Thursday, December 07, 2017

Again, we remember

Once again, we remember our honored dead from the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Modern retirement

I've been thinking about how to write about this subject for some while now and do it in such a way that it doesn't come off as sanctimonious, preachy or whiny. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to strike the right balance, but I'm going to have a try at it.

We've all heard how the "Great Recession" and subsequent recovery have been different from most that came before. Many of those who have lost jobs are still unemployed, are under-employed or have simply given up on the concept of "employment" as most of us are familiar with it. The U6 unemployment number, which includes all these types of unemployment, is a pretty ugly number compared to the usual U3 number quoted in the press. As of October 2017 the U6 is 7.9%. That a lot of people out of work, and it explains why the recovery really doesn't feel so great for so many people.

I believe I've noted somewhere along the line that I lost my job a bit over a year ago. If I haven't, well, I did. I've also said things here and there about what I do, or more accurately, did, in the real world. Just to move this forward quickly, I worked in information technology, and I had the very good fortune to have worked my way up to the top of the food chain, being a Director of Information Technology. Bear in mind that in my case, I was a big fish in a smallish pond.

A career in IT tends to spoil you, because IT people make some pretty stupid amounts of money. Even though I worked at a non-profit, which is at the low end of the IT pay range, I did better than most people. I was spoiled and I recognized that fact. Adding my earnings to Mrs. Freeholder's and a couple of unfortunate but (at least to me) substantial inheritances, and my family has lived a very middle class life style for 30 years.

Believe me, all those gun show posts I've went to cost money, and it didn't grow on a tree in the back yard. The kids' educations and all the other stuff that a middle class life style calls for were also substantial outlays. The house, the cars, all that stuff takes money, and a lot of it. But I haven't forgotten that my parents both grew up in the Great Depression, and I remember the stories told on porches on warm West Virginia summer nights when we "went home" for a visit.

Those stories--my Dad losing the $20 he had in a local bank when it failed, my Mom's family almost starving on several occasions, gardening and hunting for food and not for fun--have stuck with me. My granny washed and saved plastic bread bags, aluminum pie pans and the like because they might "come in handy one day." My grandma gardened and raised chickens nearly as long as she lived. She never owned a car and walked everywhere she went unless someone gave her a ride. She would never borrow money, a trait shared by all my grandparents. Living through a depression leaves some pretty substantial scars.

I grew up with far more material goods than my parents did. We weren't poor by any stretch of the word--we never lacked for food or a home, the bills were always paid on time, and we had everything we needed and more than a few things we wanted. But we were far from middle class, even though my mother in particular aspired to be seen as belonging there. But by some government bureaucrat's definition, we were poor, and so we were. We never noticed it that much.

As my children were growing up in the midst of true plenty, I tried to impart on them the things I had learned as a kid. I can't say how much effect that's had on them, since they've never really known anything but a middle class life style. They've had friends who didn't have that life, and they seem to have dealt with them just fine, not indulging themselves in any of the "We have more money than you do so we're better" business. Good thing, because I would have hated to gather all their crap up and hauled it to the Salvation Army. I went to high school with what I thought of as "snotty rich kids", which I now know were nothing more than middle class kids with poor raising, and I was determined that my kids were not going to act like that.

One thing I remember saying as a postscript to a lot of stories about their great grandparents, grandparents or my own childhood has been "I grew up 'poor' and I have no doubt I will be 'poor' again some day." Boy has that one come home to roost after a fashion.

My far ahead of scheduled retirement has been a wake up call. We aren't poor, and Lord willing, we never will be. We are still on a sound financial footing, but we can't live as we did 18 months ago. You can look back over the last year's posts and you'll note that the "I went to a gun show and I bought this" posts have disappeared. That's because I haven't been going to gun shows much, and I haven't been buying hardly at all. As a matter of fact, I'm starting to look at my accumulation with an eye to thinning the herd a bit. I didn't build a collection, really, I'm a lot like my uncle who infected my with gunny-itis--I accumulated guns. It's time to turn some of that accumulation back into cash. Fortunately, he also taught me to buy good guns cheap. I'll hopefully make a profit on everything I sell.

That money will be funds my other hobbies, such as ham radio. My on again, off again antenna project is funded by that money. It would hardly be right to take money from the household income, to which I now only contribute a retirement check, to buy this stuff. And not as much stuff is being bought. I'm hanging onto that money a lot tighter than I used to. It's a lot harder to generate.

We're fortunate that we had been making preparations for something like this for some time. I was concerned about my employer's financial stability for a couple of years preceding my exit, and that lead to our taking certain steps to be prepared for a quick descent into unemployment.  Only a single major bill isn't paid off, and it's the smallest one we had. We can handle it. Other than the monthly expenses to run the house, we only have to pay groceries, auto expenses, taxes and insurance bills to keep even. That's been a huge blessing.

