Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Some most welcome news

The 9th Circuit handed down their order today. They have provisionally denied all of the claims and requests petitioned for in the oppositions brief; declared the grounds presented insufficient or invalid on their face; and ordered that the case shall proceed in Arizona Superior Court.

It wasn't 100% in our favor however; after the Arizona court rules, the opposition may petition to have the jurisdictional issue revisited.

In other words, we're headed to court shortly, just not the court we expected at this particular moment. Now we have the final divorce/custody case to tackle and all of the costs associated with what promises to be a supremely ugly battle.

A battle in our home court, on our home turf.

Despite the fact that I'm currently donning my raincoat in preparation for the mud-slinging to come, we're extremely happy with this development. It's a huge step closer to the end and we're at the point that we can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Like we said before, all donations are going towards legal costs and as such will be applied to this next court case and the huge amount of preparation needed.

Our thanks to all of you for your support, thoughts, and prayers.

Mel

Oh and one more thing (from Chris this time). Last time we posted about this, the EX and his family and friends launched an online assault on us, and our supporters; attempting through "anonymous" comments to paint us as liars and frauds.

This time, we've taken a precaution. We've sent copies of the courts order to several prominent bloggers who we know personally, and who have supported us. We won't post these documents directly, in order to keep our children protected; but these bloggers can give independent confirmation that everything we have said is true, and proven in court.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Is last week over yet?

Had a hell of a week last week...

I think we accumulated more credit card debt in the last week than in the last two years. Of course since we've always paid off every month, that isn't hard to do; but still.

Thankfully I'm still in introductory interest land on one of my cards (1.9% yay), and "same as cash" land on another so the interest isn't going to be an issue; I just hate loading up like that.

So beginning of last week, my router died; the second in about four months. Better, it died in the middle of the night; and I work from home. 24 hour super Wal-mart it is then.

The very next day, I had a monitor die. I go out an grab a replacement, and the next morning, it turns green.

No seriously, it turned green. The backlight went nuts or something.

Anyway I had to haul my ass back down to the store; and of course they were out of that model, so I got my refund credit and then back to Frys. They have that model (for more money of course) and the sales guy goes hunting for it. 20 minutes later another sales guy goes and finds on in two seconds for another customer; it turns out our guy was looking for the wrong one.

Joy.

Anyway, that accomplished... two days later, Mels monitor (a ten year old CRT) goes TU. This time we get a new one for her at Costco, because they have one she likes for a lot cheaper than other places locally... or even on line when you count shipping.

Then of course we get the "put up a shed or pay a $2000 fine" note... Ok, my card is starting to whine; but I order the materials for a shed ($850 worth; but there's no room for the stuff in the house, and I'd rather spend the money than get the fine).

Friday, our couch dies it's final shuddering death (literally. It shuddered and collapsed). It did yeoman work for two and a half years; which for an $800 couch, having to live with us, two kids, two dogs etc... Well, we got our moneys worth out of it.

So Mel heads down to the furniture store of the perpetual clearance, and finds a massively discounted sectional for us. Half price, plus 5 year unlimited warranty, plus 18 months same as cash financing (actually is same as cash, no interest or penalties. Pretty good deal actually).

Only one thing, it's FRIKKEN HUGE.

Seriously, It's a standard L shaped sectional with the gentle curve in the middle, and it's 11 feet in the X and 11 feet in the Y. Our living room is long and narrow, about 28ft by 12 ft, and this thing takes up about half the room.

At this point my debt free lifestyle is screaming for mercy. Honestly I LOATHE debt. If I could have avoided doing this I would have. Sometimes life just decides you're going to do what it tells you to. I've learned that if you ignore life when it's telling you that, bad things happen.

...And of course, this is just days after handing $20k to our lawyer (that part is at least going well - more news in a couple weeks. Oh and believe me if it weren't for all your help, we wouldn't be thinking about using the cards, we'd be sitting on the floor, with my power tools for company in the living room, and the desktops would be temporarily headless. As it is, because of your help with the legal expenses, we can actually take some of our income and use it for paying off credit cards - which we have always done every month, up til now - rather than sending every extra cent to the lawyer).

So in addition to all this, it's been wet and rainy all week; and Thursday through Sunday it gets kicked up a notch. Torrential downpour, flashflooding... We live in a flood control zone, with a canal, and some collection basins that are golf courses when they are dry. At the moment, theres a 7 mile long 200 yard wide lake running down the middle of Scottsdale.

Honestly, we need the rain, so I'm not complaining about that. The problem is, it's been over 70% humidity for the last week; and as anyone who hass spent much time here knows, high humidity means sudden, instant, massive amounts of mold spores in the air.

... and I've been fighting with a sinus infection for the last month.

Oh boy did I get sick this weekend. It started on Friday, and by yesterday I had fever, swollen joints, nausea, photophobia, the works.

I frikken hate being sick.

So just to seal the deal guess what happens yesterday morning?

Our brand new 61" TV?

The one we bought 8 weeks ago?

It turned itself off, and then wouldn't turn on again no matter what. The status light starts blinking in an unknown major error pattern and the replace lamp light comes on; but this lamp has a 100,000 hour life and shouldn't need replacement for 10 years or more.

Hell, that's one of the reasons I bought the TV.

Warranty repair is a six week turnaround time... and the superbowl is next Sunday.

Thankfully, we bought it at Costco; they of the worlds best return policy. I was able to quickly load the TV, and my sick ass in the truck, run down there, and get them to give me full return credit so I could get a new TV.

Given the weird failure of the original TV, I didn't want to take a chance on the same model (what if it failed outside my 90 day return?) so I went to a much smaller LCD flat panel (52" instead of 61"), that was only a couple hundred more (we bought the original TV at half off retail list).

I think I know why my electronics are failing. We've got pretty dirty power; and although I had a power conditioning UPS on my previous desktop and servers, I hadn't put them on my new desktop or Mels computer yet. I bought them, I just hadn't set them up; and I had never bothered with the TV.

In the last few days, I'd noticed some weird behavior in other electronics; and some interference and noise on my wireless network, with my wireless mouse and keyboard, on my cordless phones etc...

I figure with the flooding, there's probably been a lot more electrical noise, and some surges; and that's probably what caused three major electronic failures in one week in our house.

Stupid of me not to have taken care of the power problem already I guess. Well that's taken care of now; each computer, and the tv and stereo, are on power conditioning UPSes (Tripp Lite and APC are your friends).

Of course these aren't exactly professional/audiophile grade gigantic ferrite core power conditioners; they're just simple battery and capacitor based setups; but they're relatively cheap (about a hundred bucks each), and they all come with a guarantee on the electronics that are plugged into them.

Seriously folks, if you have sensitive home electronics (and who doesn't these days), do yourself a favor, and put them on power conditioners.

I swear, one of these days I'm just going to build a whole house power conditioner, and UPS network, with a generator, a solar network, and an automatic transfer switch.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A fair reconsideration

I believe we have all been unfair...

By we, I mean the legion; the nation of metalheads out there.

Unfair? But how?

Mel subscribes to the Napster music service; has for years. It's not exactly the old Napster we all loved so well; this one you actually pay for, and download your music legally, but if you stop paying your monthly fee, your license to play the music expires.

I have about 10,000 someodd DRM free mp3s; but for the most part, for new music (or new to me music anyway; because I almost never buy new music), I generally just grab it off Napster.

I think DRM is stupid; but I have no problem paying royalties for music. People who insist that all music should be free, and it's OK to steal it (and yes, you are stealing it) are either idiots, or morally deluding themselves.

Yes, the record companies suck, and they don't deserve your money; but it's still stealing.

Anyway, that's neither here nor there.

A few months back, I was watching one of those VH1 flashback shows, and it made me want to listen to a particular song. Because I can (with Napster, it's all you can eat), I just downloaded the entire discography of the band in question.

I ended up not listening to it at the time; but the other day I was re-organizing my collection in iTunes (I've resisted using any kind of collection software for a long time, but between the living room PC, my pc, Mels laptop etc... keeping everything organized has become difficult), and I came across the songs I had mean to listen to (unfortunately not in iTunes, because Napster and iTunes don't play nice with each other), and said "what the hell".

In listening I realized something...

Since the early 80s, metalheads have hated the hair metalers. Hair metal was never real metal. Sometimes it was good hard rock; but it was never really metal.

Motley crue made some kick ass, fun hard rock... but anyone who calls them metal is completely full of it.

Hair metal is the metal that your girlfriend liked if you were in high school in the late 80s; not the stuff you seriously mosh to. Hair metal is pretty boys with big hair, and power ballads, and all the stuff that REALLY SUCKED about MTV in the 80s.

Real metal blows your brains out with sound. Be it anger, or beauty, or speed, or energy, or explosions or whatever; metal is a music of raw power.

The band I'm thinking of has been classified as hair metal... partially just because of their timing; but also because they did have the pretty boys with the hair, and lord they had a doozy of a power ballad....

but...

listening to their entire discography...

well...

Listen to this OK:



That's Skid Row... and that's metal.

Seriously, you can't say that isn't metal. It's got kick ass rhythms and riffs, solid guitar work, driving energy... It's metal. Sebastian Bach may be a pretty boy, but he's metal. Snake Sabo is downright ugly, and he can play as good as anybody else, and better than most.

Is it great metal? No... But it doesn't suck; and it is definitely metal, and it isn't the only one by a long shot. Like I said, I listened to the entire catalog, theres a few really Solid metal tunes in there; and a lot of what isn't is really good hard rock, rather than cheezy hair crap.

"Midnight" could easily be a Priest tune; not one of their best, but seriously, I could see Halford doing that song (it would of course be a lot better done by Priest). "Mudkicker", or "My Enemy" could have been done by a dozen different metal bands.

