Posted by: Rob | January 20, 2012

Good Riddance

I saw this item in the Globe and Mail about Direct Energy and my first thought was, “Good Riddance!”.  Texas is likely the ideal place for these middle-man, money for nothing douche bags, in my opinion, since they’re kind of like Enron anyways.  I read a few of the comments on the Globe piece and it would seem I’m not the only one who holds this opinion.

Posted by: Rob | January 1, 2012

New Year’s Meme – 2012

The search engines lit up this otherwise dormant space yesterday as folks crawled across the interwebs looking for inspiration for a new year’s meme, possibly finding this old meme I did back when we turned into 2010.  After the last (couple of) year(s), I would hazard a guess that there are many people searching for a little something to look forward to in terms of improvement in their particular situation.

I mentioned the stat spike to Ann and she decided to riff off that old post herself.

So, here at the start of a brand new year (an arbitrary thing and an artificial construct – the date, that is) I’d thought I’d give in to this human need to evaluate what has occurred and take a look a outlining what is to come, especially if I’m going to have any influence over events in the year ahead.

And so, without further ado, here we go:

1.  What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before?

I turned 50.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Resolution making has never been my forté, and I don’t recall making any resolutions last year.  Perhaps I should write any stray thoughts I have in regards to goals down so I can come back and check myself against them?  I’ve said before that  I don’t really believe in resolutions, but perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing to articulate some goals.  After all, as they say in the financial planning industry: “Most people don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan.”  So perhaps one resolution will be to blog a little more, starting with a follow up post to list some of the things I would like to accomplish this year.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No.  There were a couple of new arrivals in the extended family in 2010, both of whom turned one in 2011.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

My late wife’s auntie died this past autumn.  This auntie was one of the last surviving members of my first mother-in-law’s generation, with the last one being the widow of my mother-in-law’s eldest brother.

5. What countries did you visit?

In 2011, the only other country I travelled to was the United States.  The first occasion was our summer vacation trip by road with our truck and holiday trailer.  We headed south in late June, travelling through Montana to Yellowstone National Park, where we spent a couple of days before heading on east towards Iowa, with a stop in Cody, WY (Old Trail Town), skirting around the Big Horn mountains, a stop at Devil’s Tower and visits to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse.  We weren’t able to stop at Scottsbluff or Chimney Rock.  It’s been said before, I’m sure, but there are miles and miles of “emptiness” to see when travelling across the American Great Plains.

Late in the year, I had a work related command performance to give which compelled me to take a four day trip to the Texas Gulf Coast.  This was, of course, by air and having to involuntarily run the TSA gauntlet was not completely horrible, and yet not without some level of personal invasiveness.  I will continue to stand by my preference to not fly commercially into or within the USA as long as the TSA continues to exist in present form.  This avoidance may have to extend to road travel as well, given that the TSA has been given increased license to do vehicle stops and searches without cause through enhancement of the VIPR program.

6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?

The past year, indeed the past two or three years, have been quite unsettled from a global perspective.  Globally, it seems there is a significant quantity of geo-political change underway: Arab spring in Tunisia and Egypt, the NATO backed overthrow of Qadhafi’s rule in Libya, and ongoing unrest in places like Yemen, Syria and Bahrain.  The “Occupy Wall Street” movement that spread across the United States and Canada seems to have largely fizzled out after effecting about zero change.  Economic turbulence continues to overlay the geo-political scene, with the American economy still in the doldrums, the Eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis and now rumblings that all may not be sunshine and roses with China’s economy.

So, how does all the above relate to what I would like to have in 2012 that was lacking in 2011?  The answer would be some semblance of a return to normalcy.  I’m not naive enough to think that things will go back to “the way they were.”  Those times are over and they are not coming back.  Still, since I’ve essentially entered the final decade count down to a retirement of sorts, I would like to be able to have more confidence that the fiat currency I continue to save and “invest” will actually remain as (or turn into) something that will provide some manner of material support when I finally elect to stop being a wage slave working.   That is, of course, assuming that I will be able to stop working.

7. What dates from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

No specific dates, really.  I’m not one to remember dates all that well, unless something really big happens, like a birth, death or marriage.  And even then, the date in question has to relate to someone very close to me.  Nothing like that in 2011.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Biggest achievement of the year?  I was given a special recognition award at work for my performance on a project during the first half of the year, which included a cash component.  Which I have yet to spend.

