On Hiatus For NaNoWriMo & Holidays

Holiday AgendaAfter my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer this year, I threw myself into blogging more frequently and consistently than I have ever done before since starting OUAA as a website 15 years ago. Limiting myself to writing 500 words or less, I posted three times a week through the summer and five times a week until it recently tapered off. Plunging into non-fiction writing was my escape from my father’s death. Now I need to put OUAA on hiatus for NaNoWriMo 2012 and the holidays.

NaNoWriMo is the mad dash in November to write a 50,000-word manuscript, typically but not limited to a novel. I’ll be writing a collection of 100 flash stories based mostly on weird news headlines from the Internet. A 500-word flash story (or blog post) takes two to four hours to finish. I need to write the rough draft of five flash stories in the same amount of time from Monday through Friday. (I’m keeping the weekends open for other writing projects.) I can’t do that and still blog while working a full time non-writing job. Being a short story writer, I’m looking forward to writing so many flash stories in so little time.

I’ll be thinking about the future of OUAA during the holidays. My core audience consists of two dozen spammers who often leave wonderful comments about my blog postings and my urgent need for penis enlargement pills. Needless to say, no blogger wants a suck up audience (unless they’re clicking on the ads). That means making some major changes to find a better audience.

I’m leaning towards ending OUAA (but keeping it online) and starting a new blog with a different focus in the New Year. Out with the old, in with the new. Starting with clean slate is very appealing to me. I would be closing a significant chapter and opening a new chapter in my life. (I wished I had this idea before ordering new business cards for next year.) Something to think about and plan for during the holidays.

Meanwhile, plenty of stuff will be happening that I want to throw in my two-bits in between now and the end of the year. I’ll be blogging on an irregular schedule. Maybe once or twice a week. Or maybe not.

Adventures In Extreme Couponing (Part 3)

Our adventures in extreme couponing came to an ignominious end by the San Jose Mercury News that hosted the seminar back in September. My roommate got a phone call from the newspaper’s sales office that they were rescinding the Sunday-only subscriptions for $10 USD each due to being “unable to handle the volume” of delivering five copies of the paper every week. We would get a refund for $40 USD in two weeks and receive one Sunday paper each week. The funny thing is that no one told the delivery person to stop bringing the extra copies.

I suspect the real reason for curtailing multiple subscriptions came from pressure by the coupon manufacturers. With changed coupon policies at most stores and less generous coupons becoming common, extreme couponing is getting more difficult to put into practice. While filling up a shopping cart with $1,000 USD in groceries and handing over a thick bundle of coupons to pay absolutely nothing at the checkout stand makes for good television, it requires more time and effort than the average consumer is willing to put in.

Besides, extreme couponing didn’t quite work out for us.

My roommate insisted that we can’t use the coupons until a special website tells us which coupons to use at which store that have a good promotion for certain items. I guess the stores in Silicon Valley don’t have any great deals over the last few months. The growing pile of coupons—the few that we can use—remain unused. I never understood why I have to wait for a website to tell me when to use the coupons. The last thing I want to do is stampede with the herd to clear out the store shelves.

Without waiting for the herd to stampede, I took a different approach to extreme couponing that might be called reality couponing.

  • Going on a low-carb diet to trim my weight and food costs at the same time. Nothing focuses the mind than looking up the nutritional labels to count the carbs.
  • Buying the same items from week to week. Unless you have a baseline of your existing food costs, you won’t know how much money you’re actually saving.
  • Some of the best deals aren’t announced in the newspaper or on a website. If a store is overstocked on an item and/or the expiration date will soon expire, the price will be reduced to move the item off the shelves.

I’m now in a better position to use the few available coupons to save money than I was when I first attended the extreme couponing seminar.

Third Presidential Debate (Horses & Bayonets)

My roommate and I didn’t watch the third presidential debate. The World Series game between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers was on. That’s right. The World Series was far more important than who will become the next leader of the Free World. We did, however, monitored the Tweet stream on our iPads while watching the game, calling out what we thought were relevant and sometimes funny tweets. The “horses and bayonets” line from President Obama became our favorite. Out of three debates, the middle debate was probably the most engaging with both candidates landing hits than the first or second debates.

