Wednesday, August 26, 2009

warning: not modifiable!

I keep missing out on government handouts. I think this means that I'm the benefactor instead. I only like using that word because it was in Great Expectations, which I didn't much like but seems to have stuck in my head along with a mental image of Miss Havisham in an old, worn out wedding dress.

Speaking of old and worn out... It seems that I haven't had a "hoopty" since I graduated college. My first car was really a '67 Mustang, but it needed work costing only $1200 that I saved about half of with my mom chipping in the rest. Said work prevented it from being an everyday car so I drove a '76 Ford Maverick. Then I got to driving the Mustang, but the driver's door never really worked well and I was a broke ass high school kid with limited tools. When I went to college, I sold it and went without for most of freshman year. Then it was a borrowed '85 Ford Thunderbird. Then I bought another '67 Stang, a little better than the first, but not much. I drove that hunk of junk for a few years. For the better part of 8 years, I drove a "clunker." Clunkers were the only cars I could: 1) afford, 2) afford insurance for. In a nutshell, clunkers made really good starter cars.

Those starter cars made me really appreciate the new car I bought as I was just about to graduate college and already had a job lined up, contract signed and all! I had a 30 mile round trip commute and the Mustang wasn't going to make the grade on that. But yes, I finally bought a new car. It was a sweet little 2002 Mercury Cougar. I loved that car. It was the first thing that I had bought with 100% of my own money, and it was brand, spanking new. It really made me sad that I had to get a new car for the new job last year (cargo space issues). I was heartbroken when the dealer only offered me $4000 for it after I had kept it up so meticulously. So I sold it on Craigslist in 2 days for $5500. That wasn't much easier.

But I'm getting off topic here other than ultimately getting around to lamenting the loss of 750,000 starter cars for the new drivers out there. All in the name of saving about a quarter of a day's worth of car exhaust pollution each year. If it even does that, now that these folks have a new hotness that they might end up driving more than they did the old and busted.

And to add insult to injury, I once again missed the free government money boat. I neither still owned a clunker nor desired to purchase a new car. So there's another $4500 in government behavior modification that won't be modifying much for me. So now, I've spent $7500 too much for my house and $4500 too much for my car. I think my two year total economic disadvantage to my peers is up to $12k if I'm any good at math. And I was feeling pretty good because one of my friends traded in a decent Dodge Ram diesel for the program this past weekend for the CforC credit. I could trick myself into thinking that my portion of taxes that went towards the program went into her new car! Then it turns out that a wholesaler bought the truck from the dealer for $4500 instead. At least it might end up being a good starter work truck for someone.

Friday, February 27, 2009

rectal probe 2008

My wife and I were dutifully subjecting ourselves to the annual rectal exam known in technical lingo as a 1040 this past Sunday. As you go through H&R Block's online tax preparation (let's face it, filling out the actual forms requires multiple Ph.D.s in finance so you have to pay for some help), you discover all sorts of new gems every year. But one this year was by far my favorite.

The first-time homebuyer's tax credit.

A little more research and it looks like if I had been a home purchaser somewhere between April 9, 2008 and Dec 31,2008 I would qualify for a $7500 tax credit, effectively lowering the cost of my home by $7500 dollars. And this year it is set at $8000 between Jan 1, 2009 and Dec 31, 2009. We do have to adjust that credit for inflation!

My mistake again was playing by the rules.

See? My wife and I purchased our home a few years out of college back in 2002. We bought a little higher than we were comfortable with at the time but we had reasonable expectations that our income would rise reasonably over the next few years being fresh out of college in high demand fields of study. Being graduates of an engineering school, we were okay at math and figured out that we could afford everything just fine. We would just be looking at blank walls for lack of significant funds for furnishing. We still have mostly blank walls, but that's because neither of us really cares about stuff like that.

There was no home buyer tax credit when we purchased. So it might seem that we paid $7500 too much for our house by not "timing the market," so to speak.

