Without heat in the modern age

For the past few weeks, I have been troubleshooting a problem with my gas furnace. It was kicking on and off frequently. It was having difficulty reaching the thermostats set temperature. My three level house was cold on the inside. It was colder on the outside.

My daughter’s horse Ruby had gotten clipped about two weeks ago. The shaving of the thick coat of hair requires that she be blanketed when the weather becomes bad and when the temperature falls below 40F. As it often does in northern New Mexico for this time of year, we have rain, freezing rain, snow. The temperatures can fall into the teens at night. The wind chill can make it very, very cold.

This morning, as I write this post, it is cold and raining. Snow is in the forecast. It is a dreary day outside with no heat to speak of. It’s 33 as I grab my boots to get daughter up in order to go feed the horse. Inside is equally cold. It is only 62 and son is out of control playing with the dog.

Ruby has no problem with the cold weather. She gets plenty of hay, a warm and waterproof blanket, and a stall to keep her covered if the weather is bad. But she is a horse, so often we find her outside when the rain or snow is falling.

Now to the furnace. It was inspected when I bought the place a few years back. Worked fine. Of late, it hasn’t been very efficient in keeping the house warm. I figure it is about as old as the house, but not that elements have been upgraded based on the dates of various pieces of equipment. The furnace is a gas-fired water boiler that is the center of a hydronic heating system. The system heats water and circulates it through the various radiators on the three levels of the house.

The furnace appears to work fine in that it kicks on and heats gas. The problems appear to be (1) the zone valves are not working in all zones, and (2) the water lines that circulate during the heating cycle do not have water. This may be why the zone valves have stopped working. This explains why the heat wasn’t getting to the set thermostat setting. No water to circulate, no water to heat. Time to call in the repairman because I am not very good at things mechanical.

Easier said then done. I called on five different outfits. Left messages with three. No return call. Talked to a nice lady on Thursday who could not fit me in until Friday. On the fifth attempt, I was able to get a technician out late in the day. He spent an hour looking at the system. Didn’t fix anything. Couldn’t understand where the circulating water went or why it wasn’t filling. Clogged valve? He took many pictures and said he would call on Friday. Friday came. He called and said that I needed some new parts that would take time to order and receive. So there I was. This weekend and into next week without any heat. Was suppose to have a follow up call to authorize the parts. Nothing. Called Friday. Email and called Saturday. Nothing. Finally, a woman called me to acknowledge the email but had no information. No knowledge about parts, or when then could work on the system. Would call me first thing Monday.

In the mean time, I found the replacement parts on the internet. Some can be purchased at Home Depot and Lowe’s. Wanted to gauge the price of the parts because I am sure they will be marked up significantly. I get skeptical when they say that they need to bring it up to code! Cha-Ching! Wanted to see about ordering the parts if the repair company decides not to call me back. Caution…Based on experience.

So what are The kids and I doing for heat? The house has a fireplace so we have wood. Will probably do that today as it is cold and raining outside. We also have a space heater that has been working nonstop since Friday. Sleep has been great with a couple of blankets and a warm dog to curl up with me.

The question is will they call back? When. When will they order the parts and how long before they arrive? Will they even call me back? I leave for business travel next week. My house will have no heat for a couple of days but it looks like the weather will cooperate. The aquarium has a water heater so the fish will be ok. Jonny the hamster has lots of bedding so he should be fine.

Will it be fixed for Christmas? May be that is what I’ll ask Santa as my present?

More importantly, when will I learn that things don’t last forever. They do require maintenance. Things, and animals, and people, do require proper care if they are to last for a long time.

Divorce, debt, and diatribe

It’s that time of the month where I sit down to pay the bills and track my budget and figure out financially where I am going in the coming year. Before my divorce, I was very frugal. No credit card balances to speak of. No outstanding debts except a mortgage. It was save, save, save. Emergency fund. Savings for college for the kids. Check. Savings for a beach house. Yep, it’s what the family wanted. Savings for retirement. Planned to work to age 52. Everything was on track.

See the source image

Then it came all crashing down. I managed to keep my retirement account untouched in our amicable, negotiated settlement. But I managed to pick up massive debt. Rent became a new mortgage. Child support became half of my paycheck and yet I had the kids half of the time. A personal loan to cover expenses incurred during my divorce. Lost significant savings. My doldrums that I encountered during the divorce were handled by some extravagant spending on trips, on stuff, on junk. No control. No problem, just charge it. New furniture for a house. Buy whatever the kids wanted. LEGO’s and horse things, fish and birds and guinea pigs. Exercise equipment to better myself. Books to read, learn to play the guitar, eat better food, drink better wine. Bourbon and scotch. Hobbies. I literally found myself in debt.

