate doesn't think that's what he wants to do but sees himself as a potential hero and believes he has the right ideas to right the ship and get her back on course but that he must wallow in the mud to get there.

Could we elect a real hero? Would we tolerate policies that are needed to get our country back on track? Are there any policies that would actually accomplish that?

I am beginning to doubt that. And it worries me.

Some people, many people, say "the system is broken." Maybe, but it is the only one we have. And I fear that any changes to it will only be for the worse. That these changes will grant more power to those who should not have it and not to the people. And I fear the people could not handle the power if they were given more of it. Over the decades, the people have grown more dependent on government, more unwilling to be responsible for themselves. They have lost the pioneer spirit that drove people to abandon the cities of the east in order to make it on their own in an ungoverned wilderness.

The future does not look bright. I hope that this is not the sun setting on the American dream.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Hey! Mr. Spaceman

Life is tenacious and, it appears, maybe universal. According to research on meteorites, a strong case is being made that life on earth was seeded by meteors.

From Popular Science [article]

In what appears to be seriously big news from a team of NASA-funded researchers, scientists have found evidence that some building blocks of DNA--including two of the four nucleobases that make up our genetic code--found in meteorites were created in space, lending credence to the idea that life is not homegrown but was seeded here by asteroids, meteorites, or comets sometime in Earth’s early lifetime.

It would seem to me that this has been obvious. In the first place, the entire planet was built from space debris and dust. It logically follows that this is where the building blocks of life here also came from. Otherwise, we must accept that it was the Hand of God. That's hard for me, an atheist, to accept. So, perhaps I am biased.

It could also be that those who have asserted that such building blocks of life (as have been found for a hundred years) were biased and willing to accept contamination on impact too readily. It is the finding of DNA fragments (and the expanding understanding of this) along without solid proof of impact caused contamination that has cast doubt on that consensus.

The implications are clear. The universe is full of the building blocks of life and every object in it is bombarded by the "carriers", meteors. As we find proof of possibly habitable planets, we should also expect there to be life on them.

I am fascinated.

That alien life may, or may not, be easily recognizable when we finally get to see it. I am saddened by the idea that that day will come long after I have hit my expiration date.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

It is the Best of times, it is the worst of times

There are a couple of things in the news this week which have caused me to ponder on life and on social order. These things are the events in Syria and England. There can be no greater contrast of social order and conflict than those two.

Let's take Syria first. Syria is a political dictatorship with a fairly rigid social structure. The hopes of greater freedom under Bashir al-Assad have not materialized in the 11 years of his stewardship. His father, Hafez al-Assad, had ruled with an iron hand for 29 years before him. And now the people, encouraged by the so-called "Arab Spring" have begun to challenge him. He has responded much as his father would have, with tanks and guns and cruelty. The reaction of despots is almost always violence and more oppression.

Now let's look at England. Protests in London have been escalating. These protests began over the killing of a 29 year old black man by police. The protests quickly expanded into riots. Like the "Arab Spring", the escalation of the protests has been aided by the internet and the use of cell phones. The protesters have access to quick communications and can then react to changes in the street, leave one area and head to another in response to police action. I believe there are, as in Syria, opportunists who have helped escalate the protests into riots. The short term opportunists are seeking "booty" by looting stores and businesses. The long term opportunists likely believe they can instigate a change in social order.

In Syria, I am not so sure the short term opportunists are an important factor. It's hard to tell, the news is tightly controlled there. They may merely be "tools" of the long term opportunists although I am fairly sure they would not see it that way themselves.

In both countries, efforts are being made to restore order. But there is a great difference in how that is being done. And I think that we should pay attention to that difference. Because that difference is the difference between a free society and a dictatorship.

I seem to be getting political this week. Sorry.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

With age comes... I forget

"You Know
You're Getting Old When....."

* The little old gray haired lady you help across the street is your wife.
* Your investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off.
* A fortune teller offers to read your face.
* Everything hurts; and what doesn't hurt, doesn't work.
* Your back goes out more than you do.

