Doing taxes is weird.
Starting from the premise that it's up to individuals to process their own tax calculations and propose how much they think they should have paid in comparison to how much they may have already paid - when then governing bodies generally already know what this should be automatically. It seems... wasteful. Why not just have the government do the standard re-alignment they do anyways, and give taxpayers an opportunity to argue with it only if they feel there is a worthwhile discrepancy?
Then there's the whole parasitic tax-preparation industry that preys upon the vast majority (including me). The fact that it has successfully lobbied the government to both increase the inscrutability of the tax system and repress the IRS from providing a standardized and free tax entering mechanism is a typically capitalistic kind of awful.
After completing the wasteful/parasitic/labyrinthine preparation process, then comes the amazingly awkward navigation of how to actually get a refund. I just want it in my bank account. Why isn't that the first option? Why isn't that an option on the very first page? Why does it have to be an exercise in futility looking for it, only to realize that the first pages are traps to lure users into another parasitic subscription or fee service.
The simple fact that we can't even avoid making the necessary alignment of taxation with the state non-horrible for most people doesn't build much confidence that we'll be able to accomplish the much harder task to improve the tax code so that the super-rich pay thei fair share (again).
Update on our crappy old 1993 VW T4 EuroVan with an I5 and a manual transmission...
Things accomplished on it so far:
- managed to actually pass DEQ, get registered and plated (kind of a long story by itself)
- repaired the rear seat belts to functionality to actually have more than just one passenger
- re-connected the transmission shifter linkage that fell apart/off
- obtained updated wheels + tires
Things needing to get accomplished:
- re-re-connect the transmission shifter linkage, because the previous fix also broke - temporarily re-attached but need to put a new-new bushing in (correctly), investigate getting a new heat shield so the exhaust doesn't melt the bushing and/or a supplementary restrain feature
- get previously mentioned wheels + tires actually mounted, balanced, and installed
- remove the incorrectly installed review mirror stalk - to install the cool new rearview mirror + camera system
- replace the broken passenger side door mirror (part obtained)
- find out why the power door windows aren't working any more
- find out why water is pooling in the passenger door (possibly connected to the broken door mirror)
- replace the stereo head unit so that we can listen to music without the faceplate randomly falling out
- remove the outboard rear-face seat to facilitate loading large loads / bike / dog
- replace seatbelt for inboard rear-facing seat for bonus seating needs
- get a bike rack - because multiple bikes don't actually fit inside
- replace the "cool" aftermarket LED headlights with ones that actually work in the dark
The awkward thing, strategically speaking, is that Amy's lease Jetta is being given back in a couple months. So, in order to avoid having to shell out for another vehicle, it would be nice if the crappy old van (CODENAME: AKNOT) was reliable enough for our occasional parallel-commuting needs. Mostly kid-school deliveries when Amy has to work. The path towards reliability is not meeting our required timeline.
Either I need to stop being driven to becoming a quivering wreck by work stress so I can make shit happen, or we need to find a mechanic to deal with some of our list.
Last Wednesday (2023.01.04) I was standing at my desk at work when I noticed an un-ignorable ache in the upper-left quadrant of my chest. I rolled my shoulders and arms, to see if I could stretch out whatever kind of muscular knot it was, to no effect. Instead, I started feeling dizzy.
Now, I'm a 50-year-old man who takes medication to avoid having my blood pressure cause heart/brain to explode, so this is a constellation of symptoms I'm pre-disposed to be wary of. So I did what any neurotic out-of-shape health-conscious person would do while in their employer's high-density working lot: I Googled that shit.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Sentient beings of all sorts: the online search results were not reassuring. Quelle surprise.
So I lowered my powered standing desk, plopped myself down on my chair, and started to feel really dizzy - complete with tingling in my hands and fountains of cold sweat. I turned to my trusty design partner - Meredith - and told her vaguely that I didn't feel well and might need some help.
I put my head down in my hands on my desk and proceeded to feel very poorly indeed. Meanwhile, Meredith went full rockstar and called 911 to talk with the operator while also coordinating folks in the vicinity to check for possible supplies and facilitate the EMT's showing up. I feebly sent a barely-coherent text to Amy, and managed to copy/paste her number to my boss to keep her informed.
