Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween 2014

Last year we had a few friends over to trick O treat in our new neighborhood.  We thought we would do the same thing this year and extend the guest list but alas the new additions to the family prevent us from doing anything worthwhile this year.  Indeed, the little tykes have prevented me from doing any substantive writing in my spare time.

So in the meantime, enjoy a picture of our family from last Saturday when the temperature was a tad warmer than it is today.

Portage Park Pumpkin Patch

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Problem with always being busy at work

Motivation was always low to non-existent
A couple of gigs ago, I worked at the Low-Rent Consulting Company.  It was a basic project, software implementation, break-fix, and support shop.  There were a lot of periods of downtime between assignments and projects.  One particular week there apparently wasn't anything going on that she could assign me to.  This is of course bullshit because you can always assign someone to tag along and shadow another engineer, you just cannot bill for it.  This went against the Fly-By-Night business model of make as much money off a newbie engineer as quickly as possible because they will leave as soon as they gain enough skills to find a better job -- one that didn't treat them like a piece of garbage.

It is really hard to look busy or stay focused you don't have something to work on right in front of you.   I did my best but we weren't supposed to sit on email chat or surf the web unless it was for something that could benefit the company.

This Cracked Article sums it up nicely:

Every waking moment of your working life does not need to be given over to doing something, no matter how unnecessary. That's not how work works. If your job is to sell computers and no one is in to buy a computer, your boss is an asshole if he wants you to clean spiderwebs out of the loading bay. Loading Bay Spiderweb Guy should clean that shit, that's why we hired him. Creepy fuck.

Forbes tells me 64 percent of people surveyed admit to visiting non-work-related sites at work every single day. Those are the people who admitted it, so the number is obviously higher. Various articles over the last five years have suggested that the average worker wastes anywhere from one and a half to two and a half hours out of each workday doing whatever the hell. When I worked at a Staples, I used to look for better jobs on their computer (that'll get you in trouble, by the way), but the point is, people have time during their day, no matter what the job. If you flip burgers, the moment will come when no one is hungry. If you stock shelves, you'll get them all filled. If you sell heroin, everyone is going to be high one day. So then what? Polish your heroin bags? Shut up with that.

The reason most people give for workplace slacking is that they don't feel challenged. Take that out of workplace speak and it means you literally had nothing worth doing, because polishing the doorknob is not something worth doing. When people literally have nothing to do, by making up new tasks for them like they're annoying 5-year-olds that you need to get out of your hair, you're just ensuring that the next website they look at is going to be a job board where they can find a less shitty workplace that doesn't treat them like a lazy maid.
Read more: The 5 Most Useless Motivational Tactics Every Workplace Uses |

The Engineering Coordinator (EC) was never a friend and hardly an ally.  She didn't want me hired in the first place.  By not keeping me busy with work, she was trying to punishing me, and indirectly the person who hired me.

One afternoon that week, I made the mistake of shutting down my laptop at 4:51 pm.  This pissed the EC off because how dare I have the audacity of wanting to leave even 5 minutes early after spending an entire day twiddling my thumbs doing nothing.  What if something came up in the last five minutes!

Change the locks? I didn't

My former Condo Association President Kesha emailed me asking if I knew anything about the lockbox on the gate.  She had already asked me about my realtor removing the For Sale sign from the fence.  Realtors tend to leave their signs up as long as possible for advertising purposes. I sent a note to Gary and Marco asking them if they would like the sign back before it gets tossed in the trash which I understand they did, so if they had a lockbox they would have likely retrieved it as well.

So I sent a note to my contact at Chicago Apartment Finders and to My Former Property Manager just framing it as "hey I sold my condo so I don't care what you do but if that lock box costs what I think it does, you might want to come fetch it before the CA cuts it off the fence."  I of course used nicer language and emoticons.

My Former Property Manager, upon hearing the news that I sold the condo, congratulated me and said he would take care of the lockbox.  No acknowledgement that I managed to sell 1) without his special brand of help and 2) at a higher price than he believed I could achieve (I'm confident he looked it up as he knew my property had been listed and at what price).  

Note:  I wanted to post this Dilbert Cartoon which aptly describes Former Property Manager business model.  Alas there is no way to download it and the image-by-url feature is blocked for copyright purposes. 

I should point out that I am very lucky he was so recalcitrant in his stance in using an Exclusive Rental Agreement contract.  Had he offered an Non-Exclusive Agreement like Chicago Apartment Finders I probably would have just let him find me a new tenant and I'd still be a Reluctant Landlord right now. 

