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January 25, 2009

Philip Glass and Akhnaten

I've been a fan of Philip Glass for probably fifteen years or so. One of the CD's of his that I own is called Songs From the Trilogy, with the Trilogy being three operas he wrote during the 70's and 80's, the first called Einstein on the Beach and the last called Akhnaten about an Egyptian pharaoh (I guess that's the only kind). Einstein on the Beach is probably the most famous because it was whole different take on opera and classical music in general. However, of the songs on the Trilogy CD, the ones from Akhnaten are probably my favorites. When Susan and I were considering buying season tickets to the opera, one thing I liked was that they were going to do an optional fifth show at Emory University and it would be Akhnaten. I still hadn't heard the whole opera, just the four songs that made the CD.

We've been to the first two operas of the season and they were good, but definitely classic operas, one being Madama Butterfly. One of the things they do because operas are a little inaccessible (usually in a different language) is they give a lecture before hand if you get to the show early. Sometimes we don't have time to get there for that, but a couple of days ago I checked the flyer from Emory which said this lecture would include a professor at Emory who had helped select some of the lyrics (the libretto) from actual Egyptian texts (there is a tie-in with the King Tut exhibit and the Michael Carlos Museum at Emory) when Glass was writing it, and Philip Glass himself. So we definitely were going to go to that lecture because how often do you get to see the composer himself talk about the opera? You know Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, and Puccini aren't showing up. So that was neat as the two of these guys talked about the background of why Glass picked an obscure pharaoh and filled us in on the story on the 25th anniversary of the opera.

The production itself was not fully staged, with minimal props and no sets. And it is very different from most operas which have convoluted plots and cram lots of action and songs in. The entire first act probably didn't have more than a paragraph of lyrics and the text of the whole opera would be shorter than this post (unless maybe you include all of the repeated lines, of which there are many). The plot was more symbolized than realized on the stage as Akhnaten rises to the throne, converts his country to the first monotheistic religion, and then falls. I could see how critics might think it was slow or that all of the songs sounded the same and I have to wonder how many people didn't care for it.

Anyway, I really enjoyed it. The orchestra sounded great and while the high-pitched countertenor voice of the pharaoh was kind of weird, it blended really nicely with his queen Nefertiti's voice. Two people in Susan's church choir were in the chorus including one person who went on the Ireland trip with us. So it was neat seeing someone we knew and the chorus was featured pretty prominently and also sounded great.

January 21, 2009

Danny Immortalized

In November 1999 I went on a day trip one Sunday up to see some covered bridges and take pictures for the web page at work. Jeb checked with Danny to see if he wanted to go and he was up for it, so Danny and I went to go look at bridges. At a bridge near Colbert, east of Athens, we went underneath the bridge so I could get a picture of the rock abutment that the end of the bridge rested on. Danny was wandering around under there too and got into one of the pictures. Most of the pictures on the website were kind of small but you could click on them and see a bigger version of the picture. So for fun I used the picture without Danny for the small picture, but if you clicked on it you saw a bigger picture of the abutment, only with Danny. Several years later our website was revamped and I didn't want to have to re-write all of the covered bridge web pages, so our IT department took over the pages and rewrote them. Then, last year, we got another makeover, only this time they got rid of all of the pictures. My boss complained to IT that the whole point of the covered bridge website was to see pictures and get maps to the sites and those had been eliminated (and he has to field all of the public's inquiries about covered bridges). I guess they agreed with this because just recently some of the pictures reappeared along with redrawn maps that look a lot better than the ones that had been done in Paint. The pictures now are small and can't be clicked on to see bigger ones, but guess who has survived all of the edits and changes of ownership?

Howards Bridge


January 8, 2009

True Blue Schools

A co-worker and I switched natural gas suppliers at the same time when we got the really good deal from Georgia Natural Gas that I wrote about in October. He told me about a program that GNG has where they will donate $25 to the school of your choice plus $5 per month that you remain a customer. I think he had gotten a card about the program in the mail, but I was able to go to the site and sign up on my own since it doesn't cost me anything and a school would benefit. I chose my local elementary school.

The program is called True Blue Schools

A week or so later they sent me an e-mail saying thank you for participating and congratulating my local school for getting a total of $0, with $0 earned to date. I think I must have missed the deadline for that quarter's distribution because they were thanking me for nothing.