In fact the entire "Subhuman Race" album from '95, is either right on the edge of, or far over into metal territory. In fact, a lot of the album sounds like the first generation of grunge influenced metal (like Soundgarden or Alice in Chains before MTV got a hold of the "Seattle sound" though not as good as either of those bands). "Bonehead" is straight up thrash. "My Enemy", "Beat yourself blind", "Subhuman Race", all straightforward 90's era metal. The songs that aren't metal are definitely on the hard edge, like "Frozen", "Firesign", or "Face against my soul".

Also, from what I understand, although a lot of what ended up on the albums was written as much harder and nastier; it was produced on the pop/hair metal side of things (and yes, the producer absolutely makes a huge difference here). A lot of their stuff sounds overproduced; with vocal doubling, and harmonies thrown in to soften and fill the sound where a single vocal would have been much more intense and hard.

Well, there's no pop record company producer on the stage; and in their live shows they were MUCH harder.

In "Subhuman race" they deliberately dropped much of the pop production values to make something harder (though not completely); and as a result ended up with their lowest selling album of the Bach era (the girls didnt like it). They also ended up breaking up (they've reformed with different members since); but I expect that if that album was released today, it would be a success (tastes have changed from the mid 90s).

So I'm saying we have been unfair, as metalheads, in classifying some bands exclusively as hair metal; and saying that hair metal couldn't ever be real metal. Because Skid Row were both (at least at times).

Oh and Whitesnake? They kick ass too; and Scott Ian agrees with me (he said so on VH1).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Things we've lost

Silence and Darkness...

Or at least those of us who live in urban and suburban environments have.

I'm not exactly geriatric, nor a backwoods hermit; but I can remember a time when I could have my window and blinds open at night, and be bothered neither by the sounds of urbanity, nor excessive light.

I live in what is effectively a very large suburb; 1/4 mile east and 1/4 south of a major street with plenty of houses and trees in between; and highways 2 miles away in one direction and 3 in the other.

It's a quiet neighborhood by todays standards; and not particularly near any excessive sources of noise.

Yet, if I open my windows and blinds at night; I might as well be in times square at noon, for the level of noise and light coming in to assault the senses.

There are traffic, police, and fire noises; 24/7/52. There is enough light to read by on every street.

The night should be quiet, and peaceful... at least at 3am; but we've created these islands of perpetual daytime.

Thus, we seal ourselves off from the environment more and more. We close the windows, put up thick drapes and blinds... in my case I even run a fan all night (both to maintain airflow, and to drown out the sounds with white noise).

Even then, it's not enough, because the light has invaded our bedrooms.

It used to be, when you turned something off; it was actually turned off. No more. Everything goes into "standby mode" now. Where once flipping the power switch meant darkness; now everything has a little (or not so little) "status" LED.

We have a television, a cable box, a clock, and a desktop computer in our bedroom (it's our bedroom media center)... oh and of course both of our cellphones, and both cellphone chargers; and frequently both of our laptops. Every single one of these devices has at least one LED that's always on, even when the systems are in standby mode. If you include the display, mouse, keyboard etc... the desktop computer has 12 (and this is a factory standard desktop, not some modded neon loaded case).

Some of these LEDs can only be shut off by unplugging the devices in question; which of course would negate their purpose.

These aren't jsut dim little indicators either; some of them are bright enough to be clearly visible in direct bright sunlight. When we shut every single light in the room off; our walls and ceilings are painted with blue, green, red, and orange light; some of it even blinking.

Again, this light is nearly bright enough to read by. It's like trying to sleep with a disco light show playing.

We have taken to facing things down on our bedside tables, and covering the worst offenders with paper, towels, blankets facecloths... whatever it takes; just to get a little bit of darkness.

Yes, we could remove these items from our bedroom; but the whole point of having them in the first place, was to have them there. We keep our phones, and cell phones and other things near to us, so that they might fulfill their purpose better. What good is a cellphone in the house, if you have to rush to the living room to answer it when you get an emergency call?

Yes, I'm griping about those optional extra conveniences; and perhaps these irritations are just an inevitable side effect of them. We could choose to live without them after all... but why do we have to?

The manufacturers of these devices understand how they will be used; and intend for such uses... why on earth is it necessary to put a status LED that could be used as a flashlight, on the charger of a cellphone... and then make it blink?

The illogic and downright stupidity of it confounds me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Just one of those days

So, everyone in the house has a headcold to beat the band; I've got assorted back and muscle aches from moving a 700lbs gun safe this weekend; Fred Thompson drops out of the race; one of the few actors of the up and coming generation I actually LIKE offs himself (intentionally or otherwise) with pills...

...and to top it all off, I get a call today:

We either need to take our outdoor tools (which are in my carport) and move them indoors (which we don't have the room for), or build a storage shed; or we'll get a fine from the city.

Of course there's no issue about our neighbor, who has an entire welding shop in his front yard (he builds offroad stuff for fun); vs. me having a workbench, table saw, drill press and bandsaw in my car port. Just me.

Just like the non-existant weed problem they bitched about some months back; another genius in the neighborhood is selling their house; and the realtor probably complained to the city.

Some days it's just not worth chewing through the leather straps.

Monday, January 21, 2008

They need a manual - A conversation

I have a friend who's an engineering student (let's call him ES) at a prestigious university; and although he's not socially awkward in the nerdish sense, nor is he ill groomed or unattractive; he has had little success with the opposite sex.

...Actually he's had little failure either; simply because his interactions with them almost always leave him thinking "Either she's insane, or she lives in a universe other than the one I live in".

Such interactions leave little room for the development of personal relationships. He's looking for logic and consistency... as those of us with more experience know, there is little to be found within the gender.

Which leads me to this conversation:

[15:10] ES: Someone needs to write a manual about women. You show attention they get pissy. You don't show attention, they get pissy.

[15:11] CB: In order to write a manual there has to be a defined standard, and a consistent interface. Neither exist.

[15:12] ES: It's amazing, isn't it. We spend all this money on science, we can put men on the moon, uncover the genome, but ain't no way in hell one can predict women... Let me rephrase that, not predict, rather have any idea to what level of randomness their actions will go.

[15:13] CB: Assume maximum entropy. It's the safest course.

[15:14] ES: Unfortunately that's an ideal solution. We studied this in "thermodynamics of alloys"; and I think much like ferrite, women are not ideal.

[15:15] CB: Generally speaking one prefers to optimize for the general case rather than edge cases. Unfortunately, with women, the consequences of general case optimization (presuming a maximally entropic system) are catastrophic. Therefore the wisest course of action is to optimize for maximum entropy, and compensate as necessary.

[15:16] ES: You know I had a dream about this last year...

It's over - They bought the war out



The format war that is; between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD.

From Black Friday 'til two weeks ago, HD-DVD players outsold Blu-Ray more than 2 to 1; more than 4-1 if you take away the PS3. In non-childrens movies (the major studios for kids movies are all Blu-Ray exclusive), HD-DVD outsold Blu-Ray more than 2 to 1.

On black Friday weekend alone, more standalone HD-DVD players were sold in the U.S. than all the standalone Blu-Ray players sold the entire rest of the year.

The fact is, both the hardware and the content available for HD-DVD were clearly superior, at a lower price; and the consumers recognized that.

This scared Sonys pants off.

They had their answer ready by CES two weeks ago; money.

Step 1: Drop prices on all Blu-Ray players by $200
Step 2: Sweeten the free movie deals, and drop prices on all Blu-Ray movies 15%
Step 3: Bribe the studios.

Just prior to CES, they announced the price cuts. They had already announced the rebate sweetener; and a few weeks prior they had "re-affirmed Foxes commitment to Blu-Ray" to the tune of $400 million. They had also been flirting with Paramount, who's on an exclusive HD contract; to the tune of $600 million if they go Blu-Ray exclusive.

The second day of CES, a few hours before the HD-DVD consortium was going to give a big press conference announcing new studio partnerships, new players, and the figures showing how much they beat the pants off of Blu-Ray; Sony buys out Warners contract for $600 million, gives Fox an additional $120 million, and gives the other studios all told about $500 million in "incentives".

In response the HD-DVD group did the only thing they could do; they cancelled their press conference. They've bunkered up, and they've been issuing defensive statements; but it's time to give up. They're throwing good money after bad at this point.

All told, since black Friday Sony has dropped about $2 billion, buying off the competition. This leaves HD-DVD with exclusive support only from Dreamworks and Universal.

Additionally, Sony has managed to reduce their manufacturing costs on the PS3, from $800 to $400, by dropping the chip count, and through process improvements. This means where they had been losing up to $200-400 per box sold (about 4 million of them total), they are actually making money on the higher spec version of the box.

It's over; HD-DVD is dead.

Warner is, by themselves, 20% of all new movies and 30% of the home video market. Between Warner, Fox, and Disney, that's essentially the entire kids DVD market; and kids DVDs are the highest volume, highest profit market segment.

Universal will still release on HD-DVD, because they have an iron clad contract; but that's up in a year. Paramount and Dreamworks both have escape clauses, and it looks like they are going to use them; lubricated with great gobs of cash from Sony.

The consumer had made their choice; that choice was not Sony; and Sony used the judicious application of billions of dollars of cash directly to studios, to thwart the consumers choice.

You may want to support HD-DVD, but realistically, you no longer have the option; now that there won't be any new content for it (10% of all new movies isn't viable).

Sony and the studios they bribed may be short term winners here; but the consumer... that's you and me... are the losers; because we had our choice taken away artificially, rather than letting the market decide.

Oh well... at least we don't have to worry about which format to support anymore.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

NFL Football - Let's Review

So the Pats have just gone 18-0, something no team has ever done in the history of the NFL; to advance to the Superbowl in Glendale in two weeks.

Hell, Bill Bellichik actually smiled.

I thought this would be an opportune time to review my predictions from the beginning of the year.