After the debate was over and the game was still playing, I went back to playing Tiny Tower on the iPad. I have already constructed the 75th floor, which I haven’t expected to do before the third debate as it takes three days to earn enough coins to construct a floor. Being sick for four days last week left me with plenty of time to keep restocking the stores to earn more coins at a faster rate.

Which presidential candidate is getting my vote? That was a done deal immediately after the Republican and Democratic conventions. I’m voting for President Obama.

The Republicans are under the delusion that 2012 is 1980 again, with President Obama being President Jimmy Carter and Governor Mitt Romney being the future President Ronald Reagan. Uh, no. President Carter had high inflation, the energy crisis and the Iranian hostage crisis during his four years. President Obama has inherited the worst recession since the Great Depression and a Republicans Party committed to turning him into a one-term president.

Should the American public reward the Republican Party for eight years of incompetence under President George W. Bush and four years of hindering President Obama’s attempt to turn America around?

As a moderate conservative, I would say: “Oh, hell no!”

The California Community Colleges Crisis

College Diploma

When I went back to San Jose City College to learn computer programming ten years ago, I knew it would be tough. The dot com bubble went kablooey. Computers were out, health care was in. I couldn’t get the classes I needed in the beginning because there were too many students, and the classes I needed towards the end were cancelled for not having enough students. After five years of going to school on a part-time basis while working full time, I made the dean’s list  in my final semester for maintaining a 4.0 GPA in my major.

Unless I won the lottery and returned to San Jose State University to complete my bachelor degree in something (I was a mathematics major before they kicked me out in 1995), I wouldn’t dream of going back to a community college for classes. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the community colleges are so impacted from the Great Recession that many students are lucky to get any classes at all.

Frustrated students linger on waiting lists or crash packed classes hoping professors will add them later. They see their chances of graduating or transferring diminishing.

It’s a product of years of severe budget cuts and heavy demand in the two-year college system. The same situation has affected the Cal State and UC systems, but the impact has been most deeply felt in the 2.4-million-student community college system — the nation’s largest.

Taking forever to get a college degree used to be optional. Now it’s a requirement. If you want it, persevere until you get all your classes. If you don’t want it, work at Taco Bell until you retire.

Perhaps I was lucky to return to school when I did. Uncle Sam paid for my books and classes with a $3,000 USD tax credit meant to transition workers into a new career. Ironically, I never did get a programming job after graduating in 2007. The only programming I do now is for maintaining my websites.

I got a help desk job at a Fortune 500 company in Mountain View in 2005. Unlike finding and reporting bugs in video games, I was finding and documenting solutions for problems that users were reporting. The pay was better ($24 USD versus $16 USD) for fewer hours (40 hours versus 80 hours). I stayed at this job for nearly three years. Help desk, like becoming a video game tester years earlier, became my new career almost by accident.

The only educational opportunities I have is updating my tech certifications. The A+, Network+ and Microsoft Windows 2000 certifications that I got while in school are long in the tooth. The certifications that I need today are Microsoft Windows 7 and Apple Mac OS X. I can study for those without taking any classes. Between working help desk during the day and writing at night, I have very little time to sit in a classroom even if I could get classes.

Second Presidential Debate (Binder Girls)

Like many new Hollywood movies this past summer, I kept my expectations deliberately low when watching the second presidential debate on TV. Unlike the first presidential debate and the only vice presidential debate, this one was less entertaining than a girl fight at a women prison. President Barack Obama was more spirited than his previous zombified self. Governor Mitt Romney was frustrated that he couldn’t get the last word in every single time. The real girl fight should have been between their wives for wearing nearly identical pink dresses.

