Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My arms have adopted Pastafarianism

Monday = cold water. Really cold water in Talisman. I've had warmer lake swims while racing. Nobody knows why, including the people that work there. My (female) lane mate speculated that it was so the (male) water polo players would have their muscles tighten up even more, for the delight of those interested. Its as good a theory as any.

I did 2 K in the pool, trying to hustle, and not finding the gear. First K was 18:50, which I think of as slow. The next K was 19:30 or so, but by that point I was beyond caring. I wanted out of the pool. A cool down was out of the question, since I'd never warmed up. The hot tub felt like it was burning my skin.

Tuesday was a slow run, 4.25 K in 30 minutes, struggling to keep moving. It was a beautiful evening out, the first really warm day of the year, and my legs were heavy. The "run" was a constant slog to not stop.

Wednesday is when the arm conversion happened. My arms channeled the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and emulated His Noodly appendage. They were good for nothing during the swim. The water was back to the normal temperature, at least, and that's the only thing good about the swim.

I was trying to do CSS times, and failed miserably. I have, in the recent past, done 1:50 per 100 m, on a 2 min start consistently for 3 K. It's fair to say that wasn't a fluke, since I've done it several times, and even faster.

Today I gave up before even 1 K. Each 100 was slower than the one before it, no matter how hard I pushed. As I started the 9th one I was feeling really bad about it, and wondering what the heck I was doing. Since the 8th one had been 1:51 at what felt like nearly all out effort, I had to be doing something wrong, and didn't see any point in rewarding that. I rolled over on my back for a couple strokes, then back to the end of the pool. Out. The big hot tub was being cleaned so I settled into the small one for a bit, bailing out when one of the swim clubs started to invade.

All in all, a pair of discouraging swims, and a discouraging run. My legs are still heavy from the bike ride last week. My buddy Katie connected me with someone doing good bike fits, so I think I'll stay off the bike till that happens. I'm suspecting my fit has changed, probably due to reduced flexibility in my low back.

After my massage today, my therapist informed me my left leg was a wreak. Again. Which I had known. I've got an ice pack going on the hams. I'm seriously wondering what our beloved yoga teacher is going to inflict I mean, share with us tonight. I hope I survive.

Mr Money Mustache had rolled up to the top of my blogroll, and I thought his discussion of what trucks say about you was very appropriate, given all the pick up trucks in town these days. It seems like there are a lot more of them, being driven by people that seem a lot angrier than usual. But if I start telling you about that, my blood pressure will be up, and that will make yoga even more difficult.

I'm not feeling discouraged or anything. These times happen during training. A good night's sleep, getting through some training at work, and finding my swim mojo again will do wonders.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The retirement whisperer

Once again the retirement whisperer showed up.

Friday Michelle and I were off to the pool. You never know what you're going to get at Talisman on Fridays. This one turned out to be a semi-gong show, redeemed later for Michelle. We started in the training pool, then even though the whiteboard said it was open, they kicked us out part way. We had to find a lane in the competition pool.

Michelle chugged away working on her stroke. I played chase with the other girl in my lane. I was trying to stay just far enough back that I could get a bit of draft, yet not so close that she'd think I was pushing. After maybe 500 m she paused, let me go by, and darned if she didn't tuck into my draft! That was kind of fun, actually, and made me pay attention to my pace.

Eventually I moved back into Michelle's lane when the water runner left. 100 m 91 seconds, really feeling a strong rhythm with stroke and breathing. Then a bit of drill, and 50 m 41 seconds, still in the groove. I've love to be able to swim longer at that pace, but I'm pretty sure that even going to 75 m I'd see my pace drop off dramatically.

We had a lovely chat after, Michelle's eyes wandering to the pool occasionally, where the male water polo players did their thing. Nuff said about that...

Then in the afternoon I met up with my financial advisor. Some of that was routine shuffling of money to top up RSP and TFSA and other stuff. I'm very pleased with my investment performance. It's mostly clear I can't stop working right now, never work again, AND live to whatever age. Unless I was really lucky I'd likely run out of money. Maybe. It's getting to the point the uncertainties of market return, and figuring just how long I'm going to live, and just how much money I'll want to spend, all combine to say 'maybe.' But when you consider I'm planning to work at least part time for a while yet, that calculation gets interesting. Depending on the assumptions you make, I could semi-retire right now.

Saturday was a cold day. We had expected snow and rain, but it was just overcast. I hung out at home, relaxing. It was lovely, in between visits by the furnace guy. Friday we noticed it would go through the startup cycle, but the main burners wouldn't fire. I figured it was a sensor, but it turned out to be the main gas valve. Twice. He had to come back the next day and replace it again.

Sunday we had brunch with the retirement whisperer. This time it was Linda's cousin's wife, who recently retired from the City. She is loving it! There were no regrets at all about signing the paperwork. Her husband is still winding down his affairs, and is working part time. I was picking their brains about how this is working out for them. She's taken to it like a duck to water, and given how I got through 2009, she thinks I'll do the same.

Ran 4.3K, 30 minutes, feeling pretty good about it. Average pace was 6:54 per K, which is good for me. The last half K was a bit of a struggle as my legs were getting heavy. Still, for legs that were starting a bit tired from last weekend, I'm pretty pleased.

Then I was put to work at one of my specialties. Nuclear gardening. Today was cutting back the ambitious mint plant, then getting rid of some tree-ish herb that is taking over. Tough stuff. Linda thinks it's Hyssop. I managed to not dig up the little hens and chicks that are being slowly over run. The daffodils are still there, and two huge day lilies. We are budgeting a day each for those to divide and replant. I am seriously thinking about renting a chainsaw for that. There is a lot more work left to actually dig up the beds, amend the soil, and plant the split up day lilies and other stuff. (I wonder if Runkeeper has a gardening activity?)

There is still much to do out front. We could probably both take a week of vacation and do nothing but work on it. Considering how much we've ignored it over the years, this isn't a surprise. The Alberta rose is doing really well, winning the early growth contest. We figure it's getting ready to take over that whole bed. The plum is almost blooming, as are some of the other roses. Photos then.

