The Bears Season is Over

The Chicago Bears season ended last Sunday on a hugely high note. I know there is one more game next week. We play the Saints. But, my team is not going to the playoffs and we beat our main rivals last weekend: the Packers. We destroyed them. We embarrassed them. The score was 35 - 7. It was glorious. The Chicago papers have had articles recently saying that the rivalry isn't as intense. It claimed those fans that think a 2 - 14 record is OK, as long as the two are the Packers, are remnants of the past. I disagree. Those articles were either 1) written before the game to reduce the pain of the assumed loss, or 2) written by people new to the Chicago area.

Of course, now that the Bears have swept the Packers, I can move on. I will be rooting for the Packers the rest of the way. I always root for the NFC North teams when they are in the playoffs, as long as they're not playing the Bears. Go Pack!

More Typical Winter in Batavia


Here's are typical shot of winter in Batavia, IL The gray sky is dull, depressing. I long for sunshine, even if it means bitter cold (which it often does in winter) after a long spell of gray days.

Winter in Illinois

We're back in Batavia. Things didn't work out in New Hampshire as planned. Rain's job didn't work out. Our house in Batavia never sold. So, we moved back.

Winter here has been cloudy - the Chicago Tribune said we've had the cloudiest December in years. but today is the kind of day I love. It's cold (around 15 degrees), but we have a brilliant blue sky. The white snow, green evergreen (in my neighbor's backyard, and blue sky form the very best color combination.

Predatory Mortgage Lenders?

There is an editorial in today’s Concord Monitor entitled “Predatory mortgage lenders are destroying America's cities” by Jim Rokakis - treasurer of Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

His premise is that the evil Wall Street financiers preyed on unsophisticated home owners. It was inevitable that these home owners would default on their loans, and that the Wall Street crowd knew this. And now, neighborhoods where hundreds of homes are in foreclosure are seeing drastic changes – all bad, due to homes remaining vacant. Criminals have moved in and the neighborhoods have declined.

I feel bad for folks that will lose a home. I couldn’t imagine it. I also feel bad for the people left behind in the neighborhood who now have to deal with the aftermath. But the editorial makes absolutely no reference to the role of the homeowner in our current housing mess. No one put a gun to their head and made them sign these deals!

The “victims” either did not know what they were signing, or knew perfectly well and now want someone to bail them out.

If it’s the first option, I have one question: How could these folks be so stupid? These homeowners probably did not read the documents they were signing. They made stupid economic assumptions (no asset, stocks or real estate or commodities ever continue an uninterrupted upward climb). They completely ignored the common sense maxim: “If it seems like it’s too good to be true, then it is.” They failed to remember that in our capitalist system one of the roles of business is to extract money from us. It’s not a bad thing, but it is a bad thing to forget. All the mortgage lender’s advertising aside, they are in it to make as much money as they can – don’t think they are going to be your “partner” – that’s not how they make a profit. I don’t think business is evil. But, I’m not so naive to think that business is my buddy either.

If it’s the second option and they knew exactly what they were getting into, too bad. They took a risk and they blew it. I don’t think the government should do anything to bail them out. No one should bail out the mortgage lenders that are declaring bankruptcy either. They made a big bet and blew it too.

Bug Nests in Our Trees

I think that the spider web looking things in our trees are the nests of a type of moth. The contractor working on our house, Matt Despres (http://www.despresrealestate.com/index.html), told me that those were gypsy moths. I still don’t know much about them, but it is comforting to know that there isn’t a bug big enough to wrap a raccoon or squirrel up in a web in a tree. J (I knew that.) We have had moths flock to our windows and screen doors all summer. Some of them are quite large, and pretty. Most of them are dull. They make a great plaything for our cat when they get in the house. Other than that, I know nothing about them. And, unlike dragonflies, they don’t really interest me much. However, if you want to know more about gypsy moths, they actually have their own website: http://www.gypsy-moth.com/.

Dragonflies


I was bringing something out to the car yesterday and I noticed an enormous insect just banging repeatedly into the siding of the house. I noticed it because it made a substantial noise when it hit due to its size. It was a dragonfly. I have noticed we have an enormous number of dragonflies here in New Hampshire, many more than I ever saw in Illinois. I realized I knew nothing about them. What do they eat? What is their life cycle – do they start as larvae, and then become caterpillars, then dragonflies? I had no idea. How did I live 50 years and remain so ignorant of the world around me?

