Friday, November 26, 2010

Drink Coffee, Do good!

Coffee is wonderful. So wonderful in fact that for the last 500 years it has grown to be one of the largest agricultural commodities in the world despite having no intrinsic substantive value. You cannot live on it like you can rice or beans, but it would seem we cannot live without it.The process from the tree to your Venti Mocha Latte with a shot is a fairly complex one, (sometimes including some unique steps) and like all production challenges, complexity means cost to you. That is why coffee costs so much. Since most coffee grows near the equator, most of it is grown in countries with significantly lower living standards. Call them third world, call them low income, these folks live in utter poverty in many cases. So the cost of the actual beans ends up fairly cheap.

Unfortunately, it’s a little too cheap. Most of the coffee we consume is grown and harvested at rates that do not allow the farmer or harvester to make a living wage. As a commodity, the price is often set , and the farmer cannot argue. Enter the Fair Trade ideology. Fair trade is good in theory. Be sure you are paying what is fair. However in some cases, even fair trade goes through a middleman and the farmer still does not see is living wage. The fair trade that works is the one that bypasses the middleman, and trades directly with the grower, but that is not very scalable. I cannot imagine how a Folgers or Maxwell House would tackle that problem. Starbucks tried, but even they fall short with only part of their beans being fairly bought. We have to change our world small and steady.

Let me introduce you to Land of a Thousand Hills coffee. Their name comes from the nickname of Rwanda, the country where they buy their beans. If you are not familiar with Rwanda’s history, watch Hotel Rwanda for an overview. It is the worst human genocide in recent history, and their now fragile communities are trying to rebuild. Here is a video of the owner of LOTH.

For every 130 bags of coffee sold through LOTH, a Rwandan farmer can feed, clothe and shelter his family for a year. A YEAR! We all love coffee. We all drink it. Why not know what you are supporting, and where your money is being spent when you purchase coffee. You can buy LOTH coffee on their website, or if you ask V or I, we can pick some up at Windows Cafe' in Bethel.

Drink Coffee, do good.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A citizen of...

Last Sunday, the sermon centered around leadership, but one point dealt with Johnathon Edwards' comments on patriotism. With much respect for our Pastor, after finding this article, it soundes like Edwards held some crazy ideas. In fact, he wouldn't fit well into today's political groupings at all from what I can tell, wanting government funded Christianity; state welfare were laziness is not allowed, etc. However, some of the points made are still valid.

In particular, the idea that patriotism is not that important in the grand scheme of things was convicting. A lot of mental energy gets put toward politics, and much of the news we consume is centered around Washington. As Christians we need to make sure we are finding the right balance.

I do not want to rehash the article linked above but instead to consider a few thoughts on the very nature of government in America as it relates to the Christians' subjection to it.

Romans 13 is pretty explicit. Christians are to obey their government. However, I think there is a fascinating dynamic here in America that changes the picture unlike any other time in history. When Roman's was written, the ruling body was, well, Rome. While Rome was a republic, the very rule of law was still embodied in the consuls. All civilizations have been based on this model, where a person or persons is at the top. Even today's representative governments like England are still centered around a royal family. Always the central figure is a person. Until a pesky group of revolutionaries decided to try something new. Instead of a person being the center of the governmental structure, a document was. This government was designed to operate as a government by the people and for the people, with no person at its head, but a document. This is why what we refer to as the highest office is simply that, an office whose express goal is to uphold and defend the constitution of this nation.

Take now, for instance, the idea of Paul writing to a group of believers challenging them to subject themselves to the rule of Rome. This is a heavy request. The leader of Rome at most points in history, and certainly Nero during this period was a heavy handed dictator. Christians were made to suffer under his rule, and yet they were requested to be an example of good in their community by subjecting to the atrocities committed by Nero.

