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Archive for November, 2013

A couple of months ago, the wife and I moved into a larger house. The advantage of this is that I am closer to work and we have more space. The house is nice, and it has hardwood floors. The advantage of hardwood floors is that they are easy to clean.

The downside is that the house is frequently cold in winter (i.e., October through May).

I’ve noticed that it is cool in the evenings, and so has the cat. She likes to stay upstairs during the day where it is carpeted, and the heat also rises. The wife turns down the heat during the day so it is cool indoors and I turn it up when I get home so I don’t freeze to death.

The house has central heating with vents where warm air percolates through. The air feels nice, and the cat has noticed. One of her favorite activities is sitting near the heater vent and staring into it, letting the warm air blow into her face. She also likes to lie on the vent and let the air warm up her tummy. I picked her up one time and she definitely was warm.

No wonder she likes it so much.

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One of the doctrines espoused by some of my more conservative Christian friends is complementarianism – the belief that men and women “complement” each other but have unique roles within the church. This belief system states that women cannot hold positions of leadership in the church (no women ministers, deaconesses or elders), nor can women hold teaching positions in the church where they would oversee men (teaching kids is okay).

When I was growing up, I heard a little about this but it didn’t come up very often. In church, I frequently had Sunday School teachers that were women and I thought nothing of it. The pastors and deacons of the church were men but I didn’t think anything of that, either. I thought that men were pastors because (a) women didn’t want the job, and (b) leaders tended to be men in most areas of life anyhow.

This view wasn’t really enforced until one time in my late teens, a Sunday School teacher reiterated this position and said that women and men are equal in value, but unique in roles. This is the only time I ever heard it explained this way. I don’t think that this view is reflective of most people in that church, but it was reflected in this particular teacher.

I’ve been in numerous churches and this rule is not enforced everywhere. There are some churches that have women pastors, and others that do not. Even the ones that do enforce it don’t enforce it, it’s more of a convention. Their view on this teaching is that it was more of a cultural thing at the time these biblical passages were written.

However, I have a few friends who actively enforce this position. Women cannot be pastors, elders, or teachers. They are adamant about this. These are hard-and-fast rules dictated by God, to be followed for all time. Churches who are soft on this are… soft (this is my perception of their beliefs). Furthermore, they can quote all sorts of studies that “prove” their views are correct.

This hard line stance strikes me as the wrong view. Here’s why:

#1 – Genetic variance means that some women would be good at it

I do not believe that men and women are interchangeable. After reading Stephen Pinker’s The Blank Slate, I think that there are real genetic differences between men and women:

  • Women are more interested in child care than men. This is true in all cultures.
  • Men are more competitive than women. This is true in all cultures.
  • Men are better at abstract reasoning than women (i.e., manipulate shapes in their head).
  • Women are better at language than men.

Thus, I believe that men and women are not the same with artificial constructs put on us by society. We naturally gravitate to different domains.

However, that doesn’t mean that women cannot be leaders. We have many women heads of state and leaders of large businesses (e.g., German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg). Conversely, men can provide childcare and some are very good at language.

Thus, while many women don’t want leadership positions, some do. And some would be good at it.

Most women probably wouldn’t want the positions of church leadership (many men do; it’s the testosterone that drives us to take leadership positions in general). But some do; because of genetic variance, closing leadership positions off to 50% of the population doesn’t make sense to me. You’re losing the opportunity to learn from good people.

That’s one reason I don’t agree with the hard line position.

 

#2 – Self-serving rationale is not a valid justification

My hard line friends probably would agree with me that some women may be good leaders or teachers in church. But it doesn’t matter – the Bible says that they can’t. That settles it. And here’s a whole bunch of reasons why they can’t.

Here’s the problem:

  • The people who wrote the passages saying that women could not be teachers or leaders were men.

  • The people who now say that women can’t be leaders are men.

  • The people who write modern interpretations proving that women cannot be leaders are men.

In other words, the people who deny the positions of authority to women are men in positions of authority. I can’t remember seeing any women writing books or blog posts that say “Women, we can’t be teachers or leaders! So let’s learn to live in our roles.” That just doesn’t happen at the same scale that men make the reverse claim.

Humans have something call the self-serving bias – we interpret events in a ways that benefit ourselves. For men to interpret a passage in a way that benefits them is unsurprising because that’s the way all of our brains are built. But it doesn’t make it correct.

