Monthly Archives: September 2008

-{The following is a post I wrote a while back. I was never really sure whether or not to bother posting it because I don’t know how interested y’all might be. So I figured that I would just hold on to it and maybe put it up if I ran out of content and was desperate for some material. However, DC Comics is releasing a series called DCU Decisions which will actually reveal the political leanings of the characters. Once that happens the speculation within this post is moot. So, if you don’t care the slightest about superheroes, comic books, and whatnot, feel free to skip over this. I won’t be offended.}-

Being a lapsed comic book nerd and an ongoing political geek, one of the things I ponder when trying to keep my mind busy (or awake) is how the two might intersect. Sometimes I develop ideas wherein the Democratic Party become the superhero-friendly party (because superheroes defend the powerless against the powerful) and sometimes the Republican Party does (because they support self-reliance and private action over government intervention). Sometimes I figure that superheroes would so change the political culture so greatly that nothing comparable to our two parties would even exist.

Sometimes, though, I just wonder to myself how Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne would vote if given the choices that we have. Not because I would emulate their vote, necessarily, but because I think such things help us understand the characters and because generally speaking the comic book publishers try to steer clear of assigning political (or religious) identification to the characters where it isn’t integral to the plot. This is a smart move because comic book writers often have the subtlety of a Mack truck and with relatively rare exception (Steve Ditko, Chuck Dixon) veer in one political direction: the left. If you ask the writers of the political orientation of the various superheroes, most will say that unless otherwise specified the heroes liberal or Democrat because in their mind the superheroes and Democrats are the good guys (notably, they erased the existence of Hawkman’s conservatism just recently). So doing what I do (preoccupy myself with pointless things like fictional US maps and politics and superheroes) I try to come up with it on my own.

So for better or worse, here’s what I’ve come up with: (more…)

Category: Theater

A few weeks ago I wrote a post whining about my daily commute of 2-3 hours:

If you’re keeping track, that means that it takes me about 45 minutes to cover 35 miles of the commute and approximately 30 minutes to cover the other 6.

It stands to reason that right after writing it… it got worse. Considerably worse. The six mile tract became nine miles and instead of taking 40% of the commute it’s well over half. The “average” drive to the extent that there is one went up from 1:15 to about 1:30 and the number of days that it’s worse than that have gone up to once a week or so to at least twice a week.

The reason, I think, is that school got back in session. The full effects of this was masked the first couple of weeks by a teachers strike in New City and the fact that some of the local colleges started a little bit late.

Peter suggested (which I was already thinking) that I might just avoid the Splinterstate where all of the traffic is and instead go through the metropolis of Zaulem. I tried doing that but unfortunately it didn’t do a whole lot of good. At least I don’t think it did. There is a very, very helpful sign on I-3 on the drive up that tells me how many minutes it is to New City and how many to Zaulem. That actually gives me a heads up as to which route might be quicker. The Zaulem route has me going from Soundview (where I live) to Zaulem, Zaulem to New City, then New City to Enterprise where I work. I’ve determined that the trip from Zaulem to New City takes about 17 minutes or so. So if the difference on the light-distance sign is over 15 I go through Zaulem or otherwise I go straight on New City. I don’t know that it’s saving me time either way, but even if it’s not saving time the Zaulem route is more interested and switching routes punches up my routine a little, which is good.

It’s really strange to me how the window in the morning is some two or three hours of incomparable traffic hell wherein I honestly don’t know if leaving at 6:45 is any better or worse than leaving at 8:15 or at any point in between (though leaving at 7:30-45 does seem to be the worst)… and yet in the evening if I just wait for an extra hour the traffic is only a fraction as bad and I can usually make it home in an hour or so. Leaving right at the 5:00 bell is pretty bad, but it seems to get a lot better relatively quickly. On the other hand, the one day I left 90 minutes early (at 3:30), traffic was pretty awful. So it seems that the bulk of traffic hurts those that are getting there late and leaving early. Is Mindstorm (and/or any other employers in Enterprise) a company of get-there-late-leave-early slackers? Doesn’t seem to be, but that is what the traffic patterns would suggest.

