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Archive for April, 2015

I took my first Uber ride recently on a trip to San Francisco.

What is Uber, you ask?

Oh, you poor uninitiated soul. Uber is to taxis what YouTube is to DVDs… what VHS was to Beta. What craft beer is to Budweiser. Uber is an app that lets you call a “taxi” on demand.

Except it’s not a taxi. Instead, it’s a private driver with their own car. You download and install the Uber app on your smartphone and then enter in your credit card information. When you need a vehicle, you get a fare quote. You then look at the map to see where the nearest Uber driver is. You request a driver and they come to your location.

It’s like a taxi except you don’t hail one, you don’t call anyone on the phone. You use the app to get one.

You get in the car and they drive you to the destination. When you’re done, you get out of the cab and your credit card is charged automatically. There’s no friction of working out payment and tip because it’s done behind the scenes. You get a receipt in your email.

I liked it. You get confirmation the car is on its way after you’ve requested it, and you get a second confirmation when it’s just about to pull up to where you are. And there’s no haggling over price, you just get out.

Oh, it’s also cheaper than a regular taxi. To get from my house to the airport by taxi costs $60. By Uber, it cost $40.

I took an Uber in San Francisco to my hotel from a place downtown but the driver had some problems finding me. He phoned me, explained to me where he was, told me he would circle around, and then we worked it all out. Would a taxi ever do that? Would they ever get on the phone with you and figure the details?

The one drawback is that Uber seems to want to not put the taxis out of business. A quote from the airport in Seattle to my house was $100. Uh, that’s too much. They must do that because they raise their prices during high demand.

But other than that, no complaints. I can totally understand how they have raised the bar on personal travel.

I’ll be taking them again.

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Last December, we started getting greeted by a new cat in the morning – a black, brown, and white cat that we have nicknamed Toby. He started showing up by the window, looking inside.

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Toby at first came to the front window every single morning, and our cat Ruby would stare at him. When he walked back and forth, she walked back and forth. When he ran off, she would chase him through the window.

But Ruby hated him. She hated him so much! She would stare at him through the window, hissing and growling. But she was mesmerized and couldn’t leave him alone.

Well, we started feeding Toby. We would give him some food and he would eat it outside. Ruby would snoop and try to stick her nose out the door but we didn’t let her.

Things changed one day when we let Toby inside the house. Ruby stared at him, again hissing and growling. But he didn’t like it inside the house; he wandered around but for the most part hangs out by the door, as above. He’s as afraid to come inside as Ruby is to go outside.

So, even though Toby comes by, he doesn’t come by every day anymore. And he only comes by pretty early, around 7:30 am. Basically, at this point, he’s here for about 5 minutes a day. I get up in the morning, go downstairs and bring Toby inside, watch Ruby hiss at him, go make coffee, and then feed him. He eats a bit, and then leaves.

And he’s not even here every day.

We’re not sure whose cat he is; we think he belongs to someone in the neighborhood. I put a collar on him once. He returned the next day without the collar, and then the day after he had the collar back on! Then, the day after that he didn’t have it anymore.

Not sure what happened there, but I suspect the person who owns him wondered what he was doing with a collar.

I wonder if they know he’s getting fed somewhere else?

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Our cat Ruby is weird.

Whenever one of us is on the phone talking to someone, the cat walks into the room and starts meowing, and sometimes causing a ruckus. This past week, the wife was in the kitchen on the phone talking to the credit card company when the cat waltzed in, jumped up on the kitchen table and started meowing noisily.

She always does this!

She doesn’t meow when the wife and I are talking to each other, she only does it when we’re on the phone. And, if she’s not in the same room as us, she comes and finds us. And, if we’re faking talking on the phone, she knows and doesn’t meow. I have had a few conference calls at home where I’ve had to mute it because the cat is either meowing or scratching the furniture, making a lot of noise.

Ruby does it more with the wife than she does with me. I’m not sure why that is, but she does it consistently. Seems to be her thing.

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Yes, cat, I’m talking about you.

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For a few years now, I’ve been sleeping on my side. This is less out of comfort and more out of necessity.

Why?

Because when I sleep on my back, even in a leaning up position, my throat and tongue relax and my tongue falls to the back of my throat. And then I start to snore. The sound of the snoring as well as the vibration wakes me up, and it does this every time.

Ugh.

I never used to snore (I think). I first noticed it on a hike a few years ago as when we got to the top, I leaned back against a rock and propped up my knees and fell asleep for a bit. I awoke when I felt and heard the vibration of snoring in the back of my throat.

Ever since then, it happens nearly every time I sleep that way.

Fortunately, it works out anyhow. I have sensitive sinuses; whenever I lie back or lie down, frequently my sinuses or some other part of my nose starts to stuff up so I can’t breathe through my nose that well. But, if I lay on my side, it’s a lot better. So, I’m resigned to being a side sleeper.

