Monday, March 31, 2014

Play Ball — Baseball Season Opens Today

Yes, even though it seems like it is the middle of winter, baseball season officially gets under way today!!!

So in honor of that more on Charlie Brown's odyssey.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Oh NO SNOW!!!!!!!

I'm walking down my stair this afternoon out of the corner of my eye I see something moving past the window. I get down to the bottom of the stairs and take a look out the window and it's fricking snowing. That's right snowing. It's March fricking 30 and there's snow coming down.

All I can say this sure as hell had better be the last time we see the white stuff for another five months or more.

Where the hell is spring.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cats Under the Umbrella

Both Charlie and Linus love to under the umbrella. In fact there is quite the competition between the two of them to see how long they get to stay under it.

The Strange World of Credit Cards and Credit Scores

Recently Discover has started including your credit score on the bills it sends you. Mine went up 6 points from one month to the next.

I’ve always found trying to figure out how your credit score is calculated as clear as mud. Too many credit cards can bring down your score. Because the more cards you have the higher your total purchasing power is. The more temptation to spend, spend, spend. Running up your debt that’s not a good thing.

The obvious thing to learn from that is that you should cancel cards you don’t use. But that could be a bad thing. Cards that you’ve had for a long time you should keep because that shows a long term credit history.

Also by canceling a card it actually increases the over all percentage of your debt. For example let’s say you have $2,500 in credit card debt. The total credit line you have on all your cards is $10,000. That means the percentage of your debt to the combined credit line is 25%. Let’s say you have a card that you don’t use with a credit limit of $5,000. It has a really high interest rate so you cancel it. Your total credit line for all your cards is $5,000. Suddenly your debt to the combined credit line is 50%. So it means your score will take a hit. Because if you just use percentages it looks like you’ve doubled your debt.

In other words just about no matter what you do, you end up hurting your credit score. Probably the best thing to do if you have a card with a high rate is having something charged to it on a regular basis. Put your Netflix account on it. Or use it to charge gas. Each month you make sure the balance is paid off.

I use my Sears card for that. I got it when my refrigerator died. I got no interest if I paid off the balance in a year. I did it way before that. Of course I now have this card with a ridiculous interest rate of 25%. Why would you keep a balance on this card. But I can keep the account active by having my gym membership on it. And I make sure I pay it off each month.

The other thing I find interesting is the number of balance transfer offers I get. Not only through the mail but e-mail offers as well. Sears is really after me to do a balance transfer. I never respond to those. I have used other offers. Usually you get a year with no interest. There’s also the transfer fee which can vary anywhere from 2-5% of the amount you transfer.

What’s the idea behind it? The banks want to hook you into using that card and running up charges. The idea is you won’t pay off the balance in time and the credit card company starts charging you interest on that balance. The way payments are applied helps that become a reality. The minimum payment is usually applied to the balance with the lowest interest which of course would be the balance transfer. The rest is then applied to the balance with the highest interest charge i.e. the things you are charging. This way it takes a long time for the amount of the transfer to go down. In all likelihood it won’t be paid off in the time you were given to do so.

Best thing to do is divide the amount of transfer by how many weeks you get the zero interest for. That gives you how much you need to pay each week to have the transfer paid off in the time. Then you set up a weekly payment in that amount. When the bill comes each month, you pay the minimum plus whatever interest is charged on the account.

The goal is to beat the credit companies at their own game. Pay the transfer off and the only thing they get from you is the transfer fee. It's not exactly free money but it is really cheap money.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Thursday, March 27, 2014

This Never Ending Winter

Yes I know you can’t do anything about the weather. Well you can bitch about it and well this winter there’s been a great deal of bitching about it.

Yes, it has been much worse in other parts of the country. But then again I don’t live in other parts of the country I live here in DC. And the weather has just sucked lately.

Yesterday is a perfect example of how bad it’s been. The high for the day was 33 degrees. That’s 25 degrees below what the average high should be for this time of year. Over this coming weekend average highs should be right around 60. I think DC will get pretty close to that but I think it’s going to rain most of the weekend.

I’d just like to have a week of average temperature days that are mostly sunny. Yes, I know considering the year we’ve had so far that is asking a lot. After all we had snow most of the day on Tuesday. Thankfully it didn’t stick. But then there were flurries yesterday. I looked out the window at work and said that’s snow. The people I share the office with were just as surprised as I was.

I’m trying to figure out exactly why this winter has seemed worse than others in the past. After all with Snowmageddon back in 2010 (wow has it been four years already, time flies). (Click on this link to see my posts about it.) DC got pounded with 20 inches of snow. I think I’ve figured out why this year seems worse. The storms just kept coming and coming.

