Apartment Living – The Notice

As we have bought a house, and are having way too many trades people tweaking on it, it is time to plan our vacating of this apartment. This entails giving “notice” of our intent to vacate.

Having read the fine print of the lease (I know, shocking) we know that breaking the lease early is going to cost us 2 months’ rent. A bit of a hardship, but not unexpected. Of course, we could keep the lease in place, and hope that they can rent the apartment before the lease is up, but there are 4 months left on the lease, and that is a risk too much to take. (lots of vacancies)

So Barbara informed the office of our plans yesterday. The whole office staff was there. They seemed almost surprised that we were giving proper notice and were going to pay the termination fee.

The Dumpsters on moving day

The Dumpsters on moving day

Apparently the preferred method for leaving before the lease was up is to pack and leave on the weekends or evenings when the management isn’t on the premises.

Yeah, that is a great fucking idea. Not only will it destroy your credit rating to have a default on a lease, but good luck renting with that hanging over your head.

No wonder why Sundays are the preferred move-out day, filling all the trash dumpsters to overflowing with detritus.

Heck, two doors down from us, the tenants left and abandoned a lot of their personal belongings.

In a way, I feel bad for the people who are forced to do this. While i have railed at the neighborhood, and the deficiencies of the facilities here, I recognize that for the area (Silicon valley) these apartments are considered “affordable”. But seeing that we will pay $30K in rent for one year, and knowing that most of the people who live here are in the services industry (our next door neighbor is a chef at a local restaurant. I know how much that pays…) this is a struggle to afford.

I shiver to think about what the next step down is on the housing front. It can’t be good.

The good news is that we will soon be moving to our house.


House – Interior Painting

While the outside of the house has pretty decent paint, the inside was a bit, uh, hideous. Nothing too awful, but it clearly hadn’t been painted in a long time. The bedrooms had some odd paint colors on some walls, and one was obviously a child’s room with some odd trim.

painting 7Add to that the awful 70’s vintage “popcorn” ceiling, and you have a mess. Fortunately, our real estate agent recommended Mario to work it over. In a mere two days, they have:

  • Masked all fixtures and cabinetry
  • Removed the popcorn ceiling
  • Fixed some drywall damage
  • Replaced the particle board shelves in the closets
  • Retexture the walls and ceiling

Once we choose colors, we will have an awesome interior to come home to.

I can hardly wait.


The Kitchen

Before moving into our new house, we are having a lot of work done. While the “bones” of the house are in good condition, it is clear that some of the extremities were in need of some massive overhaul. The Kitchen Appliances are one of the worst offenders.

As a former professional chef, I am lucky (cursed?) with the ability to make anything “do” around cooking. Old stoves, inadequate ovens, etc, I can survive with it. Hence I have never felt the need to spend the money to upgrade appliances unless they are broken.

Doubly bad, having tagged along with my step father, an appliance repairman, I am pretty good at keeping appliances alive.

Thus, I have worked with some pretty crappy gear in the homes that I have owned. From the AEK at the condo I first bought, to the so so gas range in Tucson (neither good nor bad, but a serviceable GE unit) to the radiative heating stovetop at our Chandler house, I was able to cope.

appliances-11However, now that we have bought a house here in San Jose, it is time to splurge. The appliances in the kitchen (stove/oven, dishwasher, and microwave) are all abysmal. The dishwasher is just yucky, I don’t want to even touch it. The oven/stove? Well, it is a 1970’s vintage Roper that is not only plain, but in pretty rough shape. The burners are the old coil type, and the drip pans, well, instead of spending $15 to replace them, they were just wrapped in aluminum foil.

So we plopped down some bucks for new appliances. Since we are doing a lot of other work to the house, the new appliances haven’t arrived yet, so this will just document the meh that was there. The stove will be a sweet gas slide-in Kitchen Aid unit that will probably be the best stove/oven I have ever worked with outside of a commercial kitchen.