Do I really need to mention BBQ bison burgers with wine? This weekend has passed in a blur.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Time for a change, Alberta

This is the first of a periodic series of posts that are intended to be a more polished topical essay, rather than the multi-topic blog posts I bang out every day and a half or so, on average. Some of you have liked my rants (thank you very much) and there are well over 100 to read. Some of them are emotional frothings that make me feel better. Some are a perplexed reaction to something.

But I don't think any are an actual essay making an argument for a particular point of view, with nothing else to detract from it. I don't think you'll have much difficulty in understanding the point of these essays. This point of view will be mine. I'm not a shill for anyone else. Commentary is welcome, even if you disagree, but tell me why you disagree. I love getting comments, but as always, I'm going to insist they are polite.

Change is likely to be a catalyst for a number of these essays. Overdue change, reactions to change, inadvisable change or resignation to inevitable change could all be applied to many situations. Hold onto your hat though, you never know what you'll get.

“Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.” Mark Twain.

Not just politicians, but the government that is made of those same politicians needs to be changed too. What then are we to make of a 44 year old provincial government? This one certainly fails the sniff test. Time to be changed.

The biggest thing for me is simple financial competence. Much of the revenue for the Alberta government comes from oil and gas royalties. The theory is that Albertans own the resource, and the various oil and gas companies pay us royalties to be allowed to extract and sell it. The unfortunate thing is that we don't set the market price of oil and gas. Any teenager knows that price fluctuates. If they've been paying attention, they know it could and does fluctuate a lot.

The problem is the PC government doesn't seem to get this in any practical way. I know as a contractor my income can fluctuate from my normal rate to nothing on very little notice. I have emergency money set aside for that. So does every other contractor I know.

What does Alberta do? They spend it all, and sometimes more. They, along with almost everyone else is notoriously poor at predicting the price of oil. So duh, budget for it cheap, and bank the excess. We used to have a Heritage Fund. The intent was to set aside part of the royalty income for days when that income might not be there, and there were still schools, roads, and hospitals to be built. Like, (surprise!) now.

In the mean time that money can be invested to earn further income. This might mean buying bonds from other provinces as a bedrock position. It won't earn much, but they aren't going to go bankrupt. Part of the money could go to diversifying our economy. The problem there is that critics accuse the government of picking winners and losers, as if getting a loan from the government guarantees success. They also think that if that business goes under, then the government has lost money, which is true in a technical sense, and someone should be fired. As any commercial loan manager will tell you, if a few loans don't go bad, you aren't making as much money as you could because you're too conservative. (In an economic, not political sense.)

Over the years, incompetent politicians stopped adding to the fund, then started raiding it, even when times were good. This is criminally stupid, prima facie evidence of incompetence. If you believe that Alberta's oil and gas wealth belongs to all Albertan's, including ones not born yet, you have to weep and rage at the folly of the government.

There used to be a bumper sticker. "Please God, let there be another oil boom. I promise not to piss it all away this time." It's an oldie but a goodie, because it keeps on happening.

Part of the problem is indeed us, the taxpayers. There was an element of truth to Prentice's claim that we should look in a mirror. As taxpayers in a wealthy province, we want it all, as in all the goodies and none of the prices. Politicians, poor helpless creatures that they are, merely try to deliver so they can keep their snouts in the trough.

In the debate the other day the leader of the Wildrose party kept saying "we won't raise taxes". More evidence of stupidity. Sometimes raising taxes is the right thing to do. Nobody likes it, me included, but golly, I sure like having the various benefits of living in a civilized society. There is more to governing than lowering taxes. He kept saying it over and over. We get it, but I suspect his base needs to hear it again and again. Who needs to be told something more than a few times?

I know there will be another oil boom, and another crash. I know this like I know there will be eclipses of the moon and sun. I personally don't know when, but I could find out about the eclipses. Smart people have figured that out. Nobody knows when the next boom and crash will be. The difference is that smart people know they will happen, and plan for it.

Which leads me to my main point. The PC party has repeatedly demonstrated incompetence at planning for the inevitable. Time to give another party a chance. My advice? If you don't vote PC anyway, carry on. You're doing just fine. Unless, maybe, if you vote Liberal you might want to consider switching your vote to the NDP or Alberta Party. They're on their way up. The Liberals are down and out, and getting downer and outer all the time.

If you normally vote PC I implore you, consider an alternative. You have party choices to the left and right of the PC's. If you like no new taxes as a rule, and don't mind the lake of fire, then vote Wildrose. If you're a bit of a red tory, then please look around. The NDP are doing really well lately. Ms Notley cleaned up in the recent debate, and has been getting great press. I like the idea of the Alberta Party, and you might prefer to vote for them rather than "the socialist hordes", as it was expressed to me. However they aren't running in my riding so that isn't a choice for me. I'm not sure if the Greens are running provincially, and if their people were half as good as the federal MP Elizabeth May, I'd vote for them hands down.

At this point I don't have an opinion on how the election will turn out. Last time Wildrose was doing really well, till the lake of fire and it's implications sank in. Redford very cleverly played the fear card, and lots of people swung back to the PC's. Prentice is trying to do that this time round, only using fear of the socialists, but I don't know if it will work. My own MLA tried playing that card today after he knocked on my door. "They will wreak the economy and put people out of jobs." Bah, I say. BAH! Lots of my buddies are out of a job just now, and many companies are flirting with bankruptcy. Tell me again who is in government?

Time for a change. I think having a weak majority NDP, with a strong opposition Wildrose would be a great thing. Wildrose has demonstrated competence at holding the government's feet to the fire. Knowing they have a guy that only thinks about not raising taxes in opposition means NDP will prepare well, and explain why their raising taxes, and what it's for. Having a few Greens, Aberta Party, and even Liberals filling out the remaining seats would be just fine.

A minority government has never happened in the entire history of Alberta. Not even close. The words interesting times don't even begin to cover that possibility.

I'm not so happy about a weak majority Wildrose. Remember, they are the older, more intolerant, more religious, and much more conservative wing of the PC party that took their marbles and went away. The lake of fire was just fine with them before, and is likely still just fine now, given some of what I've read from their members. I don't see them as competent to deal with the complexities of government, even though some of them have been in government.

