Wednesday, January 30, 2013

It's Been Too Long

Here's how you know it's been too long since you had a real job:
I should go out for dinner tonight. Nah, the weather is awful. The temperature is diving, it's starting to snow, there's ice on the sidewalks... But I took a shower today! And I shaved, too! I can't just waste that. I'm going out.
And out I went.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us by Alyssa Katz

I'm not sure this book provides the explanation promised in the subtitle, but it's a pretty good review of the housing mess that peaked and imploded in the last decade. Katz goes back to the 1930s to explain the U.S. government's role in encouraging and facilitating home ownership. When she gets to modern times, she uses case studies to humanize the hope, loss, and sleaze that played out in the housing bubble.

Cities get more attention here than in some other books that focus on sprawling subdivisions. Katz shows how unscrupulous lenders destroyed once-stable city neighborhoods. She also has a chapter on New York City's atypical housing market and its transition from rent-controlled apartments to expensive condos or co-ops.

One interesting fact that I read for the first time anywhere in Our Lot: Chicago gangs got involved in real estate flipping schemes because it was a great way to launder drug money. I wish Katz had said more about this or given a source in her endnotes.

This book is deceptively long, 228 pages that read like 350. That isn't to criticize Katz's writing; the book is just really dense and took a lot longer to read than I expected. It's a good book, but it might be more than the average person wants to read about the topic.

Katz doesn't cover the financial market aspect of the boom/bust very well, but reading Our Lot along with Matt Taibbi's Griftopia would provide a pretty good picture of what was happening on both Main Street and Wall Street.


No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried to Make it Better by Elizabeth Weil

Why did I buy this book? Why did I read this book? While those questions are unanswerable, at least I know why I didn't like this book. The best thing I can say about it is that I didn't pay anywhere near the $25 list price for these 170-odd pages of steaming psychobabble bullshit.

The main title doesn't really have anything to do with the book itself--it merely describes the ground rules Weil and her husband had set for their marriage before this silly book idea ever sprouted. The subtitle bluntly explains the premise: "I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried to Make it Better." The first problem is that I don't think they have a particularly good marriage, at least not one that I'd want to endure. Weil alternates between dippy and annoying, and her husband is sometimes a total dick, especially while they are dating (the book has lots of flashbacks as Weil examines their relationship). I get the impression that Weil shallowly put up with his mistreatment because he was such a hunk. My wife explained to me that all women think they have a good marriage.

The idea of taking a marriage that is working for its participants and putting it through the desperate measures that are normally applied to those on the verge of divorce is rather daft if not brazenly stupid. It's like taking a bunch of pills when you're not sick. And that is a pretty good simile because it turns out that there are side effects to all this marriage-saving mumbo-jumbo. Saving a marriage involves bringing buried conflicts to the surface, and doing that in a "good" marriage is just asking for trouble. Heck, any two people can find something to be mad at each other about. Weil even admits that marriage counseling is oriented toward staving off divorce rather than making a good marriage better.

In one particularly dopey chapter, Weil meets with a rabbi and lets him whip her into a frenzy about their children's religious upbringing. When she tells her husband, he utters one of the best lines in the book: "You've got to be fucking kidding me." Though Weil understands his reaction and even appears to agree with him, a page later she gives him another stupid (and insulting) solution to the problem they didn't have before she had met with the rabbi.

There's so much that I don't like about this book that it's easier to say what I enjoyed. Weil's husband is seriously into weight training, and she name-drops Pavel Tsatsouline and Mark Rippetoe in No Cheating, No Dying. Tsatsouline is a Russian best known for his kettlebell books. His books are pretty expensive ($34.95 for a 128-page paperback with black and white photos?!?), but I enjoyed his Power to the People, a book that proposes complete body training using only the deadlift and the side press. Rippetoe's legendary Starting Strength is a thick volume that covers six basic barbell exercises with such thoroughness as to be virtually foolproof. I have the second edition, but a third was published in 2011.

Aside from recognizing those fitness guys, I didn't like No Cheating, No Dying much. I suppose I had hoped to learn something about marriage but if I did I can't remember it now. I could give Weil credit for sharing so openly about her marriage, but in the end I really didn't want to hear about it. Parts of this book read like a dreadfully long self-help magazine article, and other parts are just plain dreadful. This is not the type of book I'd normally read, and I hope I never read one like it again. It was a crappy way to start the year, but at least I'm done with it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

2013 Goals

I've been mulling over what to do goal-wise this year for nearly a month, so I guess I'd better make up my mind. As I said before, I think there is some value to writing about every book I read. On the other hand, you all probably don't care whether I achieve the goal of finishing more books than I acquire, so maybe it isn't worth documenting that horserace every month.

So instead of doing "Book Challenge 20XX" as in previous years, I'm just going to write something about every book I read. To make it a little more interesting, I am going to declare a theme for each month (except January since it's almost over). For example, one month I may focus on reading sports books. I won't necessarily read only sports books that month--after all, one of the benefits of having so many unread books is the variety of choices--but the majority should fit the category. Also I will try to create some categories more interesting and/or specific than "sports."