I have already replaced the halogen “can” lights in the kitchen with LED’s, and added dimmer switches, so it is slowly, but surely becoming ours. Next week the plumber comes to fix a few issues, and to plumb gas into the oven area.

I can hardly wait to move in.

Innumeracy and the cult of anti-vax

The last post was about an innate understanding of scale and scope, and how this lead to a general understanding of magnitudes.

A real world example, and one that is top of the news lately is the whole “anti-vaccine” movement. This is the increasing tendency to choose to not vaccinate your children due to the faulty belief that vaccines are worse than the disease. Leaving that argument aside, lets apply this “scale” thing to the antivaccine argument:

Measles, a once common childhood disease, has several bad results, with the death rate being on the order of 3 per 1,000 infections. (I will admit that I am horrified by how high this is.) That means that if 1000 children contract the measles virus, 3 will die. Let that sink in. That is a 0.3% fatality rate. Seems pretty low, until …

The MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine has pretty much eradicated the disease. In 2000 there were virtually no cases reported in the USA.

Of course, the vaccine is not risk free. The major risk is an allergic reaction to an ingredient, usually the albumin (protein from the white of an egg), causing an anaphylactic reaction. This is somewhat on the order of less than one event per million doses. That is almost three orders of magnitude lower than the risk of death. (1/1000 the risk). And guess what, when you get a vaccine, the healthcare provider has an epi pen ready for the vanishingly rare anaphylaxis, so even if you do have such a reaction, you will get immediate treatment for it. There is also a more common reaction, of a fever, a rash, and other symptoms, all of which are far less risky than the disease. None of these are considered life threatening.

So, the risk of a vaccine adverse reaction is 1/1000th the risk of DYING from the disease itself.

The truly horrifying statistic is the rate of death in immunocompromised victims of measles. That mortality rate is a staggering 30%. That means that if your child is immunocompromised, and contracts the disease, they have a nearly 1 in 3 chance of dying.


The general population is poorly prepared to weigh risks, and scale. Clearly, the benefits of vaccinating your children vastly outweighs the risks with vaccination, but the specious arguments bantered about highlight how little
the general populace understands the scope and scale of the risks.

House Hunting Journal – Mortgage Companies Suck

I wrote this a couple weeks ago, before we closed so I wouldn’t jinx the process. The process of mortgage underwriting is completely f*cked up at this point. This post is some of the zaniness I had to endure.

The last house I bought, in Chandler Arizona was a breeze. We bought it in 2012 (i.e. well after the global financial crisis), and apart from documenting my wages, and supplying some paperwork about our house in Tucson that we were keeping and renting, it was a relatively painless process. That is not to say that we didn’t have some hoops to jump through, but they were easy, and quickly dispatched.

The loan we got here is a whole other story. Granted, we are borrowing the maximum allowed for a conforming loan. But it is a standard 30 year, fixed rate mortgage (that we locked in at 3.56%) I make plenty of money to qualify and repay the mortgage, and we are putting 10% down, a considerable amount of cash, so it seems like it should have been an easy process.

Nope. The wrinkle is that we are selling our Tucson house, (it is under contract, but it will close after we close here in San Jose) and that bears on the total debt ratio. So it was an unending stream of requests for documentation, and justifications for everything in the package. My relocation letter wasn’t good enough. My 4 pay stubs with my salary weren’t enough. My promotion letter with my new salary on it wasn’t enough.

We supplied the insurance policy information three times for Christ’s sake.

