Sunday, April 26, 2015


Several years ago, I noticed that in 'detective' novels, such as the Travis McGee and the Spenser series, the main character always had a secondary character who would do the things that the author needed to have done to advance the plot, but for whatever reason didn't want to write.  So, if the main character needed to know who owned a car, he would call 'an old buddy in the Police Department' or, for details of a house's provenance  'a guy he knows in the County Board of Assessment'.  I grew to think of it as a lazy way to avoid writing. (Sometimes, they did write it,  and I always thought that was because they were being paid by the word.) In the Spenser novels, it's frequently  Hawk, the brooding man of mystery who appears when muscle and excellent fashion sense are needed.  He usually agrees with what Spenser wants to do, and rarely has insights of his own.  Makes one wonder how he survives when Spenser isn't around.

Now, as I am rereading the Spenser novels, I notice that the more often the girlfriend appears, the more likely she is to say something which equates to Oh Spenser, you are so studly, so morally incorruptible, I swoon at your rugged jawline.  To which he will reply with an insouciant quip.

Pity that the authors do that.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


I realize that this is very much a first world problem.


I'm getting really tired of web sites that pop up a new page -- one that pop-up blockers don't seem to be able to intercept -- when you move the cursor in a way that suggests that you're about to leave the site.  Its barely ok when the page will go away if you click on the original, still-displayed page.  But some of them require you to click on the 'x' to make it go away.

Its almost enough to drive me back to reading books.  Is it possible that this is simply a plot on the part of the world's librarians?


In the last week, we have learned that -

- our daughter isn't going to do an internship for the summer,  but instead work at a place at the school, which means that she will need money for food, she will need a car (which she will want to keep for the school year, of course), and she will have to have a place to stay . 

- our 3 year old dishwasher has to be replaced.  one of those times when perhaps an extended warranty would have been a good idea. Having the repair guy say Yeah, Samsung learned a lot from this model; they don't make it any more was hardly comforting.

- it's possible to get a French friend ticked off at me.

-  our daughter is now the 'proud' owner of a gerbil.  It seems that the girl for whom she was watching it has announced that she doesn't want it back  She asked me to ask a neighbor if they want it.
 - if we go to Italy, and rent a car, the odds are very good that it will be a manual transmission.  Don't worry, its easy.

- our  daughter, acting as a valet parker for some event, dinged two cars.  The first driveer said not to worry about it.  We're waiting to see what the second says, if anything.

Fun stuff. 

Friday, April 24, 2015


They don't make album covers like this any more.  Pity.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


I see where the DHS Secretary and others are unhappy as the use of uncrackable -- or uncrackable without massive effort -- encryption spreads.  Certainly, it does make their lives harder, and usually, that's not a good thing, because usually, they really are trying to stop terrorists and criminals.

But every time I think of the government pawing through my information without so much as a by your leave, which they seem to with some regularity.... I see an article like this, and I smile.

Who would have thought that thanks to the grabby ways of our government, I'd have something in common with drug cartels? 

Friday, April 17, 2015

50 Shades

I don't know if I will go to see 50 Shades or not, but I love what the set designers did in creating the apartment.  Its delightful.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


My daughter is going to take an online course from her college during the summer.  She will not be on campus or anywhere near it.

They're still going to charge her the out-of-state-student rate.

Bet they just love those out of state students.....

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I will go to Panera Bread forever

Because today I saw a tall, sleek woman in a tight miniskirt and high heels in line there.

I didn't know that people who looked like that existed in this state.

I'm not entirely sure that she was even human.

Okay, granted, she was draped over a guy who looked better than I ever have, but still.

Panera.  Forever.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


I asked a French-speaking friend how to say "I took it off the table".  She said "Je l'ai enlevĂ© de sur la table", which translates to "I took it away/removed it from on the table". Apparently, there isn't any direct equivilent. You have to use a circumlocution.

Oh.  Great.


I didn't say this, but I do agree with it.  Its part of my realization of what the phrase 'my better half' means.

"It’s been said the key to a healthy relationship is compromise, and that the right ratio of compromise is 50-50.  But I disagree.  There are times when my wife needs 100% of her needs met and I compromise completely, and other times when I need 100% of my needs met and she returns the favor.  The key to a healthy relationship (or one key, at least), it seems to me, is a recognition that microcompromises are gifts that need to be exchanged rather than demands that need to be wrung from the other person.  If both partners can approach their relationship this way, when large compromises need to be made, pent up resentment is less likely to be present to interfere with clear, compassionate thinking that brings a couple to the best decision for both partners."

Saturday, April 11, 2015


Harry Turtledove writes very well, but I'd like his books more if just once in a while, the good guys won. I glanced at his Joe Steele, which presents a Stalin standin as the surprise successful Democratic candidate against Herbert Hoover, FDR having died during the convention in a mysterious fire, and found myself quickly skipping through it, reading about the rise of authoritarianism, the American work camps, the desperation.  Flipped to the end.  Glum there, too.

Has anyone ever written a  plausible book where the liberals crushed the country?  I'm sure that conservatives have written things where weak-minded liberals have spent the country into the ground, or essentially surrendered the country, but has anyone ever had a powerful, dogmatic liberal forcing the country to bend to his will?  Accept health care?  Knuckle under to equal pay?  Pay schoolteachers adequately? Protect the free pursuit of happiness?

Yeah, I bet the conservatives would find that very scary.


There are times when it's not all that much fun.I wonder if my mento would be surprised to hear me say that?

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Planning, continued

We learned about a month ago that my wife would likely be replaced in her position as a personal care aide to a student, because the school felt that having only one person in that position for more than a couple of years would lead to the kid becoming used to them, and dependent on them.  The idea was, therefore, that the kid would move to a new aide, and my wife would move to a new position in the school. She was a little sorry about this, because she likes the kid she has, but the logic made sense, and she does like other positions in the school where they deal with special-needs kids.

