To JAX

This weekend, I took an overnight trip to Jacksonville.  On the drive out there, I remembered that I had made this trip before, and it wasn’t all that long ago, because on that trip I had seen another wagon on the road of the same make and model as mine.  Just so you know, my wagon is rare as golden shit.  In the entire time I’ve known of its existence, I’ve seen one – only one – on the road.

Yeah, so, when I had that memory, I started thinking about how my last trip went.  I couldn’t remember any of it.  None.  That pretty much told me the trip was uneventful and I wouldn’t want to do it again.  But here I was, going out there again.  Those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.  Uh huh.

For this trip I was pretty prepared.  And now that it’s over, I think I now have a good protocol in place for my mega-runs.  I utilize Android Auto in the wagon with my phone for the GPS and music features.  The night before I left, I used Google Maps on my desktop computer and added all the stops I wanted to make as Starred locations.  This gave me a list of the places I wanted to hit, and more importantly, it showed star pushpins on the map, which allowed me to plan my next stop or group of stops.  When I was done with a place, I removed it from the list so I wouldn’t be confused as to where I’d been.  It was a pretty good system.

Then, as I was stopping at shops, I did remember some of them, but there were a lot that were new to me, so I don’t think I planned my previous trip very well and that was what led to disappointment.  Despite that, I still had a fair amount of disappointment on this trip.  The first half of my stops were productive, but the last part were not.  And I’ll dig into that in just a bit.  I was let down by the dining options I was offered and the hotel experience was a little on the annoying side.

But anyway, what I really want to get out involves the used music stores I saw.  I can sum this up in one statement: "Get your fucking shit together!"

A 2-store chain in Tampa that I frequent is the only one (outside of big businesses like 2nd & Charles or Barnes & Noble) that I’ve experienced that is doing things right.  And by that, I mean, their store is organized, fully inventoried, and priced fairly and accurately.  Now, I’m willing to let the guys that are running a shop in a flea market stall have a pass, because surely, they’re just hobbyists.  But if you have a storefront, or a semblance of a storefront, you need to act like a business.  Be clean, be organized.

The first place that left me infuriated was a guy operating essentially out of a warehouse.  He sold records, CDs, some equipment, and probably anything else musical.  I was only focused on the CDs.  When I reached the warehouse door entrance, there were some CDs in a metal rack, which seemed like a paltry amount.  But stepping in and looking around, I saw a literal wall of CDs in the back.  I made a beeline right for it.

Once at the wall, I sized up the level of effort I was going to make.  This is a wall of cubbies, probably 10 ft. tall (yes, well over my head – a stepstool was nearby) and probably 30 ft. wide.  CDs in many cubbies were double-deep.  The lighting was minimal, so you have to pull the CDs out to read anything.  ALL UNSORTED.  No sense in griping, just get to work.

After what felt like about 30 minutes, I had looked through 10% of what was there.  I was seeing the same garbage over and over in different places, none of it was interesting to me (I found one cd).  So I took a small break to rest my eyes.  I turned away from the wall and gave the whole place a once over. 

That wall… was a fraction of the CDs that were in that building.  There were CDs everywhere around me, literally piled up.  milk crates overflowing, U-Haul boxes filled and stacked, wire racks with small boxes stacked on top of each other.  An entire other wall of CDs.  An area you couldn’t even access with piles of U-Haul boxes, all full.  No mistake, this is hoarder-level shit.  I estimate there were probably 20k CDs in there.

I tried to work through it.  I took breaks and walked to the other sections, which had even worse lighting, and tried to find anything other than my lowly single CD.  I couldn’t do it.  I took my CD up to the counter and told the owner, there’s too much stuff.  His reply, "there’s another 15-16k in storage that we can’t even get in here." Holy. Shit.

I left the place furious.  In the way of people who have a reverence for media (especially book people), I was simply offended with what I saw.  The disregard for all those CDs.  I would like to believe that any rational businessperson would also be offended at the lack of care and accountability of the inventory.  This is what makes you money.  You have no idea what you have, what its value is, or any plan for how to move it.  It’s shitty business practice.  And from a consumer standpoint, you can’t tell me a CD of Lady Gaga, priced at $5, has the same market value as one priced the exact same with a title of "14 Biker Tunes".  The CD I bought was marked $5 (as I assume everything was), and I paid $4.  Tax accountability?  What’s that?

Enough of that hellhole.  I moved on to the next place, which was supposedly mostly records, but had some CDs.  I arrive there and it’s, well, sketchy.  I am loath to use the term ghetto, because it’s lazy shorthand for "the poor, run-down, black neighborhood", and because it carries a stigma of danger, which I did not feel, despite the sadness all around me and being the only white person in miles.  Maybe I’m stupid, blissfully aware, or maybe just not racist.

Anyway, when I entered this building, it was somehow worse than the warehouse.  In the warehouse, you had room to move.  In here, there was literally nowhere to go.  All pathways were "walk-sideways" width.  The primary one being blocked by a (fortunately for him) tall, thin black man.  I navigated around him with the only path available to me and ended up behind the counter at the cash register.  Well, no, this doesn’t seem right.  I backed out and kind of make confused gestures to the man blocking my way. He crams himself into a small area to the side to let me go forward.  I get past him and again, there’s nowhere to go.

