Wet Bags of Cement

That’s what my neighbor (the village elder) likened them to: wet bags of cement.  The context was teaching children how to swim.  And until recent developments, I would have to agree.  I would watch my daughter jump into the pool, and immediately sink like a wet bag of cement–quite the trust exercise, considering.

When I received swimming instructions, my parents had one source of income–my dad’s salary as an associate professor–and 3 kids.  My wife and I have two salaries–both from banks–and one kid.  We’re certainly not rolling in dough, and the current economic circumstances still pale in comparison to the prosperity of the 90s, but we’re managing to keep the kid in a private swimming school, as opposed to the YMCA (where I learned to swim).  Now, I was of the belief that a kid would gradually learn to swim on their own through mere exposure to water, and felt that I should just repeatedly push my kid into a pool.  My wife disagreed.  And, I do have a friend who won’t go near water, citing early memories of a vindictive uncle who would repeatedly push him into the pool, so it’s possible I could be wrong in this matter.  But ultimately, both my wife and I love the water, so I was easily swayed into getting the kid some professional training.

And you do get what you pay for.  Often does she receive individual instruction, rather than suffering through a large class.  She’s progressed quickly.  I find it surprising that a 5-year-old can freestyle swim without assistance.  But, since this is a pricey private club, so to speak, the company at said pool is a little–privileged?  I’m not sure if that’s the right word, so I’ll try to paint the scene.

The place draws a younger crowd, generally consisting of Millennials.  Apparently times are better to the young than they were a decade ago, or younger parents are willing to spend more money on their children now, or they have fewer kids, or some combination of factors.  There’s also a class of newborns, wherein a group of fathers jump around with babies whilst mothers watch through a window from the air-conditioned viewing room.  I guess it’s good to see a generation of fathers more involved in their kid’s lives than previously, but it also annoys me a bit, as many of the mothers aren’t involved here at all.  I generally avoid over-thinking gender roles, preferring to accept changing duties as simple human adaptations for the present circumstances, so whatever.  But still, if the times are forcing women universally into the workforce, and men are responding in turn to take on more of the traditionally feminine duties, then we have the benefit of living in more egalitarian times, for better or for worse.  Maybe it just annoys me that we patronize men for spending any time with their children at all, as if the bar was set so low that you get an award for making an appearance with the kid, as if it was something we didn’t posses the capacity for all along–something similar to how it annoys my wife that women are heralded in the workplace as brave for even being there at all, as if they didn’t posses the capacity for it all along.

I’m rambling.  I’ll move on.

Related to this, is the young men that draw from the perceived boost in sex appeal that they acquire from being seen spending time with their kid, in an environment where such men are expected to be shirtless.  Enter: the hangs-his-towel-around-his-waist-slightly-too-low guy who, upon exiting the pool, then struts around the changing rooms with his child.  My hand twitched, but I did not push him back into the pool.

I was forced into a conversation with one man while each watching our child through the glass.  He complimented my attire.  I was taken aback momentarily, as I am not accustomed to casual conversation, nor receiving compliments.  What surprised me more, however, was that I was wearing khakis, a polo shirt, and loafers–not exactly Brooks Brothers.  But to the Millennials, normally seen in hoodies and sweat pants, I imagine this was unusual.  It is always nice to receive compliments though, so we chatted for a bit.  Apparently he works in a kitchen knife manufacturing plant, and drives around 50 miles every Saturday to take his kids to swimming lessons.  Maybe we do still have a decent manufacturing industry after all.

My final observation as we left, and the original point of this post which I never got around to until now, was the window-paint advertisement that the pool is kept at 90 degrees.  I was immediately afflicted with indignation.  That temperature presents no realistic scenario.  No one is falling out of boats into 90 degree water.  Also concerning is that water this warm will not trigger the mammalian diving reflex.  As an experienced swimmer, I understand and can recognize when this metabolic conversion occurs and how to benefit from it.  It takes practice to do so, but can only happen in water cooler than 74 degrees (if memory serves).  Because of this, my child isn’t learning a physiological survival response.  I’m considering bringing this up, but maybe that would just be wasted effort.

