Working From Home

I look forward to the new house. There are many many reasons for this, but one of the ones on top has got to be my office. The house is a two story, three bedroom house. The three bedrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, and two full bathrooms are all on the “top” floor. I put top in quotes because the front door for the house is in the middle of both floors, with a half flight of stairs going up and a half flight going down. Originally the lower level was unfinished leaded some people to describe it as a “raised ranch”, ranch meaning everything on one floor with raised meaning they put a basement under it. Anyway, the bottom floor also has a full bath, but most of the floor is a large media room/living space that has a place where there was (and will be again) a bar. Then there is the garage, also on the lower floor. Originally (I believe) it was a 2 car garage that ran deep, with lots of room for a workshop or something. The previous owners enclosed that part of the garage and made an office. This is going to be my room.

Working from home has always been a problem for me, mostly because there are usually two places to work: my computer desk or in front of the TV. In front of the TV never works. No matter how stupid the show, you can always find something on the idiot box to stare at. My Super Sweet 16 is the most offensive and retarded show ever. I think I’ve seen them all. My computer desk isn’t much better because its where I do all my gaming and stuff. The temptation is just too great. The one thing I’ve always wanted is a room that is more dedicated to work, separated from the TV and my gaming PC where I can be a little more easily focused. So this new room, my office, is going to freaking rock.

Aside from location, the biggest issue with working from home has to be the tendancy to remain in my pajamas. I think some people enjoy doing that, but for me, if I don’t shower and get dressed it will take me about 4 hours to get my day going instead of being able to jump right in. That’s a personal thing to deal with, but I feel that having an office in my house will help with that because since I have to pass through the garage to get to the office, I’ll be more inclined to be dressed, and I can actually make a morning routine of it because I’m still “going to the office” in a manner of speaking.

Sometimes though, I just like going to the office to get out of the house, so even if I am allowed to work from home all the time, I’d still prefer to have a place to go to escape distraction. We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds, but not too long, I should have my home office by the end of the month.

Just the Fax, Ma`am.

Why isn’t this technology dead yet? With scanning, PDF formats and email, why are we still using the fax machine over the phone line?

I only ask because in the pursuit of my home loan, I have had to fax over one hundred pages of documents, forms, and other assorted junk. Do you know how long it takes to fax a hundred pages? It takes… like… forever, or nearly two hours at least. And you can’t even load all the pages in at once because the weight will cause multiple page pulls through the machine and jam, which means you’d have to start all over again and that is just not happening!

Join with me folks! Take those fax machines outside and set them on fire! Smash them to bits with baseball bats! Tell them to take their toner filled asses back to hell where they belong! Unite! Down with the fax!

Independence Day

Freedom. It is a word that many of us here in the United States take for granted, and often, not comprehending the worth of it, are willing to trade for security. Elsewhere, people fight for freedom, and our forces fight for their freedom, whether they want it or not. But I’m not here to talk about politics.

If you’ve followed my blog, you know my feeling on the crutch of New Year’s Resolutions. Sure, they work for some people, but they are so horribly open ended that most people end up picking things that are just too much to hinge of the turn of a year. So I am proposing a new tradition: Freedom Day.

July 4th every year I am going to pick something that is holding me back, something that is oppressing my advancement, and I’m going to break free of it.

For our inaugural year we going to pick something simple: my weight. I am not a fat man. I’m 5’9″ at 200 lbs. and all my extra poundage is centered around my waist. If you dig, somewhere on this site you might find a picture of me with my shirt off. So, what I am breaking free from this year is my excuses for not exercising. I always seem to find some reason to avoid it. “I have work to do.” “I’m tired.” “I’ll do it tomorrow.” “I need a home gym.” “I need new shoes.” Well, no more. I have home equipment, an eliptical and a Total Gym, and work I can do pretty much any time I want, I have shoes, being tired is part of the reason I need to get in shape, and tomorrow never comes.

Three days a week minimum, starting this week. I’m out of excuses, and I will be free.

The Government Inaction

If you read here, you may know I am buying a house. This house is a HUD home. From the neighbors I have heard that there was a messy divorce, the husband moved out and stopped paying the mortgage but did not tell his wife (nor did she know who the mortgage was with, etc etc), so the bank repossessed the house, and eventually turned it over to the government. Or something like that.