At no point did I pass out, but I definitely was not highly responsive and quite frightened. The EMT's showed up, and the whirlwind got underway in earnest. It was weird to be rolling out of the office on a gurney, with people staring.
They determined that I was not actively having a heart attack, so there was not a mad rush to the hospital. An IV was inserted for ease of access to my circulatory system, and an ungainly array of patches had been shaved on my chest to facilitate sticky EKG leads, plus my old friend the pressure cuff. Once at the hospital, in additional to constant electro-potential monitoring, blood oxygen saturation, and regular blood pressure monitoring, I also got a several rounds of blood tests (one lost, just to keep it interesting) and some x-rays.
The sum of the efforts determined reasonably conclusively that I did not have any sort of heart attack. And, technically, I appear to be in relatively good cardiovascular health - even my pre-hypertension appeared to be under better control that I had thought.
So, what happened?
Well, first and foremost, I had symptoms that one does not fuck around and find out about.
But in a more direct manner, there are several related elements that might be sufficient to explain everything. The chest ache showed to be very proximal to some broken ribs I suffered just over a year ago, so they might have acting up for the first cold snap since they "healed". The dizziness is very similar to one of the side-effects of the hydrochlorothiazide that I take for high blood pressure - and the night before I had taken a double dose, because I had missed one. The bonus shaking sweats and apparently lack of circulation might have been a panic attack brought on by my fears, and my generally high baseline of work stress.
From here, I need to get on with finding a new Primary Care Physician - so I can do a follow-up. There's going to be some unpleasant amount of fuss going forward at the office. So it goes. It also seems like a timely prompt to keep my wellness as a priority.
Reflecting, 2022 was pretty good for me. And for most of the world, as long as you gloss over Russia's shit-fest invasion of Ukraine, and several awful climate disasters that are a taste of how things are likely to be from now on.
Looking ahead to 2023, there are a few things flagged already:
- getting married to Amy
- weakly honeymoon thing meeting up with Dave/Bonnie in Victoria
- driving around in our old 1993 VW T4 van like a boss
- Death Cab For Cutie concert at Edgefield
- Whistler trip with the Bike Crew
- Middle School for Violet
- High School for Simon
Today is the annual remembrance of my Dad's birthday: Fredmas.
It's also the negative 1-month mark for Amy and I getting married. I think he would have really liked her, and there is some complicated deconstruction to do in my head about what I think he might have thought about getting re-married. But maybe I'll save that difficult bit for some other Rant™ and just focus on the happy part about marrying Amy.
Except that today I finally found out the technical details of the Helion fusion reactor, and I'm very busy having my mind blown. I thought tokamak's were pretty cool, and stellarators were amusing, but this pulse fusion technique is genuinely thrilling.
The main elements that blow my mind (in order of mind-blowing-ness):
- direct output of electrical power - bypassing the need to crudely use heat to run something like a turbine
- simplified fuel - use of relatively-common deuterium and helium instead of ultra-rare tritium (or plutonium, ick)
- massively reduced radioactive byproduct - even compared to tokamaks, and removing the need for beryllium layer
- a demonstration reactor to supply output power in 2024
A couple of half-ideas I scribbled down as notes meant for contemplation and possible inclusion in my as-yet unrealized management theory book.
profits : bonus
The tendency to make an association between a business's profits and employee bonuses is entirely understandable. Both in positive ways and negative ways. The positive association is the idea that when a business has good fortune, that is then trickled down to the employees. The negative association is that a business keeps all the profits, and the employees do not get to share in that extra success. Both viewpoints have their arguments, couched in terms of "fairness".
They're both wrong.
Ever get the feeling that you've done nothing wrong, and more than a few things right, but that it makes no positive impact?
