Monthly Archives: May 2008

Gail, Texas

Gail SignMy sister and her husband are moving to Gail, Texas.  The population of Gail, Texas is, according to Wikipedia, less than 200.  It is the county seat of a Texas county with a population of less than 1000.  This is a bafflingly small town, in a county with a population which is less than half the size of the high school from which my sister and I graduated.

For some time, since the possibility of this move was first discussed, my mom, who has visited Gail in the past, has been saying to me, “Oh, but they can go to Post if they want to go out to eat.”  Post is another Texas town, about 30 miles away.  I assumed it was reasonably sized.  I pictured something similar in size to Ithaca or Blacksburg, which are my reference points for small towns (populations of roughly 30,000 and 40,000, respectively).  My recent Wikipedia research, though, says that even Post has fewer than 10,000 people.  That’s about 1/4 the size of Blacksburg, which is by no means large, and they’ll be 30 miles away from it.

The nearest city of any size is Lubbock, Texas at 77 miles away.  The population of Lubbock is about 212,000, again according to Wikipedia, which is a nice small city in my book.  But 77 miles away.  Ugh.

I hope they’ll be happy there.  I’m having trouble imagining it, though, because I, myself, would be miserable in such an isolated locale.  (Both Blacksburg and Ithaca are a bit small for my taste, although I suddenly feel as if I’m living in a booming metropolis.)  Nevertheless, I wish them well.  Sooner or later, I will go to visit them.  I suspect that this may require a camel and/or a covered wagon.  

Speaking of small metropolises, we have now been in Blacksburg for nearly 5 years, and the small town aspect of it is really starting to kick in.  Today at the dentist office the receptionist asked me if the baby had arrived yet.  She had seen my pregnant wife recently while working her other job, at a local retail establishment.  During my appointment, I mentioned to the dentist that our new baby had arrived, and he said, “Yeah, not to sound like a stalker, but we saw you in a parking lot last week.”  The baby has been out of the house once or maybe twice.  Sheesh.

Megan Adair MacKenzie

Becky with Baby MeganMegan Adair MacKenzie was born at 2:51 a.m. on Sunday, May 18.  She weighed 9 lbs. 2 oz. and was 20.5 inches long.  She’s doing well, and seems to be a much calmer baby than Charlie was.  This morning, she was napping beside Becky when Becky got up for a few minutes.  I was watching Megan, and she opened her eyes, saw that Becky wasn’t there, stretched, yawned, and went back to sleep.  Charlie would never have done that.  We’re trying not to count our proverbial unhatched chickens, but so far things look pretty good on the sleep front.

The picture above was taken by me yesterday, Saturday, May 24.  We went to our favorite local photographer’s studio, and she let me take a few pictures, too.  (She would have let me take a lot more, but I’m not very comfortable in the studio environment, especially while being closely watched by a professional photographer, and I really wanted to get on with getting the rest of the pictures that we came for.)

Since Charlie was born, she has started shooting digital, which didn’t surprise me.  What did surprise me was that she was shooting with a Digital Rebel XTi, which is a consumer camera.  She had a better portrait lens than I do, certainly, but I was surprised that she hadn’t invested in a better body.  (I’m pretty sure her lens was the EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM.  I was a little surprised that she wasn’t shooting with an L-series lens, but they don’t seem to make a comparable L-series lens.  The closest thing is the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM, but if I’m a portrait photographer, I’d rather have the 17-24mm focal length than the 55-70mm length, especially on a body with a small sensor.)  I was also surprised that she was shooting JPEG rather than RAW and that she actually had the camera set to shoot black and white most of the time, rather than color.  I think both of these come from the fact that she was a black and white film photographer and does very little out-of-camera processing, but both still seemed like a bit of a waste to me.  (In both cases, you are throwing away data.)

I think we’re going to suck it up and buy the high resolution digital files with a copyright release, rather than pay through the nose for prints.  We’ll spend more in total, for sure, than if we bought prints, but we’ll wind up making a heck of a lot more prints, too, I think.  I might just go ahead and use one of my own images for the birth announcements, though.

What I Learned from Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey headshotWe’ve spent the last 3 months in what one might describe as a Dave Ramsey experiment.  If you don’t know of Dave Ramsey, he is a nationally syndicated personal finance radio talk-show host.  He is also an author of a few books on personal finance, and he now has a TV show on the Fox Business Channel.

Among Dave’s endeavors is a 13-week program called Financial Peace University, offered through churches, workplaces, and nonprofit organizations around the U.S.  It was being offered at our church and facilitated by two of our friends at church.  They offered childcare and a shared meal at each weekly session, which was hard to resist.  Becky and I were not in financial trouble, by any stretch of the imagination, but we weren’t doing well in the way of having a plan and executing it.  When we did talk about money, it often seemed to result in a fight.  So, we decided to sign up.  

