Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bathroom Remodel - Toilet!

No picture but the toilet is in! Before we could install it we had to get the wainscoting primed and painted and all seams sealed up. All that is done and the toilet is working perfectly. We bought a dual flush one. If you are unsure what that is, the flush mechanism lets more or less water out of the tank depending on the 'waste' you are flushing. I really wanted this for the guest bath since I work from home and thus use the bathroom more than someone who isn't at home all day (plus I drink a lot of water).

We also got the shower all sealed up and we got to use it for the first time this morning. Everything worked great. Though I had a hard time not noticing flaws in my tile job. It's not bad, just one the drawbacks of doing work yourself, thus knowing where issues exist, and being a perfectionist.

I had a bit of a problem installing the shower rod. It's a fixed rod instead of one of those spring loaded ones. The problem was that it came with drywall anchors, cheap ones at that. They didn't work on the tile, so I had to run to ACE hardware and buy some anchors that'd work. They did and while I wouldn't try to do chin-ups on it, it's good and secure.

Things are starting to get there now. We still need to texture and paint the ceiling. We also need to do some more painting in general in the room. Then it's just down to the vanity. We have a plan for it now.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bathroom Remodel - Bathroom Tile

Long weekend working on the bathroom. My fingers are literally worn to bleeding. Here is the results though. Still more to do but getting there!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Bathroom Remodel - Tile!

Well it's been awhile since any major progress has occurred. Mostly because of vacation and football (Go Big Red!).

This week we got back on task. I got the floor prepped and the Hardiebacker down. We then got the floor tile in and grouted.

Today we got some trim down for the wainscoting. We had to do this so we had the nice clean, and straight edge to start tiling from. Plus once we get the main wall prepped and painted I can get the toilet in! The trim is actually PVC, so we don't have to worry about moisture.

Tonight we started tiling the back wall of the tub. We put up all the pieces we could without cutting. These early nights are killing productivity. Of course watching the Huskers play for a few hours didn't help either. Oh and that orange is the Kerdi. We put that up this week too. No water is getting through to our walls!

Monday, October 18, 2010

How one drunk can ruin it for everyone

Saturday, October 16th was a tough day for Nebraska fans, especially those of us in the middle of section 40 at rows 73, 74 and 75. We had to put up with an ass who dares call himself a fan but made himself an idiot the entire game.

I wrote the UNL Police asking if they could direct me to where I could report the drunk, after the game. Their response was,
"We can keep an eye on it next game and see if the officer notices anything. Also did you try Texting? Sometimes the cell service is bad but I did notice the texting working. I will need the section, seat, row to help us and we will add it to our briefing before the next game. "
I suppose I can't really expect anything more, unless perhaps more people complain about the guy. Also, as the Omaha World Herald mentioned last week, mobile services, (voice, data, text) are all pretty much dead for most people. Sprint service is worthless.

Here is the letter I sent to the University of Nebraska Police after emailing them asking where to report a complaint:

Unfortunately Sprint's service is completely down every game for me. In hindsight I should have just gone and found an officer to have this guy taken care of. The seats this guy has are in Sec 40, Row 74, seats 13 & 14.

His Pepsi, in an open cup, was clearly spiked with bourbon. It was especially noticeable after he spilled it on me and two kids in front of me. It was also dumped into the shoe of the guy in row 73, seat 13. I can't imagine how frustrating it must have been to have a wet foot the entire game. He confronted the drunk but when it was clear that it would have only escalated he backed down so as to not create a scene.

While I certainly understand swearing occasionally during a game, especially at a bad play, this guy was swearing constantly, but worse, not just at the game but at fans, of Texas AND Nebraska. He was berating fans who started to leave early. Then when others behind us, perhaps even some of those who were leaving told him to sit down and shut up, it only made him escalate his verbal assault on them.

