Status

Aug. 17th, 2017 02:58 pm
pyesetz: (Default)
My five years of Hell continue.  I have no job and no chance of ever getting one.  In June I applied for a position at the Post Office.  It took two months to get through the aptitude test, the security check, and the various scheduling delays.  When they finally granted me an in-person interview, it turned out I never could have done the job, which involves 8-hour shifts of tossing ten-pound boxes into bins by province.  It's "part-time" in the sense that it's only October through Christmas.  So the interviewers begin by telling me that the job has only one task, done over and over, and *then* they ask if I need accommodation for my physical infirmities.  What's the point if no accommodation is possible?

I checked through Indeed recently.  If you can't do full-time work, or heavy lifting, and don't have teaching or nursing certificates, and have no aptitude for customer service, then there is simply nothing available.  I don't mean there's nothing GOOD available, I mean there is NOTHING available.

Last month the Government of Canada announced that the Canadian unemployment rate had fallen to 6.3% (corresponding to 5.3% in the American way of lying about the economy), even though there were 2,400 fewer full-time jobs and 24,300 fewer part-time jobs.  This statistical legerdemain was accomplished by treating self-employed people as if they were full-time, even though self-employment is more work than full-time and pays less than part-time.  If I don't have the stamina for full-time then I certainly can't do the "gig economy" which is even worse.

I asked my family doctor if I could get myself declared disabled, but she didn't think that would go well (it's been 15 years since the triggering event and you're supposed to apply immediately).  She suggested I go to Lutherwood; I am currently in the middle of scheduling delays with them.  It remains to be seen what they could possibly do for me, since they cannot create jobs out of thin air.  There are government programs to assist disabled people, but I'm not eligible.  There are other government programs for down-on-their-luck oldsters, but I'm not eligible because my house hasn't been foreclosed yet.  There are programs for able-bodied people who need a new career, but I'm not able-bodied.  There are programs for people who never got a college diploma, but I have a master's degree.  Here in Socialist Canada there are programs for everything — but none of them are for me.

This post has been brought to you by Wifey, who complains that I never write anything here anymore.  The last comment I posted was to [personal profile] deffox on April 18th.  The next day I received a reply from [personal profile] whitetail, who refuses to accept that his computer's inability to display 𝕌𝕟𝕚𝕔𝕠𝕕𝕖 is his problem, not everyone else's.  (Hint: what you need is a software upgrade so you can read what everyone else is writing 🌶 in 2017).

A month later I received a query from [personal profile] rain_gryphon, which was very nice of him.  (In a previous year, when he had stopped writing for awhile, I had sent him a nudge.)  So here it is, four months later, and it seems time has stopped.  The front page of Dreamwidth hasn't been updated since April 14th.  [personal profile] rain_gryphon hasn't posted anything since July 8th.  [personal profile] frith has many posts of his drawings but none of the animals at the zoo he works at.  [personal profile] loganberrybunny has only one post in the last 14 days, which is all DW will show me.  Over at LJ, sabotlours is still posting (I wonder if he's retired yet), as is porsupah (good to hear things are going better for him) and whitetail (I wonder how his eye is doing.)  There's some posts from mejeep (whom I haven't seen in person since 2005).  That's it.  It's dead, Jim.

Astute readers will note that this post begins and ends with 𝙎𝘵𝘢𝘳 𝙏𝘳𝘦𝘬 references and that none of the Unicode glyphs in this post were truly "necessary".
pyesetz: (woof)

Our room.  Day 3, dose 1 for Kid #2’s ear drops.  He feels yucky: coughing, sneezing, sniffling.  I’ve got clogged sinuses as well.  Wifey isn’t feeling 100%.  Only Kid #1 (the germophobe) seems to be okay.  So it looks like we’ll have to skip another day at the park.

Epcot.  Attractions visited today: none.  Today was supposed to be our visit to the back half (“World Showcase”).

Art of Animation laundry room (near Big Blue Pool, 12:15pm, 1:00pm, 2:00pm).  The laundry machines are no longer coin-operated.  Instead, you swipe your credit card at a central console and press a button to indicate which machine gets the money, then go to the machine and select a cycle, then go back to the central console to press “OK”.  Also there is a cute website that you can use to monitor your load from the comfort of your hotel room.
      The cute website is just a Flash app that only updates once per minute, so it really shouldn’t need to eat up 90% of available CPU time on my laptop for its very simple two-step animations of cartoon washers and dryers (the ones in use are shown as vibrating).
      The heat index is over 100°F today (yet again) and I have to walk across the resort complex to the laundry room.  On my first trip, I bring only the clothes we will wear during the remainder of the vacation.  I put them into the washer, but it’s only ⅓ full.  So take them out and carry them back to our room through the searing heat.  Get *all* the dirty clothes we have and carry them across the resort through the searing heat of Central Florida in September.  The washer is now barely full.
      My credit card is charged $1.00 for a box of dryer sheets (I pressed the wrong button), then another $1.00 for box of soap (what I actually wanted).  I think each of these is good for two loads, but none of the laundry-room signs actually says that.  The high-efficiency washing machines warn that you must not use more than 2tbsp of soap but there are no measuring spoons anywhere.  The soap box says “1.9oz”, which *might* mean that it contains four tablespoons.  I eye out half a box of soap, pay $2.00 to start the washer, then leave the other half of the box near the soap vending machine.  Then walk back to our room through the searing heat.
      Then back through the searing heat to move the clothes to a dryer and pay $2.00 to dry them.  Use one dryer sheet (since I have it) and put the box with the other dryer sheet next to my leftover soap that no one has taken yet.  Then back through the searing heat to our room.
      An hour later, back through the searing heat to collect the clothes — but they are not dry yet!  So another $2.00.  At the central console I allocate the money to dryer #16, but then at the dryer I accidentally press the button to start dryer #15.  Somehow this causes the money to be allocated to the machine above the one that the clothes are in, so I transfer them.  My leftover soap and dryer sheet are now gone, so I don’t have to worry about whether I should use the other sheet (at home we generally don’t use such products).  Back to the room through the searing heat.
      Another hour.  Searing heat.  Clothes are dry and hot.  Stuff them into the trash bag I brought them in — of course they are now fluffier so they barely fit in the bag.  Walk back to the room, carrying the bag of clothes through the searing heat (which isn’t doing my stuffy nose any good).  Wifey packs the clothes we won’t need into the UPS box for shipment back to Canada.

Ink and paint (12:56pm).  Wifey had asked me to choose a replacement antenna-topper for our car.  We need something to make our blue Chrysler Voyager stand out in parking lots from all the other copies of this popular model.  The current topper used to be “Glitter Mickey” but he lost an ear and his glitter eventually fell off, so we want something bright.  The “Mike Wazowski” is big and fluorescent green, the “Mickey wearing a rain poncho” has high-constrast black and yellow, while the ”Rainbow” is… pretty and gay.  At the gift shop, I note that Wazowski is heavy; our current topper makes the car antenna bend a lot at highway speeds, so I don’t want anything heavier.  Which of the others should I buy?  The toppers are $5.95 each or two for $8.00, so I buy BOTH OF THEM!!!  (*cue the Cookie Monster noises*)  Back at our room, Wifey is surprised at my sudden attack of spendthrift.  I suggest that we install rain-poncho Mickey (who looks like he’s wearing a dress) on our car in Ohio, then perhaps switch to the rainbow after crossing the border and exiting from the homophobic USA, where it is no longer permissible to say “I just like rainbows”.

Landscape of Flavors (5:20pm).  Fruit cup for Kid #1.  Snack-credit.

Our room.  Wifey doesn’t feel like doing anything today for the second night of Rosh Hashanah.  My childhood upbringing was in American Conservative Judaism, which celebrates two days for major holidays, but our own family practice is more like Reform or Humanistic Judaism which generally celebrates only one.  But at home we usually eat two special dinners.
      Some people may be offended by how we practice our religion.  How can we go on amusement rides during the Ten Days of Repentance?  Perhaps what we need to atone for is not the things we have done, but the things we did not do because we were afraid to try anything new.  It has always been easier for us to justify field trips that were “educational” than those that would have been “fun”.
      My father (ז״ל) would not be pleased by the poor Jewish education I have provided to my children.  Mistakes were made, but they cannot be corrected now because the kids are grown.  It the job of the children to review the ancestral ways passed down to them and to prune the ones that no longer make sense — and it is to be expected that the parents will be displeased by some of those pruning decisions.  I almost never speak Hebrew, so my children have never seen much point in learning it.  Kid #2 almost never associates with other Jews, even though his gem collection (which includes a diamond) is a stereotypically Jewish hobby.

