Friday, December 31, 2010

Legacy RICS Support

  I’ve been contacted lately by some people I’ve known in the past to help support their legacy RICS© software. Having written the RICS (Retail Inventory Control System) program from 1994 to 2008, I am in a unique position to provide support for your legacy system.

  If you have need of support for your legacy RICS© or PERCS© system, please feel free to contact me:

Hank Anzis

RICS© and PERCS© are trademarks of RICS Software.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Substitute Dog

If you can't or don't have a dog, a rabbit is a good substitute. And if you have a rabbit like Oreo, you have a fine rabbit and a good friend.

  Having puppies is a lot like having small children around the house. Daisy and Baxter wake up at all hours of the night and you need to make sure they go potty in the right place and then try to entertain them and tire them out so they will take a nap. So far Kathy and I are handling things OK. The dogs stay in the kitchen all day and go upstairs at night. Kathy is a professional teacher and a top notch one. Both our sons knew how to read and add and multiply before preschool and she taught Ben to play chess. I taught Matt to play, but Ben beat me first despite being 3 years younger. After only 2 days, Kathy has gotten the puppies to make their pee-pee on the ‘OUT Training pad’ almost 100 percent of the time. #2 has proven to be another matter, but I think they don’t want to stand on the #1 pad so we will get another training pad today. We used newspapers with the other dogs, but the OUT training pads have worked even better than advertised, which is a rare thing in this modern world.

  The cats have quickly gotten used to the new puppies. They all joined the household when we had dogs so they are used to dogs, if not the manic activity of these new puppies. I was very worried about our rabbit Oreo. We had a small black rabbit named Buster before we had dogs. Buster used to run around our apartment in New Jersey and had a potty box he used. He moved with us to Iowa and was happy, but when we got Queenie, he was frightened of her and stayed in his cage whenever she was around. When Buster passed away, we didn’t have a rabbit for a couple of years until our neighbors were moving and gave us their brown and white Dutch rabbit, Pogo. Pogo was pretty mellow and the dogs were mature at this point so they all got along. 2 years ago, Pogo passed away and Kathy bought Oreo, a black and white Dutch rabbit. Oreo got along good with Queenie and Tuffy and when we came downstairs for our morning walk, I’d let Oreo out of his cage. I’d spend a few minutes petting the dogs and Oreo would hop over to get petted also. When I’d make my sandwiches to take to work, Queenie, Tuffy, and Sneezy the cat would scrounge for some scraps of cold cuts, and Oreo would hang out by my feet to get a piece of bread.

  When the dogs passed away, I’d still go downstairs in the morning to let Oreo out his cage and he would still come over for pets. When I’d open the refrigerator, he’d start to run around my feet, hoping for a piece of carrot. I enjoyed his attention and companionship and it made me miss my dogs a little less. He couldn’t be a replacement for my dogs, but he was an excellent substitute. I’ve even taken Oreo out to the living room to sit on my lap while I watched TV. He likes it as long as I pet him, but as soon as I stop, he’ll get bored and try to dig a nest in my stomach. Oreo likes to explore the rest of the house and will sneak out of the kitchen if the door is left open. Normally he runs upstairs and hides under our bed, but other times he found some papers or wires to chew. I’ve had to replace more than one plug because of him. I get really upset when that happens, but that’s just part of having animals. There is sometimes a little bit of bad to offset the good.

  Initially, Oreo was scared of the pups, but now if they try get too playful or nibble at him, he charges them enough to make them back off and he has pretty much claimed half of the kitchen as his territory. I’m glad to see Oreo sticking up for himself. He was a great substitute dog and he has way to much personality to live his life scared of some beagles.

Oreo in Action

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dogless No More!

Daisy (left) and Baxter (right), our new beagles.

