Humbug On The Christmas Music

When I was growing up, Dad’s one-ton flatbed truck only got two radio stations: talk and country. Driving as an adult, my car only gets talk because today’s country is mostly crap since KEEN-AM went off the air in 1992 and I never came to enjoy current pop music that much. I normally listen to KGO (810 AM) for talk since I grew up on that. They were playing this awful Christmas music all day, which is surprising because most people regard as KGO as being a liberal bastion (i.e., they have no outspoken conservative personality burning up the mike). If anything, KGO is very mainstream. But why were they playing all this conservative Christmas music? The biggest fear that most listeners have about the programming is that KGO’s independence may eventually be undermined by their corporate parent, Citadel Broadcasting. Perhaps the corporate office did impose this conservative Christmas music programming, which is something I would expect to find on FOX Radio (910 AM).

What was playing on FOX Radio on Christmas Day? Paid programming on how to better your finances through expensive seminars and improve your health through unregulated vitamins.

I kept going back to the Christmas music.

I tend not to listen to FOX if I can help it. The radio signal doesn’t carry well outside of the south bay area, and their conservative programming can be quite outrageous. One Saturday night I was coming back from the movies, a political show was playing back clips from black protesters who rioted because of the Oscar Grant court decision. One memorable clip was: “WE’RE GOING TO KILL ALL THE WHITE PEOPLE! BURN OAKLAND TO THE GROUND AND CALL IT BLACKLAND!” Needless to say, this is why white senior citizens voted for Republican candidates in the recent mid-term election. They’re afraid of black people. Worst, there’s a blackman in the White House. God almighty, what is wrong with this great country?

(Never mind that it was professional anarchists who came to Oakland to cause trouble. Can’t let a little factoid interfere with sensational news programming and scoring political points on FOX News.)

I did bring my fully charged iPod Touch but I forget to bring the portable speaker. Since I had a first generation Touch, I couldn’t play my 1980s music collection through the radio via the bluetooth speaker for my cellphone. I was stuck with whatever was playing on the radio. Unless I’m taking a very short trip, I could never drive in silence. That’s worse than listening to the same type of Christmas music for five hours while driving. This is probably payback for wrapping up my Christmas shopping two weeks early to avoid the nastiness of listening to Christmas music at the mall.

Bah, humbug!


The Water Repair Of Our Discontent

A 24-hour notice went up on all the apartment doors this past Saturday night informing us that the water would be shut off for repairs on Monday from 8:30AM to 6:30PM. The timing was terrible. I had planned on doing laundry the next day. Although the laundry rooms were always busy on the weekends, everyone and their mother was doing laundry before the water main was shut off. I wasn’t able to do laundry that day but I still had some clean clothes left.

Monday came and went without the water ever being shut off. The plumbers never showed up and the hole in the back parking lot wasn’t filled in. When I checked out laundry rooms that evening, everyone and their mother was doing laundry again.

Tuesday came and went as I did some Christmas shopping before everyone and their mother could make Christmas shopping insane. (Having gone shopping with Filipino friends who dropped $5,000 USD on presents for their families at a very crowded Valley Fair Mall on Christmas Eve in 1999, I know how insane Christmas shopping can be that I don’t want to relive it.) I really didn’t have time to do laundry during the day. Since another 24-hour notice went up on the apartment doors, everyone and their mother was doing laundry again that evening.

The plumbers did show up on Wednesday and the water was eventually turned back on before 8:00PM. Another day of running errands and Christmas shopping. I was also looking for a Windows 7 certification book to improve my chances of getting a new job. I’ve been out of work for 20 months. Only recently had my financial situation improved enough that I could afford to get a certification book this month and take the exam next month. Silicon Valley companies are starting to migrate their computers from Windows XP to Windows 7 after having skipped Windows Vista in the last upgrade cycle. I’m hoping to ride the migration wave for the next few years. I went to Borders at Oakridge Mall but they didn’t have any certification books. This is the second time this month I had to go to the smaller Borders store at Santana Row to find the book I needed. The cashier’s eyes popped out when she rung up the book—retail price $70 USD—and applied the 50% off coupon that reduced the price to $35. I never buy an expensive technical book unless I really need to and have a 50% off coupon. Everyone and their mother was in the laundry rooms again. I had ran out of clean clothes the day before and planned to do laundry the next morning.