Intermission (at All-Star Music Resort, dinner 7:13pm).  The plan is for Kid #2 and Wifey to stay in the hotel room while Kid #1 and I go fetch some food.  (I have to go because Kid #1 hasn’t taken her road-test exam yet.)  Wifey looks around online and finds a menu for All-Star Movies Resort that says they serve cheesesteak subs, which are not available in our resort’s food court.  All-Star Movies also offers salmon, which Kid #1 likes but is not available in our own food court.  Kid #2 selects chicken nuggets and french fries.
      We drive to the food court for All-Star Movies Resort, but they no longer offer cheesesteak subs.  A cast member suggests that maybe the adjacent All-Star Music Resort still has them, so we drive over there — but no go.  Attempts to contact Wifey via the TracFone are unsuccessful (later we find out that she detected the incoming call too late and was unable to access the voicemail).  So we decide to just buy food for Kid #1 and Kid #2 for now.  Salmon and chicken nuggets in take-out containers.

Landscape of Flavors (dinner, 8:04pm).  Get two “create your own pasta” entrées for Wifey and myself to eat.

pyesetz: (woof)

Our room.  Day 2, dose 1 for Kid #2’s ear drops.  Wait around for Wifey’s college friend, whom we haven’t seen since our previous trip to Disney World ten years ago.

Our room (12:30pm).  Friend arrives.  We spend quite some time in our hotel room with her, catching up on typical old-person topics (who died, who has grandkids, etc.)  My children are polite and make it seem like they actually care about such things.

Landscape of Flavors (lunch, 2:00pm).  We give the friend one of our plenitude of food credits; as of May 2015 it is now permitted to buy food for people who are not on the plan.  We all have lunch together, then split up by gender.

Wifey, Kid #1, and the friend

Big Blue Pool (inside Art of Animation Resort).  Hang out at the swimming pool for more conversation.

Kid #2 and I

Pixel Play Arcade (inside Art of Animation Resort).  Our accommodation includes a coupon for 100 play-points at the arcade, but both of the machines that are supposed to convert the coupon to an access card say they are “empty”.  There is no cast member at the arcade today (it’s Sunday), so we go to the concierge desk; they give us a card with 250 points *and* return the unused coupon.  What a great deal, eh?  But the games are not much fun and half the games we select are “free play” anyway, so we use very few of the play-points before losing interest.  One of the less-uninteresting games is Fruit Ninja, which Kid #2 recognizes as a game that was originally written for the iPad and has been retrofitted for the larger screen of an arcade game.  (Back in my day, the arcade was the initial target-market and then games were retrofitted for personal computers).

Our room.  Use our computers with the hotel Wi-Fi.  This is more fun than the arcade.

Everyone

Our room.  The womenfolk return to the room for more conversation.  The friend leaves around 5:30pm, so she got a five-hour visit for which she drove 2½ hours each way.  Then my family has more computer fun while we wait for it to get darker.

Our room.  It’s Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of Jewish year 5776.  This is at least the third time in the last 25 years that we have celebrated it in a hotel room.  Wifey’s original plan was to eat dinner in the room with rotisserie chicken from a grocery store, an apple, and Winnie the Pooh® brand honey.  But we didn’t get around to buying the chicken or the honey and I forgot to pick up an apple at the hotel food court.  In our room fridge there is a leftover fruit cup that includes three slices of apple (desserts are included in the dinner food-credits, but the Disney dinners are too much food for us).  So we look up the Rosh Hashanah blessings on the Internet and say them while eating the apple slices (Wifey and I share one slice).  Wifey brought along a single birthday candle from Canada, so we stick it in a leftover-dessert cupcake, light it on fire (oh noes!  An open flame in a hotel room!), and wish the world a happy birthday.  Then we blow out the candle and divide up the cupcake.  Happy New Year!

Disney Transport (Lake Buena Vista FL).  We take a bus to Downtown Disney, which is in the middle of being rethemed as “Disney Springs” so many of the parking lots are closed for reconstruction.  Hey, it’s another ride!

Wolfgang Puck’s Express (Downtown Disney, 7:18pm).  I wasn’t too impressed with Chef Puck when we ate at one of his cafeterias in Boston.  This one is considerably upscale from that, but still there is much to complain about.  My chicken soup tastes sweet.  My brownie tastes like gooey sugar syrup with chocolate flavor (but other family members enjoy theirs).  The receipt makes it look like we paid $74.87 for family dinner, but actually the cost was covered by our dining plan.  Bottled juice is available, but only fountain drinks are on the plan, unlike at Disney-branded restaurants.  The cashier keeps asking us to list our “meals” first (eventually we figure out that she means “entrées”).
      After dinner, we split up by gender again.

Kid #2 and I

Sassagoula Steamboat Co.  Take a ferry across Lake Buena Vista to Downtown Disney’s “West Side”.  The captain says the name of the ferry company, as if it were an attraction, and the name is displayed on the dock but doesn’t appear on the Downtown Disney map, so I’m calling it a ”group” (like the popcorn carts) rather than an “attraction” (with name shown here in purple).  Walt Disney Corp. owns everything in sight, so the distinction is sort of arbitrary.  The Sassagoula River flows into Lake Buena Vista.

DisneyQuest (8:15pm).  We have a coupon for a day’s admission to this five-story building full of arcades, restaurants, and a few rides.  We just go on the rides and are done in an hour.  Attractions visited today: Invasion ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, Buzz Lightyear’s AstroBlaster, Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride, and Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for Buccaneer Gold.
      DisneyQuest is scheduled to be closed next year, so this is our only chance to go on these rides.  AstroBlaster is the main one that I would want to go on again.  It’s sort of like bumper-cars but for two-man crews.  I steered (which was difficult) while Kid #2 loaded the “cannon” and lobbed “asteroids” at the other vehicles.  When hit, a vehicle would spin around and then return to the control of its occupants.  Fun!

Sassagoula Steamboat Co.  Ferry back to the “Marketplace” side of Downtown Disney.

Disney Transport.  Bus back to our resort.  The bus driver asks the men to give up their seats for women and children, who must surely be tired from all their shopping.  No one moves.  Kid #2 (who is nearly a man) and I try to get some standing females to take our seats, but none of them will accept the offer.  “Don’t be silly,” says one.  “I’m a teacher and I stand all day.”  So we sit back down.  “The bus driver was making a joke,” I tell her.

Wifey and Kid #1

Mickey’s Pantry (8:00pm).  Two packages of shortbread cookies, paid for with snack-credits.

Goofy’s Candy Co. (8:15pm).  A box of animal crackers and a bag of plain M&Ms, to use up two more snack-credits.

Little Miss Matched (8:22pm).  $9.94 for three deliberately-mismatched but color-coördinated socks, to be given to a homeschooler girl we know who likes to wear that sort of thing.

World of Disney (9:07pm).  $8.47 for a silicone pancake mold shaped like Mickey’s head.  Also, a box of mints that we’ll give to some homeschooling friends (snack credit).

Ghiradelli (9:17pm).  Shared hot fudge brownie sundae for $11.66.  The receipt comes with a “10% off” coupon, but there are no Ghiradelli stores in Canada.  Perhaps we can use it in Boston.

Tren-D (9:39pm).  $6.34 for a Minnie Mouse rhinestone headband, to be given to yet another homeschooler girl we know.

Disney Transport.  Ride the bus back to Art of Animation Resort.

Everyone

Our room.  The guys return only shortly before the gals, even though we did less stuff, because of our additional travel time on the ferry.  Also, day 2 dose 2 goes into Kid #2’s ear.

pyesetz: (woof)

[Today begins with the discovery that I cannot find my keyring (none of the keys are in use here in Florida) and ends with the discovery of the keyring in the “receipts” pouch of my suitcase, where it should have been all along (and presumably actually *was* there all along, despite my inability to find it).]

W. Osceola Parkway.  $1 in tolls, which Google did not mention in their driving directions.  It is an unattended tollbooth that accepts only coins.  Thankfully we had brought enough leftover US coinage with us from Canada to be permitted off this highway.  (Presumably, if we hadn’t, the only other option would be to pay whatever Alamo feels like charging for the scofflaw fine from the tollbooth’s video camera.)

