Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Anniversary Gift Of An Extra House Payment

For our anniversary, we made an extra house payment. Here it is:

It's what we really wanted. Making an extra payment each year will bring down the principle much faster, and speed the day when our place is truly our own.
It's been a good year, despite our sharing the economic problems everyone in our social class had. We had to stretch and save to make the extra payment, but what better investment for ourselves and a symbol (however idiosyncratic) of our commitment to each other!

Friday, April 08, 2011

I Stand With Planned Parenthood!

Every couple of months, I stop by Planned Parenthood in Seattle. My wife prefers for me to drive, so we go there and I park in the lot. If the weather's bad, I go into the lobby and read the paper. If it's nice, I stay in the car, listen to the radio, and read the paper.
She does her thing. We pay up. Sometimes they mention something about a discount or something, but we prefer to let our insurance handle it and pay anything over ourselves, because we're not bad off. Let those who need it have the help.

Now the Republicans in Congress are attacking Planned Parenthood. They're threatening to shut down the US Federal Government unless $75 million in federal funding is pulled.

That's insane.

I do not approve of everything our government does, but I would not shut it down. That's just immature.

More to the point, I support Planned Parenthood. Maybe you can tell from my photo that I'm a guy, but don't think PP is only for the women. Now-a-days I don't need more education on STDs but PP is ready to help me if I do. PP helps me with my current birth control needs (thanks to my wife!), and it helps lots of people I know, and it helps lots of people I don't know.

(Call me crazy, but I care about people I don't know. It's not all about me, ya'know!)

But why listen to me, when you can have it explained by the lovely and intelligent Scarlett Johansson:

Planned Parenthood Helps Me Too, And I'm a Guy ...

Every couple of months, I stop by Planned Parenthood in Seattle. My wife prefers for me to drive, so we go there and I park in the lot. If the weather's bad, I go into the lobby and read the paper. If it's nice, I stay in the car, listen to the radio, and read the paper.
She does her thing. We pay up. Sometimes they mention something about a discount or something, but we prefer to let our insurance handle it and pay anything over ourselves, because we're not bad off. Let those who need it have the help.

Now the Republicans in Congress are attacking Planned Parenthood. They're threatening to shut down the US Federal Government unless $75 million in federal funding is pulled.

That's insane.

I do not approve of everything our government does, but I would not shut it down. That's just immature.

More to the point, I support Planned Parenthood. I'm a guy. PP helps me, and it helps lots of people I know, and it helps lots of people I don't know. But don't listen to me, listen to Scarlett Johannson:
I suppose Planned Parenthood. I'm a guy. PP helps me, and it helps lots of people I know, and it helps lots of people I don't know.

I suppose Planned Parenthood. I'm a guy. Now-a-days I don't need more education on STDs but PP is ready to help me if I do. PP helps me with my current birth control needs (thanks to my wife!), and it helps lots of people I know, and it helps lots of people I don't know.

(Call me crazy, but I care about people I don't know. It's not all about me, ya'know!)

But why listen to me, when you can have it explained by the lovely and intelligent Scarlett Johansson:

Planted This Week

I'm extending the row of pots of stuff grown from seed
  • Tomato Malakhitvaya Shkatulka
  • Carrots St. Valery
  • Tyme
  • Oregano Vulgare

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Touch Wood (An Unusual Musical Interlude)

