Archive for Random Thoughts

The Standing Desk – Month One and then some

I missed the actual one month mark by three weeks, so this is almost a two month update. Check out the original post and the one week update.

Not much has changed. I’m still standing.

The most noticeable effect of this is that when I get home in the evenings, I am much less restless than I used to be. After standing all day, I don’t mind sitting, whereas before after sitting all day I would get home and feel like I needed to be up and moving.

For the time being, I will continue to stand.

And now, we dance!

Educational Wage

It takes money to make money.

It takes money to make money.

I got my first real job in 1992 just after graduating high school. Prior to that I’d done baby sitting and lawn mowing and other odd jobs for cash, but with my diploma in hand and heading to college, I needed a real job. I applied at a few places but I ended up taking a job at Kroger, a grocery store, for two reasons. First, it was a night stock position and for some reason I liked the idea of working 3rd shift. Second, as a 3rd shift job I was offered a rate of $3.55 an hour. Technically it was a minimum wage job, and the minimum wage at the time was $3.25, but Kroger offered 30 cents per hour “premium” to 3rd shift employees. When the summer came to an end and I was preparing to start college, I needed to kick 3rd shift, so I got a transfer to day stock in the “non-foods” department (which also included the video store – yes, Kroger used to rent movies). At the time, I’d done a good job and they let me keep my 30 cent “premium” as a raise. About eight months later I would take the position of “Lead Video Clerk” and wind up making $4.25 an hour.

I told you all of that to tell you this… My parents paid for my first year of college, which I royally screwed up. After that, they stopped paying and I had to take over if I wished to continue. I took the Lead Video Clerk position and my 40 hours a week, moved out with a roommate and paid for my own college. The college I went to cost around $500 per Quarter for a full load (12 credit hours) of classes. At the time, they were on the Quarter system, so 3 Quarters for a standard year, but you could also attend the summer session. The school says it was $1,500 a year, which is about right. The summer session was short, 8 weeks, so I usually skipped it as a break from school and to allow myself the summer to do other things. I was making around $8,000 a year, give or take, after taxes and then my refund. So, 8000 – 1500 = $6,500 per year for “everything else”. 6500 / 12 = $541 a month. In 1993 I could live on that. I believe my share of rent and utilities was around $300 a month, then food and gas (average of $1 a gallon, or less) and stuff… I wasn’t saving much money, but I wasn’t living on credit. By the time I graduated in 1998, I’d upgraded jobs through the school’s intern program and was making $7 an hour as a PC technician/Tech Support guy (minimum wage in Georgia was still $3.25), tuition was up to a little over $2,000 a year (though 2 Semesters now instead of 3 Quarters), rent and utilities had gone up too, but I was doing quite well. (It wasn’t until after college that I screwed up my credit – but that is not germane to this story). Even so, had I still been making minimum wage, or close to it, I could still have afforded college. I probably would have needed a another roommate or two, but still.

Now, before I go on, keep in mind that the fees I listed above weren’t really just “tuition” but the final out-of-pocket price, including other school fees. So, my $1,500 a year was actually around $400 tuition a Quarter plus some administration fees, parking pass, etc. Currently, my alma mater boasts a tuition of about $5,000 a year for local students, but they also tack on about $1,600 in fees. A year there will cost a student about $6,600 just for the school. On top of that a student will need an apartment, food, car, etc…

Problem. Minimum wage right now in Georgia is $5.15 . Don’t worry though, thanks to the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, a state can’t be lower than federal except in certain circumstances, you’ll get $7.25, so working full-time will earn you about $14,500 a year – if you can get full-time. Lots of people are having trouble getting full-time work these days, so you’ll either need multiple jobs or settle for less. So let’s say you’ll get $12,000 a year as a fresh-faced kid out of high school with no experience. Most anything you get taken in taxes you’ll get back in your refund. 12000 – 6600 = $5,400. Divide that by 12 and a minimum wage making student going to my old school will have to figure out how to live on about $450 a month. You would need like 5 roommates, live in a shit hole apartment and eat nothing but rice, potatoes and other bulk foods. I mean, a decent cell phone plan is going to run your about a fifth of your budget if you want a smart phone. Oh, wait… we haven’t even bought textbooks yet! There goes another fifth of the budget! Hope you live real close to the school and have a car that gets good mileage, gas prices are more than 3 times what they were when I was putting myself through college! In fact, everything is more expensive now than back in the 1993 to 1998 time frame of my college days, and I had nearly $100 more a month to live on.