Last thing. If you are an Albertan eligible to vote, get your butt down to the polling station and do it. There's lots of advance polling options. Your employer is required by law to give you time to vote if your work shift overlaps the hours the polling stations are open. You can't say this isn't an interesting election; it's the most interesting, most contested election since the Conservatives took over from Social Credit. Normally the PC's rack up such huge majorities I can understand people thinking their vote doesn't count. That isn't true now. Every vote counts this time. Every one. Get out there and vote!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

I am sick of 6.895

I don't think any of my readers know why that number has been occupying my mind lately. I'd tell you, in detail, but then you'd be so bored you'd kill yourself, and I couldn't bear the guilt.

When you multiply psi times 6.895 you get kpa. This is what mawp is measured in. It should always be kpa, but because a bunch of cowardly Imperial dinosaurs wimped out on converting to metric back in the dark ages, we are still stuck with psi. We should have done it, and gotten over it.

So it turns out in the database I'm working with we don't quite believe the mawp numbers. So I had the bright idea of comparing it to the regulator's database. Many agree, or nearly so, which is fine. After all, that 3 decimal number is an approximation, but good enough.

Then I discovered some of our numbers and their numbers disagreed dramatically. For them I have to check original documentation. Many of these forms are old. So I see a number on the form, usually in psi. I have to convert that to kpa because that's how it's stored in the database. Then compare it to ours and see who agrees, and if they don't, try to figure out why not. It's more complicated than it sounds, having to do with how people and databases deal with units conversion. 

Suffice to say I'm checking and fixing 2 different databases at once. Retail. It means a lot of multiplying or dividing by 6.895. Some of them I know by heart, but you don't want me to prove it.

In other news, hams are still a bit tired. I'd been hoping for a run after work today, but events conspired against me. Furnaces used to be simple. 

In other other news, I had lunch today with people that were part of my team when I started at Penn West. Many of them have moved on. It was nice to get together, but one of them was filling my ears about the joys of retirement. Maybe I should have filled my ears with wax, or lashed myself to the mast. (that's a reference for the literary) In not unrelated news, tomorrow I visit my financial advisor, and guess what I'll be talking about.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Pigeons ate my hams

I'm still feeling beat up from the weekend bike ride, especially my hams and low back. Not hurting, just tired, so I was a bit cautious in yoga tonight. Normally I love it, but wouldn't you know, we were doing pigeon in the middle of a really, really long flow. Longest one ever. Flow, legs up the wall, meditation, Savasana, class over.

Normally I really like pigeon. During pigeon I suddenly realized my hamstrings were really hurting. I had to dial back. Sigh. Not pins and needles like going to sleep, this was an actual ache as if something was pulling it off, preparatory to eating it.

Did I mention I bailed on my swim this morning? Need more rest.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Look what's guarding our garden

So that Monday swim sucked big time according to the clock. Good thing I wasn't fussed about it. My legs felt really heavy and slow from the weekend ride, I think. Twenty trips up and down stairs carrying seven heavy wine kits, and 15 cases of bottles had nothing to do with it, I'm sure.

The Meglioli Moscat white that was taking forever to settle was dealt with firmly. I got out the drill and whipped the bejazzes out of it. I guess I didn't do a good enough job the first time because I got some more froth and tiny bubbles. Then I added some Isenglas I'd picked up, then stirred some more. In less than 24 hours it settled more than it had done in the previous month, and a day later even more progress is being made. At last.

Our little plum tree has buds on it, and I suspect blossoms will be soon. Photos then. I shouldn't, but I sometimes chuckle at Linda. She has a great green thumb with her plants, yet she worries that nothing will come up. She feared the back garden would be a frozen wasteland with 3 dead trees and lots of plants just lying there. Of course, everything is coming up gang-busters! Since we've fenced the back yard, put in the patio, and sheltered the garden with the lodge, it warms up much quicker, and the plants seem to like it. Even though gardening here is risky before May long weekend, she is out, hard at it. She's been itching for weeks to get started.

I spent this evening setting up the two rain barrels we got because it's supposed to rain soon. I'd only done one of them last year for complicated reasons. What's funny is the kit includes threaded joiners that don't fit the size of threaded openings. I don't know why. At least I got enough of ones that fit.

Linda had found this beautiful dragon to hide the end of the downspout, and I installed that as well. I need to fiddle with the base a bit more but I want to see exactly how the rain barrel settles when it's full.

Curtis was underfoot, trying to get into my lap every trip back and forth to get tools. Even when I was in the bathroom. When I looked like I was actually thinking about sitting down in my easy chair, he was RIGHT THERE! It's tough typing on a lap top, when your lap is full of cat. The struggles I go through for my blog readers.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

So who's a wheel-sucker?

So you knew about the ride Friday afternoon instead of working. That was nice, even if it was really windy. I figure I'll keep going out, sooner or later it will be less windy.

Saturday was a putter around the house day. Lots of things crossed off my list. Yay me! Not the big one though. My desk is still a mess, and I had hoped to at least get started on catching up on my filing and organizing. It was so nice out, even if there was snow on the ground when we woke up.

Sunday at half past still frigging cold, Michelle and I met up with Saskia and her buddy Sarah out at Priddis. We had a lovely ride to Bragg Creek and back. Not so windy, sunny, but cold to start, and cool to finish. In a news flash that will stun you all, I am still a week feeble reed going up hills. Maxed 70 KpH on one of the downhills. We saw a ton of other cyclists. I've ridden past where we parked a zillion times, but I hadn't known how many people drove there, parked, then rode.

On the way back I caught up to Michelle (she was being kind) then mercilessly sucked her wheel for a while while I recovered. Then I passed (it was downhill) and told her to stay tucked in. A minute later there was a surprised "Hey, I hardly have to pedal!" Exactly.

Anyone see anything funny about this readout from the bike ride log? One number is so not true.

I knew from yesterday that all my wine kits are in, so after eating and showering I zoomed off to Red Deer. Holy Hanna what a gong show the highway was! I thought I was going to see two collisions and had already begun to take evasive action. Fortunately not. There were a lot of big pickup trucks being driven excessively fast, even for Highway 2.

The habit that scared me the most was the casually cutting back into the right lane when there was a break in the slower traffic. Then they'd hammer it right up to the bumper of the slower vehicle they'd eventually meet, and cut back in. I had it done to me, and I was more than just a bit bug eyed. No signal, other than reading the vibes of the vehicle. No shoulder check, just move and assume there was room. Jerk.

