Post-Christmas Recap

December 28, 2008 at 2:12 pm (Uncategorized)

Well, Christmas has passed us by now, and I guess it was fairly nice. Spent Christmas eve a little bit north of here with some of the extended family, and then spent Christmas day here in town with the more immediate family.

Unfortunately I didn’t get as much time off for the holiday as I would have liked because so many pre-booked their time off like six months in advance, so I only got the 25th off, but I guess it could have been worse, as I know there are people out there who had a actually work on the holiday itself (which, BTW, I think is a load of shit, and I boycott any and all businesses on the 25th).

As usual gift shopping was a chore this year, though I think in the end I did fairly well. Mom probably got the most “generic” of the gifts (candles, teas, etc) because she seriously does not seem to have any real hobbies or interests at all… so always tough to shop for. The primary gifts I got for dad were a huge coffee-table book of lighthouse photos, and a DVD collection of 150 episodes of old TV westerns, both of which he seemed to love. My 13 year old nephew I gave a copy of The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is all five novels of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide series bound into one book (I first started reading these books when I was about his age and have loved them ever since), and also a copy of a board game called Hive. This kid spends 90% of his free time staring at a television set playing video games, so every year I try to encourage him to do something interesting that might pull him away for a few minutes. Rarely works, but I’m going to continue to try. For my 4(?)year old niece I gave a stuffed dog and a cartridge for her new V-Smile, which is a video game system for young kids that lots of parents buy, but from what I can tell kids usually get bored with after about 15 minutes.

LabGirl and I did our thing Friday night, and exchanged gifts after spending some romantic time in front of the fireplace. To her I gave a small collection of gifts (just didn’t have as much to spend this year as I have had in years past), including a sweater, a corset, a pink Bears jersey, a silver necklace with a heart pendant (which she seems to really like), and because over the last several months she had mentioned repeatedly a desire to learn, a shiny new pearlescent green fiddle, complete with an instructional book and DVD.
She seemed to really like the necklace, and seemed to be practically in awe of the fiddle, so I think I did OK with the girlfriend gift giving thing.

As far as my own gift stash, from the family I received a couple of DVDs (Legend, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s), a few food goodies, and a few gifts that were “inspired by” things that I actually suggested, such as Yet Another Generic Game Set, one of those little cases with like a dozen cheesy little games in it like checkers and chess and backgammon and several other games that I don’t play that much and probably already have at least two copies of each collecting dust in the closet (instead of what I actually suggested, which were actually interesting games such as Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, or Killer Bunnies), and a couple of cheesy cookbooks like a collection of low-carb recipes, a book of grilling recipes (Uhhh… maybe in another 4 months I can use it), and for some reason I can’t fathom a book on walking fitness that appears to be geared towards women (all apparently inspired by my wish list inclusion of the book I actually wanted, The Idiot’s Guide to Cooking…For Guys). I mean, I need to say here I do appreciate the thought of my family wanting to give me gifts and I know that they’re not exactly wealthy and that the focus should be on the kids – but c’mon, if you’re going to go with an “alternate” I would have seriously just preferred to get a gift card or something rather than more stuff that’s just going to collect dust in my closet.

LabGirl gave me a few rather nice gifts, in fact I actually almost kind of feel bad because I think she may have spent significantly more than I did (of course, I suppose I should simply justify that based on the fact that she makes like nearly twice as much as I do right now…). From her I got a pretty awesome thick & soft winter robe, a couple of nice shirts, the Traders and Builders expansion for my Carcassonne game (one of the few “non-traditional” games I have that I’ve actually managed to talk her into trying – she really digs it, BTW), and, oddly enough, a tent, just like this one:

The package says it’s a “backpacking” tent, which makes me uneasy because backpacking tents are usually tiny, but it also says it has an 8’x9′ floor and a little over 4′ height, which doesn’t sound bad at all for two people – I’m actually thinking I may need to set it up in my living room soon just to check it out 😉

Anyway, was a decent holiday, even though I had to work through most of it and it was fairly hectic and my niece kept throwing tantrums all day on Christmas and both LabGirl’s and my families kept asking why we didn’t bring the other along (sorry, after only 7 months I’m not ready to deal with the “let’s negotiate visiting times between the two families” crap yet).
I didn’t get much in the way of games, but thanks to an Amazon after-Christmas toy sale I was just able to order Settlers for $19 (that’s more than half off! Woo!) and I’m hoping that I might get another 40% off email coupon from Borders before they sell out of the Battlestar Galactica game, which after hearing a couple of reviews of I think sounds really cool now even though games based on TV shows or movies usually suck total ass (even though it sounds a little bit like Shadows over Camelot, a game I’d prefer to have but that would probably cost me a lot more).