I think, aside from my own embarrassment from sitting next to him the entire game was the fact that there was a 6-8 year old boy sitting in front of me who had to hear all of this garbage for the entire game. You could see on his face how uncomfortable he was.

Long story short, he was disrespectful, unsportsmanlike, vulgar, and drunk. If he is like this at the Missouri game you can be sure you all will be alerted right away. I'm not about to let this fool ruin another game for our section. He was an embarrassment to Nebraska.

The reality is that I should have taken care of the drunk early on in the game. Like myself probably everyone around him was thinking someone else would do it. Instead we had to put up with his BS for the entire game. Well save about 5-10 minutes after half time. Everyone was hoping he had just left. It was a nice 5-10 minutes. Unfortunately he came back.

The thing is, every other game he's been sober, or at least not stupid drunk, and had his wife/girlfriend with him. Maybe she keeps him in check. Who knows. This time he had with him what looked to be his dad. His dad, while not as bad, certainly made no efforts to stop his embarrassing behavior either.

Well like I said in my email to the campus police. If he's like that again, he's gone. I'm not putting up with that again.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bathroom Remodel - More Drywall

I still don't like doing drywall mudding but the results are looking good. There are a few small areas that I'm going to have to correct, but over all I'm pretty happy with the results.

We desided that we are going to add a knock down texture to the ceiling. We scraped all the terrible 'popcorn' off, but it being perfectly smooth is unlikely so a light texture just makes good sense. It'll hide the little issues.

We've also reconsidered doing wainscoting. We were considering it originally then decided not to do it. Now we are going to do it again. Of course that could change again before we are done.

I think we are about ready to get the backer board on the floor and get the Kerdi on the shower walls. That means tile shouldn't be too much further out.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Bathroom Remodel - Drywall and Ducting

Did some sanding and mudding on the dry wall this weekend. Dust dust dust every where. I hate drywall work. I really do.

I also got the duct work moved. That was a bigger pain than expected, but it works and it's good.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bathroom Remodel - Unexpected Plumbing & Hardiebacker

Well things sometimes don't go as you expect them to when remodeling. Turns out when we decided to leave the old shower fixtures in place we didn't account for the fact that the new tub is wider than the old one. Consequently they were off-center.

Since I had to redo it all anyway, and we already had the new valve body, I just went ahead and installed it. I'm sure a good plumber wouldn't have taken as long as me (4 1/2 hours!) but in the end it all works (no leaks and hot is hot and cold is cold) and I'm pretty proud of myself. I took my time and was careful.

That was actually all done last weekend.

Today I added the last of the Hardiebacker in the shower area. This time instead of scoring the board with a knife and having a hell of a time getting it to snap cleanly, I put the concrete blade on the circular saw. Man the dust that kicked up! It was raining so I did it in the garage. Probably not the best idea. I had to wash both cars afterwards!

While I had the saw out and setup I also cut the Hardiebacker for the fireplace. It really helps define how it'll look later. I'm also really happy with the height.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Bathroom Remodel - Day 10

It's hard to take pictures in a bathroom, the space is just so small.

We've been finishing up the demo this last week. It's been a slow go. Mostly just because we are not in a rush, so we'd do a much as we wanted and then just quit for the day.

We did get the drywall all up though. Started mudding. I hate that part. Ugh. From the pictures you can see I still need to put up the corner beads.

You can also really see how big of a space we've gained. We're going to fill it full of cabinets.

We also got the tub out finally. I had to smash it to bits with a sledge-hammer. That was a mess. After inspecting the tub/shower plumbing we've decided to leave it be and just buy a new cover/handle for it. Two reasons: One, the work involved with changing the plumbing was going to be a lot because of how the house was built. Two, this is a lot cheaper. The set with bought for the bathroom wasn't terribly expensive, but it was overkill for the room.

So we have to finish the drywall, then it's tub time. We have to have the floor vent moved still too. That'll have to be done soon. We can't do the floors until that is complete.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bathroom Remodel - Day 3 - A new space

Day three took a lot out of me. Sticking your head into a hot attic for awhile really takes a lot out of you quickly.