This was the very soothing sign I was looking for. In all Alberta, this is THE best place to buy your wine kits.

Here's the supply of kits I brought home. This will keep me out of mischief for a while.

Curtis "helping" by keeping an eye on the raisin pack for the Chilean Vocanic Red that I started tonight.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Road to Nepal, you flirt you

I am playing hooky from work right this minute. Yay me! Though since I'm the one that sets my hours, I suppose that's not as cheaty as it sounds.

It started with a swim this morning. The training pool was closed, and only four lanes were open in the other pool. We watched my buddy Katie navigating the complete GONG SHOW going on in the four open lanes. I couldn't believe it. Two guys standing there, watching the chaos, decided to add to it. One fell off the ladder going in, and nearly landed on someone. The other jumped in and headed up the middle where the lane rope would be, dodging people left and right. What an idiot. I was wishing for a long shepherd's crook to haul them out by the neck.

We slipped off to the dive tank and practiced technique till the swim club cleared out of the other lane. I love swimming in the dive tank. It's so big, and well lit, and is such a fun place to play. No wonder the snychro swim girls always have a big smile.

Then we were into the other pool. Michelle is really looking like a swimmer now! I churned along, mostly doing technique work, but busted out some good stuff. First was 2 hard 100's, 87 seconds and 91 seconds with a 30 second recovery. Then a bit later after some drill, 5x100m on 2 minutes, at 99, 100, 100, 99, 100. I'm really pleased with that, though I was getting close to the retaste zone on that last one. By my normal interval rules I should have tried for number 6, but I knew better.

I was having fun focussing on my technique while chatting with my inner shark. He showed up in the dive tank, and followed us to the other pool, though he wasn't so thrilled with the cloudiness of it. My swim was feeling quite strong, and he was encouraging various elements of my stroke. Today was mainly recovery and catch, working on my roll and breathing out the whole stroke. I'm still not sure why that's supposed to be faster, or if it's making a difference for me. It turns out my inner shark has been off hob-nobbing with my book characters. Who knows what they are getting up to? When I asked, all he gave me were hints that could be called lurid and cryptic.

The novel has been on a bit of a pause lately, as other workout stuff has picked up. And taxes. It took a bit of doing to get it all together, and I missed the one slip that details how much I paid last year as installments. Oops! This weekend I must, I simply must get my desk tidied up and get started on organizing business taxes. What fun.

It's such a beautiful summer day out there, mid to high teens, sunny and lovely. I haven't taken Estela down Road to Nepal in several years now, and I could hear the road calling to us in four part harmony. For those who haven't done it, it's a fabulous training ride. All hills, all the time, nice pavement, not too much traffic, and a parking lot at the top. Once down and back (37 tough K) is a good workout, especially if you push on the hills. Two is a super workout. I've never done it twice in a row.

I listened, and bailed out of work at lunchtime, using up some extra hours from last month, so I'm not behind on billable hours. It didn't take long to get ready. Wow. Even more wind once I got out of the neighbourhood. It was straight from the south and strong. It normally takes me about 20 minutes to do the 7.5 K down to 22X. Today was 30 minutes even. That is the slowest time ever, I think.

Then down the first hill, slowly. Up the other side was brutal. I was going less than 7 kph for much of it. That hill is normally 10 kph or so. Remember what I was saying last week about being a week and feeble reed? On the way back there were several times I was going 50 kph, in a dead calm. Let's not talk much about the little gusts from side to side.

After taking stock at the top of the hill, and watching my bike computer tick over 40 minutes, I decided it would be smart to head back. I think if it hadn't been windy I'd have gone further. Maybe. 40 minutes out, 20 minutes back. Yes, twice as fast. That's what a bit of wind will do. After all the slow bits, I prefer to remember the max speed, 75 Kph, per the bike computer. 1 hour, 20 Km total.

Here's the graph of the ride.

And garden things are blooming! I don't know what these two little blue things are, but they're growing already. We're going to try to get out into the lawn and garden to start cleaning up after winter, even though we've got another month where it could quite possibly snow.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The first 950 were good, then

Monday and Tuesday were easy relaxing days. Well, except for being back at work. And sleeping poorly. And watching it snow really hard Tuesday evening.

Back in the pool today. It was lovely for the first 950 m. I was cruising along at an 18:30/Km pace nice and relaxed, and then it fell apart on me. Just fell apart. It didn't feel like I was doing anything different but the last 550 m was slower. 28 minutes overall, instead of the 27:45 I was expecting. Short course too, so I can't even blame the pool.

After a short rest I busted out 3x100, on 2 minutes, done in 98, 99, 100 seconds. That felt pretty good, but I wasn't going to try for a fourth.

I even tried a bit of fly after a rest, and that lasted 3 strokes before my hamstrings and calves gave their notice that extreme and serious consequences were going to happen sooner than instantly. I stopped and soothed them. Stretched on the side of the pool.

The election is so depressing. My choices in our riding are the PC's, the Wildrose, and the NDP. I was hoping the Alberta Party would run, but oh well. Can't have everything.

Dave Rodney is running for a fourth term. The best thing that can be said of him is that one doesn't read of him in the newspapers. And he's climbed Everest twice, as he will tell you. Often. His greatest sin is that he's running for an arrogant, corrupt party that is long, LONG past the best before date. It needs to be taken out and dumped in the trash can of history.

The Wildrose and their lake of fire are unacceptable. Period, end of story.

The NDP guy is an experienced project manager, he says, for many years, so I'm assuming he has at least basic organizational skills. OK.

Quite frankly, I've vote for nearly anyone that wasn't PC or Wildrose. I am seriously pissed at the PC's. They've been mismanaging the economy here ever since Lougheed retired and people keep voting for them. It baffles me.

I was totally gobsmacked driving in to work this morning, listening to an article on the radio. The Calgary Board of Education is seriously proposing to cut the janitorial staff at schools. They are behind on maintenance already, and can barely stay ahead of the bare minimum. If a kid vomits in class, they put powder on it, and a desk over it, and wait for hours for a janitor to clean it up. That hardly sounds sanitary. They were forbidden to dip into their reserve, but they did anyway, which is a risky thing. The last board that didn't do what it was told to do was dismissed in it's entirety and replaced.