Former Property Manager said that the new owner would likely change the locks.  Well I certainly didn't.  I certainly intended to but that task slipped away from me, both in terms of cost and time.  And I suppose I was hedging my bets that since the former owners bought in Saganash they really didn't need anything from my bachelor pad.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Paranormal activity looking isn't it

This is what the night-vision image from the expensive webcam baby monitor I bought the other day.

We tried using a Dlink webcam which has an app for watching on your mobile devices. Unfortunately, it only remains active for a couple of minutes  before timing out by design.  So I opted for the more expensive BabyPing Webcam that has support specifically for i-Devices, of which our family heavily relies on.

Couple of issues

First, it does not recognize my wireless network.  In fact, unlike many devices out there, it doesn't even scan to see what available networks exist.  You can get around this by manually entering your wifi network SSID like some sort of caveman would.  If that fails, you can use a wired connection.  I have done so, using one of the NETGEAR Powerline Adapters .

And this works fine for ME, especially since I would prefer a hardwired connection on something like this.   [I suppose someone might argue it's not a true hardwired connection but let's not mince words.]  However, many people only have their wireless signal coming from their modem/router and have no idea how to bring the connection across the house.  Because, end user.

Second, the app itself looks and feels like a baby monitor.  I'd prefer it if it worked more like a simple web or surveillance camera as I'd like to re-purpose it for that once the kids are beyond the monitoring while they sleep age.

We have about 25 more days left to evaluate this device if I want to return it and get my money back.  I'm of the mindset that if it doesn't work for us, we need to do that.  Otherwise, I just pissed away $200 that I could definitely use for other purposes.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Post Condo Sale analysis

So the condo officially sold after essentially four months on the market.  We listed just after Fourth of July and got an offer after Labor Day so there is something to be said about Real Estate and holidays. In the days and weeks to come I'll either write some more posts about specific components and events from the last four months (probably on the ChicagoNow blog) or just put the whole thing behind me.

How did I do?  Well I sold it for $50K less than I paid for it.  After the transaction costs were paid, I got about $2500 back.  However, it has been vacant since July so that is 4 months of mortgage that I had to cover.  When you factor in all the expenses of being a Reluctant Landlord such as finders fees, property manager fee, vacant months before and after renters, it would have required a sale price beyond what I could conceivably obtain in the next few years to theoretically break even.

I have friends who sold their condos during the bust in order to move onto a SFH.  Many of these friends brought money to the table.  I don't recall any specifics because people usually brag about the good and downplay the bad but at least one friend did admit the amount was five figures. So the fact that I was able to finagle getting a SFH.

Did we start out with too high an Asking Price?  Conventional Wisdom says yes, since it took over two months and two price drops to get a buyer.  So that is on Gary Lucido since he set the price although I do share in that because, as the seller, I did have final say.  There were some comps and we did get enough traffic that the starting price might have been justified but we failed to lower the price quickly.

In the final analysis, if I could change one thing, I would have listed at the sale price in exchange for a quicker sale. All and all it might have saved me one month of lost rent. Water under the bridge at this point.

One question that people have asked is, why not just wait another year to see if you could get a little more?  Well then I have to find a renter and hope that they don't trash the place and move out in time for me to try again. Plus some of the transaction costs are percentage based and not flat fee so though I haven't worked out the numbers, my gut feeling is it would have required more than one more year to make it worth the effort and risk.

My former condo was converted from apartments to condo units in 1998, I do believe.  And to be honest, like many condo conversions the rehabbers took some short cuts with our building, my unit included.  The floors in my unit went to crap over time and really needed to be replaced.  I explored options and I could have gone the cheaper route of sanding and refinishing but that wouldn't have addressed some of the loose and broken boards.  to do it right would have meant replacing the floor
boards entirely.    This was just a cost I could not justify, let alone afford, when I lived there and once the place was a rental/sale, it didn't make sense to put the money in.  The thought was to just discount the unit and let the new owners (I'll call them the Silvermans) deal with it.

The thing is the building itself has some deferred maintenance  In fact the Condo Association finally got around to starting on the long promised tuck pointing which I'm hoping helped encourage the Silvermans to purchase said unit.

At least I didn't have to change this
The other thing is now I have this off my credit report so in theory it ought to be ever so slightly easier  to get a home equity loan for our current house, if HELOCs are ever in vogue again. 