I was able to remove the fireplace ducting into the attic. Then I started rebuilding the ceiling where the fireplace went through. After that was done framing started going in. My buddy Dean gave me a hand with that, especially when we had to go get some 2x4s. I didn't think of needing them when we made our initial Home Depot order.

Framing everything in helps us see that we have a box that'll be about 22x23 in the corner now. It also makes the bathroom feel so much larger than it was.

We also closed up the hole into the den. We're not going to worry too much about how pretty it is because that wall is going to get cabinets in the future. The den will likely become the new dining room then too. Those are later projects though.

Monday (Day 4) we didn't do much more than pull the paper and boards from the floor of the den and clean up, since we are done in there. It's all bathroom now.

We had an HVAC guy come out today to seal up the old fireplace chimney and help us figure out where to move the bathroom air vent. Glad to have that done even if I didn't like having to bring in a 3rd party to do it.

Tonight we should be able to close up the new space in the bathroom.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bathroom Remodel - Day 2 - More Fireplace Demo

Finally got the fireplace out! It was a lot more work than expected. I think the house was built around it, because it was not really designed to just slide in and out. We had to tear out some walls and drain some batteries for the reciprocating saw (as well as kill some metal blades). Even the sledgehammer came out. In the end it was out. That took most of the morning!

We demoed the wall in the bathroom carefully, saving the 2x4s. I used them to reframe the hole in the wall that the fireplace left.

This left us with a chance to see what space we could reclaim for the bathrooms for the first time. We are going to be able to reclaim about 80-85% of the space, which is super awesome.
In the picture below I've drawn where the new framing will go. We have to box around the exhaust for the water heater and heater, but that's not too bad. The new space we are gaining will become storage/shelving. We aren't entirely certain yet, but in the meantime it'll be framed out and prepped.

The fireplace chimney is proving to be a simple, but labor intensive fix. Basically we need to remove all the piping up to where it's just in the attic. Then cap it off. When we go to reroof the house in the future, we'll remove the faux chimney box and fireplace cap at that point. Hopefully that'll not have to happen for a few more years yet.

That's the project for tomorrow. After that is done I'll drywall up the hole in the den. Then it should be all bathroom from there!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bathroom Remodel - Day 1 - Fireplace Demo

Day one is done. Well we are anyway. We didnt get a much of the demo done as I had hoped we would. The prep work took longer than expected. We put down paper and then 'hard board' to protect our floors. Once we started tearing into the brick we were so glad we made that investment.

The mantle was only held on by three 4 inch screws. One did not even bite into a stud. Once it was down the brick on the wall came down pretty easily. There were only four anchors and they didn't provide a lot of support, not that they really needed to.

We took our time, knocking the mortar off the bricks and stacking them in the garage. We are going to try to sell them. Not sure if we'll be successful or not, but it's worth a shot.

The hearth was a lot more work. The way the bricks are laid it was a lot harder to get under them and there was a lot more mortar used, so a lot more hammering was necessary.

During removal we found a lot of soot in places we wouldn't have expected, like between the brick and the drywall. We are really glad we never used it and that we are now removing it!

Tomorrow I'll have to remove the firebox and then we'll be able to determine what we can reclaim for the bathrooms.

Oh and what we'll be doing with this space in the end is adding some more cabinets for a dry bar/buffet area. We were going to do a wet bar, but decided against it. That's a project for some time in the future.

Bathroom Remodel - Materials Delivery

Well our first hiccup has occurred. The materials delivery from Home Depot wasn't right. There were a few issues. But the most frustrating was that we ordered six cases of 8x10 tile. We got 6 tiles. I'm sure it was one SKU number different but whomever loaded that should have used a couple more brain cells and realized that with all the Hardie Backer and thin-set that we'd probably be asking for a few more than six tiles.