Maybe on the Rio Negro during the dry season?

I guess the point of my post is that I dislike Saturday morning.


Effort Quotient

There comes a time in every man’s life when he thinks: “Huh, this job sucks.  Why am I here?”  And it is indeed a very good question.  Blessed not are the proletariat masses who punctually arrive at work, only to question the work they do, and by extension, the meaning of life.  But rather than pass a joint and write poetry, I will continue my series on Quantitative Philosophy and instead enlist the field of mathematics to answer these questions.

Actually, I’m just going to calculate whether or not your job’s compensation is sufficient for its level of stress, and subtly suggest whether or not you should seek alternate employment.  How will I do this?  Why, the same way I compile data for all subjective forms of human existence: polls.

And don’t you judge me, all you MBAs out there.  In my experience, employers have carefully calculated just how little they can pay for a given job, and they do this well, otherwise we wouldn’t have minimum wage laws.  This is merely an extension of that philosophy, only calculated from the employee’s side instead.


We will start with a job’s variables that make it less desirable, or as I will translate: things which cause stress (Stress Factors).  Through discussion, the common complaints and therefore sources of job stress are:

  1. Superiors
  2. Suboordinates
  3. Customers/Clients
  4. Coworkers
  5. Self (Internal stress, related to self-actualization)
This albatross is experiencing job-related stress (‘BRING ME THE EPIDERMAL TISSUE DISRUPTOR!’)

Financial compensation is obviously the primary negator, but a broader perspective of that is what we do with the paycheck that negates the stress.  Therefore, we start with the weekly net income, and from this figure subtract the negators (or, negators from the negator–double negatives).  Again, using poll data, I have narrowed these variables to:

  1. Weekly gross income of minimum wage (because you have to be making more than minimum wage to have disposable income, and this is a base figure for which we all weigh our financial success)
  2. Weekly estimated cost of alcohol consumption (substitute your drug of choice)
  3. Weekly estimated cost of luxury edibles (fine dining–a universal constant)

The assumption being made is that the minimum required amount of excess finances to achieve happiness with an average stress level of 65% at a weekly net income of $450.  This sets the baseline…or at least it did.  Minimum wage has gone up considerably since I made this calculator, so the explanation is no longer consistent with the math.  Now it appears that for the given salary, a job caps at about 25% the maximum level of stress a job could offer.  This is a pretty low level of stress.  In any case, here is the formula:

(0.14(net income – (sum of negators)))/0.5(sum of stress factors +1))

And as before, the formula is scaled, this time to range from 0-5 (5 being the ideal job), with each stress factor receiving a rating of 0-10, 10 being the most stress.  Inputting my own figures, I receive a 4.33.  Hmmm, I’m not so certain that this has scaled well with time, or if it’s entirely linear.  A job with a maximum stress level appears to only require a weekly net income of ~$585, and I would not be a stock broker for less than $60K a year.  But it does appear that I’m on version 6 of this calculator as of 1/7/16, so it may be due for an update.  Also, it doesn’t account for an area’s cost of living, so adjust the minimum wage accordingly.

In any case, give it a try and find out where you rank.  I can tell you with certainty that if you rank below a 1, scaling issues aside, your job sucks and you need to find a new one (I told you I would give a subtle suggestion).  Now stop reading this and get back to work!



Here’s Johnny!

There’s two things I learned from having moved to the suburbs.  First, everyone wants to meet me–not necessarily because people are interested in building their social network, but because I might be an axe murderer (more on this later), and admittedly that’s information I’d want to know about my new neighbor too.  Second, older men assume I have no idea what I’m doing.  In all honesty, this second point I had already known.  Even I had to suppress the urge to run out and tell the neighbor’s son, who had taken advantage of a warm day for some target practice, that he was shooting his bow wrong.  But still, this concept became even more pronounced than I had anticipated.  Maybe with our forced vicinity, thus lifted the veil of respectful indifference to which, having lived in apartments, I was so accustomed.

