My New Year's Eve was fun, but there wasn't much to it. I went to Geoff and Katie's, across the street to start off. They were having a pre-party for the event they were planning to attend over at Vinino. I got to talk with some people I hadn't seen in a couple of months, and I got to try two of the three Boulevard Smokestack beers that I hadn't tried yet. I am still undecided about them. I think my palate is moving away from Belgian beers, due to their often overwhelming sweetness.
After that I got in the car and drove down to Chris' place just south of Midtown, where he was entertaining some pseudo-out-of-town guests with whom he went to college in Columbia. He told me that me driving would be appreciated, since everyone would need a ride down to the Crossroads, where they were planning on celebrating their New Year. We had some unrecognizable conversations, and the time came to get going. I announced that I had room for three, maybe four people in my car, and was then told, "oh, we're all driving our own cars." Well, not that extreme, but enough that not a single person rode with me, meaning I drove on New Year's Eve for basically nothing.
I went over to West 39th, parked the car, and met Craig and Amber at Gilhouly's, where we sat and watched the ball drop in some-odd place, enjoying cheap, terrible champagne, and each other's company. Thinking back, I don't think there's any place I would rather have been. There's no better way to describe it. It was great. We were chased out the door at 1:30am, and so we went over to the Newsroom for a nightcap. Amber's affinity for rum and coke caught up with her there, and we left pretty quickly.
Erp dropped me off at my house, and I slept soundly through the night, waking up the next day with no hangover at all.
I'm not working during the day this week, because we have year-end monitoring to attend to. Basically, a bunch of mainframes that we don't support run through some kind of billing cycle for whatever runs on them, and if something goes wrong, the old people that support them will fix it. Nevertheless, we are required to serve our terms in the war room at work, as a gesture on the part of management to our customers, so they can pledge to the customer the unbelievable degree of service we provide. This translates to a lot of sitting around and watching movies. Some people even sleep. I'll be consuming dangerous amounts of caffeine, watching episodes from the first season of Battlestar Galactica, and getting in some programming for the future of this website.
I'll rap at you later.
Everybody has been slow to reconverge after the holidays. It's been pretty boring lately. To cope, I've taken up Lord of the Rings Online, and for real this time. Nick and I have been playing and patiently crossing paths as I work my way up through the levels. But what really astounds me about the game is the level of detail that has been poured into Tolkien's Middle-Earth. On more than a few occasions I have dropped my jaw at some incredible in-game sight, as my character climbs some hill to take in a dizzying vista of Weathertop, or Fornost, or the Old Forest, or Thorin's Halls, or any of the countless painstakingly created places included in the game.
I'm on call again starting Thursday, so you can count on me being a bit surlier than usual, what with the lack of sleep and all. This coming weekend is the first major maintenance window following the year-end work freeze, so lots of things will get broken, and I will get paged a lot. A lot. Sunday especially will be particularly unpleasant.
I have a couple of days of freedom left, and no real plans on how to spend them.
If you know me, you know that I'm a big fan of beer. I travel for beer. I organize events around beer. Beer is the tie that binds. Almost every culture in history has held an affection for beer, many having discovered its unlikely composition completely independently of one another. The world loves beer. And why not? It's delicious, its low alcohol content allows for casual drinking, and it adequately embodies the spirit of leisure in our society.
So, I want to thank all the people that saw fit over the last year or so to alert me of the growing hops shortage. In case you're unaware, hops are one of the four principal ingredients of beer. In my opinion, they are the ingredient that when used generously, imparts the greatest amount of appealing flavor and bitterness to beer. It's all over the news, so I don't feel the need to link any of the dozens of stories I've seen. Here's a news search, if you must.
I'm not greatly interested in reporting the undeniable fact that Washington and Oregon hops are in short supply. I'd rather suggest reasons and possible solutions for this problem that I haven't seen anyone else assemble all in one place before. If you don't feel like reading, I'll summarize the reason in one word: government. Actually, it starts with ethanol.
Ethanol is a form of alcohol that combusts safely and easily, and when combusted, produces a level of energy sufficient to power the internal combustion engine of an automobile, bus, train, plane, boat, or almost any other kind of independent vehicle, especially when combined with conventional gasoline. With increased reliance on these forms of transportation for basically all facets of our lives, the need for readily-available combustible fuel is more important all the time, especially with the distinct possibility that the oil in the ground that we currently use might not hold out for the eternity that we were hoping for.