Also our KOHLER tub has an odd oblong overflow cutout, so the standard one we ordered (which they forgot to put on our shipment too) won't work. We'll have to order the special custom one from KOHLER. We didn't know this when we ordered the tub. We might have chosen differently if we had known. The standard drain kit we were going to use is about $20. If I remember correctly the KOHLER one is about $90. So much for budget there.

Off to Home Depot I go to get this fixed. At least they brought the missing tile by already.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bathroom Remodel - The Before

Well tomorrow we officially begin. Or does buying the material count as beginning? Whatever. Tomorrow morning the materials will be arriving. The roll-off dumpster is already here. Tomorrow we'll lay down protective paper and masonite/hard board to protect the floors. We'll also put up some plastic to keep the dust down.

This demo is in two parts:
1) The Bathroom
2) The 'den' fireplace

The bathroom is the major goal, but the old fireplace is a must go as well, because we are hoping to reclaim some space that the old firebox needed.

Here are some "before" pictures:

Photo of Fireplace
We are going to see if we can resell the brick. Not so sure how well that'll go, but we think we should be able to get $30 or so for the mantle. It's good solid wood. The fireplace insert is garbage. Repairing the hole in the wall will be easy. Fixing the floor will be more difficult.

The bathroom floor is one of the reasons, though there are many, for the remodel. The tile are actually kind of cool but they are badly grouted (obvious repairs over the years), there are broken tiles and I fear the sub floor is damaged by the tub.

The toilet, while functional, is a old water waster. We are getting a nice efficient one with a dual-flush function. Since I use this bathroom during the day while working it just made good sense (and cents! ha!).

This picture of the tub illustrates some more issues. The tiles, or more specifically the grout, had not see maintenance for many years, allowing water to get behind, the tile causing mold, mildew and likely damaging the wall behind it. I'm sure the tiles were stuck directly onto dry-wall, now known to be a major no-no. We'll be using Schluter-KERDI to waterproof the tub surround before we tile. Under that we'll be using Hardie Board, instead of drywall.

This is in part because we are using ceramic tiles instead of porcelain tiles. Ceramic is water proof on the glazed side, but pretty porous on unglazed portions. This is why our current shower is falling apart. The grout has to be regularly sealed or it becomes porous too, allowing the ceramic to soak up the water like a sponge, allowing it to get to the also porous drywall.

With the precautions we are taking we should not have any mold growth even if water gets behind the tiles because there will be nothing for that mold can eat.

I'll post more pictures showing the progress as we go.

New fireplace

Last winter our TV room/Man-cave was cold, so much so that we bought a space heater to help heat the room and even then it was uncomfortable without being bundled up and under a blanket.

Earlier this summer we bought a very energy efficient gas fireplace. We then scheduled the install for late August. It was installed Tuesday.

To the left and right of the fireplace box we are going to build some shelves and drawers. On the bottoms will be pull out drawers designed to hold our DVDs and CDs. The shelves, on top, will more than likely be for decorative stuff.

The fireplace box itself is going to be covered with Hardie Board or concrete board and be tiled. We still need to pick the tile out, but I'm leaning towards a large textured tile. I've seen some leather texture tiles that looked cool. We'll see.

In the meantime at least it's functional. The polish will come later. We have a bathroom to remodel first!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bathroom Remodel Status

We ARE still remodeling our bathrooms, but we have rethought a few items.
  1. We are not moving the wall between the two bathrooms. After additional thought we realized we'd be creating a lot of cost and little return. Leaving the wall also allows use to leave much of the plumbing alone, that's a major cost saver. Additionally it allows us to remodel the main (guest) bathroom without permits, as it is all cosmetic.

    Additionally we only have to have one bathroom torn apart at a time. We have a third bathroom in the basement, but neither of us wanted to go through that. With only one bathroom down at a time, we can take our time and not feel like we have to rush because of the inconvenience.