Shortly after purchasing our house, BP (the oil company) paid us a visit.  The property’s southeastern border was under an easement, as a pipeline was buried there.  This suddenly became an issue as the trees, which had been growing there for at least 50 years, were on the easement, and BP assured us that “the government” was now requiring aerial line-of-sight assessment of the pipeline’s path.  We found out about the easement the day before signing, but after discussion, decided it was not sufficient to deter us from completing the purchase.  And now, suddenly those trees were a problem and had to go.  I mentally weighed who I trusted less: an oil company, or my own government.  This question, when posited to my contemporaries, inevitably elicits laughter.

Whatever.  At least this was happening before we did anything with the yard.  And besides, they were ripping out the honeysuckle–a project which would have taken us years.  One problem had been traded for another, but we’d also have more sun now for a vegetable garden, so ultimately we came out ahead.

Two oaks and two pines later, I had a rather large pile of wood.  And in a time when I was otherwise occupied with the house’s interior, I figured that the wood could wait.  My neighbors, however, disagreed.  Like an unkempt lawn, the sight of un-split and un-stacked timber violated the order demanded of a suburban yard.  Three neighbors knocked on my door to inquire–two whom wanted the wood, and one who was simply curious.  I decided then that I would begin chopping.  Surely that would send the message that the wood was not available, I was bringing order to chaos, and therefore people would stop asking me about it, right?

Maybe I should have stacked this strategically to keep the kids out

Wrong.  Four more neighbors approached me in the act of chopping, and each time we’d have a general discussion about BP, the easements, that’s a lot of wood, and boy do I have a lot of work to do.  The village elder, as I call him (the neighbor across the street), lent me a second wedge.  Another neighbor’s son offered to do some of the chopping (I assume he was after some cash).  But it was the man with the maul who created the most awkwardness.

One day I was chopping away, and I caught a glimpse of a man walking through the yards.  Apparently, the children in this neighborhood have learned from their parents that property lines don’t define where you can walk (see the Get Off My Lawn! series).  No matter, he was on a mission of good faith.  I could tell this because he was carrying a large axe.  Ordinarily, that would seem less than friendly, but I took it in proper context, and besides, I had an axe too, and I’m much younger than he.  Alas, he was not seeking an axe fight.

It was a maul, to be exact, and he felt that it was a necessary tool to aid in this Sisyphean task–the missing tool that I so desperately needed.  Honor-bound to a stranger’s courtesy, I accepted the boon, and used it with limited success for the remainder of the day.  Ultimately the wood was just too green, so the benefits of the maul fell short.  Then, with the weekend at an end, it was time to return it.

It was at this moment that I realized I didn’t know where he lived.  I had a vague notion though, and so I took off on the way from which I had seen him come–through the yards, disregarding property lines the way he had (hey, I live here now too).  During the journey, I casually waltzed through a backyard in which a woman lay in a hammock, talking on her phone.  It was an uncomfortable moment, me a random man bursting through the bushes with a large melee weapon, but she didn’t acknowledge me.  I hadn’t thought I was being particularly stealthy, but people on their phones drive into emergency vehicles and stationary objects, so I may have been at an advantage.  Still, maul or not, I’m a gentleman, so I cleared my throat and lifted the maul in salutation.  Yet even after that, she didn’t acknowledge me.  I know she had to of seen me–she was facing me.  But, she was a very attractive young woman, and in my experience it was nearly impossible to get their attention under any circumstance, short of being a famous athlete, actor, slaying dragons, or wearing a suit.  And I was not wearing a suit.  Still, I figured under the circumstances that she would at least acknowledge my existence.  I figured wrong.