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Christmas!

December 25, 2008 at 12:10 am (Uncategorized)

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Today’s stock update: near heart-attack moment

December 23, 2008 at 8:20 pm (Money & Investing)

For just under 20 days now (which is a record for me for holding onto one stock purchase) I’ve had stock in a couple of the ProShares UltraShort ETF funds, which in a nutshell are the funds I talked about about a month-ish back that increase in value the worse the market as a whole does. I’ve been holding onto the two funds I own because they’ve been fluctuating back and forth almost daily between being a little positive and being a little negative, completely failing to fall into the patterns they had stayed in for weeks before I decided to go ahead and buy betting on those patterns. However, the bad news still abounds, so these were lined up to still increase in value over the weeks as more and more bad news about the economy comes out.
So I was pretty comfortable, every morning checking my little portfolio to see how much they had gained or lost in value the day before.
To wake up this morning to this:

BAM! Literally overnight, DXD dropped in value over 20%! Holy crap!!

MarketWatch, my usual source for stock market news, had not even a peep to say about what may have happened.
I actually had to ask around, and around afternoon-ish finally got an explaination, and was able to release a sigh of relief – I didn’t just lose a crapload of money overnight after all.

Apparently the fund is required to periodically distribute profits out to the shareholders in a “capital gains distribution,” which is similar to a dividend payment. Difference on my end is that dividends are usually less than a couple of bucks per share – usually much less.
In this case, they’re paying out $16 per share to the shareholders – and then removed that $16 of value from the price of the stock. So I’ll probably have that money back within a couple of weeks at most, and will probably stick it right back into the fund again, which is annoying, but at least I’m no longer in shock.

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Out of Business

December 23, 2008 at 8:02 pm (Biz Stuff)

Just thought I’d take a moment to mention that as of yesterday, I am no longer a business owner, having officially closed my sales tax account with the state. I still have to close the checking account after Christmas, and then that should be pretty much it for loose ends except for having to deal with taxes in a couple of months.
Am I permanently out of the entrepreneurial zone? Hard to say. This wasn’t my first attempt, so it’s hard to say if one day I may get the “wanna work for myself” bug again.

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More of that splendid midwest winter weather

December 21, 2008 at 12:05 pm (Uncategorized)

Apparently tiring of snow, mother nature has switched gears slightly and thrown dangerously low temperatures at us instead:

Extremely dangerous and potentially life threatening winter
weather
will continue through this afternoon. West winds gusting
to 40 mph will continue to result in a ground blizzard with
whiteout conditions and near zero visibility… particularly in
open and rural areas. In addition… temperatures will remain in
the single digits below zero with wind chills of 25 to 40 degrees
below zero through the afternoon.

Do not travel. If you must travel… have a winter survival kit with you.

A wind chill warning means the combination of very cold air and
strong winds will create dangerously low wind chill values. This
will result in frost bite and lead to hypothermia or death
if
precautions are not taken.

Bah! Screw you mother nature, with your “this weather can lead to death if you’re not careful” crap! Today is the last real chance I have to go Christmas shopping, and I have almost all of it to do still!

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Snow Day

December 19, 2008 at 2:57 pm (Uncategorized)

As I write this it’s going on 11:00a and I’m still pretty much stuck in the house.
The weather forecasters around here are known for being a bit overly dramatic when it comes to estimating snowfall – we’re usually lucky to get half of what they estimate will come down during their “storm warnings,” but it looks like they were pretty close last night – I’d estimate there’s about 8″ of the white stuff out there (it’s up to the bumpers on the cars parked outside).
I ended up having to call into work this morning – it was after 9:30 before the city even bothered to plow the street out front, and as of right now the guy that plows the parking area for these apartments still hasn’t gotten here, so even with a plowed street I still can’t get my car to it. Normally this would kind of irk me as I usually get paid much better for working than I do for PTO (to the tune of several dollars an hour more – in fact my last paycheck was the smallest I’ve seen in ages because I took nearly two weeks of PTO in a row) – but this new “assignment” they’ve got me on pays so shitty there’s not that much difference anyway, so pay-wise I’m only missing out on maybe $15 difference between working and staying home. I do have this annoying work-ethic thing that’s making me feel a little bit guilty, but it’s not like I can do a hell of a lot of it – if I had a 4×4 I probably would have tried to go in anyway regardless of the snow, even though I hate the work they have me doing right now. When I called I got the boss’ voicemail though anyway, so I figure chances are she didn’t show up either.
So hell, I might as well spend a little of my time stuck at home by blog-babbling.