Walmart (Kissimmee FL, 12:15pm).  Buy two TracFone® cellular telephones, so we can split up at the theme parks.  We have to buy disposable phones because Wifey’s fliphone offers only Canadian service and has no SIM card to swap out, while Kid #1’s smartphone is locked to a Canadian vendor and is too difficult/expensive to unlock for use with an American SIM card.  Each TracFone costs $9.84, but then the cheapest airtime for them is $24.94 for 200 minutes usable within 150 days.  Total with 7% tax = $74.43 for a pair of phones that should still be usable during our next trip to Massachusetts.
      The Walmart salesclerk performs the initial phone activation for us, which takes about ten minutes per phone.  The second phone has a slight scratch on the screen, so she insists on exchanging it for a third phone, which requires waiting for authorization to cancel an activation, which takes even more time.  But the phones are small and thin and functional, and offer a cute “echoing” effect when you have one of them call the other while holding them next to each other.

Walmart (12:48pm).  $62.05 for foods we wish to have in the room (because the resort’s free food is *so* far away in the adjacent building, and doesn’t offer things like canned tuna and Cheerios).

Walmart parking lot.  I remember having my own keys when getting the key-fob for the rental car, so perhaps I left them in one of the other cars we tried out in the lot?  The rental-car paperwork has no local phone-contact number, so I call Alamo’s national number and spend some time on hold, but don’t get through to anyone before the family starts to get overheated in the car.  (It’s yet another 90°F day.)

Our room (1:45pm).  The box we had shipped via UPS finally arrives!  We had paid $114.76 to have it arrive here before we left Canada and greet us upon arrival, but it was delayed at Customs.  We unpack our Walmart groceries but there is no time to unpack the UPS box from Canada.  The trip to Walmart took so much longer than expected that now we need to rearrange our FastPass™ appointment times at the park.  This requires use of the MyDisneyExperience app, which is installed only on Kid #1’s smartphone.

Magic Kingdom Park (2:45pm).  Being the oldest part of the Walt Disney World complex, the Magic Kingdom is one of the few things around here whose name doesn’t begin with “Disney’s” or some variation on that.  (Construction for Walt Disney World began almost 50 years ago; in the meantime it has become unfashionable to use apostrophes in business names.)  Because we are arriving so late, many people have already left for the day, so we are able to find an empty parking space up by the Transportation & Ticket Center so we can skip the tram and actually walk in to the monorail station.  It takes an *HOUR* to get from our hotel to Main Street USA, even though we never leave the sprawling Disney property (which covers 43 square miles).
      Attractions visited today: Walt Disney Railroad, Enchanted Tiki Room, Jungle Cruise, Splash Mountain (except Wifey), Big Thunder Mountain (except Wifey), Country Bear Jamboree (except me), Pecos Bill’s (lunch, 2:59pm), Hall of Presidents (Wifey only), Haunted Mansion, Columbia Harbor House (dinner, 8:14pm), Mickey’s PhilHarmagic, It’s a Small World (Wifey only), and Peter Pan’s Flight.
      There were no out-of-pocket expenses at the park.  It seems Disney has finally gotten the hang of what the phrase “all-inclusive resort” is supposed to mean.  I’m not sure why they decided to hand out receipts showing “$0.00” as the price for dining-plan purchases — shouldn’t they list their regular price and then a giant discount at the bottom to cancel it all out?  That’s how it looks at the register.
      Kid #2 doesn’t like travel and has been mopey for the entire trip so far.  But Big Thunder Mountain brings a smile to his face!  He also likes getting soaked in the front seat of Splash Mountain.  We go on both of those rides twice each, once via FastPass™ and once via the stand-by lines.

Landscape of Flavors (11:01pm).  Snack for Wifey.

Our room.  Kid #2 takes a shower.  He gets some water in his right ear (or was it Splash Mountain?).  Now he can’t hear anything in that ear.  I give him ibuprofen, but it doesn’t help.

pyesetz: (woof)
Hello, furiends!  Today I would like to talk to you about a can of beans.  (The connection between beans and Furry will be left as an exercise to the reader.)  Wifey thinks we bought this can from the "discontinued" bin at Central Fresh Market (which was originally a butcher shop and still offers excellent prices on meat and terrible prices on everything else).

It is your typical 19-oz can of mixed beans.  Usually I get the Unico® bean medley, which contains only four kinds of beans (red kidneys, chick peas, romanos, and great northerns).  This Mr. Goudas® product contains nine kinds of beans (chick peas, red kidneys, white kidneys, romanos, limas, pigeon peas, soybeans, black beans, and blackeye peas), plus the usual water, salt, calcium chloride, and disodium EDTA (which makes suds to tell me that I haven't yet finished washing the canning fluid off the beans).

Okay, I admit it: I've been padding this text to try to match it up with that tall photo of a bean-can to the left, but this is ultimately pointless because your browser is probably set to a different font-size than mine.  Thank heavens for <br clear="all">!

Okay, now for the next photo!

I was not able to completely separate the label from the steel can, but I think my flatbed scanner did a decent job on this.  The scribble on the UPC is to indicate that this product was reduced for quick sale.  Everything is written in both English and French, as required by Canadian national standards.  (Maybe someday the American national standards will require both English and Spanish.)  The product name "9‑ͭ‑ͪ Symphony/9‑ͤ‑ͫ‑ͤ Symphonie" is obviously a pun based on the number of bean types and the fact that beans cause intestinal gas unless consumed along with Beano™ brand α-galactosidase.

Okay, now let's get to the interesting part: the talk-balloons coming out of the mouths of the white bean and the purple bean do not say the same things in English and French!  Usually this happens because the text in one language uses an untranslatable pun and/or idiomatic phrasing, so the other language will use a circumlocution to express the same idea.  But in this case, the two languages do *not* express the same idea.

The English text advertises that this product generates flatus, suggesting that there exist customers for whom that is a selling-point.  The French text says nothing of interest, so clearly it has been censored.  "Chauffer et servir" is just wrong — bean medley is best served at room temperature, straight from the can (I generally use a fork); the English text says nothing about heating.  "Prêt à servir" is redundant with the text on the red stripe along the bottom of the label.  The writer of the French ad-copy just plain chickened out regarding the rectum opus aspect of this food product.  (I highly recommend that last link, which is an excellent example of what in Medieval Irish was called Braigetóir.)

Having consumed the contents of this can, I can confirm that its English label text is accurate regarding the effects of the product upon the large intestine.

p.s. If you're still unsure what beans and Furry have to do with each other, here's a hint: butt.
pyesetz: (woof)

Oct. 29, day 7: Drive from New York to Ontario

Best Western (Liverpool NY, 2:46am).  Yet another bill-under-the-door.  Only $111.76 for a 2-queen room — and the pool is heated!  Looks like we’ll be back here next time, although the side-by-side beds caused Kid #1 to be quite unhappy with Wifey’s breathing noises.  When we were last here in 2007, the neighbouring airport was very noisy, but no problem this time.

US Postal Service (Liverpool NY, 10:43am).  $4.17 for delivery of an item to New Jersey and for a box to mail it in.  The item is my old E-ZPass transponder, which hasn’t worked since 2009 or so yet they keep charging me $1/month for it.  The return address printed on the transponder is no longer valid, so I had to call them to get the new address.
      I just checked my E-ZPass account balance and an “adjustment” was made to my account on Nov. 4th.  I now have a $50 credit balance.  Anyone wanna place a bet as to whether I ever see that money?

Jo-Ann’s Fabrics (Amherst NY, 1:59pm).  Wifey paid $46.91 for sewing stuff, mostly for Kid #1’s birthday present.

Tops (Amherst NY, 3:00pm).  $134.87 to stock up on inexpensive American groceries for our Canadian pantry.  Includes canned gefilte fish and mass quantities of turkey pepperoni, chocolate baking morsels, and AA batteries.

Tops (3:02pm).  As a thank-you gift for our preceding purchase, the machine spat out a coupon for a 75¢ discount on our next purchase.  Kid #2 noticed a pack of gum for 79¢, so we bought it to use up the coupon.  With tax, the net cost of the gum was 11¢.

Key Bank (inside Tops, 3:02pm).  Get $20 to ensure that we can pay for tolls on the way home, but it turned out that we already had (barely) enough cash — so now we have USD $20 to hold onto for our next trip to the States.  No ATM fee for Key Bank, but $3 fee for our bank plus the exchange rate was $23.07.

Tops lottery vending machine.  Once again, Wifey buys an instant ticket for $1 which wins $2.  She also buys a $2 Powerball ticket for the evening’s drawing (it didn’t win anything).