* You feel like the morning after when you haven't been anywhere the night before.
* You talk about "good grass" and you're referring to someone's lawn.
* Getting lucky means you find your car in the parking lot.
* Your children begin to look middle aged.
* Your idea of weight lifting is standing up.

* You know all the answers, but nobody asks you the questions.
* It takes twice as long to look half as good.
* You sit in a rocking chair and can't get it going.
* Your knees buckle and your belt won't.
* You and your teeth don't sleep together.

I have mentioned before that I live in a gray town. It's situated in a gray county. And it is getting grayer and grayer. And wrinklier. And older.

Senior takeover [article]

Among the census projections released by the University of Florida is this: By 2030, Highlands County will have 51,000 residents who are 65 or older.

That number is significant when you realize we currently have only about 100,000 residents today with an expected population of 151,000 by 2030. We aren't growing... except older... very much. We may even be losing some population. Probably the younger residents. Not much in the way of jobs here and the ones available do not pay well.

I don't worry about this. After all, I am not getting younger myself. I expect, as the years go by, that our main population increase will be those who are retiring. They will move here from up Nawth, looking for an inexpensive place to live out their years.

Some (about 40%) will be part-timers, "Snowbirds", who come down here in the winter and disappear in the spring. We like those folks. They are the ones who keep our restaurants and most other businesses alive. They come down, spend money, and then leave.

When I first moved down to Florida as a child, most of the smaller hotels and restaurants shut down in the summer. They just did not make enough money in the period between late spring and late fall to justify staying open. I see some of that here in what I call Paradise (and others call Sebring). My favorite restaurant is a steak house called Yanni's. He closes down around the end of July and reopens in mid September. Some just cut their hours, dropping the dinner meal, during the doldrums period.

Some of the things being done to accommodate the increasingly senior population are listed in the article above. I see no reason for them not having been done already.

Larger type on street signs
Larger stop signs (these are already in place)
Wider lane striping (we could use wider lanes, too)

I expect to see more handicapped parking spaces and they are expecting more and more golf carts so they are planning to create wider cart/bike lanes to accommodate them. An electric golf cart makes sense as a local transportation option. We don't have a transit system, no buses. That will come, I expect.

Florida really is "God's waiting room."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


I lost a lot more yesterday than the Dow did. Painful, certainly, but something I should expect based on how my investments are allocated. I firmly believe I will get it back in the next few months. And, if not, it won't be much of a loss overall since I brought these equities for the income they generate in dividends and I have already received more than I lost in yesterday's crash.

I am hoping you all were not personally hurt by the crash. Or, if you were hurt, not severely.

What happened yesterday was an outbreak of fear and trembling. The downgrading of our credit rating was not severe but it was unprecedented in history. It was a first for the U.S. We went through 2 World Wars and a Great Depression without losing that AAA rating.

There's talk that the Tea Party is to be blamed. In reality, there aren't enough actual Tea Party members in Congress to do that. There are only 54 members of the Tea Party Caucus and many of these are not actually part of the Tea Party, just in agreement with them. Those many are incumbent members of Congress who had been there prior to the elections of 2010 and also prior to the start up of the Tea Party. You see, the Tea Party is a relatively new group of organizations, starting up after the 2008 elections. It started in 2009.

The charge is that they impeded compromise. I suppose they did. They opposed tax increases and pushed for spending cuts. And they stuck to their principles, the ones for which they were elected. It seems to me that there was plenty of factions doing much the same. For instance, the Congressional Black Caucus and most of the Democratic Party, as well as the administration.

But let's look forward for a moment. How will the stock market behave over the next year? It will be unstable until some governmental stability is achieved. And then, depending on how that stability looks, it may not stabilize then. The worry now (I almost typed "fear" instead of "worry") is that we'll enter a "bear" market which will mean a downward spiral of stock prices until something big turns it around.

Let's hope that doesn't happen, shall we?

Monday, August 8, 2011

I have always been my main problem

When I was in the Navy, just a few weeks after leaving boot camp, I was offered an opportunity to go "officer". That is, the instructor at the Basic Electricity and Electronics Preparatory school (affectionately known as "BEEP" school) asked me if I wanted to get into an officer training program. I would be put through college, I would likely be taught to fly, and I would become an officer.