It has become all but impossible for a minimum wage earner to put themselves through school without help. And yet in 1993 I was doing it, without running up a bunch of debt. Twenty years later and you almost require financial aid of some sort – scholarships, grants, loans or parents. This is not good. When the people at the bottom cannot afford to better themselves, everyone loses. I don’t want to get all political, but people on the Right always talk about self-starters and people picking themselves up by their bootstraps and making successes of themselves without the help of anyone else… those stories are more rare these days, and crushing debt from getting a college education is a large part of it.

I’m not sure what needs to be done about it, but it’s something that I don’t think can be ignored for much longer.

Forever Upward!

downwardSo, I was reading an article over at paidContent by way of The Passive Voice, and one quote leaped right out and punched me in the face:

What was once triple-digit growth has fallen to the double digits.

The context is that Amazon won’t win the e-book market because their growth is slowing.

Let me make this as simple as possible. Lets say every day a group of three people buy 10 bananas and split them. On the first day, person A gets 1, person B gets 1, and person C gets 1. 7 of them turn out to not be bananas. On the second day, they buy 10 bananas again, and due to a change in the way they buy the bananas, person A gets 4, person B gets 2 and person C still gets 1. 3 of them are still not bananas. Going from day 1 to day 2, person A sees 300% growth, person B sees 100% growth, and person C sees no growth. On the third day they get 10 actual bananas, person A gets 7 bananas, person B gets 2, and person C gets 1. Person A has seen a 600% growth since the first day, and their growth in raw numbers is the same from day 2 to day 3, they gained 3 bananas each day. However, the growth from day 2 to day 3 is … 75%.

That’s right, person A has seen their triple-digit growth fall to the double digits.

The main thing to note here is that in my example, there are three people and ten bananas every day. Despite what many people involved with the stock market will try to sell you on, growth cannot be infinite unless there is at least one infinite factor by which it can grow. There would need to be either infinite people to buy bananas (demand would exceed supply and drive the price up) or infinite bananas to sell (supply exceeds demand bringing the price down), or both. When it comes to ebooks, or any retail good, like it or not the limit is the number of people in the market (or the availability of the good – but we are going to stick to the market size going forward).

The population of the US as determined by census in 2010 was 308 million people. Assume in the first year of the Kindle, Amazon saw an initial buy in of 10 million people in the US on Kindle and start buying ebooks. Now, I’m guessing here, I don’t need actual figures to prove my point. Let’s say the next year 20 million more people in the US buy a Kindle and start buying ebooks. That growth is 200%, triple digit. There are now 30 million Kindle owners in the US, so in order to maintain triple-digit growth, more than 30 million people will need to buy Kindles. Let’s assume they do, let’s say the next year 50 million buy Kindles in the US and we get 167% growth. Now we have 80 million Kindle owners, and to maintain triple-digit growth, more than 80 million people will need to buy Kindles. Let’s say they do, 100 million people buy a Kindle in the US the following year,  125% growth. There are now 180 million people in the US who own a Kindle. Do you see the problem?

308 – 180 = 128

Even if Amazon were to manage to sell a Kindle to every person in the US who doesn’t own a Kindle already at this point, that would only be 71% growth. Double digit. The year after that would be even worse as Kindle sales would have to be tied to population growth, which since 2010 is estimated at 1.7% over 2 years. Single digit growth.

Growth is a nice number when you are a little guy, a small business. Growth is great when there are lots and lots of market space to grow into. But growth is a terrible number to use in a vacuum for judging a company slipping into failure. Saturation? Sure, but since Amazon is in the business of selling e-books, not Kindles (seriously, the Kindle is a loss leader for book sales), Saturation is actually good because it means your entire market is capable of buying your goods.