  I haven’t had a dog since Tuffy passed away in September and it’s been depressing. The rest of the family has tried to pitch in. Kathy and I would go for a walk in nice weather but it just wasn’t the same, especially when we’d pass dogs on our walk who used to bark at Queenie and Tuffy, but now just ignored us. The closest thing I’ve had to a dog has been our house rabbit, Oreo. He’d follow me around for food just like Queenie and Tuffy used to. I like Oreo a lot and will hold him on my lap and pet him while I watch TV, but it’s not the same as having a dog. I don’t think Oreo would last very long if I took him on a walk.

  I wasn’t in a hurry to get a new dog. I figured God would bring a dog to me when the time was right, but it was depressing nonetheless. In October, my mother in law sent an email about a young homeless beagle in a shelter with raw muzzle marks on its face. I called and it had already been taken.

  Tuesday, my wife showed me an ad for a male and female beagle puppy. I called and left a message but got no answer. My wife figured I didn’t leave a nice enough message so she called on Wednesday. Her call got answered yesterday morning and last night Kathy, Matt, and I drove 30 miles to a farmhouse in Toledo Iowa in the snow to look at beagle puppies.

  We met the lady selling the beagles. She has a lot of different dogs on the farm. The puppies and their mom (named Red) were in a travel carrier on the back porch. Red was a very long and lean beagle and mostly brown with a little white, but the puppies were tri-colored.

  There was one female and 2 male pups. We had decided we wanted a female dog. She seemed nice enough, a little quiet and shy, but that may have been because they were farm dogs and not house dogs. We decided to get the puppy and then the owner said that she couldn’t sell one of the male puppies because his mom had chewed off some of the toes on his back foot and he had a lot of trouble walking and that if we knew of a good home for him, they could have him for free. Kathy, Matt, and I all looked at each other and thought that we have a good home and we would take him. Having 2 dogs worked out pretty well with Queenie and Tuffy and the little boy dog would learn to walk just fine on his foot with one toe.

  Once that was settled, we met the puppies’ daddy. He was a beautiful show dog, tri-colored with a big broad snout like the beagles you see on the dog shows on TV. We said our goodbyes, and on the drive home went to work on names. Kathy had already picked out Daisy for the girl, and Matt picked out Baxter for the boy.

Puppies can be a real handful, but the joy far outweighs the inconvenience.

  We got home, showed the puppies to Ben, played with them, and settled down for the night. Baxter and Daisy went to sleep on the bed we bought for them in our room, but they woke up at 2 in the morning and kept Kathy and I up most of the night playing with them. Occasionally, one or the other would go to sleep for a bit, but for the most part, there was no sleep for the adults in the house. No big deal, though. It is great to have dogs back in the house and the inconvenience of potty training, chewed belongings, and some sleepless nights is a small price to pay. One day to go and already this is the best Christmas ever!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Speed Pays... If you want it to

Can a simple sticker solve a state's financial crisis? Why Not?

  As I was driving to work this morning for my last workday before Christmas, I heard my engine make an unfamiliar noise as if it was complaining about being overworked. I looked at the dashboard to see if the check engine light had gone on and noticed I was going 85 miles an hour. I slowed down, my car stopped complaining, and I continued down the empty highway.
  I was lucky I didn’t get a speeding ticket like I got in Pennsylvania this past August courtesy of a state trooper who had nothing better to do than give me a ticket at 7am on a Sunday morning on empty US Highway 80. Then I saw in today’s paper that Iowa will have to layoff over 10 percent of their state troopers unless they find a replacement for 3 million dollars in government money. I felt bad for the troopers who may lose their job, but I was glad that they weren’t trying to make up for the budget shortfall by writing speeding tickets on my highway this morning. I’ve gotten 2 speeding tickets 6 years apart from Iowa state troopers. They were both early in the morning on my way to work on an empty highway. Worse than the fine I had to pay and the increase in my insurance rates was that I had to drive slower than I wanted for months afterward so I wouldn’t risk getting another ticket or maybe even losing my license. I’m not a habitual speeder, but sometimes on an empty road, it is easy to forget how fast you are going and besides, what danger am I posing on an empty road to anyone but myself.

