Archive for September, 2009

I am thankful for silence

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Today my favorite obnoxious electrician asked me “How do you put up with this guy?”

The guy in question was my partner in crime. And it was a joke.

But I answered it with the truth.

“It is easy to tolerate him when I get credit for all his work.”

And that was no joke.

Although, if one wanted to be pedantic, one could argue that everyone finds him easy to tolerate. Thus, the fact that I get credit for all his work probably does not have much of a bearing on my ability to tolerate him. And it is only the bosses that credit me with all his work.

Nonetheless, it is still true that a lot of my reputation rests on work that he has done or helped me with. And I am always half ashamed of this and half afraid that the world at large will find this out.

If certain people did not think I was a genius who was good at making problems go away, I would probably be doing nothing more then snaking toilets and changing light bulbs.

And that would bore me to death.

Fortunately, my partner in crime never tells the truth about me.

Talking about nothing

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Today I wanted to write more on what I wrote about yesterday. But I don’t know that I will be able to to. I fought with a headache all day and I need to be going to bed. Not the best state to be in when one tries to explain rather dry economic data.

Most of what I wanted to add to yesterday’s post won’t interest anyone but myself anyway. Still, I think it is a small scandal how little the economic blog sphere has been paying attention to the increasing costs of federal debt load in real terms. Granted, the rapid rise of the total debt load in nominal terms has received a lot of attention. And I have even seen coverage of the increase in debt load as compared to GDP. But I can’t remember reading anything in recent past that looks at the rapid rise in the real cost of servicing the national debt.

To a normal person this might not seem strange. But to those who follow economic news and ideas, it ought to seem strange. After all, it did not use to be strange to read about the real cost of servicing Japan’s debt vs its nominal cost. And last year and the year before I can remember reading about how the rate of return on short term treasuries was negative in real terms.

But suddenly it seems that nobody wants to talk about the real rate of return on treasuries.

I personally think that this is because people who are favorable to the Obama administration have no reason to bring this up and the people who are not favorable to Obama are too busy worrying about rapid rise in total debt load to worry about real servicing costs. And to be fair, the real world effects of the increase in the real cost of servicing the debt load show up in the declining tax revenue (This is because inflation increase the nominal tax intake vs the nominal servicing costs of the debt and declines in inflation lower the nominal tax intake vs the nominal servicing costs of the debt).

Since there has been plenty of talk about the decline in tax revenue, you could argue that the practical effects of this issue have been well discussed. Nonetheless, I think that there are important reasons for talking about rise in the real servicing costs of the federal debt. For one thing, such a discussion focuses attention on the real opportunity costs of the stimulus package and other bail outs.

For example, supporters of the bail out often act as if no one would be investing if the government was not involved in “stimulating” things. But if this were so, why are investor demanding a higher rate of real return then they were a year ago? You would think that if they were at a loss as to what to do with their money, they would settle for a lower rate of real return. That certainly is how it played out in Japan.

Assumptions make a fool out of you

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Yesterday I dug into some economic source data for the first time in a long time. The initial impetus came from the need to revisit the post where I predicted what the nominal return on a 5 year treasury bond would be in a year’s time. Since the year was up last week, I figured it was time to take my medicine.

I have not been following economic stuff very closely this year. But I have kept enough of an eye on things to know that my prediction did not even come close to being true. For those that did not remember, my prediction was that the nominal return for 5 year treasuries would be 6.5%. Yesterday, 5 year treasuries had nominal rate of 2.36%. As you see, my prediction could not have been more wrong.

I wanted to write a post exploring where I went wrong. It would not have bothered me if I had not been exactly right. After all, I had admitted in my original post that my prediction was absurdly precise. But I had really expected that I would at least get the direction of the move in nominal prices right.

