I’m on day three of a Ny-Quil haze. Whatever this is, don’t catch it. I’m finally approaching coherence. I’m at least close enough to rational thought to poke at it with a long stick, anyway…
Don’t Worry, There ARE No Consequences
Have you guys noticed that there are a TON of commercials on TV these days offering to let you pay your credit card debt “for pennies on the dollar,” or telling you that you don’t really need to pay that $20,000 in back taxes you owe? Doesn’t that strike you as being, well, wrong?
I understand credit card debt. I’ve been fighting it my entire adult life. I can’t get out from under it. I think credit cards are evil incarnate. In fact, if we could only get out from under our credit card debt, I’m sure life would be peachy indeed! But as soon as we get within spittin’ distance of getting them paid off, the car breaks, someone has to go to the hospital, the water heater blows up… something happens. We’ve paid hundreds and hundreds of dollars a month to the credit card companies for years, and are no closer to getting them paid off than we were seven years ago.
Boy, I’d sure love it if someone made it a law that they can’t charge more than eight percent interest. That would truly turn my life around! But that ain’t gonna happen.
Push comes to shove, I used the credit cards knowing what I was getting into. I needed the funds, and was desperate enough to use credit. Am I happy to pay them? No, I’m not — I think the amount of interest they charge is criminal. But, like I said, I went into this with my eyes open. I signed on the dotted line. It would be immoral of me to break the contract now.
This is the point where my natural Libertarianism comes into conflict with my innate sense that “someone should oughta do something.”
On the one hand, if people overborrow, they should be held responsible to pay their debts (as I’m attempting to do). On the other hand, shouldn’t there be a mechanism in place to limit corporate greed — someone to tell the credit card companies, “you’ve bled Joe Schmoe dry, he can’t pay what he owes — quit offering him more credit”?
It’s a quandry, see?
Normally I’d be in favor of saying, “Well, if Joe Schmoe borrowed too much money, that’s his own problem. He knew the consequences borrowing, now he must pay those consequences.” But it’s starting to affect ME, and that changes things.
Sidebar — a few years back a guy I know bragged to me that he never paid property taxes. He was pretty smug about it, and was awfully surprised when I started hollering at him. “So you think I should pay YOUR way?” I yelled. “My taxes have gone up yearly, and I pay them because I like driving on paved roads and having my poop piped away, but I don’t want to have to pay for YOUR sorry situation! If you don’t pay your taxes, it’s like you’re stealing from ME. Either pay your taxes or quit using the roads, the sewers, the emergency services and the schools.”
It’s like that with debt now. It used to be that I was paying a zillion percent interest simply to keep the bankers and credit card people in caviar. The problem is that now there are so many people taking advantage of the “Oh, don’t worry about your debt, we’ll help you get out of it” commercials that the bankers and credit card people have to charge the honest borrowers even more interest to maintain their rich and fabulous lifestyle, and that really bothers me.
Why do I have to pay my taxes and credit card bills while the other guy doesn’t? That’s the factor that throws the law of consequences into the rubbish bin — the fact that some people pay no consequences whilst the rest of us have to shoulder our burden AND theirs.
The guy who defaults on his credit card debt, who skirts taxes, who files frivolous lawsuits, who cheats his insurance company, who shoplifts… That guy is stealing from YOU — you’re paying for his actions.
Are there legitimate reasons for ducking debt? Well sure there are. There are legitimate tax breaks, legitimate lawsuits, legitimate insurance claims… I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the people who defraud the system. As a society, we need to tell these people to PAY UP. I can’t afford to carry them any more.
The Decentralization of Computers
Where do you think this is going? What is the general trend? Where should you invest your money?
When I first started mucking about with computers in the mid-80’s, there were two distinct kinds of machines: mainframes and PC’s. The PC’s (or Microcomputers, to be more exact), however, were different than what we think of today — they had no memory.
No memory at all.
They had two big floppy drives, you see. You carried the entire operating system with you on one floppy disk, and you kept your data on another floppy. In order to turn the computer on, you had to insert the OS disk and boot it up that way. (Keep in mind that the 5.25″ floppy disks held a whopping 720k. Yes, the entire operating system took less than 500k at the time.) Needless to say, the Microcomputers were rather limited. So we mostly used the mainframe.
The difference between a PC or a Microcomputer and a mainframe is simple — PC’s and Micros were self-contained, while a mainframe was one big computer in a central location with numerous “terminals” that people use to input data. In other words, twenty people could be sitting in twenty different locations using twenty different terminals (which were nothing more than keyboards and screens hooked to a modem) using the same computer at the same time.
This worked well. The college I attended had students who worked at the Computer Center, maintaining the mainframe and doing all the “dirty work” — debugging, coding, keeping the computer running, etc. But after a few years, PC’s started to be affordable. Real PC’s with hard drives and memory, just like we have today. People flocked to the PC’s because you could actually BUY one, and never have to wait in line to use a mainframe terminal again.
