mellowtigger: (Default)
I had a dream last night that involved an ex. Something was wrong with the car, so we resorted to driving backwards at highway speeds. Not my favorite mode of travel. Sure, there was a bit more to the story, but mostly I'm just recording it so my "dreams" tag stays accurate with my dream history. I guess the dream was noteworthy because I wasn't bent out of shape when I woke up. "Out of sight, out of mind" is mostly how I work, so exceptions when my past and present intermix probably deserves a mention.
mellowtigger: (the more you know)
For some reason, I woke up around 5:30am. It was light outside, the weather was cool, and it seemed to overcast. I checked the weather forecast online. Yes, overcast until noon then rain.

deck after stainYes! It's time to stain the deck. The wood was nearly white from bleaching in the sun, so it needed a new color and protection from further exposure.

I guess I was expecting the stuff to be kind of an oil. It's an all-in-one stain and sealant, though, so it works more like varnish. I didn't know, so I've made some mistakes.

First, don't be surprised by the initial color. I applied it a little thinner than I should at the beginning because I wasn't expecting my deck to be so... PINK. It later dried to a much nicer pecan color. Also don't use the roller to mostly-cover railings, thinking that you'll touch up with the brush later with a second coat. There is no second coat. After the stuff starts to dry, it's already waterproofed and any attempt to apply again just beads up instead. Use the roller only on the broad surfaces, and use the brush everywhere else.

Second, use a "bleach" (the home supply store sells cans of special stuff for this purpose) to eliminate any unintended stains on the wood. I looked down at the deck and saw it was already terribly bleached by the sun, so I started painting the stainer onto it. Then I got to the parts that were black with mold, and... too late to change course now (hands splattered in paint, skies about to rain) so I just sealed it up. I may regret it later. I'm not sure what the mold will do while sealed under the varnish away from water.

Click the thumbnail to see the full picture.  You can still see some of the very grey wood on the lower left corner that needs stain.  It's a big difference in the appearance.  I continued painting through a few light sprinkles of rain, until my can finally ran out of sealant. I have some more touching up to do, but the vast majority is done. 

Then I started mowing the yard, but the rain finally chased me inside with it half done. Now I'm showered, posting online, and looking forward to a quiet afternoon after already working half a day outside, and it's only 11am.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2004)
I spent my tax refund on a new lawnmower.

I  intended to switch to a powerless push mower that has the spiral blades on it.  They sell for only $100, and there are no CO2 emissions and no chemical batteries either.  I accepted a used one from somebody, though, and I had difficulty with it.  (It was known to be problematic, which is why the previous owner was looking to get rid of it.)  So I splurged with my tax refund on a battery mower instead.

I got a Ryobi 16" 40V mower that also comes with 4A lithium ion battery and charger.  It cost about $320 altogether with tax.  I tried it out this afternoon.  My yard is just slightly too big to mow on a single charge.  I missed just a few stripes in the back yard.  Maybe if I don't let the grass grow so high (so it doesn't require covering ground more than once), then I'll have faster coverage on a single charge.  It takes almost 2 hours to fully charge the battery again.  It was plenty powerful, though.  Actually, it was as decent as most gas mowers that I've tried.

The good thing about the Ryobi model is that the 40V battery works with several of their yard tools.  I can see myself buying more of their tools to make better use of the investment.  This particular mower also includes a mulching attachment so instead of catching grass clipping in the bag, you can ditch the bag altogether, which I did.

This model is also lighter than a gas-powered mower, so it's easier to lift it inside the house.  I have nowhere outside the house to store it.  The handle also folds up easily for even more compact storage.  It's also much quieter than a standard mower.  Since it's quieter and lighter, it makes mowing the yard easier.

We'll see how it holds up over the years.



mellowtigger: (Daria)
So what does bone look like after it's been in the dirt for years?  (click to embiggen)

bone?bone?bone?


Isn't this diameter too big to be a pet animal? From the flat cut (but only one side), maybe a beef bone?  Should I be calling 311? Who checks out this kind of stuff?

I've been trying to garden all weekend, but it's very slow progress.  Where I wanted to put my veggie garden, there is a lot of broken glass and rusty nails and cut bolts, so I've been sifting everything and pounding the sod to see what shakes loose.  The above photos come from about 3-4 inches under the dirt, I think.
mellowtigger: (flameproof)
Three young guys were pounding on the front door of the house south of mine tonight, demanding that someone come out.  I called 911, and dispatch said that other calls were coming in for the same incident.  Several neighbors here are well involved in watching the street, and they also report problems to police.  I didn't want to stand around my porch as a big target during the incident.  I wish I had an outdoor camera to record details... a camera with high enough resolution to capture license plate numbers on vehicles passing my house.

This excitement comes after I slept through a drunk driver hitting the same neighbor's car at Friday 3:30am.  Police took the driver away for being drunk (I was told she opened the car door and beer cans fell out) and not having proof of insurance.  The neighbor's car is being totalled, but when her car jumped forward and hit mine, I only got a bumper scratch that I don't care about.  Police left a case number on my car anyway.  Again, an outdoor camera with good resolution would be nice.

I think maybe this morning I've managed to convince the alley neighbors not to use my yard as a parking lot.  I asked someone to leave my lawn the previous day.  Today I was out digging along the alley as one of them pulled into their own property.  He asked, "Are you building a gate?"  I told him that I was planting a garden.  I was planting seeds for giant sunflowers, which should make a nice 7-foot-tall barrier to help discourage future parking.  I'll add some corn behind it soon.  I'd still like a camera for the backyard too, so I can record the busy activity along the alley and keep track of license plates if they become necessary later.

It's really quite peculiar.  This area has its charms, and a recent poll of residents found that they were unusually committed to staying here.  They want it to be a safe place to live, in addition to its many great features.  At the neighborhood safety council meetings, the police representative tries hard never to say (even when asked directly) that we're the worst crime neighborhood in all of Minneapolis.  He's good at dodging a direct answer, but I think we have figured it out on our own.

I don't know that I've ever called 911 before, but tonight was my 3rd call in the 3 months that I've been here.  I've heard plenty of gunshots that I didn't call about, because they weren't close enough for me to figure out their direction.  They keep saying that we should call in every time we hear gunshots, but I'm not sure why.  They already know (thanks to technology) when and where the gunshots are.  Minneapolis just doesn't have enough police in this area to show up for every threatening sound.  According to a thread on a community forum, many neighbors were speaking up about a gunshot incident 2 weeks ago (about 4 blocks from my place) where they never saw a police car show up.  Someone finally said they saw a police car arrive, shine a light at the problem house, then drive away without getting out of the car.  Not very helpful.

In other news, I'm sunburned from beginning my garden.  I'm looking forward to getting more done.  As I said, this neighborhood does have its charms, and this lot in particular has some good gardening space on it.  Solve the crime issue, and this place is golden.  :)
mellowtigger: (coprolite)
I decided to attend the Democrat-Farmer-Labor (DFL) caucus... and I almost immediately ditched.

I signed in for my nametag. I picked up my copy of the community resolutions to be voted on.  (They didn't have any pens available to fill it out, though.)  I picked up the caucus handbook, and I flipped pages until I found the day's schedule. It seemed that I wasn't actually needed to act on anything until the afternoon, so the day would be spent on procedural issues. I then walked out the door and escaped toward downtown Minneapolis. I didn't even join their free breakfast.

I think I can now stop calling myself any variety of Democrat. Clearly, I am an independent voter who is willing to let the Democrats (as a party) govern themselves. I'll avoid their caucuses in the future so I don't get wrapped up in their process. If their party wants my individual vote in November, then they'll just have to figure out for themselves which candidate can win my approval in the general election. (Hint: It isn't Hillary Clinton.)