I can live with that.

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I was reading some articles the other day about personal finance about how it’s not worth it to earn too high a salary (more than $250,000/year) because the extra income you make is reduced too much by taxes, and the small incremental increase is not worth the additional stress.

This spilled over into the comments section (I know, it’s dangerous territory) where people were complaining about the current government administration and the belief that rich people are greedy, and how nobody wants to be “rich” because they will be vilified.

The comments then degenerated into how we live in an entitlement society and that the rich are valuable and the poor just need to work hard and stop blaming the rich for their problems. I take this as a shortcut euphemism for “Poor people are lazy.”

This doesn’t resonate with me at all.

  1. It’s not a simple “We think all the rich are bad”

    For one thing, I don’t think that society is unilaterally against rich people. We distinguish between wealthy people and the super-rich, the top 0.1% or 0.01% of society – those making tens of millions per year, not those between $250,000 and $1 million per year. Indeed, there’s a much of a gap between the 0.1% and the 1% as there is from the 99% and the 1%.

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  2. Getting wealthy requires additional factors beyond hard work

    Second, the idea that poor people are lazy simply isn’t true. While rich people do work hard, they also benefit from time and circumstance. I come from Winnipeg, a city in the Canadian prairies. People there work hard. But people work hard in Calgary, too, another province in the prairies. But people in Calgary are wealthier. Why? Because Calgary has better access to natural resources – oil – while Winnipeg does not. Being born in Calgary has a better chance in life of becoming wealthy than being born in Winnipeg.

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    I moved from Winnipeg years ago to a wealthier city, Seattle. I work no more or no less hard than some of my friends back in Winnipeg, but I have more money than they do. They will probably never catch up to me. But I come from a background where I was encouraged to get post-secondary education, and I had access to computers early in life. My friends didn’t.

    So really, there are a ton of factors that go into people’s level of wealth that they don’t control beyond working hard, and being lazy.

    You may argue: Move. But humans aren’t like that, we’re not all about seeking economic opportunity but choose places to live based upon family, culture, access to opportunities, and not just the lure of more money.

  3. There is a perception that rich people take advantage of loopholes that are not available to everyone else at the expense of everyone else

    Third, society balks at the idea of the super-wealthy getting rich at the expense of the rest of us. It’s true that for many years, you could be an average citizen and a rising tide would lift your boat, but that stopped being true a long time ago, starting in the 1980’s and continuing on for the next three decades. During the 2007-2009 recession, everyone’s net worth took a hit. And since the recession, everyone has recovered. But, the top 10% has recovered much faster than the bottom 90%, and their levels exceed pre-recession levels. But not the average citizen. So, clearly, there’s something going on here. Does everyone in the 1% work that much harder than everyone else?

    One of the criticisms of Walmart is that they double-dip against the government.

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    First, they pay their workers low wages, not enough to live on. They do this because it helps their profitability and results in increased share prices which directly benefits shareholders, people who are much more likely to be wealthy in the first place. Keeping your expenses down means your company makes more money, and shareholders benefit.

    Fine.

    But because their workers are not paid enough, they have to go on food stamps; they are the working poor (not not freeloaders). So, Walmart pays lower wages while making a small amount of people wealthy, while a large amount of people – who are needed to run the stores so these small amount of people can get wealthier – have to get government assistance, funded by taxpayers.  The argument is that if Walmart paid more, the difference wouldn’t have to be made up by taxpayers. That is dip #1.

    But the recipients of food stamps then take those stamps and buy food at Walmart, who advertises low prices and works to keep them low. So the very money that the government gives to Walmart employees is then spent at Walmart. This is dip #2.

    Thus, Walmart benefits doubly-so by not paying its workers more – they get to boost profits by holding costs down, and get to receive that same set of money that their workers would have spent on food (that they didn’t pay them) from the government.

    That’s why people balk at rich CEO’s. I’m not saying that is the reality, but it is the perception.

    And perception matters. A lot!

    Did the Obama administration make all of this stuff up? Or is there some truth to it? If there is some truth to it, how exaggerated is it? Or is it all fluff?

So, as you can see, I am sympathetic to the plight of people who are less fortunate than I am. I don’t think there is a conspiracy against the rich, I think it is more nuanced than simply saying “The rich are greedy!” Rich people are simply people, like the rest of us. Some of them work harder than others. But poor people work hard, too, they just don’t find it as easy to get ahead.

But nor are poor people lazy, in general. As time has passed, students have been getting stuck with larger and larger student loans. The minimum wage in the United States used to be enough to get by, but hasn’t been that way in years.

To me, this suggests that it is something structural within society rather than a secret conspiracy.

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