Saturday, May 2, 2015

The divine right of cookie jar ownership

Did you see or hear of the concerned Edmonton "businessmen" that talked about their divine right to the Alberta cookie jar? They didn't quite phrase it like that, but that's what the message is. To threaten to withdraw charitable donations to a children's hospital if their taxes go up is disgusting. They should be spat upon in the street.

Bluntly translated the entire PC message this election is "Fuck you Jack, I've got mine and I'm going to keep it." Oh, and don't forget, "to find fault, look in a mirror." Along with the classic bit of patriarchal condescension in "Math is hard."

Last election the PC's brought out the ooga-booga big scare guns, only it was to head off a surging Wildrose party. It worked. I know people that are still kicking themselves. They can't wait till that ballot is in hand to redeem themselves.

The PC's are doing it again, only this time the target is the NDP. I don't even know where to begin. Somehow it's bad that "Notley is taking direction from Mulcair," yet it's ok for Rona Ambrose (of the federal PC party) to scold Albertans about not voting PC, and Prentice and Harper are buddies.

They are saying anything to scare people from voting NDP in this election. Anything at all. You've probably heard it. Ignore it. Do the right thing. Vote the bums out of office. A majority NDP with a strong Opposition Wildrose will be good for everybody, PC's included. Maybe not the people caught with their hand in the cookie jar, but that's ok. Even if different hands go back in, that's a good thing. The money goes different places. Wildrose with NDP Opposition might not be quite as good, but still an acceptable outcome. Even a (gasp!) minority would make them sing for their supper, and make them think about what they are up to.

The dippers are inexperienced at government, as were the PC's when they took office in 1971. Some of their policies are probably not as well thought out as they could be, just like many PC policies. Some of their people that will gain office this time are not as experienced as we might like. Whatever. Shame on the PC's for pointing the finger there. None of the other parties have a member convicted of soliciting a prostitute (really an undercover cop) while on a taxpayer funded trip.

What's important to remember is this. These things, in no particular order:

  • The PC's got us into this mess. If they haven't demonstrated financial competence to date, what makes you think it will happen now?
  • There is a civil service that exists to help the government enact it's policies. There is likely to be some inertia there to resist the so called extremist positions. On the other hand, policies that are good for people, instead of oil & gas corporations might get enacted startlingly quickly.
  • Remember the last Premier? The one that booked fake passengers on government airplanes so she wouldn't have to share? The one that created a swanky secret apartment for herself? The one that spent $45K of tax money to fly to South Africa because, golly, why should she have to fly commercial? It's the SAME GOVERNMENT! They let her get away with, and they'll let Prentice get away with it too. 
  • The people that say "Let's put the past behind us and look forward" are thieves that have been caught, and are still trying to get away with it.
  • Once the PC's are voted out of power, their campaign slush fund that would be illegal for every other party, (they grandfathered themselves) can be ended. This would bring in truly fair campaign finance laws, as opposed to the ones that Prentice says are fair.
  • Doesn't the prospect of Gordon Dirks claiming credit for the advancement of LBGTQ legislation make you sick? After promoting the homophobic Bill 10, to now take credit for the bill allowing gay straight alliances is disgusting. But typical. Then again, he got his knuckles rapped by the ethics commissioner, and shrugged his shoulders.
  • They saw nothing wrong with paying people for committee work, when the committee never met, and when caught on it, saw no reason to pay it back. 

There is much more. Keep it firmly in mind that the policies of a future NDP or Wildrose government are conjecture. Nobody really knows what they will actually be able to do, and they will have to face the electorate with their own record in the next election. One might fear the NDP "wrecking the provincial economy", or you could look at the PC record of doing exactly that. Vote for a change that could be better, or vote for more of the same incompetence? Hmmm, let me think about it.

The PC party has to wear their record. They own the endless boom/bust cycles, the thousands of people laid off in the last few months, all the uncertainty in planning in the oil patch, the botched royalty review, and the endless scandals. If they are somehow voted back in, we will get more of the same corrupt, arrogant, incompetent government, letting the oil & gas companies steal our resources for pennies on the dollar. 

I would far, far rather have a group of well meaning people as elected officials, even if they lack governing experience, as compared to a group of experienced thieves. That's what we've got now.