What’s a little bit strange about that (to me) is that is contrary to my previous commuting experience. Usually it’s the drive home that’s worse than the drive to. It was 50% longer on my way home in Soyokaze in Estacado and Wildcat in Colosse. More often than not it’s about the same, though. This is the first time than the morning has been worse than the late afternoon.

Category: Road

I was at Costco the other day and saw that they were selling little biography DVDs of McCain and Obama. I thought about buying them because I really don’t know a whole lot about them outside their political careers. I didn’t end up doing it, though. Maybe next time. It did remind me that I’d gotten a hold of an audiobook copy of Barack Obama’s “Dreams From My Father” book and that if I was going to listen to it I should do so before the election. So I’ve been listening to it on the commute.

I’m maybe 1/3 the way in and thus far it is absolutely phenomenal. I don’t even think it matters whether or not you care for Obama’s politics nor whether or not you believe a word of the book is true. Obama’s writing is terrific made even moreso by the fact that it was written before he was such a name and thus, as HalfSigma points out, was probably not actually ghost-written. Probably. The surprising (shocking, really) thing is, though, that if it were ghost written I totally know who wrote it: Orson Scott Card.

Okay, not really, but the resemblence in style is uncanny. They both use this sort of flowery language in this matter-of-fact sort of way. Concisely summarizing the human condition in order to make some relatively cursory explanation for a character’s behavior. Okay, so it’s a little hard to explain how they are so similar except that they just are. A couple times I had to remind myself that General Graf was not going to show up in Indonesia and help Barack’s step-father train Barack how to fight.

The book is read by Obama and the voice even sounds like one of the main guys from the Ender series. Though that may influence the connection, it’s definitely more than that. Obama also read a short introduction at the beginning. I was amazed at how stale his voice was during that part. I was getting worried that the entire book would be that stiff and dispassionate. Once he got into the novel itself, though, it got a lot better. In addition to being a skilled orator, he’s an impressive actor (insert joke here) taking on various accents and intonations as well as (if not better than) any of the other audiobook readers that I’ve been listening to.

Category: Road

I made my calendar last night to make sure that I caught hold of all the TV shows that I’m going to try watching this season. There are fourteen shows that I will be watching this fall season.

I discovered something interesting. Of the fifteen shows that I will be watching this fall season, half (seven) come on Monday nights*, almost a third (four) come on Thursday nights**, and the remainder (three) come on the other five days of the week***.

Thursday nights are historically a good night for television, but Monday? Is that a historically popular night for television? I have difficulty thinking of historically popular shows that come on that night. Maybe it’s a product of Monday Night Football going over to ESPN?

* – TheBig Bang Theory, Boston Legal****, Chuck, Heroes, How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, and Worst Week
** – Eleventh Hour, Life on Mars, My Name Is Earl*****, and The Office
*** – Dirty Sexy Money, Fringe, Life
**** – I swore up and down at the end of last season that I was finished with this show, but given how the upcoming season is the last one and I’ve already invested a whopping 12 seasons into The Practice and Boston Legal, it’s tough to quit this close to the end
***** – It’s on probation. If it hasn’t improved by the end of Fall, I’ll probably move on

Category: Theater

If you got an hour to spare, I cannot recommend this episode of with Mark Kleiman and Megan McArdle enough. It’s from last year, but very little on it is dated (except a Supreme Court ruling, I think). There are like ten things that they said or discussed that I want to write a post about. They talk about drugs, guns, gambling, and a host of other things. It’s not so much what they talk about but the absence of bickering in favor of actual discussion. It let me with a whole lot to chew on on a number of topics.

Category: Statehouse

If you’re like me, you wonder about various things.

Things such as… “I wonder if Ramen goes bad”

Or “How long have we had this Ramen?”

Or “That little label thing that says 121805SB couldn’t possibly be referring to Sell By December 18, 2005, could it?”

If you’re like me and you wonder about these things, the following answers come up in the form of a day of burped-up pasta and other particles:


Roughly three years.

It could indeed.