Wegman’s (Amherst NY, 3:35pm).  $52.63 for salad bar lunch.  Still pretty good, but notably lower quality than last time.  Robert Wegman died eight years ago.  Things change after the founder dies: stores become less distinctive and more like every other store, because that’s the “safe” move for an MBA executive.

Wegman’s (4:48pm).  $463.59 for even more groceries, including mass quantities of boneless chicken breast, peanut butter, horseradish cheddar, Hebrew National® hot dogs, and — as usual — 160 cans of “Wegman’s Solid White Albacore Tuna in Water” (which costs half as much as similar products in Canada).  Wegman’s might not be as distinctive as they used to be, but you can’t argue with their prices!  In fact, they have the same Sea Dog blueberry ale from Maine that I bought at Shaw’s in Massachusetts — but Wegman’s price is about 20% lower.  Oh well.

Wegman’s parking lot.  We bought too much stuff on this trip!  Wifey spends considerable time jamming everything into the trunk.  Eventually she gets it all in *and* leaves enough open space down the middle of the van so the rearview mirror will work.  She is amazing.

Delta Sonic (Amherst NY, 5:38pm).  $50 for gasoline.  This station is very close to Tops and Wegman’s, so we generally stop here before beginning the long drive home.  Once again, prepayment is necessary due to rampant American xenophobia.  No zipcode means no right to a receipt showing how much gas you got for your money!

Canadian border (Queenston ON).  Border guard waives us through, perhaps in part because we have Canadian passports.  Once again, no sales tax on our declared $1000ºº of imported goods!

Our house.  After bringing in the food from the car, I looked in the fridge and said, “Hey, know what we forgot to buy?  Fridge light bulbs!”  Both of them had failed just before we went on our trip.

Oct. 30, day 8: The day after

Country Paws (St. Agatha ON, 10:53am).  $165.20 for a week’s stay at a dog kennel.  That’s $20/day plus tax plus $1 per day to feed him a customer-provided chewable beef-flavoured arthritis pill that’s no trouble at all to administer because he likes it.  And the dog came home with a limp, so either they didn’t actually give him all the pills or he overexerted himself (which he often does at the kennel).

Home Hardware (New Hamburg ON, 3:46pm).  $5.53 for a pair of lightbulbs specially designed to provide “true daylight colour” inside a fridge.

Oct. 31, day 9: The day after the day after

Our house.  Halloween party.  We had only two guests over.  After trick-or-treating and then some trading, each of my kids ended up with a gallon-sized bag filled solely with candies that they actually liked.  What a nice neighbourhood!

Nov. 2, day 11: The last day

Carl’s Jr. parking lot (Waterloo ON).  Presented the items to my furiend, but he didn’t want to do the Furry thing I had in mind, so the whole exercise turned out to be pointless.  He gave me USD $12 for the Cheez-Its and Starbucks (even though he also had Canadian money in his wallet), so now I have even more US cash to hold onto for the next trip.  I gave him the blueberry ale as a consolation prize.

pyesetz: (woof)

Hawthorn Suites (Franklin MA, 3:27am).  Slipped under our door, which is apparently what every hotel does nowadays.  $546.90 for four days’ stay.  At least this time the pool was working.  But the entire hotel was taken over by a wedding party, so we got a “Bedroom studio” (which is not a 1-bedroom at all) rather than the “Bedroom suite” we had wanted for better separation between kidlets and parents.  Staff wasn’t very accommodating, so it’s unclear whether we’ll stay here again.  Perhaps we’ll try another look around online, but we keep coming back here because it’s the cheapest place in Eastern Mass that has suite rooms and (usually) lets us have one.

Shaw’s (Franklin MA, 11:15am).  $44.17 for groceries, including three boxes of Cheez-Its with specific flavours that my furiend had asked for (he loves Cheez-Its almost as much as I do) and also another test-box of “original” flavour for myself (boxes with the same lot number that I tested on day 3 are now sold out).  While in the check-out line, I notice that they are selling cans of “Starbucks Doubleshot Espresso+cream”, which the furiend had also asked for.  It is the last item on my shopping list for him!

Shaw’s (11:20am).  The test-box is fine, so I buy 18 more boxes of Cheez-Its for $31.41.

Hess (Franklin MA, 11:26am).  $30 for gasoline.  This is the first time that a gas station in Massachusetts has discriminated against me due to my unAmerican postal code.  The receipt does not indicate price-per-gallon nor total gallons purchased.
      I used to like Hess in New Jersey.  I do not recall when they started selling gas in Massachusetts.  Wikipedia says it was before 2013, but I suspect it may have been after 2011 or surely after 2007.  Anyway, all “Hess” gas stations will be rebanded as “Speedway” by 2017.

Massachusetts Turnpike.  Tolls.  No receipt.

New York Thruway.  Tolls.  No receipt.

Golden Corral (Colonie NY, 2:32pm).  $41.41 for lunch.  Not as good as we remembered, perhaps because the previous visit had been at dinnertime so they served steak (also it was a different franchisee).  Golden Corral is very proud that they are the world’s largest purchaser of Brussels sprouts, but the sprouts were not cooked very well (or perhaps they would have been better at noon).  The hamburger was quite disappointing.  Still, the salad bar was good and worth the price on its own.

pyesetz: (woof)

Yup, I drove the family to Massachusetts and back again.  First time since 2011.  Kid #1 still has her “G1” licence, so she was not able yet to assist with the driving.

The 2011 trip was dedicated to my deceased brother-in-law, so this trip should be about my deceased mother-in-law.  Initial dribbles from her estate paid for this trip (and have also put food on our table these past few months), but the bulk of the money hasn’t been released yet.  Damned lawyers!  The will is uncontested, so there’s no excuse for all these delays.

Oct. 23rd, day 1: Drive from Ontario to New York

(We ran into multiple traffic jams, so this drive took *twice* as long as Google Maps had estimated.)

Country Paws (St. Agatha ON, 10:55am).  Drop-off time at the dog kennel is 11am; I make it with a few minutes to spare.

Our house (11:30am).  Pack the car with things and family — and we’re off to the States!

US border (Lewiston NY).  40 minute wait, which is quite a bit longer than our recent average.  It seems most cars with Ontario plates are getting searched — but they waive ours through, perhaps in part because we have US passports.

Wegman’s (Amherst NY, 2:53pm).  $4 for a four-pack of pumpkin muffins on sale.  (At end of trip, one muffin was still uneaten.)

Tops (Amherst NY, 3:28pm).  $27.20 for groceries, mostly Halloween candy and snack foods that are on sale this week but won’t be next week when we stop back here on our way home.  Also included is a box of Cheez-Its, which is going to be the “theme snack food” for this trip.

Tops lottery vending machine.  Wifey buys a instant lottery ticket for $1, which wins $2!  She also buys a $2 Powerball ticket for the Oct. 25 drawing (it didn’t win anything).

New York Thruway rest area (6:15pm).  Withdraw $40 for US spending money.  M&T Bank charges me a $3 “withdrawal convenience fee”, while my own bank charges a $3 “foreign exchange convenience fee”, plus their exchange rate is poor, so it costs me CAD $52.75 to get USD $40 out of the ATM.  A good rate would have cost perhaps CAD $44.
      Wifey buys another lottery ticket for $1, which doesn’t win.

New York Thruway exit (New Hartford NY).  The toll collector says, “You know your headlight’s out?”  I thank him and tell him I didn’t know — but that sure explains why it’s been so difficult to drive tonight!

Olive Garden (New Hartford NY, 8:47pm).  $80.35 for dinner.  Everyone gets “endless bowl of pasta” except me.  I refer to it as the “endless wait for pasta” because that’s one of Olive Garden’s tricks for keeping down the number of bowls you actually get.
      After the meal, I tried to buy some gasoline, but my credit card was missing.  I drove back to Olive Garden to retrieve it.  The manager wanted me to show photo ID even though I had the receipt with the matching card number and surely the waitress can remember my face from a few minutes earlier.  Still, a lot less hassle than it could have been.

Sunoco (New Hartford NY, 9:10pm).  Buy $50 of gasoline.  Since 2011 it seems to have become much more common in New York to require entry of a zipcode in order to buy gasoline directly at the pump.  But Canadian postal codes are not “zipcodes”, so I have to go into the convenience store, guess how much gas I will need, and prepay for it — because I am a shifty foreigner whose address lacks the all-numeric zipcode of a trustworthy human being!

pyesetz: (woof)


My favourite computer programs to write are the ones that someone else has already given up on and declared "impossible".  Oh yeah?  Well, we'll see about that!
pyesetz: (woof)
Stan Hayward is a nobody.  He has no entry of his own at Wikipedia.  When he talks on Quora (what's up with that site?), it's mainly about his life on the water, but his bio on his own website talks mainly about his work in British film.

