Slack happens.

This morning, as I arrived at work, a woman from State Farm approached me in the parking lot and handed me a check for USD8346.48, in exchange for a signed title to the Blazer. This is over a thousand dollars more than the
mechanic's estimate, and two-thousand more than what my father said the vehicle was worth. The difference between the two number, in fact, is more than what I paid for the new laptop I just ordered. Essentially, I got my new computer for "free."

It's going to be such a beautiful thing, too. Made by IBM Lenovo, three-gigahertz processor, fifteen-inch 1400x1050 screen, 256Mb of RAM, forty-gigabyte hard drive—twice as much as motherbrain—NVidia graphics board... not quite "the works" but sufficiently loaded as to prevent me needing to upgrade it for some time. It'll be damn sight better than the current ThinkPad 600 I'm using.

I can't wait to poison it with Slackware, then Cedega and City of Heroes.

Sadly, on top of the laptop, I must also buy a new car. As mentioned above, and before, I totalled the Blazer, meaning it's time for a "new" car, or at least a new-to-me car. My credit's so lousy that I doubt I could afford the payments on anything new, but I should be able to get a fairly decent used one for the money I've got. Tanya, in fact, found me a Buick Century wagon for just under two-thousand dollars, which would be great if it's in good shape. She said she'd go and test-drive it for me today, then buy it for me if it turned out to be a good deal. It's such a hideous beige, and it's got the backward-facing "suicide seat" so you can cram eight people into it legally! I love it!

Of course, I think it's about time I do a proper accounting of my past vehicles, in case anyone's wondering why I hate automobiles: 

NameTypeLifespanReason for Leaving
The Boat1977 Ford LTD WagonNine monthsRear-ended by a Suburban at 55MPH, frame bent. Vehicle totaled by insurance company.
Vulcar1984 Honda CivicFive yearsDriven for an hour on a highway with no water pump, aluminium engine melted. Vehicle sold for scrap.
The Boat MkII1984 Ford LTD Wagon IIForty minutesThrew a rod en route to campus the day of purchase, engine destroyed. Vehicle abandoned by owner.
Phoenix1987 Chrysler Fifth AvenueOne yearElectrical system began failing six months after acquiring from parents, eventually stalled in an intersection in Dallas during rush hour. Vehicle abandoned by owner.
The Clown Car1994 Ford EscortThree yearsDriven for nine months without an oil change, lifter in engine broke. Vehicle donated to Cancer ResearchInstitute.
Shamiqua1990 Plymouth AcclaimOne yearEngine burned a quart of oil every half-tank of gas. Vehicle donated to Cancer Research Institute.
M. P. S.1987 Volvo 240DL SedanSix monthsSlid on patch of black ice during turn on paper route, driver's front wheel slammed sideways into high curb at 25MPH, axle and control arm broken. Vehicle totaled by insurance company.
The Beast1998 Chevrolet BlazerFive monthsHydroplaned during rainstorm, spun around backwards and slammed into telephone pole at 35MPH, frame bent, drive train and rear axle damaged. Vehicle totaled by insurance company.

In hindsight, I really haven't personally destroyed that many cars. The three totals were either another driver or bad weather, three of them were mechanical problems beyond my control, and the last two were genuine lack-of-knowledge. I admit driving it without an oil change or a water pump is dumb, but at the time I didn't know I didn't have the water pump, and I didn't know the oil light meant "hey, stupid, you're in danger of physical damage if you keep this up."

Hopefully the next car will be better.

Live and learn. 

I mentioned the laptop before. I'm eagerly awaiting its arrival, not only because of the chance to play City of Heroes on my own machine for once, but because it'll mean Jessie and I can team which should prove to be loads of fun. I'd team with more people, but I hate-hate-hate random invites, especially when I'm not looking for teams. Probably just part of my overall personality quirks, but I'm not playing an MMORPG for the MM part, or even the O. It's the RP that's important, and for most people witty character interaction and meaningful in-game relationships get in the way of power-leveling.

Yeah, it's a bad attitude, but I know I can't be alone.

There are a couple of hitches at the moment, but hopefully they'll be resolved soon. I have a few requests to make the gaming experience more complete:

A Nostromo SpeedPad n52
Jessie first introduced me to these when she "inherited" one from Aly. At first I thought it was a mutant mouse of some sort, but once she showed me how it worked, I fell in love with it. I'd love to have one to use on my laptop, but I'm half-afraid that Cedega won't support or recognize it properly, and I'll be forced to use the keyboard instead.
A Logitech Trackman MarbleFX
Described both as the Cadillac of Trackballs and the worst eyesore to ever hit the desktop, I loved mine when I had one, but it died from use and they're now discontinued. I've got a bid on eBay for one, and I've supposedly found a site in Texas that sells new ones from warehouse stock for USD100 each, but if anybody knows where to find one of these for less, please let me know!
More memory
This one's already resolved, thanks to Furious Bees. IBM charges a small fortune for memory, mostly because getting a gigabyte of RAM means a single stick of memory, instead of two sticks of 512 megabytes each. They don't even provide the option on their site, which really chafes. So, I bought it with the 256Mb option and am paying USD120, or thereabouts, for an upgrade. Jessie can have the leftovers, if she can use'em.

The only other issue was the ship date. It seems that the custom-built laptopI ordered had parts that were on backorder, so Lenovo claimed a ship date of August 5, which is not the two weeks their website told me custom-built laptops normally take. I called them and they not only found a pre-designed laptop with better specs than the one I built, but they dropped the price on the pre-designed model by five percent because they couldn't fill my order as placed. So, I'm actually getting a better laptop and saving fifty dollars on the deal.

