Monthly Archives: April 2008

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I’ve been bouncing around the idea of doing a monthly “dumbest purchase” post and I think I’m ready to get started, but first I’ll need to recap some of my bigger missteps from the past…

One of the neat things about keeping a detailed log of your expenses is that you can easily go back and identify the bonehead moves (and do your best not to repeat them).

If you don’t already use something like Microsoft Money or Quicken to track your finances, I really suggest picking one or the other up and then trying to get into the habit of actually using them — it will save you a lot of money when you start to visualize where your money is actually being spent.

Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Camera LensSo, without any more filler, and just to get things started, I’ll venture back into the records and start way back in January 2007.

The dumbest purchase of January 2007 was a Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Camera Lens.

A what?

A fisheye lens is basically a super wide angle lens. You know those greeting cards with the dogs on them? The kind where the dog’s nose is huge and it looks like their snout is really long? That’s the effect of a fisheye lens.

For a photographer, it’s strictly a specialty lens. You know, something you don’t *really* need, but still something that’s nice to have in your arsenal. It’s a great way to make your photos stand out from the rest, but you need to use it sparingly because the distortion can get really cheezy if overused.

About a year earlier, another photographer let me borrow his fisheye while we were shooting a concert. Having had no experience with that type of lens, my photos were terrible, but I saw the potential that it had.

I had to have one.

I scoured the reputable used photo listings for months with no luck. That’s the thing — even though the fisheye isn’t used very often, it really is nice to have one, so very few are selling on the secondary market, at least at a fair price.

In the midst of hockey season, and the hopes of getting a goal cam set-up, I finally ordered one online from B+H Photo in New York City. Including shipping, it set me back $596.50.

Yep, 600 clams for something I’d rarely find use for.

Fisheye Results — What I’d hoped for…Nearly a year and half later, I’d say I’ve shot maybe 100 frames with that lens. That may sound like a lot, but during the hockey season, we’d shoot a minimum of 2000 total frames per week. Basically, the fisheye isn’t a workhorse. And it’s a secondary lens — it was very rare that I’d actually use it.

Only one fisheye shot has been a “keeper”. Just one — a panoramic arena shot. Hardly exciting.

That was my dumbest purchase (and largest too!) of January 2007.

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In regards to our basement plumbing situation, a picture is worth a thousand words… and I’m not sure a thousand words would even begin to scratch the surface of describing the included odor.

The Sludge Source in the basement.

The plumber comes out tonight to give us an estimate and hopefully the problem will be corrected later this week — apparently it’s a pretty common problem for kitchen wastewater to back up like this.

Anyway, looks like this weekend is lining itself up for a fun clean-up project!

Alexander OvechkinI didn’t get much done this weekend. Motivation isn’t quite at an all time low, but it’s not far off either.

I’d had plans to spend some quality time updating the blog, but it never happened.

I ended up playing an NHL video game instead — for hours. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but according to the computer, the last time I played was back in October which makes me not feel so bad.

Jumping on the bandwagon, even though they’ve been eliminated from the real life playoffs, I played as the Washington Capitals.

Sometimes I wonder how I found the time to even play video games in the past… By past, I mean like over 10 years ago. Seems I never have that time anymore and I have no idea what I’ve filled it with.

I’d also planned on cleaning up the curbside on the far end of the property.

See, we live on a corner, so there’s twice as much ‘street’ to clear which entails picking up all of the leaves, sticks and plain old debris that lines the curb. Basically, you want to get as much up yourself so that when the street sweeper (eventually) comes by to pick up all of the sand that’s been spread on to the road over the winter, it leaves the pavement bare for the entire summer.

Yesterday, my wife and I did manage to get out there and get the job done.

Apparently the teenagers across the street from our open lot prefer Taco Bell and Marlboro smokes. Shocking, huh?

How do we know this? Well, our curbside is apparently their late night trash can. It’s also their overnight parking space for some reason even though the family paved their entire front yard (yeah, it looks, um, ghetto) and has plenty of room for all of their run-down vehicles.

In hindsight, I should have put the pieces of their broken glass water pipe on the hood of their mother’s car, but I just threw it out. She strikes me as the type of woman who’d pat her kids on the back for that sort of thing.

Really, who paves their entire front yard??? It’s a single family home with a parking lot for a front yard?!

I hope they move.

Soon.

We’d also planned on getting the basement, um, well, decontaminated. The issue we have down there hasn’t exactly gotten worse, but it hasn’t gotten better either.

Thursday night we went out and purchase some kitty litter — and I can I just say, that stuff is a bargain! Really. I’ve never had the pleasure of spending so little money at Walmart for something so heavy that I had to struggle on the way out to my car.