I also finished laying the porcelain tile floor in the new kitchen.  The kitchen itself remains to be completed, but it is fully functional.  Mostly.

9. What was your biggest failure?

From end of year 2009 : I did not get the manufactured stone onto the house again this past summer.  Hmmm.  2010 saw some of the stone get put up, but it is still not finished.  Zero stone work was completed during 2011.  Perhaps my biggest failure is my continuing inability to accurately estimate the size and scope of most renovation projects and, more importantly, how long it will take to get them done.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nothing of note in 2011, following on the heels of the little cardiac event in 2010.  Well, I guess there is the ongoing neck and back issue that like as not stems from the having to use “progressive” lenses.  What a pain in the ass!  (neck, actually).  I need to arrange an eye exam early this year and look at options or alternatives to “progressive” lenses, because these just aren’t working out.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

I don’t buy that much.  If I need something, I generally just go and pick it up.  I will see things that I want, but knowing that I will never have the free time to indulge in said wants, I usually pass up the wants.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Dee continues to grow up and be a very well behaved child.  So much so, that we regularly receive comments from other adults.  She is also progressing well with her soccer skill development and play.

13. Whose behavior appalled you?

The CPR has a rail siding in our little hamlet.  Historically, it served four grain elevators and was a key transportation link for the farm to market crowd.  The grain elevators were all decommissioned and demolished several years, so the CPR now uses this siding to store rail cars containing various materials, some of which are hazardous.

Just before the first cold snap of winter 2011-2012, several hopper bottom cars were spotted on the siding and a reloading company was engaged in transferring the rail car contents to dump trucks.  The material appeared to be granular and was transferred using portable conveyors.  I was to learn that the material (Ferrous granules) tended to freeze and clump and stop flowing.  A crew was working feverishly into the late night hours one week day and as it got colder, the noises emanating from their operations became louder and much more intrusive (the low frequency noises were rattling fixtures inside our house).  I went out to complain and ask them to shut down and was greeted with abusive profanity.  In response I returned home and lodged a complaint with our county by-law officer.

14. Where did most of your money go?

From 2009 : Food, fuel, renovation supplies and materials, clothing.  Oh, and vacations.  For 2011?  Nothing has changed.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

From 2009 : I’m a Virgo.  I don’t get “really, really, really excited” about anything. Still true today.

16. What song will always remind you of 2011?

Thanks to a parody by the Key of Awesome, I stumbled upon Foster the People’s Pumped Up Kicks.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder?  About the same.
b) thinner or fatter?  Fatter.
c) richer or poorer? Another  year, a few more things learned.  In that sense, richer.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Camping and hiking in the mountains.  Also, more aerobic exercise and weight training.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Sitting on my ass in front of a computer, both at work and at home.  At home, hours are wasted mindlessly surfing.  If I’m going to sit here, I should blog or something, right?

20. How did you spend Christmas?

Quiet Christmas at home with the family.

21. Did you fall in love in 2011?

New love?  No.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

Not necessarily a favourite, but I watched the entire production run of “Space: Above and Beyond” on DVD.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I don’t really hate anyone.  There are many people who disappoint me, though.

24. What was the best book you read?

There wasn’t really a lot of time allocated to reading in the past year.  I guess nothing that I did read was noteworthy enough for me to remember and rave about it here.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

No major new discoveries this past year.  The ipod with all the old favourites plus much more was often playing in the background while I worked on reno’s.  “Greatest Fits” by the Headstones is always a good listen, as are specific albums by Frank Black (Black Letter Days), The Offspring (Splinter) and A Perfect Circle (Thirteenth Step).

26. What did you want and get?

See No. 11 above for my perspectives on “wanting” and “getting” in the material world.  Otherwise, I don’t have an answer to this right now.

27. What did you want and not get?

Younger?  Less drama?

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

Most films I see anymore are via DVD and are watched at home.  New titles are found via the previews that come pre-packaged with DVD releases.  The art of the trailer has grown to incredibly deceptive dimensions and so trailers can no longer be trusted to accurately outline any given film.  That resulted in some disappointments, like “Love and other drugs,” and “Wall Street : Money Never Sleeps.”  On the other hand, a film called  “The Company Men” was not too bad.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

A quiet family dinner at home to celebrate my 50th.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

There is no one thing.  I think this question is more intended for a respondent much younger than I am.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?