Yet Prentice can spend 30 million on an unneeded election, while your kids could be sitting in a classroom smelling vomit for hours.

They said they are going to honour existing contracts but bargain for zero percent raises for provincial workers till the budget is balanced. Well, with that sort of incentive it will NEVER be balanced, and there's nothing to stop Prentice from giving himself and his elected buddies a raise any time they like. Is that really what you want running the province?

Now a soothing cat picture to calm me down for yoga class.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Your $, spent on dumb stuff, killing retirement

What with retirement thoughts percolating through my brain (I'm glad my manager doesn't read my blog) I've been thinking about money lately. From conversation with other people, they think about money a lot too. Mostly as in not having enough of it.

But really, the problem is that they spend too much of it on illusions. I was musing about ranting about that a bit, but I've spent the entire afternoon reading Mr Money Mustache. You can find his blog here. He says everything I'd have said about money, better, in more detail, and with much more personal experience involved. Seriously. When you're done reading my blog scroll back up and visit him. You'll be glad you did.

I've already grasped the essence of his method. Spend less money, then invest it. No, really spend less. People think they are doing well to save 10% of their income. That means you're going to be working a long time before you can retire. If you save half, or more, you can work a lot less before you can retire. On two normal incomes, he and his wife retired at 30. And no, they aren't living in a mud house in the boonies.

As I acerbically commented on another blog about finding the time to run, give up watching cable TV. It's a waste of time, and costs money. I've never had a cable package so I don't even know what they cost, but friends tell me you're doing well if you're spending only $100 a month on it. 1200 a year. After 30 years of modest returns you'd have nearly $60,000. Put that $100 a month in the market with a 7% rate of return, compounded yearly, for that same 30 years, and you'd have $117,000.

Maybe you think that's a reasonable price for watching The Simpsons, or Game of Thrones, and way too many commercials. Network TV turns your brains to tapioca. Have I ever told you that I sincerely believe there are brain sucking apace aliens that like tapioca flavoured brains, and have thus put themselves and their minions in charge of television network programming. They'll start the harvest any time, I'm sure. I can't wait to see the average IQ going up sharply.

There's a website that does the same calculations based on buying a Starbucks "tasty" artificial ingredients beverage that might or might not taste something like coffee. I don't even know what that beverage costs, but you can do that math too. Let's just say $5 per beverage, averaging one a day. $1800 a year. More than the cable package! Buy real coffee instead.

Let's go for something bigger. Cars. In rough terms a car costs you $10,000 a year, every year. That adds up quicker, but I'll let you do the math, because you won't believe the amount over a working lifetime if I just tell you. Hint, you'll probably need 6 figures. I'm glad to see that someone else thinks that most of the vehicles I see around me on the road are completely impractical for the intended purpose, and are a foolish use of money. And if it was borrowed money, is strong evidence of actual insanity.

My question has been, do I want to afford that, and more and more, the answer is no. I buy what I actually need, to do the things I'm actually doing. Things I actually enjoy doing. I don't enjoy shopping. It's a painful experience to get through it to pick the thing I've decided to get. I cannot imagine shopping for pleasure. Going to a store, being around people that are in my way, in traffic there and back, looking at (usually) cheap shit made in China by near-slave labour that I don't want to buy is a close approximation of hell for me.

In any case, I've been having fun reading his blog. He's a Canadian, BTW, if that makes a difference, and some of my Boulder buddies might have met him. Small town, he rides his bike a lot. It's possible. Which reminds me, I should be riding my bike a lot more, for as long as I'm going to work. I've added him to my blog roll, though right now you have to click the show all button to see him, he last posted about a week ago.

I probably shouldn't burble too much about how much I've enjoyed this week off. Two outside bike rides, several swims, several runs. Several industrial strength cat cuddles. A few afternoon naps. Some writing in the lodge. Running the BBQ. Generally relaxing. I'm feeling awesome. Let's see how long that lasts. One week off work has put about 70 emails in my inbox. Considering I rarely have more than a couple unread items at a time, and never more than a dozen in my inbox, this is an unacceptable state of affairs.

Swam this morning with Michelle, working on stretching out after the bike ride yesterday. I probably swam 400 m very slowly before I began to feel like normal in the water. Chatted with Katie a bit, though I was surprised to see her back from vacation. Then to a book club meeting (The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins). Everybody liked it. It was pretty good, but you have to pay attention when you read it, and I found it a bit confusing. Napped. I could get to like this not working lifestyle.

The photo of the aftermath from Saturday's ride didn't show up until after I had hit the publish button. Here's Celina, wearing one of the booties Michelle gave me. Yes, I know I'm going to cat hell for another eternity.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Still a weak feeble reed going uphill

Back in the day when I used to ride my bike a lot, like in 2009 and 2010, going for a 150 K ride was a  routine thing. Leave in the morning, come back early afternoon. There were even a few rides that were more than 200 K and that would take an entire day. Even then I knew I was far weaker going uphill than I really should be. Weaker on the flats too. I got dropped a lot, which is why I got it done riding alone most of the time.

Part of the problem is that I'm a big guy when it comes to triathlon. Even after losing a ton of weight, I'm still a big guy by triathlon standards. I have to push every kilo of me up every hill, and overcome wind resistance created by every cm of my bigness. When you consider that the top athletes get excited about taking 100 grams off their bikes, you can see the handicap I'm working under. Which is also why I laugh at them a bit. I'm sure my weight can fluctuate several hundred grams just going to the bathroom. TMI, my bad.

It is what it is. I've floated up a few pounds since doing Ironman, much of it around my middle, which isn't good, so this is the summer I'm going to try to work it back off again. The bike love is back, so I'm hoping to get out for some longer bike rides and runs this year.

When you're training for Ironman you are ravenous all the time. It's easy to get into the habit of eating, and then when you aren't training at that level anymore, it's obvious what happens. And it has.

I was so pleased Michelle invited me along on her bike ride today. It was a good first step for me to get out and see what happens. What I didn't tell her is that I was glad someone was with me, just in case. I'm getting old, you know...

