Fate's 2009 Resolutions Wrap Up

2009 has been an extremely eventful year. If you told me at the start of last year, everything that would happen – I probably woulda thought you were joking. One of the things that I drive Fin crazy on, is that I tend to view plans more as guidelines, than actual plans. So, it isn’t really surprising how this years events are going to turn up in terms of ‘accomplished’ and ‘not’.

First, the accomplished:
Financial: Knock out one of my college debt accounts
Slight Win. I managed to pay off a couple credit cards, transfer some debt, and start making a dent in my loads of stupid.

Bucket List: Create new bucket list and accomplish at least 2 entries this year
Epic Win! Fireworks, BBQ, getting married, going camping, … I hit lots of entries on the new list and I’m looking forward to making a new list and doing more stuff.

Relationships: Do better than in ’08
EPIC WIN! I wake up every morning happy that I’m with a wonderful person, even if she is a bit of a nerd.

And now, the not:

Life: Figure out what I really want to be doing in 10 years.
Fail, but happy about it. This is a sorta weird one. I’m saying I didn’t figure it out, but I’m also thinking that’s a good thing. The best things in my life so far have been things I didn’t expect or know or have a clue about. It’s the things I overplanned that tended to blow up.

Personal Appearance: Move from “I buy clothes” to having a style
Fail, and not really caring anymore. I’ve decided that most all of men’s clothing = “I buy clothes”.

Personal Fitness: Run a 7 minute mile, continue advancement in martial arts.

Hobbies: Have Something to show for a writing project at the end of ’09
Hobbies: Release Self Hosting Microkernel
Fail, but I’m going to try again. The whole process of getting married and helping make a home killed the amount of free time required to do my hobby stuff.

Blog: Post more often
Fail. Funny, I just haven’t had as much to say, but that’s starting to change now.

General: Finish unpacking
EPIC FAIL! Dear God, it never ends…. And now, I’m convinced, I’ve accumulated EVEN MORE CRAP, not counting anything from Fin. How?!?! I don’t know…

So, to summarize, it looks like I’m 3 out of 10 on actually meeting my resolutions. I wonder how that compares to people in general.

Weddings, Inc.

Well, Fin and I have been off the air for a bit. Together, we went forth and managed to live through one of those goals couples have – getting married. And yes, I do mean “live through”. Being married to Fin, well, it’s an awesome thing. I could go on about how I feel, but it’d really sound like your standard gushy newlywed. And really, for everyone that’s seen us together, it’s pretty obvious we’re really happy with a relationship that’s worth the work it takes to keep it great.

So yeah, marriage is awesome. Getting married though – a wedding – sucks.

I was prepared for dealing with the multi-faith issues surrounding the wedding with my family coming. I don’t share their faith and was concerned over complications that would bring.

I was prepared for needing money to reserve a venue, and obtain a minister.

What I wasn’t prepared for? The long list of items of things that people expect.

In the US, your average wedding costs $20,398, and that doesn’t include the honeymoon. Despite the “Father of the Bride” traditions, it’s now typical that a large portion of this cost is shouldered by the bride and groom themselves. While I don’t want to give out the exact dollar figure for our wedding – I will say we did it for substantially less than twenty grand.

It wasn’t that we wanted our wedding to be cheap, although we did have a small budget. No, our wedding was low cost because we did what WE wanted to do. And what’s more – the family supported us doing what we wanted to do. When it comes down to it, I’m glad the family was so awesome about everything, because that made a huge difference.

What shocked me was the number of people, and prevalence of the various ideas of things we needed to buy or rent or have available. As we went through the process of the wedding, I decided to grab on the internet and find out what a “usual” wedding consisted of.

As I grew up, a wedding seemed little more than a specially decorated religious meeting, with a reception hall rental afterward. Cheap ceremonies – at least in comparison to the national average, we’re very much the norm.

Early on, I noticed an interesting trend. If I called a store to find out a price on a rental or specific item, I’d get a largely different number than if I called a store to find out the price of a rental or item for a wedding. The most dramatic example was in finding a pair of champagne glasses for the toast – “wedding toasting flutes” – started at double the price. Annoyingly, the more expensive wedding toasting flutes were also crap in comparison.

I sat and read article after article for a while, on what was “standard” for weddings. Only to find a dizzying array of things that we “had” to do – bachelor party, bachelorette party, rehearsal dinner, wedding favors, save the date cards, ceremony programs, wedding invitations, bridal shower, bridal shower announcement, engagement announcements, etc… etc…

The worst offender of the “have to” list of things? The engagement ring. There’s multiple places you can learn about the history of the engagement ring. I’ll save you giving details about how short the history of today’s engagement rings is. No, what bothers me is the advice on pricing. An engagement ring should cost double one months pre-tax salary. Ever notice they all look the same too?