I think personal fashion is a superficial concept and a colossal waste of time and precious, finite resources.

32. What kept you sane?

I’m sane?

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

?

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

The Conservative Party of Canada, led by Stephen Harper, won an electoral majority in the last election.  While I hope that now some (certain) things can get done, I also hope that the Harper conservatives don’t use their majority to transform this country into something that more closely resembles the growing cesspool on our southern border.  Or to give away any more of our sovereignty to appease American paranoia.

35. Who did you miss?

From 1999’s The World is not Enough:

Elektra: You won’t shoot me. You’ll miss me.
(Bond shoots once, killing her)
Bond: I never miss.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

Just random strangers.  No one remarkable.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.

A valuable life lesson?  Hmmm.  How about when the road sign says, “Highway closed 30 miles ahead” it’s best to simply believe it and find another route.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

Runnin’ Down A Dream lyrics
Songwriters: Petty, Tom; Campbell, Michael W.; Lynne, Jeff;

It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down
I had the radio on, I was drivin’
Trees went by, me and Del were singin’
Little runaway, I was flyin’

Yeah, runnin’ down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin’ on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads
Runnin’ down a dream

I felt so good, like anything was possible
Hit cruise control and rubbed my eyes
The last three days and the rain was unstoppable
It was always cold, no sun shine

Yeah, runnin’ down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin’ on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads
Runnin’ down a dream

I rolled on, the sky grew dark
I put the pedal down to make some time
There’s something good, waitin’ down this road
I’m picking up whatever is mine

Yeah, runnin’ down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin’ on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads
Runnin’ down a dream

Wishing you all the best for 2012 and may all your hopes and dreams be realized!

Posted by: Rob | December 31, 2011

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted by: Rob | November 20, 2011

I’m on fire today

I don’t write much for this blog lately.  I have lots to say, but either haven’t got the time or don’t care to take the time to sit down and pound out a few thoughts.

However, as the tag line of this blog is “Dispensing commentary, dry opinions and rancid witticisms“, I decided to share a couple of my responses to posted links on facebook from today.  And this in spite of the fact that the link poster in question is none other than my lovely wife, who is kind enough to not get too upset by my acerbic commentary.

First up, my take on a piece in Slate about atheist marriages.  The summary states:

Now here’s an absurd hypothetical: If I were a single, straight, atheistic male (in reality I’m neither single nor straight), would I be inclined to look for a similarly godless woman with whom to settle down and rear a batch of little baby Berings? I’m torn. Sure, I’d probably be “happier” with a fellow atheist. But there’s also something to be said for marrying a zealot.

I admit, I didn’t read any further than the above.  Still, that was enough for me to respond:

The key phrase here is “Now here’s an absurd hypothetical”. Really, who spends time thinking about this kind of stuff?

The next one was an excerpt about the baby mummy Rosalia Lombardo blogged on The Dish.  If you don’t know about this story, a guy named Alfredo Salafia, a taxidermist, embalmed this little two year girl and, by all accounts, she still looks like she’s sleeping and could wake up at any moment.  Creepiness factor aside, my reaction has more to do with the circle of life thing:

Embalming perfected. But to what end? The natural cycle is for dead things to decompose and supply nutrients to new – living – growth.

The last one I’ll share today was an attempt at humour in reply to a piece about Neanderthals and Denisovans and the ongoing genetic research into sorting out humanity’s origins:

What would be really neat is if scientists could identify – and neutralize – the genes that make people behave like assholes.

I wrote this while thinking about some near flat-out flame wars on facebook pages, most of which are focused on many of the more divisive issues in the US and, to a lesser extent, in Canada.  However, that last remark earned me a light verbal reprimand:

You know, leaving comments like that on my own facebook page is kind of asshole-ish behaviour.

All I could do was smile.

Posted by: Rob | November 6, 2011

Dear Facebook

I am a reluctant facebook user.  I remain in the massive database only by tenuous threads and it is only the connection with a few family members that keeps me from cutting out altogether.  My facebook friend list boasts a number just over sixty.  And I’m fine with that.  Probably half of them are inactive for the most part, and cause no troubles.

The active ones are a different story.  I understand the need to sometimes vent your anguish, spewing it into the universe and perhaps half hoping for some sort of divine intervention or an intercession on your behalf.  There are even places in cyberspace where you can do this anonymously.  Just plug “anonymous online confession” into any search engine and you will find yourself a diverse array of options.  Your facebook status, however, really shouldn’t be that place.