Of course, no one asked the governor why he stiffed the broads of The View and The Late Show with David Letterman. Much less if he preferred pepperoni or sausage on Pizza Hut pizza. Although Big Bird wasn’t mentioned this time (the hottest costume for Halloween), his “binders full of women” quote is provoking fond memories of the Trapper Keeper binder from the 1980’s. Yeah, it was that bad. The last thing I need to do during the election season is remember my teenage years.

After an hour of the debate, my roommate switched the channel to the baseball game. We started talking about the new product rumors that Apple is expected to announce next week at their media event. Was Apple going to introduce a new iPad with the smaller docking connector six months after releasing the third-gen iPad and six months before releasing the fourth-gen iPad? A sore subject for my roommate. A new iPad would make the third-gen iPad he got six months ago obsolete. Nothing worse than having your bragging rights on the bleeding edge cut short by an incremental update.

On a happier note, Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, was knocked out of “Dancing of The Stars” last night. Proof that the Tea Party’s influence—at least, on reality TV—is coming to an end. On the other hand, we can look forward to Momma Bear’s new exercise and diet book.

As for Tiny Towers on the iPad, I wasn’t able to add the 75th floor while the girl fight—the presidential debate—was going on. The process of collecting 900,000 coins and building out the floor is taking three days now. With the last 25 floors in sight, I doubt I’ll finish the 100th floor by election day—or even Thanksgiving Day. Like the 2012 election, the home stretch is far, far away.

Vice Presidential Debate (Marlarkey)

Unlike the first presidential debate last week, I was looking forward to the vice presidential debate. Vice President Joe Biden can always be counted on to provide a good show with his gregarious personality. Congressman Paul Ryan looked like the guilty little schoolboy who stole his sister’s panties and on the verge of being caught redhanded with them on national TV. Both sides hit their talking points without revealing anything new in the back-and-forth discussion moderated by Martha Raddatz, who did a much better job than Jim Lehrer did in keeping President Barack Obama awake during the first presidential debate.

Meanwhile, I was still playing Tiny Towers on my iPad as the candidates talked over each other. I added the 71st floor to my tower. It’s taking about three days to add a new floor in the game. A day to collect 800,000+ coins and two days for construction. Like the 2012 presidential election, this is dragging on as the end comes nigh.

Again, Governor Mitt Romney is still MIA from appearing on The Late Show With David Letterman. But that didn’t stop Letterman from commenting on the Ryan gym photos that Time released before the debate. Does anyone really want this guilty little schoolboy to be a heartbeat within the presidency?

The Silver Economy Is Ruining My Tech Career

Underwater MortgageFollowing the aftermath of the dot com bubble, I went back to college to learn computer programming. Most people thought I was crazy. Computers were out, health care was in. With baby boomers retiring en masse in the coming years, employers would find it impossible to fill so many open computer positions. Plenty of future opportunities for me. And then the Great Recession came along. Now baby boomers don’t want to retire from their jobs, which is ruining my tech career.

Baby boomers, I came to learn, are a very whiny bunch.

A typical sob story is a Baby Boomer couple who bought a house that they couldn’t afford at the top of real estate market (mistake #1). They borrowed the down payment from their retirement accounts (mistake #2), which has to be paid back or hefty taxes will be due, and took out an adjustable interest mortgage with low payments for the first few years (mistake #3). The couple needed two jobs to pay their bills and maintain their “affluent” lifestyle on credit cards (mistake #4). Everything was going good until Wall Street cratered the economy. The husband lost his job and the wife works fewer hours. Now they can’t afford to retire and must continue to work. Whining to me about their woes doesn’t help (mistake #5).

I’ve heard countless variations of this theme over the last few years. I want to shove a dead hard drive down their throats when they start going off on their spiel. Whine, whine, whine. I’m sick and tired of hearing how their version of the American dream got flushed down the toilet while their pants were down.

So what? Life sucks. Move on.

Their sense of entitlement is so out of whack with reality that they haven’t figured out that they need to make some huge adjustments. Like downward. All the way downward. They had the best life for the second half of the 20th century. Now that the 21st century is here, the economy is kicking their sorry asses. The party is over, the hungover is here.

