Friday, September 28, 2012

1831 Baggert

Brown bagging it. One expert says taking your lunch to work can save you money.
Dan Kadlec, in, did the math. He says if you eat out every day and spend around $15 for lunch, you're spending about $3,750 a year. That's like a healthy down payment on a car.
If you only spend $3 packing a lunch instead, it's just $750 a year. That's $3,000 a year you're saving. In ten years, that's $30,000! And that's just straight saving.
Now that's something to brown brag about.
But be careful. People will resent you. And say things like:
"Maybe you should get brownie points."
Or, "Baggert."
Anyhow, then old Dan got a little crazy with his calculations. He said if you take $2,000 of the savings a year and put it in a 401k, if you start at age 22 and make around $34,000 a year, if you get a 50% employer match, and if you get 7% return, your lunch nest egg could grow to $600,000 by the time you retire.
If, if, if.
If you make $34,000. Not a prospect most 22-year-olds can expect. If your employer matches 50%. What employer is doing that these strapped economic days? And if your employer is likely to keep you from age 22 to 65. If he has a successful company some Wall Street raider type is likely to buy him out, strip the benefits and dump all the old employees. And that 401k will be invested in the iffy stock market right? The same one that exploded all our 401ks in 2008?
Still, saving $3,000 a year is cool.
If, of course, it doesn't put too many restaurants out of business, and their workers out of work.
Then again, maybe they can get a job at the brown bag factory.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

1830 Syrup and Down

I suppose we all have our priorities. And what seems like a big deal to us may seem totally ridiculous to someone else. Why else would there be Beanie Baby crazes? Or Pogs? But sometimes I read about something in the news and I scratch my head.
Like the story I heard from Quebec. Apparently thieves made off with more than a million pounds of Maple Syrup. I'm not sure what that works out to in Imperial gallons, or kilos for that matter. But what did matter was what the Quebec producers thought about it. The maple syrup was stored in a rural warehouse as part of a "strategic reserve". That's right, I said strategic reserve. Like the U.S. is known to do with oil. The "syr" is syrup is short for "serious" in Quebec.
The thieves were clever. They didn't just steal the barrels of syrup. They emptied them. When discovered, the barrels were still there, but nothing was inside. Which, you know, means nobody had checked the warehouse for a while. Cause moving syrup is as slow as molasses. Either the thieves had a lot of time on their sticky fingers, or someone had a giant microwave handy.
"Obviously those people stole the syrup to sell it somewhere," said industry spokeswoman Anne-Marie Granger Godbout, "It will be hard for the honest processors to compete with stolen product."
Puts a whole new spin on the term hot syrup doesn't it?
It will affect the price for sure now. 30 million dollar strategic reserve or no. But there's one good thing. The syr-ups and downs of the market will finally answer the question, what is Mrs. Butter-worth?
If I were the Quebec police, I'd be staking out the honey manufacturers.
Or the hotcake warehouse.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

1829 Belies Belief

We believe what we want to believe. A great philosopher once said we seek out facts to support our beliefs, not the other way around. The internet age has made it so much simpler to do just that. Hey, technology is supposed to make everything easier, right? Why not supporting our hard-earned prejudices?
So it's no surprise a recent study concluded that at least one-third of the "consumer" reviews of products found on the internet are fake. The third party reviews are written by marketers, retailers, authors, friends of the sellers, and even third party companies paid to churn out positive reviews.
Hmmm... A third party company paid to churn out positive statements. Why does that sound familiar...?
Sometimes, they just lead you by the nose of your own desire. Like the story of a researcher who took an iPhone 4S and told subjects it was the new iPhone 5. When asked to compare it to the 4S, subjects said they loved it. Said it was thinner, faster, and lighter. They thought the screen was larger and had better resolution. All things hyped about the iPhone 5.
As the friend who related this true story from the internet supposedly not churned out by a paid competitor said, "Apple can tell people it cooks spaghetti and they would believe it."
Yum. iPasta.
Then there's the political documentary of Dinesh D'Souza, which purports to show how Obama was raised by Marxists and anti-whites. The same folks will believe it who don't believe his birth certificate. And thanks to the high-tech web, they can find others just like them to support their beliefs.
Me, I'm going to buy that invisibility cloak I read about on the internet. It's made by the Emperor New Clothing Company.
It's getting great reviews.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