So I continued my trek, tromping through her garden in the process.  Yes–that was passive aggressive.  I mean, I could have charged and killed her, but she was so self-assured that the thought hadn’t cross her mind.  Pity, there was a time when women found me creepy.  I guess becoming a family man had lessened that vibe.

Fortunately my feelings of self-doubt were assuaged when, reasonably certain that I had found the man’s house, I knocked on the door.  The wooden door opened, leaving the outer glass door between us.  There I stood, maul slung over a shoulder.  But the resident, a woman, stopped, completely immobilized, yet she was the first to initiate dialog.  It was something like this: “Yeah…that’s not creepy at all.”

(You know the line)

And I, never one to miss the opportunity to use humor in a tense situation, replied: “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!”  Although, I immediately followed with a hasty explanation, so as to not get shot.  Apparently, her husband (not at home at the time), had failed to mention that he had lent me the maul.

Months later, we stopped at their house while trick-or-treating.  She then mentioned that I was far less intimidating sans-maul, and with a child in tow.  We all shared a laugh, but I know for certain that she’ll never forget me.


Help it Grow (Part 2)

I was down in the basement, watering the indoor garden and performing a general inspection of which plants are tolerating their work conditions and which are going on strike (flax still has unreasonable requests (I think he’s going to unionize (I should terminate him now))).  The pole bean, winding his way up the outside of the structure, also appears to be getting mad, now that he’s reached the top and is realizing that there’s no light up there.

But the bush bean had flowered last week.  I viewed this as a bittersweet success, for the flowers were pretty and indicative of adequate growing conditions (I’ll have him pull the flax aside for some coaching), but I knew that it was a wasted effort on his part, for who would pollinate these flowers?  In the past, I’ve seen many a bumblebee take on this task, but thankfully I don’t have any bees in my basement.  It was still too cold to put the plant outside, so I resigned myself to just enjoying the flowers for what they were–pretty.

But then, this week I noticed something:

I see you!

Now how did that happen?  Asking family, the theories ranged from spiders to self-pollination.  If the latter is true, this bean plant is a real go-getter: shows initiative, able to work on his own, proven ability to handle multiple tasks in a fast-paced environment.  I think I’m going to promote him to garden foreman.


Spam and Botnets

Remember those days of Nigerian princes and overseas lotteries?  The ones who just needed a little bit of financial assistance, who would reward you in turn for your efforts with profit a hundred fold?  Or the cheap Viagra?  Or the young Asian girls who want to meet just you?

Nigerial Lottery
This image isn’t racist, is it?

I’d like to sigh nostalgically and say “Those were the days” except, apparently these are still those days.  Something on the Internet has survived multiple decades.  Go figure.

I run my own email server, and in so doing, need to open certain ports in order to receive email.  One of these ports is port 25–the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol port.  In other words, it’s the default port upon which email moves.  Now, in order to receive most email, I have to open this port, even though I don’t generally use it for my own purposes, preferring newer TLS-by-default port 465, among others.  Technological details aside, I only have port 25 open by necessity, and I don’t use it myself.

But, because it’s universal, botnets continually scan the Internet for servers with this port open.  With modern computational power, it takes a surprisingly short amount of time to scan all the available IPv4 address space.  Consequently, I’m regularly identified as a host with open port 25.

What does this mean?  Generally nothing, except these automated botnets hope that I haven’t bothered to take basic precautions.  Upon seeing the open port, the botnet then attempts to log in, using various default credentials (e.g. Admin, User, root).  Very quickly they move on, but still, I find this irritating.

Unfortunately there isn’t much I can do about it, other than blacklisting by default all non-US IP addresses (and any countries to which I’m aware family is currently traveling), and any IP address which previously failed to log in.  But, there are still a lot of IP addresses.  And with no recourse, I decided to vent my frustrations by posting a list of offenders.  It is worth a moment to do a Whois and find their geographical regions, if nothing else.  And if one of these is you, it’s time for a malware scan: