Some Things Change, Some Stay The Same

Many nights, I perform a wind-down ritual with the cats, just chilling in the living room with the music going.  Recently, that had transitioned to watching some TV on DVD – Simpsons, Futurama, and most recently, Frasier.  But I even more recently found myself hooked on an old TV show called The Rockford Files.  This show ran from 1974-1980 and was about a private investigator.  In 1980, that mantle was passed to Magnum PI.  Maybe I’ll make it there, but there’s like 125 episodes of Rockford Files to get through.

The 70’s.  I grew up in it.  I can’t say I was really old enough to appreciate much of what was going on, but to watch TV shows set in that time now is like watching Little House On The Prairie back in the 80’s.  Watching a 70’s show is slightly nostalgic to me, but Rockford Files was an adult TV show, so I couldn’t really relate to what was going on if I think of myself back in the 70’s.

However, I am an adult now and I can compare being an adult now to being an adult back then.  And it’s with reluctance that I say some things were better back then.  But of course, some things are better now.  Let’s do some pros and cons.

I’ll start with the biggest thing I love about how things were back then.  No people.  Imagine the population cut in half, or even more so.  Imagine roads that weren’t packed with cars – 2-lane roads at that!  Imagine going to Las Vegas and going to the pool and only about a dozen people there.  If there’s one thing I hate about modern times, it’s all the fucking people.

Ok, now a con.  No 911.  No cell phones.  Maybe this is really a pro, but it’s crazy in this police drama show that someone gets shot or hit by a car and people run to a pay phone, put money in it and call the operator to contact the police.  That’s really how things were back then.  And the reliance on pay phones, the lack of caller ID, the existence of pay toilets, it gives you a real shock to see people functioning like that.  I can’t imagine not having my cell phone with me.  If my car breaks down, what am I going to do?  Go to someone’s house and ask for help?  Flag down another car for help?  Good luck getting any help or even not getting yelled at or assaulted.

Another con – smoking.  It was big in the 70’s.  It’s going to be a century before it finally goes away.  Drinking was pretty acceptable, too.

A dual pro/con is the cars.  They sure looked nice back then, but they were fucking massive and handled like shit.  Car chases in the 70’s are a joke.  And in a police drama, there’s at least one car chase EVERY episode.  It’s interesting to consider how modern shows limit the outdoor scenes and mostly deal inside, where 70’s shows are like 80% outdoors scenes.

Then there’s the equal rights stuff.  And I’ll give Rockford some kudos here.  They show women and black people in positions of power.  I am pretty sure it was still considered progressive at the time.  But the show does suffer from the trope of the helpless, emotional woman who gets seduced by Rockford in many episodes.  The dude lays his clients a lot – he gets paid to fuck.  Glad to see this concept retired.  However, speaking of progressive, the theme song has some 70’s Minimoog synthesizer lead lines – 10 points for that.

Ok, and to finish up the bullet points, the part that has gone unchanged.  The police haven’t changed much at all.  One line by a cop who was demanding Rockford get out of town sounded like it could be said today.  To paraphrase, because I don’t remember enough to quote: "If we see you here again, we’re going to pull you over and while you’re reaching for your ID, we see you’re reaching for a gun, and it’s all over before anyone realizes a mistake was made."  This is in 1974.

I’ll summarize my enjoyment of the show.  The Rockford character constantly gets himself into bigger and bigger trouble throughout every episode.  All the police hate him, doesn’t matter if they’re local, in the state, or across the country.  He gets beat up a lot and throws a lot of punches himself.  Aside from the necessity of keeping him alive for the show, that just wouldn’t happen today.  He’d be dead in a drive-by shooting with no physical contact.  Or simply shot with no chance to talk his way out of anything.

As you’re watching the show, you think, get your phone and take a picture – oh you can’t.  Call the cops – oh you have to find a pay phone.  Just text them really quick – oh you have to call and hopefully they’re home.  Check the map – is there one for the current town in your glovebox?  Wait, you can just walk into a business and talk to someone?  You call a business, ask an actual person for a person that works there, and you get to talk to that person?  You can walk through an airport?  Hailing cabs?  Going to a nice restaurant without a reservation?  Walking on the sidewalk?  "Computers" are esoteric devices used by massive companies and are shown as serious high technology.

It’s just everything that you do normally today that’s not available back then, and seeing things that stymie you today were a piece of cake back then.  That’s the real wonder of the show, for me.  It’s within my lifetime all this change happened.  And yet, nothing in law enforcement has changed.