  2. We are doing the guest bathroom first. Since the remodel will be mostly cosmetic, except around the tub, the cost to remodel this bathroom first will be low. We should be able to do it for around $3000 or so.

  3. Rethinking materials. We want the bathrooms to be nice, but watching the DIY Channel has perhaps given us too many great ideas. Many of the bathroom remodels there are $10K+ and we just aren't willing to pay that much. The house cannot really support a bathroom that nice either. We put too much into this house and we'll never see the return, or we'll have to stay in it so long that the bathroom will have to be remodeled again before we sell it.

    That's not to suggest we are going cheap either. We are simply being frugal. For example I designed the guest bathroom tub surround with a nice metal accent tile strip. That metal tile goes for about $20/sq ft. We decided that metal tile was probably a bit much for the guest bath. We found some nice glass accept tiles that run about $10/Sq ft. We saved 50% by being flexible and considering the market our house falls into, plus the fact that in the guest bath, who's really going to get to see those nice expensive tiles?

    Another area of cost savings was to reconsider the 'bronze' colored fixtures. They look nice, but are more expensive than the simple and classic chrome. Will the bronze look dated later too? If we were ever to sell I don't think a potential buyer is going to walk away because we used chrome fixtures, so long as they are quality (and functioning of course).

  4. We are doing this out of pocket, for the most part. Originally, when we were going to do both bathrooms at the same time, we were going to look at a home equity loan and take care of everything easily. Now we've decided rather than take on that kind of debt, we're going to do as much out of pocket as possible. We already bought our floor tiles awhile back. We are going to take advantage of a nice 0% interest deal that Home Depot is running this weekend though. We'll be able to pay that off before it's due, so it's a lot more affordable than the HEL, though certainly not as flexible, though we OK with that.
So we'll begin work soon. The parts list is compiled and ordering will commence this weekend. I'll post pictures as we begin.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Solutions to the Illegal Immigration Problem

Here is my solution and I dont understand why it's not being done full scale all ready:
1) Do not allow businesses to hire illegals. Put serious penalties on those businesses who do hire illegals and make the fines based on total revenues so large companies don't just pay the fines as a part of doing business as usual
2) Deport the children with the parents. Sounds harsh, but those children are the responsibility of those parents, not of the US.

Jobs and the opportunities for their children are two major reasons illegals come to the US, from where ever. Right now these are powerful incentives for these illegal immigrants to come to the US. Remove those incentives and there will be a reduction in illegal immigration.

Arguments I expect:
1) Businesses will be hurt without those workers. Maybe on the short run, but in the long run it will be better for all. Will some businesses fail? Sure, but others with better business practices will move in to take their place. Should we stop busting drug dealers because they help their local economies by buying whatever drug dealers buy? No. Illegal activity is illegal activity.

2) Those kids are US citizens! Why are they? Why should they be? They were born here, but their parents aren't legal immigrants. Their parents came here, knowingly, illegally, to have a child here, to take advantage of the systems we have in place. They get caught, they take responsibility for their actions, that includes their children.

Yes that sounds harsh, but these are the hard truths about what needs to be done. Otherwise nothing will change. Both political parties are talking big talk but not doing anything because to do something would take real courage and likely political sacrifice. These career politicians won't risk their sweet jobs to really DO anything. Why do you think Arizona felt like it had to step up and take care of things itself.

While Arizona is definitely stepping into Federal jurisdiction what does anyone expect when the Feds aren't doing enough? If the cops can't/won't take care of the crime, vigilantes or lynch mobs are going to step up. They aren't legal either, but it's a response to the lack of action by the officials. It's the "Do your job or we'll do it for you" mentality. I can't say I blame them one bit.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Political Correctness is Bad for Society

Over the last 20 or so years, perhaps longer, Political Correctness (PC), has become so prevalent that society is hurting because of it.