I spent a lot of time last night looking around the internet for stuff on electrician training, both through trade schools and through union apprenticeships. I’m still not sure what to think about it, and there are a lot of factors to consider.
Among trade skills, electricians are supposed to be one of the better paid, and there is supposed to be reasonable growth in the field over the next several years. However, right now the demand for new electricians is probably not that great, as although there will always be some market for electricians to maintain the systems already out there, the larger majority of their business comes from new construction. And new construction, as we all know, has been at a near standstill for a couple of years now thanks to the country’s economic crisis. I’m sure it will pick up again once the economy stops tanking, but who knows how long that will take.
Also, the union sites themselves admit that getting an apprenticeship isn’t as easy as just going in and signing up – they have to be convinced that you can handle it. It requires knowing about the tools and materials, how to read diagrams (and in some cases blueprints), sometimes requires physical work such as lifting and dealing with the outside elements, and on top of that an understanding of how electricity works and is used, which dips into math and physics. You may not have to be an expert on all that (otherwise you wouldn’t need the apprenticeship) but they do say that any prior knowledge or experience will be helpful in being accepted.
On top of all that, even if you are accepted into an apprenticeship with an employer, apprentices start out making pretty much barely over minimum wage, which pretty much amounts to not being able to pay my bills. The pay does go up slightly every six months as your skills improve, but it takes a full 3-5 years to get up to full pay.
All this together makes me think that taking a correspondence certification course to start out might be the best way to go – the courses seem to mostly run anywhere from $700-850 and are usually broken into monthly payments – which at first hit me as seeming like an awful lot, until I remembered that just the two classes I just took at the college cost me nearly $600 alone, and it had jack squat to do with preparing for a career – so maybe it’s not that bad of a deal after all. Either way trying not to rush into anything though.

Just got a call from my landlady – apparently the plow dude’s truck broke down, and he might be able to get over here by sometime in the afternoon. Greeeat.

Christmas gift exchanges start in three days, and I’m stressing. So far the only people I’ve got gifts for are the girlie and my nephew.

[1:25p] Took a break from blogging to get some stuff done around here. Plow dude came, and did a half assed job – there’s still a huge pile of snow behind my car that I’m going to have to shovel. Great.
Tried my first attempt at making my own corn tortilla chips and failed miserably. I don’t seem to be able to find that where they’re fried enough to not be soggy any longer but yet not be burned.

Welp, spose I should get to shoveling, dishwashing, maybe some laundry, and maybe some gift wrapping. Seems that just because I’m not at my job doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of work to do.

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Getting fucked over (even harder) at work

December 13, 2008 at 4:55 pm (Uncategorized)

Seems to be a variation on a common theme, based on conversations with others I know lately.

Well, it might be remembered that not that long ago I was already bitching about my place of employment and how, due to my unfortunate ability to grasp complicated issues like “problem solving,” I and a few select others had been selected to work on a project that was more complex, and thus slower, than the work everybody else was doing.
We don’t get paid hourly, we get “production” pay, which in a nutshell means the more work you get done during your shift, the more money you make. I’m sure that works fine in an environment such as, say, assembly line work where every task is exactly the same and takes about the same amount of time. Not hard to estimate that if you do x number of items in x amount of time you will make x amount of money. I’ve found it doesn’t work as well with the type of work I do, where one item may take 30 seconds to complete, while another one may take much more work and take 20 minutes, and their claims that their production pay should “average out” is a load of crap – yeah, it averages out, to less pay than you were expecting to get.
This has been a problem pretty much the last year, where I would do work that is mentally exhausting and basically not make as much as the “grunts” would would do the simpler, and thus faster, work.

I had always been annoyed by this, but dealt with it, because regardless that for some reason I was being blocked from the gravy-train work, I was still making at least a liveable wage in the end.
However, starting a couple of months or so ago my patience started getting tested. Noting “budget restraints,” they capped the number of items (and thus number of dollars) a person could work on per day, and at the same time knocked down the pay per item. This effected everyone in the office, or at the very least everyone in my department, and bitching was heard office-wide. The “grunts” were especially vocal, as they had in effect been knocked down to half days. BUT here’s the rub – those people who were getting out for the day after 3-4 hours, were still making nearly as much as I was, still working on the more complex work all day most days, in fact some days having to put in overtime to reach my daily work goal. Most of the office that was doing the easy work was, in essence, making nearly twice as much per hour as those of us doing the harder work.