I like this Quora article because, while Stan Hayward has done a bunch of different things, he is still a mediocre person like everyone else.

A certain cat who frequents the K-W furmeets seems to think that I can't be real because I know about too many different things.  But I am nearly twice his age, so how could he have a clue about what "too many" would be for my age?  This reminds me of an argument I once heard, that evolution can't be true because five million years isn't enough time for the human and the chimp to have evolved from a common ancestor.  But people can't even grasp what can be done in 20 years, so how can they know anything about what would be a reasonable result from five million years' worth of slow change?

When I was a teen, I wondered how my father could solve crossword puzzles.  How could he know about so many things that seemed to have little direct relevance to his daily life?  But now that I am the age he was then, I find crossword puzzles to be fairly easy — it's mostly the same clues, day after day, year after year, just in different combinations.  Eventually you learn them.
pyesetz: (sozont)
I have occasionally used the phrase "gothic horror movie" to describe the recurring themes of my life, and why I felt so at home at Company ℱ, and why I have never wanted to work at RIM or most other companies in my local area (because they are more "gladiator movie" than "gothic horror").  My wife has used "Addams Family" to describe her first visit to my parents' house.

So you can imagine my interest in last Friday's article in the Guardian (or Grauniad as the locals call it), which is entitled "How to Tell You're Reading a Gothic Novel".  I guess I'd rather see this title as "How to Tell You're Living in a Gothic Novel".  Anyway, let us review their helpful hints:

1. The villain is a murderous tyrant with scary eyes

Actually not.  I have had a variety of opponents in my life, most of whom did not have especially-scary eyes.  One notable exception was that four-year-old kid I met when I was six.  Aaaaaah!  On the other paw, lots of people have commented that my eyes are scary, so maybe I'm supposed to be the villain?  But I always try to be a good little monster!  I have never murdered anything larger than a flounder, although I have been indirectly involved in the senseless killings of several innocent dogs (may their souls RIP in Heaven).  The notches on my metaphorical pistol refer mainly to the destroyed careers of various evil-doers who were stupid enough to pick fights with me after I told them not to.  Just go away and nobody will get hurt!  But they wouldn't listen.

2. The heroine is a pious virginal orphan, prone to fainting.

I don't know WTF this is supposed to be talking about.  What does morphine diacetate have to do with virginity?  No swoons for me; Victor Frankenstein I ain't!  Though sometimes I wish I could just sleep through the bad periods when there's nothing I can do about my problems.  And since when are orphans known for their piety?  My father is dead and I actually don't know whether my mother still lives.

3. It's set in a spooky castle or stately home.

Not exactly.  But this item has sub-items, so let's review those:

3a. Built in Gothic period: No, my house dates from 1870.  It's old, but not that old.

3b. In a poor state of repair: Yes, the wooden front porch is rotting and needs replacement before it collapses.

3c. In the middle of nowhere: Well, the city folks think so, but really it's only a 15-minute drive from here to Canada's Technology Triangle.

3d. Haunted/cursed: Not really.  My previous house was haunted by the spirit of a little girl who was really, really unhappy that she had to move to Singapore — but I think she was gone by the time we left there, and I have no idea if the folks who bought the house from us thought we were still haunting the place (I insisted on moving to Canada, so the rest of the family got dragged along with me).  My sister used to say about our parent's last house together that it was some sort of spiritual way-station because so many non-corporeal entities passed through it on their way to ¿someplace else? But really the house was just creaky and the spirits had nothing to do with that.

3e. Has a fobidden wing and/or secret passages: Yes!  My house has a variety of inaccessible areas.  The largest is under the mud-room, which I can shine a light into from the basement walk-out but I never see anything.  So far as I know, nothing lives in there except occasionally a family of squeaky little shrews will move in for breeding season.

3f. Has a reclusive and/or sinister owner: Yes, I am left-handed.

-----

4. There is (probably) a ghost or monster

[I like the footnote on this item that refers specifically to Southern Ontario gothic novels.]

I guess this one applies, but let's look at the subcategories:

4a. Ghost: Not currently, I think.  But I was medically dead once and almost-dead another time, so maybe this life is all a dream?  The final episode of Roseanne was the best!

4b. Monster: I sometimes identify as a therian, which is sort of like a furry only totally not.

4c. Witch/sorceress: I'll let my wife answer this one.

4d. Vampire: No, it's a werewolf!  Werewolves are not vampires!  (*spits into mike*) Is this thing on?  A werewolf, I tell you‼  Sheesh.

4e. The Devil: No, although some people have claimed that I should have "666" tattooed on my forehead.  But really, Arabic numerals would make no sense — it should be "DCLXVI" for proper Latin.  Sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc. I said that once (in English) to a lawyer who was trying to depose me.

4f. Not really a ghost at all: It was nice of them to include the footnote here about Scooby Doo, which jumped its shark in later years when the monsters were reimagined as "real" within the story universe.

-----

5. It's set in the olden days.

Hey, we're on Internet time now.  I remember the dark ages before Google, before Wikipedia, before Rule 34, when people actually had to get up and go to the TV and rotate a knob to change the channel.  So, um, yeah.

6. It takes place in foreign parts.

The footnote says this applies if the story takes place in a country that is not where the author was born.  So Canada counts.  And, BTW, I am a citizen now!

7. The weather is always awful.

This is an exaggeration, although there were far too many days with -30° wind-chills last winter.  But next year is supposed to be a monstrous El Niño, so hopefully more to my liking.

8. Anyone who isn't a white middle-class Protestant is frightening.

Yup.  I'm a Jew who lives in a township full of Mennonites.  Be very afraid!

9. The laws of the land are brazenly flouted.

I can't talk about this in a public post, but there are signs that the laws will be a-changing soon to be more to my liking.  The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind!

10. People talk funny.

I've been here for seven years and still don't feel like I have a grip on the local accent.

11. So which gothic novels are the best?

I don't know, but not the one I'm living in — that's fer damn sure.

(p.s.: In case you're wondering, the most important sentence in this essay is the last one for point 6 above, which Wifey wanted to know why I hadn't posted yet to this journal.)

Guts

Dec. 13th, 2013 08:44 pm
pyesetz: (woof)
I didn't do much today.  The wind-chill was nasty all day, but most of the things I was supposed to have done were on the telephone.  One item: I was supposed to call one of the local "Chamber of Commerce" type places to ask if they know of any other Job Fairs like the one they held a month ago.  (They had 55 vendors, I handed out 5 résumés, went home thinking there were actually two companies I'd like to work at, but later found out that one doesn't need a software guy right now and the other has run into funding issues and can't hire anyone.)

I was also thinking of asking them where I could find a part-time semi-retired salesman for a "Linux system administration outsourcing" company, because it seems that I could actually form such a venture but none of us wants to be the guy who goes out and hawks the product to potential customers.  One of the nice things about sysadmin is that you really can create virtual full-time people by packaging up a bunch of part-timers (as long as work-documentation standards are strictly adhered to).  Two half-time contractors get paid less than one full-timer, so there's "margin" and "value-add" and all that lovely business stuff.  But I didn't call.

Today, PZ Myers wrote about the first time he asked out his future wife, which reminded me of my difficulties in picking up the phone to ask those two companies from the Job Fair why they hadn't called me back.  (You never know — I once got a job several months after a different job I had interviewed for had funding difficulties, because the interviewer remembered me.  And *that* job led to Company ℱ where I worked for 17 years.)  Professor Myers writes, "She was the brave one when she said yes."  Yeah, if any salesman were to agree to take on this gig, he would have to be a brave one.  Right now I have only one customer (that I would like to replace, or at least augment) and the method I used to acquire that one probably wouldn't work again.  I have no idea how to sell such a service, or how to determine what price the customers would pay for it, or how to find people who should buy it.  If you know that you're not good with sysadmin, then you don't think about sysadmin approaches to solving your problems, so you don't "feel the lack" of a sysadmin on your staff and don't realize that you could benefit from hiring an outsourcing firm.

I had a much easier time asking out my future wife than Dr. Myers did.  I just posted a "mating call" to a University BBS.  She was the only female respondent, so — years later — I married her.  Now if only I had some income to put food on the table for our children...
pyesetz: (Default)

Once upon a time, early last week, I made yet another trip to Buffalo NY to buy groceries.  It needed to be done because our Permanent Resident cards were five years old and about to expire at the end of October.  Immigration Canada is understaffed these days, due to the Recession, so it will take several months to get replacement cards.  The only official purpose for those cards is for gaining re-entry to Canada at the border; now that they’ve expired, we will not be leaving the country anytime soon.