Just think for a second about what is being Politically Correct about? It is about changing your actions or words so as to be non-offensive. Offensive to whom is dependent on the situation at hand. Perhaps it's about the abortion debate, gay marriage, racism, immigration, even ironically enough, politics! You want to say or do something but you curb your behavior for the sake of being PC. And if you aren't PC then you are labeled a pariah and your social status is reduced, not because people disagree with you but because they don't want to be seen being un-PC.

The problem with being PC is that you are lying to yourself and everyone else. You are not being true to your feelings and what you know. PC has become something to strive for, to achieve, so that you may be seen as the good person who tolerates all. The end is something we should strive for, the means on the other hand are not right.

By biting our tongues we do not allow for social discourse on important topics of our day. There are those who do speak, but do they speak for you? Our political and social commentary seems to have focused on the fringes, while middle and largest portion of us sit quietly in the middle being PC. Those fringes do not represent the best of us. They represent the extremes created by our lack of voice.

Stop being PC and dialog will occur. Yes there will be those who are offended. But rather than being PC and ignoring the issue, perhaps the question of why needs to be asked more. Why is that word, option, or action offensive to you? Why do you feel that it's OK to say those words, options, or do those actions? These questions are not being asked. Without this dialog, feelings are left to fester creating much more harm than if they were just discussed to start with.

Wouldn't society be better off working out issues rather than sweeping them under the rug in the name of being Politically Correct? I give you this challenge. Next time you catch yourself being PC, apologize and do/say what you really feel. If you are in the wrong, work to be a better person by understanding WHY it was wrong. Better to be true to yourself and learn from mistakes than to be PC and harbor ignorance.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Numbers

The numbers. We finally get some insight into what they mean, or at least what they correspond to:
  • 4 - John Locke
  • 8 - Hugo (Hurley) Reyes
  • 15 - James (Sawyer) Ford
  • 16 - Sayid Jarrah
  • 23 - Jack Shephard
  • 42 - Jin/Sun Kwon (it's unclear if it's both or one of them)
I've seen tweets asking, where's Kate! Well clearly she's not one of the candidates. We've known for some time that there are certain individuals that were picked by Jacob and are some how 'special'. We find out from Smokey, if you can trust him/it, that these listed are candidates to be Jacobs replacement.

There can be only one:
4 - Well we can already take Locke off the list, he's dead.
8 - Hurley is my favorite candidate. He's probably the most 'good' of the bunch. Additionally he's figured out how to take a hold of his destiny. The episode where he drives the old VW van off the side of the hill to get it to start is the point where he 'made it', in my opinion. Plus he sees dead people.
15 - Sawyer is a tricky one. Right now he's with Smokey but Sawyer isn't stupid. It's hard to con a conman, so I don't think he's necessarily in immediate danger, but I don't think he'll be the chosen one. He has leadership skills and is generally a good person, but he's also selfish.
16 - Sayid isn't exactly a 'good' person, so I find it difficult to believe he'd still be eligible for the job. He's not a bad person, just not good.
23 - Jack is the obvious choice. He's been acting as leader from pretty much season 1. We already know from his tattoo episode that he's meant to be a special leader. He's also come a long way in the 5+ seasons of the show. But I think it's because he's obvious that he won't be the new Jacob. I see him more as a new Richard. Jacob was the spiritual leader. Jack isn't that. He's a hands dirty, in the middle of it, leader.
42 - This one isn't too hard either. I just can't see either Sun or Jin or both of them together being the new Jacob. Like Jack they have both come a long way, but they have a child, one that I'm sure they'd both like to get back to. They have a life to live off the Island.

There can only be one...or can there?
What if there doesn't need to be one, but many? What if, through the struggles they've all been together, it's the balance of them all that makes them all need each other to bring out the strengths of each other? Kate may not be one of the candidates but that doesn't mean she can't be with Jack. (I don't see her with Sawyer at this point, but who knows.)