  I’m sure that Iowa’s new Republican governor and legislature will find some money for the troopers since law and order is a close 3rd in Republican hearts to lower taxes (pro) and gay marriage (against). But I’ve come up with a way for our state to generate more than enough money to fund our state troopers and many other initiatives.

  I call my plan ‘SPEED FOR IOWA’. Drivers would have the option to sign their vehicles up for the right to exceed the speed limit on state highways by a set number of miles per hour when they pay their registration fees. I can see 5 miles an hour costing $50 a year, 10 miles $150, 15 miles $300, and 20 miles $500. Buyers would get a small sticker with the amount of speed they have purchased to place on their license plates to prove they can speed legally.

  If just 10,000 people bought the 20 mile an hour package, the state would collect 5 million dollars. They wouldn’t have to lay off any troopers and could even hire more. If you think 10,000 cars is a lot, keep in mind that in 2009 there were over 2 and half million registered cars, trucks, and multi-purpose vehicles registered in the state (Here is a link to the official numbers.).

  The fines for speeding tickets could be doubled or even tripled without a lot of complaints when people have already had their chance to buy their speed. The only people who would be inconvenienced are the out of state drivers. Maybe they can be sold a day pass at the state line.

  I’d pay an extra $300 dollars a year to be able to drive 80 or 85 miles an hour back and forth to work legally. I normally drive 5 miles above the speed limit and am constantly passed by cars and trucks. I don’t think I’d pay for my wife or son’s car to speed since they are normally in town, but Christmas and my 20th anniversary is coming up. I think a speed card would be a really thoughtful stocking stuffer for friends and family alike. I'd much rather receive the gift of speed that some 5-pack of lottery tickets.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ring My Bell

  Yesterday, we had our second annual chess exhibition at the local mall to raise funds for the Salvation Army. In the exhibition, my son Matt plays simultaneously against anyone who pays a small donation to the Salvation Army’s red kettle. Matt is not only the best player in town, he is arguably the best player in the state, so we get some good publicity for the event. This year we had one player who had never come to our chess club come to play in the exhibition, which is one more than last year. I don’t understand why we don’t get more casual players, since there are a lot of engineers that work at Fisher Controls who must have played chess in school. When I try to talk some of these people into playing, they say how they wouldn’t have a chance of winning so they won’t even try. They’re probably right that they wouldn’t have a chance of winning, since Matt ended up beating all of us pretty badly, but I can’t help but thinking that some of these guys would have fun just competing and start playing regularly at the club if they gave it a shot. Aside from the one new fellow, 4 or 5 other guys told me they were looking for a place to play chess, so I gave them one of the flyers I had prepared and hopefully I’ll see them soon.

  The exhibition started at 2:30 and was over by 4:30, but I had promised to be the bell ringer until the mall closed at 8, so I stood outside the J.C. Penney entrance ringing the Salvation Army bell to entice shoppers to contribute to the red kettle. I didn’t mind ringing the bell to help out. Aside from hosting our chess club for free, the Salvation Army helps an incredible amount of people, not just the people who worship there.

  Since I knew I’d be ringing the bell for quite some time, I did not put any money in the other red kettles this season, saving it instead for my collection day. The Salvation Army keeps statistics on how much each shift brings in. A number of people have part time jobs bell ringing and if they don’t collect enough to at least pay their wages they get laid off. So by bell ringing, I was also helping the Salvation Army save on a bell ringer’s salary.

  From what I’ve seen, the bell ringing station outside the J.C. Penney at the Marshalltown mall is a plum assignment. You’re deep inside the mall instead of being outside in an Iowa winter or right inside an entrance, being subjected blasts of cold every time a shopper comes in. Also, I think the people shopping at the J.C. Penney have more money than people shopping at a grocery store or Wal-Mart, even though there are many more people at the Wal-Mart.