So this is what I thought the season would look like on day one:

AFC East

New England Patriots - While I'm not exactly an objective observer here; I still think the pats are the best team in football. I'm honestly not optimistic about Moss's performance; but even when he's bad, he's still better than 90% out there. Pats are a clear division winner, and I'm calling it 12-4, maybe 13-3

Buffalo Bills - No offense... where's the offense? NOt only that, but they've got a pretty tough schedule. 6-10, maybe 5-11.

Miami Dolphins - See above, only worse. 4-12

New York Jets - No running game, iffy QB followthrough... I just don't think they've got it this year. 8-8
Well, I was right on the winner, just not how many wins. I'm still amazed by the Pats performance this year. I was one game off for the bills, they went 7-9. I don't think ANYONE predicted how bad the Jets and Dolphins would be, at 4-12 and 1-15 respectively.
AFC North

Baltimore Ravens - Moderately good offense with some holes, and I question their defense. Not bad, probably a 9-7 team.

Cincinnati Bengals - They can score, but they cant stop the run. Lots of high scoring losses. I'd give them 8-8.

Cleveland Browns - Despite their excellent pre-season, I think they're the worst team in the division, and would be the worst in the AFC except the Raiders and the Texans are sooooo bad. Thing is, they've got a pretty easy schedule. Call it 6-10 or 7-9.

Pittsburgh Steelers - Honestly, after a mediocre performance last year, Pittsburgh looks really good this year and I'm expecting a solid season. Give me 11-5.
Again, I called the winner. The Browns did a bit better than I expected, the Bengals a bit worse; but I totally blew it on the Ravens. I don't know what happened, they just completely fell apart on the field all year.
AFC South

Indianapolis Colts - Division winner, no question. 12-4 seems a strong possiblity. Second best team in the AFC, and more consistent than the Pats the last three seasons. 12-4 or 13-3.

Houston Texans - Ahh, the sacrificial lamb of the AFC. 4-12 maybe 5-11.

Jacksonville Jaguars - Solid performers, but inconsistent. QB performance is critical here. I'd put them in as a 9-7 or 10-6 team.

Tennessee Titans - A quarterback without a team to support him.... 7-9 or 8-8 maybe?
This whole picking the winner thing is getting monotonous; and I got their record spot on at 13-3. The AFC south though was the surprise division of the year; with no team going lower than 8-8. I got the order right; but the Texans and Titans actually managed a decent year throwing me of completely. I was one off on the Jags, they went 11-5; and way off on the Titans, who went 10-6.
AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs - Last year was a bit of a fluke; I'd give them 8-8, or 7-9, especially after their miserable pre-season.

Denver Broncos - Strong contention with San Diego for top slot in the division. I figure both are going to the playoffs one way or the other. Call it 10-6, maybe 11-5 with their schedule

Oakland Raiders - Possibly the worst team in football this year; I give them 4-12 at best.

San Diego Chargers - I'm expecting a solid performance this year; I'm just not sure who will be better between them and Denver. San Diego has the harder schedule, so I'm giving them 9-7, maybe 10-6
Well... I didn't quite muff it here, but I could've done better that's for sure. The Chargers managed to pull one better than I expected at 11-5, but the entire rest of the division just tanked it. I called the Raiders at 4-12; but I expected much better performances from Denver and KC.

NFC All...


Uhhhh.... the less said about my NFC predictions, the better. Of the 16 NFC teams, I only got the final records right for 3 of them, or within one to 4 more. That's worse than random chance.

What can I say; I'm a pats fan, and I just don't pay much attention to the NFC.

Playoff Predictions

AFC

Division winners: Patriots, Steelers, Colts, San Diego
Wildcards: Jacksonville and Denver

The wildcards on the AFC are pretty hard to pick again this year. Honestly, I can see either Jacksonville or Denver winning their divisions... but I think the group of five here is a pretty solid pick

Championship game: I gotta think its Pats Colts again; though San Diego is a solid contender. I won't even try to call the game if it comes down to pats and Colts, but I think New England can beat San Diego.
Well, I got everything right except Denver. Their tanking this season just threw me off completely. Tennessee ended up pulling the second wildcard; and made the AFC south the best division in football this year... though to my chagrin (I called it as one of the worst divisions) the NFC east was very close.

NFC

Division winners: Philly, Chicago, Carolina, St. Louis
Wildcards: New Orleans, San Francisco

Honestly, I'm not so sure about my pick on the NFC side. Theres too many close calls, and unpredictable factors to come out in high percentages for the NFC. Also, SF really has to pull it together. I think they can do it, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Giants in that spot.

Championship game: Philly Chicago looks like a decent bet


Well, I said I was having a hard time predicting right... uhhhh....

So, I got every division winner, and all but one of the playoff teams right in the AFC; and none of the division winners or playoff teams right for the NFC.

Maybe next year I should get one of my MANY Cowboy fan readers to make my NFC predictions next year...

As to the Giants Packers... I can't see the Packers not winning this one.

Favre want’s another win; and if it’s against the Patriots he wants it even more. Whether the packers win or lose on a given day really depends on the performance Favre puts in, and this is one motivated cat.

He’s had to listen to his own (admittedly mediocre) performance over the past four seasons get panned; while Brady is talked up as a wonder boy.

I’ll tell you this, and I’m saying it as a diehard patriots fan: Favre IS the best full career quarterback of all time. He holds every major career QB record, and has started every single game since September of 1992. There are certainly quarterbacks who’ve had better years, and better streaks, but no-one has ever managed a 17 season record like Favre.

For a man with a record like that, to hear himself and his performance dismissed in favor of comparative newcomers like Manning and Brady (both are within months of 31 compared to Favre's 38)… Well you can tell this year was his response.

I tell you what; I think the Giants would be an easier Superbowl for my Pats... but I can't wait to see a Pats Pack rematch of '95/'96... Of course, with the scores reversed.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Updates on our custody fight WE'VE REACHED OUR GOAL

STICKY. SCROLL DOWN FOR NEW CONTENT.

For those of you who are new to the story and coming here from other blogs, the original story is here.

We are continually amazed and humbled by the number and amount of donations coming in. As of 9:45 MST January 14th, we are at $20K in donations hand and $2K waiting to clear, just $8K short of what we need. We also have an unknown number of checks en route. This is thanks to the bloggers and forum members who linked our story and the over 300 contributors who have come to our aid so far.

Honestly, when we posted our request for ideas we had no idea we would get this kind of response. We were expecting some ideas and maybe a few dollars, not the outpouring of support received.

My apologies to those of you who have not received my thanks individually; I have 180 thank-yous done, and 150 left to go.

Our oral arguments have been tentatively scheduled for within the time period expected. We can't be sure until we get the official notice; but it's not the two weeks we feared at worst.

We're not posting the date and time here; the calendar is public and includes names, and the name of the case would reveal the legal last names of the children. However, several other bloggers that we know personally can vouch for the fact that arguments have indeed been scheduled.

Now we have paid our lawyer the back fees we owed; and we know for a fact that we can at the least, afford to continue fighting the appeal, which is a huge weight off of our backs.

All monies are being held in reserve to pay for legal fees as they arise. If we are able to raise more than we eventually need for the appeal itself (something I'm still absolutely floored by. I just can't get my head around the concept); we still have the rest of the state case to go through, and the funds raised will go to cover that.

Our most deeply felt thanks to all of you; we can now afford to keep going. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Mel

UPDATE- Midnight Tuesday/Wednesday the 15th: Well, we're 23 hours short of a week since we posted our appeal, and we have $21,000 in donations clear in hand, another $3000 clearing, and still an unknown amount in the mail.

At this point we're just $6,000 from our goal; and I have every confidence in all of you to help us reach it.

We've implemented several good suggestions (and taken advantage of offers of direct professional assistance) from several readers to reduce our costs; and we are starting to take additional measures against frivolous and malicious court filings (or as much as can be done anyway). We met with our lawyer today, and he is "as confident as I can possibly be and still call myself a lawyer".

Things are really looking great, and it's all thanks to all of you folks who have helped, and are helping. We're really going to win this one.

UPDATE January 17th, 8 pm

Assuming all of the checks I deposited today clear, we have made our goal. Our thanks to the 350+ people who helped us in our time of need, and all of the bloggers, forum members, and others who spread the story across the internet.

Several people have asked what will happen if the ex somehow manages to drag this out even further, and exhaust our funds again. Certainly an important consideration.

We have had three different people (who we have verified have the independent means necessary to make such promises) come forward, and offer us interest free loans for as much as necessary to ensure that we are able to continue this fight no matter what, should the donations not cover our expenses.

We have won in court at every turn; until their only hope was to bankrupt us. We now have a guarantee that will never happen.

They have lost utterly, and now we just have to clean up the mess.

Thank you all so much.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Room Clearing

Let me tell you, there are few things in this world stinkier than a musking puppy on a high fat, high protein diet.

Thank god we're getting him neutered in a month or two... wow. As it is we've got to clean the carpets every other day to avoid being overpowered. And the uhh... emanations after mealtime....

Remind me again why we signed up for this...

Oh yeah, he's cute, and lovable.

Oh and damn huge. He's five and a half months old and well over 60 lbs already. He's bigger than some full grown labs I've had.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Reality Distortion and Fanboy Jubilation

Mac fanboys of the world are indded rejoicing, for Steve Jobs has his next keynote in about 8 hours. The entire gadget world is all atwitter as to what new announcements will burst forth from the reality distortion field today.

My bet? Not a HUGE amount. Nothing revolutionary, or disruptive like the iPhone, and original iMac; but I'd guess a lot of product refreshes and revamps.

Why do I say not huge? Well, honestly, the hype leading up to this Macworld has been a bit disappointing; Also, Apple revved the processors on their workstation and server platforms last week with no great fanfare, and no other changes.

Finally, there's the usually reliable apple store thermometer. When Steve is announcing new products, the Apple store always closes down for a while. The bigger the product announcement (or the more different products announced), the longer the store is down before he announces.