As for my other goals (the carry-overs noted at the bottom of this entry), I don't plan to track those online monthly though I may write about them from time to time. I don't want this to turn into anything remotely like "Dave's Self-Improvement Blog."

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Auto Illiteracy

This morning at Panera I overheard an older woman (I'd guess mid-50s, old enough to know better) exclaim to her friend, "I knew you needed to put in anti-freeze, but I thought it was for the windshield washer, not the engine!"

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Overtaken by Tumbleweeds

I'm using a bookmark from a store I visited on my cross-country bike tour in 2002, The Worm in Prescott, Arizona. On a whim I Googled the place tonight. Sadly, it closed a couple of years ago after more than 40 years in business.

What about Books on the Square in Granbury, Texas, another store I visited that spring? A quick search revealed that it too has closed.

Both stores seemed to have a good flow of paying customers when I visited, but a lot--mostly bad--has happened in the bookselling world in the past decade.

Tonight I am feeling even more grateful than usual for our local bookshop, the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Subliminal Message

As I sit here at an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet, Karen Carpenter is singing over the PA system. I think they are trying to get us to eat less.

Friday, January 04, 2013

The Trouble with the Year-in-Review

Yesterday I was thinking, You know, 2012 was a pretty good year. I've gotten things done and I've been uncharacteristically happy. I started writing a post about my year in review and how great it was.

Then I thought back to January.

The first two months of 2012 were just awful for me. I remembered our dog Ginger and the seizure that she wouldn't come out of. It seemed like right after we put her to sleep that Gracie stopped eating and got really sick. My wife thought maybe she missed Ginger. It turned out to be bone cancer, and soon we were saying goodbye to our 4-1/2 year-old little girl. Those losses darkened the first half of 2012 for us, and the memories haunted us all year.

Shit, maybe last year sucked.

Then we went on a nice vacation in early June and got Moose on June 27, the first anniversary of my grandfather's death. After we got Rexy a few months later, we finished the year with the same head count we started with. They haven't really replaced Ginger and Gracie, but at least they keep us busy.

Around the time we got Moose was also when I really got going with the decluttering project, which has been fairly successful though I have a long way to go.

No, last year didn't suck. It was half crap and half great.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

December/Year-End Wrap-Up - BC2012 and Other Goals

December was a fitting end to the year in goals. I made progress in most areas where I've progressed all year, and I failed in areas where I've failed all year.

1. Book Challenge 2012: I read 10 books in December, a solid finish to a record year. I achieved my primary goal of finishing more than I acquired, but not by the wide margin that was my secondary goal. December totals: 10 books finished, 8 acquired. Overall totals: 122 books finished, 118 books acquired.

I'm not sure how to approach this in 2013, whether I should do the same thing again or modify it somehow. As I mentioned last month, BC2012 has encouraged me to read more as well as be more careful about my purchases, and also I think writing something about every book I finish is a worthwhile exercise. One goal I will not set: to read more books than I did this year. That isn't the point.

2. Cut down on e-mail: I think I've accomplished this one, at least enough that I don't need to carry it into 2013. I've managed to get the daily deals out of my system, so that has helped. One must be ever-vigilant, however; it is easy to get added to someone's e-mail list just by making a purchase or a donation.

3. Drive less: I went nearly two weeks without driving at all, so this was a good month. While I want to continue to keep the miles down on the car, I don't think this goal is worth monitoring in 2013. It's too vague and sometimes beyond my control.

4. Physical activity: Nothing. This is something I definitely need to work on in 2013, but I'll have to figure out how to measure it. Perhaps frequency, like days per week, or maybe time in hours per week?

5. Drink more: I finished off a couple more vodkas so there's only one bottle left of the six I got with a Groupon deal last December. In short, I accomplished the goal of drinking more alcohol but mostly failed at drinking more water. This was always a vague goal anyway, so I'll drop it for 2013.

6. Dine and shop locally: I ate locally but didn't buy much. This is the type of goal that I want to avoid in 2013. It's a worthy pursuit, but not a suitable goal because there's no good way to measure it. I do like the idea of buying at least one book per month at the Book Cellar, but that's not worth tracking here all year.

7. Clean and declutter: I got a second wind from It's All Too Much and plowed through much of the attic. My wife dropped off a bunch of stuff at Working Bikes and I delivered a carload to Goodwill on December 31. I even eschewed traditional Christmas presents, asking for grocery gift cards instead. I achieved enough to declare this a success for 2012, but there is plenty more to do in 2013.

8. Enhance and expand my web presence: Now that I've switched over to the desktop PC where my new software is installed, I'm running out of excuses not to move forward on this. And the fact that I made more money selling advertising on my sites than I did from anything else in 2012 should be motivation to develop more content. This will definitely be a 2013 goal.

9. Figure out my professional future: This one is officially resolved: I'm a homemaker.

10. Floss regularly: This one is officially resolved as well: nine months without missing a day.

Out of 10 goals, I count eight as successes in 2012 (the failures being #4 and #8). I plan to carry four of those goals forward into 2013: the two failures, #7 as an ongoing project, and #1 in some form. There may be another goal or two, but I will not do 10 again; that's too many. I'll declare them in a few days when I've figured out the metrics and such.