So I’m stopped and seated in front of me is a harried black woman asking me what I want.  I stammer out a question as to how I can look at some CDs when there’s no visible aisles, lanes, walkways, nothing, in sight.  She replies that I can’t.  I have to tell her what I’m looking for and she’ll go and see if they have it.  Well, no, that doesn’t seem right, either.  I explain that my tastes are all over and I need to browse to see if there’s anything I’m interested in.  No, that doesn’t work for them.  Very well, thank you for your time.

On the way back to the car,another man calls out to me and asks if I found anything.  I was like, "Maaaannnn, I couldn’t even get in to see anything."  He apologized and said he was looking to move a lot of stuff out soon to give more space.  I said I’d keep him in mind and check back another time.  I assume he was the owner.  Sorry, bud, you have a lot more work ahead of you.

Those were the highlights (lowlights) of the trip.  It gave me a renewed sensation that I should open a CD shop, just to show people how it should be done.  but sadly, that’s probably not in the cards for me.  I have a lot more of my own life to live first.

And now, the trip log: ~12 thrift shops, 3 booths in a flea market, and 3 used music stores.  4 target CDs found at the flea market, 2 CD of interest, 4 CDs bought for their case.  5 issues of an interesting magazine to scan.  2 CDs of interest from Daytona flea market on drive home.  Total outlay was <$30

2022 And Money

Its a new year, sort of.  I’m a little late.  But anyway, a new year is a new start and time to chart a direction.  As part of that, I’m working on re-managing my finances.  They’ve kind of been on auto-pilot for some time.  The auto-pilot is pretty good, but I need to confirm the route and make some adjustments.

Big news about 6 months ago, I took on a new job.  That changed a lot of things in my life, with mixed results.  In the financial realm, it appears I’ve taken a small pay cut.  But that’s fine, the new work environment is worth that.  When you change jobs, a lot of other stuff changes as well.  You lose access to a 401k for a brief while, insurance costs and payments become strange and unknown, and other things change too, but we’ll focus on the two I mentioned.

So, the 401k.  I left my old job at the end of July and I didn’t become eligible for my new 401 until January.  So something like 5 months of no 401k contributions.  And now I have two 401ks.  But I’m in the process of moving my old 401k into my IRA accounts, like I’ve done with my previous two employers.  The process isn’t that difficult, but I’m leaning heavily on their support staff to get me the right forms and say the right things so it all goes smoothly, with no tax surprises.  I apparently am considered high-value, because my form has to be certified with a "medallion signature guarantee" which is something rather stupid.  What’s wrong with a notary?  I guess the medallion stamp is multi-colored and they verify the color gradients for fraud.  Ridiculous.

Next up, insurance.  I was going to make this a whole post of its own, but I don’t really have that much to say.  My original intent was to do a deep analysis between my old insurance and my new insurance to see which was better, cost-wise.  While this isn’t as deep, it’s still a comparison worth having.

I wasn’t expecting my new plan to be so bad, because it had a lot of marketable elements.  Foremost in those features is that you get an HSA – a health savings account.  And the company puts in $600 every year to pay for your healthcare.  When selling the HSA, a lot is made of the tax advantages – any contributions are pre-tax, your balance can be invested and grow tax-free like a traditional 401k, whatever you spend from the HSA on healthcare expenses is not taxed as income.  See, it’s mostly about the taxes.  I was thrilled with the $600/yr the employer contributed to it.  Based on my previous plan, I would be turning a profit every year.  Then I had my first doctor appointment under the new plan.

Checking in at the doctor, I was told I didn’t have a copay.  Wow, that’s even better!  I used to pay $35/visit before.  This plan is an HMO compared to my old PPO plan, so I assumed that was how HMO’s work – stay in network, pay no copays.  A month or so down the line, I got a bill from the clinic.  There must be a mistake; I’ve never gotten a bill before.  The insurance didn’t pay anything toward the bill and didn’t have any in-network discount.  The bill was ~$150.  A call to the insurance company confirmed how it worked.  I had to meet my deductible before they would start paying. 

Here’s the thing about plans that come with HSA’s.  They’re all high-deductible plans.  I don’t recall whether my deductible is $6k or $8k, but at that level, there’s no difference.  So I paid my bill with my HSA card, which had just enough to cover the bill between my $50/mo contributions and the company’s $50/mo contribution.  But I had to think ahead, I had another appointment coming up, and a 3-mo followup, and I got sent to a specialist.  And on and on.  This was not going to work for me.

I quickly crunched the numbers tonight.  On my old plan, I was paying $28/mo for insurance per biweekly check, so about $780/yr.  Then I had my copays.  Let’s say I had 5 appointments a year, $175.  Let’s round up and say my medical expenses were $1000/yr.  Now under the new plan, I’m paying $150/visit, with no paycheck deductions and no copay.  Although it might be confusing, I do pay $50/mo to my HSA, but that money is still mine and it goes to pay the medical bills.  With 5 visits a year, the bills are about $750.  So, a surprise to me, my new plan is actually cheaper.  And, if my employer is contributing $600/yr, that’s a net cost of $150.

