Saturday, February 28, 2009

Christie's Mom sent along Berkshire Hathaway's annual report, and Warren Buffett has a lot to say about the mortgage crisis, specifically about the need for home buyers to have a legitimate 10% down payment. What he doesn't say is that that's never going to happen in a world where most new homes cost $250,000. Very few Americans are going to be able to save $25,000, especially with the massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the upper that's been going on for the last 10 years or so.

Christie and I bought our current house by rolling over the profits from my previous house, which I bought cheap. It appreciated, and I made improvements, and I gained equity from simply making payments. It was, essentially, the way buying a house has usually worked, historically. You start with a small house and work your way up. That's why they call them starter homes.

But that's a model that's increasingly rare, partly because we, as a nation, have an appetite for the trappings of wealth, and living in a small, rundown house doesn't appeal. It's also partly because most of us don't have the skills to fix up a rundown house. But even the people who bought that house from us will be able to do well because it was still, even with all its gains in value, still a sub-$100,000 house.

Unfortunately, nobody builds small houses anymore, because the profit margin is so slim. Of course, the sales are a lot more certain, at least right now, because there are so few houses for sale under $100k. That would change, though, if more people were building for that market, so the advantage would be to the early mover.

Frankly, the last time a sizable batch of small houses were built in this country was right after the last big Depression. Maybe history will repeat itself. One thing standing in the way, though, are developer fees and local government hoops to jump through created in the era of McMansion developments. Exceptions need to be written into those laws for people creating affordable housing.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Fascinating idea that deserves scientific study

Are cliques fractal?
I don't really remember the details, but I had a dream last night wherein I received an email so weird that it woke me up, and I took the time to memorize the email:
Dear Internet,

One of the two tomatos I keep my baby in died recently. It was poorly fitted, and didn't suit her at all, but I'm still concerned. Is my baby in danger?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I'd always heard the "Bobby Jindal, Katrina Hero" as being about helicopters, but the one he told the other night was about boats, and giving Harry Lee moral support.

Now it's looking like he should have stuck to the helicopter story.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Interesting idea on how to handle the DC statehood issue.
I understand the argument against nationalism when talking about progress and innovation, but I think there are reasons beyond nationalism to hope that when the future arrives on our doorstep, it doesn't come stamped "Made in China".

The US economy is hurting right now in part because we're one of the last industrialized nations to take on universal health care. We lost the lead, and it's costing us. But that is still, of course, something of a nationalistic argument.

The Internet was, for the most part, a creation of the United States (yes, the web was invented in Switzerland), and its infrastructure is resistant to centralized control, including censorship. If it had come out of any other culture, I'm not sure it would have the same anarchical, democratizing effects.

On the other hand, an energy technology developed in Brazil might have more resistance to corporate control than one developed in the U.S., so maybe we should just relax and let the rest of the world do the heavy lifting.

Menu Planning for Next Fall

This is a very dangerous article.

I had cassoulet several years ago, and it was the best thing I've ever eaten. I'm not exaggerating. If I close my eyes, I can still taste it. But the restaurant where I had it changed their menu, and then they went out of business, and there was the whole allergy thing, which took me off pork.

The recipes are ... intimidating, but get my mouth watering. On the other hand, maybe I could drop something in the suggestion box at Sycamore and ask them to email me if Mike Odette ever decides to do a cassoulet. After all, he's up for a Beard award, so he should be able to handle pork and beans, right?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On Jindal's Response

It's amusing to hear Republicans talk about the incompetence of the Bush administration's Katrina response as an argument for why we shouldn't trust the Obama administration to fix the problems created by Bush's negligence.

Big moments vs. little ones

This article about MetaFilter pointed me to this thread on MeFi about life changing moments. While I certainly don't think that a comment thread on a web site is a representative sample, it's interesting that so many of them are negative. And I found it particularly interesting how many of the "horrible thing that shaped my life" moments were things that I experienced, but thought little of.

I was left at the park by my parents when I was five, and had to walk home almost half a mile by myself. I corrected a teacher, and was punished for it. I lashed out at someone with a blow that, if it landed, might have done serious damage. All of those, though, were just experiences that happened to me, and the lessons I took from them were positive, because my parents had laid a strong foundation of love and support.

Christie and I were talking about this at lunch today, and we decided that it's typically not the big things that shape our lives. What sets the course of our lives is not a single bad day. In a functional family, it's the million hugs, the being told again and again, "I will always love you", and the thousands of family dinners that make sure that a bad day is just a bad day.

At least that's the idea. The truth is, I'm just making this up as I go along.