Thank goodness for libraries and the internet. I now know that dragonfly eggs are deposited in water, or sometimes in the stems of underwater plants. After hatching, they live as naiads in the water eating other bugs, sometimes even small fish. They capture their waterborne prey via a large lower lip. Some species live in this mode for a few years. They shed their naiad skin and become dragonflies at some point – I don’t claim to understand the whole cycle yet.

They look beautiful and creepy all at the same time. They are not harmful to people, in fact they are voracious eaters of insects that I don’t enjoy: mainly mosquitoes. So, dragonflies rock!

One of the fascinating things about dragonflies is their flight capabilities. You can see them stop abruptly, fly backwards, hover and fly sideways. In fact, they have 4 wings, each of which can operate independently to give them these amazing flight characteristics. See http://tolweb.org/notes/?note_id=2471 for more information on their flying capabilities.

Now I feel a little better. Maybe next I’ll figure out what those spider web looking things are in the trees. It looks like a cocoon with a squirrel or raccoon inside it, but surely that can’t be what it really is. Right?

End of Summer

Late August and September make me think about time. Other events, like my birthday, also make me think about time. But birthday thoughts, for me, are usually constructive. Birthdays don’t usually depress me like they do others.

In late August and September it seems it’s all about loss. It’s the “end of summer”. I hear this in the news media, in endless advertisements and from other people. It’s not really the end of the nice weather though. September and early October still have some beautiful days for outdoor activities. I think the whole “end of summer” talk is very child-oriented. It is the end of summer for them. They go back to school. But, do all of us have to suffer this negative vibe just because the kids have to go back to school? Can’t we celebrate the fact that now the resorts, parks and beaches will be free of screaming kids and long lines? It’s not that I don’t like kids, but don’t make adults feel lousy just because they have to go back to school. It’s not like adult workers had the whole summer off! There is plenty of nice weather left to do things outside. Don’t get us all depressed months before the dark and cold of winter really sets in. Let us enjoy the true end of summer – summer does officially end September 21st after all.

Our Tax Dollars at Work

Senator Hillary Clinton, in an interview on CNBC, proposed a $1 billion fund to help homeowner with sub-prime loans that are in danger of foreclosure. She mentioned that the prepayment penalties found, in her words, “on page 700 in the fine print” were onerous and made it very difficult for these people to refinance and keep their homes.

Is this a good idea? Should the taxpayers have to bail out people that made bad decisions? We do it all the time – people who build in hurricane or earthquake areas get assistance to rebuild in the same stupid place. Why not these people?

Home ownership is part of the American dream. It seems that it has been pushed even harder in the last few decades as the only way to go. It is huge business. It keeps the home construction business busy, the realtors busy, and it’s important to our economy. Homeowners just buy more stuff than renters: lawn and garden equipment, snow blowers, new kitchen cabinets… There’s a lot of motivation in the business community to convince people that they must own a home to be happy.

What’s the rush? My dad didn’t own his first home until he was 48. He bought his first (and only) house in 1968. Prior to that, the 6 of us lived in a 3 bedroom apartment. As a kid I didn’t feel we lacked space. My parents may have thought differently, of course. But today, everyone seems to want to get into the house of their dreams way earlier than they should. Their expectations are high too. They want the newest and the best.

A lot of these people should just not own a home. They are not ready financially. They got in on no money down, adjustable rate mortgages. They did not read what they signed. And now that the teaser rate is expiring they are in trouble. I do feel bad – I would hate to lose my home. But, is it appropriate for the government to take our money to bail these people out? I think not.

Good Book - Midnight Mass by F. Paul Wilson

I picked this up at Toadstool Books here in New Hampshire. I was attracted to it because the blurb on the back referenced Salem's Lot by Stephen King. That book is one of my favorite horror novels. The blurb said that Salem's Lot was the last good vampire novel and Wilson's frustration with that is what drove him to write Midnight Mass.

The premise is that the vampires have taken over most of the world and the east coast of the US. And a band of people in New Jersey figure out a way to beat them. The vampires are not debonair, sophisticated sorts. They are disgusting, dirty vermin and you root for the good guys the whole time.

F. Paul Wilson has written a bunch of books, some of which I have read. But this is the first of his that I really feel enthused about.

Good book, especially on an airplane ride.