The anticipation is sweet. I can only hope the reality is sweeter. This is the most I've spent on computer hardware... um... ever.

Next I upgrade the server.


Okay, first the bad news.

On the way to Outback Steakhouse, to celebrate Jessie's birthday, I got rearended by a telephone pole doing thirty miles an hour. No, that's not a typo. It is, however, a bit of an exaggeration. What actually happened is that going around a corner on Route 100 South near the house, the Blazer began hydroplaning, and I succeeded only in changing the direction of spin, not in actually regaining control of the vehicle. I slid backwards off the road, through somebody's lawn and then into a telephone pole, crumpling the back end of the car. I think I bent the frame, but it was really hard to tell. What was obvious was the back bumper touching the passenger-side rear tire, and the shattered window in the crunched gate. What was also obvious was that the bunny should not be allowed to drive in inclement weather in a rear-wheel-drive SUV. She hates rear-wheel-drive vehicles. She hates SUVs, as much as she loves their carrying capacity.

Were I in better financial straits right now, I might say to hell with the Blazer, ask them to total it, and take the money as a down payment on a hybrid station wagon of some sort. I am not in that good an economic position, but it's still really tempting. 

Nobody was injured, thankfully. Jessie got an abrasion from rubbing the back of her hand against the door during the spin, and we were really sore over the weekend, but we both seem to have made a full recovery, or will do so. It actually would've been fun, I think, if we'd had proper safety harnesses and it had been a ride at an amusement park. As it was, it was quite harrowing,and it left me very rattled for a few days.

In every time in the past in which I've ever had an accident of any sort involving a motor vehicle, it's always been just me in the car, and anyone else involved has been in somebody else's car under somebody else's control. This is the first time I've ever been in an accident with someone else under my direct influence, and it scared me very badly, thinking how it could have gone... how Jessie could've been hurt. I spent Friday night and part of Saturday suffering from very serious nightmares, all on the order of the Blazer rolling or hitting the pole head-on, and it took a lot to convince myself that I had not casually jeopardized my wife's life. That really shook me.

I suppose what really gets to me most about it, even now, is that the whole event felt like a message of some sort from Coyote, both in the potential severity and in the ultimately minor loss that resulted. Nobody was hurt, nothing is permanently destroyed, the only losses are material, and even those are ultimately temporary. Really, I'm out about five-hundred dollars in towing, rental car and deductible, but it could've been far, far worse. It felt like a warning of sorts, a reminder that I am neither infallible nor immortal. This could just be me and my broken brain reading patterns where they're not warranted, but that doesn't make it seem any less true.

When I was younger, I never thought I'd find religion. Now I wonder if I'll ever lose it. 

Now the good news:

The house refinancing is done. This is a Good Thing on many accounts. First, it means I'm no longer banking with Navy Federal in any fashion. After the way they screwed me over at the beginning of the year, during The Bad, I'm pleased to say that after the fifteenth or so, I'll never have to do business with them again. The big downside is that I still haven't found a bank that's done well by me; my financial experiences have all been either with Companies That Screwed Me or Companies That Haven't Screwed Me Yet. I'm really hoping that's not the norm, but the more I research, the more I suspect it's becoming the case. For now, I'm with National Penn Bank for checking and web-banking, and Ameriquest for my mortgage. They've done well by me... so far.

The other thing, though, is that I can roll the worst of my credit card debt into my mortgage and convert it to secured debt. This is a most excellent thing for many reasons:

  • The interest I pay on it is tax-deductible.
  • The interest rate I pay is a lot lower than it was on the credit card.
  • The principal will count against me far less on my credit report.

All of these are nice, and they definitely help, but the real advantage is that the monthly payment on the new mortgage is about two-hundred-fifty a month less than the combined mortgage and credit card payments were prior. That's an instant savings. Plus, I don't have to pay anything until August, which means another good chunk of change our pockets. Finally, and this is the truly frightening thing, I still have equity left over even after the new
loan. This is pretty freaky to me. Check this out: 

  1. I paid USD 81,000 for the house in 2003-12.
  2. It valued at USD 85,000 at the time of purchase.
  3. I guessed it was worth USD 92,500 when I applied for the refi.
  4. The mortgage company guessed USD 120,000 on the initial application.
  5. The appraisal company estimated it as USD 132,000 last Friday.

That means that in eighteen months, I've turned a fifty percent profit on my "investment," without even trying. Of course, there are a number of reasons why they might think the house was worth that much. The housing market in general is booming. The job market in the area is theoretically improving. The house has all-new carpet, furnace, paint, oil tank, heater and linoleum. It's in good repair in a fairly nice neighborhood.

Of course, this means that the best thing I ever did for my finances was let the pipes in my house freeze.

I did just get done talking about Coyote Luck, didn't I? In other circles, it would be known as "surfing the Luck Plane." Either way, it's perfect wu wei. Now I just have to avoid taking pride in it. It happened. I didn't make it happen. I shall merely be glad that things worked out for the best. 

Getting back to the nuts and bolts of the new loan, I've been able to pull out about five thousand dollars in equity to do things like repair the sidewalk in front of the house and finally buy a new laptop to replace my current one which is dying by inches with random lockups and reboots. It's money in the bank to pay bills when they arrive and not when the next paycheck clears. It's financial peace of mind.

I'm sure I don't need to describe just how good that feels.

We're not out of the woods, but I think we've finally found the path.