At least Gary and his colleague Marco were easier to work with than Eric Rojas back in 2010.   Once the listing got stale, Rojas bailed like the jerk his reputation makes him out to be. And unlike Gary who acknowledged that we might have started too high, Rojas accepted no responsibility whatsoever for setting our price even though I told him back in 2010 that I could not afford to go lower based on what I owed the bank at the time.  I had stated that if he didn't think it was possible we shouldn't even bother to list. 

This was another reason why I was hesitant to put the condo on the market again and only did so when my tenant moved out.  It doesn't cost a realtor much to list a property at any price.  What they pay in MLS fees and marketing they usually make up for in self-promotion and advertising.  But the property gets a reputation that something might be wrong with it when it is repeatedly listed and delisted.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Smart Running Decision: Don't Do It

Photo Credit: Robert Horowitz

According to DailyMile I've logged 345 miles so far this year (350 when you add in my run from Sunday).  Given that we are in the waning weeks of October, I really doubt I'm going to close in on 500 miles.  In fact, it will be a larger effort than you'd think to hit 400 truth be told.  Besides not being able to consistently make time to run, when I do run my knees ache and my endurance is toast.

211.8 pounds
The Monster Dash is this weekend  and I believe I'm signed up for the half marathon distance.  While I could certainly walk/run 13.1 miles and maybe MAYBE even do it under two hours, I'm in no condition to do so and it would be a terrible race experience.  So the smart thing to do is to take Nightingale's 10K entry and give my HM entry to Mr Lumpy.

The best thing I can do is rest my knees.  I'd like to think taking a few months or even a year off from
running will revitalize me.   Unfortunately I think I will need to see the knee doctor again and come up with a long term plan. For the time being, I have to also accept that my weight is going to linger around 210 lbs and hopefully doesn't rise much more.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

SYPP, PHH and the Polish Consulate

Polish Consulate General
1530 N Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60610
One of my Polish Peeps posted this picture on their Facebook Feed.  Apparently one could go inside last weekend because Chicago was having it's annual Open House. a free public festival that offers behind-the-scenes access to 150 buildings across Chicago.  The selling point being that you will "explore repurposed mansions, hidden rooms, sacred spaces, private clubs, iconic theatres, offices, hotels and more—all for free."

Actually, for this place and I think one or two other buildings, you needed to pre-register for places like this because, security. 

What is the difference between an embassy and consulate?  I imagine size and day to day activity so I looked it up.  While the terms embassy and consulate are used synonymously, the two are very different.

  • An embassy is the larger and more important of the two and is described as a permanent diplomatic mission which is generally located in a country's capital city. 
  • By contrast, a consulate is a smaller version of an embassy and is generally located in the larger tourist cities of a country but not the capital. 
  • There are special cases and several unique situations making some examples complicated. 

I've been inside this building three times; once for a (Society of Young Polish Professionals (SYPP) social event and twice for Christmas Parties.  Not speaking much Polish was definitely a liability in all those cases.  The decor is very traditional and old, it looks like the parlor time forgot. 

And so a post that was just meant to be a picture of the Polish Consulate and some throwaway text becomes a post about a group of Poles I met in the early 2000.  One of my Polish Princess friends tried to start a social group with the intention of networking young polish professionals with the idea that we could help one another start businesses, land jobs and get laid meet a polish person one could take home to mom and dad.  This was before LinkedIn and Meetup and it never really saw the light of day because of a variety of reasons.

Another group called Polish Happy Hour (PHH) leveraged technology, specifically a free yahoo group, and managed to pull off more of what Polish Princess wanted.  PHH petered out around 2009 for various reasons as well, particularly because there was no strong recruitment for new members.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Where was this weather six hours ago

By that I mean it was raining this morning and early afternoon so I had no chance to work on the winter prep chores.   Now it's chilly but otherwise gorgeous.   

The wrong kind of stone pavers

I'd like to give the former owners of my home the benefit of the doubt when it comes to a lot of things around the house.  Perhaps there was a really good reason the kitchen doesn't have insulation in the walls and ceiling.  Maybe different crews finished the basement at different times which could explain why the master light panel is behind the bar and requires one to walk through a dark basement to turn most of the lights on.  In the almost two years we have lived here there are countless times Nightingale and I have asked: "WTF were they thinking!"
Before Power washing and sealing

Our front walk, side driveway and backyard are comprised of paver stones.  They are nicer than asphalt or concrete but do require some maintenance upkeep.  I did my Google and YouTube research and found that paver stones require you periodically sweep in paver sand between the joints at least three times a year.  This keeps them from moving and if they were installed properly (level) then you don't have too many puddles after a big rain.