Category: Kitchen

Regular Hit Coffee readers know that I am an evangelist for ThinkPads. The quality of the computers I’ve gotten has been so great that I don’t even bother to buy their stellar throw-it-off-a-cliff warranties. The customer service is of course unsurpassed to the extent that they are the one company that I believe will actually solve my problem whenever I call them.

I do have one bone to pick with them, however. They have such a great product… but they make it hard to get one sometimes with their Not-In-Time inventory system. I don’t think that I am alone in this regard. In fact, I know that I’m not alone. My friend Kyle’s employer bought a whole fleet of ThinkPads and ThinkCentres only to have one delay after another and after three months they negated the contract and went with HP. My father-in-law had a similar issue where he ordered it and two months later it hadn’t arrived and so he cancelled the order.

I’ve personally had two experiences with this. First, when I got the most recent laptop in our possession we were about to move from Deseret to Estacado. Unfortunately the other laptop had died and I needed something quickly. So naturally ThinkPad cited 6-8 weeks as the likely delivery time when by that point I’d be in Estacado and having it wouldn’t be nearly so important.

They made up for it, though. At first they tried to sell me something that was a little more than I needed for a lot more than I wanted to spend, but since I was desperate I agreed. Then they called me back ten minutes later with a way that I could get what I wanted and actually spend less than I had initially intended to (it only required that I put the RAM in myself and get a different battery than I wanted to). So they actually made up for the whole affair by giving me something resembling what I wanted, if not exactly, in the time that I wanted it.

And now it’s happened again. I ordered my laptop from them and had been counting down the days until it was set to ship. Then, the count reached zero, I went to the website to see what the arrival date might be… and discovered that the shipping date had been pushed back two weeks. Once again, though, the customer service helped mitigate the inconvenience by shedding as much light on the problem as they could. They were able to tell me precisely what part was causing the delays. Once again it turned out to be the power supply. They told me that I could change my order to get it out to be sooner, but he said that if I could just sit tight for a couple days it was likely that they’d be able to find one before the new estimated shipping date.

And so they did. Further, to repay me for the inconvenience of the delay, they express-shipped it. Since the port-of-entry into the US is Zaulem, it literally arrived at my doorstep the day after they sent it (from Hong Kong) and before it would have with UPS Ground had they shipped it on the original date.

But while I appreciate the lengths that they go to in order to please me, I have to ask why this problem keeps arising. If the power supplies are such a problem, why not have a few more of them around? Obviously they’re not keeping up with demand when both times I’ve had delays that was a cited reason for it. It all worked out well with me, but Kyle’s employer and my father-in-law are customers that they either lost or almost lost because most people aren’t as patient as I am.

The complaints aside, holy cow is it an awesome laptop! Because a friend helped me get a particularly good deal I upgraded the video and I honestly did not know that the video on a laptop could look so good. I was worried about having to get widescreen and how that might hurt visibility but when the resolution is 1680-by-1050 and crystal clear. The writing is tiny and yet completely readable, which means that I can read full-page digital comic books on that laptop that I can’t on my wife’s laptop which is actually taller.

The whole downgrade-to-XP was a little bit tougher than anticipated, though and ended up taking several hours and ultimately cost me my copy of Vista. I goofed up and zapped the Vista operating system without having a backup. ThinkPads don’t have restore CDs. What they do have is just as good… except in special cases like this. Then I had to figure out which of the three CDs did what to get XP on there. I eventually got there. It would have been sooooo much easier if I’d simply installed a pirated copy of XP on there, though.

That’s really one of the biggest problems with Microsoft’s copy protection… they make going illegit not only cheaper, but easier.

Category: Market, Server Room

A day or two back I wrote about my struggles with my insurance provider possibly regarding our credit check. If you want the backstory, go read that post. If you’ve read the post, you can skip the next paragraph.

The shorter version is this: our insurance rates went up 25% between the quote and the rate’s implementation and we were pointed to Clancy’s credit score (which was fine six months ago) as the reason why, though it could be because of an awful ticket I got a couple months ago but through a loophole I have reason to believe that my insurance company (Homefront Insurance Co.) doesn’t know about.