A Journey On A Rocket(book)

It was in 2017 that I was first introduced to Rocketbook, which is an amalgamation of a couple different technologies having a common goal.  The first and probably primary technology is their mobile application that will scan pages and upload them to one or multiple of a variety of Internet destinations.  This app can be used independent of the other technology by printing downloadable template pages from their website.  So in effect, it’s entirely free, if you want it to be.

The other technology their offer is journals of preprinted pages made with a special paper that can be erased and reused.  The only requirement is that you use a special pen, which is not proprietary and can be purchased at most any office supply store.  The journals were limited in scope initially, but it seems the company is realizing that’s all they really have as a growth engine right now, so they are putting out more varied journals with many different formatted pages.

I’ve wanted to really get into Rocketbook for a long time; well, it’s been 4 years now.  I never could.  My first purchase didn’t work for me mainly because the pages of the journals I bought had dot grids instead of lines.  And they didn’t even offer lined pages back then.  So I eventually gave up on it.

Years later, around the time I was looking at changing jobs, I said to myself I was going to implement Rocketbook into my new job.  A few jobs prior, I used to keep a spiral paper notebook and kept notes constantly.  It worked very well for me then and I thought I should do that again.  Rocketbook has journals with lined pages now, so I purchased one.  Through a mistake, I got their top model, the Fusion, which had lined, dot grid, and planning pages in it.  I thought this could work very well.

On my first few days of my job, I did use the Rocketbook, but it just didn’t really make much sense.  Yeah, I could write some notes and later upload it to my personal OneDrive on the company’s Office cloud site for future reference, but what was it really gaining me?  I didn’t think I would be able to really find the notes that I wanted.  I was becoming disillusioned again.

To overcome this, I did a lot of searching online as to how other people used their Rocketbook.  I saw tons of bullet journals with a variety of styles.  Anything artistic was out of the question for me.  the majority were, and that’s how I presumed bullet journaling worked.  However, along the way, I learned a few important tricks.  One was that people were designing their own page styles, or templates.  They would draw out their template in permanent ink and use the erasable ink of those special pens to fill it out so they could wipe it clean and start over after uploading it.  Ok, that was pretty cool.

The other thing that I learned was that the special paper Rocketbook used was available by a different company.  The paper was called Terraslate, and you could print your templates onto it with a laser printer.  Now that’s something I could work with.  Give me a ruler and a marker and I’m a moron.  Give me something simple to lay out a page with, like Word, and I’m capable.  I tucked that idea back in my mind to figure out how I would use it.

That week, as I was assigned work to do, I jotted down the tasks and notes on what the more experienced developer was telling me I had to do.  I had split the page into thirds and had one task in each section.  Near the completion of these tasks, the template idea was starting to take form.  This was my vision:

I would have one sheet per task.  Put the project number and relevant database name at the top in the heading.  Break the page into thirds, each section being: Business notes, Database notes, and Code notes.  When the task was complete, I would upload the page to OneNote in a section called Projects with the project number as the title.  Then I wipe the page clear because I’m done with it.

Over the weekend I worked on designing the template and added in a couple of things that would be useful.  Because my employer is highly process-driven, there are several steps that the project goes through before I can consider it "done".  I put a box in the corner with the different statuses and a line for the date they went into that status.  When all the dates are filled, then the task is done.  Because certain tasks have a special related database task that is tracked separately and has its own timeline, I made a box with statuses for that as well.  Because there is a parallel project tracking system with statuses of its own that needs to be updated (yeah, I know…), I made a box for that with fillable circles for tracking in that system. 

The current version of the template is beneficial for a company newbie like myself, because it separates the different areas of work you have to do, between database and code, with an area for comments for business rules and testing data. Plus it also guides you through the different stages of the process that must be followed.  I’m a little excited to put it into practice.

Excited enough that I’ve also planned out my custom Rocketbook.  I purchased a 25-page pack of Terraslate paper and to create my book, I jumped into the world of disc binding, which has been around for decades and yet I’ve never heard of.  I ordered a page punch and a journal in which to put my new pseudo-Rocketbook pages.

The whole creative project has led to a revelation on the strength of Rocketbook that I don’t think I’ve read about anywhere else.  As a notebook, I feel Rocketbook is a little weak, because for me, the reason I write in a notebook is because I want that same medium when I read it back, if that makes sense.  writing in a physical book and reading on a screen just doesn’t work for me.  As a planner, Rocketbook makes a bit more sense, because you have a constantly cycling period, where old stuff disappears and new stuff is created.  However, I’m not a planner.  I know I would not succeed if I were to attempt it.  That’s not to say I don’t plan, I just don’t do it that way.