Recently watched Simon Sinek talking about some generational shifts in the workplace. The whole reason I watched it is because I'm nominally a fan of his book "Start With Why", particularly with the concept of inspiration over manipulation. During the talk, he presented a hilariously rose-coloured remembrance of how things were. Where we got our "purpose" from going to church, our "community" from interacting with neighbours, and our "socialization" from [check notes] bowling clubs - and he goes on to lament that these have all faded away such that we're now expecting these things from work.
In the same talk, he also described a sense of loss of trust between employers and employees, bringing up the symbology of the "gold watch". He mentions it to lament how people could feel certain their loyalty would be rewarded, nominally by getting a valuable watch from their employer at an advanced stage of their career. Except that, from what I can tell, the gold watch was always a symbol of disappointment - that "I've given my whole career to this company, and all I get at the end is this watch" at retirement. But this may be tangential.
Clearly this is an emotional expression by Mr. Sinek, utterly unsupported by the long and complicated history of worker's rights. But even more interested to me is how it seems to fail to recognize the aspect in which companies actively try to insert themselves into employee's identity, and are perfectly happy (HR statements taken as "just words") to have other aspects of employee lives atrophy in favour of work focus.
From there, he seems to conclude (or deduce?) that "millennials" are less capable of handling stress (presumably than gen-X or boomers).
Maybe this is intentionally done to build sympathy with tropes that his management-fad target demographic tend to cling to. But it seems that an unwillingness to put up with bullshit is not the same as being less capable of handling stress. Indeed, the accurate recognition of the importance of dealing with stress and not treating having feelings as taboo seems like one of the triumphant elements of the progress of society as a whole.
But maybe Mr. Sinek is falling victim to the all-to-common tendency for seasoned adults to have increased rigidity in their thinking, and to start treating anything that is different as being less good than how they were before.
Maria Popova has been collecting and curating all kinds of eclectic interests and wisdom she shares on her subscription:
This latest edition particularly resonated with me.
I meant to write something - mostly some added work on a story, instead of making myself read too much more of the molar-gnashing (and award-winning) sci-fi I'm currently struggling through.
Fail. Just zombied instead.
Dave and I have had a long-running Game Night, allowing us to keep playing AIF even though we lived in different cities - and then different countries. But last year, after [checks math...] 25-ish years, Dave asked for a break for a while.
Which made sense. It had been a long time being weird loner nerds playing our ultra-violent RPG, and a long list of various life stuff had accreted over the years for us. Taking a breath from long-term time commitments is a chance to re-assess what's healthy for ourselves.
Except for the obvious aspect that Dave is my best friend from the depths of deep time, and having the ability to semi-regularly hang out with him is kind of emotionally important to me. And outside of our "game night", there's just not much of that really going on. We did manage some occasional brief chats in the same time slot as the Game Night, when we were both online, so that's something. But not quite the same mojo as actually doing something creative together.
I managed to drag the kids and Amy up to see the family in Canuckistan this summer, and while there got to visit Dave (and Bonnie) in person. This gave more opportunity to see how Dave was doing, and to plumb the idea of re-starting Game Night. The hook on the lure was to suggest a couple things:
1: Try Dungeons & Dragons 5E, so that Dave could sample it firsthand.
2: Include more people in the game, to improve upon the endless cycles of 1-player games we had been grinding through for decades.
The 5E part wasn't too hard; I had a metric shitte-tonne of unused D&D game ideas too violent to include in the kid games I've been DM-ing. So I kitchen-sinked those all together to make a chimera horror adventure gestalt. [insert pantomime of job-done hand clap-wiping motion]
The "getting more people to play" aspect was the thing we had classically had stumbled on. We met, and agreed on a sort of shotgun approach - meaning just ask everyone who we could think of to play with us. Which, admittedly was a pretty short list.
Amy volunteered immediately, so that was a great relief. Both Dave and I talked about inviting Lou, but both of us independently contemplated it and chickened out, being reluctant to face the rejection directly. I still mean to ask him at some point, as a matter principle. Lou is super cool, and even though I know he's simply too busy to play with us (or do much of anything with us), I'd still like for him to know that he's still welcome join in.
The main win, though, was getting Ulrich to agree to play with us. Finally hearing his voice again, after years of purely text correspondence, was pretty great.