What happens then when a document is the ruler, not a person? When a person is in rule, they can set and change rules as they see fit. In America today, a document is our ruler. Our governmental body is there simply to carry out that constitution's directives. We have the unique privilege to be governed by no man. We govern ourselves. We elect for ourselves representatives to serve us. We impeach those who fail in their duty to obey its directives. America in theory is a nation ruled by the people's own desires as detailed in the constitution, amendable as needed.

So when scripture tells us to be subject to our rulers, we are not under the same obligation as 1st century Christians, or even the 21st century English. We are not subjects; neither to a monarch nor a dictator. The men with badges or the ladies in office are not our rulers. They have been asked to perform a service, at our request. We are bound to obey and follow one document (two really depending on your state). So if a police officer asks to enter your house for an inspection (as happened in Danbury a few years ago), you should say NO. This is not being insubordinate; it is obeying our ruler, the constitution. If a police officer asks you to answer some questions, and you do not want to, you don't have to. This is obeying the rule of law. When a corporation makes a major mistake, and spills millions of gallons of crude oil into the ocean, we should not sit quietly as the President informs us that he is forcing a foreign owned company to do anything, not because we do not agree with the principle, but because such action is completely outside of his given authority.

As the American experiment continues to change, there may well come a time when the decision is made that men are not capable of ruling themselves under the guide of our constitution. At that point (and we seem to be on that path) we as Christians will be subject to the rulers put in place. Until that time, I believe we should do as much as is in our power to keep our freedom and liberty. For out of this model has come the most successful society in the history of the world. And I believe that with our success, we can do more good for the kingdom of heaven then we could without it. Freedom for freedom's sake is not valuable to the Christian. Perhaps in God's economy we would be better off without our freedom; certainly there is biblical support for the work of God thriving under oppression. But I think we have greater abilities to do good for the kingdom in freedom, and therefore, I believe it to be a cause worth investing in.

So yes, we are citizens of heaven, first and foremost. We should not take too seriously our national pride as it often comes in conflict with out heavenly pride. However, I believe we have a duty as a part of this particular nation to be active and involved in the governmental process, to invest in maintaining our freedoms, and to know follow and uphold the constitution.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Garage Kept

After we bought our house in February of '06 we had garage problems. The previous owners' assurances aside, the garage flooded every time it rained more then a mist. We fixed by completely tearing up the back yard with a excavator and laying all new drainage. It stored a TON of stuff when Veronica's parents lived with us. We fixed this by not having them live with us anymore. ;-)

When we first moved in, I bought a new garage door opener from Sears because the previous owner forgot to leave the openers. This sat in the box for the last 4 years.

About a year ago, I finally tried to fit our Jeep into the garage, unsuccessfully. The door would not open enough, and the top of the Jeep was a bit too tall for the dug-out space. So all motivation to get the garage car-ready was gone.

Until, Car Time

Now that it is my car, I got all motivated. This combined with the fact that Veronica's parent's were back up to visit for a week meant I would have some additional labor available. I asked my father in law to make it car-ready. He and Norah did a great job. The first night we were able to get the car in, but needed to revamp the shelving to fit everything. We considered a shed, but can fit everything, so no need.

Today we finished the garage door opener installation, and as of today have a fully functional garage, and my car gets to be "garage kept!"

I feel a little bad about never fitting the Jeep in. Even if it didn't fit, having the ability to open the garage from outside would have been nice for Veronica. I should have installed the opener. It took selfish motives for me to act, but at least it is done, right? Paul in Phillipians said what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, the work was done. Same goes for here; at least that's what I'm telling myself.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Men go to work, because it is easier.

There, it is said.

Having spent last week working as full time parent and care nurse, I can clearly say that being home with the kids is harder than going to work. Perhaps this is why women are built differently than men. They have more stamina to withstand the long days. They have more multitasking abilities so they can think about their shopping list while doing the laundry. They have more nurturing abilities to still feel love for their children while one child is screaming and the other refuses to read her lesson. Whatever it is that makes women tick, they definitely are better at the harder job.