So, from about 1988 or 1990 to the recent past, PC’s have ruled the computing landscape. Instead of companies buying one big powerful mainframe, they’d buy 100 cheap PC’s and network them together. This has worked relatively well, but…
The trend I’m seeing now is a slow migration back towards the mainframe way of working.
It’s easy enough to buy a PC today; they’re cheaper than ever. The problem is that in the last 20 years the complexity of the software has gone through the roof. The applications and programs we use now are so incredibly complicated that no one really understands them any more. (If you don’t believe me, try reinstalling your printer sometime. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t, and no one can ever tell you why.) And, of course, the price of the software has gone up exponentially. Adobe’s Creative Suite is $1,799.00. If you should happen to want their “Master” edition, that’s $2,499.00. MicroSoft Office can run you up to nearly $700.
Is there an alternative? Sure! Use online software. Now that the Internet has reached a certain level of maturation we can reliably connect to software at a remote source without having to buy or download anything ourselves.
Google is a prime example. Instead of buying MicroSoft Word, PowerPoint or Excel, you can use Google’s online software for free. It’s a bit slower, as one might expect, but the benefits are myriad. Not only do I not have to pay for the software, but they maintain the upgrades and security, and they even keep copies of my documents on their servers — I can access my documents from any computer that has Internet access. It’s a thing of beauty!
Personally, I think this is the wave of the future — or at least a significant ripple. I can imagine a certain segment of the population who would be happy to have a relatively cheap PC or laptop with minimal capabilities and hardly any localized software, but has a fast Internet connection. Instead of keeping (say) your photos on your own hard drive, you’d use your computer as a throughput device — bring your photos in from your camera to your computer, then upload the “keepers” directly to Picasa or Fliker without keeping a copy on your machine at all. Let the pros handle the backup problems. If you need to type a letter, log into your Google account (much like we used to log into the mainframe), and access your library of documents as well as have the capability to create a new file. Same with speadsheets. Heck, I’m using an online word processor to write this blog.
Will this extend into the professional-level user? Maybe. I already use some online tools at work as a graphic designer, and I’ve used online design tools to create a few web sites. I doubt that anything will come along in the next month or two that will replace PhotoShop or Gimp, but I’m sure that someone, somewhere is thinking about it… It wouldn’t surprise me if there are online graphic manipulation and layout applications available on the web in the next five years.
If I had any money to invest, I’d probably look at this sector.
Them’s just my Ny-Quil-induced thoughts.
When I was a kid growing up in the last century, the only person I knew with a goatee was Bluto — the guy who made a career out of tormenting Olive Oyl and Popeye. If anyone had a beard, it was a full, untrimmed bushy beard. Goatees were for evil people like Bluto. (If I remember right, there was a brief resurgence of the goatee right about the time the original Star Trek hit syndication with the goateed Klingons, but that lasted for about six weeks and was over as most people who try to look evil just look rather more like a guy with a goatee than a Klingon.)
I didn’t see another goatee until the 1990’s.
“Bell bottoms,” I thought when I first saw one. “Goatees are popular this summer. In two years they’ll be gone. Who wants to look like Bluto, for gosh sakes?” I promptly grew my beard out “Riker” style. This isn’t because I wanted to emulate Commander Riker (to be honest, I thought his character on Star Trek was a pompous ass, though the actor, Jonathan Frakes, seems to have a good sense of humor), but rather because that’s just the way my beard grows. I mean, why fight nature? If that’s the way my beard wants to be, who am I to argue? I had a goatee for twelve minutes, and it looked kinda silly.
So, from the time I got out of the Army National Guard in 1993 until, well, now, I’ve had my beard pretty much the same.
The problem? Well, much to my consternation, my beard is telling my age. I’m going gray. *sigh*
This in itself doesn’t overly bother me; I’m at the age where it’s gonna happen. I’m just disappointed in the manner of the graying. Instead of my beard going academic salt-and-pepper, or simply gradually turning gray, it’s going gray in two streaks down my chin.
I look like I have an inverted skunk clinging to my chin.
Near as I can tell, I have several options. The first is the inverted goatee — let everything else grow, but shave my chin. The world famous professional chicken-wing eater Steakbellie pulled this look off successfully… But I don’t think I can.
Another option is to shave. I did this once a year or two ago, and my wife made me grow it back. Turns out I have a good face for beards.
The two options I’m leaning towards are — growing it out in ye olden shaggy biker beard, or grimacing and bearing it. I like the idea of having a shaggy biker beard, actually. Maybe I can grow it out enough so I can braid it. That’d be cool.
I’ve toyed around with the thought of dying it. “Just for Men,” you know. But I don’t really like that thought much… I earned the lines and the gray honestly.
Most likely, I’ll just leave it the way it is… A baby skunk dangling from my chin. It is mine, after all. Why not?