January 7, 2009


While I was doing research on my car, I found out about a type of car polish called Zaino. It sounded interesting and is enormously complicated, which makes it even more appealing. I thought about ordering the starter kit (it's kind of expensive) back when I wrote about car clay, but decided not to since we aren't allowed to wash our cars and that's a big part of the process. Then time went by and I felt like I really needed to put some kind of protection on the car so the finish doesn't go bad like it eventually did on the Honda. I've paid to get the car washed a couple of times, but getting it waxed properly is really expensive and doesn't last anyway.

So I ordered a kit a week or so ago and got it yesterday. Naturally I couldn't wait very long to use it, so I took today off from work and started the process. First I read some very lengthy tips but that was crucial. The Zaino Store also has good tips on how to use each individual product, referred to by their Z numbers.

There are an enormous number of steps:

  1. Wash the car with Dawn to remove dirt and strip any oil or wax already there.

  2. Towel dry the car.

  3. Use a clay bar (Z-18) and watered down car wash soap in a spray bottle to remove all the surface particles and give a smooth finish.

  4. Wash the car again with Zaino car wash (Z-7)

  5. Towel dry the car.

  6. Mix the polish (Z-2) with hardening agent (ZFX) and apply as sparingly as possible to car.

  7. Wait for polish to dry and rub off with a towel.

  8. Apply a supergloss spray (Z-6) and rub that off with a towel as you go.

  9. Apply a second coat of polish.

  10. Wait for polish to dry and wipe off.

  11. Apply and rub off another coat of supergloss spray.

  12. Apply a third and final coat of polish.

  13. Wait for polish to dry and wipe off.

  14. Apply a third coat of supergloss and wipe it off.

I didn't do the last step because it was dark by that time (it took about an hour for the polish to dry each time). And I don't know how well it worked for the same reason. It takes at least 10 towels (it took two to dry the car each time; the instructions are very particular about the towels and advise cutting the tags off). Instead of using Z-2 polish, I could have used Z-5 polish which is geared more towards filling in light scratches and swirls, but I didn't notice any of those while washing the car. The idea is that this should last 6 months (with washings in between) and then I can apply a few more coats of polish. I shouldn't have to do the Dawn wash again and the clay bar shouldn't be needed very often. I used about 1/5 of the Z-2 polish, so I could easily do 4 more applications in 2 years before it goes bad.

January 3, 2009


On New Years Day, Jami forwarded an e-mail from an old friend of mine from high school who had contacted her asking for my contact info. Since the message had gone through Facebook, I didn't have an e-mail address for him, so I went to Facebook to see if I could post something to him. But you have to sign up for an account first. So I went ahead and signed up, giving them my name, e-mail, a password, my high school, college, and where I live. Then I had to make that guy my friend to write to him and I gave him my e-mail address.

By the next morning five people put in requests to be my friends. Three of them were people who had gone to my birthday parties when I was like 10 years old, including Joel N. and David M., people I haven't heard from since high school or even before then since we went our separate ways in high school. Today I got a friend request from a woman I had gone steady with for an hour in 7th grade and who is now married to my AP Biology lab partner. And they can all tell me what they are doing today. What a bizarre thing.

I've never joined any sites like this because I don't really see the point, but it is kind of neat.

Busy Year

I have been with Scottrade for almost six years. They are no frills, but they are cheap, charging only $7 for any kind of trade that I would make. Generally I don't trade that much, keeping just a handful of stocks, maybe buying something when it seems like a good company is down. Then I follow my 20% rule where I sell when I make a 20% gain, or buy more of a stock when a stock I own goes down by 20%. In 2005 and in 2007 I made only one trade the entire year. I felt bad that Scottrade was making no money off of me, but one of their selling points is they don't have fees for inactive trading. Other years were busier. In 2006 I made 4 trades, in 2004 9 trades, and 2003 was a big year with 11 trades. But 2008 was crazy. I made 45 trades as it seemed like there were a lot of good companies with low stock prices and I was able to buy and sell as stock prices went on roller coaster rides. Goldman Sachs was one of those: I bought it for $62 on Nov. 13, entered a limit order for my 20% gain price of $75.94 which it hit less than 2 weeks later. I then entered a buy order for the same old price of $62, which it hit Dec. 2. On Dec. 8 it triggered a sell for another 20% gain. That was 4 trades. Things haven't been moving as much lately so maybe 2009 will be another slow year. I certainly won't feel sorry for Scottrade after giving them $7 so many times in 2008.