I recognize that I am generalizing, even stereotyping, but these generalizations are true… at least generally. In society today, we have fought for Parson's model B, while everything in nature and history leans toward Model A. I'm ok with gender roles. I think they are healthy. What's not healthy is the rule that to be a man you have to think that you work harder than your woman. This goes back to Adam's curse, or cave men, depending on your preference, but it is simply not true. It may have been physically harder, but now that most jobs have removed the physical labor, our jobs are not harder in any way. Think about it. Which is more important, building that new product, or building your child's persona? Which is worse, failing to meet a deadline at work, or failing to complete your child's education? Which is more forgiving of negligence? Which is more taxing, dealing with water cooler chat reminiscent of high school, or actually dealing with childishness all day from actual children?

I only wish that I could continue in that misunderstanding. For with it, I could complain that the laundry was not done, or the dishes were not clean, or we were going out to eat too often.

Those days are over. With my newly acquired understanding I will quietly go to work with the humbling knowledge that I am taking the easy route. I will simply allow the things undone to stay undone or do them myself, meanwhile giving all respect for my lovely wife, and her incredibly hard job.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ask me what I am doing...

My wife and I are home-schoolers.  It can sometimes sound like we hate teachers, or hate the public school, or hate the system, etc.  But its not true.  We do not hate any of those.  We do think the system is broken, and public schools in general do not do a good job of teaching kids, and that most teachers want a better system, and want kids to do well, and think they are doing the best job possible and training the kids in our society, and frankly, many are.

Teaching is a tough and important career.  It is a career that has its challenges, but is also rather rewarding.  You do get the opportunity to influence children for the better, and for that it should be praised.

So imagine my delight when I stumbled upon a lady sitting at the mall tonight in the food court with this sign propped up by a paperback novel.

(Sign says, I am a teacher.  This is how I spend my evenings. Please ask me what I am doing.)
I had to ask.  "What are you doing?
"I'm reading this book, in the evening." was her reply.
"See some people do not realize what we have to do to keep up."
"Uh-huh," a little lost for words. Fortunately, she was not.
"I'm reading this book because, well, actually I'm in Naugatuck, so I am already done, but I will likely teach this book next year, so I am reading it now to prepare."
"So, you're just raising awareness...?" was all I could come up with.
"Yea! Raising awareness."
"...that its a tough job, teaching."

At this point I walked away, got about 15 feet, and did an about face.  I asked if I could take a picture of her sign and that I would write a blog post.  She seemed to not know what that was, but said something about helping get the word out.  Here is my getting the word out.

Teaching is hard.  So is painting, or hanging drywall, or selling used cars, or being a real estate agent, or just about any other job one can possibly have.  Some jobs are harder than others.  Mostly those revolve around jobs you have to think.  Like, say, teaching.  How stupidly arrogant of someone to sit in the mall asking people to have pity on her because her job asks her to do prep work at night, while at the same time, openly admitting that she is already on break, and preping for next years courses.

Are you kidding me?  You want me to feel sorry for you because you have a salaried position that pays well in CT, gives you government benefits, has extended time off during breaks, a ridiculously pro-teacher union with negotiated salary increases every year, and a 20 year and your done retirement plan, but expects you to read in the evening?  Really?

I so badly wanted to go home, make my own sign.  it should read:
"I am a father, an engineer full time, and a freelance software developer.  This is how I spend my evenings.  Please ask me what I am doing." I'll sit there with my laptop open, and I'll reply with, not spending time with my kids because I have to hold multiple jobs to pay the bills because our horrific economy has made it so most private industry has not been able to do salary increases in 3 years even though gas and milk are both over $4/gallon.

Or, perhaps I could get the 45 year old "retired" teacher to sit at the mall in the middle of the afternoon with his own sign.  "I am a retired teacher.  This is how I spend all day.  Please ask me what I am doing."  When asked, he can respond with, "living high off the taxpayers money for the next 40-50 years."