  It’s interesting to watch the different people approach the store entrance and the kettle at the moment of eye contact. A lot of people would catch a glimpse of me ringing the bell and instinctively reach for their cell phone and intently check their messages until they were safely past me. Others would quicken their pace and briskly walk past as if they had just remembered an urgent appointment. Others would give me a nod and a smile, whether they kept on walking or made a donation.

  A lot of parents would give their kids a coin or 2 to put in the kettle, and other people would have a bill pre-folded to place in the tiny kettle slot. When someone went to put some money in the kettle, I’d thank them and back off so they could donate in private.

  I saw a number of people walking in and out of the J.C. Penney store multiple times. One guy must have passed my way about 4 times and the fourth time through he put some money in the kettle. Then I saw him pass through a couple of more times.

  Ringing the tiny bell with the wooden handle started to get pretty tedious after the first half hour or so and my hand started to hurt. I found that by putting the bell between 2 fingers and making a fist, I could put my hands behind my back and shake the bell by moving my fist. When my fingers started to get a little sore, I’d switch fingers.

  At 7:30, I thought I only had a half hour to go, but then I felt a tap on my shoulder and there was Major McCarthy from the Salvation Army. He unlocked the kettle from the stand (not only is the kettle itself locked, it is also locked to stand itself), and I was on my way home. Last year I got a letter saying how much was collected during our shift and I expect I’ll get another one soon. It was fun ringing the kettle, and I got donations from young and old, and English and Spanish speaking people. It was nice to see so many people donate, but I’m glad it’s not my full time job.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The good, bad, and ugly of having everybody looking out for me

The Good
  Late last week my boss called me and asked what intentions I had for my unused personal days since he was making sure our assignments would be covered until the end of the year. While our vacation days can carry over, personal time is on a yearly ‘use it or lose it’ basis. I was glad to get the call because I hadn’t even thought about the unused personal days. Most companies discourage the use of personal time unless you are sick. I scheduled my unused days around my co-workers days off and with Christmas and New Year’s Day, I’ll have 3 day work weeks till the end of the year.

The Bad

  2 weeks ago, I came home from work on Thursday to pick up my chess clocks for our weekly chess club and I saw the local heating company’s truck on the street. I figured it was for the house next door that was being remodeled, but my wife told me she called them because she smelled gas. I went off to the chess club and the Salvation Army also smelled like gas. It turned out that the gas company put an overdose of the smell they add to the natural gas so people will smell a leak. The furnace guy came the next day to run a pressure test and told us we had a hole in some part that is not under warranty that they don’t make any more and it was leaking carbon monoxide and a new furnace was needed. He also said that they got at least a dozen calls for gas leaks. The furnace is at least 30 years old so maybe it was time, but my brother (who fixes furnaces in New Jersey for a living for about 35 years) told me that running a pressure test on the furnace would likely put a hole in that part even if it didn’t have one before. If I owned a furnace company, I’d be bribing the gas company to spike the gas every year.

...and the Ugly

  Today, I went to Theisens to get 2 new tires for my car. The car is not even a year old and I only have 22 thousand miles on it, but the front tires are bald. The back tires are fine, though. It wasn’t a problem until the past weekend’s ice storm. When I went to get the new tires, they asked me what tires I wanted replaced. When I said the front, I was told that they weren’t allowed to put 2 new tires on the front and that they’d move the back tires to the front and the front tires to the back because they weren’t allowed to put new tires on the front unless I were to buy 4 tires. This sounded pretty weird to me and I asked why that was. The tire guy told me that somebody at a different Theisens got 2 new tires put on the front and when they left the store and got on the highway, one of the new front tires blew, people were killed in the ensuing accident, and Theisens and the tire company lost a 17 million dollar lawsuit, and that is why Theisens won’t put 2 new tires on the front of the car. I'd like to think a store would discontinue selling tires that are prone to blowing out instead of changing some procedures. I didn’t want know if I was buying the same exact tires that were in the infamous blowout, but I have to admit that I did thought about getting the 4 tires so I would have a chance at the ‘blowout jackpot’.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