I am a middle aged man.  Please try to remember that when you are toying with an idea to post your latest teen angst, your latest relationship angst, or your latest the-world-is-against-me angst to your facebook status.  I am really not interested in reading that and there are some things I just don’t need to know or, worse, theorize about.

 

Posted by: Rob | September 8, 2011

Misophonia

Individual silicone earplug worn at ear with E...

Image via Wikipedia

A FBRL* friend posted a link to a piece in the New York Times Health section that details a condition** called “misophonia”.  Misophonia, literally dislike of sound, can lead to instantaneous, blood-boiling rage.  The key triggers discussed centre primarily around the sounds of other people eating, like chewing or slurping.

While I can tolerate – mostly – the table sounds of others without spiraling into rage, I do find that a host of other sounds that others find innocuous, if they even hear them, can affect me.  Anywhere from minor annoyance to solidly on edge.  Not all sounds are quiet or low in volume, but both loud and quiet noises can have an effect.

There has been long suffering, for as long as I’ve lived in the ‘burg, caused by rail traffic.  Our ‘burg is bracketed on either end by grade crossings of rail over road.  Both crossings are now equipped with bells and flashing red lights, but rail regulations require sounding of the train’s whistle upon approach.  I’ve walked the tracks and I know where the signs that prompt the train driver to start sounding the whistle, but all the train drivers on this line are sadistic bastards and they all lay on the horn well in advance of the crossing.  The later at night, the earlier the whistle starts.  There are some really sick fucks who, in the wee hours between midnight and waking, start the whistle and one crossing and hold it on all the way through our ‘burg and out the other end.  In the summertime, the bedroom window is open for cool night air and the train’s whistle is sure to make me jump out of bed and shut it.  Usually around the time the whistling stops.

Lawn mowers are another peeve.  I only mow my own lawn under duress.  I hate mowing and when I mow, I wear ear plugs.  This helps preserve (what’s left of) my hearing and it mutes the lawn mower noise***.  Everyone else in the neighbourhood seems to love mowing.  Seems like they’ll mow two or three times a week, just for the hell of it.  And, of course, they all stagger their mowing times, so there’s a near continuous hum of mower all day Saturday and Sunday.  Doesn’t anyone appreciate a little peace and quiet?

We have an aiport**** of sorts near our ‘burg.  Yet another externality occurs when pilot wannabes come out from the city to strut their stuff.  Part of the practice routine involves take-offs and landings, with a big circle in between in order to get back where one started from.  The circle flight path lies….yes, you got it…..directly over our house.  As the same airplane putt-putts over our yard again and again, I fantasize about green laser pens and ack-ack.

Every week – on Wednesdays – at work, there are tests of the emergency alert systems.  Every week we are serenaded by a host of alert tone combinations the finale of which is the all clear – a long steady tone.  Yesterday, the all clear seemed to get stuck and it only stopped just as I surpassed my breaking point, got up and slammed my office door.

I’m starting to think this list could go on and on, so I’ll finish up with “fall peepers”.  I trust you know what spring peepers are?  The cheeping sound you hear from marshy areas in the spring when frogs and other swamp dwellers are mating and such.  Well, around here we have what I call fall peepers, because the first time I heard it, that’s what I thought it was: fall peepers brought on by rampant climate change and global warming.  It turns out that the noise is from the condenser fin fans on the new ice plant at the community arena.  I don’t know if it’s a fan pitch setting glitch or what, but since the ice plant upgrade a year or two ago, we get to hear fall peepers all winter long.  They must be putting the ice into the rink today, because tonight I heard fall peepers.

* FBRL equals a combo facebook and real life friend.  In this case, someone who was a real life friend before the world wide web and long before Zuckerberg stole the idea for facebook.

** Hate that term when applied to malady.

*** Yes, yes, yes, I’ve tried a reel mower.  They are very quiet, but who has four fucking hours to spend mowing  a postage stamp sized lawn?!?

**** It’s actually been re-named the something something Aerodrome after somebody not famous enough for me to remember his name.

Posted by: Rob | June 11, 2011

What if?

What if the the world ended* and all that was left of humanity were the facebook server back ups?

* By “world ended” I mean all of humankind died off.