But, what is something that is required up to a certain point and then either discarded or preserved forever with only historical significance?  Forms.  And my little template is an example of a form.  You fill it out, you complete it, and you file it.  This could be done on paper – I have a template I can print out right now.  I could make a binder of them.  But when searching for history, that’s where technology shines.  By ditching the physical and making it virtual, there’s no lingering weight and lookup is at least as fast and probably faster.  Someone asks me what I did on a project, I simply search for the number and all my notes are right there.

Let me repeat that revelation.  Rocketbook’s two defining features: scanning documents for electronic filing and reusable paper is absolutely a perfect fit for businesses that utilize forms.  Order forms, purchase orders, work orders, customer surveys, lead sheets, the list goes on.  Now, I realize times have changed and now a lot of companies do all those forms on digital tablets.  But there’s still a need for paper.  Things that need signed, for instance.  And there’s probably an argument that could be made that certain things are just better suited for paper, especially if they involve sketches or other notations that don’t translate to digital forms.  But that’s something that each business could decide on their own.

For me and my purposes, I am gaining the structure of a templated document with process-flow guides and the tactility of paper with none of the waste or disposal of used paper.  the discbound system will let me pull a page out to write on or compare to another page side by side.  I can pull a page out and place it in different section for wiping or because it’s been postponed.  As I grow in my job and improve my workflow, I can design more templates to keep me consistent.  And starting early is actually a huge benefit.

So maybe I’m finally on my way on this rocket.  Right behind Amazon-man and Virgin-man.

Being Stupid Outdoors

Somewhere around 10 years ago, I got into hiking, which is a more impressive way of saying walking outside.  The local terrain doesn’t really constitute what I would call hiking, since it’s just flatland.  But regardless, it is outside and it is on a trail, so I can say that I hiked trails.  I was a hiker.

I did that for some time and eventually it kind of stopped being a thing.  I just slowly stopped doing it.  But recently, I’ve decided I want to start doing the hiking again.  it was a tentative beginning, I wasn’t sure if I would still enjoy a physical activity and honestly, I didn’t see any way it would be fun.  It sounded boring now, but whatever I was or wasn’t doing around the house was as much or more boring, so I also didn’t have much to lose.  And anyway I needed to do something to take positive strides in my health. 

I was 10 years younger back then, and as you get older, that nice round milestone becomes more and more significant.  However, I never have seen myself as the actual age I am.  Maybe I’m deluded or stupid or something, but I don’t think I am my age.  I probably think and act my age, but I don’t perceive myself that way.  The point I’m trying to make here is, however I was then, that’s how I think I am now, and I’m probably not.  And that’s not smart.  My new experiences with hiking have been a collection of smart and not so smart things; mostly the latter.  So I will chronicle the most recent events.

A couple weeks ago, we had a tropical storm moving in.  This caused me concern, not because of the storm itself, but because of the coming rain.  All of the nearby trails have been flooded from the summer monsoon and it pisses me off.  If there’s a couple days without downpours, the flooded trails can turn into muck instead of lakes, which makes the hike more tolerable.  The first time I had visited this particular trail, I had left the house and a mile down the road realized I did not change into my hiking boots, I still had my sneakers.  "It’ll be fine," I said.  "This trail is not as low as the other one I go to."  When I get there, right past the entrance gate – lake.  I had to go back home and change into my boots.  I haven’t made that mistake again.

Since that time, I’d been back to that trail and the water had gone down, mostly.  But today I was trying to get in a hike before the tropical storm hit.  I checked the radar and it looked fine.  I did not consider, and I should have known, weather here changes fast.  So I get a mile or so out on the trail and I’m seeing some dark clouds forming.  "It’ll be fine."  Then it becomes obvious that it’s not going to be fine and I need to get back to the car, like soon.  The moment of my realization was captured by my fitness band.

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I suffered a few minutes of downpour, but I escaped the worst of the storm, and there was no nearby lightning, which was the bigger concern, since these trails are open fields.  Lesson learned?  I got caught in another downpour on another day and I was far enough out on the trail to cause me to don my rain jacket I carry in my pack.  So, no.

Last week, I decided I was going to do a bigger hike, which at this point in my redevelopment is over 5 miles.  If you think that’s weaksauce, remember I am doing this while the temperature and humidity are over 90.  To reduce UV exposure, I wear a long-sleeve sun shirt, but I’m still wearing shorts.  I need to get some water-wicking hiking pants.  I reset my GPS and set my exercise band and go.  And very quickly, the sweat starts to go too, because I’m upping my pace to cover more ground quickly.  10 years ago, I could cover 5 miles in an hour.  Based on past hiking records, I move about 75% of that speed now and I need to get that speed back.