The Minneapolis Community Conference was worth abandoning my role in the DFL caucus. I received lots of information to ponder, and I see plenty of opportunities for involvement in the future.
mellowtigger: (liberal frustration)
I'm double-booked for all day April 2 Saturday, and I can't decide which event should take precedence.
  1. I signed up as an alternate delegate at the Democrat-Farmer-Labor (DFL) caucus several weeks ago. Apparently some people were at the wrong location, though, and now I'm a regular delegate. It's important to me that Bernie Sanders gets the delegate votes from Minnesota. It's not actually decided yet, regardless of the preference poll results from a while back. In theory, the delegates vote to match the public opinion, but none of us signed anything to agree to do so. I want Bernie counted.

    Also being decided at this caucus is the DFL candidate for state representative district 59A. On Saturday, Fue Lee came to my front door. He was also at the DFL caucus a few weeks ago. He wins points for being active in the community. Later that same day, I got a phone call from our current representative. I had to look up the name just now; I didn't know it, since I'm new here. Joe Mullery seemed very knowledgeable about local programs and politics. I'm not sure who I'd vote for, but I think I'm leaning toward Fue Lee for his local participation, and it'd be nice to see representation of the Hmong presence here in my neighborhood.
     
  2. More recently, I signed up to attend the Minneapolis Community Conference. It's sort of a brainstorm session for the vision of what Minneapolis can become in the future. I want very much to attend this event. I'm trying to find some justification for ditching the DFL and go to this conference instead. Would Bernie Sanders understand and approve if I didn't give him my delegate vote in favor of local community involvement? Would Fue Lee (if that's my choice) still win the nomination for the November election ballot? Argh! I want to attend this conference, but I'm just not finding the justification. :(
It's also nearly time to start gardening here. I dug some sharp prickly weeds from the yard today (after getting more old branches and leaves into paper bags for pickup). The ground was soft, and I didn't strike ice with the shovel. I think I'll have to put seeds in starter pots next weekend in preparation for planting season here in Minnesota.

Just to put the question out there, does anyone have experience with throwing wood ashes (from a fire pit) into a garden? Good? Bad? I'm pondering what to do with all the limbs and leaves I collect from the trees already in the back yard. I don't want to buy (or haul/rent) a wood chipper, so I need to find something better to do than bag them for garbage yard waste collection. Any ideas?
mellowtigger: (break out)
The Sense8 web series is good. It includes some of the better ideas of "The Tomorrow People" (1973/1992), such as the importance that we do not turn away from the pains of life and culture, that we should find the strength to face them. Unfortunately, it also has a feature or two that will detract from its wide acceptance by some audiences. If you want a fast 74-second introduction, just watch the official Sense8 trailer. [some minor spoilers ahead]

Overall, this series is nothing like "X-Men". Instead, it is "More Than Human" (1953) by Theodore Sturgeon. It has a lot going for it. It presents individual people who would each be despised by other people in a different part of Earth and the culture there. It is female-friendly, with strong and intelligent female characters, even within cultures that don't appreciate them fully. It is GLBT-friendly, with both a gay male and a transgender female character who are meaningful and believable. It is religion-friendly, with a Hindu who doesn't back down from her faith while explaining it to doubters. It is poor-friendly, with a resourceful black man who lives in poverty with a mother dying of AIDS. The story briefly touches upon a lot of sociopolitical issues in its first season alone. It properly uses these issues as ways to show us the character of the people we may come to appreciate, without ever nagging us about any such thing as vague as "political correctness".

Sense8 characters season 1Sense8 is primarily (or should be) a social story. Humanity experiences a small evolutionary step in this modern-day story, one where some humans are connected telepathically amongst themselves. No superpowers, just shared experience. The first 3 episodes are quite confusing. It's an artistically-chosen confusion, though. We are to learn eventually about 8 people (the "sensate" / "Sense8"), but we are introduced to their lives in the same way they are introduced to each other... with seemingly random crossovers of experience.

In episodes 1-3, as their collective ability awakens, our scene switches from one person to the next while carrying over an emotion or sound from the earlier person... leaving the second person confused along with the audience. It's worthwhile to stick with the story.

In episode 4, we finally get all of the main characters together for one moment. Their first tentative full-group experience is a happy one. I keep rewatching this video clip because it captures the best that this story/series has to offer. It reminds me of an old adage, "A joy shared is multiplied", which hints at the significance of their telepathic connection that the whole world could envy. This scene leads us with the music "What's Up" by 4 Non Blondes. The "perfect music for a lobotomy", as one character later puts it, and it plays while one of their cluster is handcuffed and prepped for unconsented brain surgery to destroy her ability. It's a happy-yet-terrifying moment that well characterizes the entirety of the sensate life lesson. The music shouts at us with the incomprehensibility of life (as they/we have experienced recently), the need for revolution (to confront the injustice that we encounter), and the optimism that we can survive and improve together. What's not to like?

In episodes 4-6, we finally begin to learn the rules of their ability as the sensates bond with each other.
  • The sensate humans experience a change in their brain structure (with accompanying migraines) that lessens the division between their brain hemispheres. This change supposedly leaves them less able to filter out thoughts and stimuli, leaving them more "in tune" with each other and with their natural environment in general.
  • A sensate "cluster" is formed amongst people who were born at the same time, anywhere on the planet. Our story's cluster includes 8 people from USA, England, India, Korea, Kenya, and Mexico.
  • Our story is told in English, but the sense8 understand each other in their native languages.
  • People within the same cluster can share the full breadth of their experience and talents with the other members.
  • People of different clusters can talk telepathically with other sensates, but only if they've looked directly into each other's eyes previously. This line-of-sight contact becomes an important plot point, exploited first by the stranger who is trying to awaken the cluster of our main story... also used later as a warning to avoid eye contact with another who is trying to destroy them.
All of these early episodes include more sex than audiences are accustomed to seeing on television. Episode 1 practically begins with a lesbian sex scene that will leave most audiences surprised (and potentially breathless). Episode 6 seems to make the argument that sex makes the world go 'round. That's okay. I'd much rather have healthy sexuality than unhealthy violence portrayed in entertainment. Except... there's a much larger dose of violence in this first series than I think it needed.

In episodes 7-12, the sensates grow more accustomed to each other (and we to them). Violence here is an unjustified trope, and this series would do well to avoid relying on it so much. Life for anyone is plenty complicated and difficult without it. This series does show us some part of that complication. Most humans, however, die in a world of despair, abuse, confusion, and neglect, not outright murder. Show us that world, and show Homo gestalt helping everyone overcome it. Violence is persistent but should be incidental to the main story.

Sense8 also doesn't shy away from the realities of childbirth. Episode 10 includes a controversial sequence in which each of the sensate's birth is viewed in messy detail. The detractors, I think, are missing some important artistic points:
  • First, Jonas Maliki previously tells the cop about Whispers being powerful and able to remember his own birth. It's a very subtle foreshadowing of this birth sequence, suggesting to us that maybe this cluster is as powerful as the one who hunts them.
  • Second, each of the sensates receives a subtle nod at their birth to a sympathy or challenge that pervades their life.
  • the musician born listening to musicthe cop born in a squad car
    the pharmacist born with Ganesha (approving of science) overlookingthe actor born while the household watches television
    the prisoner born while mother alone in graveyard then tended by strangersthe transgender born while mother cut open in Caesarian
    the thug born under water without a father apparentthe driver born in a wilderness without a father
  • Third, the scene ends when the musician who triggered this all-cluster experience begins to remember herself giving birth to her own child.
Perhaps a fourth point, the long scene is a general reminder that these sensates do not shy away from the realities of life as the rest of humanity is wont to do. How could you turn away if you had 7 other people reminding you with direct sharing of their personal experience? When everything is connected, nothing is separate that can be ignored as someone else's problem.