We had some expenses that we have slowly been trimming or eliminating. When we both worked, cleaning house was something we didn't have time for, so it was hired out. Luckily I remember how to handle that. We scratch cook more than we used to, since I'm around to babysit the crockpot, run the grill or tend the oven. I do a bit of the automotive maintenance now, a big change from previous years. I'm also back to doing more of the remaining reno work on our house. None of these things are big deals, and they're all things that we used to do when we didn't have so much money. We're just going back to the way things were. Just older and slower at getting it done. :-)

We have examined our household expenses with an eye to economy. Cable TV is gone, replaced by the Netflix subscription we were already paying for, a Sling TV subscription and an antenna for the local stuff. We've invested in LED light bulbs and seen a measurable decrease in the electric bill, enough so that we paid for the bulbs in a few months. We plan trips better so that we drive less. In keeping with scratch cooking, we buy fewer processed foods, which is another savings. Things like magazine subscriptions, DVDs/Blu-Rays/CDs and the like also get a sharp eye before the money is spent. Oddly enough, we really don't miss any of the ones we're not buying any longer.

I've also done a couple of small consulting gigs, something I haven't had time for in recent years. Those have brought in some extra coin, which has been handy. I'm hoping to do more. I'd love to go back to work, but the odds of that are declining by the day. IT can be a harsh employment environment, and my age and physical location are working against me. Relocation is out for reasons, and I can't get any younger (the picture in the attic isn't cooperating). I keep looking, but I'm realistic about my chances, which are declining by the month.

I can spend more time on our investments (such as they are), just with the proviso that they are a lot smaller than they would have been, so there is much less room for error. I'm doing OK, but that constant knowing that a big mistake could kill us financially really forces you to not take some risks that you would have normally taken. But that safety comes at a cost, and you don't make the kind of returns you really would like to make.

We find ourselves not doing things we're used to doing and that we'd like to do. The RV doesn't go out as often now. Movies and concerts are less common. Eating out is a treat, not how we get our food half the time. We spend more time shopping for good buys and bargains. We are more careful about what we buy--"O-o-oh shiny!" has pretty much went the way of the dodo around here. Besides, we're going to be downsizing in a few years. We need less junk in our lives, not more.

We've also changed the amount of money we give the charity. That's went up. We discussed it, and our feeling was that the need was still out there and that we are still blessed in comparison to many. As long as we have it to give, we'll give. We probably should have given more when we had more, but somehow we just never really sat down and discussed the subject.

Speaking of discussions, Mrs. Freeholder and I actually discuss money now. To be honest, money has never been a big interest for her, since she came from a family that had a surplus of it. With my background, I suppose I'm guilty of being a bit obsessive about it. For years, the family finances have been my "thing". Now that she's the breadwinner, she's taking much more interest in things. She is also discovering how much fun it is to be the breadwinner, and why men have traditionally died early. She's learning some difficult lessons in a hurry. It's a statement of the new depth of her financial understanding that she said a couple of weeks ago "No wonder you're always so grumpy about money."

All this isn't to say that the last year has been a annus horribilis, because it hasn't. My health has improved in many ways, and I have no doubt that some of that is due to the overall reduction in stress, increase in exercise and improvement in eating habits. We have been able to take a couple of wonderful if relatively inexpensive (by our former standards) vacations. Our children are on the verge of flying the nest, which is both wonderful and terrifying at once. We're working out a new retirement plan.

I guess you could say that it's been a lesson in what Jack Spirco of the Survival Podcast calls Modern Survivalism. It's building your life so that you're resilient when something you haven't planned for hits you. Being able to take that big hit and bounce back.

I've planned for this point in my life since my 20s. I've not been obsessive about it, but I have thought about it considerably, and started putting away money toward it in my 30s, once I had a decent job and surplus money. Even at that, it's only been the last 10 years that have allowed us to build a life that was resilient enough to take a hit like this and keep on truckin'.

I hope there is something you can take from this and put into practice in your own situation. Too many people aren't this resilient in their lives, and that's not good. Don't be one of them.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Well, I've heard you're supposed to keep busy in retirement

Retiree, 70, made ricin, tested it on neighbors, feds say.

Edit, 12/2/2017: FoxNew apparently doesn't care for links from Blogger. (Yet another reason to ditch this platform.) For the time being, here is a copy and paste link:

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Power to the people

Not in the dated 70s fashion, however.

.357 Magnum brings up an important issue if you have decided to add solar to your mix of power choices--your choice of storage batteries. She suggests Iron Edison. I've seen the same suggestion in other places.

I suspect if you wanted to substitute them into a Steven Harris battery bank, they'd be a great upgrade.

American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and my future relationship to it

After a number of bad experiences where the politics of an organization have interfered with my enjoyment of what the organization purported to provide (the NRA, my local range, my son's baseball league, etc.) I decided a long time ago to stay the hell away from their internal politics and just let them do what ever stupid things they were going to do. When the stupid starts to effect me, I can just walk away. Saves time and saves wear and tear on my psyche.