Nice Airliner - EMB170

I flew from Chicago to Hartford, CT yesterday on United. The plane shown on my itinerary was an EMB170. I thought it was one of those regional jets that look like converted corporate jets. But, I was very wrong. This had engines below the wings and looked more like a 737. What a nice plane inside. It was 2 seats on each side of the aisle and felt much more spacious than a Boeing jet. Just that lack of a middle seat makes such a difference! I don't know if the seats are any wider, but psychologically they felt a lot wider. It was a bit noisier than the 737, but everything else felt better - the space, the climate control, the lighting... I was very impressed.

My Attachment to Stuff

We are going back to Batavia this weekend to our unsold house (www.1141averill.com). We probably have to tend to the yard (trim some bushes) and clean up some dust in the house. We’re going to move some furniture around to make the place show a little better.

We’re also planning on bringing some stuff back to New Hampshire. As I look at the list we put together, I was surprised it was so short. And the stuff was generally little things like the garlic press or the DVD player cables.

It seems, for me at least, I have gotten to the point where I don’t miss the whole house full of stuff sitting there in Illinois. I do miss three things, I admit: my electric piano, my guitar amplifier, and our filing cabinet. We’re using boxes to store papers and bills (I’m a bit of a packrat when it comes to records like that) and that is getting old. But the rest of it I don’t really miss much. OK, maybe my Mac on occasion, but the Windoze laptop seems to be doing pretty well.

We have donated so much of our stuff in preparation for the move too. Lots of things have gone to the Goodwill. Why pay to move it when you don’t even use it? The house looks better less cluttered.



It will be nice when some if it gets here I suppose. Sitting in my chair will probably be more comfortable to me than the furniture in our rented house. But, I don’t really have as strong an attachment to that stuff as I thought I would. I think it’s an unforeseen benefit of moving.

No TV!

Our Dish Network box stopped working today. It’s been on and off since Sunday night, mostly on though until today. I called the Dish Network technical support number yesterday (Monday), but was told because the weather was bad that they would not do any diagnostics and to call back when it clears up. So, today it cleared up. Today the network was mostly off. I called again and they asked me to push a bunch of buttons. The end result is that we are getting a new receiver. And, it will take about 5 days. Since we’re going back to Chicago for a slightly long weekend on Saturday, that means we won’t have TV until a week from today at the earliest. Of course, the cable has been turned off in Chicago since we moved out here, so we won’t be able to get our TV fix there either.

What does all this mean? Thank goodness we both have good books. As I write this, we’re in hour 3 or so and still surviving. But what happens when the books run out? We’re in New Hampshire. You just can’t run out and get another book that easy. What then? It is quieter. Perhaps my IQ will actually increase a fraction of a percent. Maybe we will lose the urge to run out and buy stuff we don’t really need. Maybe next Tuesday we won’t bother to hook up the new receiver.

Nah, who am I kidding?

I'm not in Chicago Anymore


Here's the view from the house we're renting in NH. Note the absence of other buildings, cars, people... It took a while to get a good night's sleep - too dark and too quiet.


Yoopersoft DecisionPlanner is live

The little software company I co-founded with my partner (Amber Lippold of Escanaba, MI – hence the name Yoopersoft) has made our product available to the world. Visit www.yoopersoft.com and try out DecisionPlanner. DecisionPlanner, as the name implies, is an online tool designed to help you work through significant decisions. It provides a thorough structured approach to decision making and offers valuable reports to show you the best choice. There will be two versions: Express - which is free - and Professional - which you will have to pay to use. The Express version is available now at our website. The difference between the two is one of scale: you can input up to 7 factors (criteria to consider in your decision) and up to 5 alternatives in the Express version. The Professional version will allow unlimited factors and alternatives. Future releases will allow you to use more advanced features in the Professional version that aren’t going to be available in the Express version. The Professional version will be available shortly – we think in about 2 – 3 weeks.

We’re proud of it. Try it and let us know what you think. It’s free – you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

In addition, take a look at the Yooperwear – t-shirts, cap, coffee mugs. I think the logo is pretty cool looking. But, I am slightly biased. :-)

Technology and Living in the Forest

Our current house is in a heavily forested section of Rindge, NH. Our house sometimes feels as if it’s in a technological black hole. My cell phone rarely works there, though the cellular modem for my laptop is very reliable. We don’t have high-speed internet access. When we rented the house, we didn’t even check for these things. It’s 2007 – why should I have to? But, we should have and we will next time. We could get a land line I suppose, but we’re only here until November.