I turned it down.

People ask me why I would turn down a free education. The answer was simpler back then. To me, it was a no brainer. If I qualified for flight training, I would be trained to fly fighter jets. A lot of people see that as glamorous and exciting. And it is. But there's a catch. You have to land the things on a moving target of limited size in all kinds of weather. I would also have at least 4 additional years to serve.

I was 19... 4 years seemed a lifetime to me.

I also was not enamored of a college education. Why that is, I don't know. My parents never expected any of us to go to college so they didn't plan for it or push it. Before entering the Navy, I did take a few courses at a community college in Brevard County (near Cape Kennedy) and wasn't impressed. I realize that a community college is nothing like a "real" one. But I got a taste of the minimum requirement and decided I had had enough of school. The Navy program would have set standards that I was not interested in meeting.

There was another reason. I was (and remain) uncomfortable with ritual. The officers of the Navy (and all other branches) have rituals, formal dinners, meetings, and standards of behavior that must be adhered to. I hate rituals of all kinds. I deplore formal dinners. And meetings bore me.

Now, some 46 years later, I can comfortably regret that decision. It's over, it's done. I cannot go back in time and do it over. If I could, I would have made the other choice, I would have applied.

But it haunts me. I suppose we all have decisions we regret. I suppose it's what shapes us.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Did we dodge a bullet?

Doesn't look like it...

S&P Downgrades U.S. Debt for First Time

A cornerstone of the global financial system was shaken Friday when officials at ratings firm Standard & Poor's said U.S. Treasury debt no longer deserved to be considered among the safest investments in the world.

S&P removed for the first time the triple-A rating the U.S. has held for 70 years, saying the budget deal recently brokered in Washington didn't do enough to address the gloomy long-term picture for America's finances. It downgraded U.S. debt to AA+, a score that ranks below Liechtenstein and on par with Belgium and New Zealand.

Sad, isn't it?

Friday, August 5, 2011

What goes up must come down

The longer I dabble in it, the less I understand about the stock market. Yes, I dabble. That means I risk very little in the vain hope that I will gain a lot. It doesn't work that way, of course. But I have done ok. I skim from my profits from time to time much like the mob skimmed from the House back when they (fairly openly) owned Las Vegas. To do that, you must actually have a profit to skim from. Therefore, I must have done well enough to allow it.

I probably do as well as I do because I do not listen to the "experts" on TV or in the financial media. I do actually listen to them, I just don't follow their advice. You see, those "experts" always seem to recommend stocks and funds that are trading at 80% or more of their 52 week highs. Following that advice would be like listening to realtors in 2006 and buying a mini-mansion.

So, as I dabble, I do it cautiously. No day trader here.

But this past 10 days has been just plain wacky... and severely unnerving. Down a thousand here, a thousand there, then up almost as much and even more.

When the holdings drop so quickly, the urge to get out becomes strong and quite attractive. It's a bit like that bar back when you were single, only in reverse. The later it got, the better some of the prospects looked. In the market, the more it drops, the more you want to bail out. But that is when you have to resist.

Those with much greater reserves than I see a market like this as a great opportunity. They are right. I have also dabbled in casino gambling and this market is like playing craps. If you are not (and even if you are) holding the dice, you want the point not to be made; you want the dice to roll and roll and roll without the roller getting his point or crapping out. Meanwhile, you make bets on various possibilities and (mostly) cash in. The market recently has roller-coasted up and down and up again and down again... just like one of those rollers who can't make his point.

The clever ones, the successful day traders, discern patterns and rhythms of various stocks. They buy on the perceived dips and sell on the perceived peaks. Most folks end up buying on the peaks and selling on the dips.

In the end, it's all a gamble.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A little randomness

On any given day, dozens (or more) random thoughts pop up in my head. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes they do not. They entertain me but disappear too quickly for me to write them down. Mostly because they happen while I am engaged in something else... like driving, a lot of them happen while I am driving.