Yesterday we found out that it is going to happen, because the kid is moving out of the school district at the end of the school year.  Somehow, that made it more real, leading us to say well, what if she just stopped working, entirely?  Well, that would mean loss of her modest salary, and, more importantly, loss of her (and our) health insurance.  Which is what triggered our desire to look at finances.

 The fellow who watches out for our account (one of many that he looks after) told us about two years ago that we are substantially ahead of where most people are in their lives, financially.  In fact, if we don't dramatically change how we spend money, he said,  we will have, in twenty years, about as much money as we have right now -- our expenses will be covered by a combination of Social Security, retirement pensions, and occasional modest withdrawals from assets.

The key phrase is dramatically change.  Thinking about going to France every year qualifies as a dramatic change.

On one hand, we can do it.  On the other, it would over time substantially reduce the amount of financial cushion we have - and while the cushion is there to be used, to provide a buffer against surprises, and to allow the occasional splurge, that doesn't mean that we should feel good about diving into it (to mix metaphors).  And we don't.  Despite my new-found love of France, we're still financially cautious.

So we're doing a little planning.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Financial Planning

There is a certain amount of pleasure in doing financial planning.  There is also a certain amount of uncertainly, which leads to a certain amount of terror.

We have a spreadsheet that goes out about 35 years, projecting what we think our extraordinary expenses will be -- trips, cars, expenses related to our child, to our house.  Overall, we're in good shape (resisting the urge to rap my knuckles on a piece of wood), and even if we do everything that I forecast, including reserving a large amount of money for 'surprise medical expenses' and a large amount for 'transfer to daughter', we still end up, at the end of that period, with about forty percent of our current assets.

The terror comes in when I wonder if that picked out of thin air number for surprise medical expenses is a reasonable number (it comes from a combination of wishful thinking and an estimate of what we would have to pay for health care coverage should my wife quit her job), or whether that estimate for adding a room and elevator to our house really will cost much more, or, for that matter, whether it's a good idea at all.

Its also true that although I can primly write trip every two years, thinking that those years are when we go to Europe; and the intervening ones are when we tour the US, the fact is that in my heart I'm thinking France Every Year.  That's about ten thousand dollars a throw.  You can only do that so often before it begins to affect the bottom line.  And though I like to think that if we just had a house in France....thats not likely.

I remember when I first started to model our expenses, about 25 years ago, when I realized that my off-the-cuff estimate of what we spent each month was in fact about 40% of what we actually spent.  That was startling.  This -- well, its not so bad.  Looking at the numbers keeps me grounded.

Monday, April 06, 2015


Two nice things happened in the last couple of days.   Three, if you count learning that we might be going to Italy this summer rather than next summer.

One was that the guidance counselor at the school where I am a mentor told me that my mento's science teacher says she's seen an improvement in how the kid is doing. (Science is what he and I focus on.)  I told him that. He seemed surprised, and say that the material was easier when I explained stuff to him. That was gratifying. 

And the other is that I was able to fix a problem with my daughter's PC that her local 'tech support' blew past. She had complained that the PC was slowing down, and after I did a little messing around -- which I had tried to do last year, and failed, sending her to 'tech support - she said that now the PC is back to its original speed. Its not a rocket ship, but its not a lead sled, either. That was gratifying, too.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Check This

I'm reading The Checklist Manifesto, whose basic premise is that complex problems can be ameliorated by the use of simple checklists.  Its interesting, but not compelling (I'm halfway through) because I find myself wondering if he's cherrypicked his examples, and because I don't see how he would recommend incorporating such things in the realities of my life.  Its one thing to say  oh, this restaurant has multiple checklists to ensure product quality and customer satisfaction, this construction company has multiple checklists to ensure that steps occur in the right sequence and that people who should talk ARE talking; its another to say so how can this make keeping the house clean, the pantry stocked BETTER?  Perhaps that comes in the second part.

But the thing I keep thinking about was my company's Quality program, and one guy's annoyance with meeting rooms.

The Q program -- I'm sure they are still going on under different names in different companies -- was an effort to bring rational thought into how we provided the software service to our customers.  How did we track problems to keep them from coming back.  How did we know that solutions worked, and that the problem didn't just go away on its own.  We weren't very effective, as suggested by the fact that when the managers decided to put up a big sign to remind us of how important this was, the slogan they chose was QUALITY:  FOR A BETTER TOMORROWWhich, oddly enough, never came.  The data processing function was moved elsewhere, the data center was closed, and eventually the company was sold.

The specific memory about the connection between simple problems and simple solutions that I referred to earlier was the problem with meeting rooms.  Our building had, perhaps, eight meeting rooms.  Two of them were large, and one was grand, but all were functional.  Some were more desirable than others.  They had windows, perhaps, or more comfortable chairs.  Whatever the reason, they were the ones that were wanted first.  But frequently, when you would go and actually look, the booked room was empty.  Well, we decided not to have the meeting.  Well, the meeting only lasted ten minutes, but we had booked it for an hour just in case.  Well...  So this one fellow said Look,, this is a problem.  We have a desired resource that everyone wants, but we only use it about a third of the time. 

We had no idea of how to fix this.  Signup sheets on the door?  Too tedious.  Have a secretary track who overbooked?  She had other things to do -- and, anyway, within two years, she was gone and not replaced.  Ask people to try harder?  So we just shrugged and said Yeah, it happens, nothing to be done.  And it wasn't.

Would a checklist have helped?  Not without people willing to spend the time to really understand the problem, really understand what the effect was, really work to come up with solutions that were both effective and simple to do.  But if we had them?  Possibly.

Never know though, will we?