It’s not about finding a gift for a potential bride. It’s not about searching for “just the right” thing for the girl. The question of cost doesn’t come to a question of compromise between what one can afford and what would make a perfectly sculpted ring. The engagement ring isn’t a symbol anymore, it’s a business transaction.

Despite all of the commercialization of a huge milestone, we expressed our own individuality. We decided what was important to us, what we wanted to make special. And in that are some of the best memories of all.

Charity for Dummies (Part 1)

Ask a conservative how the poor will eat without taxes, and they’ll be sure to point you to charities. They exist for just about every circumstance and cause out there – battered women, abused children, blood donation, breast cancer awareness, the list goes on. Volunteers offer their time for construction work and house repairs, disaster relief, passing out food, collecting money, … – again the list goes on.

On a personal level, I see charity as a good thing. Without personal charity, my journey to Kansas City would have been much different. But, someone was willing to lend me a hand when I needed help up. Examples of that sort of thing are fairly widespread. In the local area, 98.8 (among other radio stations), offers help to random people during Christmas season.

Unfortunately, I believe that charities are also being abused. My employer, as well as many others in the Kansas City area, encourages people to give to the United Way. And wouldn’t you know, it’s easy. All I have to do is fill out a form, and every paycheck I can donate any amount I’d like. Wow, isn’t that Great? Well, …

No, it isn’t.

The reasoning behind giving to United Way? “If it’s too hard to figure out a charity you want to give to, give to them and they’ll figure it out for you.” It rather reminds me of a science fiction classic, where people design robots to worship God for them. A charity like United Way isn’t charity to support a cause, a passion, or a belief, it is simply charity for the sake of charity. Or, as I like to call it, guilty giving.

Don’t get me wrong, the United Way does some really good work. They write grants to some great organizations! And occasionally they’ll even help out and do volunteer work or charitable work directly. When it comes right down to it though, they exist to collect money off of our collective guilt.

Guilt is a powerful thing – a basic human emotion that says something is wrong. And while there are circumstances where guilt is uncalled for but natural, I question the creation of organizations that seek to relieve us of our guilt by simple transfer of wealth.

The level of ease with which charitable giving now happens allows us to live like a drunk driver that goes to AA meetings. We give to charity, therefore our rape of the poor and down trodden is meaningless. We can fill free to litter the streets with our garbage, because we pay for prisoners to pick it up.

Paycheck donations to charity do not require us to examine lifestyle or put forth any effort to consider our value systems. You sign a form, and after a few months, the donation to charity becomes another line item on the paycheck, right beside Social Security tax deductions.

And then, when someone sees your behavior, notes that how privileged you are and that there exist others without the same opportunity? When they pull up the mirror and reveal and show that you have done nothing to benefit the society that has given you the gift of wealth? Why, THEN you can point to a forgotten line item on your paystub and say “Look, I give to charity”.

"The Dead Zone"

“Dead Zone”

The name sounds like it’s from bad science fiction. I remember hearing about Dead Zones in my high school biology and geography classes. One of the largest is located in the Gulf of Mexico and consists of an area roughly the size of New Jersey. At the mouth of the Mississippi river, a large amount of fresh water flows into the Ocean. But not only is fresh water coming in, but run off water from large farming operations in the midwest. The fertilizer rich water hits the Ocean and causes a food chain march which leads to hypoxia, a lack of oxygen in the water.

This year, the dead zone was predicted to grow to record levels of size. Recently released data showed the dead zone not as large as expected, but more severe. In the end, it covered only 3000 square miles.

At what point do we stop ignoring the cost of our way of life? Today, the Gulf of Mexico dead zone directly threatens $2.8 billion worth of US fishing industry. Put another way, 99 cent cheeseburgers threaten to destroy the option for a slightly more expensive, but much healthier, grilled fish sandwich.

Can we shutup about the f***ing faeries already?

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

— Douglas Adams
So a friend of mine forwarded me a video. Really, it’s pretty awesome. Basically, the universe is really big. Like, really.

It’s a video that Carl Sagan would have no doubt loved to see. The knowledge of what I’m looking at here is awe inspiring. The commentary about the video though, is not. Instead of a focus on the magnitude of what is, I hear countless people remarking “Awesome, look at this, clearly there is no God!!!!”