Sense8 was renewed for a second season. I'm looking forward to it.
mellowtigger: (coprolite)
Is there a home security system that you can recommend for the home tinkerer?

I'd like a system that offers a few key features:
  • outdoor video cameras that also work at night (infrared) and in cold (-34C/-30F temperatures)
  • cameras available in either wired ethernet or wireless
  • hub can store video to local network disk (not just to a paid cloud service)
  • includes a doorbell/camera device
  • support Linux and Android for easy access
  • wired power rather than batteries (don't sacrifice the environment for some temporary peace of mind)
I like the mainstream availability of Insteon devices, but they're short on several of the features that I'd like. I don't want to have to cobble together a frankenstein collection of technologies. Those individual technologies are available though.

SkyBell
SmartCam
Ring
DoorBird
iDor
Lockitron
Korner (window sensors)
CleverLoop hub

ADT also send me a letter to reactivate the (old) system already in the house, but I'd rather have newer technology.  Still, though, I'm not ruling out a paid service provider like ADT.

I'd rather just buy a hub outright, provide hard drive storage of my own, then slowly add devices to the house over time.  Any suggestions?

edit 2016 February 15 Monday 16:10:
I just learned about this earlier article covering OpenCV and the Raspberry Pi.

settling in

Jan. 9th, 2016 11:55 pm
mellowtigger: (we can do it)
I've lived in (as opposed to merely owned) the house for a full day.

Gunshots last night (not too nearby) woke up the cat first and then me (as the cat stirred).  Neither of us spent too much time worrying after the first two shots, because it's just too cold to worry about anything else right now.  By the time it broke out into a burst like firecrackers, we just crawled back under the blankets to get warm.  The opinion I heard from a local person several weeks ago is that most of the violence here is drug/gang/turf related stuff, so I doubt they'll have much interest in some old guy with his cat.

The current outdoors temperature as I write is -21C/-6F (windchill -31C/-25F).  It really helps to put the house through an insulation test, although it's been a bit of a challenge for me individually.  I've run a small electric heater almost continuously today, and that'll get expensive.
  • There's a spot underneath each outside door that needs to be fixed.  I replaced the trim insulation which helps, but that one corner is still leaking on both doors.  I need to patch it somehow.
  • Air circulation upstairs is very bad.  It's cold in the bedrooms.  I've got one room shut, so it's even colder in there, but my room is still unpleasant without the use of a small electric heater.  I discovered that the vent in each bedroom is an intake vent only, so the only hot air is coming from the landing by the stairs.  That heated vent, though, has poor circulation, so I need to see what's obstructing it or leaking air on the way.
  • Most of the windows seem to be sealed well.  A ground floor bathroom window leaks cold, so I've shut the door to that room.  The pair of windows in my room don't seem to leak cold, yet the outer storm panes have a solid coat of frost on them, so moisture is reaching them from somewhere (melting from roof?).
  • There are still boxelder bugs alive and newly arriving in my sight.  How do they survive this cold?  Where are they getting indoors?  The house must have holes somewhere.  Not good.
  • I've kept the basement door closed today to keep the cat from investigating until I've cleaned down there.  I'll have to go downstairs tomorrow, though, to check for cold air coming in.
I catnapped a lot today to make up for lost sleep last night.  I didn't get much accomplished.  I cleaned the gas stove burners again, so they work, but they still don't ignite on their own.  I got the dining room bookshelf put together, so the plants now have a home at the window, although little direct sunlight reaches there.  Tomorrow, I need to get the kitchen shelves done, so I can empty some of these boxes stacked around.

Tonight I broke out a wool blanket that I haven't used since Occupy Minnesota while sleeping outdoors in the cold.  We'll see if I sleep better with it on the bed.  Even Hope is spending time under the covers with me instead of on top.

I'll keep updating this thread in the coming days, so stay tuned for more escapades.

Edit: 2016 January 10 Sunday 07:55:
Currently -22C/-9F (windchill -31C/-25F) outside.  The wool blanket helped a lot.  Last night was more comfortable than the one before.  I didn't wake as frequently, so I must be growing more accustomed to the new place.

Edit: 2016 January 10 Sunday 12:50:
I did a first pass at cleaning the basement. I scooped up the cat poop that was transformed by alien fungus. 
alien fungus on cat poop in basementcloseup alien fungus on cat poop in basement

I wore a dust mask.  I'm no fool.  I've watched X-Files, and I know what happens when you inhale bizarre fungal spores.

I figured the basement was finally clean enough to let the cat down there, so I opened up the door.  While I took my first shower upstairs, the cat disappeared as expected.  I figure she's hiding down there somewhere now.  Guess I'll leave her be while I drive to the old place to pick up more clothes.

The shower worked just as I expected (which was bad).  I need one of those U-shaped shower rods so I can pull a shower curtain around both sides and the back of the tub.  The window over the tub collected water drops, as expected.  The back of the tub collected enough water to run off to the floor a bit, as expected.  Both issues I can work around.  I just need to install a U-hoop shower curtain.

Also, I stuffed the opening of the dryer hose in the basement that was leaking in vast quantities of cold air.  That plug should help a lot with the temperature in the house.

Edit: 2016 January 10 Sunday 18:26:

Slow progress. I've moved everything from the former bathroom, living room, kitchen, and basement.  Maybe next weekend I can get everything from the bedroom and garage.  Then I still have 2 weekends free for cleaning the old place.  I've got a lot more stuff than I realized.

Sometime, I still need to settle into the new place too.  First on the agenda is getting the kitchen shelves ready.

I have a lead on a recliner chair and a 2-seat sofa.  Maybe I can pick them up next weekend if I reserve a U-Haul pickup soon.

Edit: 2016 January 12 Tuesday 21:02:

I discovered why I had closed the doors to those two rooms: the spare bedroom and the ground floor toilet.  Those windows have only a single pane of glass between inside and outside air.  There is no second storm pane to create an air pocket between the two environments.  Each window has now been sealed (ineptly) with plastic in addition to keeping the door closed.  I guess those windows will need to be addressed this summer.

Edit: 2016 January 15 Friday 10:06:

I bought some metal duct tape, so I could go around the basement and seal any leaks in the ducts to help airflow toward upstairs.  Instead of leaks, I discovered that there's a vent on the stack directly above the furnace.  It's in a hard-to-reach location, and it's rusted solid in full-open position.  Most of the hot air has been going just to the basement.  Doh!  I used the metal tape to seal up the vent except for a small portion to keep the pipes from ever freezing.  We'll see how the rest of the house feels when we're back to subzero (fahrenheit) on Sunday.  Today, we're at a balmy -6C/21F, so it's not a good test, since everything feels comparatively warm anyway.

Edit: 2016 January 15 Friday 20:00:


I don't have much in the way of glassware, but it's finally washed and in the kitchen shelves.  The date of the newspaper when I boxed up my glassware for storage last time: 2003 September 21 Sunday.  It's been a while since I've lived on my own.

