Monday, October 31, 2016

Salt-lick camera take...

Salt-lick camera take...  We didn't have as many visitors the last few days, most likely because of the rainstorm.  In the last photo you can see how much the wind blew the salt lick – we had steady 20 MPH winds, with gusts to perhaps 30 MPH.

We're still in shock...

We're still in shock ... over a letter we received this past Thursday.  The letter was from our health insurance company, telling us what our actual premium will be next year.  We were expecting (based on news reports) a 30% increase.  Instead, we're told our premium will increase by 66%, to $2,371.14 per month ($28,453.68 per year).  That's not because the benefits are increasing, either – just the opposite.  Our out-of-pocket maximum is doubling, and the drug deductible is going up to five times what it was.

The letter explains why all this is happening, and the reasons are all-too-familiar to someone like me who has been following the issue.  In short, the problem is exactly the premium death-spiral predicted by critics of ObamaCare when it was first proposed.  Just as predicted, younger and healthier people are declining to buy ObamaCare because (a) it costs too much, (b) the penalty is relatively small, and (c) they can just sign up when and if they need it.  With a risk pool that is older and sicker than the average population, guess what?  Higher premiums.  Also exactly as predicted: insurance companies are dropping out because they're losing money when the risks are higher than the optimistic ObamaCare proponents predicted.  In other words, given the mandates and the rules around ObamaCare, these premium increases were inevitable – just as the ObamaCare opponents predicted.  People like us (older, sicker, upper income) are the ones paying the highest differential between what insurance used to cost and what it costs today, because in practice the crazy-high premiums we pay are subsidizing everybody else's lower premiums.

Oh, how I long for the days of the simple major medical policy!

I have no idea what we're going to do about this, but most likely we're simply going to pay it.  I have a meeting next week with our insurance agent to go over all our options, but I'm not sure we have any real options.  Health care was already the biggest single expense in our budget; now it will be even more so.

I can't help but wonder where all this ends.  Will the politicians allow ObamaCare to actually follow the premium death-spiral until all the insurance companies drop out?  So far that's what they're doing.  Then what?  Single-payer time?  I can hear the progressives slavering at that opportunity, which scares the hell out of me.  ObamaCare repeal and a return to “real” healthcare insurance?  Don't see much political support for that, damn it!  Will medical tourism take off, sending Americans to Mexico, India, Russia, or Estonia for any non-trivial procedure?  That's already starting!  This is turning into one of our biggest concerns for our retirement, which is not what I expected us to be worrying about!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Can you identify this?

Can you identify this?  Oy, mama mia!  It's a pregnant dog...

Saturday, October 29, 2016

More memories...

More memories ... from my mom's photo collection...

I start with a bit of a mystery today.  I have no idea who either of the people in the photo at right are; it is undated and there are no notes on it.  It's obviously a studio portrait, presumably of a married couple.  The man is wearing a U.S. Army uniform; the insignia indicates he's a Master Sergeant – that's an E-8, the next-to-highest enlisted rank in the Army.  He has 7 “hash marks” (the stripes on his left sleeve), indicating that he has somewhere between 28 and 31 years in service.  Do any of my siblings have a clue who these people are?  Update: My brother Scott recognized the man as “Bernice” a friend of my brother Mark.  Mark then identified him as Bernice Dill, and his wife Sherry Dill. He's still in the Army, and the two of them still visit Mark and his wife Gina in Maine every year.

The woman at right is Rolana, my brother Mark's first wife.  The sweet young thing at left is one of her daughters, Tami.  The photo is undated, but must be from the early '90s.  I have no idea why it's black-and-white.

On the back, in handwriting I don't recognize: “1/10/98 I sunk 2’ (feet) (sleet) when I took this picture of a camp on Long Pond”; right below that, in my mom's printing: “Old Camp - tear time - many, many good times here”.  Truer words I cannot find.  That's the back (i.e., away from the pond) side of my family's old camp on Long Pond, now long gone.  What you're looking at was built in four stages: first the main cabin (the part with the tin stove pipe sticking out of it), then the front porch (not visible as it's on the opposite side), then the bedroom extension off to the left, and finally the bathroom and storage room closest to the camera.  There used to be an outhouse just to the right of where the photographer was standing, and there were more trees (I'm not sure what happened to all of them).  I've only seen the camp once in the winter, in '73 or '74, while on leave from the U.S. Navy.  When I saw it, there was much more snow! :)

For some reason my dad annotated this one: “Grandma + Marci”.  The photo is undated, but I'm guessing it's from the late '80s.  I have no clue where it was taken; I'm not familiar with that merry-go-round at all.

I know this place well – it's the front yard of my maternal grandparents' home in the '50s; the place I remember them the best.  On the back, in my mom's handwriting: “Dad & Sliver looking over the nursery”.  On the left is Sliver Sturgeon; on the right my mom's father (my grandfather) Donald MacLaughlin.  Behind the photographer was their home.  They often had parties on that front lawn, usually involving cards, beer, and highballs.  That hand-dug well with its massive bluestone cover was often my perch on our visits when I was quite small.  My grandmother once chalked some squares on that sidewalk for us to play games on, games that she taught us.  My memories of those visits are mainly all about the happy faces, laughter, and general high spirits of the people there – including, especially, my mom.  My grandfather's retail nursery included the stock field across the street that they're looking at, but most of the facility was left of the photo's field of view.  Down there was some parking, the greenhouse, the potting shed, and several display beds under some grand old shade trees.