It's 8 hours (actually about 7 now) before the speech, and the store is still up; so nothing HUGE (update: turns out it went down a little bit after I posted this).

So, what are my actual predictions:

1. A new micro notebook: This one has been rumored for over a year; but so far little more than photochoping has come of it. The buzz is very high, with many supposed leaks (all proven false so far), and some interesting possibilities. I think it would make a lot of sense, and I'm sure they are readying a product for announcement, but I don't know if it will be today. I give it about a 50/50 shot, and if they do announce today, it will be a forward looking "available in q2" type announcement.

If it does announce today, I think it will announce with built in wireless broadband; to explain the "there's something in the air" banners all over the expo center. In fact, wireless broadband may become a standard or optional feature on several products; though I don't think the announcement on the 3g iPhone that we all know is cming, will be til the next Macworld.

2. A revised iMac: Not exactly a risky prediction sense it's been leaked all over the place... of course the leaks could be a lie. The revision will be a basic tech update, with a change in look to match whatever the new cinema display redesign is... bringing us of course to prediction 3

3. A refresh of the CinemaDisplay line: The line as it is is being outstriped by cheaper competitors. Apple needs to keep their lead in this VERY high margin product area for them. Expect a spec bump, a slight price drop for current capability, no size changes, and a cosmetic revision moving further into the new "silver and black" Apple style. LED backlighting may appear; but if it does, it means a price bump, which in this soft market may not be the best choice.

I think both are fairly likely; almost certain this year, but I'm not sure if they'll be at this macworld.

Also, we may see wireless HDMI, or wireless display port show up. Something novel, and elegant; that matches the aesthetic that Apple wants to project.

4. A laptop overhaul: At the very least, we should see the display panels updated; and may see LED. I'm also thinking a cosmetic update to match the rest of the line.

5. A revised AppleTV: Either that, or they just quietly drop it. It's a dog as it is currently; but if they revised it to be a better media server, maybe add PVR capability (I doubt it) and solid HD outputs... maybe. I've heard rumors both ways on this one. If we DO get a new product, expect it to be silver and black as well.

6. A “media server” version of the Mac Mini: If the ATV gets dumped, this will be a complete replacement for the Apple TV. I actually think this is more likely than trying to salvage the AppleTV; and again, look for the black and silver.

7. A chassis refresh on the whole desktop line: This one is I think the most controversial prediction I'll make; but I think the current Mac look is going to be scrapped to bring branding in line with the iPhone and iPod touch. Yes, they just had a proc rev on the MacPros, but they didn't make any big deal out of it; and Steve is apparently quite taken with both the overall look of the iPhone, and with the idea of a consistent aesthetic and industrial design.

The fact is, there hasn't been a major update since the MacIntel announcement two years ago, and the last major cosmetic update was almost three years before that. Much as I like the aluminum cheesegrater (I really do actually. I'd love one); Steve doesn't like 5 year old industrial design (anymore anyway; the Apple 2 had the same design for 10 years), and I think they are going to strengthen their brand image by unifying around the new silver and black aesthetic.

Again, I'm sure this will happen this year; but it's only 50/50 this macworld.

8. BluRay drives available as an option on some models: This one I'm a bit iffy on. Like Bill Gates, I believe Steve Jobs would rather eliminate optical media entirely, and just distribute everything online. That said, their customer base has been clamoring for BD (and especially for BD authoring), so it would surprise me if we didn't at least see it creep in as an option on some models.

Oh and on a related note, I expect an announcement of TRUE HD movie downloads from iTunes, at least from Disney; and of course the already leaked movie rentals through iTunes (which is I think a stillborn idea. Digital rentals are just silly).

Well, we'll know in 7-8 hours how much I got right, and how much I muffed.

What's your guess?

UPDATE 1 - 10:42 mst : Well the iPhone stuff I didn't bother with, because it had all been leaked already; but the airport/nas box combo is a great idea, and if they executed it right should be a great product.

Looking at the design of it though, I'm guessing my chassis refresh prediction isn't going to happen, and the cinema displays are going to keep their current look (I'm still hoping for a spec upgrade).

UPDATE 2 - 11:00 mst : I was right about the HD movie, and the APpleTV refresh. This one looks like it might make the ATV viable finally, especially with a price drop to $229. No cosmetic change though. Oh well.

UPDATE 3 - 11:27 mst : Oh my god, that is the greatest laptop ever invented. Seriously this thing is as awesome as the original ThinkPads, and PowerBooks. All that in a 3/4" thick package, for $1800... damn. I so want one.


UPDATE 4 - 11:40 mst : Randy Newman is definitely very very high right now

Ok, so I'm about 40 up/ 60 down here. No cosmetic update, no bump in LCD specs (I'm pretty surprised about that one) which the iMac and laptop update would also have been wraped into, and no BluRay.

I'm not counting the media server as a wrong guess, because I did guess they would refresh the apple TV and the media server doesn't make sense with an ATV refresh.

They did announce HD movies, and the MacBook Air.. available in 2 weeks (yeah, right. maybe a few hundred). I'm guessing we wont be seeing many for at least three months.

The new TimeCapsule... that was out of the blue. I'm digging it. If it ends up being a good useful NAS box then it should be a big hit. I know I'd love one.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Dangerous Territory



By which I mean both the internet, and the software store (or Frys, or Best Buy etc...). For someone who doesn't do this sort of thing for a living, it's kind of like attempting to tapdance through a minefield... only no-one actually... you know... dies.

You CAN end up with a stolen identity, drained bank accounts, run up credit cards, and lost data though; and some of those things can make you wish you've died.

Funny thing, someone was asking about this on the gunthing forums yesterday; so I wrote up this whole thing. I wasn't actually going to publish here, since I've covered this territory before (though in less detail), but after that cartoon showed up this morning... well sometimes the universe is telling you something eh?

Here's goes.

If you want to be secure at home (or home or small office) here's what you do:

1. MOST IMPORTANT Get a good hardware firewall: Almost any router will give you a basic level of protection, but some are better than others. Sonicwall, Netscreen/Junipers home/small office line, Checkpoints small/home office line, Sohoware etc… are all decent commercial products. Unfortunately, they aren’t cheap.

You have some cheaper options though. You can also buy a router (wireless or otherwise) that can have it’s firmware replaced by a linux firewall distro. The Netgear WRT series of wireless routers for example can be modified with the DD-WRT firmware, to provide a very decent home firewall solution (that’s what I ran up until recently, and will most likely run again after I replace my fried WRT-54G).

You can also take an old, cheap computer, or buy a stripped down computer (that $199 refurbished special will do just fine); or even one of those ultra tiny microsized computers no bigger than a book; and as long as they have two network ports, you can make it into a firewall.

There are “firewall on a disk” programs you can download for free. I like smoothwall and IPCop. Just boot off the disk, install it onto that stripped computer, and bingo, you’ve got a very good quality firewall.

Don’t bother with so called “software firewalls”, that you install on your personal computer (ZoneAlarm, SystemDefender, BlackIce etc...).

Firstly, a firewall is a device that provides segregation between a trusted network, and an untrusted network. "Software firewalls" don't do any segregating. What they do, is listen to all incoming connections, and try to figure out what traffic is good and what is bad. Firewalls do that too, but the difference is, a firewall prevents the hostile traffic from ever reaching the vulnerable host.

Software security clients are not firewalls. They don’t work very well, they alert you needlessly about normal things, and miss the bad stuff often when it happens. Even when they detect something real, half the time they can’t stop it. Oh and sometimes, having them on your system actually ATTRACTS more attacks.

How's that?

The proper response to a portscan or a penetration attempt is nothing. Connection attempts to ports that do not match a session or a listener should be silently dropped. This is called “blackholing” or “stealthing”.

ZoneAlarm, (and most other software security clients - one probably comes with your virus scanning software) in order to detect port scans and other attacks, listens on ports that would not otherwise have a listener associated with them (at least in their default configuration). Further, their default behavior for some protocols is not to silently drop, but to block (through a n-ack). Blocking lets an attacking host know that a system is there, and has responded to an attack. In fact, you can often identify systems which have zone alarm on them through response signature based ID.

Once a host is identified as existing, and the attacker knows you have zone alarm, they can work around it. The better way is to simply expose as little information as possible to the outside world.

There are a few software security clients which implement a true stateful inspection stack (which is the closest thing you can get to a real firewall without extra hardware); but they have their own issues. Most of them break a lot of network based software.

The one really useful thing the software security clients do, is block access for applications you don't explicitly authorize. Unfortunately, it's annoying, and most people either allow everything whenever the window pops up, or they just disable that functionality. In order to make an intelligent decision about what to allow or deny you need to understand what applications need what type of network access... and even I dont always know if traffic is legitimate, and I do this for a living.

Also, there is no longer a need to run ZoneAlarm for simple access blocking; that can be managed through the windows firewall service. It isn’t really a firewall (none of the software clients really are), but if you’re only using it for port blocking, it’s jsut as good (or bad) as any other software client.

Of course this might have changed in the last two or three years, since I did any real penetration testing. I doubt it, but it might have.

The only time I ever suggest using them, is when you are using a laptop on an untrusted network; where it may be the only protection you can arrange. In those situations, they are better than nothing.

2. Run at least two different types of anti-virus, and keep them updated: The major commercial AV vendors wont let you install a competitors product while theirs is running, but you can install AVG and Avast! for free... or even ClamAV if you want to stay open source.

If you want a commercial product, I rank the majors as Trend Micro being the best, McAffee next, and Norton third. There are some other players of course, but those three are utterly dominant in the commercial market.

3. Run at least two different types of anti-spyware, and keep them updated: I personally run BillP’s WinPatrol, Spybot S&D, AD-Aware, AND whatever anti-spyware is offered by the virus suite I’ve installed (I have several different on different machines at different times, depending on their purpose, compatibility, testing etc...).