The last storm we had was March 17. The storm before that was March 3. The storm before that was sometime around February 13. Then about 10 days before that there was ice. After a couple of these fun storms along came the polar vortex. There was also ice in the beginning of January. Essential just about every 10 days to two weeks some weather event has happened. And to top it off most days in DC aren't even close to the average temperature which makes things even worse.

Maybe just maybe this week was the last of it. Looks like maybe DC is finally done with it. But who know April 1 is next who knows what type of joke may be played on us.

Ever Closer to Opening Day

With baseball's opening day inching ever closer (and hopefully better weather), I came across this very funny series from Peanuts on Baseball.  Here's the first of the series.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Gratuitous Kitty Cat Pictures

Yes it's time Charlie and Linus have more time on the internet. This is in anticipating of Charlie's birthday which is tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

All Those User Names and Passwords

I started thinking about this the other day when I had to update my e-mail address yet again at another site. It’s amazing how many places use your e-mail address as your user name. It’s a huge pain trying to remember all the sites you use especially when you get a new e-mail address like I did last year.

But this got me to thinking of all the many places we now have accounts in the Internet age. It wasn’t too long ago when you had just a few of these. Remember you were told not to use the same user name and password for different sites. And the big thing was to never ever never write this information down. This was especially true of the password. Also for the password it had to be something unique, something that people couldn’t easily figure out (so not your birthday date).

I think in the here and now that isn’t all that practical anymore. I thought on this for just a little while and came up with 15 places that I have some sort of an account that requires a user name and password. How are you possibly supposed to remember all of these without writing them down? This is especially true if you are supposed to have a different user name and password for every account you have.

That’s why using you e-mail address as the user name makes things a little easier. That is unless you’ve changed your e-mail address in the not too distant past like I’ve done.

So the question is what to do to remember all of these user names and passwords.  And the logical response is I bet there’s an app for that. And you’d be right. I did a search at the Apple App store and there are all sorts of apps to store all your passwords while keeping them safe. But of course there’s just one thing, there must be a password to get access it. Where do you keep that one?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Fun Filled Sunday

I had a jam packed Sunday with all sorts of things to do. It was very fun.

I met up with two friends from volunteer night, Diane and Joel, for lunch at Ireland's Four Provinces in Falls Church. And what a brunch it was. Take a look at the menu here. Some of the highlights: eggs benedict, waffles, french toast, bacon, scrambled eggs, a whole assortment of fresh fruit including strawberries (with cream no less) and pineapple. It was just fantastic.

From there we went on to see The House of Blue Leaves by the Providence Players. Another friend from volunteer night, Christian, did the costumes for the play. There was a great review of it in DC Metro Theater Arts. It says in part:

Well directed by Michael P. Donahue and performed by a super cast, Providence Players of Fairfax presents John Guare’s wacky, fast-paced black comedy The House of Blue Leaves. The play is sent in 1965 Queens during Pope Paul VI’s visit to The Big Apple and is filled and involves a zookeeper and his ‘off the wall’ wife, a GI who is about to be shipped off to Vietnam, and lots of nuns.

Our leading man, hopeful New Yorker Artie Shaughnessy, is charmingly played by Adam Downs. Artie first introduces himself to the audience by hopping up onstage for a drunken open-mic, initiating the first of the play’s many fourth-wall breaks. Downs’ character humorously swings the audience along a routine that has all the effort but no actual musical ability.

The review goes on to say:
Jayne Victor (Bunny), appropriately dressed in hot pink tights, newspaper shoes, and an “I Love Paul” pin (kudos to Costume Designer Christian Faulkner) helps preserve this vibe. Victor successfully delivers exuberant and amusing dialogue every time her mouth opens, while bringing enough spunk to make her lines more than just a punchline. A gaggle of ridiculously sacrilegious nuns (really Pope fangirls) together with Artie and Banana’s son Ronnie (Andrew Rampy) gives the second act a slapstick component.

We all really enjoyed the play. We got to talk with Christian after the show.

That would have been more enough to fill a Sunday but there was more to come.

My cousin Jim and his wife Katherine were in town visiting my other cousin Debbie who lives in Maryland. We planned a to meet up by the Verizon Center at 6 to go out to dinner.

I drove back into DC and found a place to park with ease. I had some time to kill so I went into the National Portrait Gallery. Here's a couple of the things I saw.

I got a call from Jim saying they were a little late leaving Mount Vernon but would be there shortly. They made excellent time getting into DC. Debbie said there was little traffic and it took no time to get the Verizon Center.