#3 – The rationale “feels” wrong

The term “complementarianism” sounds like a mechanism that was created to justify inequality by attaching an official term to it. Men and women complement each other, and therefore should have different roles.

These roles are equal in value, but unique in nature. Just because women can’t be leaders, this does not mean that they should be valued any less or that their roles are less important.

To me, this sounds like “Complementarianism sounds sexist, but it really isn’t.”

Yes, it does sound sexist. Is it really? Or not really?

What if we changed it to the following:

Black people and white people are equal in value, but black people cannot be leaders or teachers in the church. But just because black people cannot be leaders, they should not be valued any less. It sounds racist, but it really isn’t.

Yes, it is racist (or, it would be if that doctrine existed). You can insert any two races in there and it would sound racist because it is racist. It’s not really “not racist” because of a clever re-interpretation. It doesn’t matter what two groups of people are in those two classifications, one will appear to be subservient to the other because that’s what the text implies.

Thus, when I say that the rationale “feels” wrong, what I mean is that the text sounds like one group of people is subservient to the other and no linguistic gymnastics gets you out of it without resorting to mental biases to creatively re-interpreting things.

 

That’s why I think the hard-line stance of complementarianism is wrong.

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A couple of weeks ago, I poured some old food leftovers down the sink. But I didn’t just dump it down the kitchen sink, that would be silly. I turned on the garbage disposal, turned on the water faucet and slowly poured the old hamburger meat down it so it wouldn’t clog the drain.

Well, guess what? The drain clogged.

Sigh.

I attempted to fix the clog:

  1. I went down to the store and bought a plunger

    The wife wouldn’t let me use any of the plungers we already had in the house, so I went down to the store and got a new one for the sink. I then used it in the correct fashion by plunging it up and down on the sink and… no success. The sink was still plugged.

  2. I went down to the store and got a drain snake

    Next up, I went down to the store and got a drain snake. This is a contraption you wind down any drain to unplug them. I had to take off the bottom sink pipe, drain it, and then stuff the snake down to unplug it.

    Success! I cleared it!

    15 minutes later, it was plugged again. I once again drained the sink and ran the drain snake, and cleared it again. Once again, I declared victory!

    15 minutes later, it was plugged again! I again drained the sink and ran the drain snake, and cleared it again. And one more time, I declared victory but more tentatively.

    15 minutes later, it was plugged again. I gave up and informed the wife we had to get a plumber.

  3. We brought in a plumber

    The plumber came by two days later and went up on the roof and did some magic to clear the pipes that way. $200 later the drain was unplugged. It hasn’t plugged up since.

I won’t be pouring that stuff down the drain again.

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Last month, I successfully managed to rent out my condo. For you see, this past September the wife and I moved to a house a little closer to my work (a bit closer for her, too, although it takes longer to get to the freeway). I had some upgrades to make to the condo:

  1. I replaced the sink and the blinds in the living room

  2. I replaced the floor in the unit with floating vinyl so now it actually looks nice

  3. I had the carpets cleaned

It took a while to get all of that done, but I did. I put it up on Craigslist, got many responses and a week later it was all settled.

I priced my unit below the market rate. I guess technically I put it in the bottom 10th percentile but it’s one of the cheapest you can find anywhere in the area. I did this because I think that housing is too expensive and I want to provide affordable housing if I can. Since I’ve got a break on living expenses now, I decided to pass that on to my renter.

But wait, there’s more!

December is the Christmas season. I informed my renter that I was knocking $100 of her December rent, for 2013 only.

Why would I do this?

I read somewhere that Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, say that they would be the type of company that would work hard to lower prices for their customers. That’s the type of company I want to be – work hard to deliver value for my customers.

I know that I like it when I randomly catch a break on anything, and I would definitely like it if when I were renting, my landlord gave me a one-time discount. So, that’s what I did – I gave my tenant a discount.

I’m just that type of guy.

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I’ve been aware of password managers for years but I never used one – I was skeptical. While I understand their benefits, I always thought they would be too inconvenient to use.

I’m going to assume that you’re aware of what these things are – little pieces of software that keep track of all the passwords you use to login to various websites, and the only way to get at them is to enter in your one master password. So, instead of memorizing a ton of random passwords (which no one does), you only need to remember one. The password manager can even generate passwords for you if you want, and then you just need to reset your password on whatever website you log into with the one that was randomly generated.