4. Maximize your system memory: Otherwise even basic anti-virus is going to kill your performance completely. bringing me to…

5. The default virus scanning options are a conspiracy: By default, virus scanning companies turn every option on to maximum. This means they scan every bit coming in and out of your computer in every way, at least 4 times. That eats up cpu, memory, and I/O, and makes you think your machine is slow; thus driving you to upgrade.

You don’t need on access scanning of your hard drive. You don’t need to scan outgoing traffic unless you are on a network with a bunch of other pcs that you could infect, and that dont have virus scanning themselves. What you need is nightly full system scans, and every email and download scanned.... and MAYBE scanning web pages as they are loaded, depending on how paranoid you are, and how risky the websites you visit are.

6. Disable all the risky and stupid windows services: Windows ships with a couple dozen “services” enabled automatically. These services are programs that run in the background, transparent to the user, and do things; some of which are quite insecure, and most of which rob performance. MOst of them can be disabled. Unfortunately, you need to know which ones you can and can’t and it changes from user to user depending on your configuration, your network, your software etc…

The ones that EVERYONE should disable unless they are on a corporate PC, are “remote registry”, “remote desktop”, and “telnet”. There are a lot of other that should be, or can be disabled to increase security or performance, but those three are guaranteed to get your computer cracked within minutes of being put on a public network outside a firewall.

7. Never, ever, put a windows box outside a firewall, exposed on the net, if you can at all avoid it: It doesn’t matter what security software you think you’ve got running; unless you run Ciscos CSA or McAffees entercept, and have them configured and maintained daily by experts; you WILL be cracked within minutes.

8. Don’t be stupid: First part of don't be stupid, is a bit controversial. Don't run windows if you can avoid it. There are a lot of alternatives available to you. You might get a Mac, or a Linux box of some kind. I personally run Kubuntu (a version of Linux) for most functions; excepting those functions that absolutely require windows (some of my work functions, and my gaming box).

Now, all that aside; most people are going to run Windows; so we need to do what we can to stay secure with Windows.

First step, if you have to run Windows, don't run Internet Explorer; use Firefox with the adblock, no-script, and flashblock extensions.

Not only will you be more secure, you'll have a MUCH better overall browsing experience.

Don’t download software from sources you don’t know and trust as software sources; and that includes your friends, because it’s like AIDS; you aren’t just sleeping with them, you’re sleeping with everyone they ever slept with. If you do, make sure you virus scan it twice, by two different scanners.

Don’t visit dodgy websites, websites that ask for lots of personal info for no good reason, websites that have lots of popups (except major corporate idiot sites that seem to do that too, no matter how much consumers insist it irritates them).

Don’t download email attachments from untrusted sources, and double virus scan them as well.

Due to the wonders of windows media player, microsoft office, and internet explorer, you can actually embed a virus in almost anything now; not just .exe files. Music files, video files, documents, web pages, they can all contain malware.

Which brings up a very important concept…

9. Eventually, they WILL get in: Unless you compute in a concrete box with no connectivity to the outside world (yes, there are computers that do that, for security reasons), eventually, by maliciousness, by accident, or by stupidity; something will go wrong. Some bit of nastiness will get in… or heck just the hardware gremlins.

You have to be prepared for when this happens. Not IF, WHEN.

10. Backup your computer completely automatically, and externally; at least every week: When I say completely, I mean take a full system image. This is a file for file (or even bit for bit) copy, that can be used to completely restore your system to the exact state it was in before you had a problem.

Automatically means have it be a scheduled process that you can’t forget. You want a full system image at least once a week; possibly once a night, if you’re paranoid enough, and have enough storage space. You also want to keep at least one month of full system images; plus a baseline image (more on that later). You keep multiple copies, in case you don’t notice that you’ve got a problem for a week, or two; so you can go back

You want to do this on a system or hard drive, external to your computer; in case your computer explodes, or burns, or is stolen etc… You can get external hard drives with a terabyte of storage (probably 10 to 50 times what you actually use, unless you work with a lot of video) for $350 these days. They connect directly to your computers USB ports. You can get 500GB for $150.

You can also get storage systems that plug into your network, that all the computers in your house can use. I have a setup like this. I have a NAS (network attached storage) box, with 1.5tb of space on it, that all my systems run a scheduled image backup to once a week.

11. Keep a baseline image: A baseline image is a simple concept. Once you have your computer exactly as you want it, no more, no less; you take an image of it. From that point on, if you ever have to start over again, all you need to do is restore the baseline.

When you make your baseline, the best way is to start with a fresh install of your OS, and all your applications; and then copy your critical data and files onto the system. Make all the tweaks to your settings, templates and interfaces etc… Basically get it ready to do everything you want to do with it, exactly as you want; and then freeze it in time.

12. Keep incremental backups of your important files, or your files that change frequently: If you do a lot of image editing or document manipulation etc… Anything that changes frequently, or that you might need to take to another machine to recover in the event of a fire for example; put backup copies of that data on a USB drive, or portable hard drive

13. Keep offsite copies of both sets of backups: What if there IS a fire, or you are robbed? Make a copy of all that stuff once a month, and put it in a secure location. Safe deposit box, safe at the office, even in a locked box, in a locked storage unit; whatever, so long as it’s secure, away from your primary location, and you can get to it when you need to. There are even services that will do this for you online, if you only have a few gigs of stuff you need to keep secure.

14. Have a set of rescue and restore CDs (or other media): These would include all the data and utilities necessary to get your system back to at least a baseline state; or preferably whatever your last full backup was (if you have the space).

This isn’t just a backup set that I’m talking about. First, keep a bootable CD or thumb drive that has a runnable copy of the restore utility for your backups. That’s the absolute minimum.

If you want to be prepared (and you really should), you should also have a CD/DVD with an installable copy your operating system. More discs with installable copies of your major applications, and your hardware drivers.

I think at a minimum you should also include system rescue, and cleaning and recovery utilities etc… I also include a copy of Knoppix or linuxrescue in my set (and I have a set of forensics tools as well, but that’s for security purposes).

Thankfully with DVD’s these days, having a full set of recovery disks isn’t as hard as it used to be. Each DVD can hold close to 5 gigs of data. There are even USB thumb drives with 64, and 128gb of capacity now (though they are quite expensive), and 32gb drives are quite affordable. Portable USB hard drives are also quite cheap for the capacity you get now.

15. Make sure all your machines, and all the machines on your network, get the same treatment: It’s no good to do this to your work laptop, if your kid is downloading virii all day while he steals music. His computer is going to get infected, and then infect your computer, and all your other computers.

Even if your computer is totally secure (no such thing) his computer will be spying on all the network traffic out of your house, and sending out spam and kiddy porn to the entire world.

Oh and don’t let people put their insecure computers on your network. If they’re going to connect they should be just as secure as you are. If not; make them a DMZ where they can destroy themselves without screwing you up.

You know the old story, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

That’s it.

That’s basically everything you can do.

I have never had a machine of mine permanently taken out by a virus, nor has any of my information been compromised in this way, nor have any of my machines become spam relays or secret porn sites. This is because I do these things. I’ve had to clean up plenty of messes for other people though, and lord how I wish they’d have followed this advice.

Oh well, it’s called job security.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

We've been blindsided, and we need help - 5 updates

I'd originally intended to write a very different post, but circumstances have changed.

... I can't begin to tell you how hard this is for me to write...

We've been blindsided, and we need help.

We need to raise $30,000 in the next two to four weeks, or our children could be taken away from us by a foreign court, hostile to Americans, and hostile to gun owners.

As you may know, we've been in the middle of a very long, and very nasty custody battle with only two possible outcomes: full custody for us, or full custody for my ex-husband. We have attempted to be reasonable and accommodating at all turns, but he is doing everything he can to obstruct and harass us.

So far we've won, and he has lost; every court case, every motion, every mediation. Every request he has made of the court has been denied. Every claim he has made has been disproved. Every action they have moved for has been denied or dismissed.

We have won, over and over again. We WILL win this case, as long as we can stay afloat.

We can't stay afloat much longer.

We've racked up $38,000 in legal bills over the last two years, fighting for the kids; against my ex-husband, who despite his low chances of succeeding is still intent on using loopholes in the legal system to try and steal custody of the kids.

It's not as if he really wants the kids either. If he was really concerned with the best interests of the kids, he would not have reneged on the original negotiations, or he would have settled with us.

Instead he's accused me of violating an international treaty and kidnapping the kids. He's already lost the case in the AZ District Court, where the judge essentially threw him out on his ass. He narrowly missed defaulting twice in fact, because he refused to respond to a US court; while in the mean time, he was filing Canadian motions, without serving us with notice of them. He then tried to use those motions as a basis for his claims in US court.

They threw him out on his ass. He had clearly acted in bad faith. In fact, he was caught lying on the stand, and forced to admit it, not just once, but twice.

At this point, he has no legal or factual basis to continue; but he has one other tactic. He can try and bankrupt us by filing useless motions.

That's what he's decided to do. After his last defeat, he appealed to the 9th Circuit.

Our reply to his 175 page appeal brief (which was simply a restatement of all the arguments that the other courts had previously rejected) cost us $10,000 ALONE, and we're still paying it off.

Remember, that's just the paperwork.

That's not the problem though.

The appeal and reply breifs were filed in September. We were scheduled for standard track; and normally it takes the 9th Circuit 18 months to 2 years or so to review a case and schedule oral arguments.

Well, two weeks ago, they revised our case to fast track; and scheduled a supervised mediation session between both lawyers.

Yesterday the lawyers and mediator held a teleconference, and all attempts at mediation failed. My ex husband absolutely refused any negotiation, and insisted on moving ahead with oral arguments.

From the point mediation fails, the oral arguments are scheduled for 2-4 weeks from the date of mediation.