Edit: 2016 January 16 Saturday 16:31:

I've been hauling back and forth most of today.  The temperature has hovered at the subzero point (-17C/0F) all day.  I got small amounts of ice in my beard from emptying out the garage today.  At least I've finished the garage... mostly.  There are some cinder blocks for gardening that hopefully can wait until warmer weather, since I might also retrieve additional supplies from the garden soil if they decide to cut back on the official garden area.  Meanwhile, sun is setting, air temperature has dropped subzero again, and it's time for me to start sorting through boxes in the living room to see what can go where.  I have way too much stuff from long-term storage.  I think most of it just needs to be donated to a local thrift store, since obviously I've lived without it for a decade or longer.

On one of today's many trips, I figured I'd fill up the gas tank at the corner store.  When I saw that it's a "pay first inside" gas pump, I knew that I wouldn't be coming back because it's so inconvenient in cold weather.  On top of that, I was accosted twice by strangers for money during my brief visit.  I declined both, since I'm not feeling like a money piñata at the moment.  I'm unlikely to be spending much of my money there during this year.

The only way this area (or any area) can turn around, though, is to spend money at local stores.  I heartily recommend "The Nature of Economies" by Jane Jacobs.  It's a very simple read, and it gives a great argument for how to view economic systems as biological systems.  Think of wealth as water; it simply must flow in order for there to be any ecosystem.  When it stagnates, the ecosystem changes in response.  It can arrive/depart in bursts (like gold rush mining towns or desert rains) or filter slowly through many layers (like thriving cities or rainforests), but the wealth/water must flow.  I need to start finding local stores (besides Cub Foods) to do my shopping, so this neighborhood can thrive again.

Edit: 2016 January 17 Sunday 07:16:

It's -25C/-13F (windchill -36C/-33F) outside.  We have a windchill warning, but it doesn't feel as bad inside this week as last week.  I think those small changes I've made recently have helped.

Edit: 2016 January 17 Sunday 15:20:

I'm a doofus.  I bought that U-hoop shower curtain rod without realizing that it needed to bolt around a vertical shower pipe (as pictured) instead of the horizontal that I have coming out of the wall.  So I went to the store and got a regular tension shower rod instead, and I installed it on the other side of the bathtub.  It works fine for now.  I think I'll keep that U-hoop, though.  Maybe one of these days (or months... or years... there's so much stuff to do!), I'll rearrange it so that the pipe that would attach vertically into the ceiling instead goes horizontal into a tension rod.  Then I could still have a U-hoop, and I wouldn't have to figure out how to attach something vertically on a sloped ceiling.

I also bought some corner door seal stickers.  Both outside doors now have much better air-blocking capabilities.

Edit: 2016 January 18 Monday 15:48:

Done hauling for today.  On schedule for finishing up the move and cleaning the old place on the coming weekend.  I need a nap.  And a vacation.  I feel old.  :)

Edit: 2016 January 21 Thursday 16:48:

Car repairs.  Yuck.  The last arctic blast destroyed whatever was left of my car's suspension.  Even the smallest bumps are now hard and loud thumps.  I knew this moment was coming, but I have to get it repaired now.  With two major expenditures under my belt during the last month, I'll be running short for 2016 already.  I'll have not-quite-a-year's savings.  All of my savings are the direct result of my short time spent at Dell.  (My bank account liked me working at Dell.)  I have a much nicer salary now than when I worked at AHS, so I should still be able to recover a savings account this year.  It just means that I'll do no major fixes on the house this calendar year.   And I can't do a major computer upgrade this year either.  :(  Unless I either work another part-time job or get a roommate, and neither is anywhere in my "want to do" list this year.

There's no time to ask the various neighbors for suggestions on good mechanics in this area, so I'll just take it tomorrow morning to the same place I've been going for the last decade.  I've already logged in to move the money from savings to checking to cover the expense.  Entropy.  Gotta love it, because we can't escape it.

Edit: 2016 January 21 Friday 18:38:


Ouch.  Just.... ouch.  It was about $2600 for repairs.

car repairs suspension bill

That's more money than I was estimating.  I had to dip even farther into my savings account than what I moved last night.  I still have enough saved to absorb one more major problem, but that's now my limit.


I know that having any money saved at all means that I am in better financial position than the majority of USA citizens.  I'm down to a 6-month buffer, which still puts me better off than 71% of USA citizens (see chart above).  I should feel lucky, right, that the "bar" here is so low that I'm well off in comparison?  How exactly did we stop being a civilized nation?

Edit 2016 January 24 Sunday 22:48:

I didn't get much accomplished today.  I was woken up at 4:30 by loud music nearby.  Later, I had help from two people with hauling a small sofa and a recliner across the Twin Cities to my living room.  I have furniture, yay!  Then I spent most of this afternoon napping.  Rest is good.

Edit 2016 January 25 Monday 09:43:


I forgot to mention that I dropped off my old house key with a landlord yesterday.  And this morning I mailed my first mortgage check.  So I guess it's official; I'm living in my own house now.

I wanted to spend $1000 on my first mortgage check each year, but I felt better cutting back to just $500 (actual minimum is just under $400) this time because of the massive drain on my savings during the last 30 days.  I know that the math shows I should pay extra anyway, because skipping an extra payment this early in the exponential function will cost me more savings later, but... it's also important to keep a small bit of savings around too.

I guess this update will be my last post in this thread.
mellowtigger: (Daria)
My brief house-hunting adventure is nearing its end. I will either own a place soon, or I will resign myself to living as a renter from now on.

The first place I liked (on the market a year) sold as soon as I started looking at it. The second place I liked (also on the market a long time) had an assessment of $8,100 on it from the city of Minneapolis, meaning that I would have to pay somebody's else's prior bill, so I stopped pursuing it too. I've decided that this third place is my final attempt, win or lose.  I'm done considering ownership as a possibility.

There are still two things that could prevent it from happening.
  1. We can't get an engineer's certification for the basement/foundation repair work that was done sometime previously.
  2. The banks decide that they dislike me after all. I was pre-approved for a mortgage because of my high credit score (805), but the final loan review is still ahead of me. Anything could happen, since my credit score is highly variable. The last time that I tried this process, all 3 credit agencies couldn't confirm that my credit score even existed, so banks turned their collective noses at me.
house listing on MorganHere is the listing for the place that I want. It has several really nice features for me.
  1. It's a very small footprint (136.25 square meters / 447 square feet), so the size is quite appropriate for me and the cat.
  2. It's cheap at US$55,000.  The mortgage cost is basically the same as I currently pay in rent, so I can clearly afford it even while poor and working a part-time tech support job.
  3. There is a 2nd bedroom if I find it necessary to take a tenant. (I really hope it's never necessary.)
  4. The yard is a "blank slate" covered in grass that I can redesign as I wish (lots of food-producing trees, shrubs, and plants).
  5. Just 1 block away is a very tiny park.
  6. Just 2 blocks away is a tiny community garden.
  7. Just 3 blocks away (length-wise) is a NiceRide bicycle station.
  8. Just 1/2 block away is a designated bicycle pathway (26th Avenue N). It goes to another pathway that leads directly to where I work. If I get my old injured leg in better shape, I could bicycle to work again.
  9. Just 1/2 block away is a bus stop, although the trip to work would require a transfer to a 2nd bus, and the trip would take 30-40 minutes.
  10. It's very near my old workplace at Animal Humane Society, just a short bicycle ride. Maybe long from now I could semi-retire with a part-time job there to cover my costs for food, utilities, and taxes?
It has some drawbacks too. Keeping in mind that I can't afford anything that qualifies as "nice", this place is actually pretty good.
  1. The foundation/basement repairs need an engineer's review to confirm it's up to code (for my peace of mind and also for later resell). The inspector couldn't perform that service. This item is the only "blocker" for me.
  2. It's never had a garage, just some gravel by the alley for parking a car.
  3. The outdoors air conditioning unit (for central air) has been removed, and some cables (phone? tv?) in back have been cut, possibly all taken by thieves trying to recover copper from an empty property.
  4. Oh, yeah, did I mention it's in a relatively high crime area?
  5. The upstairs bathroom needs to be redesigned completely. The shower/tub has an outside window in it, plus a "shelf" area behind the tub that basically exists only to collect water and drain nowhere.
  6. I can't even guess where the nearest grocery store is.  Probably on Broadway Avenue somewhere... but I can't picture where.
If this purchase doesn't work out for me, then it means that I spent $1500 (earnest money plus inspection with radon test) on a very expensive lesson to never get involved in any process that involves a bank.