Funny Tivo Message

Will NOT record:
   Presidential Address 2/24 8:00 pm - 9:30 pm 10 KMIZ

Overlaps with
   America's Funniest Home Videos 9:00 pm - 10:00 pm
This one's for Jack, who introduced me to The Watchmen: Nite Owl Dark Roast Coffee.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Thoughts

I liked the intro, and ended up watching very little of the rest of the show. I would have liked to watch the whole thing, but not as much as I wanted to spend time with Christie and get a decent night's sleep. It was an easy choice, as I just didn't care very much about any of the nominated movies, mostly because I haven't seen very many of them. Sorry, I spent the bulk of 2008 with an infant, and before the infant arrived, my movie buddy had a fetus playing the bladder bongos, so movies in the theater weren't much fun.

There are other factors as well. For one, I'm suffering from age-related pop-culture fatigue. Caring passionately about pop culture is strongly correlated with youth, and I suspect I'm aging out of it. For instance, I couldn't tell you the last time I watched the Grammys.

The other, though, is a little sadder. I remember watching Matt Damon and Ben Affleck win the Oscar for best original screenplay and thinking, "I could do that." While I still am passionate about good stories well told, I am increasingly less convinced that I will someday write that great screenplay, novel, etc.

Like I said, it's a little sad, but I'm okay with it, really.
nice shirt
This is something that occurs to me, too, but Hilzoy puts it better than I could:
But if we insist on figuring out whether each and every applicant spent too much on their vacation in the recent past, or renovated their bathroom without a government-approved reason, or violated the Guidelines on Acceptable Countertop Materials that the Department of Housing would need to draw up, or sent their kids to private schools, we should be willing to pay for the army of bureaucrats who will need to pore over people's financial histories in order to make that kind of determination.
If you do anything to help other people, whether it's giving money to bums, building houses with a church group, or establishing a government program, some of that help is going to go to people who do not deserve it. Some of the undeserving are easy to weed out, but you'll never be able to create a 100% clean program. And the closer you get to 100%, the harder you have to work to get it, and the more expensive the program becomes. It resembles the problem of the last mile (in that the relationship between efficiency and cost is a power law relationship), and the sweet spot, in terms of efficiency, is still going to mean that a lot of undeserving people get help.

That's not even getting into the real issues surrounding the housing crisis, which is that if my good-for-nothing, irresponsible neighbor gets what he deserves for buying too much house and poorly managing his money, i.e. he loses his house, then the value of my house goes down. When this happens once, it's a relatively small problem, but when it's widespread, as it is now, it cascades badly.

Most (or at least many) housefires are the result of somebody doing something stupid. That doesn't mean we just let them burn, because doing so would hurt their neighbors who didn't, say, leave a pan of hot oil on the stove while they went next door for a cup of coffee.
I know I've got at least one reader who lives in Louisana and watches Meet the Press, so I wonder if she saw Bobby Jindal's appearance on Sunday, and if so, does she agree with Steve Benen's take on it, which is that Jindal came to prominence because he was intelligent and cared about real solutions, but now he has to court the Republican base, which means he has to start parroting idiotic talking points and putting ideology over results.

I didn't see it, so I have no particular opinion, except that I find the, "Hey, why don't we try some tax cuts?" approach to be about as stupid as hiring an auto mechanic who only has one tool in his garage, and is proud of it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Overheard at work, I swear to god.

Him: When I have a sore throat, sometimes I'll take sunflower eats and just kind of roll them around in my mouth and suck on them.

Her: I tried doing that with the peanuts, and it didn't help.

Him: What? Oh, sorry, I thought you said something else there for a second.

Her: No! I didn't... I mean... Fine, I tried doing it with the nuts.

Him: You're not helping.
How Bailouts Work: A Photo Editorial

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A good case for the argument that it's not what's in your resume, but how you spin it:
Dope-smuggler's "job-wanted" ad
The Rules of Gunfighting
Some of these remind me of the old Kenpo thing that it's better to be adjudicated by 12 than carried by 6. But what's a little macho posturing between friends? And can you beat the pithy wisdom of "Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice."?

Of course, the odds are pretty good that none of us will ever need these rules, and if I do ever find myself in a gunfight, I'll be the guy cowering under a table.
GOP Problem Solver

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Inspired by an email

There definitely needs to be a news show (or at least a segment) called "Philosophy Watch":

"Thanks, Sam. There's a epistemological crisis going on in Washington right now, with Republicans claiming a priori knowledge that tax cuts will fix the economy, and Democrats claiming that, because it is a man made system, all economic knowledge beyond basic mathematics is necessarily a posteriori. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) had this to say: 'A posteriori? That reminds me of this little place in New Orleans...'"