Anyway, in our process of buying, we had to fill out a ton of forms. Mostly just signing and initialling stuff that came preprinted from the HUD website. We sent in the documents and then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. After sitting on the papers for two weeks, HUD finally looked them over and rejected them.

Not the sale of the house, that we are still moving forward on. They rejected the paperwork. It seems that their program did not include either my or my wife’s middle names. This isn’t stuff we filled out wrong, it is stuff their program printed out wrong. So they said we had to reprint out the documents and re-fill them out.

Well, that’s done, and hopefully today they will look over the forms and find nothing else wrong and sign the contract. Meanwhile, I am having dreams that parallel the movie “Moving” starring Richard Pryor. Since the house is already missing appliances and a few odds and end, and a couple more were missing the last time we walked the house, I dream that we get the house and find it nearly stripped bare of all fixtures and windows, the sinks and doors gone… I just hope my dreams are not prophetic.

Life in the Spin

There was a great quote on Commander-in-Chief a couple weeks ago, and yes, I am aware that the wife and I are probably the only ones watching the show. Anyway, the quote was the mother of the President reflecting back on her days as a young ERA advocate and she said something like, “I preferred spin back when they called it lying.”

Honestly, that is how I feel. I hate that people try to make lying okay by calling it spin or damage control. When you are asked a question there are three answers: Yes, No, and I Don’t Know. “Yes” means you tell the truth. “No” means you lie. And “I Don’t Know” means you cannot answer the question and you side step it or put it off until later. It seems that these days “I Don’t Know” is something people are scared to say, and so they’ll try to twist some lie into the truth they think you want to hear.

My most recent encounter with this is with Home Mortgage Loans. If you can’t afford to put a sizable down payment on a house, you’ll likely be offered an 80/20 loan. This means you get two loans, one for 80% of the cost and another for the remaining 20%. The main reason this is done is to avoid Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). PMI is basically you paying up to a couple hundred bucks a month insurance for the bank so that they don’t get screwed if you default on the loan. Most loan companies have a rule, if your current monthly debt payment plus the mortgage payment is greater than 45% of your monthly income, they won’t do 80/20 with you, they’ll do 100 with PMI. Pretty standard.

Now here comes the “spin”. The loan officer will likely tell you something along the lines of, “Since you don’t qualify for our 45% debt to income ratio, what we can offer you is a 100% mortgage loan, with a slightly higher APR, but a lower monthly payment.” The lie here is two fold. First off, the only reason you get a lower payment (supposedly) is that the loan is likely to be some sort of Interest Only or ARM loan, which means you pay Interest up front, or at least a high percentage of Interest. The payment is lower because the bank is willing to let it be lower since they will be getting “their” money first, because the bank earns its profit in the interest. See, if your payment is Interest Only, you are not paying anything into principle, and this means you don’t really own anything of your house, except appreciation of value. Buy a house at $200k and pay only interest, when you sell it you will still owe the bank $200k. The only thing you get to keep is anything that is left over $200k after all the fees are paid. And if you just did the math… if your house didn’t appreciate in value in excess of the agent commission and taxes, you could actually lose money when you sell your home. Now the second part of the lie… your monthly payment? It will likely be higher. I know what you are thinking, “Didn’t the loan officer just tell me it would be a lower payment?” Well, yes, and technically, in an I’m-an-evil-banker sort of way he’s not wrong. The PI (Principle & Interest) payment will actually be lower on the new loan as opposed to the 80/20, by as much as a hundred dollars a month. But, with the new loan, in addition to the PI, the taxes, and home insurance, you will need to also pay PMI which is likely to be one hundred fifty to two hundred dollars.

So, here is the logic… you fail their ratio, meaning that they don’t believe you are a worthy risk due to your ability to pay, and in return for not making enough money they will force you to pay more. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Why doesn’t the loan officer just say, “Given the price of the house and the payment schedule, we recommend you find a cheaper house.” At least that would be honest. It is almost like they want you to default on the loan…

Moving On Up

This cube is actually to the East side of my old cube.Yesterday, not only did I get a new house, but I also got a new home at work. If you dig back through the Phone Photos you will find a dismal picture of my cramped old little cube, the one with a server on the desk. So now I have a new phone photo of my new cubicle. Just one cube over from my last home, but this one is much nicer. Its probably actually the same size, but with 3 less filing cabinets, no server and a better desk orientation, it is all around a much improved use of space. The only things it lacks is a window view of downtown Atlanta and a door.