2-4 WEEKS, maybe less. As soon as the end of this month, and almost definitely before the end of February the oral arguments will be held.

In order to present our case to the 3 judge panel and take his place in the oral arguments, our lawyer has to fly to San Francisco and spend (most likely) 3 days in court. His flight, lodging, meals, and most importantly TIME are all our responsibility, as is the week or more of full-time work preparing his arguments and catching up on all precedent which may help or hinder us.

The estimate for all of this? $20,000.

We were expecting this kind of cost. We were keeping up with out bills, paying down about $2000 a month, plus our initial retainer and deposit.

Unfortunately my ex forced a flurry of paperwork and meetings in November and December, which put us behind about $10,000. We've paid out another $2000... but now there's this $20,000 balloon.

We would have been alright, because we expected to have 2 years or so to save up and pay for it. As of right now though, we don't have a shot in hell of paying for it, especially on top of the $8,000 we still owe.

If we don't send our lawyer to San Francisco to plead our case, there's a real possibility that he will win the appeal by default.

We've requested that the case be heard on the filed briefs alone (there's really nothing to say in the oral arguments that isn't in the briefs); but my ex is refusing anything but the most expensive possible course of action. He knows that he has no legal ground to stand on; his only hope is to bankrupt us and make us lose by default, or give up.

If he wins his appeal, the jurisdiction for this case will most likely be moved up to Canada, which is ultimately what my ex-husband wants.

You see, his central argument for being granted custody absolutely depends on receiving favorable treatment from a Canadian court.

Why?

Well, the ONLY reason he's EVER given for why the kids are better off with him, is because we have an "unsafe" home environment.

The reason he claims our household is unsafe?

Well, because we have guns of course. He's tried to convince that court that the mere presence of firearms in the house is a danger to the children.

No questions about safe storage. No questions about how we've educated the kids (who know what to do if they see a gun NOT in the possession of an adult). Just hysteria over the presence of firearms in our house.

In fact, he tried to claim he felt threatened by the fact that I personally own and carry a gun. He tried to equate gun ownership with child abuse, and drug use.

Obviously this approach has not worked here in Arizona, or federally. Both the county, and district court judges literally told their lawyer to stop making the argument, because it carried no water with them.

... But if the case is sent to Canada, even if we could afford to hire new lawyers and travel back and forth, we would still be screwed. Every bit of our involvement with firearms and 2nd Amendment rights would be hauled out in front of the judge; and they would most likely listen to his tripe about firearms in the home being the equivalent of child abuse.

Unfortunately between current attitudes in major Canadian cities concerning private ownership of firearms, decades of left-wingers appointing judges, and the blatant anti-Americanism of the Canadian courts, we'd most likely be screwed. IF we could even afford to fight.

Even the district court judge noted that he believed the Canadian court would be unfairly prejudiced against us based on this argument.

My ex-husband knows this. He knows that we can't afford for this fight to go to Canada.

So, in order to prevent us from fighting he and his mother have been using the insurance money from her HOUSE BURNING DOWN WITH HER HUSBAND IN IT.

No, that's no joke. His mother recieved a $250,000 insurance settlement when her house burned down with her husband in it. Rather than buy a new house, they've been using the money to draw us into ultimately fruitless, and malicious legal battles. They are intentionally bleeding us dry financially, so we can't fight them in court.

Up 'til now, this tactic hasn't worked; but we're out of money. Chris has gone through all of his savings and assets, and his family can't help. Neither can mine.

As of today, we can't come up with the additional $20,000 necessary; or the $8000 to cover the bills that have already accrued.

We have no family who can help, we can't take out a mortgage because we don't own the house, we have no collateral to secure a personal loan...

...we're screwed.

Why spend all of this money to draw us into legal battles? Well it's obviously not to give the kids a happy, secure life.

All of this money spent on stupid, pointless, and malicious legal wrangling should have been spent on the kids. They should have used the insurance money to buy a new house and prove that they have a stable home environment for the kids. We should have been able to use our money to buy the house we're in, and do things like take the kids to Disneyland.

But the kids aren't the point. It's not about the kids at all to them.

It's about me.

They want to punish me for leaving. For escaping an abusive situation and taking the kids with me. They want to destroy my new, happy life.

Over 3 years of being dragged into court have taught me that all they want is to WIN. If they wanted anything less than my total destruction, this all would have been over years ago.

Instead they've been waiting for Chris to get fed up with the situation and leave, or for us to run out of money. Obviously Chris hasn't left and will never leave, but we have run out of money to fight this battle.

I hate broadcasting all of this personal information, but I don't have a choice. These are my KIDS he may be stealing from us.

They're everything to me.

I CAN NOT let my ex-husband take them, because he will most likely do everything in his power to make it so I can never see them again. He has said exactly that; vowing that if they ever return to Canada we will never see them again.

If we don't come up with the money I can't keep fighting for what's right for the kids.

So please, please help us. We've run out of options, and we desperately need cash or ideas for raising money to keep us going, as we enter this last, and most expensive portion of the battle. Anything you can give, any IDEAS you can give, are greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Mel

UPDATE: I just wanted to let everyone know, thanks to your help and support, we've managed to raise enough to cover what we were behind on, all in the first 24 hours.

We're 1/3 of the way to having this thing beat. Now we just need to raise the rest of the funds to continue the case.

I know it's completely inadequate, words aren't enough; but thank you all so much.

UPDATE 2, Midnight, Janary 12th: After two days, we've received over $16,000 in confirmed and booked donations; with an unknown amount on it's way to us by mail. We estimate it's about $4000 more, but we're not sure.

I'm shocked... just blown away by this. We posted this hoping that we'd get contributions from a few friends, and readers... instead, we've had over 300 donations, from $5 to $1500.

We've both been crying, this has just... how can you thank people for helping you save your kids?

On a more unpleasant note, we've also had the Ex, his family, and friends register at several sites that have linked to this posting; and post negative, false, and clearly libelous comments. They've also attempted to access Melodys email (something they've done before).

Best of all, we've got proof of all of it.

Somehow they don't seem to understand that there is no true anonymity on the net. There are always logs of everything, and where there are logs, there are backtraces.


UPDATE 3

My apologies to all of you I have yet to thank, I'm about halfway through the thank-yous. Something that needs our immediate attention has come up, and we must deal with it now. Thank you for all of your support.

UPDATE 4

Again I apologize, I'm falling further behind on the thank yous as donations keep coming in. I would never write a form letter or send a mass mail out for something like this, I need to thank you all individually. An email isn't nearly thanks enough, but at least it's a start.

As of last night, we've reached $18,000 confirmed, with another estimated $5000 coming in. We'll know better by the middle of next week. A fair few folks have pledged a donation after the 15th (pay day for a lot of people) or at the end of the month.

UPDATE 5 - Midnight, January 14th

Just a quick update... wow this has been incredible. As of midnight Sunday night/Monday morning, we've reached $20,000 confirmed; and still an unknown amount in checks coming in by mail. Some people have told us how much they're sending, some have not. We're currently estimating $5,000 more coming in; and if that's correct, we've only got another $5000 to go to reach our goal.

We received one check on Thursday, and we expect the rest to start arriving tomorrow; with hopefully most coming in by the end of the week so we know where we stand.

Thank you all so much for helping us.

A word on last nights results

I'm not going to touch the democratic side except to say that this is the result everyone was predicting before Iowa; it's only in the last week that people were assigning victory to Obama, and Hillary has done everything she can (which is a lot) to refocus New Hampshire democrats on her. It worked... barely.

Now, on to the Republicans...

McCains finishing position was a foregone conclusion. They love him in New Hampshire. Much like Huckabee in Iowa, it can't be taken as indicative of what will happen in other primaries.

Also, because NH offers a semi-open primary, you have to take certain results with a big grain of salt. New Hampshire is one of those states that have a long tradition of spoiler voters. People who will vote in one partys primary, though they don't intend to vote for that party in the general election. McCain is the candidate of the spoilers.

Hell, he himself has been a spoiler for the party since he got screwed in South Carolina in 2000 by the RNC machine, who had already decided to support Bush. They laid a dirty tricks campaign on him that likely cost him the presidency; and he's been getting his revenge ever since.

The big surprises for me are Mitt staying so strong (they really don't like him there); and Huckabee.

Mitts position I suppose can be attributed to outspending everyone else combined (again).

Huckabee though... I had honestly figured Thompson in that spot.

If you look at polling from a few weeks ago, it seems like the real conservative block in NH that was trending strongly towards Thompson, switched to Huckabee after the Iowa results.

Predictions:

I don't think McCain is going to perform anywhere else.

I'm looking for Huckabee to drop like a stone in terms of total numbers as well; with his only remaining base of support in the deep south.

I expect both Romney and Giuliani to show strong in the midwest and northeast; weak in the south and west, excepting a strong showing for Romney in Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona (the Mormon vote) ; and a strong showing for Rudy in Florida, and maybe Arizona (there are a lot of displaced Northeasterners here).

I expect a very solid showing for Fred in the south and west; less so for the midwest, where they don't really know who he is. The northeast is pretty well sewn up by Romney and Giuliani so there's little room there; and the west coast is completely unpredictable at this point.

If Huckabee drops like I'm sure he will, and the actual republican supporters of ROn Paul decide they are going to support an actual Republican, those votes go to Fred. The question is, do they go to Fred fast enough?

No real conservative or libertarian in this country wants to see a President McCain, Romney, or Giuliani... Except the Mormons, who somehow think that Mitt, who is the biggest opportunistic weathervane in this election (more so than even Hillary) will find his way back to his religion, and start actually having principals, and acting like a conservative for the first time in his life ever.

Seriously, if this guy weren't a Mormon, these people would see how much of a phony Mitt is.

His dad was one of the most liberal republicans ever, and so is he. He's been running for president for 15 years; and this has all been part of his plan.