The most frustrating thing to me is the opacity of it all. I want to know why my insurance rates went up 25% and it’s been a month and I have not been able to get an answer. Granted, some of that is because of my own opacity (my not wanting them to find out about the ticket), but only part. Since Clancy’s credit rating was checked six months ago we have to pay out-of-pocket for any inquiries that we want to make.

On the face of it, credit ratings are a great idea. Whether we owe people money or have problems making monthly payments is definitely of interest to businesses that want to extend us credit either of the explicit nature (cash advance, loans, etc) or implicit nature (something requiring regular payments that it’s difficult to turn off and on like utilities). Having that information collected in a place that’s easy for businesses to access is a good thing.

At the same time, it seems as though credit ratings are based as much on probability as they are on history. If someone has people checking on their history, they probably are seeking credit elsewhere and are more risky, so a person is hurt even if that’s not at all the case. If a person is seen as having too many or two few credit accounts, he is seen as risky because he could be stocking up on credit or might be unable to know how to make monthly payments like a credit pro can.

And unfortunately, these numbers are used for far more than just obtaining credit and in ways that affect our lives more generally (car insurance and even employment). That’s one of the parts that has me worried. Homefront isn’t worried that I won’t be able to make my payments. I’ve made them without fail for ten years. Even if I volunteer to pay the entire six-month term in one bulk payment, we’re still penalized. Part of me wants to say how unfair this is, though the other part of me says that it’s the same rationale that they used in order to give me an insurance break because of my good grades in college and that didn’t seem unfair at the time. As with credit, insurance companies use probability (gender, age group, grades, credit scores) as much as history, though it makes more sense in their line of work than in credit agencies.

If it is about our credit rating, though, I’m actually less worried about paying more for insurance for a while than I am about what this is going to mean down the road. There is a huge black cloud that may be following us around and no one has to tell us what it is without extracting some sort of penalty either in the form of further hurting our insurance rating or just costing us money.

I don’t want to turn this into a political post, though I have to go there at least a little. This is one area where the government set out to protect consumers and as near as I can tell actually protected consumers. The fact that we are able to get our annual credit reports is due to a law being passed, as are the requirements of how information is corrected. Unfortunately, none of that is enough to stop some of the current methodology from being a pain in the arse.

Category: Market

When Clancy and I moved to Cascadia, one of our goals was to start getting things transferred into “us” accounts rather than “Will Accounts” and “Clancy Accounts.” One of the ways that we’re doing that is to finally merge our automobile insurance. Clancy initially wanted to go with her insurance company, Salamander, though I wanted to stick with Homefront, which I’ve been with for ten years and has always treated me reasonably well (I think insurance companies generally do treat long-term customers better rather than newer customers because the latter are likely to be the unloyal sort of customer that hops around from place to place depending on the best deal at any given time. My parents have always gotten stellar service from Homefront, with whom they’ve been since the 70’s).

So I stopped by the local Homefront and we worked up our insurance rates, which turned out to be about the same for both of us as they were for us independently in Estacado. So we decided to go ahead and get everything auto (liability, collision, comprehensive, uninsured motorist, etc) as well renter’s insurance for the total quote of about $150 a month.

Flash forward a few weeks and we get our Declarations in the mail and everything changes. I’m a somewhat well-educated guy but I couldn’t make heads or tails of the information that they were sending us other than that it was going to cost us a lot more money. Somewhere between $210-260 a month depending on what exactly the documents were saying (was the listed premium for a six month period or the remaining four months of the current six month period… things like that).

I would have just attributed it to them finding out about my traffic ticket, except that a separate piece of mail from Homefront gave us a very different impression. Essentially, what it said was that the rates were affected by a consumer risk rating, something similar to a credit rating used primarily by insurance companies. At the bottom it said that it was affected by Clancy’s. As luck would have it we checked Clancy’s credit less than six months ago (when we were getting our current apartment) and it was fine. So I went down to Homefront’s office to ask what the deal was and why she might have gotten a sour risk rating when six months ago we were fine.