So things of looking better from this side of Sunday (I’ll tell you what happened on Sunday later)… I’m moving on up! To the East side! (This cube is actually on the East side of my old cube.) To a deluxe apartment in the sky! (No! No more apartments!)

And with the job calls coming practically non-stop, I think I’m finally getting my piece of the pie.

Alliance: Sometimes I wish I was Horde

Ishiro loves him some Alterac Valley.

Now, for those who don’t understand, let me explain. In World of Warcraft, if you wish to engage in PvP but do not wish to engage in open PvP out in the wild where you can get ganked, outnumbered 5 to 1, there are Battlegrounds. Warsong Gulch is Capture the Flag: each team has a base that holds a flag and a field between the bases, and your team tries to get the other team’s flag and bring it back home. Arathi Basin is Control Points: there are 5 control point locations on the map you have to assault and hold, while holding them you earn points (10 at a time), and the first team to 2000 wins. Alterac Valley is a Campaign: huge map, with a home base, towers, control points, and other stuff, if you hold a control point that gives you access to a graveyard which allows you to better hold the battle lines, the winner is the one who defeats the other teams general.

I like Alterac Valley for a number of reasons. One, there is lots to do. You can capture rams to equip your NPC ram riders. You can gather minerals from the mine. You can PvP and collect armor fragments to upgrade your NPC guards. And more. Because the war is usually long (5+ hours) people learn to organize and play together and leaders emerge. Two, the Alliance wins fairly often at this. Mostly we win because after 6 hours, the Horde team usually goes for an end run, we defend it, and they start quitting. I’ve heard its different on other servers.

But that doesn’t explain the title… see, in Arathi Basin and Warsong Gulch I have never been on the winning team. The Alliance sucks. People spend too much time going for individual kills, no one ever wants to play defence (less honorable kills to be had), and the Horde just rolls right over us. I’ve actually been involved in an Arathi match that ended 2000 to 80. That’s right, we managed to hold one control point for 8 ticks. And most Warsongs end with a 3-0 loss, usually because I, a priest, am the only one on defence no matter how much I ask for help.

Another thing… the Alliance on my server just blow at organization. They don’t form up groups, they don’t listen, and generally they just don’t play well together. We win Alterac because its a long haul campaign, were Arathi and Warsong usually take less than 30 minutes (especially at the rate we allow the Horde to get points). The other team, however, always seems to move together in groups, defend each other, play well… it makes me envious.

I keep trying Arathi and Warsong in hopes I can find people who are good at it… until I do, though, most of my efforts will be in Alterac where more often than not we can win.

Buying a Home

First I want to make a distinction: House versus Home. I do not want to buy a house. A house is the place you reside. I want to buy a home. A home is where you live, raise a family, good times, bad times, life, love, laughter. A home is where your heart is, a house is the physical dwelling that contains it.

I want to buy a home.

However, the current housing market disagrees with me. It has become appearant that I could afford to buy a house only if my plan is to turn around and sell it in a year or two. Every real estate agent and article for the Atlanta area talks about how the market is ripe for investment. But I do not want to invest money into a house, I want to invest into a home. I do not want to buy with the intent to sell. I want to buy with the intent to spend twenty years there, more if I can, less if life turns out that way.

Richard Bartle, a guy whose blog I read because he’s a game designer and often has interesting stuff to say or link to, wrote about the current situation in England (where he lives). I found this extremely interesting because it resembles my own experiences here in the States.

You see, I currently rent a 1,600 square foot townhome apartment for $850 a month. As I have been house hunting, I have not been able to find a 1,600 square foot house (or townhome for that matter) to own for less that $1,200 a month in mortgage payments unless I wish to live so far outside Atlanta that I will spend 5 hours a day in traffic and easily $300 a month in gas and parking (I currently ride public transportation, but the buses only go so far). All in all, its at least $400 a month cheaper for me to continue renting, and more realistically it is about $800 a month cheaper. That is just messed up. By renting and living close to the bus line, I literally cut my living expenses in half.