Now here is yesterday’s final camel-breaking straw:
Previous to coming to this employer, I worked for a few years manning a telephone for an insurance company. It was fucking hellish torture, and because of that, I quit (in a very opinionated fashion) to come to this employer where, blissfully, my desk did not even have a phone on it. I made it quite clear upon signing on that the reason I was signing on for this job was because I didn’t want to deal with the phones any longer.
So – guess what I’m doing starting Monday? That’s right, they’re putting me on a goddamn phone. It’s going to be outgoing calls basically asking medical providers for patient records. Repeat about 6500 times or so. Which isn’t as shitty as the phone work I was doing before, but it’s still shitty. And, along with that, they’re paying an hourly wage for it, which I estimate is about $4/hr less than I was averaging before, or probably over $300 per paycheck if I remember right. Merry Christmas!!!
Oh, and here’s how I’m getting a good, special fucking: only myself and one other person are getting dumped on the phones full-time. The rest of the staff is only doing it for half the day, and then doing their other work for other half.
Also, this was given to us as “a 3 week project that needs to be completed by the end of the year,” and when I said something along the lines of “fine, I may be able to deal with this for a few weeks, but don’t go expecting me to stick around on it long-term,” she started waffling with shit like “Well, I don’t see much else new coming down the line… and the work with the current client is dying off, and…” – Translation: We plan to permanently put you on the fucking phone, even after this “three week project” is done, and were hoping to spring that news on you in January.” Motherfuckers.

Now, let’s recap: I was previously pissed because the majority of the staff (and not myself) was making nearly a full day’s wage in 3-4 hours and getting to go home, while I and a select few worked a full shift or longer and made maybe, MAYBE $20 more than day. Those same people (not me) are now going to be working full shifts, making an hourly wage for one half of the day, and working this other work for the other half. This means, basically, that everybody but me and this other person who my boss apparently also doesn’t like, will be getting paid the same nearly full-days wage in 3-4 hours like before, PLUS the hourly for the additional 4 hours on the phone. While I and the other guy will be making only the shitty hourly wage for the full 8+ hours, along with the joy of not getting a break away from the phones. The boss explained it as “well, I know you two have prior phone experience, and I wanted that for my full-time guys.” That is SUCH a load of shit! Probably half the goddamned staff out there have worked phone jobs in the past!
OH! OH! And this is also after finding out that through an email slip, the other guy and I discovered that the gals on our project team, who the boss gets along with better, had a HIGHER DAILY CUTOFF than we did, to the tune of probably at least $30-40 per DAY. So, anybody sense any favoritism from this boss maybe? Just maybe??

The new deal hasn’t started up yet until Monday, after which I’m going to give it a few days and compare notes between how things are going with myself and the other guy, compared to those people I’d been working with previously. If it comes out as I expect, I am seriously considering going into my boss’ office and just straight-up asking if she is purposely trying to get me to quit for some reason. I mean, I’ve been fucked over at jobs before, but for the most part they have always been company-wide fuckings that I had just had the misfortune to be included in. This seemingly “targeted” fucking over is something new, and it really, really pisses me off.

I know that nobody hires around year-end, but I’ve started setting up daily emails with the job web sites anyway, and will be freshening up my resume. Allegedly the job market is tough right now, but I’m sure as hell going to try anyway. You know, I hear employers bitch about how workers don’t have any company loyalty or respect any more – well I tell you what, you have to give some respect and loyalty to receive it.

On a related note, I’m thinking really, really hard about looking into taking up being an electrician – it’s supposed to be one of the best paying trade jobs, the us dept of labor is estimating a 23% growth in the market by 2012, and I think I’d probably actually find the work interesting.
I’ve got a pretty thick “intro to electricity” from the library that I’m reading through to see if I can grasp the concepts OK (I’ve looked at the testing manuals for certification and it’s not all just the practical stuff – they want you to know how electric works down to the atomic level) and so far it doesn’t seem bad, but I’m still only a few chapters in, and haven’t gotten to the math yet. Ugh. Math. Anyway, if I seem to get it OK, I may find a correspondence program or something to get certified.

I had said before I needed to do something about my job and career path, and this is doing a fine job of pushing me even harder.

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A PC Christmas

December 12, 2008 at 10:44 pm (Uncategorized)

‘Twas the night before Christmas and Santa’s a wreck…

How to live in a world that’s politically correct?