Unfortunately there wasn’t much that they could tell us other than to help me understand the documents and find out that the monthly payment was actually $195. They asked if we had any claims against us or if we had credit problems and neither of those things are true. We don’t have too many credit accounts and don’t owe anyone except student loan organizations money. We do have a few black marks on late payments, but never enough to hurt our credit too badly and besides I have never had a late payment to Homefront in over a decade. Of course it’s not that simple. It’s somewhat well-known that insurance companies know that people with good credit are statistically likelier to get into less accidents than people with bad credit. Even so, why would a sour credit rating (that shouldn’t even be that sour) make our ratings shoot upwards 25%? Particularly when one driver has a perfect driving record and the other driver (as far as I know that they know) has one 10mph speeding ticket in the last five years and none in the last three?

And of course I can’t ask them directly whether my driving record suddenly had a huge black mark on it in the form of a 26mph speeding ticket in Real-life Wyoming. My figuring up until that point was that because I got my Cascadian driver’s license prior to RL Wyoming assessing my fine and forwarding the info to the Estacado DMV that unless they went back and checked Estacado specifically that I might have gotten away with it. This was telling me that maybe I didn’t, though as I said I couldn’t directly ask without drawing attention to things I don’t want attention drawn towards.

There were two things, though, that made me question whether it was the ticket. First is that all of the documentation they sent me told me that recent changes were reflected by Clancy’s consumer risk rating and none made even a cursory mention that “If you’ve recently gotten any traffic tickets…” The second is that it’s quite possible that if they did find out about that ticket, that my rates would have gone higher. Just to check, I went to Salamander’s website and saw what they would have charged us (with the ticket that I think they would have find out about). The answer was that they would start at $210 with basic liability and go up from there and I didn’t even bother to see what it would have been to get the full coverage that I was getting at Homefront.

So we were basically going to be stuck with Homefront, so all we had left to do was find out why we were considered so risky. My driving record or something in her credit? And if it was something on her credit, was it something genuine and stupid (like student loan debts), something genuine and troublesome (some complaint filed against us in Estacado that we don’t know about), or something erroneous. We had a little reason to believe it was the latter because my agent said that one area for concern would be if a married couple live at different addresses and Clancy and I have two different addresses on our driver’s license.

My Homefront Agent called the Risk Assessment Agency (RAA) to ask them to review my account. We waited about a week to hear back from them and when we did they said that they were standing by their numbers. Still no indication as to how they arrove at them. Obviously they can’t tell us the formula because that’s proprietary, but just a summation of what hurt us would have helped. A couple days later we got something from Homefront that said that if we had any questions how we could get our report from the RAA.

It was a long two weeks waiting for that result. Then, when we got it, it told us nothing at all. All they sent us was her driving record, which was spotless. So was the RAA primarily looking at driving records? If so, then it’s probably my ticket that did us in. But the documentation we got from Homefront said that our renter insurance was “higher than it otherwise might be” because of what RAA had to say. Interestingly enough, though, when our auto insurance went up from $140 to $185, our renter insurance stayed at $10. And on top of that everything attributes any change in our rates to the RAA and nothing about driving records.

The documentation listed two “reference numbers” so maybe there were two reports. If so, then we need to get the other one. But the form that we filled out didn’t give us any way to specify and asked us things like driver’s license state and whatnot that suggested that we were primarily going to get DMV info. So now I have to call the RAA and find out if there were two reports and how we can get the other. If they’ll even talk to me since said reports were in my wife’s name. I also filled out another form to see what they have on me and if my Spitstorm Ticket shows up then that answers that question.

By the time this is all said and done, I can’t help but wonder if enough man-hours have been spent that it cost us more than just paying the $195 monthly cost. Even so, if there is some big black beast haunting our credit, I want to know about it. I contacted our former landlord and asked her if she had filed any complaints, which was our theory for a while, but she hadn’t. She then suggested that there might have been identity theft (who knows what was sent to the apartment in Estacado before we got our change-of-address filled out?), which would be something that we definitely need to know about.

Category: Market

Several years ago on a Monday in September, things were not going well between Evangeline and I. That Thursday night I was going to take a trip out to Gilead and visit my friend Clint who was attending Southern Cross University out there. Mostly, though, I found that time away from Colosse and Evangeline was less miserable than time with her in the city.