The water was turned off again on Thursday. A new notice was posted on the door that water would be turned off for most of the day. The clothes I’ve been wearing for two days was starting to make me itch and I wasn’t a happy camper. I could’ve gone to the laundromat to get my clothes washed but I didn’t feel like loading up the car and waiting several hours inside my car. I did a final round of Christmas shopping and some grocery shopping. I turned on the kitchen faucet when I got home, waited for the water to come gushing out, and rushed down to the laundry room when it did at 8:00PM. I was shocked to find that someone had pre-loadedtwo of the washing machines with soap and dirty laundry. I guess I wasn’t the only desperate person in the building who didn’t have a mother to help out with the laundry. I got two loads done that night. The next morning I was going to finish the other two loads.

Guess what? It’s Friday and the water is off. A new notice was on the door. I’m still itching even though I’m wearing clean clothes since I forgot to take a shower last night. I could have gone to the gym and taken a shower there. But because of my awesome manliness would make all the other guys at the gym feel insecure, I chose to grin and bear being without water for another day. The water did came back on at 2:45PM when I was almost done writing this blog post. As for tomorrow, who knows if the water or will be on or off. The only thing I know for certain is that everyone and their mother will be doing laundry again.

Invasion Of The Pumpkin Snatchers

I have never seen or heard anything like this. I called my Dad in Sacramento and told him about it. He had never heard of seeds sprouting from the inside of a pumpkin. He suggested that I try to make pumpkin pie out of it. I did that one year but it didn’t work out too well. Turns out that Jack O’Lantern pumpkins are unsuitable for pies. Sugar pumpkins are better for pies. A quick Google search reveals that you can cook fairytale pumpkins into pies. Maybe next year with a pumpkin that doesn’t have green sprouts growing inside it.

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Carving a pumpkin with a three-inch thick wall wasn’t an easy task. I wanted to do a side-to-side grin with tiny sharp teeth that would look down from the balcony on the one or two kids who come trick-or-treating in the complex. (Most of the kids go to the Halloween party hosted by the leasing office at the clubhouse on Friday.) I ended up carving half the pumpkin away to have a big set of teeth. This was the best I could to do given that my sharpest knife was the biggest knife that I have. The pumpkin guts with the sprouted seeds ended up in the trash.

The nice thing about being a writer is that I’m thinking about turning this fairytale pumpkin into a short story. I’ve been wanting to do an “Invasion of The Body Snatchers” story for some time but I haven’t found a unique angle to trick out the story with. Sprouted seeds inside a pumpkin appears to the perfect treat: “They look like ordinary pumpkins until they were carved open and the green tendrils among the discarded pumpkin guts slithered out of the trash to eat people.”

Maybe I should put the trash out before I go to bed tonight. Happy Halloween 2010!

Update Tuesday 2 November 2010 @ 1:45PM – A little research reveals that the seeds inside the pumpkin can sprout if the pumpkin was kept too warm (about 70F degrees) for an extended period of time. Since the grocery store kept the pumpkins near the entrance that gets direct sunlight and there was a recent one-week heatwave, it was enough to get the the seeds to start sprouting. Remember that the next time you shop for a pumpkin.


State of The Website (Or, Lack Thereof)

My author website got a few significant updates that reflected my growing list of publication credits. A writing blog using WordPress CMS was soon abandoned and neglected after getting started, and a books page was added to list all the anthologies that are available with my short stories. (Please buy yourself some copies, read my short stories and make me rich.) I don’t plan to make a significant changes to the author website in the near future. I do plan to resume blogging on writing topics at least once a month.

I’ve been very busy with my business website (a.k.a., programming website) over the last month, reviewing and updating all mysoftware modules for Joomla. The Show TwitGoo, Show TwitPic, and Show Plixi (formerly TweetPhoto) modules were updated with new features. The Show TwitrPix module was added, which prompted another round of updates for the Show modules after I switched over the SimplePie RSS parser (better error reporting and foreign language support). Added the TwitPic Widget and TwitrPix Widget modules. I’m still plan to review and add more Flair modules for the Stack Exchange family of websites. I’m also learning how to write software components using the Joomla Framework API, which may result in all the Show modules becoming Show components. (Modules display simple content on the sides, tops or bottoms of a web page, whereas components display complex content in the center.) I’m focusing my programming efforts on becoming a Joomla developer for now. I don’t plan on adding a programming blog.

Once my programming tasks are done, I’ll turn my focus on finishing the transition of the legacy website here. Adding ten years of content is a daunting task, especially when that content is locked away in an old database, need to be manually moved over and updated to remove legacy web links that don’t work anymore. I’ve learned a lot about updating and maintaining Joomla websites over the summer. I should have that project done by the end of winter. (Maybe, maybe not, we will see.) I’m planning to resume blogging at least once a week. There are events going on in the world that I want to comment on and I need a bigger soapbox to do that.


Recovering From A Disappearing ISP

The ISP hosting my three websites and a dozen email accounts disappeared from the Internet for 36 hours last week, starting on Thursday morning at 10:00AM and ending Friday night at 9:30PM. If the outage had lasted less than 24 hours, I would’ve shrugged my shoulders and went on with life. Outages do happen from time to time. I started looking into alternative web hosting when 24 hours came and went, and discovered that my domain registrar, DirectNIC, could host my websites for half the monthly cost that I was paying. By the time the outage was over, I had already transferred my websites over. This was purely a business decision.

A more detailed explanation can be found on my writing blog.

On a related note, this blog is on hiatus for the summer. I’m planning to finish the content conversion from the legacy website that I started in January 2008 and add other content that I haven’t gotten around to yet. I’ll blog about these updates from time to time. General blogging will resume in October.

A Father’s Day Anvil

We weighed the anvil on the bathroom scale to find out that it weighed 195 pounds. We thought that 1-2-27 stamped on the side was the date it was made, but that turns out to be the weight in hundredweight notation. Inputting the numbers into an Internet calculator confirmed that the anvil was 195 pounds. More research suggested that this was a “London-patterned” anvil made by Peter Wright between the 1860s and 1920s, often used as ballast in sailing ships when being delivered to the United States. Dad found it in a blacksmith shop on an old farm in Boise, Idaho, in the late 1950s.  It’s at least 100 years old since it was on the farm for 50 years and he had it for 50 years after that. An anvil collector would pay anywhere from $400 USD to $1,000 USD.

When I was a little child, I sat on the anvil one night to watch Dad work around the garage. I was rocking back and forth when I fell off backwards. The back of my head stuck the lawnmower blade, leaving an inch-long scar that I didn’t know about until I got a crew cut as teenager, and I blacked out. The next thing I remembered was waking up in the truck with my parents as  pulled up to the hospital. Then I blacked out for good when I was put on the operating table and a gas mask was put over my face. I woke up in a recovery room that had six tables. The only other patient was a Hell’s Angels biker with a broken arm and stitches for multiple knife wounds who was handcuffed to the table. That was the beginning of a very interesting childhood for me.

Ever since then I wanted to have that anvil, which was customary handed down from father to son through the ages. Dad knows I want the anvil but he haven’t given it to me yet and keeps mentioning that he wants to sell it. I think he fears that I’ll stop visiting him if I took the anvil home. Not true but I’m not pressing him for it. I did made it very clear that the anvil was the only possession that I wanted from him if he kicks the bucket. My brother can have everything else. Knowing my luck, I’ll have to pry the anvil out of his dead hands when the time comes.


The Bank’s Free Movie Ticket Promotion

Which is why some merchants are encouraging consumers to use debit instead of credit if they are given a choice.  The transaction fee for debit is less than what it is for credit.  Banks, on the other hand, would love to get consumers to use credit for every debit purchase since they earn more money that way.  That’s how the interchange system works.  Unfortunately, most people don’t realize that.  When a bank dangles a free movie ticket in your face, it’s really about the bank enriching themselves at the expense of the merchant while pretending to offer you a nice freebie.

If you look at the entire financial system over the last few years, it’s all about the different ways to charge fees for everything underneath the sun.  If you bought a cup of plain black coffee at Starbucks that causes your checking account to be overdrawn, the bank will charge you an overdraft fee for each and every item that comes.  If you use a foreign ATM to withdraw money, you will get hit with a fee by the ATM owner and the bank.  If you don’t keep a minimum balance in your savings account, you will pay a monthly maintenance fee.  (Never mind the five percent interest spread that the banks make from paying out on savings and earning from loans.)  The financial system is no longer in the business of creating new wealth that benefits society as a whole.

These fees will soon change this summer.  The bank will lose a significant source of easy profits by no longer being allowed to charge overdraft fees if you don’t opt in to their overdraft programs, and the interchange fee will be reduced for merchants.  No doubt that the banks will find new fees to make up difference, like eliminating “free” checking accounts by charging a high monthly maintenance fee.  The fee list will continue to grow until consumers cries out again and politician finds it in their self-interest to bring the banks under heel.

I have no intention of switching from debit to credit to score a free movie ticket.  The only ethical way I could do that was to make purchases at a merchant that does credit transactions by default.  That would be my local gas station.  However, I only buy gas once or twice a month, and don’t drive enough miles to buy gas 30 times in two months.  Unless, of course, I buy a gallon of gas at a time.  That’s not ethical because that’s gaming the system.  Then again, the banks are already gaming the system.  Not that I would try to do that at my local gas station.  The fat Indian guy might come out of his booth with a baseball bat to swing at my head if I’m messing around with his pumps.  He yelled at me once for using an American Express card—before they cancelled it—that he doesn’t take.

The U.S. Mint found itself in a similar situation last year when they offered free shipping for gold coin purchases made by credit card. Some people were repeatedly buying gold coins on their credit cards, depositing the gold coins at the bank to pay off the credit card balance, and earning frequent air miles to score free airline tickets.  They weren’t doing anything illegal except gaming the system as they found it.  The U.S. Mint put in safeguards to prevent abuses of this nature.  Gold coins are for collectors, not speculators.  Never mind that the frothy gold market today.

I sent off an email to Wells Fargo Bank customer service to ask them if I could get a free movie ticket if I did buy a gallon of gas 30 times in two months.  Not surprisingly, they didn’t know about this promotion and told me to check in with the local branch office.  That I didn’t do.  Every time I go in to make a cash deposit inside (those envelope-less ATMs don’t think my cash is good enough for them), the tellers remind me that I don’t have a savings account and no overdraft protection. They’re never happy to hear that I havemy savings account at a different bank that charges no monthly fee and pays one percent more in interest, and I’m really careful about managing the money in my checking account.  People like me who manage their finances responsibly are the kind people that banks don’t like since they can’t charge extraneous fees.  No wonder they’re going broke.


Why I Hate Tea Baggers

One fellow wrote several long paragraphs comparing me to Rob Reiner and calling me a “meat head,” the slang term that Archie Bunker used for his son-in-law in “All in The Family” TV series.  I pretended I didn’t understand him.  I’m sure that many younger readers didn’t understand his reference to a TV series that’s been off the air for a generation.  I challenged him to take a class in English.  Another insult since that’s what the tea baggers hurl at anyone who has an accent, looks foreign or refuses to assimilate into the white-as-slice-bread melting pot.

His reply was swift: “You’re a loser.”

My reply was swifter: “Of course, I’m a loser. I’m a moderate conservative.”

How many intellectual brownie points did we score with that exchange?  Not much, if any.  Not that I was keeping track or even care about that.  You will find many windbags on WSJ who try to demonstrate their intellectual superiority in a barrage of words that mean nothing.  A politician’s stump speech would be more interesting in comparison, even if you heard 30 times or more during the course of the campaign.  As a fiction writer I keep my verbiage to a minimum to best communicate the human stupidity that I witness in all its forms

Poke, poke.  See how they growl, hiss and snarl.

I hate tea baggers.  If you listen to what they’re actually saying rather than accept the “sanitized” version presented by the Republican Party (the Rand Paul episode is a fine example), you soon realize these people have an agenda that would—in my opinion—tea bag America (i.e., in the sexual position).  For example, tea baggers want to return to the original U.S. Constitution without all those pesky amendments that outlawed slavery, allowed women and colored people the right to vote, electing senators directly by popular vote, limited presidents to two terms in office, and prohibited the non-payment of poll taxes to deny people the right to vote.  All the amendments that made modern America so great over the last 200 years is what the tea baggers don’t want.

I loved Non Sequitur’s take on this.  The heads of tea baggers should explode when they find out that their version of America is unwanted by anyone who can think for themselves and for society as a whole.  America needs to move forward into the future and not backward into the past.

Tow, Baby, Tow

You would think after six weeks of notices taped to the apartment doors and a final warning taped to the poles around the parking lot, some people would take a hint.  Nope.  Ain’t going to happen, baby.  Some of my neighbors wouldn’t even take down the notices from their doors, leaving them up there like political posters posted over the old posters left over from the last election on telephone poles.  (For the younger generation, there used to be telephone poles on every street before the utility companies started burying the cables underground, and campaign posters gave way to become websites and viral videos on to the Internet.)  An apartment door covered with paper becomes an eyesore in a hurry.  Half the doors on my section of the floor was like that.

Why do some people leave their cars parked in their old unassigned parking spots without the new permits to be towed away?

Maybe they were on vacation.  A guy at a different apartment complex returned home from India after a six week-vacation to find that his car was towed away for not being moved from its designated parking spot every 72 hours, impounded for 30 days, and crushed as scrape metal to pay the towing fees.  Since he didn’t notified the leasing office that he was going on vacation and they weren’t able to contact him, his vehicle was presumed to be abandoned and towed away.  Tsk, tsk, you’re so out of luck, they told him.  Police told him the same thing.  He told the San Jose Mercury News and everyone in Silicon Valley knew he was out of luck.  This happens all the time in San Francisco without making the papers.

Or maybe they weren’t on the lease.  All you need is one legimate person to sign the lease, who turns around to sublease the apartment out to friends or strangers who aren’t legal and/or credit worthy to be on the lease.  Needless to say, these unofficial tenants aren’t going into the leasing office with their vehicle registration to pick up the new permit.  Changing the parking permits and reassigning parking spots is a good way to flush out these apartments, as well as legitimate tenants who own three or four cars.  Street parking is non-existent around here with students trying to avoid paid parking at San Jose City College, extra cars from the other apartment complexes, permits required for street parking on the residential street, and the nearest public parking lot is a mile away.  If you ever tried driving around a crowded neighborhood to look for a parking spot when visiting a friend, it’s a more frustrating experience for someone who lives there.

I once shared an apartment with three Filipino guys when rent prices were crazy in Silicon Valley before the dot com bust blew the rental market to Kingdom Come.  We were all on the lease.  They shared the large room and I was in the smaller room.  The brother who recently arrived from the Phillipines suggested that the big bedroom had enough space for another 20 Filipino guys.  Uh, no.  One, that wouldn’t fly with the leasing office. Two, having once slept overnight with 20 guys—some of whom had dinner at Taco Bell—in a small hotel room for a campus ministry retreat in Berkeley, I wasn’t going to relive that experience. Three, they never did pony up that Filipino wife that they promised me (probably because I didn’t eat the balut).  After so many misadventures with roommates over the years, I’m happy to be living by myself.

Or maybe they were stupid.  A roommate and I had shared an apartment at a complex that had strict parking rules.  He had the only car but we had two assigned parking spots.  One day for lunch he parked his car in the uncovered spot because it was closer to the apartment.  The permit sticker on his car was for the covered spot.  When he got done with lunch, he found out that his car was towed away for being in the wrong spot and it cost him $350 to get his car back.  We also found out that the complex got $150 for every car that was towed away, which would explain why a tow truck came through the complex at 9AM, 12PM and 3PM every day of the week.  On average, two cars a day got towed.

My apartment complex has some 300 odd apartments and 600 odd parking spots.  After the new parking regime went into effect, about 200 parking spots opened up.  The former “visitor” parking spots were mostly empty at night during the week.  Cars without the new permits started showing up over the weekend.  I haven’t seen any tow trucks cruising through the complex yet.  That might change once everyone gets used to the new parking regime and the parking spots start filling up again.  I’m not taking any risks.  I had my friend parked at the post office and picked him up to hang out over at my place.  Neither of us can afford to have his car towed.

Although I gave up a parking spot that I had for nearly five years, I liked the new one.  It’s further back than the other one, on the end and out of the traffic flow.  Also out of the crossfire of dueling pine trees when they dump pollen during spring.  It’s further away from the dumpsters and mailbox.  Multitasking multiple errands requires more walking.  Not that I mind walking.  I saw one person driving their car with one hand out the window to hold the trash bags to drive over to the dumpster.  Now that’s plain stupid.