Edit 2015 Nov 06 Friday 10:20:
Yes, the seller produced the engineer's report for the reinforcements and has agreed to the other terms of repairs.  The only holdup will be the final yea-or-nay by the bank.  I have my Home Stretch homeowner class all day tomorrow (Saturday), and I'll send the lender my certificate of completion.  That's the last of the paperwork that I have to submit.  So... this might actually happen.

Edit 2015 Nov 13 Friday 17:49:
Do they know something that I don't know?  We haven't even set a date yet to sign the closing documents.
house sold sign 2015-11-15

Edit 2015 Nov 17 Tuesday 16:58:
I got the email this afternoon that my closing is scheduled for 2015 Dec 28 Monday 10:00.  I guess that makes it a post-Christmas present?  I'll believe it only when somebody hands me the keys to the front door.

Edit 2015 Dec 15 Tuesday 17:56:
Their running the 3rd (and final) credit check on me this Friday.  If there's any roadblock to closing, this is when it'll be decided.  Otherwise, I'm ready to move in and start paying my own bills.  Their last estimate that they sent me was $420/month, compared to my current $400 for rent.  There are utilities to pay on top of that amount, but it still totals to a reasonable price for my income.  For insurance purposes, it is insured for a replacement value of $130,000, so that price tag is hopefully a good sign of its value.

Edit 2015 Dec 18 Friday 17:28:
The semi-official PDF of closing documents totalled $393.92 monthly, which is $6 less than I'm currently paying in rent.  I hope this purchase finally happens.  It's 10 days until closing, though, and the 3rd credit check was supposed to happen today.  I have received no emails confirming that we're on track.  I'm assuming bad news for Monday, when I should be calling utility companies to inform them of my imminent acquisition of the property.  :(

Edit 2015 Dec 21 Monday 09:56:
I emailed since I hadn't heard anything.  The loan agent replied, "we are on schedule to close next Monday". I think it's finally time to start getting excited.

Edit 2015 Dec 21 Monday 11:32:
As the mortgage company's customer service agent recommended, I called utilities today to arrange the new ownership.  I decided to go with CenturyLink (formerly Qwest, *shudder*) and got 40Mbps service for $30/month.  I avoided the bundles for phone service and tv service, which increased the price considerably.  Why does home phone cost as much (or more) as internet?

Edit 2015 Dec 28 Monday 15:29:
I have the keys.  It finally happened.  I had to help the guy load the air conditioner unit into the kitchen area (for installation outside with the central air in the spring season).  I'll just throw a tablecloth over it and pretend it's a table for a few months.  Now begins the slow process of moving in.  I cleaned the floor of the many dead box elder bugs (doors badly need new weather stripping) and disinfected the toilets.  I got a few boxes of books unloaded.  That may be all I'm up for today.  I got 2 hours of sleep last night.  Hopefully tonight is better for me.  I shouldn't be on the roads or sidewalks soon anyway.  We have a winter storm warning in effect with heavy snow expected to begin in about 90 minutes.  Winter in Minnesota is not the best circumstance for moving.

Edit 2016 Jan 02 Saturday 09:18:
I finally got the bookcase and books entirely moved last night.  I had to strap down the boards to the top of my car and drive slowly there over bumpy roads.  My back and wrists are not as invulnerable as they used to be.  This process is taking longer than I expected.  I'm glad I have the whole month to make the transition.  Today will be for cleaning the kitchen and bedrooms.

Edit 2016 Jan 10 Sunday 00:24:
I've relocated into the house.  New thread here.

mellowtigger: (all i have)
Peace For Paris by Jean Jullien #PeaceForParisIt's probably a disservice to the songwriters to connect their nice song with recent events in Paris, but my mind has already done it.

By now, you've probably heard that DAESH has accepted responsibility for the mass murders in Paris. You might not know that the Arabic name "al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham" was previously shortened to names likes ISIS and ISIL. We should be calling this group by the abbreviation now given to it by French officials, DAESH. This new name can be construed to also mean things like "to trample down and crush” or “a bigot who imposes his view on others.” It seems appropriate, so let's call them DAESH.

Paris, France, and the empathetic world obviously need a moment to collect their thoughts. People worldwide are probably doing the same thing that I did: contacting people they know in France to confirm they are alright. I've mentioned before that I once dated a foreigner. I didn't mention that he was French. I confirmed last night that he is unharmed and not in Paris.

After that immediate confirmation, there will probably be a lot of reassuring hugs passed around social circles. And that's where we get to this song that I mentioned.
Something happens when I hold her
She keeps my heart from getting older
When the days get short and the nights get a little bit colder
We hold each other
We hold each other
We hold each other, mmm

Something happens when I hold him
He keeps my heart from getting broken
When the days get short and the nights get a little bit frozen
We hold each other
We hold each other
We hold each other, mmm

People judged us they couldn't see the connection
When I look at you, it's like I'm looking back at my reflection
I don't see nothing different, our pigments they coincide
We hold each other so tight they couldn't break us if they tried
My eyes are those of the blind, I see no color or size
I feel the love in your touch and I trust what's inside your mind
A little reassurance, a little comfort... it's probably a good thing now for the many who were affected directly or indirectly by the attack in Paris.


Of course, this song was special in its own right, because the straight and gay performers each kept their pronouns correct in their lyrics. That bravery is rare. They demonstrated a recognition of their common experience and humanity, which lends itself to thoughts of this weekend's aftermath.

It is also a sentiment likely to continue annoying bigots worldwide, especially the likes of those who committed these recent atrocities. I must admit to feeling some smug and unhelpful satisfaction in the apoplexy that loving compassion can provoke in some hateful minds. How broken and injured someone already must be for them to experience additional pain in others' loving compassion.

So... hold each other, and find what relief that you can. The world wants to help, if only we knew concrete actions that we could take.  Meanwhile, I'll continue singing along... "When the days get short and the nights get a little bit frozen, we hold each other."

#PeaceForParis
mellowtigger: (anonymous)
You know you're doing something wrong when Anonymous declares to you that you should be stripped of your anonymity, since normally they are the movement that self-identifies with the power of anonymous speech. Doxing (releasing documents that identify someone online) is not taken lightly, and they explain their justification for this extreme action against the Ku Klux Klan.

people in hoods meet the people in masks #opkkk #hoodsoff
"The anons involved in this operation still believe you no longer particularly deserve the right to Freedom of Speech and Freedom to Assemble but that is not up to us. ... Your hateful ideas and words remain yours to keep. You are allowed to speak and in kind, we are allowed to respond. You are legally free to live and be any which way you choose to live and be. Keep in mind, it is not illegal nor oppressive to hurt your feelings. With that said – We are stripping you of your anonymity. Again. This is our protected speech.