Most of them seem to be questions. Things like:

Why do we always assume the other guy is wrong (until proven otherwise)?

If the government "shuts down", why are our senators and representatives still paid?

Why did Charmin reduce the amount of baby oil and aloe in its Plus brand?
(this one is very important to me)

No one's opinion is more right than mine... or more wrong.

The longer you put off dealing with something, the more painful it will be when you finally do.

I really hate gastro-intestinal remedy ads.

If the rich/wealthy are so evil, why do we all wish to be that?

I used to be a doper, now I am hooked Zantac.

Have you noticed that weather girls all have ample bosoms?

I've decided that there is no real point to life but it beats the alternative.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Gnarly, dude!

When I was 18 years old, I fell in love with surfing. Something like an addict falling in love with heroin. I was ripe for it, I suppose; young, healthy, and seemingly indestructible. It was at a beach in Hallandale, Florida, at a small strip of undeveloped (at that time) shoreline between a small condo/resort and an out-of-business (and abandoned) motel. A friend had invited me to come try surfing. The first wave I actually caught won me over. I didn't stand up on the board, just got to my knees before losing it, and yet I was hooked. Even when I went to retrieve the board and got rapped in the mouth with it, leaving me with a fat lip to explain, my ardor grew.

I bought a surfboard (they were big then... mine was 9'4"). I started wearing "cords", eschewed socks with my loafers, and getting tan. I got deeper into it in the next few months. I read about it, watched movies about it, ate, drank, and slept it. I started collecting Beach Boy music. I went out to the beach just about every day. Even on school days.

I was going to a private school in Hollywood, FL at the time. Classes were from 8:30 to 12:30 but I rarely stayed past 10 when we broke for "lunch." We were never punished for skipping class. We did have to make up the work we missed but that wasn't difficult. I took a part time job as a bellboy/go-fer at a small motel in Sunny Isles, just south of Hallandale, that started at 4 in the afternoon.

Surf is spotty in south Florida. It is not like the big or constant waves of Hawaii or California. The breaks are over sandbars, not reefs, and are mostly wind-driven and small. There's a lot of days when the Atlantic looks more like a lake than an ocean. But something else helped us get through those days... skateboards. "Sidewalk surfing"

I made my first, and only, skateboard a few short months after starting surfing. I took a sturdy plank, trimmed it to about 24" inches long and maybe 4" or 5" wide. I bolted the wheels from an old pair of shoe skates I had laying around onto it and *voila!* I had a skateboard. It helped hone some skills, mostly improving my balance. I never got very good at either surfing or skateboarding but I got by.

The riskiest things we would do on skateboards were riding down the ramps into the loading dock area at the 163rd St Shopping Center and jumping off, or up onto, curbs. We didn't have knee pads or helmets back then and we were a bit wary of breaking bones, I'd guess.

But look what they can do today...

He made that look easy, didn't he?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

And then it grew dark... and almost quiet

You know, I am committed to writing a daily blog post. Not exactly "daily" since I skip Sundays but close enough. Well, here it is almost 9:30 PM on Monday and there is no post. Not even a hint of one in my mind.

I blame the weather and the power company. About 5 PM on Monday, we had a fierce thunderstorm pass through and that knocked the power out for close to an hour. That taught me that one of my UPS units is on its last legs... or volts, or watts, or something. It went into total shutdown. It is not supposed to do that. It is the one that two computers, the cable modem, the router, and the Vonage telephone adapter depend on. So, no phone, no computer, no nada. I have a cell phone so we weren't completely out of touch with the world but still...

Another thing that stops working when the power goes out is the oven. The oven held, at the time the power disappeared, our dinner. Now, the oven is gas but the regulation of the heat requires the electricity which was no longer being faithfully provided by our local power company. Meanwhile, the two other UPS units in the house (one for Frances' computer and one for the TV and Cable DVR) were still providing backup power (as they are supposed to do) and going "beep beep beep" every minute to let us know that they were doing so. Annoying the heck out of me.

The important one was not going "beep beep beep", it was just one continuous irritating wail of an extended into infinity "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" that sets your teeth on edge and instigates Migraines. Until I turned it off completely after trying several times. I had to try several times because the on/off button wasn't working properly. It still isn't.