I have become very dependent on the internet access. I use it to pay my bills, keep up with folks via e-mail, make travel plans, research stuff and attempt to make a living at www.yoopersoft.com (visit and spend some money – it should be live at the end of this week or next week). Dialup internet access is just too slow to do all this. So, I go to the library at Franklin Pierce University and plug an ethernet cable into one of their tiny study rooms and surf away. It’s actually turning into my office. I might even put a picture up in here :-). I have the place to myself now in summer, and I predict not too many college kids will be using the library from 8 AM – 12 PM when classes start in the fall. So far, it seems to be working out OK. There have been some Yoopersoft applications I can’t get to – I suspect due to the university firewall, but nothing that has stopped me cold yet. Maybe our next house will allow me to work at home again, but perhaps I'll miss my tiny cubbyhole here by then.

Impressions of New Hampshire

I do not find the people to be standoffish. I expected that based on the stereotypical New Englander, but everyone I've interacted with has been friendly and open.

The environment feels good here. The air is fresh. The breeze is cool. The trees are magnificent.

It's funny. I love the forested look; the more trees the better. However, one of the real estate agents told us people here really like open fields, or meadows. I guess you can feel hemmed in by all these trees. I have yet to get to that stage.

Weather sneaks up on me here. In Illinois I could see a storm coming for at least half an hour, often longer. The lightning would be visible in the west well before you could here the thunder. In New Hampshire, because of the density of the trees and the hills, the storm is on top of you with little notice.

There is a New England Gourmet Hot Dog place in Rindge. I haven't tried it yet and I'll review it in a future post. I did peruse the menu though and there is no Chicago-style hot dog mentioned. That is an incredible omission. Don't these people know that Chicago is the center of the hot dog universe? I suspect I will have to educate them.

I have a library card. The Rindge library is very small. The adult area is perhaps not much larger than this house we've rented. However, they can order books from anywhere and because of that, it is as capable as any library on the planet. I signed up for the Friends of the LIbrary, offering to help teach people how to use computers.

We've Moved to New Hampshire!

We've moved to southern New Hampshire. Rainy got a job at Monadnock Paper Mills (www.mpm.com) as Vice President of Research & Development. We rented a house in Rindge, NH for 6 months while we look for a new house. Of course, it would be wonderful if we could sell our house in Batavia, IL first! If you want to move to the western suburbs of Chicago, check out our house at www.1141averill.com!

We live out in the country. We can't see our neighbor's houses from our house or lot. We overlook a pond, where so far I have seen deer cavorting about. It's very hilly here, far more so than where we lived previously. The area is dotted with small lakes (they call them ponds here) and occasional stunning views. (I'll try and figure out how to load some pictures to the blog at some point.)

One more observation about New Hampshire: they must have more Dunkin Donuts here than anywhere else on the planet. You cannot drive 100 yards here without running into one. I need to research this observation further.

Trip to Alaska

We got back from an Alaskan cruise last weekend (June 2, 2007). We sailed with Princess Cruises on the Sapphire Princess.

The trip started out a bit rough. We were delayed from Chicago to Minneapolis due to storms in Minneapolis and missed our connection to Anchorage. We got on a flight to Seattle, stayed in a flea-bag hotel at the airport for 4 hours of sleep, and then flew to Anchorage early the next morning. Princess came through in Anchorage by providing us with a big bus and a fun driver to catch up to our itinerary.

Our first stop was Mt. McKinley lodge, where we were treated to a spectacular view of Mt. McKinley (or Denali, as it is now called). The next day we went on a bus to Denali National Park. The weather was spectacular again, but the 5 hour bus tour of the park was not - especially after the 2 hour ride to the park.

The next day (Saturday) we boarded a train at Denali and took a 9 hour trip to Whittier, where we boarded the ship. The train ride was pretty cool. It was long, but not unbearably so.

The ship was huge - 2600 passengers and 1100 crew. We spent two days at sea prior to stops at Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan. One more day at sea and we were in Vancouver - where we got off. We had something planned at each stop - bike rides and whale watching. We saw eagles, caribou, moose, whales - but no bear (probably a good thing). I left the ship's casino with a teeny bit of their money!

It was a wonderful trip and I do recommend Princess. Except for the flight arrangements (we connected both ways, when we could have flown direct) everything else was very nice.

Virginia Tech and the references to rich kids

The media reported that the shooter's "manifesto" expressed quite a bit of hate for what he termed "rich kids". The entire document has not been released, so I don't have first hand quotes. I have this excerpt from CNN.com (http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/18/vtech.shooting/):

' "You had everything you wanted. Your Mercedes wasn't enough, you brats. Your golden necklaces weren't enough, you snobs. Your trust fund wasn't enough. Your vodka and cognac weren't enough. All your debaucheries weren't enough. Those weren't enough to fulfill your hedonistic needs. You had everything," MSNBC.com quoted Cho as saying.'