But what really bothered me (at least on an intellectual level) was the real return on the federal debt. If you go back and read my post, you will see that my whole argument center around proving that the Federal government was going to have to offer a 3% real return to get anyone to buy its bonds. In my argument, I had just assumed that inflation rate would hold more or less constant to arrive at my nominal prediction.

I knew that this was not a very defensible assumption (which is why my original post never really tries to justified the assumed inflation rate). But I figured that any likely fluctuations in the inflation rate would not detract from an obvious rise in real rates and so I could get away with not devoting much thought to the inflation rate.

Now I have not been following the inflation rate lately. But I no matter what it was at, I figured it had to make my real return figures look real bad. After all, to get the real rate of return you have to subtract the inflation rate from the rate of return. And it would not take much inflation at all to make 2.36% a lot less then 3%. It already had a pretty good start in that direction. And that would gut the core of the argument that I had tried to make. So I was sure my argument was going to look like total bunk in retrospect.

As it turns out, the rolling 12 month figure for CPI was -1.5. Since that is a negative number it has to be added to nominal rate of return to get the real rate of return. That would put the real rate of return at 3.86%.

I should have made my prediction in real terms and not assumed a constant rate of inflation.

Defeated or Tired?

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Today I received an e-mail telling me about the opinions of a man so high up in the hierarchy he is not even in the same universe as me.

Bottom line: He would approve the core of my project. But he wanted 40% of the project cut out.

I told myself that this would not affect me. I always knew the decision was going to be made on political grounds. This was entirely predictable.

But I had worked so hard to put that 40% of the project together.

I needed to write out some kind of response. But I felt my ability to care draining away.

The word “No” is normally just a challenge for me to overcome. But I have worked on five different projects over the last month or so. None of them have been completed. None of them have been denied. I wanted progress. I wanted yea or nay.

And now this. Why did he have to go and mix yea and nay?

I got up and began going through the motions of cleaning the work area.


My boss had made me promise that I would get that 40% for him. It was his criteria for letting me try to win approval for the project. I had worked hard to make sure I would meet all his criteria.

I began to whine to anyone who would listen. I did not have the energy for real work.

The ironic thing is that I had not wanted to put that 40% in the project in the first place. I had felt that the criteria that my boss had laid down was just an attempt derail the project without saying no. I don’t think he thought I could make it work.

But I did. And in the process the imposition had become my baby.

I began to walk around. Supposedly I was inspecting things.

I remember how much I had complained when my boss laid down the criteria that caused the extra 40%. I had complained that it was just going to make it more likely that my project would be canceled. I had said that it should be a separate project.

I had been proven right. What I had originally wanted to do had been approved. The 40% extra that my boss had wanted had been rejected.

Yet more proof that I was a genius and everyone should listen to me.

As if I needed more proof.

I stopped walking. I understood what my response needed to be.

I wrote it out and sent it. After it was sent I felt energized and alive. I was more than ready to tackle whatever needed to be done and I felt quite cheerful.

The change in mood may have been because sending the e-mail lifted a load from my shoulders.

Or the change in my mood may have been caused by an e-mail from a senior engineer to his boss. The e-mail expressed his disappointment with the decision that had been made and he lamented that my excellent work putting together the extra 40% was being wasted. It made me feel loved.

But most likely, the change in my mood was caused by the Mountain Dew finally kicking in.

Drugs are wonderful things.

The advantages of having a bullet proof boss

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Today my brother told me the equivalent of “good thing you don’t have to deal with what I have to deal with”. He was referencing yesterday’s post where I expounded on what miserable person I was being.

Its a true enough statement. One thing I have found out in the course of my life is that people with thin skins will generally not like me. Those people with thin skins who don’t already actively dislike me generally don’t know me very well.

That is one of the reasons my boss and I get along so well. His skin is so thick it is practically bullet proof. I have seen people scream and yell at him. I have seen people try to undermine him. I have seen his bosses openly discuss his short comings with his subordinates and berate him in front of his subordinates.