Friday, February 13, 2009

For some reason, I was thinking last night about an old haiku:

magnolia blooming
snow draped kitchen window spring
my Missouri mind

and trying to remember how I handled the juxtaposition of imagery. Now that I look back at it, I'm not sure I like the way it worked out. I think I might prefer the slightly more straightforward

snow draped magnolia
bloom in kitchen window spring
my Missouri mind

Update: Or maybe this?

snow-draped magnolia
bloom in Missouri spring like
my Missouri mind

which is a little closer to what I was going for with the original, but could never quite achieve within the constraints of the form, or without being pedantic. But I'm flirting with pedantic here, as well. Could be unachievable. Maybe just the image:

fresh magnolia bloom
covered in snow outside through
kitchen window steam

Yeah, I like that better. I hate it when write a poem that feels like it's saying, "Do you get it? Huh? Do ya?" And the idea that the external, natural world mirrors the internal mental and emotional one is implicit in the haiku form, so why articulate it. And once I remove that, I end up with room for more imagery, introducing elements of domesticity and separation, in addition to the weather motifs.

Here I go explaining again. Somebody stop me.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

More stimulus thoughts

I think at least $5 billion of the stimulus package should go toward developing an automated litter box that really works.

More on facebook

Really good advice about the privacy settings in facebook.

Via Schneier.
The fact that my 20 year high school reunion is coming up this spring has me stewing in memories a bit. Thanks to Facebook, Myspace, etc., of course, it's now possible to see, at least a little, what people are up to.

For instance, I was able to google a girl I almost dated my junior year and see that she is, well let's just say that she seems to be rounding down her age a bit. I suppose it's possible that she skipped a couple of grades, but if she really is the age she claims to be then that would mean that the one time we kissed, I was 17, kissing a 10 year old.

Eeww.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Facebook is weird

You know how it is. At first, your "friends" are people you're actually friends with. Then you get a friend request from someone you went to high school with, which piques your curiousity, so you look up a few people and friend them out of a genuine desire to get back in touch. This, of course, leads to a new batch of friend requests, which may include a guy whose name you remember from summer camp 20 years ago. You're curious, but you can't see his profile until you confirm him as a friend, so you do, on the assumption that they don't have access to Facebook in prison, and you're pleasantly surprised to see that he seems to have his shit together, even if he does have the same haircut he had in 1987.

It goes downhill from there. You go through your yearbooks and friend everyone who looks vaguely familiar, except for that one girl, and that's just because of a pesky restraining order. And people say yes, to be polite, and to find out if you're in jail or not, and whether you finally got rid of the mullet. At some point, you realize that you have a problem, but you're so close to finally having 500 friends that you can't stop. I mean, 500 is a nice round number, plus it would be proof of, well, something, surely. Meanwhile, your wife has stopped speaking to you (her lawyer hit you with a Superpoke, though), the cats are hungry, and the lawn needs mowing.

Okay, it's not really that bad. But it is kind of weird trying figure out how to catch up with people you haven't seen in 20 years, and didn't know all that well even then. I expect most of them will find out that I'm just as weird now as I was then, and stop reading my status updates.

Oh, and for the record, I got rid of the mullet as soon as I went away to college and could finally grow my hair long without my mom constantly bugging me about it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Funny blog: My Parents Joined Facebook.
I've gotta say, Turbaconducken makes sense to me, if you're going to go the turducken route. The best roast chicken I ever made had bacon draped across the top to keep things moist, so it makes sense that doing the same to a turducken would be tasty.

That's not to say I've ever been tempted to go the turducken route.

Monday, February 09, 2009

In the comments on the stimulus post below, I said, "I'll admit, I'd like to have a big check from the gov't, but I'd be conflicted, as the best thing for my family would be to save it, but the best thing for the economy would be to blow it, preferably at someplace seriously local."

It just popped into my head that we have a couple of things around the house that need doing, and I don't seem to have the time or energy to do them myself. Specifically, we've got a couple of retaining walls that need work. So maybe if the government sends us some free money, we should hire somebody to fix them. That seems like something that would keep a much higher % of the money in our local economy than, say, buying a Kindle.
Reading about this Haptic Compass, I'm wondering how long it will be before they're standard military issue.

More on the stimulus

Rachel Maddow said it better, which isn't really a surprise.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Stimulus compromise

The votes aren't final, and even once the Senate has voted, there's still the conference committee, but I think we can all be glad that the moderate, fiscally conservative members of the Senate have come together to strip out 500,000 new jobs from the stimulus package, stop new schools from being built, and help states go further into the red.