After: sealed and power washed
Unfortunately, the pavers used by Previous_Owner are not the kind of paver stones that look pretty when power washed like my neighbors.  I have to wonder, was it cost, technology or both that went into the decision not to use the prettier ones.  I can only assume that either they were not available when this project was done or they were hugely cost prohibitive.  

My research yielded a chemical enhancer/sealer that you can apply to paver stones to keep them looking good.  Unfortunately, again the enhancer doesn't do much to my type of paver and at $50 a half gallon, it is cost probative for me to do my entire backyard and driveway, so only the front walk got treatment.  

It might be hard to notice the difference in the pictures.  I meant to take better before and after pictures but it was a very busy week when I did this project and I had a short window between good warm weather to dry the sealer and the upcoming storm.  I got a deal on a power washing on Angie's List so I outsourced that part. 


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Marathon Blues

Today was the Chicago Marathon and as usual, many of my running group friends are participating in it.  Having just had twins I have an automatic excuse for not only not participating but also not going through the effort to view it live and support anyone I know.

The thing is, if I could run 26.2 miles today, I probably would participate in a marathon although probably not Chicago - I've done it a dozen or so times and it is in the Been There, Done That bucket. 

Alas these days my body cannot run 26.2 miles, it can barely run 2.6 miles.  It's not so much soreness or pain, though there are aches and issues with both knees.  It's almost as if my body has decided that because I ran so many miles and marathons during the late 90s and 2000s that it is done.  No more running.

I want to believe that if I can get the right therapy treatment I could make a comeback and still BQ.  On the other hand, it is more likely that my marathon days are over.  When I go out for a run, I barely get over a mile when I start to feel sluggish or achy or both.  Time was that I would toss on my running clothes and head out and before I knew it, I had 3 or 4 miles knocked out and had to remember to turn around.

At the end of the 90s, I gave up volleyball so that I could focus on marathons.  Now is the time to give up marathons to focus on the kids.  Occasionally I still found a pickup game of volleyball and even joined a rec league a couple of summers during the noughties, so there is no reason to believe that I couldn't do the same thing in the running world.  I just don't want to struggle with a 6 hour marathon time like one particular friend did today.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Why I won't share this on Facebook

I have some news that I would normally share with my friends on Facebook but for some reason I'm not going to post this one.  Spoiler Alert: my condo is under contract.  Why won't I share the news?  well for starters it's superstition: I don't want to jinx it.  But the real reason is I've been in a bit of a Dark Mood lately  I'm just having one of my overly sensitive moments where I just cannot reconcile how life should be and how life is.

When I tried to sell my condo in 2010, the Share Button wasn't a thing on Facebook.  You had to cut and paste information.  So it makes sense that many of my friends back then didn't take the 7 seconds necessary to share the link I posted with my condo sale information.   Heck, I'll bet most didn't know how to cut and paste so it might simply have been a technical issue.   A few did figure it out and made the effort though most others simple made annoying statements in the comments like Is it on the market? or Are you working with a realtor?  My favorite was the How Much?  I mean how lazy do you have to be not to click on a link that has the very answer to the question that is on your mind?

One particular friend that knew I really wanted to sell my condo didn't share the post.  all she did was comment "looks great!".  This really hurt.  I didn't expect the majority of my friends to rally but for some reason  I thought she might.  Instead she just made that comment.  Literally in the time it would take to make the comment she could have cut and pasted the link into her status and shared.  But she didn't.

Fast forward to 2014.  I posted a picture of our cat the other night.  Within an hour there were 3 comments and 31 likes.  My link to my re-listed condo?  It took several days to achieve half those numbers but at least this time more friends did hit the share button.

According to Facebook, 20 people shared the link.  The total number is still less than 1% of my Facebook friends and that is after allowing for the random virtual friends and the people I've met once IRL, or the obscure high school, college and former job friends and even the people who created an account but never check in,  and various other buckets.

First off, no one is obligated to do anything for me, especially share my condo link.  I get that.  Second, I realize that the chance of a friend of a friend buying/renting my condo is slim.  The only argument is that you never know which friend of a friend will benefit from another friend of a friend.  Look how Nightingale and I met.

Third, I guess I'm really having trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that people will click the like button but not the share button.  Of course you also don't get anything tangible, just the warm fuzzy of helping your friend out.

One of my deep fears is that once the condo is finally sold, some other COW or life snafu, like losing my job, will come along and I won't be able to alleviate the credit card debt I've acquired by using the money I was previously using to cover the condo mortgage when the place wasn't rented out. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Favor Economy is not always apples to apples

So pretend you and your friend go to lunch.  You discover when it comes time to pay the bill that you forgot your wallet or don't have enough to cover your share.  Your friend says no problem and covers you.