The weather forecast said it would get gusty and overcast with a chance of rain early in the afternoon, so we wanted to get an early start. I am a weenie when it comes to riding, and normally I don't go out unless it's going to be at least 10C for most of the ride. I dithered a little bit dressing. It was just on the cusp of wearing tights or not, and I decided to. Just in case. Am I ever glad I did.

Michelle gave me a pair of booties and that really helped my feet stay warm. We had a lovely ride down to 22X, out to 22, and south a bit. One of my neighbours passed us and chatted briefly then carried on, trying to navigate his deep dish wheels in a stiff cross wind.

It was windy. Really windy. Not my windiest ride, but getting up there. It was taking 10 to 15 Kph off my normal speeds. (Weak feeble legs have something to do with it to, but let's blame the wind, shall we.) We spent lots of time head down, grinding along, and that's downhill. Uphills were slow slow slow till we turned around and the trip back was all kinds of awesome.

My legs felt pretty good, but I was a bit worried about going the distance. My plan was to spin easy, and not work too hard up the hills. I think this qualifies.
I made up my energy drink, and sucked back two bottles of it, minus a few sips. I keep getting asked for the recipe, so here it is, stolen from Impact magazine many years ago. This is to fill up 2 standard water bottles. Make lemon zinger tea in a 1 litre measuring cup, with the water up to the 1 litre mark. Steep to taste, but make it strong. Add in and melt a big dollop of honey. Bigger. Lots. You are pedaling your ass off, be generous. Add in a pinch of sea salt. Add orange juice to taste once it cools a bit. I fill it up right to the brim and stir gently. This will top up 2 bottles of refreshing, energizing tastiness.

Here's a better view of my pace, and the elevation changes. As you can see, my speed is all over the place

I was paying lots of attention to my right quad and knee, but it was all ok. I think having the tights on and being warm helped. I'm not sure how to describe how it felt. It didn't feel strong, but I didn't think it was going to collapse on me either. It was complaining a bit, but not cranky. Neither did I tempt fate on this. I could have gone further, I'm pretty sure, but the brief thought of turning right and doing the first hill on Road to Nepal was just that, a very brief thought. Later.

My bike legs are nowhere near what they were, but then I haven't been on the bike much. Running and biking use different muscles in different ways. Even with all the swimming my cardio isn't what it should be. Lots to work on this summer!

Here's Michelle's take on the ride.
This morning was a great adventure and nice escape.  I was very happy to get in a long ride today and was grateful for some company. After some route planning over email and gear getting together, I rode over to Keith’s house and we headed out toward Highway 22x and headed west, then south and back again.  We kept an eye on some menacing clouds that didn’t materialize into anything at all.

The weather app lied.  It said the temperature would be around 11 and the wind around 11 km/hr but I swear it gusted to around 50km/hr. There were times I was being shoved from side to side and was afraid of being blown too far into the car lane to the left of the shoulder we were attempting to stick to.  There were times I concentrated so hard on staying upright I  gripped my handlebars until my shoulders, neck and back were stiff. It was much better/faster on the way back with the wind mostly behind us although it was off to the side and the shoulder along 37th street is non-existent.  Most of the cars gave us a half-lane clearance.  I am much more comfortable riding on the road than this time last year.  Experience I guess.  Cycling is like running… only FASTER!  It’s fun.

I’m happy with my light bike and granny gear (third chainring) going up hills but I had to pedal flat out to keep up with Keith coasting down the hills.  I swear the cows watched us pass and I’m sure they see my fluorescent yellow cycling jacket.  Baby cows scattered in fear.  There weren’t a lot of cyclists out but one rode up behind us, chatted for a bit and it turns out he lives in the SW close to us and was taking his new road bike out for an inaugural spin today.  It was nice to have company and follow behind Keith for the most part although we traded the lead a couple of times.  As a directionally challenged person, this is truly appreciated.

Once back at Keith’s we had time for a snack and chat on his sunny front step, then it was time to head home and help out with our kitchen reno.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mind the gravel, or the road to retirement

My bike is named Estela. She's never let me down, being a sweet reliable ride on some long rides out of town. Like up to the top of Highwood pass, once alone wondering where the grizzly bear I'd seen was now, and once with a buddy. Did I mention no cell phone service?

But I haven't been out on her much the last couple of years, what with a cranky hip and low back. Things have been getting better lately. I still haven't been on the trainer much, but what little there is has felt pretty good. Good enough that I thought I'd change the tire and head out for an easy ride around the neighbourhood today.

Here's the quick summary.

There were a few times in there I was totally stopped, and I wasn't trying to ride for time, distance, or speed. I was out enjoying the fresh air, and watching out for gravel. There is still a lot of it on the roads. Mostly I kept to residential streets.

All in all it went very well. There is a steep bit coming up out of Fish Creek on the south side that had me standing in the easiest gear, and maxing out the cardio. I'm glad that didn't go on much further. Much of the rest was easy spin, looking around, getting used to being on a bike again. So nice.

If the weather is nice on Saturday I'm thinking of heading out 22x and down 22 to see how far I get. I was a bit worried about my knees and hip today, but there was no comment from them, though my right quad was doing some muttering. I'm thinking of heading out to see if I can make 50 or 75 K, and if I can't, I'll call for a pickup. I'm not so worried about my butt, I can always stand and coast, or take a rest if necessary.

The pool love was not there on Wednesday. I felt clunky and slow in the water, even though swimming long course was 1K, 19:30. Did some drill and some intervals, but my heart wasn't really in it.

What was interesting about the morning was going into Talisman about the time I normally leave to go to work. When I get out of the pool things are calm and quiet. This time there was someone in every lane of the 50 m pool and several in the 25 m pool when I started, and when I finished. There were more cars in the parking lot when I got there. On the way out the place was full. I don't know if that's because lots of people had vacation what with how spring break went this year, or if this is just a popular time for retirees to show up and do their thing.

This week of vacation has been nice and relaxing. I've been able to sleep in several times. Normally on vacation I've been active, doing things, going places. Lately I've been a bit more laid back. I'm content to stay home and putter and relax. It's been a tough slog at work since last September, so some down time has been much needed.

But the other train of thought has been this retirement thing. Back in 2009 when I didn't work for much of the year, I knew I wasn't retired. I was looking for work, and actively involved in training for Ironman. I was busy. Toward the end I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever have time to work again, but I knew I had to.