I have a trail map and I refer to it frequently, but it’s disintegrating from being soaked with sweat in my pocket.  At some point, I checked my band to see how far I’d gone.  My sweat-soaked sleeve had impersonated a finger and cancelled my recorded hike.  That had happened about 1.5 miles in.  No idea how far I’d gone since then.  I checked my GPS and it said I was about 2.5 miles.  Ugh.  Onward I went, referring often to the soggy paper map for what path I wanted to take to loop me around and back close to the entrance.

I ended up on an unmaintained part of trail and worse, it was flooded.  I thought I’d be better off pressing forward than backtracking so I navigated the water best I could.  Luckily none was over ankle deep so my socks stayed dry.  Still it slowed me down.  I checked my GPS to see where I was, relative to the path I had taken so far.  The GPS battery is dead.  Right now, I have no idea if I am better off going forward or backward or exactly where I am on the trail.  I really have no idea how hikers survived without GPS units.

As luck would have it (because it ain’t been brains), I had purchased replacement batteries and packed them just before leaving for the hike.  With a quick swap of batteries, I had GPS again.  And I saw that the GPS had died some time ago.  So now, I had no reliable track from either my band or the GPS to tell me how far my hike was today.  Yay.  I’m done.

The trail continues to be flooded, so at the first sign of a cutoff path that would lead me back to my prior track, I took it.  Granted, it was not on my paper map, so I was making an educated (if that’s even possibly appropriate at this point) guess.  The trail dried out and and I also continued to dry out.  After a certain point, your body won’t absorb moisture quick enough to replenish what’s been lost, and I feel I was there, or close to there.  I was mouth breathing at this point.  My gait was unsteady.  I was walking with a forward lean.  None of this was good.

But as I’m not writing this from the afterlife, I did make it back to my car.  Not without getting bit by a deer fly, twice.  It’s almost been a week and I’m still suffering from the bite on my knee.

Despite the stupidity I’d accomplished so far and my knee still swollen and itching (but not sore or painful), I decided to grab a quick hike after work yesterday.  Again, I planned this as a 5+ hike.  I would go to the trail nearest me to start as soon as possible.  I got on the trail at about 5:30.  The first mile was a warmup pace, then I sped it up.  I didn’t have a trail map, but had a decent memory of the trails and the path I wanted to take.  After a short trail ended in a tiny loop, I doubled my path and ended up on the big loop.  I had been on the trail a couple weeks ago and it was totally flooded, so I hoped things had improved.  I was pleased to see that the area that stopped me before was dried out.  And I kept going.

Probably about 50% of the way through the trail loop – lake.  About 30 feet of water with no high spots and certainly more than ankle deep.  I had plenty of expletives to summarize the situation.  I had no choice but to backtrack my whole track, which was over 3 miles at that point.  Not only that, but the sun was going down.

Once I got all the swearing out of my system, I just resigned myself to my fate.  And no point in pretending to be tired, sun’s setting, gotta go fast.  And so I did.  I upped my pace to the quickest of the entire hike and went back the entire length of the trail.  And lets not discount the fact that mosquitos really love dusk, in a swamp.

All told, that hike was 6.75 miles, accomplished in exactly 2 hours.  So far, my dumbest hike this year.  But there’s still plenty of days left in the year, plenty of chances to beat that record.

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Aerobic training effect: "Improvement".  Fuck you.

The Stars And What They Mean

Almost exactly 3 years ago, I was mulling over how to apply star ratings to albums so I could sort of make some sense of my music collection.  I actually never went through with it, but now I’m considering tackling something even bigger – applying ratings to the songs.

The big motivator here is building playlists.  When I first started with Plex, I had a vision of kind of a radio station feel to the whole thing, and appropriately, I made playlists that sounded like radio stations, or more like channels on XM.  And that worked pretty well for a while.  At some point, I can’t remember what happened, but I lost all my playlists and had to recreate them.  Ugh.

I remade some of my more used playlists and then I started reconsidering the others and broke them up into decades and sometimes by genre.  The problem there was sometimes I didn’t want to listen to all one decade of music.  So I made one massive playlist of all the singles in all decades.  And that one has been pretty much my go-to when I just need background music.  Realistically, I’m only playing 3 different playlists, but maybe with better metadata, that can change.

One big hurdle I’m facing is that there seems to be no way to get the ratings in and out of Plex from the files.  So whatever ratings I do, I would have to duplicate the effort in both Plex and the files.  And putting the ratings in the files has no benefit because Plex can’t import them (yet).  That sort of makes my Plex library more fragile, since there’s data in there I can’t just lose without a lot of effort lost as well.

Anyway, to disregard that problem for the moment, a bigger problem was how to efficiently get all that data?  Let’s step back even a little further, what exactly am I planning on with these ratings?