Last July, the children’s passports became five years old and they expired.  Replacing a child’s passport cannot be done by mail and requires a trip to the US consulate in Toronto.  We finally got around to doing that at the end of September.  Actually, the trip wasn't as bad as feared: parking was a pain, the TSA goons at the door were rude, but the inside consulate staff were nice enough.  Kid #1 is now a grown-up and her new passport is good for ten years, while Kid #2 got another five-year kiddie passport.
      During the months between the expiration and the replacement of the children’s passports, Wifey was worried: what would we do if there were a Death In The Family and we had a sudden emergency need to visit the States?  It is against the law for an American citizen to enter that country without showing a US passport if they have one, but what happens if the passport is expired?  I didn’t think it would be such a big deal; surely there would be procedures in place.  We would probably be diverted to the Border Patrol office, have to show alternative ID, get grilled by Blueshirts, then they would let us proceed to the funeral.  Anyway, this didn’t happen.

So we’re on our way to Buffalo, just about to pass the “Last exit in Canada” sign, when Wifey checks the passports to make sure everything is fine… but everything is not fine.  The children are fine, but the parents’ passports expired last July when they became ten years old.  Oopsie!  So now we have to decide whether to turn around and drive an hour back to our house, or brave the border with bad passports.  I made an executive decision to keep going.

At the border, the guard did a double-take when processing the third passport.  I imagine a bright red flashing EXPIRED! indicator on his computer console, but he said nothing.  He asked some unusual questions (e.g., “Have you renounced your US citizenship?”) but nothing specifically about the expired passports.  Eventually he waived us through, without even diverting us to the Big House.

The grocery shopping was uneventful.  We went to the Tops and Wegmans supermarkets as usual.  We spent $800 on this trip, which was the most ever, including over $200 just for canned tuna.  Inflation is bad these days, despite the official lies from the government.

Upon our return to Canada, the border guard was gruff with us.  When we told her we bought $800 worth of food, she asked for the receipts and studied them carefully.  I imagine that she was upset to see $75 worth of boneless skinless chicken breasts (which cost twice as much in Canada because they don’t use undocumented Hispanic serfs in their chicken processing plants).  But perhaps she was less displeased to see that the single largest line-item was the tunafish, which is not caught in Canada so there were no local fishermen that we were refusing to support.  She asked various questions of the form, “Are you going to eat all this food yourselves?”  While there is apparently no sales tax exemption for one-day excursions, no border guard has ever demanded that we pay that tax.  On this day as well we were eventually waived through with no penalty.

Yet another successful shopping trip!
pyesetz: (Default)
I made a shiny thing!  Click to embiggen.  It is supposed to show off how effective my new stock-trading strategy is, but we'll have to see whether that really works out.

I had to piece this together from images in my Firefox cache due to bugs at the stockcharts.com website, which silently throws away colour-spots on the left of the picture if you add "too many" spots on the right — surely nobody would want to add over 100 colour-spots to their chart, right???  And there are many other bugs at that website, that often cause all the colour-spots on a chart to be silently thrown away.  Remind me again why I am paying them a monthly fee to use this crappy software?

* * * * *

Earlier this month, after four years of putting it off, I finally got my attic insulated!  And it cost NOTHING, as long as I agreed to apply urethane foam-sealant and weather-stripping elsewhere in the house, and pay $300 to have the house inspected twice.  In return for that, I will get a government grant for the attic insulation that is LARGER than its out-of-pocket cost, plus I'll get a prize for having done a good job sealing up my house.  The prize only *partially* pays for the inspections and sealant and weather-strips I had to buy (and would have covered those completely if I had sealed up the house just 3% better and gotten into the next prize category).  Net cost: $200.  Supposedly these improvements will pay for themselves with one winter's savings in heating bills, but it's hard to tell this year because it's been a very warm winter so far.

Dear diary: I never did get around to telling you that, after three years of putting it off, I finally got a sump pump installed back in Fall 2010!  It works great!  The basement is now dry-er but of course it's still damp.  During last spring's rains the pump got quite a work-out, but the water never rose above floor-level.

Last summer, I got my air-conditioner replaced.  It was quite old and its evaporator coil was full of pin-holes and so could no longer hold refrigerant — and the refrigerant that it used has since been banned for contributions to Global Warming.    The replacement unit works very well!  And hopefully it will work even better next summer, when the new attic insulation will help keep the heat out of the house so the A/C doesn't have to work so hard.  Last month, the people who installed it for me called to say that the government grant they had promised me hadn't been issued yet, and would I go to Ontario's website and click some buttons and scan+upload a copy of the receipt?  So I did that; hopefully there'll be a cheque in the mail sometime soon.
pyesetz: (Default)

Day 1: Drive to New York

Drug store: September 27th, 11:12 AM.  Pick up prescription meds before the trip.  This was supposed to have been done last week, but a mix-up with the ℞ scrip required multiple faxes between pharmacist and physician to resolve.  Price was $438 for a 90-day supply.  The American price would have been an obscenity.
      I like this pharmacist because he remembers me from one visit to the next, although the downside is that he harangues me for not taking the pills as often as the doctor ordered.  I’m not entirely sure what his financial situation is, but I think he ran the store independently for 20 years before joining the PharmaSave Corporation.  Wikipedia says PharmaSave is owned by its franchisees.  Socialism!

Post office: Last pick-up of mail before the trip.  Two items of note:
  • PetroCanada/Certigard writes to announce that they are shutting down operations.  You see, now that Suncor has bought PetroCanada, they’ve decided to focus the PetroCanada® brand on gasoline sales, so the Certigard™ line of automotive repair shops no longer fits the corporate vision.  This letter is supposed to serve as an introduction to the owner of my newly-independent repair shop, whose name is Ghaleb Choujaa.  I’ve met Gabe; he seems to be doing a good job on hiring competant mechanics, but I’m not clear on whether he is still picking up a wrench himself.  I don’t know where he’s from, but Google suggests that the name ”Ghaleb” is associated with Lebanon.

  • Citizenship & Immigration Canada has returned our application for citizenship because some checkboxes were not ticked.  On the parents’ forms we ticked No for the question, ”Have you ever been a citizen of Canada?”, but on the kids’ forms we did not answer the question, ”Have your parents ever been citizens of Canada?”  The returned forms have the unanswered questions helpfully highlighted in yellow, along with a warning that if we do not fix this problem within 30 days, our application will be cancelled and the fee returned.  So, back to the post office to mail the forms with the newly-ticked boxes.  Didn’t get a receipt.

Stock market: Sold TNA because its uptrend seems to be over.  7% gain in two days!

US border customs, Lewiston NY.  Easiest border-crossing *ever*!  No snarling dogs, no mobs of blueshirt thugs.  I tell the officer that we’ll be staying for a week; he looks at our US passports and says, ”you can stay as long as you like!”  I guess the Terrorist Threat Level must be rather low right now.

New York Thruway: Paid tolls, no receipts.  Stopped at a rest area; no receipt.  Used their free wi-fi to check the stock market, but made no trades.

Herkimer, NY: Arrive at the Herkimer Motel.  We drop our stuff and go across the street to the Waterfront Grille, which is an Italian restaurant.  We’ve been here before.  Still just as good, I think.  $78.74 for a family dinner.  Exited at 7:17 PM.

Day 2a: Drive to Massachusetts

Herkimer Motel: $124.90 for one night in a one-bedroom suite with wi-fi, mini-kitchen, etc.  Separate queen-sized beds for each kid!

New York Thruway: More receiptless tolls.  At 12:20 PM we stop at the rest area in Guilderland, near Schenectady NY.  $68 for 18⅛ gallons of gasoline (that’s $3.73⁹/gallon).  It’s the ”Mobil” brand, which is now identical to ”Exxon” and ”Esso” and is basically the resurrected Standard Oil Corp. that Teddy Roosevelt was famous for busting up.  But, as we saw again with AT&T, merely splitting a megacorp into parts doesn’t kill it.  The undead pieces spend the rest of eternity ”encouraging and suggesting” (and bribing) the authorities to allow it to “improve efficiency and synergy” by reconstructing its demonic self.  Since people die and corporations don’t, eventually it wins.  Slavery is freedom!  I wonder whether the only way to truly get rid of a megacorp is to reslant the playing field so its business model no longer works.