Since early 2010 I've worked pretty steadily. The shortest transition between jobs was a weekend (yay me!) and the longest was a couple months, which is about par for the course for my profession. The difference is that now on vacation I wonder about it as a lifestyle. Being retired, or semi-retired.

I've been mulling over semi-retired in my mind for a while. Right now my retirement model looks like working some of the time, and not working some of the time. A few months of work can fund a year of my current modest lifestyle. Why not work a bit, and take the rest of the year off?

Part of the trick is that I never know when the next contract might come. Even now with the price of oil in a pit, I get notes from recruiters asking if I'd be interested in a role. The problem is that I can typically only work one job at a time, given that I like to sleep, and do activities other than work. Yet when you aren't working and want the calls, nobody does.

Yet if I want to not work part of the time, I have to learn to do this. Every hour I don't work when I have an active contract is an exactly known number of dollars that I am giving up. I haven't actually spent much money this week, not in a cash sense. Well, except for a trip to Tri it Multisport, my favourite store for gear, to buy new goggles, body lube, and body wash. But the swims imply a membership at Talisman or a nearby City pool. Riding a bike implies bike maintenance. Even running, a low cost activity, requires new shoes periodically and various other running gear. Driving somewhere implies owning a car with the myriad of expenses that involves.

At the moment I don't think I could stop working and never work again, but it's getting close enough that I actually have to do the math. The assumptions I make about how long I'm going to live are typically the make or break element.

One of the business analysts just rolled off the project I'm on. During the course of the contract she decided she was done working for a while. She needed to retire. Perhaps not permanently, but for whatever reason she couldn't just call this a vacation, or a break between contracts. It had to be retirement. Not so long ago, that would have been unfathomable to me. Not anymore. Then I can spend more time looking at this sweet face.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Spin? Run? Election???

I don't like to change the titles of my blog. I'm a make up your mind and get on with it kind of guy. So when I started today, I hadn't decided if I was going to do a spin session, or go for a run, or knew if our Premier was going to call an election or not.

After my run, I find out we now have a criminal Premier. That's what we call people that break the law, right? There is a law on the books, passed by this very government, saying the election would be next year. He didn't even go to the trouble of rescinding it, which he could have done quite easily with the massive majority he currently holds, and then call a legal, if unnecessary election. But no. This is a guy that wants what he wants, when he wants it. Sure, he'll say this and that gives him a loop hole. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's what they all say. Talk to the hand. We're done here.

Even though he says we are in a fiscal hole to the tune of billions, he's quite happy to splash around taxpayer money on advertising and (re-re-re-)announcements. Then after the election, just you watch, the taps will be shut off, and the screws put even worse to the ordinary Albertans. I will take bets that the Calgary Cancer Center gets cancelled again. Or "put off" or "delayed", or whatever euphemism takes the place of "we aren't going to build it." They've done it twice before, maybe third time is the charm, but I doubt it.

There is only one solution for this nonsense. Vote for someone else. The PC's might be the party of your parents, or your grand-parents, but it's time for a change. At this point I don't really care who else you vote for. Last time, the Redford PC's rooked in a lot of people that were nervous about the Wildrose forming a lake of fire government. We saw how that turned out. Don't get fooled again. If everybody votes for someone else, the vote splitting doesn't matter. But look around, see who's strong in your riding, that isn't a PC, and vote for them.

So, on to the important stuff. Did I do a spin, or a run today? I should make you wait for it.

Anticipation... (sung to the tune of that old ketchup commercial.)

Fooled you! I did both. Dusted off my bike, checked the tires and trainer, and settled in for 30 minutes of easy spin. Very easy by my old standards, but that's ok. No knee or hip crankiness.

While on the bike Celina the little sweat pervert showed up to indulge.

Then, off the bike, quick change, and outside for a run. So nice out! I didn't have an plan for the run since it was the first brick in ages. Ran easy and stopped when my legs were getting heavy.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Where was I again?

I was pleased to see that my cold lasted the traditional 7 days, and was cleared up for me to start vacation. That week was a complete non-starter for workouts. Here's a bit of a catchup.

Thursday was my first swim in a week and it was ok. Worked mostly on getting the water feel back again. Didn't want to push it too hard. Thursday or Wednesday? I can't remember now.

Swam again on Friday with Michelle and Sophia. Tried for a bit of speed for short distances, but could feel my lungs still getting used to this breathing thing. Michelle continues to improve. This was Sophia's first swim in a while, so she was getting used to the water again. I won't say any more about it, since she has a blog and can talk about it there if she wants.

Ran on Saturday and was very surprised at the outcome. My thinking was to run nice and easy, but I had the sound low on my phone so I didn't hear the pace announcements. I just ran at a pace everything was happy with. I knew I was somewhere between 4 and 5 K, but imagine my surprise when I looked at the phone that I'd been averaging almost a 7m per K pace! I ended at 5 K and 35:09 feeling really good about it. Much of the run was relaxed and not working too hard at all. Stretched lightly afterward, and felt good ever since.

Sunday we had plans to have brunch with friends, but what with all the snow they cancelled. I didn't feel like going for a spin, so I was down washing bottles and then bottled 29 Nebbiolo. It tastes a bit tart out of the carboy, but I'm sure it will mature nicely. Puttered around a bit, enjoying not having to prepare to go to work.

Monday I'd planned on swimming, and a buddy invited herself along. Like that's a problem! The pool was pretty quiet. Michelle had things she wanted to work on, so we did our own thing for a while. I wanted to see if I could break 9 minutes for 500 m long course, and didn't quite do it, ending up at 9:15. Which, as it turns out is exactly the same pace I swam 3 K at a couple weeks ago in a short course pool. The difference was that swim was relaxed and easy. This I was working it towards the end. My water feel got lost part way through and it felt like I was flailing at the water.

After some drill I tried a 100 m nearly all out, and quickly discovered my lungs are still not quite completely with it. I didn't get a good look at the clock, but I'm pretty sure I was 40 seconds for the first 50 m, most of it feeling strong. The last 50 m was a bit of a struggle. My arms and kick were fine, but I was running out of air, and things were getting sloppy. 90 seconds. I'll take it for now.

We worked on a specific stroke thing for Michelle, and made some progress.

