Friday, March 21, 2008

Change of Seasons!

I just love the change of seasons, the anticipation of the coming season and the activities it brings. I took this first picture in the depths of Winter, the best winter we have had for some time. Skiing was fantastic this year with plenty of snow. Sometimes I like to capture what the season looks like so I have a reference of what it was like when it's gone. I took this first photo on my front sidewalk last winter. Sort of a classic winter scene with the ticki tacki houses all in a row but a pretty row.

Now this second picture was taken this afternoon, the first day of spring. I think it really captures the essence of spring in Minnesota and is a dramatic contrast to the Winter picture above...

...perhaps ditching the studded tires this weekend just might be a bit premature...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mortgage Crisis - Part two

I don't think there is a Mortgage Crisis.

Nope, I don't. Even though I could be a finalist in a Mortgage Crisis Victim Poster-Child contest. I think it's much worse than that. The so-called Mortgage Crisis is actually a symptom of two over whelming crisis. The first is a greed crisis in the mortgage industry.

Think about it.

Appraisers are hired by the mortgage company to valuate the property on which they will carry the debt and, yes they carry some of the risk, but nothing like what the poor sap who would be on the street without the house is. However, this is a serious conflict of interest since the mortgage company makes their profits on the loan and the bigger the loan the more profit potential there is. So with a vested interest in the outcome they are more likely to put pressure on the appraiser to produce the result they want.

This isn't just my idea, the radical press rags like the Wall Street Journal are all over this one and it isn't likely to get better any time soon. The second crisis is a materialism crisis in modern society. Folks are up to their necks in credit card debt and you have to go way out of your way to even reduce the efforts to market products to you that you could well get along without.

Do we really need that new screaming fast computer with nearly enough storage space to hold the Library of Congress just to surf the net and read email? Do I really a bike that's lighter than a popcorn fart and more expensive than a divorce? Sure there are lots of very useful things out there that can make life much easier but who really benefits when we believe that "for everything else there's MasterCard"? Is it a good idea to put your tax debt on a credit card and increase the amount of your taxes? Do we really need all the storage facilities that have cropped up over the years? I grew up in the twin cities and there was, to the best of my awareness, no such thing as a storage locker where you could put the overwhelming amount of crap we think we need but can't find room for.

When did we convert from finding satisfaction in living life to believing that our satisfaction requires things? I confess, I lust after that screaming computer and I want it light enough to carry around on the popcorn fart bike I lust after as well. Want and need are two different things. While I like to blame the mortgage company for my situation, I know that I had a role as well.

We were the ones who signed for the refinancing loan that drained our investment in our home. My role became clearer as I packed up the piles of crap that had collected in the mansion over 20+ years of materialistic wedded bliss torture. Did we really need every kitchen gadget and garden tool that came along promising to make life easier? Did I really need enough clothing that I could go for weeks without repeating? Whether I did or not remains unsolved but what is clear is the pattern that I felt the need to purchase all this crap and, here's the key point, purchase it on credit? Fine, buy the gadgets you want but for crying out loud, only if you can afford them. Not the credit industry's definition of afford, the old tyme definition of afford meaning to purchase with left over cash.

Having enough credit limit is not the same as being able to afford to make the purchase.

Refinancing your home to take a vacation makes as much sense as finally repaying your debt to a dead relative by tossing the cash into their coffin; the money's gone but no value is retained (at least be smart enough to write a check in this case…). How is it that my early education didn't include that lesson. I am in my fifties and have never once needed to know if Mr. Dinglebury would beat Mr. Glampathoon to Miami if he drove at 65 mph with no stops while Mr. Dinglebury flew but had a three hour lay-over and a 25 mile drive to the airport. What I needed to know was how to manage my finances responsibly. And how is it that we have elected someone whose answer to terrorism is to go shopping to boost the economy so that we could dump the majority of our GNP into a military effort that would allow us to have cheap gas?

OK, perhaps slightly off topic but then again is it really? Isn't it the same thing as spending our hard earned money on something that ends up benefiting someone else and putting our own survival at risk? The issue here is that we are not thinking long term about what we need and shooting our wad over what we want only to find ourselves coming up short when we can least afford to do so. This guy has the right idea, isn't it time we all shift our thinking in this direction? Nope, it's not just a mortgage crisis; it's dying for bling and suffering for our bad choices.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Mortgage crisis - Part One

So I owned this lovely home,

well me and the bank.