After closely observing so many of you for so very long, we feel confident that applying transparency to your organizational cells is the right, just, appropriate and only course of action. You are abhorrent. Criminal. You are more than extremists. You are more than a hate group. You operate much more like terrorists and you should be recognized as such. You are terrorists that hide your identities beneath sheets and infiltrate society on every level. The privacy of the Ku Klux Klan no longer exists in cyberspace. You’ve had blood on your hands for nearly 200 years.

The last time we took your hoods off, you claimed to be misunderstood. Victimized. No. You are a damaged, dangerous, fragmented, splintered and amorphous collection of terroristic cells with a hate-based ideology and a well documented history of violence against the American public – assault, murder, terrorism. You play a deep, damaging and historically sinister and malevolent role in the United States. We understand you far too well. ... This fight will go on as long as it has to. The aim of this operation is digital. Another cyber war trist, nothing more. We are not violent. We will release, to the global public, the identities of up to 1000 klan members, Ghoul Squad affiliates and other close associates of various factions of the Ku Klux Klan across the Unites States."

- https://anonintelgroup.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/opkkk-press-release/
In preparation for this event, they helpfully released a document with probing questions that people can ask of themselves and their social groups, which is perhaps a useful way of provoking educational discussions. I'm sure they'll take greater care with this information release, since Anonymous has made mistakes in previous announcements. By its nature, Anonymous data is not curated information, so it should always be verified before acting on it. But then, I suppose they would agree that lesson is useful in all circumstances anyway.

A different anonymous (Anonymous?) group tried to join the publicity surrounding this event, but the people at the helm of this particular operation made it clear that they vouch only for data released via their @Operation_KKK Twitter account. Meanwhile, another supportive Anonymous group is taking this project in good humor, even creating a proverbial Race Card to play in this digital game of social media.

I've already told you about my one or two brushes with the Klan. I don't expect Klansmen or sympathizers to feel shame or hear new logic. I expect this operation will result only in their self-interested preservation instinct. In that context, however, we can still hope this metaphorical light will scatter the roaches back into the darkness.

We should always be ready to speak our counterpoint when we find injustice.

Edit: 5:11pm:  It's official.  You can download the text file here:  http://pastebin.com/wbvP95wg

#OpKKK #HoodsOff #Anonymous
mellowtigger: (astronomy)
Here is the best photo I could take while holding a camera by hand. I tried propping up against a fence, but it's still a bit blurry. I had the camera at maximum optical zoom, so it was sensitive to every muscle movement.

lunar eclipse 2015 Sept 27 in Minneapolis

You can read details about tonight's lunar eclipse at SpaceWeather.com, but if you just want to look at the beautiful pictures, then go straight to their photo gallery.
mellowtigger: (Keelan Stormcaster)
Welcome what to do in the spiralWizard 101 includes a significant population of over-50 (and female) players. We older players like it for the great humor, the slow pace, and the easy interface. It doesn't require high stress, fast reaction, or carpel-tunnel-inducing keyboard usage. That combination of features is good for old and young players alike. It also trains memory, pattern recognition, and planning, just like any other card game.

There is a lot to do in Wizard 101.  I'm still playing the game periodically after many years, and I'm still playing with my former database administrator from a job 15 years ago. She is a bit older than me with sensitive hands and wrists, yet she can play this online game too.

I'm writing this hint guide for myself, for her, and for any other players (old or young) who would like to see some suggestions for getting familiar with this game. I'll keep updating this article over time to add improvements.

Picking Your Primary School Of Magic:
Find something that appeals to you. Each school has an "opposite": Fire opposes Ice, Storm opposes Myth, and Life opposes Death. When you combat enemies of one school, they will have a weakness to their opposite school. The one exception is the Balance school; it has no opposite. Each school has something special it can do that nobody else can:
  • icon Storm schoolStorm: does the most damage, but you earn the least health points. also, your spells will frequently fail to cast.
  • icon Fire schoolFire: has a damage-over-time spell card that is very efficient. better casting success rate than Storm.
  • icon Ice schoolIce: earns more health points than other schools, and has a spell to resist damage from any school of magic
  • icon Balance schoolBalance: does damage that cannot be warded against like other schools (except Ice can still ward against it)
  • icon Life schoolLife: can heal all players simultaneously
  • icon Death schoolDeath: can simultaneously damage an opponent while stealing health to heal yourself
  • icon Myth schoolMyth: you work with more minions than other schools; minions are pets that you summon only during combat
All 7 schools are good. Each of them is fun in its own way. Just pick one that seems to "fit" your personality.

Life magic Sprite healing spellAlways Train Life Magic To Get The Sprite:
No matter what school of magic you learn, always spend your first training points to get the Life Sprite spell. Not because it might help heal your mage (it will), but because it will let you restore your fellow players who lose in battle. You can heal them, and that's important in this game where everybody can play together cooperatively. Be a friendly player, and learn the Sprite healing spell.

Sometimes you have to choose whether to cast your Sprite in time to save your teammate, or let them go ahead and lose in combat... then revive them again immediately afterwards.  The Sprite doesn't heal much damage.  If your neighbor is taking heavy damage, Sprite will not save them. Consider saving your card until after they falter.  You can use it to revive them instead of trying to save them.
 

Fire school Fire Elf damage spellAlways Train Fire Magic To Get The Fire Elf:
After the healing Sprite, you should get the Fire Elf, no matter what school of magic you have. It costs only 2 pips to cast, but it does more damage-per-pip than most spells in the game. It's very efficient, so it's good to have and use as backup.

Casting Spells:
Whenever you enter a combat circle, all players will take turns choosing from their available cards to play. Playing a card will cost "pips" which are power points. Each round of combat, you get a new pip. Gold pips are special. When you cast a spell card from your Primary School, then that single gold pip is worth 2 of the regular silver pips.

In this image, notice both the silver pip (worth 1 point) and the gold pip (worth 2 points with your primary school) at the feet of the player's combat circle.
pips combat silver pip gold pip

Dismissing Spells:
It took me a long time to realize that I could dismiss cards during combat, then I get new cards to replace them. You see 7 cards during each combat round. Unused cards remain the same from one combat round to the next, so you're stuck with the same 7 cards if you do nothing to change them. You can use a card by left-clicking on it to cast that spell. You can dismiss a card by right-clicking on it instead. If you are in a hurry to find a particular card, you can even dismiss all 7 cards if you want. They will be replaced with new cards in the next combat round.

Picking Your Main Weapon:
Your character can wear different inventory items, but the weapon is special. The weapon will give you many low-damage spells that you can cast without having to train for it. Just choose a different weapon and you get different spells.

1.misc weapon Antiquated WandSome weapons give you many spells that cost 1 pip to cast, while other weapons give you just one spell that costs zero pips to cast (so it can cast for free).

When you first start out, it's good to experiment with a 1-pip weapon so you can see what the different spells do. By level 10, though, I recommend sticking with the zero-pip weapons, because you need to conserve your pips for bigger and better spells.

This pictured weapon gives 6 cards from different schools, and each card costs 1 pip to cast. Throughout the game, you get only 1 pip per combat round.  If you use the spells from this weapon and use 1 pip to cast the spell, then you will not be able to collect enough pips to cast bigger spells that you learned from your school.

 
2.Life weapon Staff Of Deep ThoughtSome weapons will also give you a bonus pip at the start of combat. It's like starting a round early and getting to keep the extra pip. The bonus pip is good, since it gives you an advantage over your opponent who will have to wait until the 2nd round to get a 2nd pip.