Vote. Think with the facts.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My arms have adopted Pastafarianism

Monday = cold water. Really cold water in Talisman. I've had warmer lake swims while racing. Nobody knows why, including the people that work there. My (female) lane mate speculated that it was so the (male) water polo players would have their muscles tighten up even more, for the delight of those interested. Its as good a theory as any.

I did 2 K in the pool, trying to hustle, and not finding the gear. First K was 18:50, which I think of as slow. The next K was 19:30 or so, but by that point I was beyond caring. I wanted out of the pool. A cool down was out of the question, since I'd never warmed up. The hot tub felt like it was burning my skin.

Tuesday was a slow run, 4.25 K in 30 minutes, struggling to keep moving. It was a beautiful evening out, the first really warm day of the year, and my legs were heavy. The "run" was a constant slog to not stop.

Wednesday is when the arm conversion happened. My arms channeled the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and emulated His Noodly appendage. They were good for nothing during the swim. The water was back to the normal temperature, at least, and that's the only thing good about the swim.

I was trying to do CSS times, and failed miserably. I have, in the recent past, done 1:50 per 100 m, on a 2 min start consistently for 3 K. It's fair to say that wasn't a fluke, since I've done it several times, and even faster.

Today I gave up before even 1 K. Each 100 was slower than the one before it, no matter how hard I pushed. As I started the 9th one I was feeling really bad about it, and wondering what the heck I was doing. Since the 8th one had been 1:51 at what felt like nearly all out effort, I had to be doing something wrong, and didn't see any point in rewarding that. I rolled over on my back for a couple strokes, then back to the end of the pool. Out. The big hot tub was being cleaned so I settled into the small one for a bit, bailing out when one of the swim clubs started to invade.

All in all, a pair of discouraging swims, and a discouraging run. My legs are still heavy from the bike ride last week. My buddy Katie connected me with someone doing good bike fits, so I think I'll stay off the bike till that happens. I'm suspecting my fit has changed, probably due to reduced flexibility in my low back.

After my massage today, my therapist informed me my left leg was a wreak. Again. Which I had known. I've got an ice pack going on the hams. I'm seriously wondering what our beloved yoga teacher is going to inflict I mean, share with us tonight. I hope I survive.

Mr Money Mustache had rolled up to the top of my blogroll, and I thought his discussion of what trucks say about you was very appropriate, given all the pick up trucks in town these days. It seems like there are a lot more of them, being driven by people that seem a lot angrier than usual. But if I start telling you about that, my blood pressure will be up, and that will make yoga even more difficult.

I'm not feeling discouraged or anything. These times happen during training. A good night's sleep, getting through some training at work, and finding my swim mojo again will do wonders.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The retirement whisperer

Once again the retirement whisperer showed up.

Friday Michelle and I were off to the pool. You never know what you're going to get at Talisman on Fridays. This one turned out to be a semi-gong show, redeemed later for Michelle. We started in the training pool, then even though the whiteboard said it was open, they kicked us out part way. We had to find a lane in the competition pool.

Michelle chugged away working on her stroke. I played chase with the other girl in my lane. I was trying to stay just far enough back that I could get a bit of draft, yet not so close that she'd think I was pushing. After maybe 500 m she paused, let me go by, and darned if she didn't tuck into my draft! That was kind of fun, actually, and made me pay attention to my pace.

Eventually I moved back into Michelle's lane when the water runner left. 100 m 91 seconds, really feeling a strong rhythm with stroke and breathing. Then a bit of drill, and 50 m 41 seconds, still in the groove. I've love to be able to swim longer at that pace, but I'm pretty sure that even going to 75 m I'd see my pace drop off dramatically.

We had a lovely chat after, Michelle's eyes wandering to the pool occasionally, where the male water polo players did their thing. Nuff said about that...

Then in the afternoon I met up with my financial advisor. Some of that was routine shuffling of money to top up RSP and TFSA and other stuff. I'm very pleased with my investment performance. It's mostly clear I can't stop working right now, never work again, AND live to whatever age. Unless I was really lucky I'd likely run out of money. Maybe. It's getting to the point the uncertainties of market return, and figuring just how long I'm going to live, and just how much money I'll want to spend, all combine to say 'maybe.' But when you consider I'm planning to work at least part time for a while yet, that calculation gets interesting. Depending on the assumptions you make, I could semi-retire right now.