The term "tax credit" is misleading for those of us that itemize deductions on our tax returns. You might think that it lowers your adjusted gross income by $7500. It does not. It is a refundable tax credit. AKA wealth redistribution. If you broke even on your tax return before the credit, you would receive a check for up to $7500. Oh, unless of course you're one of the filthy rich with a $75k individual salary or $150k combined for married couples. Then it reduces quickly towards $0 when you hit $95k single or $170k married. Why married couples don't get double here is not explained.

So, effectively, I am now seemingly at a $7500 cost disadvantage to peers in society that just bought a house last year. Congratulations, you won the proverbial government lottery of behavior modification through tax code.

But I did say "seemingly at a $7500 disadvantage," didn't I?

Where did government get the $7500 from? It must be profits from the businesses that government owns and runs. Oh, they don't really have those? (yet, at least, until we nationalize the banks) Where is this magical land of candy and rainbows that created this $7500? Oh, here it is! It's in my pocket and it's called my wallet. Or more realistically these days, my bank account.

So those of you who can do math without a calculator will quickly realize that I am effectively now at a $15000 competitive disadvantage to those fortunate enough to have purchased a home at "the right time." It may only be $7500 on paper but I wasn't born yesterday. However, I'd be better off financially if I'd been born about six years later.

Friday, January 23, 2009

verticalizing the bell

A terrifying trend has become more apparent to me in recent months. I have been aware that our culture embraces mediocrity in a futile and misguided attempt to create "fairness." In other words, to let the meritless achieve more than they normally would while those with the credentials and talent are brought down a notch or two. Somehow this is seen as a justice and equality rather than the narrowing of the bell curve that it really is.

For a while there, it seemed like the only place where talent and ability could go unpunished was athletics and entertainment provided you aren't too unattractive. Well, as long as you're male. Let's face it. Most football players are fat and UGLY! But now it seems that even these endeavors are no longer exempt. A basketball team in Texas is now apologizing for winning their game against another team in a 100-0 rout.

Should the teams have been matched up for a game in the first place? Obviously not. The coach of the losing team is in some type of denial if he can't admit that he should have never agreed to this game. But should the winning team apologize for being a better team (if not superior)? Absolutely not. The coach might have let up after halftime, let's face it. But that's a coaching issue. It's not the school's problem. And it's most certainly not the players' problem for simply doing their job and doing it well.

Let the coach apologize for not offering a forfeit at halftime. But don't for one minute think that these girls have something to apologize for. Setting a high competitive standard and giving the other team a few goals for the future should be commended, not denigrated in the incorrect name of "fair play."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

see what I'm talking about?

I posted a week or two ago about the latest Atlanta mishap regarding no-knock warrants. In that post, I referenced a story about intruders posing as police to "disarm" residents that I couldn't find. I should have known that all I would need to do is wait another week or two for a similar story.

Link to story here.

We need to end this no-knock warrant nonsense. How hard is it to secure a property when no one is home and arrest a person while they're doing something inconvenient like using a gas pump or a public restroom? If you've been staking a place out well enough, you should be able to figure out the perp's schedule.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


It's just before 10 AM. You're sitting in your home office, relaxing in your PJs, having a cup of coffee. Your significant other and your 3-month old baby are quietly sleeping down the hall. You just thought to yourself how nice it is to be able to work from home on occasion because it's difficult to tear yourself away on some days then it's back into responding to that important e-mail.

BOOM! What the hell? It sounds like someone just busted in the front door. Holy crap, someone is coming into the house. The sound woke the baby, she's crying. People are swarming my house armed to the teeth with semi-automatic rifles. They're pointing them at you telling you "arms in the air!", "face down on the ground!" You ask, "What is this all about?" All you're told is to "shut up." You really have no idea why the SWAT team is in your house and all you're hoping is that one of these thugs doesn't have an itchy trigger finger.

Sound scary? It could happen to you. It did happen to someone. Just yesterday in Gwinnett County, Georgia.

The cops intended to serve a warrant on a house they'd been staking out for three months. The only problem is that after three months they couldn't remember exactly which house it was. No need to check an address or anything, "I'm pretty sure it was that one."