A few things that really got stuck in my craw:

  • The Tucson house HOA. They insisted on a printout from a secure website that showed the dues, and the payment schedule. Of course, the rinky-dink HOA was run by a rinky dink company that didn’t have a secure website, or really anything that was acceptable. All for a HOA fee of $45 every quarter. Yes, that’s right, $15 a month.
  • The transfer of funds when we closed a bank account. Upon moving here, the bank we used in Arizona, BBVA Compass, was not going to work for us. With only two branches int he bay area, neither within 20 miles of our house, we changed banks. So on December 23, we closed the BBVA account, and Barbara got a cashier’s check for the funds there (something north of $42K). The teller made a mistake and made the cashier’s check a little less than the total. The difference, $2.18, he just paid in cash. It took 3 hours over three days to satisfy the underwriter of this $2.18 discrepancy. I burned about $200 worth of work time to account for the price of a tall regular coffee from Starbucks.
  • The mortgage company uses a portal to communicate the status. mortgageloanstatus.com that seems to be a common portal. It started relevant with a lot of documents that I needed to sign, and return. But also is a panel to explain the needed items to clear. The problem is that they never updated it as we cleared the documents. Useless as tits on a boar hog.

Look, I get it that the fast and loose times that lead to the crash in 2008 were bad, and that we need to tighten the process up, but the mindless drones, questioning $15 HOA fees, and $2.18 discrepancies in a transaction of over $42,000, well, fuck me.

I am also certain that the required mortgage company that we needed to use due to the relocation company was part of the problem. They were located in New Jersey, and the time differential (3 hours) didn’t help. Add in the nuttiness of the California market, where you have to act fast, and process it immediately. They never picked up the sense of urgency that is demanded to win here.

The process is done, the loan was approved, and funded, and we have the house. Next up will be the before post with plenty of pictures of what we will be changing before we move in.

I can hardly wait to get out of the apartment. Our formal move-out day will likely be March 31. I will hate to pay the termination fee on the lease, but I would hate even more to have the mortgage AND the rent.


5 months of the Specialized 2015 Crave Expert

With 5 months of riding, it is time for an update of the 2015 Specialized Crave Expert. A few hundred miles in, with about an even mix of road and off road riding, there are a few things to update.

I still hate the tires. I haven’t replaced them yet, but it will happen soon. They are a bit squirrely on hardpack, OK on loose/hard dirt, and awful in the mud. I am not a big mud rider, so this isn’t a bad thing per se, but I do ride a lot of hard pack. Will be changing them soon. The other thing is that the carcass of the tire aren’t very good at blocking thorns or sharp items. I have had A LOT of flats. Mr. Tuffy’s to the rescue.

The seat. I know some people rave about the Specialized seat, but I am not one of them. It rubs my crotch raw on ordinary rides (90 minutes or less). Time to upgrade to a better saddle. My Terry Fly Ti on my road bike is super comfortable for hours and hours of riding. I know it is a road saddle, but it will also be added to my mountain bike. Don’t tell anyone.

The brakes. Still super powerful, and smooth, but they have become noisy. Not a squeal, but an annoyance nonetheless. They are the organic pads, and the discs are not compatible with the better pads. I will probably swap for XTR discs, and better pads. When I have a couple hundred to spare. Until then, it is tolerable.

The fork. Rockshox Reba in the color scheme of the frame. This I really like. I bought a suspension pump, and got the air bladder set right for my portly weight, and it is great. The lockout is perfect for the tarmac milage between the dirt. I am sure there are better forks, but for my riding, I am happy with this set of silverware.

The wheels. Being the first disc brakes I have had on a bike, I am not as sensitive to being out of true as with a rim brake. However, every time I put the bike on the stand, the wheels are perfect. I know 5 months isn’t a long time, but I am happy so far. (Being a bit heavy my self, 235# plus, this is pretty good)

General impressions:

The 29″ wheels take some adjustment. It is not obvious what is different unless you ride 26 back to back with a 29, but it does roll over obstacles. One trail I ride has been abused by some heavy rainfall, and littered with some half buried babyheads. The Crave rolls right over them, even though there is a sphincter clench factor of 7. I know on a 26″ bike I would have gone over the bars.

The bike floats over some gnarly ruts as well. It takes some practice to just let it go (previously, I would brake hard, and paddle over some of these.)