Mass Pike: I’m old enough to remember when this road was called ”Pilgrim’s Turnpike”; now only the buckled-hat logo survives.  More receiptless tolls.

Blandford MA: 1:34 PM. Stop at a turnpike rest area for lunch.  Wifey and the kidlets go to McDonald’s, while I go to the ”Gulf Express” mini-mart for a pair of egg salad sandwiches.  Lunch total: $30.11.

Hawthorn Suites, Franklin MA.  Our home-away-from-home for the next five nights.  Hawthorn was owned by Hyatt during 1985-2008, but now its owner is Wyndham.  Maintenance is now spotty in places.  There’s always *something* wrong with the pool (this time they’re ”waiting for parts”).  But it’s well-located and much cheaper than most decent accommodations in Eastern Massachusetts.

Shaw’s/Osco, Franklin MA.  I think this used to be a “Star Market” (which bought the Osco pharmacy chain a long time ago).  Shaw’s has been on a tear, buying up all the other supermarket chains.  At 5:38 PM we pay $55.26 for 13 items, only some of which will be used immediately for Rosh Hashanah.

(Tune in next time for part 2b of our saga, where we celebrate the Jewish New Year 5772—in a hotel room!)
pyesetz: (Default)

So, I drove the family to Massachusetts and back.  And I said I would write a post about it.  But all I have is this pile of three dozen receipts.  How am I supposed to weave them into a story?  I guess I’ll start with a dedication:

This road trip was funded by a grant from the estate of BIL #1, who died last year of alcoholism after being thrown out of the Army for refusing yet another tour of duty in Iraq.  I consider him to be a war casualty.

Day 0: Preparation

Buy gas: It is 1:45 PM on September the 26th.  The big trip begins tomorrow.  I am at the recently-opened gas station down the street from my house, filling up my tank.  I buy 67⅔ litres of gasoline for $81 (that's about $4.80/gallon for Americans).  I am thinking that perhaps I shouldn’t buy so much gas, since it’s cheaper across the border in New York, but I don’t want to deal with the stations near the border — last time I had trouble with a gas pump that wouldn’t accept my American credit card because my address doesn’t have a zipcode.
      This gas station has a large sign that says “Mac’s” with an owl logo.  The pumps have logos for Shell Oil.  The receipt says it’s from Shell Canada.  Nowhere to be seen is the name ”Alimentation Couche-Tard”, which I think is the shadowy megacorp that actually owns this store.  They are apparently not very nice and perhaps the #OccupyMontreal people should keep them in mind.  Still, they were willing to spend lots of money to build this station in my little town, so I guess they have some redeeming social value, unlike the banks who refuse to open any branches here.
      The receipt also includes a store number, a gas pump serial number, a transaction number, a credit card approval number, a sales tax ID number, zzzzzzzz...  You know what?  I don’t give a shit about this crap!  Let’s jump forward to the middle of the story, because that’s just the kind of left-handed doggie that I am.

Day 5: Aquarium

October 1st is one of two days of our trip that were set aside for visiting museums, on the grounds that BIL #1 would have wanted us to have some fun with his money.

Drive to Boston: We are on our way to the New England Aquarium.  I paid some tolls on the Mass. Turnpike to get here, but didn’t get any receipts so fuck it.  I haven’t been to this aquarium in many years.  As we get closer to it, I vaguely remember that it has some sort of parking problem.  I pass by one garage that seems quite far away from the destination, but advertises $18 for aquarium parking.  I keep going in hopes that maybe something more convenient will show up.

Parking: We arrive at Central Wharf, which is a mob scene with wall-to-wall tourists.  Eventually, at 1 PM, we complete the maze of one-way streets to arrive at the parking garage that is adjacent to the aquarium.  The charge is $35.  Ah, now I remember!  The aquarium and the garage next door are enemies; it is the $18 garage that is friends with the aquarium (get your parking stub stamped for a discount).  The aquarium hates the $35 garage because it causes people to feel cheated before they even get in the door, which reduces the take from their gift shop, etc.  This has been allowed to go on for many years, so I presume the City of Boston is raking some off the top from the garage.  Mustn’t miss an opportunity to scalp the out-of-towners!  The whole thing stinks of corruption, which overpowers the slightly-fishy odour of the wharf.  As we exit from the garage, we are accosted by barkers trying to sell us overpriced tours on harbour boats.  For a moment I feel like I’m back in Mexico.  But we must soldier on because that’s what BIL #1 would have wanted.

Waiting in line: It is Saturday at a museum.  The line to get in is very long.  I generally avoid lines, figuring that anything *that* popular is probably overhyped.  But “visiting the aquarium” is our scheduled activity for the day, so we enter the line.  I feel like a sitting duck with a neon sign over my head saying, ”Attention all pickpockets!  The tourists are ⇒HERE⇐ and they can’t leave this line.”  But our time spent in line is uneventful.

* * * * *

I later learned that #OccupyBoston was holding a demonstration at South Station, about a mile away, but there was no evidence of any disturbance at Central Wharf.  I wish the occupiers well, but the situation is similar to the end of apartheid in South Africa: it is very, very difficult for the oppressors to climb off their pedestals, having told each other all their lives that they *must* remain on the pedestals because otherwise surely the unwashed masses will tear them limb from limb!  Well, no, actually the masses just want this horrid financial game to be over.  It is only after food becomes unaffordable that the violence will start.  There is still time for the top 0.01% of the ultrarich to do the right thing, but very little evidence so far that they can find it in their hearts to do so.

There is some confusion among the occupiers about who their enemies are.  While “the 1%” is a catchy phrase, most of the top 1% hates the ultrarich as much as the bottom 99% do.  Once all the wealth has been sucked out of the 99%, the vacuum will then be turned upon the 1% and probably many of them know that.  The real enemies are people whose names you have never heard of, who have fudged the public records so their loot appears to be spread out among a horde of fake nominees, because they believe that if their lives ever became public knowledge then of course they would be put to death immediately.  You might as well call them ”the Voldemorts”.

Of course, it is presumptuous of me to be speaking on behalf of the 1%.  I am not now, nor have I ever been, nor have I ever wanted to be, a member of that class.  At the peak of my career as a software engineer, my income was barely into the top 20% for Americans; it is much lower now.  I have always refused offers of promotion into management.  I have never kissed anyone’s ass (no, it’s not just a figure of speech) and I don’t intend to start now.  I have gotten into stock trading, not because it’s a popular pastime among my rich friends, but because my health is poor and it is one of the few jobs that truly doesn’t need anything more than a brain, a computer, some seed capital, and a whole lotta nerve.

The stock market is broken.  It has become a casino where the world’s wealth is gambled away.  It should be restored to its proper function.  But in the meantime, if you’re not playing, you’re losing.  The world’s corporations are taking the money from your pocket and putting it on the stock market.  If you want it back, that’s where you have to go.  To win, all one has to do is be smarter than the average bankster, which seems like it shouldn’t be that hard.  But the banksters have had many years to hone their game, while I am a newbie.

Many people have written their versions of ”What #OccupyWallStreet’s demands should be”.  Here is one from Shah Gilani, who is a member of the 1% and has been neck-deep in Wall Street for 30 years.  The language is a little stilted, and some of his demands are perhaps too lenient, but he seems to be roughly on the same page as the protesters outside his offices.  That’s a refrain I’ve heard from many sources: most of the people who work on Wall Street agree with the protesters, not with their own overlords.  They hate how corrupt their jobs have become.

* * * * *

Aquarium entrance: At 1:40 PM we finally got to the front of the line.  In the meantime, the rear of the line had become maybe 20% longer.  I pity the fool who joins it now!  Admission is only $91.80 for a family of four.  As soon as we get in, we immediately find ourselves at a penguin feeding show.  I really dislike the crowd-control language that the emcee is using, so I wait on the nearby benches until the show is over.

Lunch: At 2:20 PM we head to the cafeteria.  I get a salad.  Later I get the runs; hey Toto, maybe we really are back in Mexico?  The kids get chicken fingers and French fries, which are heavily coated with some bright orange powder of indeterminate origin and purpose (I suppose it *might* be food).  Only $31.51! McDonald’s would have been healthier and tastier.

Aquarium exhibits:  I liked the deep-sea tank, because it was a fake diorama.  They can’t actually replicate deep-sea conditions in an aquarium tank and it is very hard (or impossible) to capture deep-sea creatures alive and put them in tanks.  You can’t even taxidermy them because their bodies explode when you bring them to the surface.