Saturday was a cold day. We had expected snow and rain, but it was just overcast. I hung out at home, relaxing. It was lovely, in between visits by the furnace guy. Friday we noticed it would go through the startup cycle, but the main burners wouldn't fire. I figured it was a sensor, but it turned out to be the main gas valve. Twice. He had to come back the next day and replace it again.

Sunday we had brunch with the retirement whisperer. This time it was Linda's cousin's wife, who recently retired from the City. She is loving it! There were no regrets at all about signing the paperwork. Her husband is still winding down his affairs, and is working part time. I was picking their brains about how this is working out for them. She's taken to it like a duck to water, and given how I got through 2009, she thinks I'll do the same.

Ran 4.3K, 30 minutes, feeling pretty good about it. Average pace was 6:54 per K, which is good for me. The last half K was a bit of a struggle as my legs were getting heavy. Still, for legs that were starting a bit tired from last weekend, I'm pretty pleased.

Then I was put to work at one of my specialties. Nuclear gardening. Today was cutting back the ambitious mint plant, then getting rid of some tree-ish herb that is taking over. Tough stuff. Linda thinks it's Hyssop. I managed to not dig up the little hens and chicks that are being slowly over run. The daffodils are still there, and two huge day lilies. We are budgeting a day each for those to divide and replant. I am seriously thinking about renting a chainsaw for that. There is a lot more work left to actually dig up the beds, amend the soil, and plant the split up day lilies and other stuff. (I wonder if Runkeeper has a gardening activity?)

There is still much to do out front. We could probably both take a week of vacation and do nothing but work on it. Considering how much we've ignored it over the years, this isn't a surprise. The Alberta rose is doing really well, winning the early growth contest. We figure it's getting ready to take over that whole bed. The plum is almost blooming, as are some of the other roses. Photos then.

Do I really need to mention BBQ bison burgers with wine? This weekend has passed in a blur.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Time for a change, Alberta

This is the first of a periodic series of posts that are intended to be a more polished topical essay, rather than the multi-topic blog posts I bang out every day and a half or so, on average. Some of you have liked my rants (thank you very much) and there are well over 100 to read. Some of them are emotional frothings that make me feel better. Some are a perplexed reaction to something.

But I don't think any are an actual essay making an argument for a particular point of view, with nothing else to detract from it. I don't think you'll have much difficulty in understanding the point of these essays. This point of view will be mine. I'm not a shill for anyone else. Commentary is welcome, even if you disagree, but tell me why you disagree. I love getting comments, but as always, I'm going to insist they are polite.

Change is likely to be a catalyst for a number of these essays. Overdue change, reactions to change, inadvisable change or resignation to inevitable change could all be applied to many situations. Hold onto your hat though, you never know what you'll get.

“Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.” Mark Twain.

Not just politicians, but the government that is made of those same politicians needs to be changed too. What then are we to make of a 44 year old provincial government? This one certainly fails the sniff test. Time to be changed.

The biggest thing for me is simple financial competence. Much of the revenue for the Alberta government comes from oil and gas royalties. The theory is that Albertans own the resource, and the various oil and gas companies pay us royalties to be allowed to extract and sell it. The unfortunate thing is that we don't set the market price of oil and gas. Any teenager knows that price fluctuates. If they've been paying attention, they know it could and does fluctuate a lot.

The problem is the PC government doesn't seem to get this in any practical way. I know as a contractor my income can fluctuate from my normal rate to nothing on very little notice. I have emergency money set aside for that. So does every other contractor I know.

What does Alberta do? They spend it all, and sometimes more. They, along with almost everyone else is notoriously poor at predicting the price of oil. So duh, budget for it cheap, and bank the excess. We used to have a Heritage Fund. The intent was to set aside part of the royalty income for days when that income might not be there, and there were still schools, roads, and hospitals to be built. Like, (surprise!) now.

In the mean time that money can be invested to earn further income. This might mean buying bonds from other provinces as a bedrock position. It won't earn much, but they aren't going to go bankrupt. Part of the money could go to diversifying our economy. The problem there is that critics accuse the government of picking winners and losers, as if getting a loan from the government guarantees success. They also think that if that business goes under, then the government has lost money, which is true in a technical sense, and someone should be fired. As any commercial loan manager will tell you, if a few loans don't go bad, you aren't making as much money as you could because you're too conservative. (In an economic, not political sense.)