Although that last part is a bit misleading. Most of the states that would have gotten money under the stimulus bill as it came to the Senate have balanced budget amendments, which means that they can't run a deficit when times are hard. Instead, they have to either raise taxes or cut jobs.

Missouri, saddled with a particularly vicious Republican party, has decided to go the "cut jobs" route. See, if the governor tried to raise taxes in any way the legislature would A. stop him from doing it and B. attack him day and night for the next four years for it, even if it's the responsible thing to do.

I am so tired of a two party system where one party has embraced ignorance as a virtue and considers empiricism to be symptomatic of a lack of faith in ones principles. And I'm also tired of a media that sees two people screaming at each other to be a reasonable debate, and assumes that there is some reasonable middle ground. What the current Republican party believes (all government spending is bad for the economy and tax cuts are the only ideologically acceptable way to stimulate the economy) is factually incorrect, and every attempt to appease these nutjobs is damaging the economy.

The Senate either needs to designate the stimulus bill as a budget bill so that it can't be filibustered, or they need to make the Republicans actually get up and give speeches when they say they want to filibuster something, instead of just waving a filibuster card that magically requires 60 votes to get around. And the media needs to start calling a filibuster a filibuster.
It's been interesting working with Christie to design the cabinets for her new office. Normally, she just kind of turns me loose, and then has trouble understanding why I'm so dissatisfied with whatever it is I've created. Now that she's involved in the design process, she's getting to see a bit of how it feels to have a picture in your head of how something is going to turn out, then be able to contrast it with what you actually end up with, out in the real world.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Scary graph. Chad, don't click on this; you've lost enough sleep.
Well, I want to see Coraline, but the only theaters near me that are showing it are showing the 3D version, and I can't possibly overstate my feelings of "meh" about 3D. Not that I have much experience with it. My very first migraine ever was triggered by a 3D movie at Worlds of Fun when I was a kid, and I've never forgiven it, nor have I found a 3D technology that doesn't make my head hurt.

Guess I'll be waiting for the DVD.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Medical experiments for the lot of you, I'm afraid

Christie and I had bacon and eggs for dinner last night. Which seems like no big deal except that I haven't had real bacon for years, because of a food allergy thing.

About an hour later, I realized two things:

1. That, while I had remembered to get a new prescription for an epipen, I had forgotten to actually pick one up from the pharmacy.

2. That a cold dry day in the middle of winter is a stressful time to test new foods, as the first symptom that I'm having a reaction is itchiness, and my skin is so dry right now that I pretty much itch all the time.

So if I seem a little tired today, like I didn't get much sleep, the fact that I was laying awake wondering if I was getting hives might have been a factor.

Note to self: buy the damn epipen!

Convertible Car Seat Review

When the kid outgrew her car seat, we looked around a bit for a replacement. The Evenflo Triumph was well-reviewed, but a little pricy, plus nobody local had any in stock. It was right before Christmas, actually, so most of our local stores seemed to be out of stock of convertible car seats, so we ended up getting some Graco seats from Wal-mart.

Luckily, Wal-mart has a pretty good return policy, because they sucked. Among their problems, the chest buckle was very hard for Christie to open and close. But the biggest problem was that you tighten the straps by pulling a strap on the front of the car seat, and if you have the seat installed in the rear-facing position, that strap is pressed into the cushion of the actual seat in the car.

That's pretty much the way all the convertible car seats that we looked at function, which kind of sucks. The Triumph, on the other hand, has a little knob on the side, which is much better. That's not the only nice feature on this carseat. Basically, it's very easy to adjust, which is particularly nice in Missouri this time of year, when sometimes she's in a coat, sometimes a light jacket, and sometimes just a shirt.

Basically, the Evenflo Triumph is a little more expensive than the cheap car seats, not nearly as expensive as the fancy-pants ones, and is easy to install and easy to use. It's a winner.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Great cake.
Speaking of innumeracy and rechargeable batteries, I finally made it to Target to buy them, and it turns out that a pack of 4 is $11.99, and a pack of 8 is $23.99. That's right, a pack of 8 costs 1 penny more than two packs of 4.

Monday, February 02, 2009

We could use this guy's input in Columbia.
I know I said last week that you have to be careful about liquidation sales, but things being what they are with the economy, I think it's worth pointing out that there are some good deals to be found out there. For instance, I was just at the warehouse club, and they had an entire table full of peanut butter-based snack foods at ridiculously low prices.

On a related note, I am officially asking Billie and Emily that if they have a son, they not name him Sam, as I would have trouble keeping a straight face every time I referred to their kids, Sam 'n Ella.