One small problem was that the circus had just let out when they arrived. Jim called again saying they would find a place to park. I said it was busy because of the circus. Jim misinterreted my comment to mean parking in general was a circus. I said no actually the circus as in Ringling Brothers had just let out. We both laughed.

They were able to find a parking place not too far away. We ended up eating at Carmine's. It's a family style Italian place which means the portions are huge. And I mean huge. We lucked out in that we didn't have a reservation so we sat in the bar area. In the bar you could get half portions of many of the foods. So we had a half order of Caesar Salad, ravioli and, what we all thought the best thing of the night, the Penne Alla Vodka.

We had such a great time. We were there for about 2 hours. Here are a couple of pictures.

Me, Debbie and Katherine

Me, Debbie and Jim. A good no great time was had by all!

And that was my very busy and very fun filled Sunday.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Things You See on Metro

Not something you see everyday on the Metro a guy in bare feet. 

I noticed him while I was getting on at Cleveland Park. I did a double take. I had to because I couldn't believe that he had nothing on his feet. We both ended up getting off at the same stop. I thought it was a little ironic how he had one jacket on and another one with him. Right before we got off he put the other jacket on. My thought was aren't you going to be cold with bare feet. 

Then I wondered if he would be barefoot when he went up the escalator because I thought that would have all sorts of potential for bad things to happen. 

It turns out he had a pair of flip flops with him. He put those on to go up the escalator. Once at the top of the escalator, off came the flip flops. He headed off down the street barefoot.

People can be so strange.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Still the Party of No

Yes, the Republicans are still the party of no. Still the party that criticizes everything President Obama does. You need look no further than an op-ed piece by Senator Rubio in the Post today:

It is shameful that even as Russia attempts to carve up Ukrainian territory, Ukraine’s request for weapons, intelligence sharing and other assistance has been turned down by the Obama administration. We also need to deploy additional military assets and even U.S. personnel to our allies, including Poland and the Baltic states.

What happened to rally around the president in an international crisis. The constant carping the Obama is weak because he “allowed” Russia to take over the Crimea. Because the US is viewed as weak in the world (according to Republicans) Putin was embolden to invade Crimea. This of course would never happen under a Republican president. Because a Republican president would put the fear of God in Putin. And Putin would never take invade another state. Because we all know how that “strong” Republican president George Bush stopped Putin from . . . Oh yes that’s right under Bush, Putin invaded Georgia and well he invaded Georgia.

So the perceived strength or weakness of a particular president had little to do with influencing Putin’s course of action. What now has to happen to influence Putin is strong sanctions against Russia. That will influence his next move.

Continuing the party on the party of no. Once again and again and again the refrain that Obamacare must be repealed. Now and only now is there talk among Republicans about coming up with some sort of alternative health care plan. It sounds like the Republican “plan” would keep all the parts of the Obamacare people like: keeping children on a parent’s policy until 26, no denial of insurance for preexisting conditions etc. As for how this would be paid for and implemented well gee there seems to be little if anything on that except for turning more things over to the states.

Turning to immigration reform well that’s dead in the water. Maybe after the election but probably not. You know that’s because any reform is amnesty. Or the other excuse is the border must be secured before anything can proceed. That’s a great excuse to never reform immigration because Republicans can always say the border isn’t secure.

In a push by the Republicans to show they care more for just the rich (yeah I know that’s a stretch), they are suddenly concerned about income inequality. We got some ideas from the resident Republican “genius” Paul Ryan (these come from an interview on Bill Bennett’s radio talk show) which essentially said people are poor because they are lazy. There’s a culture in the inner-city (I guess that’s the only place where poor people are these days not say in the rural south) that promotes a culture of not working. Then the great brain Ryan brought in the book the Bell Curve (which essentially says blacks are genetically inferior to whites). For some strange reason people accused Ryan of his comments having racial overtones. He said no to this that this comments were inarticulate. No Mr. Ryan there weren’t they showed just what type of a person you are.

As always all the Republicans ever seem to do is criticize but ideas are few very few. (And those that are like the concern on poverty are same old things Republicans have been advocating for years just dressed up as new)

Unfortunately because of the disastrous roll out of Obamacare and the weak economy, the Republicans have a change of gaining control of the Senate. It’s time for the Democrats to shine a bright light on Republicans and start asking what they are for and what they propose to solve the problems in the country. I think if this done people will see that there isn’t much in the Republican brain trust at all.

LA Fitness Bought my Gym = An Epic Mess

It’s been about two months since LA Fitness bought my gym. It has amazed me how quickly they have run it into the ground.