Climbing is not its strength. I am not sure if it is the bike and the geometry, or just my confidence, but I used to just ride up and over roots and rocks that I just haven’t felt comfortable blasting up over them. The 2×9 gears are pretty sweet though, for smooth climbs it definitely rocks the dirt.

The frame geometry is pretty forgiving. You can carve a pretty tight line even with such large wheels, and do some amazing maneuvering. I like it.

Overall, the bike is a solid hardtail, with a good mix of capability and component quality. I am looking forward to many hundreds of dirt miles this year.

Numeracy, the common sense of numbers

When I was in school, calculators were new enough, that they really weren't something that the average student had. They were expensive, and quite limited. Hence, we learnt how to do arithmetic with pencil and paper.

In those days, the lesson plans were written to be approachable in a reasonable time frame to students to solve problems with pencil and paper easily.

Even in my physics class (3rd year) we never once used a calculator. But I did learn some things that hang with me to this very day.

Scale – in high school mathematics, it isn't obvious, but when you take science courses, you learn about this thing called "Scientific Notation". That is typically, mantissa and an exponent. The mantissa being a number like a.bbbbb where the number of "significant digits" is related to how precisely you know a value.

Estimation – In my high school physics class, we didn't use calculators, but we did learn how to use a slide rule. Don't laugh, this was extremely useful. You learn that you can quickly do large calculations by just operating on the mantissa's and then figuring out the magnitude. Thus 6.03e23 * 1.47e-7 is the equivalent of (6.021.47)x1023 – 7 or 8.85e16 (note, if you use a calculator to calculate 6.02×1.47 you will get a lot more numbers to the right of the decimal point, but I truncated it at two, as there was two digits of significant figures). Thus you can quickly get the scale of the answer (or estimate) by fiddling with the exponents. In this case, you can also get close to the mantissa by noting that 6.02 is almost 6, and 1.47 is a little less than 1.5. 1.56 is 9, so you know that it is a little less than 9, so guess 8.8, and then the exponent of 23 – 7, and you get 8.8e16, pretty damn close, and you can do it in your head.

There are a lot of other tricks that I use almost daily, often to claims if being magic by the people I interact with, but reality is just common sense combined with numeracy.

Today, students are armed with calculators, and the art of estimation, and an innate sense of scale is dying. I firmly believe that, plus the rise of misinformation packaged as fact on the internet is leading to the rise in the anti-vaccine trends.

Next up, I will take apart the common justification of not vaccinating.

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Blacklist – TV Show

Netflix has sabotaged my time again. This time with the drama “Blacklist)”, a show about a US Naval Officer who dropped off the grid, going rogue and criminal, and then becoming a high value informer for the government.

Spoiler alert: if you haven’t watched, and are interested, you might want to stop here and move along.

The Pilot was fairly compelling, but a bit cheesy. Raymond (Red) Reddington turns himself in at FBI Headquarters, and offers to assist in the capture of some seriously bad dudes (and dudettes), but there is a catch. He will work only through a new agent, a profiler who just joined the force, Elizabeth Keen.

In the first episode, the story is about halting a public, high impact bombing using a General’s daughter who was kidnapped from the custody of said agent Keen.

But as with all drama’s there is the main thread, but a few side threads all intertwined into the tapestry of the show. In the pilot, there is a subtext of a connection between Red and Agent Keen that is telegraphing a long term plot line. Additionally, one of the methods the “bad dude” employs to affect agent Keen’s motivation is the restraint and stabbing of her husband, a goofy 4th grade teacher that balances her serious job at the FBI.

The show ends with agent Keen cleaning up the blood, removing the ruined carpet, and discovering a hidden cubbyhole containing a box with lots of cash, several passports with her husband’s picture but aliases, and a gun (looks to be a H&K 9mm).

Shit, I am hooked. Yes, the bad dudes getting nailed is a positive feeling, but now I want to know about the connection between Keen and Reddington, and what douchebaggery is her husband up to?

Megan Boone plays agent Keen, and this will likely be a breakout role for her. She does a great job, and you quickly empathize with her.