And my numbers are complete bullshit, because the market for Kindles isn’t the population of the US. There are plenty of people who don’t buy books at all and probably have less than zero interest in the Kindle. Those people are going to buy iPads, or cheaper tablets, because they want games and the Internet. Sure, the Kindle does those things too, but it is primarily marketed as an e-book reader. The Kindle’s growth HAD to fall eventually. Had to. Because at a certain point it becomes mathematically impossible for it to continue climbing.

Mostly, this irritates me because of the increasing presence of “doom-casting” that goes on in the media. Face it, bad news gets more attention. People don’t slow down their cars to gawk at kids playing with puppies in a safe environment. Because consumers consume it, the writers seek it out. They look for ways to twist and phrase things to make them look bad… well, unless they are writing about the underdogs. The only thing that tracks better than bad news is news about the “little guy” sticking it to “big guys”. Of course, how it is people continue to see Apple as a “little guy” is beyond me – a company with a hundred billion in cash reserves doesn’t seem little to me.

Anyway, that’s my ranting for today…

Nanakorobi yaoki

Two weeks ago…


And now…


When I was 18 I considered getting a tattoo. I didn’t, mostly because I instituted a series of stages. First, I must design the tattoo. Perhaps not a fully fleshed out design, but I had to have a solid idea. Second, I had to sketch out that design and let it sit. I’d put it in a place on my desk or somewhere else I’d see it often, so that every time I saw it I’d ask myself, “Do I want that on my body forever?” Third, temporary tattoo. You can make a temporary tattoo yourself. Just draw/print your design onto a piece of paper – in reverse. Then use a pen (or pens if it’s multi-color) to go over the design – really heavy on the ink. Wet your skin, lay the paper ink-side down and then wet the back of the paper, hold in place for a while and then peel off the paper. Fourth a final step, get the tattoo.

The rules were a good idea. The first tattoo I came up with was terrible and I would have hated it within months. And over the years, many ideas never made it past stage 1. Most ideas died in stage 2. With the drawing sitting on my desk, or my PC as a JPG, it wouldn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t like it enough to have it forever. Once or twice I got to stage 3, but within a few days I would wash it off and not put it back on.

Getting to stage 4 was going to take an idea, a design, that had great meaning. It would have to resonate through me, to ever fiber of my being. The wife and I have been working on a tattoo we would share, but it’s been a slow road going through several iterations and isn’t quite ready yet. But this one…

I first encountered “nanakorobi yaoki” in 1993. I had just transferred from Southern Tech to Kennesaw State, and in my efforts to try to find something that inspired me to learn, I signed up for Japanese 101. We immediately jumped right in to learning the katakana, hiragana and kanji. The teacher wanted to forego the basics and get right to smothering us in Japanese, so along with the traditional lessons the school required her to teach she also brought in magazines and books. And art. Seeing large paintings peppered with the picture writing was inspiring. I took two years of Japanese. I loved it. And in there, somewhere during that first class, we were given a sheet of proverbs.

Seven fall, eight rise. That’s the most literal translation. When a person is born, they literally rise the first time. They learn to walk, their family and community lift them through childhood. And when they fall, and they will fall, it levels out the rises and falls. And you get back up. Get up more times than you fall down. Or as Chumbawamba might say, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down.” Or Cmdr. Peter Quincy Taggart you said, “Never give up, never surrender.” Seven fall, eight rise.

I like to think that this, more than anything, describes the core of my being. Despite many failures, both internal and driven by outside forces, there is always a point where I get back up. And so, I made a design. I printed it out and had in on my PC. I made a temporary tattoo. I got a tattoo.

The Standing Desk – Week One

Stand in the place where you work. Now face West.

Stand in the place where you work. Now face West.

I have survived a week of standing on my feet all day.

I think the most surprising part is that none of my coworkers seem to think that it’s weird. It just is accepted, “Jason is standing now.”

I know the question you all have… how does it feel?