Really people? Can’t we just … move on. Believe me, I have plenty to complain about when it comes to religion. Plenty. I don’t however, spend all my time watching videos like this thinking, “wow they really were full of shit”. You know what amazes me?

“God fearing” people that see that video are probably enjoying it more than the skeptical societies.

See, they actually get to enjoy it. True, there enjoyment is going to take the “look how awesome God is to have created all that” form. But, it’s enjoyment and inspiration nonetheless. The atheist watching this as “ohhhh, proof the Goddies have it wrong”, well, not so much.

To this day, I am amazed by the fact that we have such vocal groups here shouting their views, that neither extremist side gets to sit down and realize: most of us just don’t give a damn. Sorry, it’s true.

So, to the “ohhhhhh, look this proves there is a God” people and to the “ohhhhhh, look this proves God is bullshit” people – please shut the F*** up about the faeries, and let the rest of us enjoy the Garden, faeries or no.

Anachronism: Line Drying Clothes

In much of the US, people EXPECT to do their laundry using a washer and dryer. Driving through most suburban neighborhoods, you wouldn’t see people out hanging clothes on a line to dry. In fact, many neighborhood home owners associations BAN line drying of clothes as an eye sore.

Thankfully, there’s not a home owners association to bitch at us, and so we have taken it upon ourselves to annoy the neighbors by going back in time to the very recent past. The funny thing is, not many people realize just how much energy drying their clothes uses. An average family can spend a good $100 to $200 a year according to the EPA using a clothes dryer instead of line drying clothes. At an energy cost of near 1000 kWh / year, switching to line drying clothes could power an average home for a month.
Yesterday, I helped Fin put up the clothes line, and she’s switched to that from the dryer this summer. Line dried clothes have so far, been an epic win in this house, if only for the fact that my shirts actually seem to loose that dude-funk when they’re left in the breeze for a while. The amount of time to do the laundry isn’t much changed, and the clothes get dryer much quicker than you’d expect.
It’s also nice to be outside spending some time with Fin doing something together. The downsides? Well, I guess people get to see your socks and undewear hanging out there:
Also, clothes dried by the sun do have a tendency to fade faster. Still, if your homeowners association allows it, I recommend the practice. If they don’t, well, maybe you should question them as to exactly why they consider it an eyesore. The idea that trying to save energy, help the environment, and reduce costs is an eyesore, well, it’s just sorta sad. This blog is about changing that before the rest of the world leaves us in our own wasteful dust.

One Reason Why Computers Suck

Fate’s theory on computers: there is no consumer computing device which actually works.

Everything you see at BestBuy, the lines of laptops from HP and Apple – all of them – are broken in some fundamental way. I don’t care how awesome your home PC is, give me five or ten minutes with it, and I’ll figure out something you “should” be able to do that causes it to spit up all over itself. Funny enough, there are a good number of people out there actually paid to do that. That certain talent, is the reason why I’m involved with the computing industry, and simultaneously also, technology incompatible.
Now, in my profession, I see a lot of computer equipment, and generally deal with it on a far more detailed level than most people. Floating in my head are a great number of random facts about how various pieces of computer hardware work. What amazes me though, is that when it comes right down to it, computers don’t.
If you’re reading this blog, you’ll likely know the difference between Hardware and Software. Driver software makes the hardware tick. An outsider might expect that driver software would be developed alongside with the hardware directly – when the hardware is done, so is the driver software. Looking at the problem in detail though, it’s obvious you’ve got something of a chicken and an egg here – how do you develop software for non-existent hardware? I’ll spare the gritty details of how that works, and jump straight to the results.
And that result, is generally with either you – the consumer – or the OEM (big box PC makers like HP and Apple.) On a modern Windows PC, you’ve probably noticed “Windows Update”, asking on a regular basis if you’d like to ruin…er…. update parts of the software on your computer. Depending on your level of technical sophistication / bravery / stupidity / intelligence, you may have chosen to install / ignore / install randomly these updates. For today, we’ll focus on the Driver updates.
Now, let’s say I’m an up and coming competitor to ATI and nVidia, and have developed the new wizz-bang awesome 3d video card which has 10 spanking new features, including the ability to render photorealistic boobies realtime. Gamers the world over drool (understandably) over this new piece of computing excellence. The announcement is made, and the new Wank-O-Matic 5000 video card hits shelves. Immediately, my competitors begin discussing how their next version of video card will render even better photorealistic boobies realtime in their next generation of cards. That, however, doesn’t stop Gamers from lining up overnight to purchase the Wank-O-Matic 5000.
On buying it however, they take it home, and discover that only 8 of the ten new features work well, and the other 2 don’t work well at all. Sad and dismayed, gamers announce it’s a good video card, but the major selling point is overrated. Not to be stopped, I now promise every gamer – but wait, it’ll be fixed in an update! As time goes on, the major issues with the new creation are fixed, and at long last, the Wank-O-Matic 5000 does everything as advertised. The only thing is, noone is using it anymore, it’s now been obseleted by the Wank-O-Matic 6000, and the new up and coming Wanktastic 8G.
Which brings me to the heart of the matter – all of the computer hardware in existence today, is not fully utilized. Indeed, any computer purchased within the last year or so will have a shiney new 64 bit chip in it – being used to run a 32 bit operating system. And, this isn’t something created recently. The first 32 bit processor was introduced in 1985. It wasn’t, however, until 10 years later, that consumers could take full advantage of that.
I know it’s difficult, but, at some point, I just have to start to wonder. The personal computing industry is now over 30 years old. At what point do we stop saying “computers are new” and start expecting everything to work as advertised when we buy it? When do we begin expecting hardware vendors to not simply say “fix it later” when the product can’t even be used anymore from being so out of date?
Thinking about it, the answer is obvious to me: people are happy with mediocre. Computers crash, things occasionally just don’t work. Part of me hopes, one day that will change – people will begin to expect that this sort of technology shouldn’t crash or be difficult to use. Another part of me though, I must admit, is happy we techies can half-ass solutions. Cause really, as long as it’s good enough, it works right?