Red Reddington is played by James Spader. I have long been a fan, and his acting is spectacular. In fact, without his presence, I doubt the pilot would have been picked up. However, time has not been kind to James Spader. Definitely not aging well, but he pulls off the character.

The plot holes

As I have mentioned the show is a good watch, and the writers/producers do a great job with adding a hook near the end on one of the subplots that keeps you waiting for the next installment.

But looking at the higher level, the premise that this rogue criminal returns to the fold, and they allow him to remain free, as long as he helps them catch seriously bad dudes. Yeah, that is going to happen.

Still it is a good story as long as you can overlook that hole.


Riding the Train

I have long enjoyed riding the train. There is something soothing about the sound of the wheels on the track. The stops, people getting on and off. What is their purpose for traveling? Why did they choose the train?

My first experience with Caltrain was when I was fairly young, probably 8 or 9. I had a step brother who lived in San Francisco, and I would visit occasionally on the weekend, so my mother would drop me off at the Sunnyvale station, and I would ride the train to San Francisco.

(Yes, this may seem odd today, but I assure you that it wasn’t weird, and didn’t seem dangerous at all in the early 1970’s.)


My next major experience was when I started traveling internationally. If you go to Japan, you pretty much live and die by the train schedule and map. You very quickly learn to navigate, and figure out the timing to get to your destination.

Ah, Shinjuku station, the busiest train station in the world, at rush hour. It is a sea of people you find yourself swimming with.

Europe also has outstanding train service, giving you options to get from city to city in comfort, at a fair price.

The reason for this reminiscence? Wednesday, I took a sojourn to a tradeshow in San Francisco. Naturally, I took the train. Got on early, so I got a good seat, and watched the whole trip. You see plenty of things if you are observant.

Lots of graffiti. Every vertical surface along the track is coated in colorful graffiti of various artistic quality.

Sad: Homeless encampments. Never saw this before, but an inevitable sign of the times.

Fun: Kids heading to school. From south San Jose, there were a few kids headed to Bellarmine, and on the way home, plenty from a girls Catholic school in Menlo Park.

Nasty: There always seems to be a person with bad body odor.

The pace of travel is sedate, and you can’t control the speed, so you succumb to the mode of transport, and enjoy. I do like train travel.

My fascination with History

Like most Americans, I took the usual high school level history classes. At the time, they seemed dull and worthless. Memorizing dates and events, and the bland US history they cram down your pie hole, it is no wonder why I was nonplussed.

Then my 3rd year of university, I took a real US History class at SJSU and my eyes were opened. The professor was not very dynamic, but the subject was fascinating. I learned that we had been pretty much lied to in high school, that there was plenty of events and actions in the US historical record to be ashamed of.

Still, the passion, while awakened, wasn’t elevated enough to action.

Fast forward 20 years. I was stumbling around Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, and I stumble across a tome on the history of mathematics. This stirred a long dormant passion.

Having studied Physics, which is a lot of applied mathematics, I realized that we often covered in a semester what took a few hundred years of effort by several very talented mathematicians and natural philosophers to “discover“. I always wanted to get into the stepping stones to the eureka moments.

So I bought the book. It was FABULOUS reading. I was riveted. I quickly picked up several more texts on it, and they often talked about the sponsors of the work, and this got to politics.

Then, one Christmas, my dad gave me a book by Daniel Boorstin, on the major discoveries throughout the ages, called “The Discoverers“, the first book in a trilogy with “The Creators“, and “The Seekers“. I highly recommend all three.

I was hooked. I bought several others of his books, including the trilogy on the American Experience.

The passion was ignited. I have added books on the history of Vietnam War, the history of Europe from the middle ages through the modern era (fascinating, and very relevant to understanding the geopolitical world at the time of the revolutionary war of independence.)

Where this passion will go, I don’t know, but I suspect if I was in my late ‘teens, I would strongly consider a major in history instead of physics.