That point was something I dwelled on for a while.  I went around on it for a little while.  I considered using Plex collections, but those are only for albums, not songs.  Songs have Plex tags, and I looked into using them.  I thought maybe tags like "Single", "Top40", "Top10", and "#1" might be good.  But my inner software architect was displeased.  Initially, you would assume that "Top10" would also mean the track was "Top40" and also "Single" because of the inclusive nature.  So you’d only need one tag per song.  But that’s going to make the filters (queries) really messy because you have to put that logic into the filter.  If you want a list of "Singles" you have to also include "Top40, "Top10", etc.  The alterative is to use all appropriate tags where needed, so a #1 song would have all four tags on it.  That’s not pleasant either.  ugh.

So going back to the thoughts I had in my earlier post, what if I just made the star rating mean whatever I want it to mean.  So I quickly wrote down a scale:

1 star – Single
2 stars – Top 100
3 stars – Top 40
4 stars – Top 10
5 stars – #1

I think that’s usable.  And before I change my mind on it, how about that efficiency concern, now?  I had almost 2000 albums to go through and determine which songs were released as singles and what their position was on the charts.  And which chart, at that?

So obviously there’s a bunch of compromises that need to be made in this process.  The first was determining what stars mean.  The next will be starting with one source of data.  I considered I could use Wikipedia and look up each album to get the singles and chart positions, but that is woefully underpopulated, so I can’t use that for my primary source.  Billboard does this stuff for a living, I could try them.

As it turned out, someone had made a downloadable dataset of all the songs and chart positions on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts up to 2020 (far more than I needed).  After a quick download and import into a SQL database for easy querying, I felt I was closer.  While I was going to miss out on any 1-star entries, the dataset of the Hot 100 would cover 2-5 star entries, and I could backfill later.

At this particular point, I’m not able to do any automation of the rating import, because I can’t figure out how Plex stores the rating in their database.  I manually changed some things and didn’t see any data changes in the database, so initially, it’s going to be manual entry.  And then I can start building playlists based on singles and chart position, maybe mixing genre and release year into it.  Hopefully that gets me somewhere pretty good.

Work-Life Dynamic

I was recently thinking about a job interview I had a bit ago and I was sort of regretting that I didn’t go off on this topic when offered the chance.  I had a different story handy that I used and while that seemed to work, I felt this one would have made a better impression.  I feel like I’ve talked about it before, but that might have been to other people over some related conversation.  But anyway…

Recently, there’s been a spike in discussions about work and labor, partially about wages and benefits, and some about having to work at all.  The idea of universal basic income, deca-millionaires and the inequality around all of that is a good discussion to have, but it doesn’t address business concerns at the moment.  And it doesn’t answer the question they are asking right now: why should I hire you?

I have a couple answers to that.  Before I start, let me say that I do software development for a living.  I have done it for over 30 years.  Saying that is both a pro and a con.  To my benefit, I’ve been through a lot and have a lot of experience.  To someone who doesn’t see it that way, I am writing 30-year old code, which is not what modern businesses want.  The answers have to emphasize the former and dispel the latter.

To begin, the way I see things, there are two types of people that are probably getting interviewed.  You have people who program and you have programmers.  No, I think I’m going to try and make this story industry-agnostic.  So, said another way, you have people who "do it" and you have people who "live it".  Doesn’t matter what field it is, are you getting someone who will do as they’re told and get the job done, or do you want someone who will take ownership of the task and make it their mission to get it done?  There’s actually no wrong answer there; there are places for both types, and as I am of the latter type, if that’s not what the company wants, it’s not going to go well for either of us.

The cliche phrase, "do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life" can be true only if your employer allows that to happen.  While people who "do it" will wait around for guidance or instructions to do things, those who "live it" will actively push to make the job interesting and rewarding, because the challenge comes with the lifestyle.  The "lifers" will be seeking out these challenges all the time, on and off the clock, because that’s part of living the profession.  The "doers" will switch off their business lives at the end of the day.  That’s not to say that the "lifers" are doing company work off the clock, they’re just building their skills in general and if they can apply it to their work, that’s just a benefit – for both employee and employer.

Again, it doesn’t matter what profession or "level" you are, this will benefit you.  If you are in housekeeping and you spend your time reading and learning about efficiency and new techniques for sanitation and you suggest those things to your employer, maybe you’ll get to do them, maybe you’ll do them anyway.  But you are showing initiative, and maybe that’s the key word in this entire story.