We had a session-0, where we finished off the character generation, and had an initial encounter. It was hilarious goodness. I'm genuinely delighted to have this personally-curated crew of alpha-nerds to play with.
Link might not work for people who are not awesome enough:
Whistler Photo Dump
A long pandemic later, finally managed to make it back to Whistler (and Squamish).
Holy fucking fuck coastal BC is gorgeous.
This kind of adventure is only possible by riding on the coat tails of more dedicated and more prepared friends. Shout out to @gnarthaller for setting everything up, including arrange for a sweet condo to stay, driving most of us up in his sweet adventure van, and being B-Squad leader.
Getting old sucks. I mean, I know I could be in better shape in general, but the difficult realization is that staying in shape went from being effortless in my 20's (when I had time to do it, but didn't really) to being nigh impossible and scary (when I don't really have any spare time, but try hard to work it in systemically).
Mountain biking is very much my adrenal pathway to zen. Even though, in comparison with everyone I ride with, I'm not very good. And even though it is a non-stop lesson in humility. The emotional space the riding creates helps me with pretty much every other facet of my life. It gives me resilience to face difficulties at work, and patience to enjoy time with my kids instead of murdering them, and insight about how savour my life while I'm in it.
The 20-km black-diamond technical climb-ride up to and back from Comfortably Numb was so gorgeous that even though I couldn't appreciate it at the time because of how hard it kicked my ass, it squats in my memory like a nugget of masochistic joy.
UPDATE: there are a few challenges with the yet-to-be-officially-named VW van.
- It did not quiiiiite pass DEQ, so it has a date the The "Fix-Um Haus" to see if we can tweak the tune to reduce the CO2 by 2%. After which we can properly register, plate, and insure the damn thing.
- Then there is the fact that I need to fix a bunch of seatbelts...
- Also, I'd like to pull out the rear-facing jump seat next to the sliding door - to better facilitate the loading of my giant-ass bike into the insufficiently-folding rear bench seat area.
- Then we get to do fun upgrades like wheel/tires and a bitchin' bike rack.
My work To-Do list involves temporal paradoxes.
So, now that we've sold VANTACULUS (the Wee Van), we've been contemplating what we should be getting for Operation DEATH BOX.
Ford Econoline E350
The big chungus option, assuming one can find an acual passenger version. The work van version is much more plentiful option, but even though I could technically bolt in seats for the children, it would absolutely suck for them for road trips. While the full size van would rock the utility function in perpetuity, the thirsty V8 (and occasionally, V10) would mean some serious struggling for the short term need for commuting. They look like bricks, but not in a good way.
STATUS: Still technically in contention.
In all honesty, this was my frontrunner when starting the search. Japanese reliability, plus Honda driving dynamics, and I think they look rather smart. Then we went to look at one, and things went wrong. It was discovered that the Oddessey has "touchy" power sliding side doors, which would definitely go wrong for my little idiots. Then we found that the second row seats can't really fold out of the way enough to fit the mountain bikes. In fact, there is some significant doubt about 3 mountain bikes fitting at all.
STATUS: Not currently being considered, and somewhat bitter about it.
The more-reliable near-era Japanese option. I've superficially been not looking for these because A) I think they're ugly, and B) the ex-step-MIL drove one and it scarred me forever. Dimensionally, this van should be approximately the same interior space as the Oddessey, so there is doubt about its ability to accomplish the bike-hauling mission.
STATUS: Technically still being considered, but possibly as a last option.
I know. I KNOW. Shitty Chrysler product is like deciding to buy some lucky mechanic a new boat, and to abstain from joy while doing it.
BUT, here me out. These horror-filled boxes of poorly-considered cheap plastic have considerably more room inside, thanks to the Stow-and-Go™ capabilities. Plus, because they are generally considered to be shittier, it is possible to get a much newer specimen, which would allow some increased modern amenities - like back up camera and bluetooth. And while I can't stop seeing the design-by-committee, Amy likes how they look.
STATUS: Probably, unfortunately, the frontrunner.