CyChess Part 3 of 3

  In the last round at CyChess, I found myself playing my fellow Marshalltown Chess Club member Jaleb Jay. Jaleb is a high school junior and has been playing at the club for 4 years. When he first started coming to club, he knew how the pieces moved, but was an unskilled chess player. He never got discouraged and has gotten better and better. Now he is one of the better scholastic players in the state and has pulled off upsets against many adult players in the state . Jaleb goes along with me to most of 1 day tournaments I play in or direct. My kids chess exploits have gained Marshalltown some respect in some Iowa chess circles, but Jaleb’s successes have brought Marshalltown a whole new level of respect in Iowa chess since it is no longer a family affair.

Jaleb Jay, Marshalltown Iowa

  When I was paired against Jaleb in the first round September 2009 CyChess tournament, I decided not to play in order to let a player who was not going to otherwise have a game play. But this was the last round of the tournament, the scores dictated no easy way around the pairing, we each had an outside chance to tie for first place, and Jaleb has been playing me even in our weekly blitz tournaments (I’ve won 9 and lost 7 with 4 draws over the year and a half), so there was no way I was going to bail out on this game. And with 5 of the 18 players from Marshalltown, it was likely that at some point we’d be playing each other. I was happy that Roger was able to keep the Marshalltown players away from each other for the first 2 rounds.

  Jaleb’s style is almost the exact opposite of mine. Where I’m very happy to try to win a pawn and grind the game out, Jaleb is always looking to give up a pawn or 2 to get his pieces out and attack. Generally if I defend accurately I win and if not I lose.

  I'm very happy with the fighting spirit I showed in a tough spot. It was a sloppy game and a very lucky win, but I’ll take it and be happy for it. I’m not likely to be able to beat Jaleb from this kind of disadvantage in another year. Matt Kriegel beat Tim Harder to tie me for second place with 2 and a half points out of 3. This was easily Matt’s most successful tournament ever and he was grinning from ear to ear, which was fun to see. Jerry beat Jon in the other all-Marshalltown matchup and Scott pulled off a 600 point upset by beating Roger so everyone from Marshalltown won at least 1 game and in total we scored 7 wins and 6 losses with 2 draws.

  In my 2 games as White, I showed a poor understanding of how to play against the King’s Indian. I’ll be working on that over the next few weeks. I finished the year with 5 wins and 2 draws in regular tournament play. Not counting the quick chess tournament, I ended up playing in just 2 tournaments for the year and 1 game as a fill in for the Okoboji tournament. I had plans for more, but work, weather, and bad timing interfered. Hopefully I can be more active in 2011.

Friday, December 10, 2010

CyChess Part 2 of 3

  My second round game in the CyChess tournament was against Brad Shepard. Brad is a retired forest ranger in his 60’s and has a chess club at a church in downtown Ames that meets on Saturdays. I’ve gone down there a few times and played Brad there. Brad isn’t highly rated, but he likes to attack, kind of like Jerry at our club. I’ve found that if I can keep players like this from attacking for long enough, they will give up material just to get the smell of an attack and when their attack fails to materialize, they will give up still more and more material until they have nothing left to fight with. The only risk with this strategy is that sometimes the opponent finds a real attack and then you given a lower rated player a chance to play in his element. I felt that if I didn’t try to punish Brad for each attacking move he made that may not be sound and just keep feeding him rope, I’d have a good chance of winning.

  At the time, I considered the game a workmanlike effort that pretty much played itself. A few days later, I can see I missed a lot more than I should have, but will give my self credit for not making any glaring errors and never being in danger of losing. Some people think they should just crush a lower rated player, but I'm comfortable just keeping everything under control, especially when I start with an extra pawn like this game. Both methods have their drawbacks. I think the best results will be gained by playing to your temperment and in my case slow and steady wins the race.