The word "initiative" triggers some memories I have of people’s rants that employers are demanding initiative or criticizing that someone lacks initiative, and the employee argues in return, "You’re not paying me for that.  You pay me for the training, and I’ll do it."  That is a valid viewpoint for someone who is a "doer".  It suggests that they are not in a field they enjoy.  I think that’s fine.  You can be competent without initiative.  You probably won’t go as far, nor will you be as happy, but that’s the trade-off for being able to have two lives.

For a "lifer", the new skill being learned isn’t as much about having a bigger toolbelt to move to a new job or to demand more pay, although those are certainly perks for doing it, it’s about controlling your environment.  You know, another cliche.  If you don’t like where you’re at, change it.  Of course, you also have to get used to a lot of rejection.  This isn’t your company and you don’t make all the decisions, but coming up with potential solutions for problems is a life skill that will never not pay dividends.  And if you’re in a company that has a supportive management, you’ll be noticed.  If you’re in a company that has a backstabbing management, you’re in a better position to go to a better place.

So in summary, those would be my two arguments: that I am a "lifer" in that I am constantly applying and honing the skills of my profession, and that I will constantly be advancing new ideas to the company for our mutual benefit.  I would hope that there are more like me out there, but I know that I have only ever worked with one other person that I know practices and learns outside of work.  That’s not a good ratio.

Superstitions

Elsewhere, I had made a post talking about buying new chairs.  Today I am going to pick up one of those chairs and the other I think I’m going to hold off on until a major sale, Labor Day I think is the next one.  But my decision to buy the first chair was more than just, it’s a good chair or it’s a good price.  I felt there was something else that was prompting me to buy that chair there.

One of my friends is very superstitious, not in a bad way, but more in a way of seeing signs in a lot of things that normally I wouldn’t even give a second thought about.  I feel she would understand this.  When I first went to the store, I wanted an office chair.  That term probably conjures up a very specific image in your head and that’s what I was looking for, whether it be a high-back or a low-back version.  At sometime shortly after I entered the store, I had the thought of, did it have to be an office chair?  Because for whatever reason, I remembered that when I was young and poor, I never had an office chair; I had used dining chairs.  I have a very faint memory of buying two chairs from the oddball/clearance section of a furniture store and those chairs lasted a long time and eventually disintegrated.

As you would expect, I was greeted at the door by a salesperson who asked me what I was looking for and I said I wanted to see everything, but was looking for a desk chair.  She let me go off but frequently kept checking up on me.  At one point I told I didn’t have to have an office chair, it might be fine to have a dining chair.  Then I commented that some of the desks in the showroom seemed to be using dining chairs.  And then we passed by her desk and this was her chair.

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I am very convinced that is the exact same chair I was using at my desk 30 years ago.  The color is darker, but everything else is the same.  The chair even still had its original product label hanging on it.  What a nostalgia trip.

Some people might just say that’s a coincidence.  Ok.  It’s also a coincidence that there was a singleton chair in the farthest corner of their clearance section with no matching pieces.  Not a set of chairs or a pair of chairs, just one.  And I was looking for one chair.  Sure, that’s entirely likely.  Well, yeah, I guess it is. 

People want to attach more meaning to things than may be warranted.  After all, aren’t we seeing the greatest mass delusion in history playing out right now?  But maybe having some insight and recognition can open you up to new possibilities.  Maybe if I hadn’t noticed her desk chair I wouldn’t have been inspired to search every corner of the building.  Who knows?

I just went looking.  I found it.  Yes.  That is the same chair.  Slightly different frame, but yes.

Apr 99 Batch (4)

And surprisingly or not, the new chair is going to be in the same function, the desk chair for my recording studio.

Whole-Life Fulfillment

It was back in 2016 that I had made a post talking about my life insurance policies and how such policies were considered to be a bad decision by many economic people and I argued in favor of having the policies.  I had said that at some unknown future point, my insurance would be free.  Well, I was doing some account maintenance and review because of an upcoming significant life change and guess what?  That time has come.  I’m not going to go back in time and try to determine when I actually crossed that line, but I can say in 2021, I have made more in dividends than I have made in payments.

Here’s the actual numbers involved.  I pay about $135/mo for my two insurance policies.  So far in 2021, I’ve paid $945 in insurance premiums.  Now I don’t regularly check the balance of my whole-life policy because it’s not something that really needs any attention.  I’ve checked it three times this year and in those three times, the cash value of the account has grown $1433.  If it’s not obvious, that number is larger than $945.

Insurance is a bill, an expense in your life.  You should consider it lost money.  Even more so because you’re not supposed to get any benefit out of it – it’s for other people.  Not so with Whole Life policies, there is a cash value that you can access in retirement.  Detractors say that whole life policies are savings accounts for people who can’t save, because the deposits are faked as a bill.  So what!  It works.