On the back, in my mom's handwriting (in fountain pen): “Sliver Sturgeon Lincoln Maine”.  The photo is an original, but unfortunately undated by the lab.  It's on cheap off-brand photo paper, so I'm going to guess it was processed by someone in Maine.  From Sliver's appearance, I'll guess this was taken in the early '50s.  Note his cap and plaid shirt: he and my grandfather (my mom's father) dressed quite similarly.  He was a great friend of my grandfather, and to a slightly lesser extent, to our extended family; I have lots of memories of him laughing, joking, playing cards with my grandfather and the rest of us.

This is a duplicate on photo paper of a slide I posted before.  The color fidelity on this print is better than the slide, so I'm posting it again.  This is Doc Johnston; follow that link to read about him.

Finally, this is my brother Mark and his wife Gina, along with their two dogs, outside (I believe) the camp on Long Pond in Maine.  I say “I believe” because I don't recognize the stairs.  I suspect this photo was taken after Mark took possession of the camp (in the early '00s) and fixed it up; I've never seen it.  That certainly looks like Long Pond behind them, and the floating dock is right.  I certainly don't remember a lawn in the front, though!  The two of them look very happy in this photo, don't they?  Several things in this photo jump right out at me.  For one, the neatly edged gravel walkway – I can't even imagine such a thing when my grandfather owned it! :)  Then there's the lattice work hiding the crawlspace; again, that would never have happened (it was a total mess under there; we loved to explore it as kids).  But most of all, the propane tank and grill (presumably that's what's under the cover): we cooked meals inside the house on a wonderful wood-fired cook stove.  Grilling on a propane grill?  Get out of here!

It's been a long, long time...

It's been a long, long time ... since I last built a Heathkit.  The last one I remember building was a CW DX receiver, vacuum-tube based, probably in '67 or '68.  Heathkit went out of business several decades ago (or at least stopped making kits), but a year or so ago I stumbled across an article saying that they'd somehow come back to life.  I don't know the details of how they did that – in particular, I don't know if it's actually the same company or if someone just bought the name.  When they announced their first kit availability, for the Most Reliable Clock (GC-1006), I decided to give it a whirl and ordered it.

One thing you should realize is that for me (and probably for many other hams or electronics buffs my age) this was a real nostalgia-fest.  I probably built 15 or 20 Heathkits in the '60s, including ham transmitters and receivers, test equipment, bench power supplies and function generators, etc.  The quality of those kits was unbeatable back then, and (to my knowledge) completely unobtainable today.  The manuals were excellent, the support stellar, and the designs and build quality superb.  This particular kit is a nicely-executed digital clock, but at $100 is really rather absurdly pricey.  I got it anyway, just on the chance that it would be like building the Heathkits of yore.  Also it's my little financial contribution, sort of like a Kickstarter for Heathkit. :)

And you know what?  Largely, it was like building a Heathkit back in the day!  This Heathkit had an excellent manual, in which I only caught one (trivial and obvious) error.  All of the parts were present, along with a few extra of various things (including two extra resistors, which had me going for a while!).  The design is modern, using a modern microprocessor, LED drivers, etc.  The execution is nice: easy to use, all the really necessary features, not any useless fluff.  The assembly takes a moderate amount of skill, especially for a few areas that were sort of “redneck” construction.  For example, the manual leads you through a tricksy bit of heat-shrink tubing manipulation in order to make a couple of LED light shields.  But I'm not complaining about any of that; in fact, it was all very reminiscent of the old Heathkits, which often had some redneck assembly or fabrication to do.

I made one mistake during assembly, and it was entirely my own fault: I installed the first (of five) switches after very carefully reading the manual.  Then I noted the four additional switches on the PC board mask, and just assumed they would be assembled the same way.  Whoops!  Bad assumption!  Instead, they were mounted on the back of the board.  That's why I needed the desoldering tool yesterday. :)

If I had to cite a disappointment, it was this: when I got all finished building the kit, everything worked on the first try.  I was sort of looking forward to troubleshooting it, but there was no need.  Dang it!

So now I have a very expensive new bedside clock, and I'll smile every time I think about the pleasure I got building the silly thing.  And if Heathkit ever comes out with another kit I might enjoy, quite likely I'll buy that one as well.  Right now the only other kit they're offering is a not-so-good AM radio.  I haven't listened to any AM stations for 15 years or so, and even if I were to start listening again, I'd do it on a much better radio than that!

Sure wish I'd known...

Sure wish I'd known ... that this was coming down the pike.  Over the last two years we've put standing-seam steel roof and solar panels on our home and barn.  If Elon isn't lying to us, the cost for his solar roof will actually be less than what we paid.  And it will look better.  I sure didn't see that coming!