This pictured weapon gives "+1 Silver Pip" at the start of combat, and notice that the attack spell card costs zero pips to cast. It allows you to cast an attack spell for free, saving your pips so you can spend them later to cast a bigger spell.
3.I also recommend picking a weapon for a school different from your Primary school. You'll be casting bonus spells on yourself and weakness spells on your enemies. These bonuses and weaknesses will be for your primary school. If you cast any damage spell (even a weapon), it will use up those bonuses and weaknesses. It's better to save them for your heavy damage spells instead, where it will count for more damage. So, for instance, a Storm mage may use a Myth weapon so it doesn't use up the active Storm bonuses while waiting for more pips.

Picking Your Secondary School Of Magic, Or Not:
You learn many spells in your primary school for free. You also occasionally earn some training points that you can spend for any school. Early in the game, it seems like you want some spells from each school. Don't do it yet. Save your training points for other bonus spells like wards, minion bonuses, and eventually Moon magic bonuses.

You don't want to spend your points on combat spells now because later you will seldom use those spells. You will be casting spells from your primary school that cost 4, 6, or 8 pips to cast them. Because they're from your primary school, you can use gold pips. Spells from other schools, however, will not benefit from gold pips. You'll have to use gold pips (worth 2 points normally) as if they were just silver pips (worth only 1 point for these other schools). It's very inefficient. If you wait 4 rounds of combat (while your opponents are casting spells at you), you might get 4 gold pips. That would be 8 points you could spend on your own school of magic, but it's still only 4 points that you can spend on other schools.

Balance mastery amuletA big exception is if you spend Crowns (real-world money) to buy a special necklace. The necklace will let you use gold pips for 1 other school of magic. In that case, you could train more spells in that school, and you still get to use all of your pips at their full value. There's no need to play this way, but if you do then a Mastery Amulet will help you a lot... if you can afford to buy it with real money.

Sometimes during the summer birthday celebration for Wizard 101, you can undo all of your spent training points for free. During the rest of the year, it costs Crowns (real-world money) to undo your training points. It's better to save points than to keep spending them on things that you might want to undo later.


Tips On Travelling Safely:
It's easy to avoid combat, but it requires attention.  If you stay on the sidewalks, then you can easily avoid the opponents that walk in the center of the streets.  It can be tricky, though, to stay on the safe sidewalk while traveling around corners or obstacles.  Here's what I do to move safely:

First, hold down the right-button on the mouse.  Keep holding it down continuously.  Now move the mouse around, and notice that your character looks in different directions while you hold down that button.

Second (while still pressing that right-button), you can move forward by also pressing the left-button on the mouse.  Keep holding both buttons, and you continue moving forward while changing directions as you move the mouse.  This method is easy because it uses only one hand, but it's also hard because it requires your hand muscles to work both buttons and the mouse at the same time.

Alternatively (while still pressing that right-button), you can use the up arrow on the keyboard.  This method requires two hands, but it offers better control.  When you cross a doorway and zone into a new room, using the up arrow key (instead of using the left-button on the mouse) will help keep you from accidentally continuing forward inside the new zone and unintentionally bumping into opponents for combat.

Arranging Your Spells:
(to be written later; be sure to mention keeping decks and using treasure cards)

How To Play Solo, And How To Easily Find Group Help:
(to be written later, be sure to mention prism spells, pets, and the important Team Up button)

Combat Against Your Own School Of Magic:
(to be written later; be sure to mention prisms spells and wards)

Train Your Pet:
(to be written later; be sure to mention stats, special-cast abilities, and school quest pets)
pets feeding training

Grow Your First Garden:
(to be written later; be sure to mention energy and pests so don't overplant at your level)

Get The Free Housing Items:
(to be written later)

Fishing:
(to be written later; mention trophy fish like the Bearacuda)
fish Grizzleheim Bear Acuda

mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
3335 Colfax, Minneapolis MN 55412 sale listingI may have to move soon, and on short notice. The landlords where I'm at now are making arrangements to shift ownership, but there are too many factors "up in the air" at the moment.

The landlord thinking about staying in this house sent a link to a different property, and that page mentioned a house directly across the street.  So, by accident, I found a cheap home that I could afford. All versions of mortgage calculators tell me that a mortgage for this place would be >$100 cheaper than my current rent. I realize there are insurance and tax costs on top of it, but it still seems prudent to consider buying my own place.

Unfortunately, I'm worried that I'll run into the same roadblock as before.  Banks tell me "no" without offering a reason that makes any sense to me.  I've structured my life to live cheaply as I can, and I don't owe money to anybody, so banks don't know what to make of me.  I'm waiting for a callback from my credit union now.  If there's any way to make it happen, I would need to get in quickly to see this property and decide about an offer.

This house has a south-facing roof, so it'd be good for solar in the future.  I drove by and looked outside, and I didn't see any obvious problems.  I'm pretty sure that it's so cheap because it's in a relatively higher crime area.  (Not as thick as downtown Minneapolis, but equivalent to the Powderhorn south Minneapolis area, which is actually a desirable region of its own.)  Bonus: It's even closer to where I work.

Update 2015.09.14 11:45:
I went to LendingTree.com to fill out some info too, and within seconds got a phone call from them via QuickenLoans.  They said they can get a preapproval for me.  At this $65K house on a fixed 3.62% interest rate for 15-year loan, they say it will cost me $500/month with "taxes and insurance included".  That's still a lot more than the mortgage calculators were telling me, so I'm not sure what's included by them.  If that's the actual total cost to me (minus utilities) then I can still afford it.  I don't know... maybe I should still contact a local person to see if they offer anything different?

Update 2015.09.14 13:00:
These people scare me more than a little.  I dislike aggressive sales.  I fill out a webpage, and within seconds my phone is ringing.  It happened again.  I have somebody else (who knows they're my #2 contact) looking into financing for me, since I'm not sure what to make of QuickenLoans.  They're a local ReMax person and should know of any Minnesota or Minneapolis special programs for first-time buyers like me.  I saw my credit report from QuickenLoans today, and it turns out I have a "very good" rating now.  I still think the whole credit rating industry is hogwash, but as long as they talk to me, then I guess I'll pursue and see what comes of it.  If nothing else, this escapade has led me to a good website for window shopping for homes and a good website for checking crime reports.

Update 2015.09.14 16:20:
The local realtor (via ReMax webpage) just emailed me, "This property already has an offer accepted according to the listing agent."  Ah well.  The disappointment sinks in again, but at least a different reason this time than a few years ago.

Update 2015.09.14 17:35:
The referral from my credit union called, and he pretty much brushed me off when he learned how much I earn a year.  Pretty much what I expected from all lending sources, but apparently a few are willing to work at my miniscule level.
mellowtigger: (we can do it)
Today, the big news is that the Supreme Court of the USA has ruled that all states must allow and recognize same-sex marriage.

The truth in history is often very nuanced, requiring long explanation to convey information accurately. Occasionally, however, something meaningful and whole can be captured in an image, allowing the details of metaphors to unfold in the mind like a well written haiku. Sometimes pictures are better than words.


changing of flags from confederate to rainbowchanging of flags from confederate to rainbowUncle Sam changes flag from confederate to rainbow
changing of flags from confederate to rainbow


Justice kissing LibertyLiberty kissing Justice
Bert and Ernie watching television supreme court
Dukes of Hazzard car with rainbow flag

Not to get all wordy now and defeat my earlier point, but there are two things worth noting about today's court ruling.  First, all of the women (plus two men) decided for the government to enforce equal treatment under the law for its citizens, and the naysayers were all men.  Second, one of the naysayers is himself now in an interracial marriage that was once illegal.  Curiosities to ponder.

supreme court justices on marriage equality ruling

People everywhere are celebrating, everyone is sharing the news, media sites are flooding with images and stories, and even YouTube itself has something to say with a collection of videos plus their brief commentary.  I was intending to skip the Pride festival this weekend.  I am reconsidering my decision, however, after today's good-mood news.  #LoveWins  #LoveIsLove
mellowtigger: (Daria)
We can't have nice things in the USA.  I wish I lived somewhere civilized that had a single-payer health care system that "collects all medical fees, then pays for all services, through a 'single' government (or government-related) source."  But, no.  Instead, we have a convoluted bureaucratic nightmare that is ripe for exploitation.