It wasn't until they discovered the baby that they realized that they were in the wrong house. The door had already been busted in, the frame in splinters. They'd already waved guns in your faces. The damage, both physical and psychological, is done. All they say is "We're sorry. And we'll fix that door for you."

This isn't the first time that police have screwed up royally while serving a no-knock warrant in the metro-Atlanta area. Almost exactly two years ago, in November of 2006, a SWAT team went to the house of little, old lady Kathryn Johnston and did pretty much the same thing late one evening. The difference was that this lady packed an old, rusty revolver because she didn't think the neighborhood was too safe. She fired, not knowing that it was police. They, of course, returned fire effectively ruining Thanksgiving for her family and pretty much any other perfectly law-abiding citizen that values the sanctity of their own home.

It seems that the criminal are catching on to this trend as well. I can't seem to find the article quickly here, but recently it was reported that some home invaders busted in a door somewhere and started yelling that they were the police and instructed the owners to freeze with their hands up!

The element of surprise is effective. The common argument for the preservation of the no-knock warrant is that evidence is not destroyed and the criminal is caught red-handed. However, the element of surprise can also be fatal. Fatal for occupants, such as Kathryn Johnston. And sometimes fatal for the police officers. Since the rules of a no-knock warrant do not require police to announce that they are indeed the police there has been more than one instance where officers were injured or killed. And again, even if they did announce, could you really trust them? They are busting into your house for no particular reason. Who is to say that it's not some burglars pretending to be police? Or maybe it's the police who are there to burglarize.

Who wants to go to prison? That's apparently what you can expect if you were so bold as to defend yourself, your family, and your home. Several officers have been injured or killed while serving a mistaken no-knock warrant. In Kathryn Johnston's case, she paid with her life. In Cory Maye's case, he will pay with his life as well. He just gets to remain alive and in prison for life. That's somehow better than the original death penalty he received.

There has to be a better way.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

take out those papers and the trash

The Coasters had a kitschy hit in 1958 and if you grew up watching television in the late 80's, the heyday of Time-Life Music collections, then chances are that you heard the chorus of this song at least once. "Yakety yak! Don't talk back."

The whole basis of Yakety Yak is to list the chores for a particularly sassy teenager along with the consequences for not doing them. An excerpt lyric:
If you don't sweep that kitchen floor
You ain't gonna rock 'n' roll no more
The song also includes a fun saxophone track played by King Curtis. The chorus line is probably the most well known part of the song with the group singing the teenager's response to the list, "Yakety Yak!" followed by a bass singing "Don't talk back." And if you click that Yakety Yak link above, you can actually listen to the song (followed by some weird electronica stuff) and read the lyrics.

To apparently completely switch gears on you here, I'd like to talk about recycling. Recycling is something that I do with fervor. Our recycling bin fills up about every two weeks and is put out for pick up. It fills with bottles and cans, catalogs, food and shipping boxes, pretty much anything on their pick-up list. The best item that the Cobb County attached to their bid list for private waste companies was the requirement that they offer recycling pick-up. And the bonus for me is that the company doesn't require that I separate into different bins. Everything in one bin, it gets sorted at a facility. It's common for me to carry around an empty bottle after I'm done with it to put in the recycle bin at home rather than letting it end up in a landfill. Just last week, I grabbed my empty bottle that the flight attendant attempted to pick up from my tray table. I thought at the time that I might be a little over-zealous with my efforts.

I know what you're thinking. "So this is all about you? Well why don't we just give you an environmentalist of the year award?" No, I was just offering my personal experience as an example of people voluntarily recycling.

I think that a big part of the reason that I recycle has to do with my chemistry background and the fact that I like cheaper goods. Not cheap to the point where I shop exclusively at Wal-Mart or anything, but cheaper across the board. And with respect to the chemical aspect, it has something to do with understanding where the materials came from in the first place.