I've also heard, primarily from the right-wing talkers, the term "class warfare", usually when the issue of tax reform is raised by those on the left.

I will say this: recently the rich certainly have made it pretty easy for the "have-not as much" class to feel contempt for them. Have you watched any of the reality TV shows about the rich, idle class? I'm talking about shows like The Real Housewives of Orange County, Sons of Hollywood, or The Simple Life (Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie). The display of greed, shallowness, and self-centeredness is sickening. Flaunting one's wealth used to be thought of as tacky - no more. It is easy for those of us who work, even those who work and do well, to see these people as parasites.

It is said that the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" is growing, both in dollar terms and in raw numbers. The middle class is supposedly shrinking. I can't claim to have observed this. It seems to me, as I drive around the area, that most people are doing pretty well. However, if the statistics are indeed true this is not good for either the rich or those of us in the middle who appear rich to the down and out. It will lead to trouble down the road.

A big part of the problem isn't only that some people are rich and others are not. I think that most Americans do not "hate" the rich. In fact, most of us would like to become rich. But, Americans have a sense of fair play. It is part of our upbringing. We grew up expecting to play sports with competent referees. We even have rules of fair play when we fight our wars. There are rules and, thankfully, most of us abide by them.

It certainly appears that the rich have a different set of rules. For example, the CEO class, because they sit on each other's corporate boards, votes each other raises. When the CEO class gets fired they leave with huge payouts, even when they are fired for poor performance. I think Americans feel the playing field for the various classes has changed too much. The rich have always had a different set of rules due to their superior access to those in power. It has gotten out of hand though.

Virginia Tech and Gun Control

Both sides of the gun control issue have spoken up. One side claims that if it had been more difficult for the shooter to obtain the guns, the incident might not have happened. The other side claims that if another student or a teacher had been armed, the death toll could have been lower. The problem is both sides are right.

The cat is already out of the bag on the issue of gun control (I do not own a gun). Fifty years ago we might have had a chance, but now there are 235,000,000 firearms owned in the United States (source: gunsafe.org). Because this number is so huge, I believe the NRA is now correct. If you outlaw guns, the only people that will have them are those who do not care what the laws say. Strictly from a practical point of view we must allow good, law abiding people to own guns. There are already plenty of laws in some states that attempt to restrict gun ownership, but a total ban would only mean that criminals would be armed, and not the rest of us.

A Book That Motivated Me

I read a book about writing recently. I read How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead by Ariel Gore (www.arielgore.com). I've read a lot of books about writing over the years. But, this one actually made me do something, namely start this blog. I always thought the only way to write was the traditional way - create something and then send it out to traditional media and wait. That is no longer the case. There are lots of ways to get your work out into the world now. POD, self-publishing, blogs, websites... I can do any or all of these things. Of course, I knew that before, but this book actually got me going. The title certainly caught my eye too, having just turned 50 not too long ago.

As I read her book, I thought about street musicians. They are the ultimate free market capitalists. They stand out on a street corner and put their product out into the world as best they can. Their product quality, personality, and marketing skill will solely determine whether anyone throws money in the pot. No deceptive advertising, no bait and switch - if you like it you might give some money, or not. The web is one of the writer's street corners (though I haven't figured out yet how to receive your money even if you were so inclined). My words are now out there in the public domain. Perhaps no one will ever read them. Perhaps those that do will have scathing comments. Perhaps I will never become a famous writer before I'm dead. But, with the help of this book, I've decided to give it a try.

Tax Time Lament

Why do taxes have to be so difficult?

I am not one of those who complains about the concept of paying taxes. I believe that paying taxes is our duty, our dues for living in the United States.

What I do not understand however, is why it has to be so complicated. I'm reasonably intelligent. I am college educated, successful in business, and comfortable with technology. Even though I use a computer to do my taxes, I am still rarely sure that I have done them correctly. I read the instructions and they rarely help much. Most of the time, because I try to err on the side of caution, I am convinced I am paying too much. But, there's always the nagging feeling in the far recesses of my mind that I've not paid enough and I'll get into some trouble. The real point is that I just do not know. And, that seems wrong to me. It should not be so difficult to determine if you are following the law.

I sent this to my elected officials in the House and Senate.