I had sinus surgery back in January.  It's public knowledge, since I blogged about it.  Many bills arrived later.  I paid all of them except for one curious letter that arrived from people I didn't know and a place I didn't know, wanting money.  There was no  privileged information in that letter, so I treated it like I do all spam email that I receive: I trashed it.

Months later, a bill collection agency tries to collect.  Once again, they say a person I don't know wants money, but nobody can offer any definitive information to help me confirm their authenticity.  Again, I refuse to pay, but at least this time I'm willing to put some effort into an investigation of the claim.

It required 2 calls to my surgeon's office, 2 calls to my insurance provider, and 2 visits to the hospital, but I finally got a claim number that I could verify.  Here's the trail of shame for the rickety medical billing system currently in use:
  • My surgeon's office had no contact information for the anesthesiologist.  How did they arrange for him to show up at my surgery?  Who knows?
  • My first call to my insurance provider (Aetna) offered only one name for anesthesiology, but it wasn't the doctor's name; it was a nurse's.
  • My hospital does include a listing for the doctor (Mark Lantz), but the information is all wrong.
  • The listed phone number (763-520-5370) is "disconnected or no longer in service".
  • It includes a webpage (apanorth.com), but it's also useless.  The webpage offers no contact information for the doctor.
  • The webpage includes its own email contact (feedback@apanorth.com), but the email bounces.
  • The webpage includes a brick-and-mortar address at the hospital itself, but the information desk at the hospital knows nothing about the group.
So, somebody wants money from me, but it is...
  1. somebody with no phone contact,
  2. somebody with no email contact, and
  3. somebody with no viable street address.
Once again, I feel perfectly justified in treating this demand for money as an unlawful attempt to wrangle money from my pocket.  This complete lack of verifiable accountability is why internet email is so filled with spam.  An unscrupulous person could easily get rich by getting a virus onto a computer for a hospital or billing service.  They can start writing paper letters to people they learn have had medical procedures done.  People will willingly write them checks for no good reason.  It's terrible.

On my first visit back to the hospital (their customer service was great!), I was able to get printouts for the anesthesiologist report and the billing report.  At least I could verify the doctor's name, but nothing provided any trail to verify the claim against me.  On my second visit back to the hospital (again, their customer service was great!) a billing person was able to connect me by phone to the doctor's billing person.  Finally, at long last, I had a reliable trail of contact to someone with knowledge of this bill.  I got a claim ticket number that they had filed with my insurance provider.

I called my insurance provider again, and this time they were able follow that claim number and give me confirmation of this bill.  I called back the bill collector and gave them my bank routing information so they could file an electronic draft immediately.  I still don't know anything about the bill collector other than the phone number (651-287-6137), but I'm tired of investigating and just want this mess to end.  Afterwards, I was so stressed out and drained from this escapade that I went to bed and slept 6pm-1am.

This is the healthcare system that we have in the USA.  It's awful.  And I'm sick again, this time with something new that's affecting my throat.  Happy, happy, joy, joy.
mellowtigger: joystick (gaming)
I've written about the RIFT game previously in detail.   I've continued playing this free game for so long because it's more of a cooperative game style than player-versus-player. You can start as any class yet still play (with paid class unlocks) as any other role on a whim.  I can also play it from my Linux desktop.  It's a native Windows client, but it works just fine with some Linux tools that allow it to run anyway.

They're now having their annual summerfest event.  It lasts several weeks, but it arrives in phases.  I think it's the most complicated (many quests) of their events.  There's lots of stuff to do: fishing, exploring, even some combat.  These hints will help you complete some of the older quests, but the newer ones (including the minion chain) aren't included on that page yet.

If anyone decides to give the game a try, you can use the following link to create your free account.  It's part of their Ascend-A-Friend (you play the "Ascended" heroes of the game world) feature, which allows me to teleport to your location when you're online so you have a companion.


I play on the Faeblight server (although you can temporarily jump servers on a whim) among the Defiant faction.  You'll have to create your character among the Defiant if you want to play consistently with my main character, since the other faction is historically our enemy.  Not to worry, though, because the player-versus-player aspect of this game has been reduced over the years.

I hope to meet someone in game.  Send a letter to "Tewadema" so I know you're there.

Omaha Zoo

Jun. 6th, 2015 01:12 pm
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
I finally made it to Omaha Nebraska this week as part of a 4-day retreat for work with The Nature Conservancy.

I rarely take vacations, since travelling is more stressful than just relaxing at home. I've been in Minnesota for 18 years and still haven't gone across the northern border to Canada, east to Chicago, or west to see the rocks (Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse) of South Dakota. My plan last week was to leave Friday or Saturday and go see the rocks. Instead, I delayed so I could hear Bernie Sanders in Minneapolis on Sunday, then I took off immediately for Omaha. I spent the night at Motel 6 in Omaha, then I walked around the Omaha Zoo for several hours. I was tired of walking and didn't go to the Lauritzen Gardens afterwards. Instead, I drove to Nebraska City, Nebraska for the conference.

The indoors exhibits for the Omaha Zoo are very good. They have habitats specifically for desert biome, jungle biome, and a smaller building just for butterflies (even hotter and more humid than the jungle, so my glasses fogged up). Their outdoors exhibits bothered me, though, because they had large animals in small spaces. The Minnesota Zoo is much more humane in this regard.  The indoor exhibits in Omaha were even more impressive because some animals (mostly birds but some bats) were allowed territory that wasn't caged separately from the human paths. Animals were mixing in with people, and it was a great combination to see.

I recorded some video clips while I was there. They include The desert dome had an underground exhibit devoted to all kinds of nocturnal creatures. They even had a large beaver lodge down there and a very tall "cave" whose roof had a bright gap exposed to the sky's light. It really looked like a bat cave, although the nearby bats were kept in contained spaces.

desert dome pathdesert Cape Thick-knee
desert nocturnal Bush-tailed Jirddesert nocturnal beaver lodgedesert nocturnal cave

The Lied building housed the jungle biome. It was very large and its structural components masqueraded very well as native environment. It also included a few birds that could reach human paths. The bats in this daytime jungle building could roost anywhere, too. I don't know who the Lied family is, but their name was included in the conference center where I stayed in Nebraska City for the retreat event.

jungle Lied buildingjungle bats signjungle bats roosting
jungle view1jungle view2
jungle view3jungle view4

Elsewhere, the zoo included its large animal exhibits (with several many spaces under construction) and an Imax theater. The aquarium included an odd "virtual pool" where kids could jump around with the tidepool creatures. (At the Minnesota zoo, people can touch real animals in real water.)

apesMutual Of Omaha Wild Kingdomaquarium projected water for kids to splash

The one thing that actually surprised me on my mini-vacation, though, was seeing the many wind farms in Iowa.

wind generators in Iowa

Who knew Iowa was investing so heavily in sustainable energy sources?  Why isn't Minnesota dotted with these structures?  Is the wind really so less common here?

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