Sometimes, though, some of the stupid just manages to intrude into my attention, and then I'm simply compelled to track it down. It's a character flaw.

I got my regular email update from the ICQ Podcast today, and one of the headlines was "Southwestern Division Director Censured by ARRL". Well that sounded pretty drastic, so I wanted to see what it was all about. Reading, it appears that the ARRL has passed a new Code of Conduct for its board members. It seems that Richard Norton, N6AA, Southwestern Division Director, has managed to run afoul of the new code before the paper was cooled from the printer.

OK, so let's look at the minutes of the referenced meeting available on the ARRL's web site. They aren't very helpful as you can see. No details at all about the event that brought on the censure. I don't know about anyone else, but that doesn't make me really comfortable. It smacks of the sound of a rubber stamp hitting an already made decision.

So I Did a web search on "N6AA". Mr. Norton is quite a busy amateur, with a lot of achievements in amateur radio. The guy may be an "amateur", but he's not new to being a ham or being involved in the upper levels of the League. So I had to filter down, and I was able to find a couple of things of interest in the current situation.

The first is from Bruce Parens and outlines what he believes are the portions of the Code of Conduct he believes N6AA violated. He also believes the new code allows the ARRL Board of Directors to draw a curtain around their work, blinding members as to how decisions are reached on various matters of League policy.

The second is from a group calling itself "Hams For a Better ARRL"  where there is currently a single article, "Code of Conduct or Gag Order?" This site purports to have 2 messages sent to the ARRL Board of Directors on behalf of N6AA stating that he did not violate the Code of Conduct and providing evidence to support those statements.

I've read the actual Code of Conduct, and I find it problematic. If I were a current ARRL Board of Director I would have little choice but to resign, as there is no way I could support it in its entirety. While a great deal of it is perfectly reasonable, large swaths of it seem to exist solely to obscure the Board's decision making process from the members. I feel that if the membership cannot see and understand the internal policy debates, then it is impossible for them to make informed decisions on who to support during elections for the Board positions. More importantly, it's impossible for them to know if the League is acting in their best interests as radio amateurs.

I've also read the statements on Hams For a Better ARRL, and if true, there seems to have been a miscarriage of justice in the censure of N6AA.

Obviously, this entire situation is evolving, having been in the public eye less than a week as of this writing. As an ARRL member, I'm concerned. This smells a lot like things I've seen in other organizations, and those things never lead to anything Good.

My membership isn't due to renew anytime soon, but if anyone from the League is reading this, they may rest assured that its renewal will depend on how this is resolved and how the League addresses the issue of this new Code of Conduct and how it should be changed to return transparency to the Board's decision making process. Tada, you just created something akin to a single issue voter. Congratulations.

The League needs to remember that it is made up of radio amateurs. Radio Amateurs are not created by the League. It exists to serve amateurs and not to rule over them. Amateurs can, have and will continue to leave the League if it continues to act against what we perceive as our interests. Wake up, ARRL.

Monday, November 13, 2017

We need more laws to restrict guns!

(Found on Gun Site's Facebook page)

At least that is the hue and cry after any "large enough" crime in which guns play a part. So Dave Kopel and Joesph Greenlee decided to write an opinion piece for The Hill where they took at lot/many/most/all of the laws gun grabbers say we need and listed them for our edification.

The punchline of this is, as any astute gunnie already knows, that all of their demands are already laws, and have been for decades. Kopel and Greenlee play nice and don't call the lying so-and-sos out, but I have no problem doing it. The people who call for these "laws that are already laws" are doing nothing more than pandering to their base in an effort to keep the blood money flowing in after every spree killer plies his bloody trade. They do it because it's their business and it's how they earn their living. They are nothing other than carrion eaters. They no more want these nut jobs stopped than window washers would like to see self-cleaning windows.

The hell with them and their demands.

Monday, November 06, 2017

More on EMP

Yep, been going down this particular rat hole. I haven't looked into it for a while, because it's been my opinion that all the really good information has been locked up by various governments and government-supported groups and that the effort was a waste of my time.

Maybe not quite so much these days.

I've done a small bit of research into Advanced Fusion Systems, and honestly, there isn't much. Some of the staff is on LinkedIn. The company was founded in 2008 or 2009 and apparently has around $6.6 million per year in revenues. It appears that they are still in business.

I can say I give Mr. Birnbach, the speaker in the video, props for being as pissed off as I am about this information being locked up. This information should be available to one and all, given the level of importance of the subject.

As far as the quality, I'm hardly a subject matter expert, but I can say that as far as my knowledge of the subject goes, his explanations and graphs match up. As to the claims he makes in terms of the weaknesses of current EMP-proofing technology, I simply don't know. Ditto for his claims about his company's tech.

Interesting to watch, though.