Merry Christmas and Happy 2009

A belated Merry Christmas and Happy 2009! Some time after midnight I happened to glance at the screen for one of my servers and saw this on the console

Clock: inserting leap second 23:59:60 UTC

to display that a leap second had been added to the end of 2008, almost like it didn’t want to let go.  For various reasons, 2008 was a horrendous year for me, and our household is glad to see it go away.  Time will tell if 2009 will be any better.

The world is a much different place than we saw a year ago at this time.  Certainly nothing as dire as some are calling it, but the potential for great gains or losses has never had more impact in my lifetime.  The global financial crisis and the closely tied Madoff scandal, the crisis in the greater Middle East, and the ongoing War on Terror have made for an environment that has scared the public in a way I haven’t seen since I was kid during the Cold War 70s and 80s.  There are many predicting another Great Depression without knowing what that really was.  Many were even pulling their life savings out of the banks for fear that an economic collapse would leave them penniless, not understanding they were pulling the run out from under the system.

I recall during the mid 70s that everyone’s mind was on the topics of fuel conservation, the Middle East, double-digit inflation, and then Jimmy Carter came along to save us all.  We are in a very similar position right now, for different reasons.  We have a new president now who we have set up to be a political messiah.  I did not vote for him, but I hope he can pull us out of this situation.  If not, people will vote for a Republican next like they did for Reagan after Carter.  He needs to be wary of what the public has historically done to people it has placed on an messianic pedestal.

I remember a number of things back in the 80s that helped America climb out of its malaise.  My feeling is that a lot of these problems stem from the high-flying Clinton years that directly led to the dot com bubble and its subsequent burst.  In our desire to make things as cheap as possible, we’ve handed the keys to our infrastructure to other countries, a move that would have been unthinkable decades ago as a security nightmare.  We let others make our products for us while we have 7.5% unemployment (as of the latest statistics) because unions have priced our workers out of competition.  Instead we moved to a service economy, and in doing so removed our foundation.  We buy these products from other countries while we have record trade deficits, building up competitor nations.  We make inferior durable goods products because we want things as cheaply as possible as quickly as possible with money that was never really ours (credit) while living off it as if it was our salaries.  We allow undocumented foreigners through our borders because it is convenient to have a workforce that operates for slave wages to avoid minimum wage requirements, taking jobs that, while unpleasant, could be performed by a citizen of this country.  We resort to hiring in unstable countries, spending more in the long run to make up the cost of dealing with inferior services and products than we would if we had just stayed home, and being impacted every time someone blows up a hotel instead of talking things out like a civilized people.  We could get rid of a lot of these problems by returning to the ideas of Buy American. Gandhi used the idea of “homespun” to lead his people to national unity in a time of crisis. It is time we went back to a “homespun” philosophy in the US to make and use and buy and hire American, to put everyone in our borders to work for something that will help our country produce and yet let them live without fear of losing their homes, to rebuild our manufacturing capability, and to return to sane lending and spending practices.  This can only be attractive once quality products are presented.  No one wants to buy American cars right now because after years of auto manufactures telling the public what they want, their cars are finally realized as the opposite of what the public wants.  Admittedly lifestyle changes will come to those who took and loaned out risky mortgages and ignored public concerns for fuel and food prices, but there can be no true learning without some pain.  No amount of “spreading the wealth” or bailout or tax rebate will help if people continue to spend the money unwisely.  The quicker you cut up those credit cards, save money, and stop celebrating those with unhealthy lifestyles, the sooner we are on the road to recovery.  This year should be a year of solid resolutions.

As a huge fan of RSS feed aggregation, I’ve signed up for Mint.COM, a financial services aggregator.  Signup was easy and there is even an iPhone application for viewing your latest financial stats.  Data must be entered into the web interface: savings and checking account numbers, credit cards, loans, 401Ks, even 529 accounts.   My 401Ks do not make for a pretty picture, but the information is all there in one space.  An informed person can make better decisions than one who is uninformed, so this is an improvement in helping to monitor finances.

As 2008 was a really bad year for our house, many routine things fell out of place for us.  A new job with a longer commute meant less time for exercise, being tired when getting home, 15-20 lbs more of me to shuffle around, less time for educating myself, and in the end more stress.  Something to think about this year.  This means somehow getting back into the exercise routine whether it’s back to the Tae Kwon Do or the P90X program that I can do on my own time.  This also means fitting in time to get my certifications in VMWare and Red Hat.  I’ve worked with these products for years now, but haven’t pursued this, even though it could only help my career.  That will change this year.

Around August I bought my Mac Mini in order to learn Objective-C and do some programming for the iPhone.  After a jerky start, that also fell by the way side.  I started using it as a replacement for my PC, settled into splitting duty with the PC, to now where I’m really only using it to handle iPhone syncing.  Since I use Firefox, I found it didn’t matter whether I was on the PC or the Mac, but after starting to play some World of Warcraft in mid-November, the Mac Mini graphics just weren’t good enough.  And since I was using Firefox it didn’t matter that I went back to browsing on the PC.  I’ve been planning on getting a Mac Book Pro and probably will do so this spring.  I hope to bring out a couple of small iPhone applications under the Shokk.COM name to get started and then hopefully develop something more useful.

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