Paper is easy. The Chinese figured out how to take plant fibers, create a pulp from them, lay them down and dry the pulp sometime around the 2nd century AD. Papyrus existed before that, but manufacture was so difficult that it was not a practical endeavor. To oversimplify, grind up a tree, mix it up with a lot of water, lay the fibers down, and then dry the hell out of it. As my college professor stated, "Papermaking is a whole hell of a lot of water in, a whole hell of a lot of water out."

Recycling paper is a little different. They grind up wet paper product with a few extra steps to clean and remove dyes, but the problem is that it is difficult to get pristine white pulp ever again. There are methods to compensate for this color quality, but the actual physical quality of the fibers is even compromised in most recycling processes which is why a lot of products are blends of recycled and new fiber pulp. That's what "contains 30% recycled material" means when you read similar statements. But the point is, do I really need really attractive fibers for cereal boxes or corrugated cardboard, or even napkins at Wendy's? Probably not, and you may now understand why a lot of fast-food restaurants have brown napkins. They're cheaper to produce than white from raw pulp even, but chances are a good portion of them is low-modification recycled pulp. Heck, even Starbucks uses a small percentage of recycled paper (10% last I heard) for their cups. This was a big deal because it is a food service container and it was considered a big no-no to put food products in recycled containers.

Recycling paper does not mean that fewer trees are being cut down, necessarily. It does help to keep the price of some paper products down which fuels demand. The demand for lumber still exists. But it does help to keep the rate at which we cut down trees for paper purposes fairly static or lower than they otherwise would be. Not that I think cutting down trees is bad because most logging companies replant areas so they can come back in a handful of years to harvest again.

Metal cans are another easy product to recycle. This one is even easier. Melt the crap out of it, use separation process to divide dissimilar metals or to remove impurities and send it off to be made into other metal products. Sorry, but you're not going to degrade an atom in the process and the melting temperature of metals should be more than sufficient for sanitization. That's one less can we'll need to dig up from ore but more importantly it comes down to thermodynamics. Take aluminum as an example. You won't go out and find chunks of aluminum in rocks waiting to be mined and turned into cans. Instead, aluminum requires a significant input of electrical and chemical energy to be converted from aluminum compounds in ores to the simpler aluminum metal. And that's only after the ore is made soluble by other less than desirable processes. You can read more about this here, but there is a reason that aluminum was once more valuable than gold and silver.

So with metal it comes down to energy. Anyone who understands the principles of the Law of Conservation of Energy would probably agree that melting and recasting is significantly more efficient than just the extraction from ore process before it goes to be casted.

And then there's plastic. I don't think that most people understand that plastics are largely derived from petroleum products. After oil is refined, you have a lot of smaller molecules that can be thought of as individual chain links. Take those links through a few processes and you can make them link together to make a chain. That's a simplified overview of plastics, or polymers. Some plastics are not really capable of being recycled. It has to do somewhat with how the chain-links connect, like whether they make a chain-mail or whether they make spaghetti noodles, but that too is oversimplifying the process. But spaghetti noodles stand a better chance of being recyclable.

The process for recycling of plastics is similar to that of metals, but in this case, the plastics are generally presorted. Ever notice the little recycle triangle with a number in the middle, printed on pretty much every plastic product? They look like this. Those are resin codes and they tell you primarily about what type of molecular chain-links your plastic is made from. This makes it easier to keep similar plastics with one another which makes the recycling process that much easier. I've seen examples of clear plastic drink bottles made from new and recycled plastic side-by-side and was unable to discern a difference. But, it's again easier to make colored plastic from recycled materials for much the same reasons as paper. Take a bland recycled color, add a few pigments and binders, and you have a fancy colored plastic container, like this one. And once again, there are significant energy conservation benefits from recycling plastic.

This really wasn't supposed to be a treatise on why you should recycle. But you should recycle, if you aren't already. And that still isn't the point of me starting this article.

It seems that the citizens of Gwinnett County, here in metropolitan Atlanta, can now look forward to $500 fines for failure to recycle. You can read more details about that from the local paper. "Take out those papers and the trash, or you don't get no spending cash!"