The plan was to use the litter to soak up the pooling water — something we’d planned to do this past weekend — but it didn’t happen.

Friday, my wife, she does all the talking, called a local plumbing company to have them come out and take a look at our sludge problem. They’ll be stopping by tomorrow (Tuesday).

The good news from the call is that they confirmed that it was apparently pretty common for the kitchen plumbing not to be connected to the city sewer line in favor of a dry well.

That explains the plumbing that I see in the basement. It also explains the hole I covered with a big rock in the back yard — that’s the dry well and thankfully not some sort of outdated “little house on the prairie” septic tank of some sort like I’d originally worried.

The bad news is that the plumber also told her that, to him, kitchen wastewater is more foul than toilet wastewater. My take is that it was a warning shot meaning that this is going to cost us more than if we had a “real” sewage problem.

I don’t know why, but for some reason, I don’t consider the kitchen sink water to be sewage, but holy crap, it freakin’ stinks…

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Starbucks LogoSeems our first home improvement project of 2008 has snuck up on us.

It was only a month ago that we paid off the final bit of the vinyl siding project from 2007. We’re not ready yet?!?

But this one seems to be an emergency repair… See, our basement is filling with, well, crap. It is the most foul smelling black sludge…E V E R!

We noticed an odor a couple of months ago during a rainy week. We usually take on a little water when there’s a heavy rain, and over the span of a week, I’d say we had over 8 inches of rain — so water in the basement was to be expected. The water stunk a little, but we chalked it up to the spring thaw…

Once the water dried up, my wife and I went down there to shovel out some of the muck. I was thinking it’d be more sandy or silty than anything, but it was nasty foul muck. Dry heave city — no joke. I was completely useless in the clean-up.

Things seemed fine for a few weeks and, while we didn’t forget about the problem, we tried to ignore it.

Over the last weekend, I noticed that our kitchen kinda smelled like a skunk. Years ago, a skunk sprayed the side of our house — really, you could see it — and the “funk” lasted for nearly a year. I went outside, inspected the entire house looking for a repeat offense, but didn’t smell anything out of the ordinary.

Back inside the house, well, skunk. Or Starbucks coffee. They smell the same to me.

Yesterday, I ventured down into our scary basement. There’s some standing water, some orange/rust colored goo on top of it, some white fuzzy stuff, and a lot of that wonderful black sludge at the bottom. Crap.

The stench wasn’t so bad — until we disturbed it (Yikes!) with one of those sponge-on-a-stick style mops my wife apparently received from Santa Claus years before I met her. Really, it still had a sticker on it.

Seriously, who get’s a mop for Christmas? My wife, that’s who.

Anyway, the good news is that we can see where it’s coming into the house. I don’t think it’s seeping up from the drain in the basement — it actually looks like it’s coming in through the old rock foundation (if you’re interested, I can take pictures!).

My wife and I followed all of the pipes down in the basement, and to me, it doesn’t look like our kitchen sink or dishwasher were ever hooked up to the city sewer line — basically, they never link up to the pipe where the downstairs bathroom or laundry room exit the house. Or, if they do, it’s not obvious to me.

My theory is that they still link up to the original septic tank the house must have had — the house is well over 100 years old — and that’s not getting the job done anymore. The only problem with that thought is that I’d think that our wastewater from the kitchen would stink of Cascade, Palmolive, and Joy — not, well, I can’t even explain what this sludge smells like…

Imagine a giant skunk drinking a grande Starbucks coffee.

Gag me now.

No, really, I can smell it.

So, the plan now is to call in a plumber for next week. I’m hoping it’s as simple as rerouting the waste water from the kitchen to the main sewer line and capping off the old line that exits on the far side of the house (where the sludge is coming in). Hopefully, then, it will clear up on its own.

As I’ve said, we’ve lived here for 6 years, the house has been there over 100 more, and this is a new problem — so perhaps this isn’t the answer, but I really hope it is — because I can’t imagine it will be very costly.

I mean, how much can a plumber possibly charge to re-route a 4 inch pipe ten feet in the opposite direction? I’d do it myself if not for my gag-reflex.

No, that’s not true — I’ll find comfort in having someone who knows what they’re doing come in and tell me exactly what they think the problem is…

I’ll keep you posted on the situation *and* the bill.

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Homer Simpson and Mr. SpockA couple of days ago, the guy that wrote Living Rich by Spending Smart: How to Get More of What You Really Want, Greg Karp, had an article run on my local newspaper’s website.