Indeed ethanol fuel is a spectacular discovery, as it can convert sugar cane into viable fuel at an eight-to-one efficiency ratio for its creation. Unfortunately for us, the majority of the United States is too cold a place for the growing of sugar cane, so some scientists forced a square peg into a round hole with corn, or cellulosic, ethanol which currently sports a 1.5-to-one efficiency ratio. The nature of this terrible inefficiency is shunted aside when the fact is presented that most of the United States is basically prime corn-growing land.
Congress recently voted to extend to January 1st, 2013, subsidies for corn growers that promise to divert some, most, or all of their product from the conventional use of corn(feeding meat-rich livestock), to producing cellulosic-derived ethanol.
You see, the federal Government passed a mandate in 2005 that stated that our national fuel supply should be augmented with eight billion gallons of ethanol, or roughly five percent of our current annual consumption, by 2012. This spells a massive need for ethanol fuels, as we are currently nowhere near this goal with domestic ethanol production. That's where these Congressional growing subsidies come in.
Since domestic cellulosic ethanol production is not and never will be enough to meet the 2005 mandate, we are forced to import ethanol from other countries, like Brazil, where fuel concerns are a thing of the past with their humungously gigantic supply of sugar cane, derived from a tiny portion of their agricultural capacity. Unfortunately, there is a strictly-enforced tariff of fifty four cents a gallon, on foreign ethanol, forcing Americans forever to pay more for efficiently-produced and spectacularly abundant foreign ethanol.
What this all boils down to is an unworkable situation which cripples our economy, stagnates international trade, and increases pressure to secure the remaining oil in the ground, setting the stage for global conflict and rampant anti-americanism, all so the distinguished gentleman from Iowa can get reelected for "saving ethanol."
So what does any of this have to do with hops? Hops are the flowers of a vine that grows prolifically in mild, humid climates. Unfortunately, hop farmers are subject to economics and the effects thereof. For a farmer to make any money in America, these days, it would seem that all that one can do is adhere to policies that entitle them to uneconomic government subsidies. So, all over what has historically been America's hop-growing region(Oregon's Willamette Valley, and Washington's Yakima Valley), hop growers aren't seeing the value in growing hops anymore, and are switching their land to grow corn so they can sell a profitable product and rake in the subsidies.
Here is a brief synopsis of our problems and my simple solutions:
The madness of current policy will become more obvious as more time passes. Hops are only the beginning. My solutions are clear. If we continue down the current road, we're in for very hard times.
WARNING: The following post contains technical jargon and light profanity.
I'm on call again. I got home with a hot pager at the normal time last night, and set about making a Parellels virtual machine on my home PC to facilitate my oncall duties. We use the Cisco VPN client to connect to our work network, and it's a complete pain in my ass. Besides the fact that my employer refuses to acknowledge the existence of Linux, or the readily available native Linux implementation of the VPN client, it changes all kinds of network settings on a computer on which it is installed. In the case of virtual machines that I've tried to set up in the past, this has translated to rendering networking completely inoperable.
Even so, I tried creating a new virtual machine last night, because when I'm connected to the company VPN, all my internet activity, including my attempts to feed the monkey, get routed through my employer's network. But for some reason, I had no trouble at all setting it up last night. So now, I can just alt-tab over to a window that has a virtual machine connected to the office, just as easily as alt-tabbing back to my dwarf running past Weathertop.
Fortunately, the night passed without incident, and strangely, I felt compelled to go to sleep much earlier than usual. I was asleep with a book on my face by 10:30pm. I slept blissfully through the night before I finally got paged at about 6:15am. I noticed after checking things for a bit that I was pretty wide awake, and had been sleeping for almost eight hours anyway. So I got up, showered, picked up some cash, and got two of the only thing for which I will willingly, indeed happily, go to McDonald's: bacon egg and cheese biscuits.
At 7:15am, my car was the only one in the parking lot, and I was the first person in the office by at least an hour. Good times.
In the past couple of years, a couple of factors have led to me having significant amounts due for my income taxes after filing my return every year. Chief among these factors is the fact that I had my W4 worked out to withhold as little of my check as possible, to allow me to receive the largest paychecks possible. This was a flawed approach, since when tax time came around, the four-digit number of dollars that I was on the hook to pay would take me several months to pay in full, completely blowing any kind of benefit of "me having the money to get interest," because of late fees and punitive interest.
So, early in 2007, I adjusted my W4 in a reactionary fashion. My paychecks went down by about fifty or sixty dollars a check, and life went on. Then, in March, I bought a home. I have since paid the mortgage, along with the hellaciously weighted interest that goes with the first ten years or so of a home loan. I didn't find out until after I'd been paying this interest for several months that: 1) anything extra I pay gets thrown at the principal balance, and ignores interest, and that 2) all the interest I pay is tax deductible.