I don't have a problem with asking people to recycle. I have a problem with forcing people to recycle. Especially when that force is complete with unreasonable fines and relies on the threat of government's ability to reduce personal liberty for enforcement.

So how do we go about convincing people to recycle?

Do we tax the bejeezus out of recyclable materials? I don't think that anyone could successfully argue for more taxes, especially in current economic times and when many goods suppliers rely on one or more of these materials to deliver consumer goods. And taxes are just a horrible way to modify behavior.

Do we require deposits on recyclable goods? Well, that seems more reasonable than taxes. But resources already exist for recycling in bulk and we shouldn't go about reinventing the wheel. And let's not mention the difficulty in automating the refund process when all containers are not identical. And with the lack of automation options, you have to pay someone to do the job. And where does that money come from? I think that path leads back to taxes. Again, not an option.

Do we offer education? I think this is the more viable option. I'd rather spend tax dollars making brochures, TV ads, billboards, etc. than paying some code enforcement officer to write citations all day long. And seriously, how do you inspect garbage for about 1 million citizens? It doesn't even seem realistic or plausible. And we're missing a huge opportunity to make chemistry education in our public schools relevant to everyday life. And this is also the reason for the long diatribe above. By spreading a little info, perhaps at least one person will be motivated to start recycling. And I'm not sorry if it bored the rest of you.

But perhaps, more than anything else, I don't like being forced to do something. As a matter of fact, in a lot of cases I'm defiant to the core and will try to figure out a way to not do something that has been mandated. Just look at all of the people in the business of helping people reduce their taxes. And that's certainly not the attitude that we want people to have with regards to the simple task of recycling.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

dumb move

Among other news that affects our lives very little, Auburn fired their coach.

Because of one rough season? Really? So they lost in a rout to the #1 ranked cross-state rival Alabama. A lot of others have as well (see also UGA vs. Alabama, Clemson vs. Alabama, God vs. Alabama, etc.). One loss in seven years is grounds for a firing? Give me a break. And good luck finding someone that feels like that's a secure job opening up there. A one season at a time contract? I know competition might exist for coaching, but come on.

Is it too late for Climpsun to renege on their deal with Debo, Dabo, Devo, whats-his-face? I think they'd benefit from a more experienced coach. Tuberville wouldn't even really have to change colors or mascots.

If all else fails, I hear Mississippi State and Tennessee had recent openings.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

good old fashioned hate

It's that time of year again. We are drawing nearer the end of another college football season as Thanksgiving rings the dinner bell and sets off many of the sports rivalries across the nation. And here I am with my attempt to extend the rivalry between my alma mater's Yellow Jackets and the cross-state University of Georgia Bulldogs.

UGA fans will try to tell you that the Georgia Tech "Bees" are not their biggest rivalry. They try to give that designation to the Florida Gators most times. Then, when it's convenient, they'll point to Alabama and Auburn or even Tennessee when they're good. Sometimes it's even as far away as LSU. But it's all a charade. When they get beaten by those teams on the field it's always because the other team was better than their beloved Dawgs (sic) and because the SEC is just so derned tough. But grown men cry when the Dogs lose to the Nerds. Which I have to admit has not happened in some time.

So that brings us to 2008. Both teams have impressive records so far this season. UGA is 9-2 with losses to Alabama and Florida, admittedly fierce opponents. Tech is 8-3 with losses to somewhat respectable ACC opponents VT, UVA, and UNC. I use the term somewhat loosely because it's tough to tell the good teams in a conference that has routinely beat up on one another. But all of that aside, Tech is still a contender for a spot in the ACC championship game and will at least have the same conference record as the VT Hokies if they happen to beat Virginia this weekend. They win the tie-breaker with their 3-point margin of victory over us in that scenario. The Dogs on the other hand? They're done for the regular season after this week but look to score an impressive non-BCS bowl berth if things go their way. Seems that the two teams they lost two are going to battle it out for the SEC championship.