Cool stuff -

PocketVA, Veterans 211 (v211) and a Lesson For All

For about a year, I have been working with a partnership called "Leigh Franklin Associates", consisting of Anne Marie Leigh and Miho Franklin, on a variety of projects. In the second half of the year, I was offered and accepted a partnership; this included a share in a non-profit called "Operation Military Family Institute" (OMFI).
One of the projects we worked on was something called "Veterans 211" or "v211" for short, which was essentially a web-based aggregator, integrator and communicator of services for veterans available via web browsers and/or smartphone - in the phrase of John Lee, "the VA in your pocket" (nice phrase, I wish I'd thought of it!)
We engaged in what I thought was good-faith negotiating with an organization called "Operation Military Family" (OMF - to be distinguished from OMFI), owned by a guy called Mike Schindler,  for marketing the product to some of the various veterans administrations (every state has one, in addition to the federal VA and a bunch of local veterans administrations). I developed the concept with Anne and recorded it primarily in a set of powerpoint presentations which we provided to Mike and the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA). We marketed the concept to various people, mostly at the WDVA; Mike took the concept and hired someone to squeeze the concept into a small number of images based on my work, and both his derivative work and my work were presented to John Lee and others at a meeting I attended at the WDVA in Olympia. Based on this work, OMF (apparently) promised to develop a proof of concept (POC) sometime in June of this year and arranged a meeting in my kitchen to do further development. At the kitchen meeting, Anne, me and two technical staff settled on a set of features for the POC and development began. Anne and I also attended meetings and a training in support of grant writing and did other work in support of the project - too much to document here.
Unfortunately, POC development seems to have halted because there wasn't any money to fund the technical staff who, very sensibly, declined to continue without being paid. Mike kept stating that money was coming in on Friday, but several Fridays went by and no money. After a while, Anne told me Mike had gotten some money and I could get my share of the preliminary funding so I afford to keep working on the project. She told me to call it a "retainer" which made sense to me since it was money to keep me available for future work (and not, let me note, a discharge for past work done on the project or for severance of my right to the work product I had let OMF use.) I submitted an invoice for a retainer and got a check, which I cashed - it wasn't much but it helped me be able to keep working on the project in which I had a part-ownership interest.
Time went by. The delivery date for the POC approached and there seemed to be no work under way, which was a source of concern to me and (according to what she said) to Anne. Finally I started asking questions, specifically, emailing the technical staff, Mike and Anne asking what would be the go/nogo date for the project. Mike assured us he had everything under control, and that he had "secured funding". When I asked for more information, he told me he was "defining roles" which sounded pretty ominous; normally a partnership discusses things with all partners when it comes to defining roles. I stated that as a part-owner of the concept, I wanted to know what was up.
Suddenly, Mike replied that he considered the project to be his property and me merely an employee who had done some work for him and whose services were no longer needed.
Well, was I surprised!
I assured Mike that I wanted the project to succeed but that I had participated on the basis of this being a partnership, and I was upholding my part-ownership in the project. We had a number of emails back and forth, which resolved nothing but seemed to set out how each side felt. Mike and Anne tried to disparage my contribution as merely creating a powerpoint, but in fact the entire concept was a joint effort of Anne and myself and neither Mike nor Anne had the technical chops to come up with the idea (Anne didn't even own a smartphone). At the time we did this, I was a partner in LFA, according to Anne, and we developed this as an LFA product; as business partners, Anne had a duty to develop business opportunities such as this to the benefit of our partnership. Those are the terms that I was operating on, and it is the only explanation for my investing hundreds of hours of work on this without ever billing anybody for it.
I mean, really. I do lots of pro bono, but it is always clear up front when that is my intention. Mike's idea that I was donating my time to product development just didn't seem reasonable, and Anne had a positive duty to keep v211 as a partnership asset.
Instead of supporting our partnership's rights to v211, Anne angrily terminating our connection, instructing me by email that she never wished to hear from me again. This, of course, does not insulate her from the need to wind down our partnership; you can't stop owing money by telling your creditors you don't want to hear from them. But I'm not a jerk; I correctly chose to try winding down the partnership by contacting Miho, with Anne as a cc only. Miho replied by denying the existence of a partnership. This is a source of concern to me, since working with LFA was what I did for a year - more than a thousand hours of work. At this time, I don't know whether Miho really didn't know about the changes in the partnership ... in which case I need to bill LFA for all the time I put in ... or whether Anne and Miho are hoping I'll just go away. I wrote to Miho asking for clarification and so far haven't heard anything back, but it may take some time for her to figure out what to do.
At any rate, I have asserted my rights by email and with this post I am publicly asserting my fair share of rights to Veterans 211, PocketVA and other LFA products.
I sincerely hope that Mike and Anne make v211 work. I'd be happy to help make it work, both because it's an interesting and worthwhile project and because it's in my financial interest to make it work. However, if they want to take it on their own, that's fine; they can enrich me as an incident of enriching themselves.
A Lesson
This story can provide important lessons.
The most important lesson is to always keep objective records of any business relationship, even with people who are your friends. I had previously asked Anne, Mike and others for some description of the business relationship, and been puzzled when Mike simply didn't reply and Anne disparaged the idea of defining the relationship. Since Anne was my friend and business partner, I accepted her judgment; in retrospect, I should have taken it as a sign that they were not being entirely on the up-and-up. This makes me sad.
Another lesson is that the internet is making honesty easier. Our oral communications are hard to document (although thanks to cloud-based backup of my harddrive, I have quite a lot of notes of my phone conversations which could be helpful). Those conversations and discussions we had via email - including substantial back-and-forth in development of the Veterans 211/v211 concept - were automatically archived and should completely buttress my understanding of our business relationship. I suspect that people who aren't accustomed to this sort of thing ... who are used to conducting business primarily by live conversation ... may not appreciate the completeness of my records in this regard.
I can't take credit for being especially foresighted but I am pleased to see that my habitual use of email may have helpful evidentiary benefits.
Finally, it's really important to define and distinguish personal and professional relationships. Money is a stupid reason for losing friends.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Changing the Filter: A Lenten Carbon Fast Challenge