  John won his game, but Scott lost to the top seed that Jaleb beat in the first round and Jerry lost to Matt Kreigel. Jaleb got a draw against the dangerous Tim Harder. After the first 2 rounds there were 2 players who had 2 wins and 4 players with 1 win and 1 draw (myself, Jaleb, Tim Harder, and Matt Kreigel). The players with 2 points were going to play each other and if they drew, a win would get me a share of first place.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

CyChess Part 1 of 3

  This past Sunday I went to play in the CyChess tournament in Ames. CyChess is held 4 times a year by Ames chess coach Roger Gotschall and is one of my favorite chess tournaments. I can leave my house at 12, play 3 games with 45 minutes per player, and be home by 7:00 all for a reasonable $5 entry fee. As usual, I took local high school chess player Jaleb Jay with me to the tournament. But this time, 3 of our regular adult players from the Marshalltown Chess Club’s Thursday night quick chess tournaments came along to play. Jon McCord and Scott Ramsey-Smith had played in my tournament in October and this was their first out of town tournament. Jerry Morris has been playing at the club since late October and this was his first tournament at a longer time control than our 10 minute per player games. Casual players like Jon, Scott, and Jerry find it hard to see the fun in playing in a tournament where you may be playing for 8 to 12 hours in a day, not counting travel and eating. The older I get, the less I can understand it either.

Matt Kriegel of Tama, Iowa

  I had a good 2 weeks of preparation, playing on the internet and doing lots of tactic puzzles and felt I was ready to have a good performance despite not having played in a tournament since last May’s CyChess except for our local quick chess sessions. Since 5 of us were going, I took my wife’s minivan, but I locked myself out of the house when it was time to go. It was probably bad karma since not only was I taking my wife’s car, it was her birthday and I was off to play chess. Luckily, I have a fantastic wife and Kathy understood my chess ‘jones’. I managed to find a spare key and got my keys and picked up Jaleb and met the rest of the guys at the Salvation Army and we were off at 11:40.

  The tournament was held at the Iowa State University Microbiology building. We got in, paid our entry fees, and had a half hour or so to hang out before the start of the tournament. Roger was pleased to have 3 players from Marshalltown that had never played out of town before. At the tournament, we met 2 more regulars from our Thursday night blitz tournaments, Matt Kriegel from Tama and Steve Jacobs of Des Moines.

  I was the second highest rated player and paired against Matt Kriegel in the first round with the White pieces. Matt is in his 30s and doesn’t drive or work so his parents or his sister take him to play chess. I’ve played Matt a number of times in the Marshalltown quick chess tournaments and have never lost to him. He is a solid player who stays away from tactics. He’s had me beat a few times, but so far I’ve always managed to mix the game up and steal the victory from him on those occasions. He will fall for 2 move combinations and will occasionally resign a position after a strong looking move even though he can still fight for a draw or even a win. Statistics say I should beat Matt 99.9% of the time, but statistics don’t know that he drew a player as strong as me at the September Cychess.

  Looking at this game a day or 2 later, I’m disappointed in not winning but more disappointed at misplaying the rook ending since I thought there was a win while playing but I just couldn’t find it in the time I had left. At the time, though, I was very happy at not losing the game given the very poor position I saddled myself with. Matt and I went over the game a little afterwards and it looked to me then and now that he played very well and deserved the draw at least.

  The other Marshalltown players did very well. Jon and Scott lost to higher rated players, but Jaleb beat the top seed Tim Crouse who was rated 400 points above him and Jerry beat Roger with a big king side attack. Roger only plays when there is an odd number of players. I never play in tournaments when I’m directing (except for the 10 minute Thursday tournaments). I normally am one of the last players to finish and when I’m directing a tournament, I feel I have to monitor the games where the players are running out of time in case there is a problem. I just can’t do that when I’m playing also. Roger told me later that he was filling out some USCF paperwork during the game with Jerry and before he knew it he was lost. I told him he should have given Jerry more respect than to do paperwork during the game.