1828 Souper Solution

My mom always used to say, "Waste not want not" a good phrase she learned in the real depression. It's interesting to note that not many people are paying attention to that homely maxim. Or is that maximized homily?
A recent news article put waste in America at about 40%. And that's waste of the most essential of all household items, food. The Natural Resources Defense Council, (I'm not sure if they defend non-natural fast food too) says that the average family of four wastes $2,275 of food each year.
That works out to 20 pounds per person per month.
Hmmm. Yet we still manage to have the largest percentage of obese people in the world.
It appears what we don't waste we are cramming in. But still, and this is obviously a very large but, maybe we just need to get smarter about how we cook our meals. Not throw away those outer leaves of romaine when we're making the salad perhaps.
Or we could just make more soup with the leftovers. Which is actually harder than it sounds. We Americans are a diverse bunch cooking-wise, moving from Thai fish one night to Italian spaghetti the next to Mexican tacos the night after that and Hungarian goulash at the end of the week. I'm not ready for Thai fish-aghetti taco goulash soup.
Then again, maybe it's fast food we are a wastin'. Maybe it's those last few limp fries or the dry final bite of a super-value menu disappointment. Or the 47 extra ketchup packets they gave us when we asked for two...
I know, we could make ketchup soup.
Catch-up on all our leftovers, a waste not want not solution that's truly American.
A melting pot we can be proud of.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

1827 Evenso

I was thinking recently about childhood things, and how much they influence things later on down the line. Things from the time I was a kid, or even from the time I was raising my kids.
Like the company Evenflo. I was driving down the road not long ago and saw a box displayed at a curbside yard sale. The box was for a car seat. But not just any car seat. It was an Evenflo car seat.
And I thought, didn't they used to make breast pumps? I checked and yep, sure enough, the company started in the baby bottle and breast pump business. And good for them, I remember they did a great job insuring my own children got smooth bubble-free nourishment with the even flow of liquids promoted by their product.
But really, don't you think they should create a different name for their car seat division? An Evenflo car seat invokes a different image altogether. Maybe that the child in question is slipping out of his or her restraints. Or oozing onto the seat.
Let's hope it's not because they're in the diaper business too. I don't even want to contemplate the effects of the non-snuggie tightness that name invokes. Oozing indeed.
And speaking of the era of my kids' youth, I saw a news article about the incredible frenzy surrounding the release of the iPhone 5. They're expecting $10 million in sales. And I'm thinking, really. It's going to be that much better than the iPhone 4S? Most likely not. Then it occurred to me. It's no wonder. This is the same generation that created the Cabbage Patch Kids craze.
Their common sense didn't even flow in a sane manner then either.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

1826 Whine One One

I know I often whine about technology in this column. Perhaps I'm just reacting to being overwhelmed with all the new techno-stuff being thrown our way constantly. It's tough to sort out. I wonder if there's an app for that?
Still, I have good cause. Because sometimes technology has unintended consequences. Take the poor guy in Alaska. Apparently he was moving there and when he drove off the ferry that brought him to his new hometown, he followed his car's GPS voice's advice and took a sharp right.
Unfortunately, a sharp right sent him down a boat ramp directly into the harbor. Do not depend on technology too much. There's a point where you also have to use your eyes and brain to assess your surroundings.
Then again, he was probably not using his eyes because he was texting.
I had a disconcerting experience with my own phone recently. There was an individual in my parking lot that was acting as if he might be having a seizure. So I called 9-1-1-. It was the first time I have ever done so on my ancient cellphone so I was surprised by what it did.
It immediately went into speakerphone mode and loudly proclaimed, "9-1-1- Emergency!"
Great, I suppose, if you accidentally butt-dialed the number and needed to be warned you may be tying up important phone circuits. But terrible if you were cowering under a bed making the call to police because a home intruder was in the other room.
So much for staying hidden.
Might as well turn on all the lights and invite the burglar over to the valuables. New technology not only robs of us of our privacy, it robs us of our secrecy too.
But it does make it easier to whine...
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