To be honest, it feels… fine. I’m not experiencing some dramatic boost in energy and weight loss – it has only been a week after all – but I am also not in terrible pain. I’m learning. If I wear my hiking boots, my back is cool but my legs get a little sore. If I wear my running shoes, my legs are fine but I get a little pain in my lower back. Of course, sitting all day resulted in different pains. My posture isn’t horrible, but it could be better. I’m trying to make sure I stand with a neutral spine as much as possible, and it helps.

I also still make sure to take little breaks. Not to sit down, but to do some squats or walk around or just bend over and touch my toes a few times.

I need a standing pad. Two reasons. One, to provide a little more cushion. The carpet in the office has cushion, but I suspect after a few years of me riding a chair over it the padding isn’t as good as it used to be. Two, despite all my attempts to ensure proper measurement of the height of the keyboard shelf, I came up a little high… well, it’s about perfect in my hiking boots, but in my other shoes with thinner soles the shelf could be lower.

All in all, the new world order of standing at work has been successful. I’ll report in again when I hit the one month mark.

And because of the stupid caption on the photo, I now have a song stuck in my head. Enjoy!

The Book Stops Here

It's a book. It's all the books.Not really, but I couldn’t pass up that title.

In the age of the e-book, I still buy physical books. Firstly, these books often come from favorite authors whom I might one day meet and wish for them to autograph it and from books, though I have been considering reviving the old autograph book to collect signatures.

The Wall Street Journal just published an essay. Go read it, I’ll wait. Done? Okay. I want to call attention to one line in particular:

In fact, according to Pew, nearly 90% of e-book readers continue to read physical volumes.

The second reason I still buy physical books is that some books aren’t available as e-books. I went to buy a bunch of books for my wife for Christmas (it’s how I spent the money my father gave me, because reading lots of books was something the two of them shared) and half of them weren’t available as e-books. There is a good chance that many people who would like to go 100% e-book simply can’t. If they won’t sell them, we can’t buy them.

The third reason I still buy physical books is that some publishers seem to think that an e-book should sell for nearly the same price as a hard cover. Seriously, go browse Amazon for a while and you’ll find plenty of examples where a physical hard cover can be bought for $12 or $15, and the e-book will be $15 to $20. This is primarily due to that agency model kerfuffle a while back where Amazon wanted to sell e-books the same way they do physical books, i.e. they wanted to pay the publisher the price the publisher was asking and then sell the book for any price they wanted. The publishers were afraid that e-books would destroy their physical book market, so they aligned against Amazon and force upon them the model of “We set the price, not you.” But only for e-books, Amazon still discounts the physical books.

See, Amazon, like any other retailer, pays (guessing) $12.50 per copy of a new book. The suggested retail price is $25. This is so the retailer can make a profit AND still run sales on it. “20% OFF!” brings it down to $20, still a nice margin from what they paid. Amazon, on the other hand, not needing to pay as much – no stores, fewer employees by volume, etc – can sell the same book for $14 and make up for the narrow margin by selling more copies. They were doing the same thing with e-books. Now they aren’t (can’t), though there are cases in court that might change this.

The fourth reason I still buy physical books… the technology just isn’t quite there for some books. It’s getting close, but frankly for long prose I’m always going to prefer an eInk screen like the older Kindle because I stare at a computer screen for 8 hours a day, when I get home I don’t want to stare at a computer screen for more as I read. But, tablets are becoming more advanced and the publishers and reader tech is catching up so that graphics heavy texts like manuals and comic books are beginning to work better. I can see myself in the future getting a large 10″ screened tablet to use for browsing and other tasks as well as reading graphics heavy books… I’ll still have the eInk reader for the novels.

The fifth and final reason that I still buy physical books: bookshelves. Someday, I will renovate my home and in that renovation I will have a library. Floor to ceiling books, preferably two floors, with a spiral staircase, and a fireplace with big comfy chairs where I will be surrounded by books… reading on my eReader.

The Standing Desk – Day One

A couple of weeks ago, I purchased the items I needed from IKEA to construct my standing desk. I had already gotten permission to make the desk, and then it took a while for me to remember to go to the store and buy the bolts I needed to finish it. But it is done.