So, I started throwing another $100 a month at my mortgage, a number I will increase when I start making a little more money, or when I pay off my car, which should happen this year. In addition, I started to pay attention to the interest I'd paid, knowing now that I could deduct it, and my eyes widened. By the end of 2007, I had paid roughly nine thousand dollars in interest.
So, not having received all my important tax documents yet(three forms for interest income on savings accounts, one W2, and one form for the deductible interest on my mortgage), I plugged in what I had and what I knew on H&R Block's Taxcut website. I found that from the information that I had so far entered, for the first time since the 90s, I'm entitled to a refund, on both my federal and state returns, in an amount roughly equivalent to three full paychecks.
So! In a couple weeks, I'll have a pile of money, ensuring that my ski trip and my Southeast Brewtrip will be well-funded, and will not dip into credit at all. I'm wondering now, however, if I should scale back the W4 changes I made last year, about a month into the year. You see, my income is only increasing by about $2500 in 2008, and with a full year of mortgage payments, I'll be paying about $12,000 in interest, instead of the $9500 or so I paid in 2007.
All this shapes up to an even bigger refund in one year, which I'm hesitant to eliminate. The uses for a large sum of money at one time are myriad, and toward the beginning of the year, it's always a good idea to set one's affairs in order, as well as one can. But I do have a question.
I've paid all my taxes and done everything right, but I thought I heard or read somewhere that even though I've paid all my taxes, that a substantial refund can be taxed itself as income for the following year. Can anyone confirm this, and account for its blatantly corrupt nature, should it be true?
I got my hair cut over lunch today. Scott, my barber, seems to labor under the idea that I still somehow think I might not be losing my hair. Indeed, the bulk of the hair loss is actually behind me. I might not have a shiny slick scalp onto which people can stick playing cards to have the sweat hold them in place, but it's thin enough that one can only see that there actually is (blond)hair there if they are right on top of my head, touching it with their hand. I am bald. I have accepted this undeniable fact, and that's okay. I like the way I look.
But Scott was doing his thing this morning, and he was trying to very gingerly treat the fine, soft hair remnants on my scalp, so as not to agitate them all into jumping off my head at once. Finally, I think he was tired of skirting the issue, he said, "Do you want me to cut these long fine ones on your scalp?" I responded.
"Yes. Please just make them the same length as the rest. I know what I am."
Today, for the first time ever, I took out my headphones, and the right and left phones were in my right and left hands.
Hello again! I just thought I'd give you a heads-up that Splutschnik, once again, was an unmitigated success. Sixteen people arrived almost on time at the Quaff to test their mettle on Saturday, and I arbitrarily sorted everyone into teams that I think worked out well. My team consisted of Craig, Amber, Nick, myself, and later Anna. In four hours, we visited more bars than I have ever visited in an entire weekend. The list breaks down like so:
Seventeen bars, in about five hours. Ridiculous. I love that that ridiculous number is still just barely scratching the surface of the ninety or so bars in walking distance that could have been used. The pictures are ready, but if you're not into clicking links, here are a few selections.
It's always an alarming thing to watch your internet connection degrade. For the last month or so, we've had periodic outages and times of spotty service. Fortunately, it's never happened while I've been on call. I know a lot of people have a lot of "needs," regarding services for their home, but I only have two: climate control and internet. And climate control really just applies to air conditioning. I can suffer through cold without a great deal of misery. Heat kills me.
But Whitey can turn off my phone, my cable TV, and my insurance, but he's losing his kids if he turns off my internet connection.
Anyway, our cable internet service has been spotty for a while, and finally, at about 8pm on Sunday, it just died. We plodded through our futile ceremony - unplugging the cable modem and plugging it back in, resetting the router, and dancing around for happy internet bestowal - all to no avail. It was singularly frustrating.
Finally, we agreed that I'd take the cable modem to work with me the next day as the cable store is only one casino-sized property length away on the same street. Just to be sure, I called Time Warner about it from work. I sat on hold for twenty minutes before a local operator picked up and informed me that if the replacement doesn't work, that the soonest a technician could be dispatched to our house would be Friday night. I accepted the Friday night appointment, and hoped to God that the new cable modem would work. The old unit was over four years old, after all, and had been heavily used, if that matters. I reasoned to myself with facts like these, to reassure myself that the new unit would work.
I got home, and before doing anything, I hooked up the new cable modem, and after we sat for a few minutes in cross-fingered silent tenterhooks, the lights lined up properly. Jeff's computer chose this exact moment to break, so we had to test the connection from my computer. It worked! And as of this entry, it still works!
Otherwise, not much has happened.