Mitt doesn't care about anything except being elected president. His total elected experience is 4 years, as the governor of the second most liberal state in America; but he's repeatedly tried, and failed, to be elected to office.

He forum shopped for states where he could get elected senator, and chose Massachusetts. He lost. I know, I was there. I voted for him, because he was the Republican and anybody would be better then Kennedy. He also considered Michigan, and Utah (where he also had homes), but thought his best chance was in Mass.

After he failed to gain a senate seat, he moved to Utah for the Olympics thing; and when that was done, forum shopped again for a state where he thought he could be elected either senator or governor. He picked Massachusetts again, and won.

That's it. That's the sum total of his "career" in government.

The man will say whatever he thinks his audience wants to hear; and support whatever position is likely to get him the most votes at the time. If we elect him, the only reason he will be better than a democrat is all the executive branch appointments.

Here's hoping I'm right about Fred.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Holy crap that's a hell of a leak

We got our water bill today. Normally it's about 10,000 gallons, which with sewer and garbage fees comes out to about $70 a month.

Our December bill was $500... Apparently we used 100,000 gallons (about four swimming pools worth).

We don't have a swimming pool, and our sprinkler system has been cut off for months.

It seems that we have a leaking hose bib in our back yard; and you can't tell because its' right along our fenceline and covered with gravel and vegetation; but when we shut off that line, the flow meter stopped spooling like a slot machine.

$500... great.

UPDATE: I spoke with the city, and they confirmed the reading was correct. I let them know that we found the leak, and fixed it; and they said that once we can show that the leak was fixed and our water usage is back to normal, they can refund 40% of the charges.

Every bit helps.

Easier than the other "could you pass" ones

JustSayHi - Science Quiz

Value Proposition

Value is a funny word. Not amusing, but odd; it has many different meanings and applications, in different situations; and it can be among the most difficult things in life to know, evaluate, and understand.

A few years ago, a man named Robert Kiyosaki made an awful lot of money, by telling people the rich had "secret" knowledge they passed down from father to son; and the poor did not. In reality what he was saying was that the poor didn't understand money, the rich did, and they taught their children. He then proceeded to "reveal" these secrets to the rest of us.

Playing on class envy and conspiracy theories is a very effective tactic; and it's made Mr. Kiyosaki a lot of money.

The rest of his book(s) were taken up with either correct, but basic and well known financial advice; or incorrect, dangerous, and stupid financial advice; whatever made Kiyosaki look more like a genius to those who had never been taught about money. He became a bestselling author many times over; and in fact his primary book on the subject is still among the best selling financial books in America, especially on amazon.

He's also declared bankruptcy twice since becoming rich (he is not wealthy by any means), has been sued countless times, has been investigated for fraud, fined, etc... etc...

He did have a valid point though; there are things that the rich... or perhaps a better term would be the wealthy, but let's stay with rich for now... know about money, that the poor and middle class don't.

Of course this is no great conspiracy theory; it's just that relieved of the burden of struggling just for survival; and having the budget necessary to try and fail; the rich either learn what REALLY works, or they end up rich no longer (or they at least hand their money over to someone who DOES understand anyway).

So, what are those things the rich know that the rest of us don't?
  1. Cheap is expensive; value is a bargain.

  2. Time is expensive; anything reasonable you can do to save it, is good value.

  3. Hard work won't make you rich, but lack of it will probably make sure you get and stay poor; unless you have real wealth (and know how not to lose it).

  4. Income is not wealth.
Pretty simple concepts to write down, a bit more difficult to full explain, and a lot more difficult to execute... but I'll give the explaining part a shot.

If I buy a $500 couch (which isn’t cheap in terms of an average persons paycheck, but is in terms of couches), I can expect to replace it every two to three years. If I buy a $3000 couch (what you’ll pay for quality; anything more and you’re just paying for style), then I should never have to replace it at all. If the fabric gets worn or I want to change it, it’s worth re-upholstering. In the mean time, I’ll be much happier with the more expensive couch.

You need to look at it from a perspective of total satisfaction of couch experience over your lifetime; and the total couch costs over your lifetime. If you have to replace a $500 couch 12 times, that’s $6000; vs the $3000 couch that you never have to replace (maybe you have a $1500 re-upholster at one point), and which gives you an overall better couch experience; in the long run, it is the better value by far.

The problem is understanding what is value and what isn’t; that’s where experience, and the ability to work with the numbers comes in. For example, if I know I have small children and dogs and cats, and I’m going to be moving in three years anyway, then there is little value in the more expensive couch right now; but when I buy it later, my real “couch cost” goes up to $3500 rather than $3000; because of the $500 I’ve already spent.

Let's look at a much more practical example; because let's face it, not everybody has a $3000 couch, but most of us have cars.

The absolute worst "reasonable" seeming thing someone with a very limited income can do financially, is buy a $500 car (the second worst is going into massive debt to buy a new car, but that's another story entirely).

Why's that? After all, if a $500 car works, it helps me earn more money, get more done in my life etc... Right?

Sure... until it inevitably breaks down in expensive and difficult to fix ways.

There has rarely been a $500 car that didn't end up costing $2500 in maintenance, repair, and upkeep costs over it's "useful" life. Meanwhile, every time it breaks down, it costs you time, money, stress... and often your job.

Reliable transportation is a money earner; unreliable transportation is a BIG money loser. Even if it's more expensive, it's always better value to pay for reliable transportation.

Most often, you are better off going without a car for the amount of time it takes you to save for a $2500 car, than you are buying a $500 car, or even five $500 cars.

You might think that you can get around the problem by simply buying another $500 car every time it breaks down, rather than repairing the old one; but it never works out that way. The $500 cars kill you $50 or $100 or $200 at a time, until all of a sudden you've spent just as much as the $2500 car; but all you have in hand is still an unreliable $500 car.

Even if you DO manage to buy another $500 car every time one breaks down, how much time has that cost you? How many times have you lost your job because of it? ...and again, at the end of it, you've spent $2500 and all you have is another unreliable $500 car.

It's called throwing good money after bad, and it's a sure way to ruin yourself financially.

The exception, is when you have no other option but have a car, in order to be able to work. If that's the case you need to find the most reliable car you can stretch to buy, with the lowest maintenance costs; and replace it with a more reliable car as soon as you possibly can (ahead of all other spending). The value here is in ensuring steady income, not in the false economies of cheap cars.

The poor spend their lives rarely getting ahead not because they don’t have any money (you can deprive yourself and save a surprising amount); but because whenever they do have money, their savings get wiped out by having to rebuild over and over again. Cars, furniture, moving from apartment to apartment, losing deposits, losing furniture, having to pay moving costs… It’s all wasted money, and tremendously draining.

The only way to get ahead, is to get off the treadmill. When you want to buy something, do one of two things:
  1. Wait until you have enough money that you can buy value.

  2. If you absolutely cannot wait; buy the cheapest possible thing that will get you by until you CAN buy value.
The second choice is only an option, if it will last until you can afford better. You never want to sink a cost more than once… “Get you by until you can afford value” is important; don’t buy something that will need to be replaced or repaired before you can afford quality, or you are going to end up worse off.

...well, excepting in those rare cases where value is actually in replacing the cheap product.

Certain tools for example do the job just as well, and wear out just as fast whether they cost $20 or $200; so buying the $200 doesn’t provide value.

.. except of course, when you’re dealing with TIME.

If the $20 drill and the $200 drill do the job just as well, and the $200 drill bit only lasts 5 times as long as the $20 drill; then there’s no value in the $200 drill.

But, if replacing the $20 drill five times, means doing a lot of work over; or interrupting critical work often to change out drills, well, the time you avoid wasting is worth a lot.

This seems to be one area where tradesmen, and the rich have the same understanding. It makes sense to pay for quality, when it saves you time; because time is ultimately what value is all about.

No professional mechanic will buy tools that are likely break in the middle of a job; even if the alternative is a FAR more expensive tool; because that tool breaking costs them time, and rework, and aggravation, and lost business; all of which are more valuable than cash.

The rich pay people to do things for them, the poor often try to get by without, or do it themselves. I fully believe in doing things for yourself when it makes sense, but there are many times when what you are “saving” in direct cost, is actually costing you more in time.

For example, packing up and moving for yourself; something I’ve done many times.

If you've only got a small apartment, a friend with a truck, and you're moving across town; it usually makes sense to move yourself. After all, it's just a few (hah!) hours of time and effort, vs. $500 for movers.

When I had to move cross country though it didn't make sense at all. Packing and moving myself would have meant taking two weeks off work (or at least a week and a half), buying all the boxes and materials, packing everything, renting a truck, loading it, driving for 5 days (you can do it in less in your own car; not so much in a rental moving truck), paying for the fuel food and lodging necessary to do so, and then unloading it all on the other end.

That was two weeks, where I was earning far more money than the difference in cost between doing it myself, and hiring professionals (about $1000 difference). Meanwhile, I was experiencing far less stress and physical injury by having professionals move me.

Oh and I should note, one of my jobs as a teenager was as a professional mover; I know what I'm doing, and I know that I don't want to be doing it. I love driving across country, but doing it for recreation, without a fully loaded vehicle; is very different than doing it with a 24 foot box van, and a hard time limit.

Then there would have been the complication of moving the car across country with me. If I moved myself, it would have meant renting a different (larger and more expensive) truck, and a trailer for the car, paying more insurance, more fuel, and taking an additional day on the trip which means more food and lodging cost. I'd guess another $500 onto my costs.

If I paid for movers; but then decided to drive the car myself, it would have been 4-5 days of driving, and $300 worth of gas, plus another $300 in hotels and food.

Instead, I paid $400 total, to have the car picked up and shipped, door to door. (this was almost 10 years ago now, it's a bit more expensive today), and $200 for a plane ticket.

That's a break even proposition in cash; but a huge difference in stress, and wasted time. If I drove, I would've been out of commission for a week; as it was, I was unavailable for a day.