About a week before LA Fitness bought the gym, I found out from my trainer that the gym was being sold to LA Fitness. They had a location about five blocks from my gym but I was told that location was closing and everyone would be coming over to this gym. A couple of days before the sale I was also told by my spinning instructor that LA Fitness was taking over. A couple of the people I regularly talk with at the gym knew about it too.

The official announcement of the change over came in the form of an e-mail to all the members the day before it happened. Here’s the small problem with that. I’m a member and I never got the e-mail. I have to assume that this happened to other people as well. 
But of course there is a way around that. That is when people come for the very first time after the sale they are informed about what’s happened. Maybe say something along the lines of did you get the e-mail about LA Fitness taking over the gym. Do you have any questions?

Here’s the reception I got. I came in and was told that the next time I would be getting an LA Fitness membership card. That’s it. Not even do you have any questions. I did my work out and on my way out asked a couple of questions. They were will I be paying the same amount for my membership. I was told for the time being yes the same price. But in a couple of months I would pay a $99 initiation fee and then my monthly membership price would drop. (Two months in I’m still waiting for this to happen.) I asked about the training sessions I had just bought and if I would still be training with my trainer. The response was that everyone was going to be offered a position. More on that later.

The next time I went in I got my new membership card. I again asked about the training sessions. I was asked who my trainer was. I told them. He consulted a list and said I don’t see his name on it. But he added that not all the trainers had responded. I was then told to call back in a couple of days. As I left, I thought maybe instead of me calling you, you should take my name and number and call me.

Saturday I went to take my TRX class. There was no class because there was no teacher. The only way we found that out was by going to the front desk and asking about it. Seems to me the thing to have done was post a sign saying the class was cancelled.

Now back to the we offered everyone a position. I found out that they indeed offered everyone a position but at much lower pay. So saying they offered a position to everyone was disingenuous to say the least. They knew that most people were going to leave. As one guy at the gym said to me, who gone through a similar situation once, they fired all the personal trainers so they could bring in people that cost less. Which brings me to the personal trainers out of seven trainers that I know of only one is still there.

Not the best of starts as far as I’m concerned but it kept getting better.

Many of showers in the men’s locker room stopped working. Normally there are six regular showers and one that’s a walk in for a handicapped person. Suddenly only two were working correctly and that caused lines for showers. One guy told me he waited almost ten minutes before he got to take one. We were told that they were going to be fixed. In fact the front desk guy came into the locker room and said that Thursday night plumbers would be in to fix the shower. They would work over night and everything would be up and ready by Friday morning. One small problem with that was that Thursday was the day we were going to get one of our many snow storms of the seasons.

It ended up that the work was not done that day but not because of the weather. Turns out the contractor needed some sort of a permit in order to do the  plumbing work. A permit it had failed to get. Finally after about three weeks the showers got fixed.

Here are a few other odds and ends that haven’t gone right:

  • They switched out the wipes used for wiping down equipment. The new ones dry out so quickly that you have to pull four or five out before one is actually wet. I noticed today that they’ve changed to different ones.
  • Keeping towels available for showers has been problematic but they are improving on that.
  • The weight area is more and more messy each day. Weights are not replaced on the racks. Yes members can be blamed for this (I don’t remember this happening before the LA Fitness people showed up), but management should be putting them back too.
  • They ran out of tissue this morning as in there was none to be found in the entire gym.
  • The music stopped working this morning. Again in the entire gym. So my spinning class had no music this morning.
  • There is also a smell that wasn’t in the gym before. I’m told it is particularly bad in the women’s locker room.

I can go on but I think you get the idea.

I’m going to keep going for awhile to see if the price of the membership goes down as was promised (I’m not holding my breath on this one). Then I’m going to see what happens. I’m just not impressed in any way or fashion on what LA Fitness has done or how it’s treated the members.

If the goal was a smooth transition from my old gym to LA Fitness, then LA Fitness has failed miserably. However, if the idea was to piss off as many members as possible, they’re doing a great job.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

St. Patrick's Day Parade

In my wanderings around Washington this past Sunday, I happened upon the end of the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Here are a few pictures from the parade. I really liked the dog training group and the guys on the gigantic tricycles.

This guy took wearing of the green to a whole new level

Popping Wheelies on Constitution Avenue

I was wandering around near the Mall on Sunday and came across the end of the St. Patrick's Day Parade. It was the tail end of it. I happened upon this on Constitution Avenue near the National Gallery. There was a group of motor cycle cops that had sidecars on their motor cycles. They were giving rides to people and popping wheelies. As you can see kids and adults and cops all had a great time.