The idea was comparing the spending habits of Homer Simpson and Mr. Spock (from Star Trek). You know, illogical vs. logical. I’ve cut out most of the article, but one passage really stood out for me:

If you don’t think you’re irrational with money, answer these questions: Would you mow your own lawn to save $10? Many people say, “Of course.” Would you mow your neighbor’s lawn to earn $10? Many people’s respond, “No way.”

Interesting, considering that from a money standpoint the questions are the same. A perfectly logical person would translate both questions as, “Would you mow a lawn to be $10 richer?” Answers to the questions should be the same, whether yes or no.

For me, if he’d up’ed the dollar figure to $15, well, I’d mow my own *and* the neighbor’s.

No problem. ;0)

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Over the weekend, I came across an AP report regarding the blue prints for the NYC Freedom Tower that they’re going to build in place of the World Trade Center:

Report: NYC Freedom Tower plans found in trash

By Associated Press

NEW YORK – A homeless man has come forward with two sets of confidential ground zero blueprints that he says were dumped in a Lower Manhattan trash can.

The man brought the Freedom Tower plans to the New York Post, which says the 150-page schematic is marked: “Secure Document — Confidential.”

The documents are dated October 5, 2007. They contain plans for each floor, the thickness of the concrete-core wall, and the location of air ducts, elevators, electrical systems and support columns.

The agency that owns the World Trade Center site, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, calls it a serious security lapse.

Spokeswoman Candace McAdams says mishandling the blueprints would be “cause for serious disciplinary action.”

Now, other than for the company who designed the blue prints (it is their product, after all), what is the big deal?

My inadequate engineering skills can tell you where the support columns are for the building I work in. The elevator shaft is, well, just walk into the lobby, you’ll see it. Push up a ceiling tile and guess what? You can see all of the duct work and much of the electrical wiring too!

Do these specific Freedom Tower blueprints expose a weakness, you know, like a ray-shielded thermal exhaust port along a heavily fortified trench that could lead to the destruction of the entire building?

The Rebels planning their attack…

I guess my point is that not every one is a terrorist — it’s just paranoia run amok. And this is hardly the security lapse they’re making it out to be.

This is like when that women offered the recipe for Coca-Cola to Pepsi. Actually, that story was more of security breach — these blueprints weren’t even stolen…

Look, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine how a building is constructed — what, are the going to drape the entire project, right downtown, in thick black canvas and a sign that reads, “For National Security’s Sake, Please don’t Peak Behind the Curtain?”

Will they go so far as to do background checks on every single contractor working on the project and give them security clearance to work on the project?

They obviously didn’t go that far building the new Yankee Stadium, another high profile site, and that one could arguably be considered an equally “guarded” NYC construction project.

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Not our actual house.Reading an article on CBNC today, I came across a bothersome quote from an analyst in reference to the rising number of people “walking away” from their mortgages:

“I don’t know where the tipping point is,” Wachovia chief risk officer Don Truslow told analysts on a conference call. “But somewhere when a borrower crosses the 100 percent loan to value, somewhere north of that…their propensity to just default and stop paying their mortgage rises dramatically and really accelerates up. It’s almost regardless of how they scored, say, on FICO or other kinds of credit characteristics.”

Yikes?!

So let me get this straight…

If the value of my house drops below what I paid for it, I should just consider walking away cause it isn’t worth what I’m paying for anymore?

That *is* what it says, right?

That really says something about American society these days, huh?

Yep, I have good credit, so you let me borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars and I signed a contract saying that I’d pay you back. Thought I was getting a deal, but then it didn’t turn out to be such a great deal, so I’m going to ignore the contract and screw you over…

I can’t fathom doing this. I just can’t.

How many of us have continued making payments on a car that was worth less than we owed? I’m pretty sure most all of us have — but we still made the payments, because that’s what we’d made a commitment at the time of purchase to do.

Pay back your debts! It’s the right thing to do.

I guess the right and honorable thing to do isn’t important anymore.

Where did this sense of entitlement come from?

Personally, I hope these folks walking away in situations like this never recover. Ever.

They don’t deserve it.

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Nest EggAfter the past two favorable days in the markets, combined with my monthly contribution that was deposited earlier this week, I’m happy to report that my balance is *finally* higher than it was on January 1.

Now I know, it’s not really higher, since I’ve added thousands in contributions since the start of the year only to break even (and ahead) now, but it’s still nice (in a mental motivational sort of way) to finally see a number higher than where I started the year.

As of market close yesterday, I’m up $1230 since January 1 and at a new all time high! Woo-hoo!

Can You Dig It?

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