1825 Feline

I read with trepidation the other day the latest science that's uncovered a desperate and ominous threat to our ecology. A mysterious predator that's been ravaging the populations of local wildlife. Not since the mysterious bee colony collapse issue has so much damage been done with so little knowledge of what or who was doing it.
And then some scientists had an idea and utilized miniature camera technology to tell the tale. A tale so bizarre even Dickens would have been awed.
It was a tale of a few kitties.
University of Georgia researchers uncovered these interesting facts. When let outside the typical house cat turns into a killing machine. Specially designed cameras strapped to kitties found that the cats went hunting, but they only brought home about 25% of their prey. Which included lizards, snakes, frogs, chipmunks, and birds. The rest were just played with till they expired and were discarded.
Ever notice how much "meow" sounds like "meh" ?
The American bird conservancy says cat predation is one reason why one in three American bird species is in decline. Watch out Tweety Bird, the cat social system is all a twitter to get you.
The footage also showed cats are often a danger to themselves, crossing busy streets and eating and drinking unknown substances. Nothing like a little anti-freeze to wash down that lizard.
And they turn up their noses at Fancy Feast gourmet tuna…
The most unusual trait? Several of the felines, without their owners' knowledge, routinely visited a second family for extra treats and petting.
Wow. And they give you that sweet innocent look when you asked where they've been. Killin' and Cheatin'...and I bet if they could talk they'd be less than honest too.
Maybe that's why they call 'em fe-lyins.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

1824 iDTV

I spend a lot of time in these commentaries bemoaning the infiltration of technology into our private lives. It's not machines I distrust though. It's machines in the wrong hands. I may be crazy and paranoid, but that doesn't mean they're not really out to get me.
Take the combination of recent technologies. Thanks to ultra-small cameras, digital imaging, and recognition software, it's possible for your TV to watch you.
Yep, be careful what you do in the living room, tomorrow's reality TV may be you. At least to the technician back at the station. And perhaps to the hackers who highjacked his signal.
An example. In the new smart billboard technology, in which billboards change based on the viewer, a charity recently ran ads that only played to female viewers. The billboard decided the viewer was female based on recognition software.
Kraft and Adidas are experimenting with digital signs that recommend recipes or walking shoes to busy mothers. Ads based on whether consumers are happy, sad, healthy, sick, comfortable or nervous are next, thanks to computer analysis of posture and facial expression.
From digital signs and billboards to home TVs with hidden cameras is a small step. How many places on the edge of your screen could hide a lens with black but translucent plastic?
Microsoft has built an entire advertising platform around Kinect, which can detect the presence and age of anyone in the room. And all their motions.
Hmmm. Right now all the technology is centered around personalizing ads. But some Big Brother may just want to personalize your vote next. Or hold you hostage with some racy video.
Welcome to America's Soon-to-be-Wanted Blackmail channel.
Pay per not view, or we'll reveal your identity with iDTV.
What did you do on the couch last night?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

1823 Techno Pay'n

We're becoming so dependent on our little labor saving computer programs and apps, you wonder what it's going to take to wean us from that techno-teat.
Two items in the news recently show what I mean. First, the Trading firm Knight Capital almost went bankrupt because of a computer glitch in its automatic trading system.
High speed computer trading has saved investors millions in expensive fees. Except not so much in Knights case. It was the knight of the living dead for them, as their zombie computers relentlessly committed mindless trades that lost them $440 million in a single day, more than the $289 million they'd earned the entire previous quarter.
Thank you computer glitch. A group of investors stepped in and saved the company in return for a 73% stake but existing stockholders took it in the techno-shorts.
Not what they ordinarily mean by short selling.
The other item of concern is that Starbucks and Square are teaming up to allow customers to pay for purchases with Square's mobile app. Yep. No more cash. No more debit cards even, with their relative security. Now a mobile app on your mobile phone will have all that info.
What could go wrong?
Because, you know, cash is so difficult to carry around when you go to the coffee shop. Why not depend on the reliability of computers not to strip your personal bank account of the cost of a million lattes in a single day.
And heck, with all the spyware built into the free apps elsewhere on your smartypants phone, why would you be worried someone isn't even now devising an electronic back door to your bank account?
I mean saved you all the trouble of reaching into the same pocket from which you pulled your phone and pulling out cash instead...
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

1822 Clint's Stint

Much has been in the news recently about the conventions of the big parties. Or perhaps the parties of the big conventions. The Republicans particularly had some interesting press. Not just because Grover Norquist was busy trying to get everyone signing his "no taxes" pledge. I wish someone would stand up to him. If only because he sounds like a Muppet. Grover Norquist, The No Tax Cookie Monster.
No, the really bright spotlight shown on Clint Eastwood, and his bizarre rambling presentation before the assembled Republicans on the final day of their convention.
What was funny, and what so many of the commentators from both sides of the aisle ignored, was that good old Clint made a lot of remarks that could be taken as damning either side. He said at one point that these people come up every four years and make a lot of promises. You gotta not believe 'em, that's just what they do. Sounds like he was slamming both sides to me.
Then when he was talking about the bad job Obama has done, he aid maybe it was time, maybe we oughta give someone else a chance. Wow... Damn with faint praise. Then he said maybe we shouldn't give the highest job in the land to a lawyer. Forgetting, or not, that Romney has a law degree...
But what got me the most was how the press kept saying Eastwood carried on an off-color dialogue with an imaginary Obama. Nothing of the sort. Clint just said something like, "No, Mr. President, I can't tell Mr. Romney to do that to himself. It isn't even physically possible." Not off color at all. He could have meant sticking his elbow in his ear.
Then again, with a name like Dirty Harry...
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

1821 Great Gen

A couple of interesting statistics in the news recently about our aging population. By the way. I've noticed a lot of lawyers specializing in elder law issues. It must have a lot of financial potential. Maybe because old people are kind of slow, in both the way they walk and the way they talk. That also explains why some lawyers affect that slow-talking southern drawl customer interface. It makes sense.
And dollars too, as lawyers charge by the hour.
In any event, one statistic showed how Social Security is not the deal it once was. The folks of the Great Generation, who saddled us with their entitlement national debt, could get more than seven times what they paid in in benefits. Today's recently retired married couples, who've been paying in since the mid-fifties, will only get about $556,000 in benefits, even though they paid in $598,000.
So not only are the old coots living off us, and not only did they spend all the inheritance on RVs and Sun City deflated real estate, they spent all our Social Security too.
That why they call them the Great Generation. Because all our generation can say when we think of them is, "Great...another dollar down the drain..."
Which brings us to the second statistic. Nearly half of all Americans die with less than $10,000 in financial assets. Why is this no surprise? Between the bad decisions I mentioned earlier and crushing elder medical costs, there ain't much to start with.
Then, if you really do need long term care because your kids are going broke putting you up, the only answer is Medicaid and you can't have any assets over $2000 to qualify. Damned if you do and damned if you don't.
What generation created this mess?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

1820 Blow Out

Recently I was at Denver Airport, where a weird thing unsettled me when I went to use the restroom. I was in a hurry to meet a connecting flight but the call of nature was shouting, as I had got stuck on the wrong side of the drink cart on the plane. That didn't stop me from noticing, however, that both the men's and the women's restrooms had an extra sign on them.
And it was a very unsettling sign indeed.
It said: "Tornado Shelter."
Dude. A tornado shelter in a bathroom? Puts a whole new spin on that breaking wind thing.
And really, a brand new airport remodel and all the money they spent putting artistic teepee cones on their roof and they couldn't come up with a separate tornado shelter? I'm all for economy and being smart with construction dollars but you know. Where would I rather spend my potentially last minutes? In a special shelter surrounded by other people huddled together? Or crowded in the bathroom with toilets and urinals? Oh sure, if they didn't do it that way they'd have to also build toilets in the tornado shelters. And without a doubt they'd be empty rooms most of the time, but still.
What's worse, now you have segregated tornado shelters--Men's and Women's. How can you comfort your panicky spouse? And what a pain if one segregated tornado shelter survives and the other doesn't.
"Sorry sir, your wife was killed when she was impaled by a 100 mile an hour toilet paper roll."
One of you gets blown to the hereafter and one of you rides out the storm on a thundermug.
Oh well, in the end I suppose it's a much more convenient way to kiss your ass goodbye...
America, ya gotta love it.