Posted by: Rob | April 25, 2011

Silver

One of the (many) ongoing debates over at ZeroHedge.com concerns the ability – or inability – to take physical possession of the precious metals in which folks have invested.  Since gold has become expensive and scarce, many are looking to silver as their second choice.  There is a big debate over “paper” silver versus physical silver and one’s ability to get one’s grimy hands on it.

I’ve never understood the human fascination with so-called precious metals.  I say you can’t eat silver or gold or any precious metal for that matter.

I’ve got no use for silver, so instead I’m putting my money into rice, flour and other things you can actually eat.  In the future, if I need gold or silver for something, I’ll simply take it from the bloating corpses that will be laying everywhere about.

Posted by: Rob | January 10, 2011

Excellent rebuttal

I opined a little bit yesterday about crude oil and gasoline pump prices and the end of the recession.

I saw this piece on Zero Hedge last night and was dismayed and disgusted by obvious inaccuracies and out and out wrong information.  It’s little wonder that many talking heads in the financial reporting world really have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to the actual mechanics of crude oil exploitation, distribution and use.  Oft times I just wish these people would shut the f**k up and quit running off at the mouth about things about which they have no idea.

I scrolled through a few of the comments on the piece recognizing the contributions of those who also have no clue or have drunk the kool-aid.

Then I came upon this gem of a comment:

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

Posted by: Rob | January 9, 2011

How to tell when the recession is over

Just before the big crash of ’08, gas pump prices had been on a meteoric rise.  Crude oil (WTI*) was hitting its all time high just under US $150 per barrel, and we were paying around CAD $1.30 locally for a litre of gas.  We had taken a road trip to Iowa in June/July of ’08 and I remember paying nearly CAD $1.50 per litre in Saskatchewan and over USD $4 per gallon across the Dakotas, Minnesota and in Iowa.

After the crash, fuel prices came back into the range of reasonableness.  The relief was welcome, but there was a residual nagging idea that the whole run up in prices was not based on what are referred to as “market fundamentals”.  I’ve been disgusted with – and ranted about before – the way in which prices are set in places like New York and Chicago for commodities.  There’s just too much opportunity for manipulation and that has attracted the “speculators” who seek to make money from nothing.

With economies around the world in the doldrums and the financial sector under suspicion (at least by some of us), oil prices seemed to stay in the range of reasonableness after recovering from the overshoot down from their record high.

Annie posted this link on her facebook page a few days and I read the piece, which wonders whether or not 2011 will be a repeat of 2008.  Most of the discussion is worthless technically as most of the economist and market analyst types don’t really understand thing one about the exploitation of oil and gas and most assume that supplies are limitless.  The one thing I did find interesting in the piece, though, was this chart:

The resolution is a bit sketchy, but essentially it’s not too hard to see that the sudden run up in crude price and the subsequent crash made very little difference on the volume of crude flowing from the producing wells of OPEC and non-OPEC crude suppliers alike.

A significant amount of this crude was not being used, judging from US crude inventory reports that repeatedly stated the crude oil terminals at Cushing (OK) were all full.  So where did all that crude oil go?  Well, a lot of it went onto crude oil tankers, which were pressed into service as floating storage.  That’s why there were none available to hold sucked up crude oil and sea water after BP’s Macondo well blowout in 2010.

But it looks like this degree of fuel price stability couldn’t last.  As the idea of economic “recovery” takes hold, the speculators, tiring of gold, have returned to oil.  And not to be left behind, the refiner/marketers are re-embracing their gouging ways.

I’ve watched with jaundiced eye as the refiner/marketers have started stepping up the pump prices once again.  I don’t really believe the economic recovery is all that much to write home about and I feel vindicated in that thought every time a pump price hike retreats a bit a few days afterward.

The most recent price hike saw local pump prices break the dollar per litre barrier again, hitting CAD $1.01.9 per litre of regular just before New Year’s Eve.  By the end of last week, the price had slid back to CAD 99.9 cents per litre.

I was fairly sure that historical data were available on-line and sure enough I was able to generate this chart from http://www.edmontongasprices.com/ :

So is the recession over?  I suppose time will tell.  And when it is, I imagine this graph will start to look more like a departing airplane’s trajectory.

* West Texas Intermediate is a “benchmark” indicator of crude quality.  All other crudes are measured and valued, up or down, against this benchmark.  I think I read somewhere once that there really isn’t any more West Texas Intermediate.  It’s been all used up.

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