These are all older, and due to their charm, much more expensive for what they technically are. However, they are bubble-era Japanese builds, which is famously high quality. They would be fun(ner) to drive, thanks to the rear wheel drive. And the funky way the rear seats fold up and the second row swivel to face the rear might - just might - provide enough room to haul all the bikes and kids.
STATUS: Hopeful saviour from Chryslery Doom.
Haven't been biking enough this year because of stupid reasons - mostly just insufficient free time and too many obligations. But managed to go up to Sandy Ridge today with the Friar and the Send Bro. It was so fucking good. I'm slow, and I'm weak, but thanks to the magic of the e-bike was able to not kill myself on the climbs and volunteer us for a second excellent lap.
Which reminds me - I still need to reserve a DH bike for Whistler in a couple weeks. Yikes - I'm so not ready for that.
Sold the kei-class Mitsubishi Minicab Bravo today.
It's possible that it is actually a victim of its own success. The nominal purpose of the wee van was to haul mountain bikes, and if getting to ride in the wee van meant riding mountain bikes, both of my kids wanted in on the action. Unfortunately, the wee van only has room for 2 people + 2 bikes. So the wee van just isn't big enough to carry us all.
Plus there is the small difficulty with travelling at freeway speeds. And a total lack of safety equipment. And an inability to start in cold weather. And a lack of basic creature comforts.
Anyway, there needs to be a replacement crappy van to suit the increased crew + cargo requirements. The hunt begins now for Project: DEATH BOX.
I really like Portland. Lots of fun people, great food, and ready access to outdoor fun. But there are definitely two things that Munich Germany does so well that it makes me wish there was some way to import to where I live.
First: the subway system. It's goddamn magical, how well-integrated it is and magnificently run. Unfortunately, to have such a thing in Portland would involve an order of magnitude more investment than what we already struggle with to make our half-assed MAX system run. But I really do think that if we had something as fundamentally wonderful as das Münchner U-Bahn-System, we Portlanders would find the value in it.
Second: German drivers in general. Aggressive but capable. More than a few assholes, to be sure, but at least they're gone fast. My very first driving experience back in Portland was an enraging reminder of how fucking unskilled and oblivious Portland drivers are. Not really anything to be done easily about that either.
Amy and I love our house, because of how perfectly it fits us and the kids, with a great walkable neighborhood, and a huge list of facets that make it lovely. Except, as every homeowner knows, houses are not static entities - they're a constant grind of repairs and improvements fighting against the endless tide of entropy. And when we bought The Battery (nickname brought to you by a dubious concatenation of initials) there was one big upgrade we intended to do: solar panels.
It took a little while to arrange, but we settled on the Tesla solar system with a powerwall battery backup for the house (and a grateful nod to the federal 10k$ tax rebate to make it happen). Significant delays were incurred as we waited for planning and approvals, but finally we had the system installed! Except, not yet commissioned because it needs final inspection for powering up by PGE (our local power utility). Annoyingly, PGE never got around to upgrading our service meter to allow for 2-way power delivery, but the resourceful installers at Tesla installed a parallel meter system that should work. However, this required completely re-wiring our breaker box - and it got pretty cramped. Still, everything worked just fine - or so it seemed.
A couple days later, apparently some yahoo crashed into a power pole a couple blocks away. This knocked power out for the neighbourhood, but also sent a power bump at the same time. The powerwall tried to cover for the lost power, but encountered problems. The problem became clear when the main power came back on later that day - three of our circuit breakers were unable to be reset. Along with it we were down the section of the house that powered the internet modem, our furnace controller, and dishwasher.
Some frantic calls to Tesla later, we were told they would get to us as soon as possible - after the weekend. So we limped through a warm weekend without AC, washing dishes by hand, and running an extension cord to power the modem. Monday came, and they verified that the breakers themselves needed replacement. But they could not get parts until the next day - but they could re-purpose one of the working breakers to run whichever circuit was needed to make the HVAC work again. So by trial and error it was determined that it was... none of them. Something else was wrong with the HVAC, and the dishwasher.