So now I have to replace the recalcitrant UPS tomorrow (Tuesday) or find a replacement battery. I suspect the replacement battery will cost as much as a new UPS so it's likely that I will have a new UPS by sometime around noon or so.

Things like this drive home the point that we are slaves to modern life. Lose power for even 20 minutes and we move past annoyed into light panic. An hour of no power is much worse. You begin to wonder just how long it will last. You worry. You sweat. Heavily. Without power, there is no air conditioning. And no air conditioning down here means great discomfort. And perspiration.

I have a back up generator but I have not checked it for a year now. It may not work. And, even if it does, it cannot provide enough juice to run the AC. It provides only enough power to allow us to use the oven, run the ceiling fans and the fridge, and power the radio.

I am reminded that I am not yet prepared for hurricane season.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Snippet of Life: Leona

There was a girl in my past. My distant past now, I guess. Leona was a sweet, pretty young lady. She reminded me of the actress, Capucine [link]. Or maybe Capucine reminded me of her, since I met Leona before I ever saw Capucine. Leona was a tragic figure in my life, a bittersweet memory. I met her when we were in the same class in 8th grade. She was too pretty for me, I thought. I thought that about a lot of girls back then. I was shy and lacking confidence around girls, like most boys of that age (13). We were friends is all.

We crossed paths several times a day at school; in the halls between classes, at lunch, in that one class we shared. We talked. She seemed sad most of the time, though that went away as we'd talk. Usually.

She came up to me in my Science class, before the bell rang. I was talking to Larry, a tall boy who was more than a year older than us, when she walked into the room. She didn't share that class with us but was headed for the Home-Ec class next door. She asked if either of us had a watch she could borrow. A strange request, I remember thinking, but decided she might need it to time some cooking. I didn't wear a watch, still don't, but Larry did and offered it to her. As she draped the too large band around her dainty wrist, I asked why she needed it.

She glanced at the watch and said with a smile, "I have less than 5 minutes to live."

My reply was to ask if she was being forced to taste her cooking in Home-Ec that day. She laughed and left the classroom just before the bell rang.

In less than 5 minutes, there was a commotion next door. You could hear the girls yelling and people running down the hall. Within 15 minutes, there were strangers running past the door to the Home Ec class... people in uniforms... ambulance attendants (as they were known then) with a gurney. Someone was hurt, injured. We thought there was some kind of accident in Home-Ec, maybe someone was burned or fell.

It turned out to be Leona. On her way out of the science class, she had grabbed a bottle of formaldehyde from the shelf by the door and drank it in the few short steps to her class. She lived. But she spent a week in the hospital recovering.

I found out months later why. She confided in me that Billy (a school "problem child") had "some pictures" of her and had been using them to coerce her into sex with him. I could believe it of Billy. He was a big kid with the reputation of being a bully, fully deserved. he had set fire to a portable classroom one weekend when he was in elementary school, it was rumored (also likely true), and had spent time at Marianna (a youth detention center in north Florida). I knew Billy pretty well and knew he was capable of what she told me.

I loved that girl... as much as a 13 year old boy can do that... but never told her. She professed her "love" for me, too, as we talked about her troubles. But I was a skinny little runt and couldn't protect her from Billy. I also knew Larry could protect her and that he was sweet on her. So I did the "right thing" and played Cupid, setting the two of them up.

Larry and Leona stayed together though I lost touch with both of them as we went to different high schools and began moving in different circles.

In 1971, after I had left the Navy and married my first wife, I moved back to Florida. back to my old "home town" of North Miami Beach. We were out shopping at a discount department store and ran into her running the cash register in the checkout lane we chose. She looked just as pretty, just as sweet and vulnerable as she did at 13. We didn't have much time to chat (there was a line behind us) but she said she and Larry had married after high school and divorced a couple of years later.

If I had not been married at that time... well, things might have turned out much differently for me, I suspect. One can never be sure, though. Just one of those "might have been"s that litter our pasts.