The worst part is we have raised a bunch of pansies who would feel bad for this woman simply because she is a teacher.  Noone else feels sympathy for any other person in any other career.  Perhaps the military, which is actually tough being away from your family and shoved in a hell hole of another country, or worse, a Navy vessel. Perhaps even a policeman who deserves a bit of sympathy for the crap they put up with.  But I have never seen a soldier or a cop sitting in the mall asking people to feel sorry for them.  Teachers have a tough job.  So do I.  So do a lot of Americans, and quite frankly, teachers have it better than most of us.

If you do not like the career you are in, go change it, or suck it up and be grateful for the job you have.  Either way, do not be so self-absorbed as to think it is okay to go to the mall with a sign and throw yourself a pity party.

I need to go back to writing code now.  Feel sorry for me.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

An Open Letter to Wachovia

To Wachovia Bank and its local CT branches,

Since college, I have been a Wachovia customer. I have held various checking and savings accounts, lines of credit, a mortgage, a second mortgage, used online banking and overdraft protection. I have been a faithful and loyal customer for over 10 years as I considered Wachovia "my bank." In kind, I was always thankful for the service and support I received in return.

However, today ended that long relationship. I have officially moved all my accounts to a new bank and closed the open accounts I have with your institution. I feel obliged to inform you why I have moved banks. Again, I have been very happy with Wachovia, and would prefer to stay and perhaps resolving the open issues will stop others from changing, and allow our family the chance to switch back as well.

First, the new fees. Since being bought by Wells Fargo, you added a fee to the Overdraft protection line of credit. This $25/year fee is unacceptable, especially since someone like me with 3 checking accounts would be paying $75/year. An overdraft protection account is only used when you go over, and there is a fair charge ($10) when you use it. There are finance charges on unpaid balances. There is no reason to charge a fee for this service.

Second, and more important is the posting of no firearms. Connecticut law (Chap. 529 Sec. 29-28) dictates that the person responsible for a property has a right to determine if firearms are allowed in their building. You are completely within your right to post no firearms on the buildings. However, I believe this is a foolish decision, and one that may cost you dearly in the long run. I can assure you that an individual intent on an attempted robbery of your facility will not stop on account of your small sign, in fact, he may even be emboldened knowing that legal firearm carrying patrons had to disarm prior to entering. Since many of your ATMs are inside the door of the building, this also applies to the late-night ATM stops which are prone to robbery, or worse. The logistics of disarming in your car prior to entering the bank are simply an annoyance and safety hazard too great for most carry-permit holders to bear.

Please know, I like Wachovia. I wish I could continue to do business with you. Unfortunately, until you make it easy and safe for law abiding citizens to enter the bank, and you remove the unnecessary fees, I will be elsewhere. I look forward to the day I can switch back.

Thank you,


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Car Time

This week a ton of mental energy was spent on researching vehicles. I figured that since this data is now in my head I would share in case anyone is interested. Plus, it is a window into how I think… so here goes.

After making the decision to buy, I set out to find the right mid-size sedan that would serve as my daily driver for my 70 commuting miles each day as well as travel to clients, vendors, etc. I had a few non-negotiables. Estimate mileage must be over 30mpg highway. Since I make so many phone calls from the road, I counted interfaced Bluetooth as an essential. I wanted to find the absolute best value. I also knew that I cannot make a car buying decision until I have done my due diligence on the leaders of the class. In this case, there are 7 leaders.

The cars I test drove were ( in order of test drive) the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Mazda 6, Hyundai Sonata, Chevy Malibu, and the Nissan Altima. Here are my brief overviews of each vehicle, and then a outline of how I made my decision. (Note, while I did a lot of reading and researching,'s reviews were absolutely essential in helping me through the process. My humble thanks is to backlink to them for each vehicle.