So if my dividends for the year were anything over $945, I am effectively in the black.  And almost being 50% above my deposits, that is a decent return.  So now that this goal has been met, let’s look a little harder at the big picture.  This should make the naysayers feel more superior.

According to records, I have had my insurance policy since June, 2007.  My payment has actually gone down a little bit as the years have gone by, but $135/mo is a fair average of what I’ve paid a month.  So, how much have I paid to have insurance all those years?  Looks like almost $23k.  What is my current cash value of the account? A little over $17k.  If I want to be slippery about this I could say I’ve effectively paid $6k for 14 years of insurance, which is about $35/mo.  My $100k term life policy is like $16/mo, so I’ve been getting my whole life policy at term life rates.

But that whole discussion is just like dealing with percentages.  It’s bullshit.  Here’s the bottom line.  I purchased insurance at a rate that was not a hardship for me.  I’ve maintained that policy for 14 years.  The policy is no longer an expense and is now an investment.  It is behaving exactly how it was sold to me.

I do not believe whole-life policies are evil if they are crafted properly by a reputable company.

Two Things: Fuck Me And Fuck That

I’m in the market for an office chair.  Actually, I’m in the market for two of them, but one I need now and one can come later.  In my life I’ve been through many office chairs.  In most cases, it’s been a Staples "leather" office chair where the "leather" flakes off after a period of time.  Being so sick of it, my last purchase was a mesh chair, which hasn’t flaked apart, although it is beginning to pull apart at one seam.

So here’s the thing.  Leather office chairs aren’t cheap.  I mean real leather office chairs are not cheap.  For god knows what reason, you can get a leather living room chair or even sofa for less than an office chair.  When I made the choice to get a high-quality office chair in real leather that would not flake apart, I budgeted what I thought was a reasonable amount, $300.  After all, that’s 3x what I would normally pay for a bonded leather chair.  Not even close.  Double that, at least.  So, fuck me.

Which brings me to the second thing.  As retail everything continues closing down and shopping increasingly moves to online, furniture is a very difficult thing to shop for online.  Obviously there is the comfort aspect of the purchase, but what I’m more angry about is the absolute flood of shit from China and its misrepresentation and impossibility to ascertain quality.

Here is a very specific example.  Shopping for what is termed a "task chair", I’m looking for something that seems comfortable and has a bit of style.  That’s actually not as easy as it sounds, but I settled on a design I like:

image

How much is this chair?  Found at Overstock, it’s somewhere around $450.  It is advertised as "top grain leather", which is the primary criteria in my search.  Now I’m not going to just buy the first instance that I see, because, well, this is the internet, and you can easily find the exact same thing sold elsewhere.  And that, right there, is where the fury came in.

The chair (or a product using the exact image of that chair) is sold at: Overstock, Wayfair, Joss And Main, Etsy (huh?), 1-stop Bedrooms, Hayneedle, Walmart, Home Depot, Amazon, and on and on.  It’s sold under the brand names of ACME, AndrewHomeStudio, Major-Q, Industrial Lodge, Pettus Hamilton, Williston Forge, Bowery Hill, and on and on.  Angry yet?  It’s being sold for: $464, $969, $859, $655, $582, $407, $659, $719, $1120 (the last 4 are all at Amazon).

But, but.  That’s the internet.  Comparison shopping and all.  You take out the outliers and focus on the middle.  So, it’s probably a $600 chair.  probably imported from China for $300 and everyone tries out a different markup.  Every seller puts a different name on it so they have an excuse to say it can’t be price matched because it’s a different product.  Buyer beware, right?

Beware, indeed.  It was first at Home Depot that I saw the massive string of 1-star reviews saying the chair had a design flaw allowing the post to come loose and wobble and sometimes causing the seat plate to break.  Was this the same product as everywhere else?  I didn’t see those reviews on other retailers.  That’s when I really started to find how far and wide this product was and under so many different names.  The bad reviews may have played a part in the constant renaming.  The same complaints for the same product using the same picture over and over.

So anyway, fuck that.  Fuck the idea of buying furniture blindly online made by a mass-importer who will private label to multiple customers instead of being exclusive. And fuck paying over $500 for garbage.

You Want The Truth? You Can’t Handle The Truth!

I’m in the final stages of giving a fuck about my job.  There’s a lot that can be said about how that came to be, but one thing I wanted to focus on, which is prescient to these modern times is the mindset and behavior of capitalists and the people beneath them.

Whenever people start discussing topics like this a lot of emotionally charged terms begin being used, like: elites, millionaires, billionaires and more misnomers like conservatives, fascists, and on and on.  I’m not interested in all that.  I’m just talking about one guy and how he behaves and whether that behavior is the better or worse choice to make for someone in his position.

