Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fly wrangling

I got home to find a lot of flies in my apartment. I'm not a bug squisher, so I wanted to eliminate the flies without handling them. Hoping they would kill themselves in my halogen torchiere was a bit too passive, and my cat had tired of chasing them around. So, of course, I went online.

I found a great discussion of home remedies for houseflies. I decided it was too late for the water-and-a-penny solution, so I went for the milk-vinegar-and-corn-oil solution. They warn that it shouldn't coagulate, and mine did. And the flies ignored it.

Then two thoughts occurred to me:

  1. Take off the (faulty) window screens and let them fly free, and
  2. Use that information you might have learned if you paid attention to that article about how flies anticipate being swatted. 
The result is my own, personal, patent pending new home remedy for houseflies:
  1. Make sure there are no flies in your bedroom.
  2. Put the cat in the bedroom and shut the door. (This is to make sure the cat doesn't follow a fly out of a window and to try to preserve any last bits of respect your cat may have for you.)
  3. Open all your windows wide.
  4. Pick a window with a fly on it and pop the screen out, being careful not to allow the screens to fall three stories to the ground.
  5. If the fly(ies) decide not to fly out the window, use swatting knowledge to guide them there.
  6. Repeat until you or the flies surrender.
  7. Replace the screens, which will inevitably be on the western side of the room, enabling you to be blinded as you try to fit them into the frame.
So I spent about a half hour running around my apartment waving my arms trying to guide flies out windows. It's actually rather satisfying: they look so right and graceful and innocent zooming in an s-curve off into the open air. And you can think, "Ah, one less fly!" For me, at least.
Food for all those spiders I capture and put on the fire escape.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's a decision!

Liveblog from the debate:

John McCain said that abortion is a difficult decision for a woman. Decison! Barack, call him on it!

Damn, he didn't. Oh, such a missed opportunity.

I'm going to throw up at this discussion.

That's Emery-village to you

Writing from Oakland Airport. I walked by a newstand, the standard fare with piles of t-shirts in front, and saw one that said, “Oakland, est. 1850.” Cool: Oakland asserts its history. I felt that tug of acquisitiveness. “Mine,” I thought.

And then reality pulled me back. Oakland isn’t going to be mine any more.

I’ve been a devout Oaklander for 15 years. When I was (joyfully) unemployed before my current job, I watched Oakland city council TV. I like the city’s big messiness. It reminds me of Cleveland, where I grew up: some great old neighborhoods that outsiders aren’t aware of; a decent stab at culture; and a large, troubled African-American population. To me it is undervalued, an underdog, a place where good is just dying to happen and lives are ready to be changed, and I wanted to be part of turning it around.

In defining my condo search, Oakland was the only place I wanted to live. In fact, I wanted to live specifically in the downtown or uptown areas of Oakland, where there is lots of new construction and definite evidence of an evolving neighborhood. I didn’t mind being a pioneer: I knew that commerce would follow. Single professional women are a target market for these areas.

When I didn’t find anything I liked, another area I found was Temescal. Just blocks from my current neighborhood, Temescal is supposed to be The Next Rockridge. Since I’d love to live in Rockridge, why not be in the next one?

I read all of Temescal’s and Macarthur BART’s development plans. I contacted Jane Brunner, the city councilmember for the area (also my current councilmember), who was, predictably, entirely unresponsive.

(I had really been hoping to move out of her district anyway. My alternative was to put myself on course to run against her for her seat.)

Another red flag: the development plans are dated 2005. I could be an optimist who thinks that they’re due, that the time is about to come to execute them; or I could listen to my friend, J., who says that even if Oakland begins to execute these plans, they’ll screw something up. Certainly Jane Brunner’s unresponsiveness made me feel like I wouldn’t be a part of the success of even this neighborhood.

I made an offer on a place in lower Temescal, a condo that my father and stepmother and niece and brother and his girlfriend all visited. On the one day that month two people in California were buying condos, and I was outbid.

An unexpected swing of emotions. And when my great broker contacted me to go back out to see condos the following weekend, I was uninterested, but I indulged her. Grumpy. The last place she showed me was in Emeryville, and it was great. On Hollis, which is one of my favorite streets there. After a very traumatic detour into almost buying another place in Temescal, I bought the condo in Emeryville.

And then my car was broken into in front of my Oakland apartment. A sign?

Every change brings loss. Changing my identity from being an Oaklander to an Emeryvillager is going to take some practice. Changing from a city whose symbol is an oak (and I’ve wanted one of those oak pins that city councilmembers wear) to one whose symbol is … Ikea? … Best Buy? … Bay Street? … the Powell Street onramp? is not something I can get excited about.

I am excited about living in a well-run city, an aspirational city that executes is plans. Emeryville knows what it wants to be, and it’s not hesitating in heading there. And if it strays I only have to work with 8,000 people to help return it to success.