1819 Rocky Mountain Low

I took a trip recently that laid me over for a brief time in Denver airport. You might think I was pleased to be in Rocky Mountain High land but not so much.
Whatever country road old John Denver must have taken on his way home it certainly didn't wind its way through Denver airport.
My first view of the airport was from above, as the jet swooped down from the barren plains of Wyoming and over an arid section of Northern Colorado. I was a little disappointed, as I was on the Great Plain side of the plane and so missed the majesty of the Rockies.
But I did get to see an artistic approximation thereof. I think. The Denver Airport has these massive sculptured tops on it that I think are supposed to represent the peaks of the Rockies. It's hard to tell because they are all white, look more like cones than mountains and appear to be made of fabric. Also, some of them have windows in their tippy-tops, which I don't remember from either geometry or geology class.
Then again, the white cones also look like they could be teepees. Perhaps the artist sought to invoke the traditional abodes of the Plains Indian tribes, and so stylized his mountains to look like tents.
Unfortunately, to my inartistic eye it also looked like the entire Denver terminal building was covered with tents for, um, fumigating. Which was certainly a possibility. I'd been reading a lot about the problems they were having in Texas. For all I knew Denver was another nexus for mosquitoes and West Nile virus.
Mountains, Teepees or insect killer.
Art is in the eye of the beholder. And perhaps not for unsophisticated folks like me.
Thank God I'm a country boy.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, September 07, 2012

1818 Three Traces of Fun

Three traces of fun today.
Recently I ate at a place called the Native New Yorker. I ordered some of their chicken strips. Which can come with any number of sauces you select. I selected the most potent sauce they have, since I was raised in Southern California where hottest sauce eating was a testosterone-laden right of passage in college.
The sauce I ordered was "Suicide Sauce." Let me just say it passed muster. One bite of the chicken strip and I felt like I had swallowed a tracer bullet. And it went through me just as fast. Passed muster and everything else.
Reminded me of the time I was in a cooking competition and sampled some bad humus. It made me falafel. I thought I was going to die. As my own humus was entered in the competition, I was worried. If I died, they may have had to give me the award post-humus-ly.
The other night felt better. I was introducing a reggae band for an outdoor performance at the park. I'd never met the band before and they didn't know me from Bob Marley. So the little imp in my brain decided to have some fun.
I said, "Welcome everyone, you're in for a treat this evening. Something very special. Tonight the bad is going to do an exciting style of music known as "Reggie." (at this point the band gave me surprised and concerned looks, as did about half the crowd.)
"Reggie music," I continued, "comes from a long and historical tradition. It started a long time ago with 'The Archies' and continued through Betty, and then Veronica music..."
The crowd finally caught on and erupted in post-punked laughter.
Dude...Reggae is rebellious and fun.
We be spoofin'...
America, ya gotta love it.

1817 Pre Amble

I get preoccupied with the way we use words. Sometimes my brain hiccups and I see them in a whole different way.
Like recently I got an email from Amazon giving me the opportunity to pre-order some book. How do you do that? Is it like filling out a form promising to order at some future date? Do I have to put earnest money on it? Or a deposit of some sort? Would they accept a pre-deposit?
Dumb. Once it's pre-ordered it's ordered. If they want me to order it in advance of publication, then say so. They're in the word business after all.
It's like when folks say they are prerecording something. "Prerecorded to be viewed later in your time zone." No. They recorded it to be viewed later. They can't pre-record it because it hasn't happened yet.
My favorite was in the days of vinyl when musicians would say they were prerecording a record.
Or how about preceding. Nothing "pre-" about it. People only use it when something is passed. "The preceding was a paid political announcement." And what is it they're ceding when they precede? Isn't ceding giving something away or giving up a point?
And how about present? It breaks down to "pre" and "sent." So you sent it earlier and it just arrived and now you are presenting it as a present?
Then there's preamble. Doesn't bode well for the rest of a piece of writing if you ask me. The first part, the preamble, indicates quite clearly the next part is going to be an amble. Great. Love a slow wandering presentation.
Then again, pre-amble sounds like what you do before you amble. Like stretching exercises before a run. Young folks do pre-run stretching.
Us oldsters do a pre-amble.
America, ya gotta love it.