  My round one draw meant I wouldn’t be playing the stronger players in the tournament and my chances of winning would depend on a lot of upsets and draws to allow me to scramble back for a tie. But as the Optimists Creed goes, I tried to ‘forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future”...

Monday, December 6, 2010

The money pit

  I’m thinking of getting a new car, possibly a Cadillac, but I could be persuaded to get a Mercedes or a BMW. While I’m at it, I’ll hire a driver to take me back and forth to work. That way instead of having to watch the road, I can catch up on my reading, write my blog, play some chess, or just take a nap. I’ll probably need to get one of those new enormous televisions, the kind with 3-D so I would have something to look forward to after my ride home in the luxury car. I don’t want to get home and have to argue with my kids about what show to watch in high definition, so I’ll get them the same TV’s for their rooms to head off any arguments before they get started.

  It sounds great, but there’s just one problem. I can’t afford it.

  In last month’s election, the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in large part to the perception that while hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent to fix the economy, unemployment is at a 20 year high and the economy doesn’t seem to be getting better. You could look at the stock market and the record profits of many companies and say good times are just around the corner, but except for Apple, all the record profits I see are from companies that have cut expenses by closing production facilities and layoffs, not from increasing their sales (in which case they’d have to hire people).

  The beneficiaries of the voters’ anger were the Republicans in general and the Tea Party in particular, who ran on a platform of responsible government and deficit reduction, but also to not let the tax cuts enacted in 2001 expire. For anyone. Not even for those people making over a quarter of a million dollars a year. The reasoning behind that logic is that these people that are making over a quarter of a million dollars a year include people who own small businesses and the primary job creators. I don’t think I’d call a business that can pay its owner a quarter of a million dollars a year ‘small’, but that’s another story.

  The Republicans are holding up all legislation until the 2001 tax cuts are extended and the Democrats have had a hard sell to the public on their plan to extend the cuts for everybody who makes less than $250,000 a year. One of the pieces of legislation being held up is an extension of unemployment benefits for people who have been collecting for 99 weeks without a job. The Democrats want the unemployment extension so badly they aren’t willing to hold it hostage to show off the Republicans as the ‘mean’ party they were perceived to be other times they have taken over the congress. But both sides want to extend the tax cuts, since if the 2001 tax cuts expire at the end of the year for everyone, there will be hardly any politicians able to get re-elected.

  This week,
news of a compromise is being leaked to the public. Not only will all the tax cuts be extended, but the unemployment benefits will also be extended. I’m OK with lowering my taxes and I’m OK with extending unemployment benefits, but I wish the politicians would PLEASE not tell me they are concerned about the deficit. Orrin Hatch (Republican of Utah) said it best: “Let's take care of the unemployment compensation even if it isn't ... backed up by real finances…We've got to do it. So let's do it. But that ought to be it.”

  That is the politicians that get elected by the American people in a nutshell. And Hatch is a fiscal conservative (except when it comes to government spending for his home state of Utah, in which case he morphs into a liberal). Republican or Democrat, they’ve been pulling this same game for over 50 years. Whether you can pay for it or not, don’t make any difficult choices, just print the money and give it away because you aren’t making anyone pay for it in taxes, and say sternly ‘That’s it. No more.' Like the town drunk swearing off alcohol. Until he gets his next disability check, that is… The politicians keep on getting re-elected but what would you expect from a country where the people have almost a trillion dollars in debt on their credit cards alone.

  I don’t really mind the government having a big deficit, I’d just like them to explain that they are just saying they care about the deficit to get your vote and they have no intention of ever doing anything about it, not even cutting spending. Of course, another way to reduce a defecit is to cut spending, but in a country where over half the people get direct government assistance, that is a sure path to not getting reelected.