Most of the time he takes all of this very calmly. Most of the time he does nothing more then stand there blinking and trying to explain himself in between the out bursts.

I don’t find his calm all that surprising. Sometimes I think he is so calm just because he has a hard time figuring out when people are attacking him and when the are just joshing him. As I have noted before, he is not quickest on the uptake in social situations and some people take advantage of that.

What I do find amazing is how he never seems to hold a grudge. I have seen him go out of his way to be helpful and fair to people who have done him real harm. The way he treats them you would never know how badly they had treated him unless you had been there and seen it happen.

Given that, my occasional outburst don’t even faze him. So we get along just fine.

An innocent victim

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Today I was struggling with anger again. I almost had myself fooled into thinking I was getting over my angry spell.

Today my boss thanked me and told me how easy I made his life. He does this a lot.

Today I ran my boss down in the presence of other people on more then one occasion.

Today my boss let me do what I wanted to do. Granted, there was some routine work that he knew that I would get done. There was an “emergency” that he asked me to look into. And there was few other little things. But for the most part, I decided what I wanted to do with the day. And my boss did not question the decisions I made. Most days are like that for me.

Today I snapped at my boss. His crime was not paying enough attention to me.

Earlier, he had told me that he was going to call a certain person for technical help. I told him that he would not be able to get a hold of that certain person and I explained why. Half an hour later he comes to me and tells me that he was not able to get a hold of that certain person.

After I snapped at my boss he told me he needed to get me the book on the verbal art of self defense. It is his way of mildly rebuking me when ever he feels that I am beating up on him excessively (and he puts up with a lot).

My gracious response was to say that some people are so thick that you need to write out what you are trying to say on a coal shovel and hit them over the head with it.

My boss was trying to call that certain person because he was trying to get a job done that he should have had me do. The reason that he did not give it to me to do is because he thinks he asks too much of me as it is.

He is wrong.

Winning the approval of the irrelevant

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Today I went through four hours of solid questioning without a break. And it took place in the presence of my boss.

You might think that I got into trouble or something. But the truth is more mundane. Some adult who happens to be a licensed engineer woke up to the fact that I was getting a project approved by all the relevant parties without anyone having a basic understanding of what I was doing. So he took it upon himself to find out all the details that nobody else could be bothered to learn.

My boss was listening in because he was one of the people who did not have a basic understanding of what I was doing.

Now I have the highest regard for my boss. He is one of the best bosses that I have ever had. Certainly the best boss that I have ever worked under for any length of time. He has good moral principles, a sincere desire to help those that work under him, and a lot of technical knowledge. But his ability to interact with people is undeveloped.

As a consequence, my boss does not really know how to deal with awkward social situations. And for him, this project has been one long awkward social situation.

He was never really keen on the project and he has always had this nagging fear that I was being too cocky for my own good. But he did not want to flat out say no because he values initiative and my services in general. So at first he tried to derail it by setting criteria that he did not think I could meet. When that did not work he would lob trick questions in my direction that he did not think I had considered. But that, only to meet with the typical know it all Ape Man response.

I felt bad for him, so I offered a number of times to explain what I was doing in painstaking detail. I wanted to ease his fears. I felt that the biggest cause of his concern was that he did not understand what I was trying to do. But his response was always “I don’t have the time.”

Truth be told, I can’t hold that against my boss. Most people cannot stand listing to me talk on any one subject for more than five minutes. So my boss is in good company. But his lack of tolerance kind of inhibits his understanding of my evil plans even though I am always eager to explain them to anyone who will listen.

But the engineer who came down was different. Nobody else in my professional life has interrogated me with half the skill that he did. And while I talked, he diagrammed out what I was saying and took notes. By the time he was done, he had a pretty good idea of what I was trying to do and why.

Even better, my boss had a pretty good understanding as well. All the things he was worrying about were brought out in the open and dealt with.