Now, as I stand on the precipice of retirement, I find myself still digging myself our of that debt. Granted, I am probably better off than most Americans. A good paying job. A 401k and pension for retirement. A roof over my head. Not living paycheck to paycheck. Yet there it is. DEBT.

See the source image

So here I am this Sunday morning after Thanksgiving, paying my bills. No, I am not thankful for that debt. I am thankful that I can manage it. Started looking at the interest rates that are charged for monthly balances. My Chase Freedom Card carries an interest rate of 13.99%. They calculate it by taking the prime rate and then add their costs on top. The Wall Street Journal carries the prime rate, which is currently listed at 5.25%. From the internet, I learned that the prime interest rate, or prime lending rate, is largely determined by the federal funds rate, which is the overnight rate that banks use to lend to one another. Also, it is stated that the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee, which is comprised of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks) has voted to lower the. target range for the fed funds rate to 2.00% – 2.25%.

So JP Morgan Chase charges me 8.74% to use their money when I charge something to my credit card and then carry a balance. Wow! My local bank pays me 0.10% for what I save in my savings account, and less for my checking account. It’s much worse when I look at my American Express Delta SkyMiles card. There the rate is 21.99%. A whopping 16.74% to use their money. It was my Amex card that just started me on this rant this morning. My annual fee was being increased to $99 a year. That’s $99 just to carry the card, get some frequent flyer miles if I use it. All of this for the luxury to not pay to travel with one bag on an airline. Not really sure if it is worth. I think that I can leave home without it.

Why so much for using their money? Well, the are a business. They need to make a profit. They have millions of credit cards in use. They get paid every time I use their card. And if I carry a balance, they get paid again by charging me interest. By my math, that is between 8 and 16%. Sweet if you can get it for your savings account. Some people pay them off every month. Some do not. Some incur large debts and then just don’t pay them. Guess that means that those of us who honor our debts are also paying for theirs. Why should I pay for someone else? I have my family to keep.

As a business, they have shareholders, including myself. I like my stock price to go up, my dividends to increase. After all, I need my 401k to cover me when I retire. They have employees who have families just like me. They have CEO’s who make ridiculously large salaries. I am not picking on Jamie Dimon; he certainly works hard for his money and has added value to his company. JP Morgan made $31,500,000,000 profit in 2018. Jamie Dimon got a 5% raise in 2018, and made a salary of $31,000,000. Now if you were like me, my raise was less than 2%. No bonus, no stocks, no performance-based variable incentive compensation. Jamie’s salary was a base salary of $1.5 million and a “performance-based variable incentive compensation” of $29.5 million, split as $5 million of that in cash, and $24.5 million in the form of “performance share units”, a fancy word for extra shares of stock. I could not find how much Jamie personally donated to charity in 2018, but I know JP Morgan Chase donated millions.

I don’t necessarily begrudge Mr Dimon for his money. There are others who do, like Elizabeth Warren. She is running for President. She has a plan, and as near as I can tell, a tax for everything. She wants to expand government into everything. In 2018, Warren made about $325,000 from book sales in addition to her $175,000 salary from the Senate. Her husband was paid about $400,000 from Harvard. Explains why it is so expensive to go to college. The couple paid about $46,000 last year for a solar energy installation on their home in Massachusetts, and received about $15,000 in tax credits, and they donated more than $50,000 to charity. All told, the Warren’s paid more than $200,000 in taxes on about $900,000 in income last year, based on their tax returns. By my math, they made about $100,000 on investment income. Don’t worry, Joe Biden did better. Can’t say that about Donald Trump. Yet we know that he took no salary and did not release his tax returns.

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So as it is now 24 shopping days before Christmas, it’s time to go shopping. No iPhone 11 for me or the kids, the iPhone 6 works just fine. No trip to someplace warm for the holidays. It’s currently 22 and with snow on the ground. No Black Friday. No Cyber Monday for me. Just gather up my kids lists and then off we go. Soon we will have another Star Wars movie in the theaters. Then it will be tax time and another election.