Yo dawg! I heard you like desks, so I put a desk on your desk!

Yo dawg! I heard you like desks, so I put a desk on your desk!

After getting it set up, I set about my day – standing instead of sitting. I had done my reading and knew to expect some foot and/or leg pain since I’m not used to standing for so long. I did sit for lunch, and toward the end of the day I found myself leaning on the other part of my L-shaped desk.

On the whole though, smashing success. I hurt a little, and I’m a little more tired, but in general I actually feel better. We’ll see how I feel in a week…

Simply having a wonderful Christmastime

Today is the twelfth day of Christmas. That means tomorrow we start undecorating.

Yes, those gargoyles are wearing Santa hats.

Yes, those gargoyles are wearing Santa hats.

Despite the sadness and tears, this was a good holiday.


Happy Holidays!

To play, perchance to game!

Perchance To GameThe voting went well. I’m playing Bastion now, and if you are friends with me on Steam you’ve probably seen and will continue to see me sharing screenshots. I’ve also begun writing about the game, making sure I jot down my feelings as I go rather than try to do it all at the end. Most importantly, though, I’m playing.

I hadn’t realized how much I missed gaming. Going through these Humble Bundle games is going to be great fun. But in additional to that, I’ve still got a bunch of Xbox games and other non-Bundle games to play. I need to start kicking more TV shows to the curb and playing more games!

Anyway, this post also serves to just say that voting is still open, so you can still help me set my next game, and the game after that, and the game after that, and so on… And there will be more polls in the future, because I would be insane to have installed an plug-in for WordPress to just use once.

There are no secrets on the Internet

The SecretI wish this were obvious to more people. Even when a website claims to provide you privacy, it doesn’t. Simply the nature that the data – the text, the photos, etc – are stored somewhere else means that they can be gotten to. There is a nice article on this subject over at TechCrunch.

Long ago, back in 1998, I decided to start a blog. Back then it was called a .plan, but still, same thing. Before posting my first post I had a long conversation with myself. The moment I put something online, it could be copied and stored by others. It would be like have a conversation with a friend, knowing that the conversation was being recorded. The recording would exist and I would never know for certain who listened to it unless I had the only copy and destroyed it. Even then… Ultimately, I decided that I would post online, and nearly fifteen years later here we are.

That said, there are things I don’t explicitly talk about. I try as often as possible only to post about myself and my own feelings. I try to avoid stories that involve other people unless I can find a way to tackle it from my perspective with minimal impact on them. I have a wife, whose name is probably not hard to discover if you wanted to dig, but I don’t mention her by name in my writing, mostly because if I did I would feel the need to have her clear what I wrote before posting whereas if I just call her “the wife” or “my wife”, I feel okay just running with it. The same goes for much of my family and friends, mentioned in generalities but never specifics, unless they want to or unless they are no longer with us.

I’m very careful about posting photos… of other people. Dig here and you’ll find a shirtless photo of me. I’d advise against it. The only reason I posted it was an attempt to motivate myself to exercise (it didn’t work). I’d never post something like that of someone else without their permission, and explaining to them how the Internet works.

See, I’ve got nearly fifteen years of content on this site. I could go back and delete some of the older embarrassing stuff, but it wouldn’t go away. Google has a copy, as does the Internet Archive, and perhaps a stalker or two. Once released into the wild, it’s out of my control.

Even inside a walled garden, like Facebook. If you post a photo, even if you make it private and set the visibility to “Only Me”, that photo still exists on a server in the Facebook farm of servers. It can get hacked. Some people, specifically celebrities, have discovered things like if you put private photos on a service like flikr or elsewhere, people can hack those sites, get your photos and publish them on placed like the Encyclopedia Dramatica, at which point they are public and will exist in Google searches forever being reposted time and time again by people seeking hit/pageview/impressions driven revenue.

Your Facebook, your Flikr, your Twitter, your LiveJournal, etc, etc… no matter how “secure” you think they are, they aren’t. You should assume every time you post anything to the Internet that it is public and permanent – everyone will see it and it will never go away.

Anyway, enough seriousness. Let’s end this with a song…