  There may be an unforeseen saving grace to help with the deficit after all. The government has
printed over a billion hundred dollar bills that are defective. The bills are being stored in a warehouse and are planning on being burned. Maybe to help the people who can’t pay their heating bills, the government can just ship them a few million dollars to burn to keep warm this winter. When there are just a few million or so bills left, they can be stamped as ‘VOID' and sold as collectibles. If the government can make collectible pennies, nickels, and quarters, these new hundred dollar bills should be a hot seller. I'm going to write to the government to see if I can get a contract to be the collectable reseller. If I can get in on the ground floor, I may be able to get both the Cadillac and the driver, and the TVs!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Morning at Casey's

  When you drive over a hundred miles a day to go to and from work, you find yourself buying a lot of gas. If I don’t have a chess tournament I fill up my car on Wednesday night in Des Moines and Saturday morning in Marshalltown, but the Thanksgiving weekend upset my timing a bit and I ended up needing gas this morning so on my way out of town I stopped at the Casey’s convenience store to fill up my tank. It was 6:45 when I got to the store. I swiped my credit card at the pump and filled up my tank in 3 minutes.

I filled up my tank with 8.8 gallons of my 10 gallon tank. You can see the "FREE" sign, but on closer inspection... need to buy 10 gallons of gas to get a free soda in 15 degree weather.

  While I was waiting, I saw a card on the gas pump letting me know that Casey’s is giving away either a Vault or Mello Yello soda with a gas fill-up. I didn’t really want a soda in the 15 degree cold and even if I did, a Mountain Dew knock-off wouldn’t be my first choice, but the price was right. But then I noticed the ‘fine print’: 10 gallon minimum. My gas tank only holds 10 gallons so I was out of luck. The only way I could ever get the free soda was if I ran out of gas, pushed my car to the Casey’s and then filled my tank with gas.

  The gas pump at Casey’s didn’t give me my receipt, so I had to go in to the store to have them print it up. Since I had to go in and wasn’t getting a free soda, I decided to get a coffee using my refill cup (75 cents instead of a dollar and a quarter) while I got my receipt. There was only one person in line. He was a fat guy with a pair of overalls covering his dirty Iowa Hawkeye sweater and was getting a can of chewing tobacco. My coffee cup had a half cup of frozen coffee in it so I had to go into the men’s room to put some hot water in the cup and scrape the icy coffee out of my cup with my pocket knife. It only took a minute and I had my coffee poured and was ready to pay, but the fat guy was still at the counter talking to the clerk (who was missing more than a few teeth). He was asking about whether there was a fire yesterday by Gilman since he saw ‘2 fire trucks going down the road’ (I guess there is only 1 road in Gilman, Iowa). The clerk didn’t know but decided to go the extra mile in the name of customer service and asked the person working in the kitchen making the donuts and sausage biscuits if there was a fire in Gilman yesterday. The kitchen worker didn’t know and I was relieved that no one had a cell phone handy to call any of their friends to find out about the alleged fire (It may have been in the paper, but they were probably too shy to ask me to read it to them).

  Eventually the conversation wound down and the fat guy paid for his chewing tobacco. He reached into his overall pocket for the change and pulled out a handful of change, corn, and soybeans. He laid it all on the counter, separated the change from the corn and soybeans, paid the clerk, scooped up the corn and soybeans, put them back into his pocket, and left. I asked for my receipt, paid my 75 cents for the coffee, and was back outside 30 seconds later.

  When I got back outside, my car was blocked from going forward by another farmer in a giant truck getting gas in the pump in front of mine. The farmer could easily put 10 gallons of gas in his truck in order to get a free soda. The truck was parked at an angle so I couldn’t get around him, but had to back out and go around all the pumps to be on my way. At that point it was 7:00, 15 minutes after I pulled in.

And how did your day start?

Not only did this big truck block me from driving away, he probably got the free soda with his giant gas tank. I'll just look on the bright side, maybe he'll choke on it...