It has been over a month

It has been about six weeks since my last post. I started writing several posts but never finished them. They are drafted and sit. Unfinished, they will probably get wrapped up in future writings. The last one that I drafted was about taking the kids out for trick or treat on Halloween night. Daughter went dressed as a squirrel, son as Michael Meyers. We did the usual route which is around their mothers neighborhood. They took their usual haul of candy. If previous years our any gauge, eating candy will grow old after a few days and it will sit, get hard and then be thrown away. I get all of the Almond Joy’s because it’s my favorite. This year, as in years past, two houses had treats for the adults. Scotch at one place and rye whiskey at the other. That was the most alcohol that I consumed in weeks.

Weather is getting chilly here in New Mexico. This year I finally bought a new winter coat after a few years. My previous coat was a ski jacket that I bought about 25 years ago. This was for the very cold days, when it gets in the teens or lower. I had a couple other coats for most of my winter years. The ski jacket wore quite well, but the zipper would break after a few years. Send it back to the company (Columbia) and they would fix it. After about four returns, they didn’t fix it. They just sent me a new coat. Cool. Then the zipper breakage would continue. I would send it back and they would fix it. I point out the zipper because I have quite a collection of fairly new coats that the only problem is a broken zipper. Two coats from Patagonia, a North Face jacket, and a few others.

I considered it a conspiracy: one of planned obsolescence. The zippers would break and I would be forced to get a new coat. Need to find a place to get the zippers fixed, or learn myself. As it is, some of the coats probably no longer fit. It’s always the zipper. Never a tear, or hole, or ripped seam. It’s always the zipper.

Now I have observed that my pants have a planned obsolescence in another way. All my Lee jeans would rip in the same place…the crotch would rip at the seam. For Wrangler jeans, I first loose a belt loop. It is typically the one on the back left above the pocket. I guess from trying to pull my pants up. In all cases, all of my jeans would shrink and be too tight to fit.

Work has been hectic of late. Nothing positive to note there. Just going through the motions. Another day in paradise. Management is a joke. Thinking of late about retirement. Some of my coworkers have cut the cord, others are like me. Thinking about it. Some have dates in mind. I do not. Still trying to define a post retirement plan. Clearly still in a funk.

Well I will try to get back on track and post more often. Enough rambling for the night. Thanks to all of the folks who serve.

Inflation

We hear monthly in the statistics associated with the jobs report that inflation is low, that the FED has a target of 2% that they evaluate in the mission to keep the economy moving forward. The FED states that it’s mission is to promote the effective operation of the US economy, generally by conducting monetary policy to promote maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates in the US economy.

I am not an economist. But as a consumer, I see inflation all around me. It is not just in the increases we see in the costs of the products we purchase. We see it in reduced services that we pay for. A few years ago, Consumer Reports wrote about price inflation was hiding around shrinking packaging:

https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/05/can-shrinking-packages-trick-inflation/index.htm

The Consumer Reports article talked about reducing the size, quantity, and packaging of a product without an increase in price. I have witnessed this firsthand over the past few years. The package of Oreo’s that I buy my kids. The package is the same, the weight appears to be the same, but when I open it up, it is a few cookies short. The Pop Tarts appear thinner than they were several years ago. Measure the size of a Ritz cracker? The diameter is less than it was a few years ago. A family box of cereal. The size of my Captain Crunch cereal is less than it was several years ago. Same size box and weight. More of it fits on my spoon. Same taste. The list goes on and on.

I can often tell when something is going to change in that I will pay more for less. The company puts the products for sale in the stores. Then they create a new package for the product, or they introduce a new flavor (pumpkin pie Pop Tarts), then put the new packages on the shelf. You are paying the same price, but now you have less. It is later that the reduce the quantity even more in the new process. It becomes a new cycle. Sometimes there are subsequent price increases as inflation picks up in other areas.

My recent experience with some Ritz crackers got me thinking about this issue of packaging. I had two different sources of the crackers, and there it was, two different sizes. Both were Ritz, both were made from the same company. The taste was the same, but the size was different. The impetus for my post was my recent visit to my banks ATM. I typically withdraw money every week for purchases. Up until last week, my $80 withdraw was 4 twenty dollar bills. Now, unless otherwise programmed beforehand, is a $50, a $20, and a $10. It may be that my bank is trying to offer more. It may be that by makinging withdrawals in $50’s instead of $20’s, they are trying to be more convenient. It think it is inflation. When people buy things, they think less about total costs if they get more change back. Stores typically frown when you pay with a $20. My sausage burrito from Chili Works is typically $7.95. If everybody pays with a $20, change can be difficult. Paying with a $50 is impossible. Filling up the car with regular was usually 1 to 2 twenty dollar bills. Now it is $50. I guess costs are just continuing to go up, often at a rate faster than my salary.