His workers no longer would answer to “Elves”.

“Vertically Challenged” they were calling themselves.

And labor conditions at the North Pole

Were alleged by the union to stifle the soul.

Four reindeer had vanished, without much propriety,

Released to the wilds by the Humane Society.

And equal employment had made it quite clear

That Santa had better not use just reindeer.

So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,

Were replaced with 4 pigs, and you know that looked stupid!

The runners had been removed from his sleigh;

The ruts were termed dangerous by the E.P.A.

And people had started to call for the cops

When they heard sled noises on their roof-tops.

Second-hand smoke from his pipe had his workers quite frightened.

His fur trimmed red suit was called “Unenlightened.”

And to show you the strangeness of life’s ebbs and flows,

Rudolf was suing over unauthorized use of his nose

And had gone on Oprah, in front of the nation,

Demanding millions in over-due compensation.

So, half of the reindeer were gone; and his wife,

Who suddenly said she’d enough of this life,

Joined a self-help group, packed, and left in a whiz,

Demanding from now on her title was Ms.

And as for the gifts, why, he’d ne’er had a notion

That making a choice could cause so much commotion.

Nothing of leather, nothing of fur,

Which meant nothing for him. And nothing for her.

Nothing that might be construed to pollute.

Nothing to aim. Nothing to shoot.

Nothing that clamored or made lots of noise.

Nothing for just girls. Or just for the boys.

Nothing that claimed to be gender specific.

Nothing that’s warlike or non-pacific.

No candy or sweets…they were bad for the tooth.

Nothing that seemed to embellish a truth.

And fairy tales, while not yet forbidden,

Were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden.

For they raised the hackles of those psychological

Who claimed the only good gift was one ecological.

No baseball, no football…someone could get hurt;

Besides, playing sports exposed kids to dirt.

Dolls were said to be sexist, and should be passe;

And Nintendo would rot your entire brain away.

So Santa just stood there, disheveled, perplexed;

He just could not figure out what to do next.

He tried to be merry, tried to be gay,

But you’ve got to be careful with that word today.

His sack was quite empty, limp to the ground;

Nothing fully acceptable was to be found.

Something special was needed, a gift that he might

Give to all without angering the left or the right.

A gift that would satisfy, with no indecision,

Each group of people, every religion;

Every ethnicity, every hue,

Everyone, everywhere…even you.

So here is that gift, it’s price beyond worth…

“May you and your loved ones enjoy peace on Earth.”

(copied from here).

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Feeling a bit of the RPG bug

December 9, 2008 at 5:49 pm (Gaming & RPGs)

A little bit ago I was watching a movie called The Gamers: Dorkness Rising which was, by the way, so funny it had me in tears and I may have to look into buying a copy. You won’t get it unless you’ve had some experience playing D&D… but if you have… OMG. Hilarious.

Anyway, it gave me a hankerin’ for some RPGing again, and I’ve pulled my GURPS books off the shelf in hopes of maybe some inspiration for putting together a new Traveller campaign – I had a lot of fun with the last one but I don’t think it was focused enough – a game that allows space travel is just way, way too vast to be able to handle all changes on the fly (especially with the group I play with, who fly off on a lark at every opportunity it seems like) so I’m going to have to devise some ways around that.
And then maybe if I get something together I could maybe get some folks together to actually play it after the holidays…. hmmm……

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Ponderings on a shaving kit

December 9, 2008 at 1:10 pm (Uncategorized)

OK, so this probably isn’t really “blog-worthy,” but most of the stuff I write probably isn’t, so I’ll deal.
Art of Manliness today posted an entry where they are giving a chance to win a classic shave set just for leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS or email feeds.
The idea seems cool. I’ve never used an old-fashioned safety razor or lathered up my jowls with a brush, but it’s something I’ve been considering trying out to see how it works out.
Hell, most days I pretty much just do a rush job with a low-end Norelco electric, and when I do take the extra time to use a blade, it’s with a cheap disposable.

Shaving stuff is expensive though – between the safety razor, the badger hair brush, and all the chemical goodies to apply to your face, it’d probably be at least a good $60+ just to get enough to try it out, and that’s if I go cheap.

Hmmm… you know I’ve been tossing around the idea for months of checking out an old-fashioned barber to get my hair cut rather than the salon-ish joint I usually go to, and I have a haircut due not too far off in the future. I may need to make a few calls and see how much it would cost for a haircut & shave (and if I get a discount because they can shave around the goat 😛 )

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