Consider Jack and Sawyer. They are frequently at each other, but they also bring out the best in each other. In many ways they lead in completely opposite ways but are still very effective in their leadership.

What if Hurley is the new Jacob, Jack is the new Richard, and Sawyer is the new Ben (leader of the Others)? Seems reasonable to me.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reduction of the US Deficit

I'll admit that I didn't listen or watch the State of the Union address last night. I caught bits and pieces on the news; I know that's not enough to really discuss, one way or the other, statements made there.

I feel I should comment on the the idea of a freeze on some government spending. My problem with this is that it's too little and in the wrong places. The cuts will only save a small fraction of our budget, ultimately amounting to little impact on the deficit, yet the programs that are affected are going to be hurt. It's not yet clear what those programs will be so I may end up eating a little crow here. Some of those programs are suggested to include things like transportation funding, state aid and money for social services.

State aid, especially for some of the states that have been hit hard by the recession or natural disasters (Sorry California), is something that will make passing a bill like this difficult. I'm sure it won't matter what party you belong to, if there is a threat to reduce or loose federal funds that were expected, the elected officials of those states are not going to be keen on voting for it or they will strip it out of the bill, further reducing its viability.

Social services will likely stir up a great deal of debate. There are many who feel it's not the responsibility of the government to fund such things. I won't argue this one without a better idea of the programs affected.

Transportation funding is something I'm very worried about. Have we so quickly forgotten about the Twin Cities bridge collapse? What about the reports from various states' departments of transportation that indicated a large percentage of the bridges we use every day in the United States are in need or repair or replacement? We pay our taxes and expect to have safe roads. Perhaps this is for the states to take care of but short of private toll roads and bridges, most states have a hard time finding the money in their budgets to take on these significant projects. It's not cheap to build bridges. Do we let our nations infrastructure further decay until there are more deaths?

What about better rail? We are still using the same lines as we did a hundred years ago. There are very few passenger systems because they are too slow and are not suited to commuting. This map shows the few Amtrak lines out there. I like the train. It's a nice way to travel but if I want to take a trip, with my wife, to California it will take nearly 40 hours and if I want a 'roomette' (a couple of bunk beds), it'll cost us nearly $1200. It's considerably more if you want a full room with bath and shower. This isn't 'luxury' travel. I don't know many people who'd want to be in a coach seat for 40 hours with no shower. We keep putting off transportation as a want but not a need because our roads aren't so bad. (yet!)

There is no doubt that government spending is out of control and that there are many programs that are wasteful and unnecessarily bureaucratic. What makes it difficult to correct those things is the people who can change it for the better frequently profit from it being mismanaged. But that is a different topic all together.

The spending freeze won't touch: Defense, Veterans Affairs, Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security.
The only one I'm going to argue is the defense funding. The others I don't know well enough to argue the pros or the cons and would simply diminish the point I'm going for.

A large reason we are so in debt as a country right now is because we are at war. We have thousands of troops over seas that need our support, financially and emotionally. I have nothing against those soldiers. They are doing what they are asked and I respect that.

However, I do not believe we are doing the right thing continuing this war on terror. The War on Terror is like the War on Drugs. We can never, no NEVER, win. We cannot eliminate terrorists. We eliminate one cell and other pops up in another village or country. It's one set of ideals Vs. another set of ideals. You cannot beat ideals with guns, if anything it makes them stronger.

I've been critical of a lot of choices made. What do I suggest?

Why don't we first bring back our troops and put them to work securing our country. Forget having the TSA at the airport. Many countries around the world have soldiers at the airports all the time. These are well trained government agents. Can you say the same about all TSA agents? (No disrespect intended to the good TSA agents out there.) How about boarder patrol? Port control, etc. Secure our own borders with our own soldiers and we have less to worry about from external forces. And lets be honest for a second. Many groups hate the US, less because of our ideals, and more because we stick our nose where it doesn't belong.