Turning over a new leaf

Today, in Seattle, I pity people who grew up in California. At least, my part of California and south. And other places that don’t have autumn.

Like with snow, you can visit it, but being surrounded by it on a daily, routine basis is an entirely different experience.

I looked out of the cab window and saw the beautiful density and variety of trees – you can’t see individual trees – it’s just mounds of trees. With spashes of color. You get an almost tactile feeling of a paintbrush having swatted at them.

Do people who grow up without mounds of deciduous trees even know the expression “The leaves are starting to turn”? I said it to the cab driver, and it was like an ancient, familiar phrase in my mouth. Like the name of a best friend you haven’t talked about in many years.

Someone from California, someone who hasn’t lived through fall afer fall, might think these splashes of gold and red and orange among the rich green is what fall colors are. Even as a midwesterner I used to celebrate the arrival of the colors, thinking fall is here. Forgetting it’s just the beginning. It’s not when leaves are splashed with color: it’s when leaves are doused in color, bright golds and flaming reds completely replacing most of the green, that fall is at its most awesome.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Master of non-improvisation

One of my favorite videos of this woman from one of my favorite websites, 23/6.

Get the latest news satire and funny videos at

Ordinary people suddenly get good deals on mortgages

I'm a first time homebuyer, and the ride is a blast. It's an adventure, an exploration, a learning experience.

I locked in my mortgage rate today, and I am feeling so proud of myself. And, since this is such a tiny bit of good news in the economic disaster we're living in, I haven't seen headlines of "Ordinary people suddenly get good deals on mortgages." So you heard it hear first.

I'm no economist -- I'm more of an intuitionist -- and I've never paid much attention to the details of how financial systems work (despite the evidence of my education). So the mastery of the art of mortgage prediction I gained over the past week has me feeling really smug.

This is what makes mortgage rates go down: bad news. I'm sorry to say that when the terrible jobless rate came out last week I jumped up and down. Heartless of me, I know. But I work in career services, so maybe I can atone for that one.

When the stock market fell I nodded in sympathy with others and then ran to my computer to see if mortgage rates had budged.

But the rates didn't drop. In fact, last Tuesday they went up and then didn't move. Banks still weren't lending money. No credit action, no mortgage rate change. So I waited until the House signed the bailout package. That could improve confidence and increase liquidity ... but it didn't. With my own good credit, I could get a decent rate on Friday, and I was tempted to take it, allowing me to take another step to closing on my new home ... and then I decided to wait.

When I saw the news that California was going to have to ask for a government bailout because of its inability to get short term credit, I knew that the end (to my mortgage rate wait) was near. Something had to move. And this morning the stock market crashed again, and the Federal Reserve indicated that it would considering using its new powers (from the bailout bill) to relieve the credit crunch. And Bank of America indicated it would find a way out of the Countrywide mess for people who were going to lose their homes, so someone was going to get mortgage relief.

I checked the mortgage rates practically hourly, and then, bam! at 9:30 AM PT today they dropped. A lot. I called my mortgage broker. I couldn't get through for hours because apparently he had five clients move to lock in rates today. But I did it! I didn't even take the lowest rate I could get (because of the fun and funky incentives I'm being offered by Pulte Homes). And rates fell a fraction after I locked. But I got a good one, a doozy, lower than I ever thought I could get on Friday.

I feel lonely. Despite my lack of interest in economics and finance, I love spreadsheets, and I've built all sorts of models over the last several months to help my decision-making and keep myself fact-based. Today it all came together, and I can't really share the great news, the great numbers. I know people who've bought in the past several months, and I know my rate is lower than theirs, so I can't celebrate with them. And people who are deep into homeownership aren't going to think it's so cool. But it's my first time, and I think I did a damn good job of it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Is there any way we can just get Tina Fey to do it?

(#1 from David Letterman's Top 10 Things Overheard at Palin Debate Camp)

And here's Tina Fey in the debate:

The Biden parts are fantastic, especially the Scranton section. And Palin's Israel comment made my day.

I love Israel so much, bless its heart. There's a special place for Israel in heaven. And I know that some people are gonna say I'm only sayin' that to pander to Florida voters, but from a very young age my two greatest loves were always Jews and Cuban food.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Joe Biden's restraint

The context: tonight's debate, when Biden and Palin were discussing Israel.

BIDEN: Gwen, no one in the United States Senate has been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden....

PALIN: ... But I'm so encouraged to know that we both love Israel, and I think that is a good thing to get to agree on, Senator Biden. I respect your position on that.

(What he should have said:)
BIDEN: Governor, my position is not yours to respect. I have been working for my entire political career to support and protect Israel, and that means I've been doing this since you were eight years old. You can say you are a friend to Israel, but that's like saying you're a friend to the author of your favorite bedtime story. You've never been to Israel, you've never worked on policy related to Israel, you've never acted to ensure Israel receives United States support. I have actually impacted the existence of Israel. Your respect is an insult.