I decided that if we were going to do this, then I wanted to have a clearer idea of what Dave was all about.  So, in addition to attending class, doing the readings, and doing (most of) the assignments, I started listening to his radio show, too.  To be precise, I started listening to the one-hour of the radio show that is available commercial-free as a podcast.  So, for the last three months, we have been taking the class, listening to the show, and trying some of the things that Dave suggests.  And I thought it worthwhile to summarize what we have learned.  This is an extraordinarily long post, though.  So, the rest is after the break.

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Terrific Coffee

Senseo Original Coffee Machine with accessories.I have disliked drip coffee forever.  I didn’t touch coffee at all, ever, until sometime in college.  Even in college and graduate school, I almost never drank it.  After coming to Blacksburg, I started drinking coffee occasionally, but almost always in the form of an espresso drink, usually lattes.  In the last two years, I’ve started drinking lattes more often, usually once or twice a week.  Nevertheless, every time I have tried drip coffee, I have found it repulsive.  The best description I could provide for the taste of most drip coffee that I have tried is “dirty water.”  This description fit every cup of drip coffee I ever tried from Starbucks to the local coffee shop to fast food coffee (which I have only ever tried when desperate for a bit of caffeine).

So, I was more than a little puzzled when Becky got me a Senseo coffee maker for my office.   Her main explanation was that she read online that it made good espresso.  But with no wand to steam milk and no convenient refrigerator to store milk in, making a latte was pretty much out of the question.  So, as I said, I was completely puzzled.  (I should note, however, that Becky has a habit of buying me gifts that seem completely baffling to me at first, but later turn out to be perfect.  It’s a gift she has.)

Well, I tried it.  And wow.  It puts every other cup of drip coffee I’ve ever had in my life to shame.  It has a nice, foamy head — a characteristic that I previously associated only with beer.  It has none of the bitterness or burned taste that I previously associated with drip coffee.  I haven’t even tried the espresso, yet — which requires purchasing an accessory and some espresso pods.  But I have a new coffee habit.  

I should mention that Senseo paid me to say this.  Sort of.  Becky got the coffee maker through the Share Senseo program.  You fill out a short survey, if you qualify you pay $15 for “shipping,” and they send you a “free” coffee maker.  (There is some evidence that our free coffee maker was a refurbished machine, however.)  In return, you are supposed to make coffee for your friends and share with them the wonder which is Senseo.  When Becky got the coffee maker, she had no intention that I would do any such thing.  When she told me about the deal she had gotten, I was a bit wary, as I had no intention of promoting any coffee machine, either.  It was just another “good deal.”  Becky loves good deals.  But with this blog post, which I would have written even if Becky had paid full price for the coffee maker, I think they just got their money’s worth.  As part of the “Share Senseo” promotion, they sent me five coupons for $20 off any Senseo coffee machine.  If you want one, let me know.  They expire at the end of June, 2008.  You might try getting in on the Share Senseo promotion first, though.  

I actually think that viral marketing is not the key reason behind the Share Senseo promotion.  I think it’s more classic Gillette marketing – “Give ’em the razors.  Sell ’em the blades.”  But the coffee pods for the Senseo aren’t that expensive, and you can find an adapter on Amazon that lets you use regular ground coffee.  I haven’t gotten that far yet, though.

Anyway, if you already like drip coffee, then maybe you’ll hate the coffee that Senseo makes.  So, your milage may vary.  But after avoiding the coffee habit my whole life, I’m pleased as punch.  I figure with two children under two in the house (within the next couple weeks, anyway), there was no better time to start a caffeine addiction.  

Politics

I have said almost nothing about politics in this election cycle.  I desperately want the Democratic Primary to end.  I don’t much care who wins.  I have, over time, developed a marginal preference for Obama.  But, I think both Clinton and Obama are flawed candidates.  (By “flawed” I mean mostly in the “all human beings, especially those that would be interested in the job of POTUS, are flawed” kind of way.)  Nonetheless, I would choose either of them over McCain in about a millisecond.  I used to have a lot of respect for McCain.  Now?  Not so much.

Quote of the Day/Week/Month

A classic but a goodie.  On investing, of all things.  From Warren Buffett’s 1997 annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders:

A short quiz: If you plan to eat hamburgers throughout your life and are not a cattle producer, should you wish for higher or lower prices for beef? Likewise, if you are going to buy a car from time to time but are not an auto manufacturer, should you prefer higher or lower car prices? These questions, of course, answer themselves.

But now for the final exam: If you expect to be a net saver during the next five years, should you hope for a higher or lower stock market during that period? Many investors get this one wrong. Even though they are going to be net buyers of stocks for many years to come, they are elated when stock prices rise and depressed when they fall. In effect, they rejoice because prices have risen for the “hamburgers” they will soon be buying. This reaction makes no sense. Only those who will be sellers of equities in the near future should be happy at seeing stocks rise. Prospective purchasers should much prefer sinking prices.

And, since Becky and I are planning to be net savers for at least the next 30 years or so, I guess I should be happy about lower stock prices.