Maybe if we are acting as the worlds police force we wouldn't have to spend quite as much on military hardware either. How many helicopters have gone down because of missiles or freaking sand? Those things are not cheap!

Second thing I would do is rebuild our internal infrastructure. You want to put people to work? Why not public works programs that build new bridges? How about better rail? How about working on a stronger power grid? These are all things that need to be done and would require workers of all education and skill level.

Yes, it would cost money to reinvest in our country, but wouldn't it be worth it? This is supposed to be the greatest country in the world but we are falling further and further behind other countries. The money we save on defense alone would help reduce the costs.

Both Democrats and Republicans are saying we need to spend less, yet no one seems to want to say the brutal truth. We are wasting money on things we don't need to be spending them on. War. Bank Bailouts. Auto Bailouts. Even the things that seem worth while are wasteful, either because of corruption or simply because of short sightedness.

This country is like a mansion that was built in the 1920s. It cared for and because of it's excellent designers and builders, is built strong. But even a well built mansion needs to be maintained all the time. The electrical systems would have to be replaced; the plumbing; the heating and air; the paint; the roof. You get my point. We have been spending too much time our of our mansion, bragging about how great it is to be rich and live in a mansion, that we have neglected both our bank account and the mansion. We need to get back home, roll up our sleeves and do some chores.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mobile Early Termination Fees

So mobile phone contracts pretty much all come with an Early Termination Fee (ETF) that basically allows the company to recover the cost of the phone that you probably purchased at a substantial discount.

When you sign a 2 year contract and get a $30 phone, the phone isn't really $30. You are, in part, paying for that phone with your monthly contract.

Recently these ETFs have increased for certain carriers. My question isn't why; the new smart phones out today are not cheap. I just don't understand why each contract isn't configured to account for the specific phone and it's retail value. Why not prorate the value of the phone based on the start date of the contract?

If I went to AT&T and got a new iPhone with an unlimited plan I'd pay nearly $3000 over two years. $200 of that is for the phone still. The actual phone is probably $500-600, though you can't easily buy it without a contract, certainly not from AT&T. If AT&T is even pay $500, do you think they'd let you cancel your contract after a couple of months and not expect some compensation? Of course not.

I think mobile contracts should be set aside from the cost of the phone. You pay X number of dollars per month for the service alone. You buy the phone separate from the contract. No lock-in, no ETFs. Those who want their phone subsidized should pay a separate fee, that is based on the price of the phone; leasing the phone instead of buying.

The problem is that the mobile companies don't want you to be able to come and go as you please like that. Each of them want to lock you into their service. So rather than providing a service that is built on quality, that would keep customers because they are happy, they have built a way to keep customers regardless of how they feel.

ETFs are not about the phones. I know I just painted the picture above that suggests that and I'm sure their PR reps will tell you the same thing, but the reality is that it's about keeping customers. If they can't keep them they are going to penalize them as much as they can get away with.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sexy Dictionaries

So a school in southern California has banned a dictionary for defining oral sex. It's making some news through the Internet, but I have to wonder why.

The school in question is a grammar school, typically meaning 1st through 5th grade. My memory is a bit fuzzy from my time as a grammar school student but I'm pretty sure that the dictionaries for use young children were highly abridged. The dictionary that is in question is a Merriam-Webster’s 10th edition. Was it for kids, for high school students, for college students? No word on that.

The point I'm trying to make is that it's not unreasonable to say, "A college level dictionary is inappropriate for grammar school students."

That said, I know I and many of my male friends looked for dirty words in the dictionary. It's what boys do. (Sorry ladies I can't speak for you on this one.) The definition given is pretty vague to be fair: "oral stimulation of the genital."

With the Internet widely available to kids, with or without supervision, this is not the worst thing in the world. Better that they are educated than misinformed, yes?

EDIT: This article on puts it better than I could.