Over the years, incompetent politicians stopped adding to the fund, then started raiding it, even when times were good. This is criminally stupid, prima facie evidence of incompetence. If you believe that Alberta's oil and gas wealth belongs to all Albertan's, including ones not born yet, you have to weep and rage at the folly of the government.

There used to be a bumper sticker. "Please God, let there be another oil boom. I promise not to piss it all away this time." It's an oldie but a goodie, because it keeps on happening.

Part of the problem is indeed us, the taxpayers. There was an element of truth to Prentice's claim that we should look in a mirror. As taxpayers in a wealthy province, we want it all, as in all the goodies and none of the prices. Politicians, poor helpless creatures that they are, merely try to deliver so they can keep their snouts in the trough.

In the debate the other day the leader of the Wildrose party kept saying "we won't raise taxes". More evidence of stupidity. Sometimes raising taxes is the right thing to do. Nobody likes it, me included, but golly, I sure like having the various benefits of living in a civilized society. There is more to governing than lowering taxes. He kept saying it over and over. We get it, but I suspect his base needs to hear it again and again. Who needs to be told something more than a few times?

I know there will be another oil boom, and another crash. I know this like I know there will be eclipses of the moon and sun. I personally don't know when, but I could find out about the eclipses. Smart people have figured that out. Nobody knows when the next boom and crash will be. The difference is that smart people know they will happen, and plan for it.

Which leads me to my main point. The PC party has repeatedly demonstrated incompetence at planning for the inevitable. Time to give another party a chance. My advice? If you don't vote PC anyway, carry on. You're doing just fine. Unless, maybe, if you vote Liberal you might want to consider switching your vote to the NDP or Alberta Party. They're on their way up. The Liberals are down and out, and getting downer and outer all the time.

If you normally vote PC I implore you, consider an alternative. You have party choices to the left and right of the PC's. If you like no new taxes as a rule, and don't mind the lake of fire, then vote Wildrose. If you're a bit of a red tory, then please look around. The NDP are doing really well lately. Ms Notley cleaned up in the recent debate, and has been getting great press. I like the idea of the Alberta Party, and you might prefer to vote for them rather than "the socialist hordes", as it was expressed to me. However they aren't running in my riding so that isn't a choice for me. I'm not sure if the Greens are running provincially, and if their people were half as good as the federal MP Elizabeth May, I'd vote for them hands down.

At this point I don't have an opinion on how the election will turn out. Last time Wildrose was doing really well, till the lake of fire and it's implications sank in. Redford very cleverly played the fear card, and lots of people swung back to the PC's. Prentice is trying to do that this time round, only using fear of the socialists, but I don't know if it will work. My own MLA tried playing that card today after he knocked on my door. "They will wreak the economy and put people out of jobs." Bah, I say. BAH! Lots of my buddies are out of a job just now, and many companies are flirting with bankruptcy. Tell me again who is in government?

Time for a change. I think having a weak majority NDP, with a strong opposition Wildrose would be a great thing. Wildrose has demonstrated competence at holding the government's feet to the fire. Knowing they have a guy that only thinks about not raising taxes in opposition means NDP will prepare well, and explain why their raising taxes, and what it's for. Having a few Greens, Aberta Party, and even Liberals filling out the remaining seats would be just fine.

A minority government has never happened in the entire history of Alberta. Not even close. The words interesting times don't even begin to cover that possibility.

I'm not so happy about a weak majority Wildrose. Remember, they are the older, more intolerant, more religious, and much more conservative wing of the PC party that took their marbles and went away. The lake of fire was just fine with them before, and is likely still just fine now, given some of what I've read from their members. I don't see them as competent to deal with the complexities of government, even though some of them have been in government.

Last thing. If you are an Albertan eligible to vote, get your butt down to the polling station and do it. There's lots of advance polling options. Your employer is required by law to give you time to vote if your work shift overlaps the hours the polling stations are open. You can't say this isn't an interesting election; it's the most interesting, most contested election since the Conservatives took over from Social Credit. Normally the PC's rack up such huge majorities I can understand people thinking their vote doesn't count. That isn't true now. Every vote counts this time. Every one. Get out there and vote!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

I am sick of 6.895

I don't think any of my readers know why that number has been occupying my mind lately. I'd tell you, in detail, but then you'd be so bored you'd kill yourself, and I couldn't bear the guilt.