In either case, my time was far more valuable to me than the few hundred dollars I might have saved. I used that time to earn more than the cash I spent; and I avoided a great deal of unpleasant work.

The value there is the time; not the cash.

Sometimes the choice to do something yourself, vs. hiring a professional is a question of having the right tools; tools which professionals have and you probably don’t. Sometimes, if you have the skill to use them; there is value in buying those tools, rather than paying someone else to do it; but again, it ultimately comes down to time, and how you value it.

For example, I enjoy building things with wood; and I learned how to do so in my uncles furniture restoration shop when I was a teenager (one of my first real jobs). When the time came to build some bookshelves, we had the option of building or buying. Based on the number of shelves we wanted, we would have needed to buy seven six foot high, 5 shelf, 42" wide book shelves. If we wanted them in oak (or any other hardwood), they would have been a minimum of $750 a piece.

Sorry, but I'm not spending $5500 on bookshelves.

...but, I can get the wood for about $1500; and I've got the tools I need to do it... though I'd prefer to upgrade my table saw and router, and maybe grab a radial arm saw; about $1500 total.

$3000 is still a fair bit of money for shelves, but I have the skill necessary; and at the end of it we'll have beautiful oak bookshelves fit to our needs (and our rooms) exactly; a few new tools, with which I can build other things; and the pride of having built them myself.

I could even do it for $1500, without upgrading my tools; but by upgrading I'm going to save myself at least 8 hours worth of time and aggravation (I'm going to have to do over a dozen 6' straight rips in hardwood; and all I have is a contractors saw)... I'm guessing more like 16; and that's just on this one project. By upgrading my tools now, not only do I save that time (and get the value back from it), but again, I now have better tools to help me save time later.

I'd say that's excellent value personally. The only reason I haven't done it yet, is because there have been other, higher priorities for our spending.

Like I said above, knowing value is the hardest part; and one of the most important skills you can develop in this world. Knowing value, and acting on it, is how you become wealthy.

So... if I'm so smart, why aren't I rich... or more importantly, why aren't I wealthy?

Well, for one thing, I haven't really followed my own advice.

Actually that's not totally true; I did to an extent, in that I have alway bought for value not for price; and I have generally valued my time highly (though I am by nature a workaholic, and my chosen profession often demands extreme hours).

The advice I never took, was the second half; number three and four.

You see, I've always owned my own businesses, or been involved in direct entrepreneurship. I started my first business when I was in high school; and other than my time in the Air Force, I have generally worked for myself, or as a founder of a business.

That's a high risk, high reward path. 80% of all businesses fail in the first two years.

I've been rich. I've been a multi-millionaire three times.

All three times I ended up with not much to show for it; because I started the process by getting rich, but I didn't secure it by becoming wealthy. I worked hard, but hard work doesn't do it.

Having 12 million dollars in cash and stocks makes you rich; it doesn't make you wealthy. Wealth can't simply evaporate overnight.

Rich is cash in hand, wealth is something else entirely. Wealth is long term security.

Let's define wealth here, just for clarities sake.

To be wealthy, you must hold enough assets of persistent and appreciating value, in excess of your liabilities; that should you be unable to earn any income, you could still maintain your standard of living indefinitely.

Additionally, you must also have enough cash and convertible assets to cope with an unexpected expense equal to your cost of living, for one year, without eating into your principal or foundation assets.


Anything less than that isn't wealth. You may be rich, but you aren't wealthy.

It's a fairly simple to define, a bit more difficult to put into practice.

I spent most of the last 10 years working at jobs that paid me substantial though not "rich" incomes. I haven't earned less than $100,000 per full work year, since 1999. I make a fair bit more than that right now...

...and I'm mostly broke.

There's a lot of reasons for that.

The first reason has to do with my philosophy of money, which up until recently has been "I'm going to go for what I want, and not worry about the money". I risked big, I won big, and I lost big.

I could do that, when I was 26 and flying around the world every week, and it was just me to take care of. I would take a six month contract for $200,000; and I'd not "officially work" for six months, plowing that money back into pursuing my interests.

I wasn't on vacation, I was pursing business interests, which sometimes worked out, and sometimes didn't. It's not in my nature to not work; but I enjoyed having the freedom to work on what I wanted, when I wanted. I did it because I enjoyed it, and because I could.

In the process however, I gained and lost three businesses, several million dollars, and a first wife. I also lost a lot of money by buying and selling real estate at the wrong time; and a lot of money in rent, and expenses... and never really acquired any persistent assets.

Funny enough, I've never lived extravagantly in that time. Sure, I've lived in nice houses, but not hollywood nice. 2000sq feet in a nice but not fancy neighborhood, with a nice view. The most expensive car I've ever owned was an Alfa Romeo 156 (I did have a Porsche at one point, but it was 20 years old); nice, but again, not extravagant. I don't buy expensive and flashy jewelry, boats etc...

...But I've still got nothing to show for having earned all that money.

That's the problem with being rich, without being wealthy; cash goes away very quickly.

The last two years, since I came into a readymade family; have been the happiest, and most fulfilling of my life. They've also been by far the most expensive.

I moved back from Ireland in 2003, with nothing but two hockey bags of stuff; and the $20,000 cash I had left over after I was screwed on selling my house quickly (I gave an agent authority to make a good deal, and they made a very bad one; I believe pocketing part of the difference, but I didn't have time to pursue it). I came back because I thought my mother was going to die, and I lived on that cash for six months, helping to take care of her, before I finally went looking for (and found) a job.

A few months after that, she and her second husband split, and I ended up using all my cash and convertible assets to help her buy a house; whose mortgage was supposed to be paid for by her divorce settlement. Unfortunately that didn't happen... Let's skip all the details and just say that I've bailed her out a couple times since then, on her mortgage and her medical bills (which are truly astronomical. Far more than the mortgage... or for that matter, the cost of the house outright). Finally, in the middle of last year I had to say no more.

Then a few months after we got her into her house, I lost my gig, found another one for 90 days, and then lost that one too; before finally settling into my current streak at two and a half years of solid gigs (though there was still a couple of months in between my current and previous contracts).

That's the nature of my business, it's streaky. You make great money for few months, up to maybe two years; then you don't work for anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months; then you get back to good money again.

Remember what I said earlier, about having to start over, over and over again? How it drains you and keeps you from ever getting ahead?

Well, you don't have to be poor for that to be true. You can make $200,000 a year and have it happen just as easily.

Of course I know there are people out there reading this who support a family on $25,000 a year, who have to be offended by that concept; but it's true, and it isn't bad decisions and sloppy money handling.

The thing is, the more money you have, the more everything else takes; simply because it becomes possible. When your mother needs a $50,000 bailout and you make $25,000 a year, it isn't even a consideration; she goes bankrupt, and she comes to live with you. But when you make $150,000 a year, even though it ruins you financially, you bail her out.

Of course you could decide to live as if you didn't make the money; and that can be good advice; but it's also not how I've wanted to live.

For the last two and a half years, I have been stepfather to two beautiful girls, and husband to a wonderful wife. My income has enabled us to send the girls to a great private school (thankfully subsidized by the parish, or we wouldn't be able to afford it). It has let my wife stay at home to take care of the girls, and the house. It has let me set up our household with the furnishings necessary for four people to live reasonably comfortably (again, nothing extravagant, the most expensive thing was the $1250 TV... I haven't bought the $3000 couch yet).

Unfortunately, it has also come with a few setbacks.

Just after we moved into our current house, two years ago, my then current contract was cancelled; though it was expected to be renewed (budget cuts). I was recruited for my new contract right away, but because of the excessive bureaucracy at my new gig, it took 60 days between the phone call saying they wanted me onboard, and my first paycheck.

Then, in July of 2006, my car burned (electrical fire), and the insurance wouldn't cover it. That was a total loss; and we had to go out and buy another car; eating up another chunk of savings.

All of that would have been ok, but for another huge expense, that has eliminated all our savings, and kept us from accumulating any real cash.

We've been fighting a custody battle with her ex the entire time; and he has deliberately made the fight as expensive as possible. He lost the case... essentially the moment we filed; but he has filed pointless motions and appeals over and over again. We had over $10,000 in legal expenses in 2006, and over $30,000 in 2007.

As a result, we have good income, reasonably good credit (I'm still having problems clearing up previous identity theft issues), and almost no debt; but we also have no savings. In fact because of recent major payments that had to be made to the lawyer; at this point we don't even have emergency savings.

Again I say, this is what happens when you have income, but not assets. Income does not equal wealth. Cash can disappear fast as smoke when things turn south.

Wealth endures.

The way to build wealth is again simple in concept, difficult in execution:

  1. Use your income to purchase assets which retain or increase their value; while at the same time, hedging your cash to cover emergencies, so that when they happen you don't have to sell assets on unfavorable terms.

  2. Do not sell major assets, unless you can do so on extremely favorable terms; and immediately use the proceeds to fund the acquisition of an asset that will provide either a greater return, or greater security at the same return; as the asset being sold (this is called bootstrapping).

  3. Once acquired, never reduce your principal, your reserve capital, or your assets. Converting an asset to cash is as good as a loss, unless that cash is immediately converted back into an appreciating asset.

  4. Always maintain enough liquidity and flexibility to bail yourself out. The more invested or extended you are, the more you need to keep to bail yourself out.
Those four steps are what you need to be wealthy. Following them won't guarantee you'll achieve wealth; but not following them will guarantee you wont, short of a windfall.

Unfortunately, I haven't followed them; and look where I am today. Sure I'm not in an awful financial situation; in fact I'm OK (and a lot beter off than 99% of the planet); but how much better off could I be, if I HAD taken my own advice?

UPDATE: I wrote this post before I knew about this. I'd say, "how about the irony", if we weren't busy trying to keep our kids from being taken away from us.