Some inflation is understandable if it is tied to the basic laws of supply and demand. Some it is out of control. Medical costs and the costs of higher education are two that have received much press of late. Not clear why these are increasing. My theory is that since Government is involved, there is an unlimited supply of money and so there is no need to control costs. Costs go up, they never go down. All I can say is buyer beware.

Yes, it has been a few weeks

…and that frustration funk within me continues. I have been to work. I have been on travel for work. I have gotten out. I have stayed hidden. I find today that I am no different than yesterday, last week, or last month. Thought that I might have had an epiphany while I was on travel. Trying to sort through it now. Something is weighing on me but I cannot define it, I cannot break away from it, advance it, articulate it. WHAT IS IT? Not optimistic but will meander through it, much like now as I meander through life. Cannot give up. Too much to do. Too many roads left to travel.

Life is good. The kids have been in school for over a month. Son continues to plow through. Got new glasses. Broke new glasses. Taking ukulele AND trumpet lessons. Now if I can get him to just practice! Encouragement doesn’t stick. He excels in math and does ok with the other things, but he doesn’t like to talk about it. Daughter continues to just do enough to get buy. Homework has her slammed. That’s ok but it is a single subject, what we old folks would have said was English back in the day. Rounds it out with algebra, physics, world history and Latin. Yes, you read that right. She is also taking photography, learning to develop on film. As a former chemist, this is so cool.

Work continues to get me up, get me angry, pays the bills. No longer a career. Just another necessity in getting through the day. Management sucks. The contract transition brought in a new group. Never see them around. They are focused on what will make them the most money and not on what the government pays us to do. There is politics, there is greed, there is sex and drugs and it’s human toll, stress, infidelity. A regular Payton Place if I dare to dig into the past. I have long said that if the American population was smarter, that I could write a half hour sitcom that would be watched weekly by millions. Think of the Big Bang Theory meets Get Smart in the daily soap opera. Am I being too negative?

For 21 years I have worked on the same project in different capacities. Stagnation, yes. Belief in mission, yes. Challenging, every day. Good at it, I’d like to think so. The different capacities evolved from managing people to managing money to managing technology. Now it should be just turning the crank yet nothing is ever easy or simple. It was the belief in mission that kept me around the longest. Focused on a belief that I was actually doing something to better mankind. Now that mission set is gone. Replaced with a different mission set. It is cheaper, therefore it must be better. I think not. It has changed from something great to something stupid. In the end, we don’t really advance, we just continue to kick the can down the road. Sadly, as humans we never learn simple realities. They are like fables. This one is equally simple. We will spend billions, but dilution is not the solution to pollution. Sadly, we will learn that lesson somewhere in the future, again!

As humans, we constantly strive to be better. Sadly, we loose too many along they way. Our common human frailties pull us back, knock us down, keep us from being better. One step forward, two steps back. We become greedy, savage, we look at everything in a microscope created by our education, our upbringing, our environment. I see myself, as I am writing this, out of control, rambling words slung together, not knowing where I am heading, or what I am doing. It’s back to that frustration and funk that I cannot solve, that I cannot figure out. Too many cliches?

And now for something totally different. Today is Ullrfest at Pajarito Mountain. Pajarito is northwest of Los Alamos and is the local skiing establishment. Ullrfest is an annual festival where People come to party, to pray to the Norse God of snow for a good ski season in 2019-20 and have some fun! Ullrfest features live music, lift-served mountain biking and hiking, food from Pajarito Mountain Cafe, and a New Mexico Brewfest. I don’t ski but the hiking is good and looks like the weather will cooperate in that it will be nice.

Frustration and a funk…continued

It has been almost two weeks since my last post. I am still in a funk. I am still frustrated. Whether it is at work, at home, or talking to the kids, this blasé feeling continues.

I find myself thinking a lot about it. Why am I frustrated? What is causing my funk? It could be caused by a great many things in my life. I look around at the insanity that there is in the country, in the world. I look inward and wonder about my own sanity. What is it?

Sometimes writing helps, but the fog bank that covers my mind is fairly significant. Writing reports at work is long stretches of sitting at the computer staring at the monitor. I try talking to my kids, to my coworkers, my friends. I cannot put my finger on the problem. What is the problem? Should I be concerned?