All of that aside, I feel like it's time for some good ribbing of the Dogs. So here are some of my feeble attempts at making fun of the traditionally low academic standards at UGA, criminal tendencies of their athletes, interesting study paths (such as poultry science and turf management), and other easily manipulated for gain attributes of the Cesspool of the South, aka UGA.

First, let's look at one of the easily modifiable jokes of all time.
Q: What does a UGA grad call a Tech alumnus?

A: Boss.
It wouldn't be funny really because it's somewhat lame and you really could put any two dichotomous entities in that joke to make it universal. But it is ridiculously funny when you consider that a Tech graduate was just named CEO of Wal-Mart. It really is true this year!

Then there is another old standard about their academic aptitudes.
Did you hear that there was a fire at the UGA library? Pretty much every book was burned which is tragic considering that a lot of them hadn't even been colored in yet!
Har har. I know, that's not entirely fair. They do have some great programs at UGA. Such as their excellent law school. They're just not offered in undergraduate studies. (zing!) Okay, fine. It's great if you're going to study agriculture, animal husbandry or if you want to run for public office in Georgia or want to work for the AJC.

Here's another old standard.
Q: What do a UGA fan and a Tech fan have in common?

A: They both never went to UGA!

And yet another.
Q: Why can't they offer Driver's Ed and Sex Ed during the same semester at UGA?

A: They wouldn't want to wear out the mule!
And again.
Q: What do you call a UGA football player in a 3-piece suit?

A: The Defendant

Oh, I could go all day long but if you're wanting more, the AJC is actually making itself useful for once and are using their rant-page technology to allow people to publish tons more in this general vicinity. If you go there, you'll notice that a lot of these jokes are fairly unoriginal on my part.

And just so that my blog is never targeted by the Fairness Doctrine enforcement agency, we'll put one UGA joke up that is rightly deserved.
Bubba: Oh, Cledus. You know my old dog we got a while back? He's a true Jorja Bulldawgs fan. When the Dawgs beat them ol' Nerds he goes wild, justa' barking and howling like mad! It's a true sight to watch that old dog celebrate.

Cledus: Well what does he do when they lose to Teck?

Bubba: Don't rightly know. I've only had him for 7 years.
Hopefully, we'll find out what that dog does do when they lose this Saturday.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

it's like entertainment tonight, but for politics

From the looks as of late, it seems like should get a second domain name. How about




Yes, I could really do this all day long. But I won't.

Ok, had to get one more in. I'm really done now.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

me too!

When I was growing up, my mother got one point across to me early on in my childhood. Actions have consequences. My actions then were sometimes likely to end with me having a stinging, red behind. Now it seems like the actions of others are leaving me with a stinging, red behind.

I had a huge problem with our Federal government deciding how it's citizens should pick and choose winners and losers in the economy. Keep in mind that we didn't really have a say. All we needed was a President and his cronies (Paulson et al) to declare a crisis and demand "bi-partisan" action teaching me that I need to make sure that I have powerful friends when whatever business I'm in starts to hiccup because of poor business decision making.

The main misconception that most people have regarding the bailout is that it was caused by a lack of regulation. Untrue. It was actually caused by regulation. How? Regulations simply tell people what they cannot do. Then a bunch of lawyers and accountants get together and figure out what they can do that doesn't break those rules. They can get pretty creative as we've seen. So the answer is to ask them to be even more devious? No. The answer is to let them fail. That is the ultimate consequence of bad business practices. Yes, people will lose their jobs, an unfortunate side-effect. I doubt they'd stay unemployed for long if we stop overreacting. But it makes good copy on slow news days so I guess it's what we're stuck with.

And as even more reason to detest the bailout is that everyone is stepping up to the trough now. I mean everyone. Even Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin. Never mind that she just asked for a quarter-million dollar paycheck. I'll ask for more money for myself while I also ask for all of my workers to take less by working fewer hours. "But it's all in the best interests of our city!" Yeah.

In better news, it looks like you can apply for your portion of the government bailout. Check this link. Happy paperwork filling-out!