Replacing the filter
Is easy and quick!
Today's Lenten Carbon Fast challenge: (courtesy of my bloggy friend Small Footprints):
"Clean or replace air filters as recommended. Replacing a dirty furnace filter can save 15% of the energy used. "
I read that and thought, "Fifteen percent? FIFTEEN PERCENTS?!?!"
Ya know, I feel kinda dumb. Heating oil is expensive, as well as a contributor to global warming. I had a passive knowledge that cleaning filters is a good thing to do, but it only just now sunk into my thick head that changing the filters would be so important. Filling our oil tank costs several hundreds of dollars, so increasing efficiency by 15% means that I'm effectively getting $115 of oil for every $100 spent. This can make a real difference!

But me? I just hadn't gotten around to changing the filters. There's always another thing to do, and it hadn't sunk into my head just how critical changing the filters could be.
Inspired by the promise of an extra $15 per hundred, I trotted to the basement and prepared to change the filter. Like so many house chores, it turned out to be not much work at all, once I got started. The only reason that it took more than 2 minutes was that I carefully read the directions on the replacement filter. We have an older-style furnace, which requires trimming filter material down to the right size.
Next time, I recommend wearing gloves when handling the filter material, because it will scrub the fingerprints right off you. Other than that, this chore was just too easy for words, and I am now sitting back and enjoying my newfound wealth and environmental responsibility!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Catching Our Representatives in the Web: A Lenten Carbon Fast Challenge

Today's Lenten Carbon Fast challenge:
"Take action: Find out who your elected representatives are (http://www.congress.org/congressorg/dbg/dbq/officials/) and tell them what you're doing to reduce your carbon footprint. Urge them to create and implement strong national and international laws to stop climate chaos. Find out what energy saving or climate change activities are going on in your local area."
This makes a lot of sense. We can and should do all we can, but that includes leveraging our clout by petitioning our elected representatives. There's no need to try to do it all ourselves when we have an existing structure called "government" which is at our service! Government is often frustrating, but it's like any other game - you can't win if you don't play, and you usually get better with practice. So don't worry if the first couple of times it didn't seem like you're getting anywhere; persist and results come, in my experience.

I tried the http://www.congress.org/congressorg/dbg/dbq/officials/ link and was pleased to see that, based on zip code, it gave me a full suite of public officials, both state and federal. I went to the website of my Congressman, Jim McDermott. I was going to send a fairly standard message, encouraging sustainability efforts as a means of improving neighborhood resilience; based on my past experience, I know an intern reads them and tallies them into a database which has some small impact on the Congressman's behavior. I also expected to get a reply, and that would be that.
But then I saw on the Congressman's website that he had a Facebook page. This is great - it lets me actually engage is a discussion with Jim and other people. This is much more interesting and satisfying than old fashioned mail and messages, since we can share links and comments. I was delighted to see Jim had posted a short video in which he discussed something, a photo of a sumi-e piece he'd donated to an auction for Japanese relief, and so forth - and even better was the chance to discuss things not just with Jim himself, but also with other people from our district.
The lesson: this can be fun, especially if your representative is up-to-date with his or her web presence! Give it a try and you might enjoy the results!

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