I think the plan for Wednesday is to go long. Let's see what happens. And my bike. Poor Estela is feeling abandoned. Now that the run seems to be coming back, and the hip crankiness isn't bugging me so much, I should try a spin session.

Last night I was in the mood to watch something, but didn't know what. I was flicking through the Apple TV box movie trailers. Oh My Goodness! There are some howlers there. All I can think of is that back in the day, some of those (now) well known actors must have been hard up for the money. I almost rented Sharktopus. It almost had me. It might yet. I was very disappointed at Silent Running. I remembered it from the initial running in the early 70's and liked it. Especially the 3 cute robots. Then the trailer showed how bad the over-acting was. Sigh. Sometimes it's better to let memories be. That got me into a whole series of robot themed trailers. I nearly hurt myself I was laughing so hard.

Today I'm struggling to stay awake in spite of the influence of snoring cats. Life is good. See?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Running with the humans, starring Celina the Spotted

We don't let the cats into the bedroom. There are too many nicknacks they could push off and wake us up. Plus we used to have a cat that liked to steal my socks, and that made a big impression on me.

Now we have a cat, one in particular, who has a beautiful spotted pelt. She loves to steal some objects. We aren't sure if she thinks she is rescuing a relative (one pair of my mittens with a fur cuff) or slaying a dangerous creature (a pair of insoles for Linda's boots).

She also likes to dart through doors. Opening, closing, humans in transit, doesn't matter. Today she simultaneously managed to nearly get stepped on and get her tail caught in a door that was closing on her. We think, that she thinks, that she's getting points for running with the humans, to go somewhere she isn't supposed to be, and not getting stepped on.

She loves to dart into the bedroom as we are on the way in or out. Once in she doesn't do anything but hide under the bed. She's quite easy to shoo out again. If she gets outside she makes it to the top step, then stops to roll on her side and back. Needless to say, we aren't thrilled about the outside thing.

Neither are we thrilled about the garage. For a while that was her trick, to dart past us into the garage as we were getting ready to go to work. In the freezing cold. With an open garage door. Sometimes with the car running already. Oops. There are many dangers in the world, and kitties aren't especially good at dealing with the vehicular ones.

Here she is, give her a big round for dodging human feet.

Here's a before and after pair of photos, involving a huge rack of lamb. Oh so yummy!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

How to allocate a particular scarce resource

Business requirements for limited annual medical appointments.

Linda and I have the same family doctor. He seems to be good at what he does, and no doubt he tries very hard to be a good doctor to all his patients. But scheduling an annual physical sucks. He does only so many in a month, and they book up quickly.

A few years ago I finished an appointment and thought I was smart to book next years right then. Except they were booking 18 months out. Colour me gobsmacked. I booked, but was considering over a 10 year period, I was only going to get 2/3rds of the medical care I should have got.

Then he went to a different system so that people weren't booking so far in advance. It works like this. He books physicals a month at a time, a year out. So if you go in for an appointment in mid April 2015, all the appointments will likely be booked for April 2016. You have to wait till the start of the first business day in May 2015 to book for May 2016.

In practice the office phone explodes about the start of that day. By about noon it's all over but the crying for the losers in the phone lottery; the ones without redial or something more important to do just then, to say nothing of the office staff who have to explain over and over again. This isn't good for anyone, not the patients, not the staff. There has to be a better way, and there is. Some software developer is welcome to take this BPDD and build functional software to flog to the medical industry. Or anyone else where the model fits.

All current patients go onto a list ranked by last appointment date, most overdue first. Doctor sets the date/time of available appointments in a month. Patients supply on line contact information, email, facebook or twitter message, text, whatever. Every month, for a year out, the system considers the most overdue users and tentatively assigns them an appointment. That user is sent a notification, and they have 24 hours to accept. (or some reasonable window.) Upon the acceptance being logged into the system, the patient receives confirmation of their appointment date and time. They system could be configured to give reminders at set intervals as desired.

As long as there are openings, the system works backwards through the most overdue people. If the first person refuses a date or doesn't respond in time, it goes back into the pool. It could be a configurable choice if that user goes to the bottom of the list, or stays at the top, giving them a chance at another date. My default choice would be to bump them to the bottom of the list.

Eventually, all the spots fill up. The system snoozes. If a patient cancels, or new appointment slots are added, it kicks into gear again. When the appointment is several days out it works through the most overdue patients. Perhaps there is a doctor assigned priority list to work through first. If it's the next day maybe everybody that is due or overdue gets a notification, and the first response wins.

The software ties into the doctor's appointment system to book without needing human intervention. It ties into various internet communication channels. The doctor could get a monthly report indicating which patients refuse the most appointments, or are most overdue. Some people have a preference for appointments on a particular day, and in phase two there could be a mechanism for a patient to log into their account and set preferences. The cynical business analyst in me would instruct the developer to ignore such preferences as long as there are many patients wanting a limited number of appointment slots.

This system saves a lot of people a lot of time and aggravation. The really clever developer also markets an app that ties into this system, so it automatically accepts the appointment (if the space is clear) and puts it on the calendar. For something as important as a medical appointment, booked a year out, people can schedule around it.

There. An idea for a developer. Fill your boots. No payment required, though an honorarium would be nice if you make a ton of money. Contact me to get even more details, a process flow chart, and supporting materials done for you, and we can work out a revenue sharing arrangement.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A new thing

I had sort of thought I knew all I needed to know about belts.

There was old fashioned kind, where the tongue goes through a hole in the leather and rests against the frame of the buckle. There are the ones where the big flatish plate has a hook that fits into the holes in the leather belt. The buckle for last year's Calgary Marathon is like that.

Then there is this. Something new to me. Maybe old to you.

The plate has a simple ratchet mechanism that hooks into the little grooves in the back of the belt. I think it's actually a piece of plastic inserted in there, but I'm not sure. What I really like about these is they are much more adjustable, about every quarter inch, instead of an inch like many belts. It's more secure than I thought it would be. I'm liking it so far. Lets see how long it lasts against the expansion of my mighty gut.

In other news I'm over my cold. Yoga class tonight was lovely. Touching toes again is a very reassuring thing. Looking forward to activity again. Maybe an easy run Thursday evening.