Aquarium gift shop: The receipt says we bought a T-shirt for $25, but I don’t remember that because I waited outside.

LongHorn Steakhouse: In Franklin MA, just down the street a ways from our hotel.  We had stayed at this hotel in the past and thought this restaurant was worth revisiting.  Just over $100 for a family dinner with tax and tip.  I think the food was not as good as I remembered.  Perhaps the restaurant has had a change in management?  Wikipedia says the LongHorn chain was bought by the Olive Garden/Red Lobster people back in 2007.  Ah well; something’s gotta give in a “down” economy.  Receipt is dated 7:21 PM.

Stop & Shop supermarket: In same shopping plaza with LongHorn.  Just popping in for a few items while we’re here.  $22.35, 7:43 PM.

Buy more gas: Actually, this was 11 AM.  I am mentioning it out of order BECAUSE I CAN!  And because I wanted to start with the driving-to-Boston scene. Only $3.39⁹/gallon! Filled the tank with 17½ gallons.  Sunoco station in Franklin MA.

Jo-Ann’s Fabrics, Walpole MA.  Wifey bought $45.62 worth of sewing supplies.  We could probably obtain them in Canada, but Jo-Ann’s has a nice selection and we remember them fondly from our old life in New Jersey.  The receipt says we completed this purchase at 12:03PM, while the receipt from the $35 garage (27 miles away in Boston) says we entered there at precisely noon.  I think the garage is lying its head off.
      The Walpole Mall is just sad.  Around half the stores are out of business.

pyesetz: (arctic-fox)

A few months ago, I started getting mailings from Putnam Investments, with whom I had never done business.  The mailings purported to tell me how they were going to invest the 401(k) deductions from my future Company ℱ paychecks.  But I haven't worked for Company ℱ since 2006 and am not expecting any future paychecks from them, so I ignored the mailings.

Then I got a statement from The Vanguard Group, saying that all the money had been withdrawn from my 401(k) account but not saying where it went.  Well, *that* got my attention!  So I dug the Putnam stuff out of the wastebasket and logged onto their website.  Yep, that's where the money went.  Apparently Company ℱ decided to change their retirement service provider and my account got dragged along.  They sold my Euro index fund holdings and put me in “Retirement Ready 2025”.  Yuck!  Too conservative!  So I told them to transfer the money to my existing IRA account at Charles Schwab & Co.

Now what?  I’ve got this pile of money I need to invest.  I have never enjoyed investing.  I did a little of it years ago, before having kids.  Anything other than an index fund was just too nerve-wracking.  It was an “up” market back then, so you could buy almost anything and make money.  Things are different today.  Still, I have to try *something*.  So here's what I've bought so far:

RYOCX (Rydex NASDAQ 100 Index).  This is what I had in the IRA before the 401(k) money came in.  It came from pre-tax contributions before Company ℱ started their 401(k) plan.  I bought this in 2001, after its price had fallen for awhile.  It immediately fell some more.  Recently it's been up because it owns a lot of Apple Computer, which has done well with their iPod, iPhone, iPad, iCarly, etc.  I wouldn't buy AAPL stock directly because that company is too litigious for my taste.  But, as Scott Adams says, "Invest in the companies that you hate the most".

TNA (Direxion Small Cap Bull 3×).  This is a triple-leveraged investment in the Russell 2000 index.  If the index drops 30%, then this fund will drop 90%!  I wouldn't normally buy such a thing, but recently I got an email from HTMail offering me a free membership in SmallCapTimer, a service that calculates whether one should be owning TNA (the bull) or TZA (the bear; if the Russell 2000 goes up by 30% then this fund *loses* 90%).  It's been saying "Bull" since August and it usually switches at least every three months.  I'll keep it for awhile and see if I like it.

TD (Toronto-Dominion Bank).  Canadian banks made out like bandits at the Basel 2010 conference, which reduced their capital-reserve requirements while raising American ones.  This stock generates lots of dividends and will probably be doing even better over the next year or two.  I once heard that one should not buy dividend-producing stocks for a retirement account, but otherwise where will the money come from to buy more stocks?  I use TD for my personal banking.

RYN (Rayonier, Inc.).  I used a Schwab stock-screen to find a REIT that yields very high dividends while maintaining a high legitimacy score in Schwab's opinion.  RYN owns forests and has many enemies among environmentalists, so hopefully it will be profitable.  Maybe I'll sell it when I get sick of holding such a slimy stock.  Anyway, only 5% of the money is in RYN, vs. 10% in the other investments.

Cash (USD).  50% of the money is still in cash because I haven't thought of anything to buy with it yet.  I'm thinking of withdrawing 10% of it because of my low tax rate right now.  Why borrow mortgage money at 4% so I can keep a wad of cash earning 0%?

Questions for the audience:
  1. Why should stuff like this be kept secret?  If everyone copies me, my investments will go up, right?
  2. What stock screens should I use next?
  3. The only investment I have faith in right now is Waterloo Region real estate, but there is no REIT for that.  How can I find things to invest in that won't worry me too much?  I'm probably stuck buying only things available from Schwab, so “Ma & Pa’s Waterloo Office Rentals, Inc.” is not a company I can buy.
pyesetz: (Default)

To Rochester NY for more shopping!  And more shopping!  And even more shopping!!!  We went to the “Land’s End Inlet” which is actually a misnamed outlet store.  It was disappointing; many of our desired items were not on sale.  Then to Wegman’s grocery store to stock up on chicken and butter and other stuff that costs much more in Canada because they don’t abuse undocumented Hispanic serfs to keep their prices down.  When we visit the States, we usually return with more butchered chicken carcasses than is permitted for “personal use” importation, but they never search our car so we get away with it.

We were about to get back on the highway when I remembered that I had wanted to go to Wal*Mart to return a multifunction digital watch that BIL #1 had given me for Christmas.  I already have a digital watch and the gift watch’s face is too large for my taste.  But I couldn't return it at Wal*Mart Canada because the two companies have separate computer systems, so neither the UPC nor the code on the gift receipt would register there.  The Wal*Mart clerk in Rochester thought my story was a little hokey (and Christmas 2009 was a long time ago), but it helped that BIL #1 had sent watches to both me and Kid #2 and the clerk could see that Kid #2 was wearing his.  So she gave me an in-store credit and we went around buying stuff to use it up.

The New York Thruway offers public Wi-Fi at all rest stops.  That’s not so unusual these days but I hadn’t tried the other turnpikes.  To get on the Internet, you have to click past a landing page that asserts the right of the State of New York to monitor your activities and refuse service to anyone for any reason.  But they don’t ask for ID!  This shreds all the RIAA’s arguments that it should be considered a crime to have household Wi-Fi that isn’t protected by password.  Really, the only reason to restrict access to your home Wi-Fi is so that you can’t defend yourself against an RIAA lawsuit by claiming that the songs were downloaded by some random passer-by without your knowledge.  If they really cared about child porn, they wouldn't let you just show up at a rest area and download it without a trace.  But music takes too long to download so the RIAA doesn't care about rest areas, just libraries (where you have to show ID to surf the web).

The Thruway accepts Canadian currency at a steep discount of 10% off face value (the exchange rate would suggest a 6% discount) but they insist on giving change in American money.  The bridge into Canada accepts American money at face value but insists on giving change in the same currency.  So it seems to be impossible to leave the USA without some leftover American coinage in one’s pocket—the Good Lord knows I tried!

We arrived home to find that our second freezer was operating properly and was ready to receive all the chicken carcasses.  It had been malfunctioning for months.  The temperature control was broken and the cooling system just ran continuously, creating a −25°F environment that was too cold for ice cream.  I had taken the freezer to our local electrical shop for repair a couple of days before the trip, but the repairman had other things to do (like attend a funeral) so I didn’t get it back until the morning of our departure.

All’s well that ends!

(This completes the “Mass. Trip '10” series of posts.)

pyesetz: (Default)

Drive to Massachusetts.  This time we stayed at the Homewood Suites (they have a duck logo, apparently named “Lewis”).  Homewood is a nice chain, but this particular one, located near the intersection of the towns of Billerica, Bedford, and Burlington, gets graded as a B− for poor selection of cookware in the in-suite kitchen, horrible Wi-Fi service (can you say “3 second ping times”, boys and girls?), and a “Business Center” with two PCs (one of them nonfunctional), a printer (nonfunctional), and a copier (didn’t try it).  Yet still the hotel is inexpensive and generally operational otherwise.

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