By the end of the four hours, the engineer had said that he was going to try increase the amount of money that was set aside for the project (because I was worried that the contingency was too low) and my boss was actually sounding supportive of the project instead of negative.

A success all round.

Except for the fact that none of it mattered.

Worthless Thoughts

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Today I spent a good part of the day thinking about how a I would design a computer game. Like most of the things that I think about, I have a general framework that resides in my mind of how I would design a computer game. I might go for weeks or months with out thinking about the subject at all. But the framework is always there, waiting for me to ponder upon it again. When I do, I generally just tweak the existing framework and make it more complex rather then think up a new idea.

My ideal computer game is one that forces you to mix long term strategic planing, short term tactical action, and a healthy dose of the unknown. It also has to be one that you can play with other people with lots of trading, diplomacy, and overt acts of aggression against your (living) fellow man.

Such a mixture has never been pulled off. The Total War series only manged to put strategic planing together with tactical action and they became popular. X-Com (the original only) managed to combined strategic planing, short term tactical action, and a healthy dose of the unknown in way that has never been equaled since. As a result, it is still played and loved by many even though it came out in 1994 (which is just about prehistory as far as computer games are concerned).

But X-Com could not be played by more then one person by its very design. Besides, there is just not that many people who like to think in this world. And a lot of the people who like to play games that make them think don’t like either the unknown or the tension that good tactical setup brings. So the market for the type of game that I would like to play is very small and hence the game I would like will never be made.

But I still like to think about how it could be made if the world was different.

Failing the Test

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Today I failed an intelligence test.

Or at least that is how I felt.

It all started when my boss gave me the job of installing a used motor starter in place of some controls that got burned up due to misswiring on the part of the installers.

I was happy to have the job. As a general rule, I enjoy control work.

This job was particularly nice because there was no deadline. I could work on it as I had time between the various disasters that the day brought about. And those were mostly minor things involving a dead animal, a malfunctioning split system, and the general ignorance of the world at large. All Micky Mouse stuff that left me with plenty of time to deal with the motor starter.

And for awhile, everything went according to plan. I figure out how I was going to make everything work. I drilled and I tapped all the holes I needed for mounting the controls without any problems. But when I started removing the things that I did not need, I ran into a problem that stumped me.

This was kind of ironic because I usually figure on the removal as being the easy part. But there was this one three position switch that I just could not figure out how to remove without breaking it. I tired all sorts of things and as each one failed my desire to just break the thing grew exponentially. Before I long, I was ready to start smashing everything involved with a hammer.

But since I am the mature responsible type, I decided to seek help instead.

My boss was kind enough to come out and take a look. But after spending more time then I had spent poking, prodding, and twisting the dang thing he was forced to give up.

Moments later I took the switch off without breaking it.

It was simple once I figured out the trick.

Ramblings of a tired human

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Today I am so tired I can’t even really write. I have a head full of thoughts as usual. But I lack the will and the ability to discipline them even to the limited extent that I normally do.

This lack of sleep has other effects that are even worse then not being to write. Today I spent a good part of the day struggling with anger. I think this is in part due to being tired.

But what bothers me is that is that I have been struggling with anger a lot over the last month or so. Maybe longer, I don’t know.

It always seems to get worse and worse as the week goes on. By Friday I am practically seething. But it always seems to get a lot better by Saturday. This is one way that I know that my anger has a lot to do with lack of sleep.

Still, I have always had problems with being tired by Friday, but I have not always had such issues with being angry. So I think there are other things going on. But figuring out why is not always such an easy thing to do.

A lot of times the things that your angry winds up expressing itself upon have very little to do with the real reasons that you are angry. But that is not always obvious except in retrospect.

And perhaps even the retrospect is heavily tainted. Humans have a tendency to shape their memory to fit a narrative that they would prefer. Sometimes this just means shaping our memory into a narrative that we can understand when the real truth is unknown or incomprehensible.

Unfortunately, I am human.