When you multiply psi times 6.895 you get kpa. This is what mawp is measured in. It should always be kpa, but because a bunch of cowardly Imperial dinosaurs wimped out on converting to metric back in the dark ages, we are still stuck with psi. We should have done it, and gotten over it.

So it turns out in the database I'm working with we don't quite believe the mawp numbers. So I had the bright idea of comparing it to the regulator's database. Many agree, or nearly so, which is fine. After all, that 3 decimal number is an approximation, but good enough.

Then I discovered some of our numbers and their numbers disagreed dramatically. For them I have to check original documentation. Many of these forms are old. So I see a number on the form, usually in psi. I have to convert that to kpa because that's how it's stored in the database. Then compare it to ours and see who agrees, and if they don't, try to figure out why not. It's more complicated than it sounds, having to do with how people and databases deal with units conversion. 

Suffice to say I'm checking and fixing 2 different databases at once. Retail. It means a lot of multiplying or dividing by 6.895. Some of them I know by heart, but you don't want me to prove it.

In other news, hams are still a bit tired. I'd been hoping for a run after work today, but events conspired against me. Furnaces used to be simple. 

In other other news, I had lunch today with people that were part of my team when I started at Penn West. Many of them have moved on. It was nice to get together, but one of them was filling my ears about the joys of retirement. Maybe I should have filled my ears with wax, or lashed myself to the mast. (that's a reference for the literary) In not unrelated news, tomorrow I visit my financial advisor, and guess what I'll be talking about.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Pigeons ate my hams

I'm still feeling beat up from the weekend bike ride, especially my hams and low back. Not hurting, just tired, so I was a bit cautious in yoga tonight. Normally I love it, but wouldn't you know, we were doing pigeon in the middle of a really, really long flow. Longest one ever. Flow, legs up the wall, meditation, Savasana, class over.

Normally I really like pigeon. During pigeon I suddenly realized my hamstrings were really hurting. I had to dial back. Sigh. Not pins and needles like going to sleep, this was an actual ache as if something was pulling it off, preparatory to eating it.

Did I mention I bailed on my swim this morning? Need more rest.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Look what's guarding our garden

So that Monday swim sucked big time according to the clock. Good thing I wasn't fussed about it. My legs felt really heavy and slow from the weekend ride, I think. Twenty trips up and down stairs carrying seven heavy wine kits, and 15 cases of bottles had nothing to do with it, I'm sure.

The Meglioli Moscat white that was taking forever to settle was dealt with firmly. I got out the drill and whipped the bejazzes out of it. I guess I didn't do a good enough job the first time because I got some more froth and tiny bubbles. Then I added some Isenglas I'd picked up, then stirred some more. In less than 24 hours it settled more than it had done in the previous month, and a day later even more progress is being made. At last.

Our little plum tree has buds on it, and I suspect blossoms will be soon. Photos then. I shouldn't, but I sometimes chuckle at Linda. She has a great green thumb with her plants, yet she worries that nothing will come up. She feared the back garden would be a frozen wasteland with 3 dead trees and lots of plants just lying there. Of course, everything is coming up gang-busters! Since we've fenced the back yard, put in the patio, and sheltered the garden with the lodge, it warms up much quicker, and the plants seem to like it. Even though gardening here is risky before May long weekend, she is out, hard at it. She's been itching for weeks to get started.

I spent this evening setting up the two rain barrels we got because it's supposed to rain soon. I'd only done one of them last year for complicated reasons. What's funny is the kit includes threaded joiners that don't fit the size of threaded openings. I don't know why. At least I got enough of ones that fit.

Linda had found this beautiful dragon to hide the end of the downspout, and I installed that as well. I need to fiddle with the base a bit more but I want to see exactly how the rain barrel settles when it's full.

Curtis was underfoot, trying to get into my lap every trip back and forth to get tools. Even when I was in the bathroom. When I looked like I was actually thinking about sitting down in my easy chair, he was RIGHT THERE! It's tough typing on a lap top, when your lap is full of cat. The struggles I go through for my blog readers.

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