Toyota Camry: This was the first car I drove, and was immediately impressed with the car’s quiet and smooth ride. I sort of wondered if the Camry’s plushness was enhanced by the stark contrast to driving my ‘91 Corolla, but though I drove 6 other vehicles, none even came close to the Camry for the smoothness of the ride. From the beginning I was biased toward the Toyota.

Honda Accord: The Honda was a clear runner-up for me. We loved our Civic, and its larger sibling does not disappoint inside or out. It has a sportier and more modern feel, and has the spotless Honda reliability record. Driving the Accord was nice, but the road noise was noticeably loader than in the Camry. All the rest of the vehicles were somewhere in the middle. The Accord was the loudest.

Ford Fusion: Ford was next. All the reviewers say this is a great vehicle, but I was concerned knowing Ford’s track record. The dealer* only had a Mercury Milan, which I was impressed with. The smooth quiet cabin has all the modern bells and whistles, was fun to drive, and interfaces through the Sync system which is really cool. We went to the second lot and drove a Fusion back. There was no noticeable difference between the Milan and the Fusion. Both were a pleasant surprise.

Mazda 6: The Mazda folks were nice. The car has nice handling, and a modern feel all around. Its priced similar to the rest of the pack, but there is nothing that stands out. I left there unimpressed.

Hyundai Sonata: I almost skipped the Hyundai. In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, Hyundai had a reputation. Unfortunately the “Hyundai like Sunday” Superbowl commercial kept running through my head. I ended up driving both the 2010 and 2011 model (the only 2011 model tested). The 2010 model is summed up in one word, ‘blah.’ The 2011 however floored me. It is a beautiful car, technologically advanced with a fun fast drive. It also comes in below the cost, even without the end of year incentives offered by the other players on their 2010s.

Chevy Malibu: Malibu has been advertised as a larger vehicle with higher mpg. It did not disappoint. It feels larger and more mature then the others. It drives very well and very quiet. All together, a bit more sophisticated.

Nissan Sentra: I left the Sentra for last, because I knew it might be the ultimate winner. It is the class leader in driving experience, and the one I drove was just that. The overall experience was outstanding. It did not drive like a 4 cyl. It feels like a sports car in a sedan body.

Decision time.

I sat with Avril feeding her a bean burrito at Taco Bell and considered my options. To my own surprise, my first two picks were the first two to be rejected. The Accord was simply too loud to be comfortable. Honda needs to put a lot more effort into sound deadening. The Camry, while peaceful to drive, practically put me to sleep. The inside of the Camry is still living in the ‘90s. It’s time to move into the modern era (right after resolving unintended acceleration).

My next to go was the Mazda 6. It is simply a little too “me too.” It was nice enough, but there are better options.

That left the Ford, Hyundai, Chevy, and Nissan. I could not in good conscience leave the Nissan on the list. It is priced significantly higher than the rest of the pack. If you had all the money in the world, the Nissan is a great choice. I do not.

So that left two American cars and a low budget import. Who would have thought? At this point we were down to preference. The Hyundai had some risk factors. First, it is the first year after a significant remodel (never safe), and more then that it is still a Hyundai. Give them a few more years of good clean record, and they may end up a leader. That day is not here yet.

Lastly, the Chevy vs. Ford dilemma had to be hashed out. Honestly, I have not been a traditional fan of either of these (though I loved my Thunderbird). The Malibu has a more sophisticated feel. The Ford has cooler features. Chevy took government money to bail themselves out. Ford proved that an American manufacturer can succeed in tough times with a smart business model. The Fusion won Motor Trend’s car of the year, as well as the Edmond’s Pick.

It got my pick as well.

I am very pleased with the car. It is a sporty enough drive to make me feel like I am not an old man yet. It is also quiet, and peaceful during post-work commutes. Sync is outstanding in what it promises. I have found the Sync system to be a little less intuitive then I expected, however, it is a huge step forward in voice recognition software driven systems. The tech in me is driven (no pun intended...) to use and tweak the Sync to perfection. Expect more Sync posts later.