How fast do you eat?

Lunch to me is a big deal. My lunch is 1 hour. Not 30 minutes. Not 15 minutes. 1 hour. So, when I eat lunch with the guys, it’s moderately annoying to me that it usually seems more like 5 minutes than 60.

Why?

Well, lunch goes like this – obtain food, eat food, talk about work. Only problem is, the eat food step is completed in about five minutes. And that makes me think, just how much can you enjoy your food in five minutes of eating?

Now, I can understand if you’re bringing the same horrific salami on white bread with soggy pickle everyday. Generally though, I have a really good lunch, one that is worth more than swallowing hole – plastic sack and all.

Sadly, I never realized that I too had fallen to the sickness of the overly quick lunch until recently. For some time now, my lunch had been subject to the vacuum cleaner effect. It came to me mid-way through the usual collection of lunch fruit: wow, I’m not getting to taste any of this. And so, I mad a conscious effort to finish my lunch eating at a normal pace.

You probably wouldn’t believe me, but just slowing down how fast I ate lunch made the entire world around me move slower too. Seriously. Simply taking 1 bite more per piece of fruit managed to break the laws of space-time. Any physicist out there can try and repeat the experiment by eating their salami on white bread by using more than 2 bites.

As a bonus, your digestive track will thank you for it. Eating too fast can lead to a great many health issues (obesity, acid reflux). Occasionally it pays to take some time, and well, taste the food.

If you find yourself having trouble slowing down, check out this associated content article.

Welcome to the Jungle!

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been dealing with a growing annoyance. It started with something simple enough: apple sauce. It was a simple craving for a random food. So, at the grocery store, I attempted to find my mark. Unfortunately, this happened after I started reading labels.

Every apple sauce jar at the store had the same flaw: High Fructose Corn Syrup. Now, in general, I’m not an anti-HFCS Nazi. After all, several of my favorite foods contain HFCS. But what annoyed me most here is that I prefer my apple sauce, unsweetened. You wouldn’t expect unsweetened apple sauce, just apple’s with preservative, to be hard to find.

You’d be wrong.

I mentioned this at the office, and the general reply I got was, well unsweetened applesauce sucks. When it comes right down to it, adding corn syrup to applesauce is the cheapest way to sweeten it so the most number of people enjoy it.

When it comes down to it though, the annoyance for me was the lack of choice. A lack of choice created by the faster-better-cheaper mentality. We look at our modern world as something purely progressing, and don’t stop to think if choices we eliminate have value. It’s a curious thing to me, how few people stop to look at what’s been done, what can be done, and the possibilities of the world around them.

And in general, I’m convinced, this forstagnation is being subtly encouraged by things we view as beyond question – public education, religion, technological advances, capitalism. All hold intrinsic value, but so often ideas and systems tied to concepts we hold dear are not challenged out of fear for challenging the concept itself.

This blog will be about an ongoing attempt to adopt a lifestyle which values choice, personal freedom, honesty, and individuality. And, it’s not just me here writing about this point of view, my partner in crime, Fin, will be updating too.