The McMullin scenario...

The McMullin scenario ... as explained by Jonah Goldberg:

Here, the vanilla rule might apply. Vanilla is one of the most popular flavors in America not because it’s everyone’s favorite, but because it is the least objectionable to the greatest number of people. There are probably no Democrats who wouldn’t prefer McMullin to Trump. There are almost certainly no Republicans who wouldn’t prefer McMullin to Clinton. Picking the least objectionable option is often the essence of statesmanship. If 26 state delegations pick the least-bad option, McMullin becomes the first Mormon president.
That's from this article, in which Jonah sounds like someone (besides me!) who's going to vote for McMullin.  After yesterday's news on Hillary, Jonah thinks McMullin's chances are much higher.  Still very low, but much higher.

All this gives me the tiniest ray of hope for a palatable outcome to the 2016 election.  Also much Hillary schadenfreude.  Go, McMullin!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  In between other things today I got to try out my desoldering gun for the first time.  I had soldered four switches onto the wrong side of a printed circuit board.  Each switch has four contacts, so to fix this I needed to desolder 16 pins on a double-sided board.  I've done this before with a combination of copper braid and a "solder sucker", but that's tedious and likely to damage the board.  This time I had the right tool.  Instead of a couple hours of delicate work, and likely a damaged board - I was all done in six minutes, including the time it took for the desoldering gun to warm up.  Electronic mistakes and repairs will no longer be the torture they once were...

The roofer showed up as promised today, but ... didn't have all the needed materials.  They did finish up the roof itself, so we're waterproof.  They didn't have the trim needed before the siding goes on, though.  They'll be back on Monday.  As I write, I'm waiting for the guys to show up to do the drywall taping and texturing.

I spent my morning mopping.  Yesterday afternoon I vacuumed our garage, after finally clearing the last of its contents out.  Today I finished the job - the garage is now ready to receive our new cars...

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Busy day yesterday, and I just flat-out forgot to post!  I spent much of the day cleaning out our garage.  Our house has a three-car garage attached to its west side, but our current vehicles won't fit in it (they're a few inches too long) – so for the past two-and-a-half years, we've used it as a sort of storage unit, but without any organization.  Or, in other words, it was a real mess!  I got most of it moved and organized yesterday, and I'll finish that up today.  Why?  Well, because we're going to have two cars that will actually fit in there sometime soon.  First one coming is our Tesla Model X, arriving in about a month.  Woo hoo!  Then, a few months later, Debbie's Lexus GX 460 will be arriving (feminine woo hoo here).  She had to special order hers to get the color she really wants – to get one “off the lot” she'd have to settle for white or silver, and that's just not happening! :)

One thing that happened yesterday was borderline miraculous: some construction guys showed up earlier than expected!  A crew of seven guys showed up to hang drywall in our mud room and sun room.  The head guy (an older Hispanic guy with a beautiful smile missing about half his teeth) estimated two to three hours.  Then a few minutes later he came back to tell me they were short six sheets of drywall.  We called his boss together, figured out with the boss that he (the boss) had screwed up the estimate, and we got the boss committed to delivering the needed drywall within a half hour.  It showed up, too.  And then the crew got the whole job done in just 90 minutes.  These seven guys worked together as if the entire job was choreographed – it was impressive to watch!  They did a really nice job, making holes in all the right places for my electrical fixtures, and handling every detail I gave them exactly right.  Next step: taping and texturing, which with any luck at all will happen today.  A couple photos of the crew at work:

Debbie tells me that we're “real” Utahans now.  Why now?  Because I just ordered a snowblower. :)  What provoked me to order the blower was the realization that we're about to start using our garage.  The entrance for it is tucked into a nook of our driveway that I can't reach when plowing with my tractor.  Worse, the roof slopes down such that snow falls off onto the garage apron, a couple feet in front of the doors.  I'm not at all excited about digging that out by hand! :)  Hence the snowblower.  It will also be a good backup for those occasions (as we had once last year) when we had conditions that made the tractor plowing not work well at all.  That was the combination of ice on the pavement and wet, sloppy, heavy snow on top.  From what I've read, the snowblower can handle even that, albeit very slowly.  Still much better than a shovel, which is what I was reduced to last year that one time...

We're expecting the construction workers to show up today to install the last of our four new doors, this one to go from our kitchen to our new deck.  We're also hoping that they'll get started on that new deck.  Today or tomorrow they should also be pouring two new concrete porches for us: one for the sun room, and the other for the front door.  As if that weren't enough excitement for one day, the roofers are also supposed to show up, to finish the last bits of the mud room roof and to start on our mud room siding.  We're in danger of having the mud room actually be usable!  We had a flooring estimator here on Tuesday, starting the roughly two-week process of getting the tile installed in the sun room and mud room.  If this all comes off, we should be able to actually use the mud room and sun room by about November 15th...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Salt-lick camera take...

Salt-lick camera take...  All the usual suspects (deer, dogs, cats, and some old man walking a couple of field spaniel puppies), plus a fox (last photo) and Scott N. baling the hay on our field (and picking it up afterwards with his magical bale picker-upper):