I broke down this past week and decided to stop relying upon my brain to do my password management and instead use software. I did this for two reasons:

  1. For security

    I have quasi-uniqueness for many of my passwords, but I do reuse some of them for web sites I don’t care about that much.

  2. Because my $WORK is making me

    At work, I have to login to a bunch of different environments and it’s pretty much impossible to keep track of them. Furthermore, they rolled out a change this past month where you can’t pick your own password to login to these environments (excluding my PC logon), they generate them for you. Either I write them down or I use a password manager. The password manager won.

We had a security presentation a few weeks ago and the one thing I remember is that the recommended piece of software to use internally at the company is called… well, I’m not sure if I am supposed to advertise it so I will refer to it as ComboPass. I hope that doesn’t actually exist, I don’t look things up while I am blog-writing. This is a 3rd party tool and the reason the company recommends it is because it integrates with certain other tools we use like Windows Phone (I can’t recall if this is the real reason but I’m on a roll and can’t be bothered to stop typing).

First impressions

Anyhow, I downloaded the tool, installed it, and… nothing happened. Did it work properly? I started digging through the help guides and figured out that a little icon shows up in my Windows SysTray.

Oh. Right.

I double-clicked the icon and createdea new master password to unlock it. Now what? I looked at the screen and I couldn’t figure out what to do. This may seem obvious to all of you but I didn’t know what my next steps were. Weren’t these things supposed to be easy to use? In my mind, I envisioned that every website I used could easily integrate with this stuff.

Eventually, I figured out that I had to right-click and add a new entry. I guess that makes sense, looking at it in retrospect.

Well, first things first. The main reason I have resisted using a password manager is this – won’t I have to sync this across all my devices?

I have a Windows 8 PC, a Windows 7 PC, a Windows Phone, an Android tablet (which I got for free), an iPad 3, and an older iPad which I also got for free. My wife also has a Mac. I don’t use all of these devices at the same rate. But I do use them all once in a while. Was I going to have to install ComboPass on every single one of these?


I decided to start small. To begin with, I decided to save only my work environment passwords on my primary Windows 8 machine, but I made the mistake of saving the password file to the local hard drive. I generated some new passwords and stored them in ComboPass.

Now how do I use them?

Oh, I have to copy/paste them when I want to login. But first I have to unlock ComboPass every time using that new master password I generated for it and I don’t have it memorized yet.

Ugh. What an inconvenience. But at least those crazy work passwords are stored so I don’t have to remember them anymore.

Syncing to another device

Okay, well, since I have two main PCs – Windows 8 and Windows 7, I figured I better get ComboPass set up on Windows 7. I downloaded and installed it and then pointed the password file as SkyDrive Pro (Microsoft’s enterprise cloud storage solution). I copied my Windows 8 password file from the hard on that PC onto SkyDrive Pro where my Windows 7 machine could pick it up. So, now they’re sync’ed!

That was not going to end well, as we’ll see later.

Aside: I got my Windows 8 PC back in May and I do most of my work on it, but I retain my old Windows 7 PC for a couple of reasons:

  1. I like the hardware better. The keyboard “clicks” better, and the mouse trackpad is more responsive.

  2. I can’t figure out how to get certain connectivity to the corp network working in Windows 8 the way it works in for me in Windows 7. This is clearly user error. But this user’s workaround is to use Windows 7 instead of calling the IT department to fix it.

My website logins

Next up – my website logins. I am not thrilled about the possibility of having to copy/paste my password from ComboPass into Amazon, Mint, Netflix, my banks, etc. every time I want to login to them (I don’t save them in my browser, I retype them each time I login). So, I decided to experiment with a website I don’t care about as much – FutureAdvisor. This is a website that analyzes your stock portfolio and makes recommendations on the best way to balance them. Pretty cool, if I could get it to work. I reset my password for it and stored it in ComboPass.

At this point, I only have a few things stored in ComboPass. But then I realized something – my Windows 7 device pulls the password file from SkyDrive Pro, but my Windows 8 device pulls it from the local hard drive. That shouldn’t be; I copied it from the hard drive to SkyDrive Pro.

That was a mistake.

For you see, I wasn’t keeping things in sync (I know, it’s my fault), I overwrote the password file and I locked myself out of FutureAdvisor along with a couple of other websites.