I remember one morning about seven years ago feeling like this for quite sometime. Going through some heavy things, divorce and all of that. I was pissed. I was getting screwed. I was confused. What did I do wrong? Long sleepless nights. Well that one day, I think I got up and thought I would go to work early…too early. Could not sleep. Drove to my office and thought this was all bullshit! Turned the car around and went for a drive. Drove from Los Alamos to Telluride. That is over 300 miles on some fairly scenic roads. Driving the back roads of Colorado, snow on the peaks, green forests. Managed to get to the New Sheridan Hotel in time for lunch. It was a beautiful day.

Walked in to the bar and ordered a beer. That was it. Had a cold beer.

Finished the beer and walked out of the hotel. It wasn’t even a fancy beer. But it was cold and quenched my thirst. I was relaxed. The first time in a long time. It was a beautiful day. Took a deep breath, got back in the car and drove home. Forgot about everything that was bothering me. They say that driving can do that. Not sure if it was the serenity of the countryside, the carefree attitude of just blowing off work, the stress in my life, the fresh air. I love Telluride and wish that I could live there all year round.

Anyway, I returned to my reality and realized that I blew off work, blew off picking up the kids, blew off the world around me. All of those stressors suddenly came back. People were out looking for me. My phone had literally hundreds of text messages. I had turned the damn thing off before the trip. The police were out looking for me. I didn’t call into work so there was the whole fitness for duty matter. I was relaxed and at peace. I did nothing wrong, was in complete control of my faculties. I felt great. I actually chuckled at the whole thing. The first really humorous thing that made me laugh in a long while.

Yes people were concerned. But I felt great.

Maybe it is time to take another road trip.

Atomic Protest

I have been cogitating on this article now for about two weeks. Of late I have been distracted, trying to work through some other issues that have consumed lots of time and have kept me from even writing and thinking about what to write. Maybe I have been having my own little atomic protest inside my head…

Early August brings to Los Alamos a number of protestors who spend several days protesting the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the modern day efforts associated with Los Alamos and our nations nuclear stockpile.

This year marks the 74th anniversary of those events of August 6th and August 9th. To the best of my knowledge, there we no protests, no silent prayers or people with signs at Ashley Pond. The was no Hollywood type marching across the bridge from the town to the lab to get arrested. To the best of my knowledge, there was no one. And since I live a couple of blocks from downtown Los Alamos, I would have noticed. There was not even a candle lit. There was no master management memo telling employees how to handle the protesters. There was nothing.

Los Alamos and Ashley Pond in December 1946.
https://www.energy.gov/em-la/mission/history-environmental-management-los-alamos-national-laboratory

Nothing remains of the picture above, except for Fuller Lodge and Bathtub Row and the pond (upper right hand corner of the photo). The Laboratory buildings of the Manhattan Project were torn down when the lab moved across the canyon to where it sits today and the townsite expanded as the Cold War evolved. Today Ashley Pond is a peaceful park in the center of town, often the center of concerts, people exercising, people walking with their kids and or dogs, picnics, and a quiet place to get outside.

Ashley Pond today, from Central Avenue.

Anyway, the groups usually protest with signs and hold candlelight services around the Pond itself. The groups, depending upon the year, number from a couple to a few tens of people. In 1999, there were over 400 protestors.

This year there were none.

Last year there were about 85 people, according to the local press. Some were here to protest the 73rd anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Others were here to protest President Trump, who was dealing with North Korea at the time. A third group was here protesting the Laboratory and its ongoing work it nuclear weapons and pit manufacturing.

Probably the best article that I have read about the protestors can be found is entitled “Breaking Through the Normalcy of Los Alamos on Hiroshima Day” by Rev John Dear. To summarize his article, “the normalcy of Los Alamos is so inhumanly, grotesquely, demonically abnormal as to seem perfectly reasonable.” The article can be found at

https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/08/06/breaking-through-normalcy-los-alamos-hiroshima-day#

I found it an interesting read.

Nothing was written and there was silence this year. Aside from an article about a group protesting in April at the Trinity Site in southern New Mexico, all I could find was an August 22 article in the LA Times. The article, which can be found at

https://www.latimes.com/travel/story/2019-08-22/new-mexico-los-alamos-weekend-trip-atomic-van

was a weekend travel review about…visiting Los Alamos and was a promo for local tourism.

There is much more that I could add to this article. There are many subjects for future posts. As my writing and posting picks up….