Now a month or two later the situation is reversed.   Let's assume you decide not to cover your friend for lunch, even though you have the money and no reason you couldn't cover your friend.  Now, this is an analogy so we're not really talking about lunches.  The lunch represents something a friend did for you, at  a certain expense and Level of Effort (LOE).  It might have been $20 and no big deal, or it could have been the last $20 the person had or $20 earmarked for something else.  And yeah, they chose to help you out but that is really a cop out if you go there.
I'll sleep with your ugly cousin if you clean my bathrooms for a month.  That's the same thing, right?

Because not only have you missed a chance to pay your friend back, but you are ignoring the fact that you kinda sorta owe your friend something.  And so a month or two later, it might not be the exact same thing that you can do for your friend, because in Life it never really is apples to apples, oranges to oranges. To be sure, if you cover your friend at Denny's they really aren't obligated to cover your rent the next month.   But hopefully it is something along a similar value and LOE.

Upon further expansion, I do wonder if that is why in the past some of the people I have helped out didn't return the favor?  Perhaps they literally thought they needed only return the $20 lunch, not the "$25 dinner" or "$18 movie".  Either that or some of the people I call friends really are classless dicks.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Polonia Book Store is now gone

This is the Polonia Book Store in Jefferson Park. Polonia Books could have been so much more according to this article.  Unfortunately, it won't be anything at least on the brick and mortal side.   It does appear to still have an online bookstore presence.

 I drove past it yesterday and saw that it was empty.  For the last year or so, there was a sign above the door saying the space was for lease or sale.  I guess the owner finally found a buyer.

Update:  I should add that I always thought the space would be good for a Running Clothes Store, cybercafe and yoga studio.  If I ever win the lottery I might hire one of my MBA peeps to write up a business model. 

Update 1/19/2015:  It appears that the bookstore has simply relocated to a much smaller space across the street and a little to the north, possibly sharing the space with another retailer.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Twins have arrived

NoteI jotted some notes while we were off to the hospital last week and this is an expansion of those.  I often wonder just how much information to share here.  For this post I'll probably over-share because weeks, months and even years from now, it will be useful to us.  To my readers, perhaps not-so-much.

Two weeks ago today  Nightingale and I went to Baby Factory Prentice for our C-section.  The C-section was moved up a week because Boris had an issue with his kidney that was borderline.  We probably could have waited the week and the extra time would have benefited Natasha but it is what it is.

Based on the notes I jotted down, we apparently left our house with only a few ounces of gas in Nightingale car.  We did have time to stop but didn't, which meant that I had to fill the tank during one of the short trips home.

The were having trouble getting a blood draw.  Which can be a bit annoying when you are a former ER nurse like my wife.   She was very patient with them though. 

Every time a new person comes in we have to do the "what are you having?  Do you know if it's boys? girls? one of each" dance.  After the third person I'm thinking I might put a sign up.


After the babies were delivered, and cleaned up and presented to us, and we made it back to our room, the next three days were really just one long day as far as I can remember. 

In the span of one hour, we had visits from the lactate consultant, the pediatrician and the hearing test technician.  Compare that to the local hospital we dumped my mom off at last month.  It would have taken two days for those three to show up and do anything. 

Natasha passed her hearing screening but Boris did not.  This is not something to be overly concerned with, especially with preemies which they technically are. 

As I said, it seemed like we were rarely alone, especially during the daytime.  Then mid afternoon Wednesday Ii noticed that it was quiet and the time between nurse visits was increased. 

We got released from the hospital on Thursday and it couldn't come soon enough.  The futon I got to sleep -- if you can call it that -- on was comfortable enough but the blankets I was  given were a bit scratchy. If I had to do this all over, I'd insist that on the last night I go home and spend quality time with our cat (whose world has been rocked since we brought Moose and Squirrel) home and pick everyone up the next day.

Introducing: Boris and Natasha
My company gives us two weeks for paternity leave.  We have one year to use them and the only other requirement is they have to be used in one week increments.  Thus I took one week for the birth and to help out at the hospital and will use the other one on a Week-to-be-Named-Later.

Cutest Dad Moment so far:  I came home from work one evening last week and Nightingale said that Natasha has been grumpy all afternoon. She put her in my arms and she starts smiling and stopped fussing.
"She just wanted her daddy," Nightingale said.  I'm sure that was a bit overstated but still.