. . .

OK, mostly just the bank.

It's pretty, don't you think?

It had nice views too.I just got to pay the mortgage
Which was a nice deal...

For them.

They appraised it
(for the divorce you see)
at 50% over actual value

For them

To be
Able to lend me more money.
See all that interest was good

For them.

I was raised to take responsibility.
I was taught that others would too.
That makes for a lovely world.
(what a great place for a lovely house!)

I am now single
I sold this lovely house
I kept the mortgage...

It's a problem

And it makes me wonder.

Why do
My ethics
Corporate ethics?

Who really is the
Responsible Party

I made good on the
I was mis-lead into making
(I'm not an appraiser, how would I know what it's worth?)

I still have the mortgage,
I was (un)fortunate enough to
Avoid foreclosure
So that I could carry the burden of

Their mistake

Far into my future... I meant to say,
So that I could
Do the Right Thing
(and keep my credit clean.)

But I still wonder sometimes,
How it is that
I am
Making good on

Their Promise?

Broke brake

So I my commuter is a Surly Karate Monkey, one of the most versatile frames out there.

I stole parts off my old (13 years old) Ice Bike after a convoluted series of events designed to get me a 29er Mountain Bike. That's another story that did end in 29er but not the Monkey which, as I said, is my commuter (though I have snuck the Monkey onto some single track a time or two...). The goal with the Monkey was to just get it working and then shop for parts to upgrade it as I found the right deals.

I came out after work the other day to where my current employer has the corporate bike rack. I'm lobbying for an upgrade but not holding my breath, contractors rarely get much of a voice in such things but I still figure it's worth trying. I would guess there are several thousand folks in the building and the security dude said lots of folks ride in the summer. Of course six (count the spots in the rack) might seem like lots to him. At my last job there were more than that when it was below zero and closer to a hundred in the summer but that was downtown, not in the suburban setting I am now in.

Then I notice something's missing...

Damn, I think, it's gonna be a long ride home at slow speed since I am down to one brake. Fortunately, the remaining brake is the rear; if it had only been the front, I may have opted for another way home since it was a very snowy, icy day and I had already gone down that morning in the snow. So it turns out the brake had popped off right there and was laying on the ground. I figure it must have happened as I jury-rigged the bike into locking position (how the hell are you supposed to lock both wheels and the frame on THAT bike rack anyway?!)

Well, sometimes the bike gets to decide when it's time for an upgrade and since disc brakes were on the list of upgrades to be done, I followed it's lead and now the Monkey is sporting these. What a cool deal to have a frame that can support both rim and disc brakes!

Now it's time to think about a drive train upgrade. That 29er Mountain Bike I referred to has a nine speed cassette and it would be sweet to have the option of swapping wheels so I could choose studs or not without a tire change.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Did you see this?

This should be required viewing as part of driver's training. Shamelessly lifted from this dude who has way more time than me to find interesting things on the net.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

We're spending WHAT?

Here's something to think about:

Sunday, March 2, 2008

New Job, New Commute, New Hope

I just started a new job which gives me a new commute. It's another short one, only about 6 and half miles each way. I thought my gig in downtown Mpls. was good with the trail that took me right into downtown so I only had the last mile fighting traffic and then with clearly marked bike lanes and lots of riders so the cars were pretty used to seeing riders. My new gig has a trail that actually starts on the property and hooks into the Greenway trail so I can ride to work with only three blocks on city streets and those are sleepy residential streets. Turns out the roads near the office are pretty wide and traffic is minimal so I am choosing the more direct on-road option but what a great deal that I have the option. I read a lot of blogs about commuting and it seems that here in the Twin Cities we have it pretty darn good and gives me hope that commuting by bike can catch on pretty easily since there is quite a bit of infrastructure in place. Now it's just the inertia of the suburban setting to overcome but when $4.00 gas hits this summer, more folks might just think about riding since they all have to drive past my front row parking spot on their way to the far end of the ramp. Sometimes advocacy is just being there.