But its not just that I cut my expenses in half… if I was doing that and pocketting the extra money for savings, that would be awesome. But the truth is that I could not afford (and when I say I, I mean “my wife and I”) to be spending that $1,500+ per month. That $800 I save is being spent paying other bills and expenses. Sure, I could buy the house… as long as I did not want cable, electricity, or to ever do anything other than work and sit at home.

So why not buy a smaller house? I tried that, but Atlanta is infested with McMansions. You know, where they take a nice quarter acre lot barely big enough for a bungalow, tear down the bungalow and build a 3,000 square foot house that will sell for $800,000 and leaves them with a yard that takes two minutes to cut with a pair of safety scissors and where they can touch the neighbors’ McMansions without losing grip of their own house. And when I have found a small house for sale, well, I already live in a ghetto, I do not want to move next door to a crack house. Besides, if the house is too small, it just ups the expenses since you wind up having to go out more often to get away from each other. And really, 1,600 square feet for 2 people and 2 pets really is not all that big.

Essentially, what I see here is an economic state that encourages lack of assets. Its cheaper to rent than to own. Its cheaper to commit a year at a time (standard lease) than to commit to a 15 or 30 year term (standard loans). In fact, the only way to get a loan on a decent house that is lower than my rent is to do an “interest only” loan, meaning that for the first 5 years or so, I’m not actually buying my home, I’m just renting it from the bank since I’m establishing no equity.

And while I do not wish people to lose money, here’s to hoping that in 2006, the bottom falls out of the real estate market and by August I’ll be able to afford to buy a home.

Get Carter

You know… I’m not exactly sure what the heck I was expecting. I mean, first off let me make clear, I’m not talking about the original, I’m talking the Sylvester Stallone remake. The story is pretty good… a guy finds out his brother has been killed, so he comes home for the first time in a long time to find out who did it. Mickey Rourke is pretty good as one of the bad guys, and Michael Caine makes an appearance (he was the star of the original). It even had one of my favorite B-listers John C. McGinley, and Rachael Leigh Cook… but it was just… ehh. Sly is a pretty good action star, but he just doesn’t have the facial expressions to be able to pull off anything dramatic (except in ‘Copland’, somehow Stallone managed to summon every ounce of acting ability he possessed and pulled off a monster performance in that one). In fact, he looked quite horrible in this… like he’d just had some bad plastic surgery or something, either they intended him to have sacks under his eyes and look both tanned and pasty all at once, or the make-up artist on that flick needs a new career.

In the end, it was moderately entertaining, but if you have a choice, spend the time doing something else…

Letting Go

Normally if you ask me about current events, I’ll have no idea. I really hate the news because most of the time it bad. Horrible people doing horrible things to each other.

But I’ve been following Terri Schiavo’s case for a while now. If you don’t know, the short of it is that Terri had a heart attack 15 years ago, during which her brain was deprived of oxygen for a number of minutes resulting in massive brain damage. Most of the doctors agree that the damage to her brain is so severe that even though she does respond to some stimuli, that she is in a permanent vegatative state, never to recover beyond that of about an eleven month old. After a period of time, Terri’s husband said that while no living will existed Terri had expressed a desire not to be hooked up to tubes and machines indefinately. So he decided, after what I’m sure was a long period of serious deep thinking and probably a considerable amount of prayer, to have the machines turned off and let her pass away.

Terri’s parents don’t agree. So, for many years now, they have been fighting. Terri’s husband wants to let her go. Terri’s parents refuse to admit she is beyond help. There has been a considerable amount of legal tug-o-war in this. Terri’s feeding tube has been removed and replaced a number of times.

A little over two years ago, my mother was brought home from the hospital. The cancer had spread, and a complication of the cancer and another surgery’s healing left her unable to pass food completely and consistantly. They had gambled to stop the cancer treatment to let the other surgery heal, and the cancer took that opportunity to spread into the lymph nodes. There was nothing more medical science could do. She came home to pass away surrounded by her family. In the end, I hope she was aware of us and our love for her, but unaware of the pain of the cancer and death.

If anyone were to ask me if I had ever seen someone starve to death, the answer would be ‘yes’. If they were to ask if I would have preferred her to live unconscious for 15 years unable to communicate with anyone, trapped in a body she couldn’t control… the answer is ‘no’.

My mother is going to miss my wedding, and every other important day of the rest of my life. But sometimes in life, you have to be willing to let go when its better for the other person.