To be completely honest, before I ran the numbers, I was certain my new plan was much, much worse.  I guess that shows the psychological power of frequent small costs.  I don’t miss $28/pay.  I don’t miss $35/visit.  I am freaked out about $150/visit, but it happens only a few times a year instead of every other week.

I’m not going to get excited about the tax benefits of the HSA yet, because I don’t know if they are part of itemized deductions yet, and there’s no likelihood I’m going to have enough deductions to beat the standard deduction.  But I’m also not going to get excited about my plan because I feel I am gambling on the future here.  If I have more visits than normal, the $150 is going to outpace the $35 pretty quickly.  Not to mention lab work and other specialist stuff that may not be a simple copay.  Right now I’m working with estimated numbers.  Next year we’ll see the actual results.

Doesn’t Play Well With Others

Well, back from hibernation.  Seems like every once in a while I need to take a few months off.  And I have a need to break in the new keyboard I have.  That’s one little new thing in my life.  A month or so ago, my keyboard finally died.  I had spilled some liquid on it and it put up a brave fight for a few months, then one of the traces went out and some keys stopped responding

And normally, this would be a case of, just go get another, but I have been using the same keyboard model for, I don’t know, maybe 30 years?  And the problem is they don’t make them anymore.  I spent a little time researching a new brand and model to use, but broke down and searched harder for my life-long model.  Believe it or not, some charity shop had a few unopened packages of them.  I bought two and now I’m back in business.  Well, sort of.  These keys are really stiff and need broken in.  So, blog on.

So anyway, the thing that made me want to write a new post was about a side project.  I have a few side projects going right now.  One involves archiving older magazines with a new, fancy book scanner.  That’s a post for another day.  But another of the projects involved coding.  And it has turned into a once-and-done project, simply because I have to work with other people.  I didn’t think I’d have to, but that’s how it turned out, and that’s where I bow out.

The heart of the project was a conversion of some of the earliest published BASIC software programs to modern languages.  I feel that I am a pretty well-prepared person to do the conversion because I grew up with those programs, back when you needed line numbers and you didn’t have subroutines, only GOTO.  In addition, I enjoy teaching and helping new coders on their way.

So over a few hours, I converted a program from the old BASIC version to the new VB.NET version.  I felt I had done a good job.  I retained the procedural structure of the program, with only one subroutine for efficiency’s sake.  I documented the code for a beginner, to explain the why and the how of each element.  I checked in the code and it was approved.

A couple weeks later, I decided I’d convert another program, so I went back to the public repository to see what was left available.  In the process, I checked on the application I had converted.  To my surprise, it had recent edits by another user.  Ok, that’s fine, that’s what open source code is all about.  So I looked at the new code.  It wasn’t mine anymore.

The next developer restructured the entire application, putting everything into subroutines, renaming all my variables, even reversing the IF statements I used.  I was aghast.  And I was done. 

Later that night, I tried to come to terms with what happened and why I was so furious and what if anything I could do about it.

It boiled down to two things.  First, all my time was wasted.  There was little to none of my original code remaining, so I can’t say the next dev improved my code, they flat out replaced it.  If I had not done anything at all, the result would have been the same.  The same thing could happen with anything other conversion I may choose to add to that project, so why even bother?

Second, the code was written at maybe a 201 level, instead of my 101 level.  It was no longer a beginners program to learn from.  It was an end-of-course demonstration of everything you should have learned.  And this is the part that annoyed the hell out of me.  The new code had everything included except OOD (object-oriented design, which I would say is 301 level).  That’s way too much stuff for a first-timer to absorb.  It’s what would be termed "tone-deaf", or not understanding your audience.  For example, I had two variables.  The next dev changed that to an array with two elements, then used LINQ expressions .First() and .Last() to access the values.  Absolutely pointless except for illustrative purposes, and much too complex for a first-timer to grasp.

And that whole experience brought back a painful old memory when I tried to defend a particular coding style in a public forum and got viciously torn to shreds by all the other members for even considering anything but one single, approved method of doing it.  It literally drove me from the forum and I have never been back since.  Ironically, I just saw that forum mentioned by the same blogger that was running this conversion project.  Go figure.

So this is my position.  I am pissed off at people who think that everything must be constructed to the standards of some architect’s wet dream.  I’ve been in the professional world for decades and I can tell you, it’s not like that.  There’s some bright spots and there’s some rust.  And the people that I am pointing my middle finger to are the exact ones that are going to say, "It’s like that because of people like you!"  MAGA programmers, essentially.

But don’t get me wrong, I know code.  I know shit code, I know beginner code, I know unnecessarily over-engineered code.  I know which of these those people write.  And I can certainly appreciate well-written code, which I am sure they are capable of writing as well.  It’s the gatekeeping and exclusivity that are uncalled for.  Can I separate the art from the artist?  Nope.  People need to be more inclusive and welcoming instead of insulting, dismissive, and abusive.  And that’s not for just programmers.  That applies to everyone, everywhere.

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.