So, then.  The owner of this company, he’s a boomer, he’s a multi-millionaire, he’s staunchly conservative, and – I feel independently – he’s a capitalist.  I use that last term very specifically, because it encompasses certain traits that transcend all the former categorizations.  Academically, a capitalist uses resources to make money for themselves.  In practice, those resources typically are other people’s labor, thus, a capitalist uses other people to make that money for themselves.  Now, where I am going in this post is wondering if it is proper to be honest about that fact.

The owner’s company, my workplace, has had an extended period of decline spanning probably over five years by now.  And going along with that, we’ve had layoffs.  After every round of layoffs, we have a big company meeting where we are told the company is healthy, has no debt (this point I actually admire), and is profitable.  In every single meeting, it is pointed out that the company is profitable.  Sometimes we have meetings for encouragement, to say how things are looking up and how more business is coming.  In those meeting as well, the company is still profitable.

Here’s the thing about being profitable.  The employees shouldn’t give a shit.  As long as the company is breaking even, the bills are being paid, payroll will be met and they will get paid.  That’s the end of their involvement.  That’s it.  Profit is exclusively for the owners.  Bragging about or even emphasizing being profitable to employees is telling them right to their faces that they are making money for you.

Before I really misrepresent the point I’m trying to make, I want to recognize that profits can be reinvested in the business.  That reinvestment can provide a buffer for salary raises to occur until revenue rises to match the new cost of salary.  However, reinvestment in the business increases owner equity, which again, benefits the owner, not the employees.

In the most recent meeting (which was an encouragement meeting as we have had an event that is causing customers to flee), it was said again.  And this time, I wish to quote because the delivery was what spurred this post. 

"It is a business’s purpose to grow and make a profit, for its employees… *pause for dramatic emphasis* and its owners."

I have to give credit to the man.  He is honest.  I actually believe he is deviously crooked, but he speaks with brutal honesty.  It’s a special gift some have where they can tell you the truth right to your face and unless you unpack the second meaning of it, it sounds perfectly reasonable.  So let no one forget why they are here.  They are to make money for this man and his family (who are all co-owners of the company).

To close, this does sound like I am spouting communist propaganda.  That is not the case.  I believe there is a better way which involves employee ownership of the company.  And while that is a better way, I have another story for another post about the company I was at prior to this one where the owner was more devious than this one and inadvertently told the employees his plan to fleece them on his way out – using that very method.

And I never examined the counterpoint to the argument, which is, should the owner just not have said anything about that, like probably 95% of business owners do?  Is it better to not tell the workers what they are working for?  Maybe in another post another time.

The Last Time

I have probably talked about it before in other posts just in passing, but this is something that has been on my mind more frequently.  It was most obvious when I replace the roof on my house, which came with a 30 year warranty.  The realization was, "I’m never going to do this again in my lifetime."  And that started snowballing into analysis of what else was going to be the last time I ever did something.  I just bought a high-quality couch and I don’t expect I’ll be spending that kind of money on a couch ever again.

A lot of it is purposely buying things that will outlive you.  There are some things that I’ve purchased that I didn’t expect to last as long as they have, like my office desk and its matching accessories.  They’re business-grade furniture pieces and they are holding up amazingly well after 15 years.

On another viewpoint of that, I was considering my house.  I have a 3 bedroom house.  There’s the master, the guest, and the third is my listening room with my stereo.  In that consideration, I came to the conclusion that I don’t need a guest room.  I’m never going to have a guest in my house.  I literally have no friends that would visit.  If they did, they’d stay at a hotel.  That room is literally wasted space.

The fact it took so long for me to come to that conclusion is surprising to me, and in a way, it’s not.  It’s kind of instilled in you that you need to have guest accommodations.  For why?  Just in case!  You never know.  But I really should know.  My life is not that complex.  I don’t have or want a lot of connections.  It’s just an old-fashioned tradition that doesn’t need to be in this modern world of convenience.

So I decided.  No more guest bedroom.  It’s going to be another room for me, not a room for some mystery nobody that’s never going to show up.  Like JG Wentworth paraphrased, it’s my space and I want it now!  Getting a high utilization out of this house is key to maximizing value.  Otherwise, why don’t I have a two bedroom house?  Because then I wouldn’t have a listening room.

In my daydreams, I thought it would be great to have a big house with a bunch of different rooms and each room could serve one purpose.  I never really looked at what I had and realized I had the space to create a room with a defined purpose – and that purpose not be "being empty".

So, it was a year or so ago when I hosted a guest who had COVID and had to isolate in the guest room.  And oddly enough, at the time, I didn’t realize that would be the last time I would have a guest staying in the house.