As a Gen Xer who grew up in the shadow of baby boomers, I don’t feel incline to whine about my circumstances. (Unless it’s my personal blog here, which is read by two dozen spammers who leave interesting comments in the spam queue about my blog posts and their penis enlargement pills.) I’ve been unemployed for two years, underemployed (working 20 hours per month) for six months, filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and worked more jobs in the last two years than the previous decade. Not the kind of things you want to whine about at work.

When my father passed away from lung cancer this year, my baby boomer brother complained that he died in a “shitty little trailer” in Sacramento. But that trailer home was paid for. Born in the Great Depression and raised during World War II, my father knew how to live within his means. Something that baby boomers need to learn for the first time.

Great America’s Gold Striker Roller Coaster

California’s Great America amusement park in Santa Clara, CA, is getting a new wooden roller coaster called the “Gold Striker” in 2013. After watching the video a few times, it looks like the old Lockheed IMAX Pictorium building will be demolished after being closed for a decade. If you wanted to see an IMAX movie, this was the only place to go to for many years before IMAX theaters became commonplace in recent years. On a middle school field trip in 1984, I saw a short video of the Space Shuttle Challenger being launched into space at night, where the roar of the engines shook the six-story tall building. Nice to see this part of the amusement park finally being renovated.

I’m not a fan of roller coasters. I have fear of heights and hate surrendering control, which is what makes roller coasters fun for most people. I prefer roller coasters that go up and down without too many variations in between. Plain and boring works well for me.

A college roommate tricked me into riding “Montezooma’s Revenge” at Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California in 1994. That roller coaster does a loop and goes straight up before going backwards in reverse. My guts felt like it was hanging out through my mouth on the return trip. This wasn’t a “beginner” roller coaster as he had promised.

The “Gold Striker” makes the venerable “Grizzly,” the other wooden roller coaster at the park that I rode twice before, look tame in comparison by being taller, longer and faster. I’m looking forward to riding the new roller coaster next year. I might even ride it more than twice.

Who Celebrates Columbus Day Anymore?

Columbus DayI was driving into work yesterday when the KGO 810AM traffic report on the radio mentioned that traffic was light throughout the San Francisco Bay Area because of the Columbus Day holiday. That didn’t make any sense. The northbound traffic on the 280 came to a crawl because of an accident in Cupertino. Not surprisingly, the accident was long gone when I drove by and the next traffic report mentioned the slowdown. As for Columbus Day, who celebrates Columbus Day anymore?

The last time I celebrated Columbus Day was in the second grade in the 1970’s, where the boys wore Indian feathers, painted red “war” paint on our bare chest, and ran around with rubber tomahawks to menace the girls in their “settler” sundresses. I didn’t want to be an Indian. I wanted to bring in my cap rifle and guns to shoot the Indians dead (I had grudges against several of my classmates), but there were no cowboys around when Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492.

I inquired with a co-worker if we were supposed to be at work since Columbus Day was a holiday. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that kind of a holiday. This paleface wouldn’t be driving back home to go back to bed. This was Monday, work had to be done and I needed the paycheck. Getting up late in the morning was for the weekends and real holidays.

My co-worker also told me that Columbus Day should be called Indigenous Day of Remembrance—not to be confused with American Indian Heritage Day in November—for all the evil things that Columbus did when he set foot in America: the slavery and small pox epidemics that decimated the native populations. All the stuff I wasn’t taught about in the second grade. No surprise there. I didn’t learn anything about American history until I took courses in college.

The only time Native Americans are discussed in modern day America is whether or not Elizabeth Warren has Cherokee and Delaware ancestry and Senator Scott Brown’s supporters are doing the tomahawk chop in the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts.

I’m not even sure if Italian-Americans celebrates Columbus Day. At least, not in Silicon Valley. None of my relatives from that side of the family invited me over for spaghetti and meatballs last night. Considering that the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s are reeling in the playoffs, no one was in a celebratory mood. Forget about some dead old white guy. Another “Battle of The Bay” world series may not happen this year.