After the technicians left, we did some frantic research on what could be amiss. Everything we could find was fine - breaker on, reset switch reset, circuit board fuse was fine. So thought we had deduced that we had fried our smart thermostat controller. I rolled to the only store locally claiming to have the same model, so that I could just plug-and-play a replacement, and they didn't have one. They did have an upgraded version, though that required re-wiring the controls. Screw it - whatever. Bought it, installed it. Still didn't work.
We hoped that it was a combination of a fried control unit AND an unpowered circuit. Those hopes ended when the Tesla technicians showed up bright and early and replaced power to the whole house. Still no joy for the HVAC, or the dishwasher. They were not really permitted to do anything beyond the power distribution system, but did us the favour of testing the high-voltage fuses for the AC - which turned out to be blown.
So we went to an electrical supply store to purchase some replacement shotgun-shell-sized fuses. And the HVAC still didn't work. So we were left with having to call HVAC technicians, and the earliest available appointment was two weeks out.
Luckily, Pyramid Heating & Cooling called a couple days later to say that they had a cancellation, and they could come immediately. Well, not immediately - because it was the afternoon and since our furnace is in the attic it would be horrific. But they did swap us with another customer the very next morning.
In the meantime, we got to work on the dishwasher, with the working assumption that it had a fuse of some kind that was also borked. So we disconnected it and pulled it out to find that it has no such protection feature. Time for a new dishwasher. Which was fetched in the uber-charming wee van, to the delight of the Home Despot workers who helped us get it. Which in itself is a minor miracle, because it turns out that Home Depot doesn't stock appliances - except that happened to have accidentally been shipped the exact one we wanted. Which was fun. Brought it home, installed it, and it works great.
Pyramid technician shows up and listens to our tale of woe. He said, "I have an idea". A few minutes later, "YEP - your transformer got burned out." Replaced it handily, and our HVAC comes to life and was working great. The feeling of relief was a welcome change.
Which lasted for a few days. Then yesterday we noted that the AC was not actually able to cool the house. We futzed with sensors and settings, but the awkward truth is that it is running the AC and the blower fan and we're getting an insufficiently-cool draft.
Time for another call to Pyramid. When they open on Monday. GAH.
This was the first week of vacation, which I'm taking in alternating weeks while I've got the kiddos. And we got to spend all of it doing all the things as well as lots of down time. Bike riding, D&D, walks to the park, playing Magic, learning Python, beach trip, yardwork, and lots of naps.
The week was somewhat impaired by a power bump and outage that revealed a flaw in our newly-installed solar+battery system (not yet commissioned) which left part of the house without power - so we've had to improvise powering the internet, be mindful of regulating the house temperature with airflow, and washing lots of dishes by hand.
The crescendo of the week was last night - as the Spice Girls (the party name for the D&D characters) stumbled upon the secret base of a vampire pirate ship. In its entirety, the Pale Prow with its vampire spawn crew and its elven-vampire captain would have been wildly overpowered for the Spice Girls. But they happened to poke them before sunset proper, which allowed them to face the crew separately from the master, and with a couple Daylight™ spells was enough to let them prevail.
We perhaps ran a little too late, but fuck it - it's summer time and they would be stuck in a car all day on a trip to Canada with S. They get to camp in a fun tent trailer, but are completely insistent that they can't do it because of the impossibility of being civilized to each other. I struggled with how to ease this ridiculous impasse, and ended up outraging Simon by belittling the difficulty. Here's hoping he gets to sleep in the car.
And now they're gone for a week. And I'm am heartbroken. I just immediately miss them a ridiculous amount. I can't wait for our next week off together.
It really puts the foolish work anxiety in to context.
That sure was a lot of scrolling you did without prompting. Perhaps you have read some of my other throw-away bits hidden down here, or perhaps you are just naturally curious. But I hope you feel, as I do, that the immersion of the moment is the key part of the experience. The existence of the chain of thought: "I wonder what's down here" - searching for signs of what this scrolling expanse is yielding - and then "OH, that's all, I guess."
But, really, that's all most places and moments are. Look around, literally and figuratively, and sense wherever you are.