* A Word About Dealers
I visited two Ford dealerships. One in Danbury close to work, and one in Waterbury close to home. Knowing and respecting car salesmen, I knew I would disappoint one of them. Car salesmen get a bad rap, and I think it is our duty to take care of the people who serve us and make their living based on commission. I ultimately went with the one closer to home for a few reasons. The Danbury dealership felt typical. The Waterbury dealership shined. The maintenance package was better, and frankly, I wanted to support the local Waterbury economy (Fairfield County gets enough of my money as it is). This should not reflect poorly on the service I got at any of the dealerships. All the gents I spoke with were professional. Overall a very nice shopping experience.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Census Rebel

I received our census letter today, and looked all over to find the disclaimer that you only have to answer the first question. To my dismay, it is not there. A few minutes of googling later, I realized that by statute, we are required to answer all questions.

I don't think so.

Since it's inception, the census has asked questions directly related to understanding the headcount of the country. The original census included only three questions: color, free or slave status and the sex of free white persons. These questions were used as a result of the racist 3/5ths rule that counted slaves as only 3/5ths, and the sexist rule that women could not vote so were not used to calculate representatives.

As morally reprehensible as these are, the questions were directly related to the task at hand, counting the populace in order to determine the number of seats in the House of Representatives. Therefore, after the end of slavery, and with women's suffrage, these questions are no longer needed to properly account for the population and should have been removed from the questionnaire.

Therefore, question related to anything outside of the direct requirement of counting the population for representation and direct taxation (which is a-whole-nother topic all together) are an invasion of privacy under the 4th and 5th amendments. The government is unapologetic in its purpose, specifically saying that the data collected is used to direct government spending, something never found in the constitution.

Interestingly enough, it was not until the Raw... I mean... New Deal era, and the 1940 census that demographic information was requested. Given that era's ability to pass all measure of unconstitutional government policies and agencies, it is not surprising that the Census was able to be used to collect auxiliary data about the population. It is also not surprising that it was the 1940 and 1930 census that was used by FDR to illegally and immorally round up Japanese Americans and place them in concentration camps during WWII. Of course the law protects our data collected by the census bureau from the big bad government, right? Don't count on it.

I went back and forth on how to quietly refuse. I stumbled on a form letter that I adapted to my liking, and will be including a copy of the following when I mail back my form.

c/o U.S. Census Bureau
8411 Kelso Drive
Essex MD 21260-1111

MARCH 17, 2010

To Whom It May Concern:

The U.S. Constitution allows you to inquire as to how many persons are living at my residence as of April 1, 2010. I have provided you with that information.

You are not authorized to ask me any additional information, nor will I voluntarily provide you with any additional information.

Although your agency states that my answers will be kept “confidential” and that any information obtained from me (i.e. my phone number, my gender, my age, my ethnicity) will be not be shared by or with anyone, I believe these questions to be a direct invasion of my privacy based on the Fourth and Fifth Amendments as described in Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 630, as protection against all governmental invasions "of the sanctity of a man's home and the privacies of life.'' Given that past illegal uses of census data have been witnessed, the worst of which leading to the unlawful imprisonment of a minority group, I am refusing to answer these unconstitutional questions.

Since the current statutes that enable auxiliary questions besides how many people are living at my residence are unconstitutional as stated above, “[t]he general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void. Unconstitutional law bears no power to enforce, it purports to settle as if it never existed, for unconstitutionality dates from the enactment of such a law and not such time as branded in an open court of law. It confers no rights; it imposes no duties; affords no protection; it creates no office; it is in legal contemplation, as inoperative as though it had never been passed. No courts are bound to uphold it and no persons are bound to obey it.” 16 Am Jur 256.


An American Citizen

P.S. – In 1980, the census cost less than $5 per person to administer. Ten years ago, it was less than $16 per person. Current estimates show your agency spending nearly $50 per person on the 2010 census. I believe that this taxpayer expense could be significantly reduced by limiting the census to what is constitutionally allowed.