Ugh!

And I can’t reset my password because FutureAdvisor’s password reset currently doesn’t work. Every time I click the “reset my password” which sends me an email, it tells me the link has expired. It is physically impossible to click it any faster than what I am doing.

I know it’s always possible to lock yourself out of your own accounts even using conventional password management. But this only happened because of me using a password manager and trying to sync it between only two devices.

My impressions so far

So far, my initial reactions are mixed. While I like the ability to not have to remember my passwords:

  1. Remembering the new master password is inconvenient. I had to write it down and physically carry it with me on a piece of paper.

  2. Copy/pasting from the password manager is inconvenient. I liked being able to logon to Amazon by typing in my username and password (I had it memorized and it is unique). It is now an extra step. Or at least it would be if I hooked it up to Amazon. I thought these things were supposed to auto-fill in web logins? Right?

  3. Even though I know that locking myself out of FutureAdvisor was my fault, and it’s their fault the password reset doesn’t work, it feeds my paranoia that using a password manager adds too much complexity. I don’t mind adding accounts that I only access on two devices that sync with Skydrive Pro. But am I going to have to type in those super-long passwords on each of my Windows Phone, iPad 3, old iPad and Android?

    So for now, I still memorize the passwords on websites that are important which I may log onto on multiple devices (which defeats the purpose of a password manager).

  4. What happens if I ever cannot connect to SkyDrive Pro (e.g., I ever leave the company I work for)? Then I can’t log onto anything! I’d have to go and reset the password on every service and then update it on every device.

    I prize convenience, and this adds a lot of risk.

I am probably whining about a lot of things that have already been solved. I readily admit that I have not climbed the learning curve that exists for changes in anything. While I find the password management useful in some cases, I’m not ready to make the full leap.

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Since May of this past year, I have started walking at least 10,000 steps most days (except on days I forget my FitBit). And, starting this past July or August, I reduced my total amount of meat consumption.

The result?

I have lost 7 lbs. I weigh myself almost every day, below is a graph going back two years:

image

These are the only two changes I have made. I have not cut back on chocolate, or bread. I have not increased or decreased my consumption of other types of candy. I have increased my consumption of alcohol (in my quest to find a beer I like as much as the Pilsner Urquelle I had in Europe).

This weight loss has been sustained and even continued through the colder months of late 2013; I do not hike as much as I was in the summer but I still weigh less.

I always thought I was pretty thin. People told me this, and I was proud of it. I was never big enough to be an athlete but at least I wouldn’t have problems associated with weight gain.

Yet this weight loss has been a cold dose of reality – For years I thought I was at the bottom of my weight range and had nothing to lose. That’s not true, I had at least 7 lbs to lose.

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As I have written previously, the wife wants me to pay off my mortgage as quickly as possible. This is a difficult task because I feel like I owe so much and it’s hard to commit to something that will take 5-10 years with no clear benefits at the end.

That is, while I will no longer have a mortgage, in the back of my mind I am concerned about the opportunity cost. If I put $150,000 (for example) extra towards the mortgage, instead of sticking it in my 401(k) or stock trading account, am I losing out on five years of stock market appreciation that I can never make up?

This bothers me because after five years on the market, that $150,000 would most likely be worth around $175,000 (assuming 7% appreciation per year which is reasonable). But after five years of paying off my mortgage it would be worth perhaps $130,000 since my place is so far underwater.

On the other hand, I just don’t know which is better – investing or paying down low-interest debt.

Still, I have come up with a tentative set of goals for the mortgage:

  1. Goal #1 – Get the mortgage 10% paid off from my original purchase price in 2008. I have refinanced twice and each time the mortgage is a little less. But I want to target my original price.

    Estimated target: December 2013

  2. Goal #2 – Get the mortgage 20% paid off so I can stop paying Private Mortgage Insurance premiums. This will save me $75/month.

    Estimated target: December 2014

  3. Goal #3 – Acquire equity. This will occur when the mortgage remaining is less than what the place is worth.

    Estimated target: March 2016

  4. Goal #4 – Chop the debt in half. Whenever I acquire equity, the next goal is to reduce that by 50%.

    Estimated target: March 2019

  5. Goal #5 – Elimination of the mortgage

    Estimated target: Summer 2021

This is 3 years later than the wife wants it. I’ll have to see where I can optimize.

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