Before that happened, though, I wanted to try to smooth things over at least a little bit so that I wouldn’t spend the whole trip worrying if there was anything to even go back to. So against my better judgment I bought her flowers. I say “against my better judgment” because at that point every time I had gotten her flowers up to that point there had been some sort of disaster in our relationship. Not even because of the flowers, really. Just bad timing. Over and over again.

So at about 2am that night, I decided to go on a secret mission and deliver some flowers and left them on her car. I figured that was Tuesday, maybe we’d have a talk that night. We’d talk again on Wednesday, and then Thursday I would leave before something else could go wrong and ruin my trip. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I should have waited another day for the flowers. Three days was way too long for something not to erupt at that time.

I stayed up for a few more hours when I got back and it was 6am when I went to sleep. My reasoning was that there was a 30/70 chance that she would dodge getting online so that she didn’t feel obligated to repay my spontaneous (okay, not exactly spontaneous) generosity with having to, you know, talk to me. She’d acknowledge the flowers and thank me in any event, and she’d probably do so in more than just a two-line email or something like that, but I didn’t want to spend the whole day worrying about the alternative and I couldn’t be worrying if I was asleep and if I didn’t wake up until 3 then I could get online and she could thank me without the awkwardness of any further communication unless she felt so inclined.

I hadn’t been asleep for maybe a couple hours when I got a call.

“Are you watching television?!” She said

“bdabdabdabda… wha?”

“Are you watching television?”

“I was asleep, actually. Wait… huh? What’s on television?”

“Turn on your television right now. Some terrorists have flown planes into the World Trade Center,” She explained. “Oh, and thanks for the flowers.”

After we got off the phone, I was in the living room watching television when my roommate Karl got home from work. “Have you seen the news?” I said almost immediately. Sue me, I wanted to be the first one to tell somebody. I was a little bit worried about his reaction, though. Karl was one of those people that was already smart but for some reason felt the need to augment the perception of his smarts by having opinions different from everybody else and so if everyone else was upset about such an attack he was the sort of person that would find humor in it or say that we deserved it or something like that. That was my fear, anyway.

I think that the news stunned him so much that he didn’t even have time to strategize how he could use this to prove that he was smarter than everyone else. As he and I watched along with our friend John (“Fuzzles”) Fustle, he was actually the most pissed off. Fuzzles was angrily talking about how our warmongering president was going to use this to blow up foreigners and I was too stunned to be angry. Stunned may not even be the right word. The tragedy hadn’t set in yet. At that point it was all so… interesting. Just very, very interesting.

I talked to Eva again that afternoon. Her employer was giving everyone the day off. I was excited because it might mean that we got to spend some time together. She dodged and weaved saying that she felt like she needed to be with her family until she was contacted by an ex-boyfriend pulling a Dan Merchand and decided to spend the afternoon consoling with him. Upon finding that out and that classes at Southern Tech were cancelled until further notice, I said “screw it” and left for Gilead a couple days early.

I heard two unbelievable ads on the radio as I drove. The first said something to the effect of “Fly plane into wall! Stoopid! Getting rates from many auto insurance companies! Smart!” Then there was another that said… “In times of war… you need CABLE!” (it was an ad for Band of Brothers, a then-new HBO miniseries). I have to think that both ads were recorded and set to play before the attacks. Notably, I never heard the ads after that day.

If there’s any way to avoid current events, it’s by visiting Clint. The guy is about as apolitical as anyone can be. About the only thing I remember about that visit that pertained to the attacks was a really dirty joke by his then-roommate about the 9/11 victims and necrophilia and I can’t even remember the joke (or if it was at all funny then or now).

A couple months later, Eva was gone for good. A couple days after that, she and the Merchand guy were officially an item. At the end of my trip that week, it all finally hit me on the drive home. Not having known anybody in the attack (once I knew that my brother wasn’t), I had to create fictional people that were in the WTC to be able to relate to it and to understand it. But it eventually happened.

Category: Ghostland, Newsroom