January 1, 2009


This morning Susan and I got up early to see the new baby panda, Xi Lan (pronounced shee lahn, which means "Atlanta's joy" where Lan is short for Atlanta). Born in August and briefly rejected by its mother, Lun Lun, Xi Lan was named on December 8 after 100 days, and only went on exhibit in the last week or so, and only for short times in the mornings. We got to the zoo shortly after it opened at 9:30 and got to the Panda area before 10:00 when they typically would let Lun Lun and Xi Lan into a glassed in area. We got to see the father Yang Yang who is kept in a separate area (though he can see Lun Lun and Xi Lan through the glass, but doesn't seem to care; in the wild male pandas don't take part in raising the cubs and rarely see their mates). Also the earlier panda baby, Mei Lan, is in her own area. At two years old, she looks fully grown and will probably leave the zoo this year. It was very cold (in the 30's) but the pandas didn't seem to mind. Xi Lan came out, but seemed to want to go back into the off-exhibit area except that Lun Lun would go and drag him back so that she could keep an eye on him while she ate the fresh bamboo in the public area. The zoo staff was pretty good about keeping people quiet and saying that if people made a lot of noise the pandas would go back inside.


Afterwards we went to see Susan's favorite, the red panda. What I didn't realize was this red panda is new, named Shandy. The previous red panda, Izzy, left in November to go to St. Louis to find a boyfriend.


One nickname for a red panda is firefox. They do look a lot like a fox. But in the logo below they went with an actual fox instead of a red panda:


Q4 Report

The website enterprise has been reeling lately. In May I moved copies of the money-making web pages back to Speedfactory, my dialup provider even though in January I switched to DSL. This gave me a bump in traffic and I also got page rank back, including at the new iGirder site. But in September, Speedfactory took the web page down and haven't brought it back after months of me asking and them promising they would do it.

So anyway, traffic has come back a little, but it hasn't been great. Around 100 visitors a day. In 2007 Sitemeter counted 137,000 visitors and in 2008 I got only 61,000. Extrapolate 100 visitors a day and I will be down to 36,500 in 2009. Amazon revenues have been way off too: $581 in sales in the 4th quarter, generating only $27.70 in commissions for me. In November I actually lost money, selling two small items, but getting a return on a more expensive item. Amazon will send a payment each month as long as you have more than $10 in earnings, so some months I don't make that. In December someone placed an order of about 12 items, so it turned into a decent month with $15 in earnings (though by comparison the previous December saw $53 in earnings).

The best seller was the Turbo iPod charger with 3 sold, displacing the Maxell iPod battery pack, with 3 sales, but one return. The most expensive item sold was an $89 iPod to car stereo adapter. The most unusual thing sold was a pound of almonds.

AdSense has been off too, which is to be expected since I only have ads on the Sony and DeJumbler pages. So for the quarter I had revenues of $8 and it will be years before I see another $100 payment from Google. The nice thing is my advertising deal continues to pay $52 per month.

2009 Roth IRA

In January 2008 I put my Roth IRA contribution with Fidelity because they always have big taxable distributions on their funds and I thought it would be better to put any investments with them in an account that wouldn't be taxed on those distributions. I still think that is a good idea, but my choices on where to put the money certainly didn't work out. Last year I put money in a Small Cap Growth fund which proceeded to lose 42% of its value. The other part went to Fidelity Value Discovery which lost 37% of its value.

Anyway, one good thing about the market going in the tank is that Fidelity re-opened Contrafund in December to new investors. That was where I wanted the Discovery money to go anyway (where it would have lost "only" 34%) so I moved the Discovery money over there before Christmas and allocated my entire 2009 contribution to Contrafund as well. I am leaving the money in the small cap growth fund where it is. I'm also leaving alone my Vanguard Roth account which didn't do as badly (the small cap value fund only lost 28% although the total international index fund lost 45%).

Moving the money turned out to be trickier than I thought. First, I didn't realize that I had never linked my bank account to my Roth account (although the same bank account is linked to my non-IRA account). Second, the Fidelity website doesn't let you move money directly into a fund in your Roth account. Instead the money goes to the holding account first (a money market fund) and then you can buy shares from there. Not wanting to lose out if the stock market goes up the day the money is in holding, I called Fidelity to see if they could buy Contrafund shares at the end of the day tomorrow instead of waiting until Monday. Eventually they were able to work that out. I don't see why you can't do that online. The other problem is that I exchanged all of my non-IRA Small Cap Stock shares for shares in my other non-IRA fund, Diversified International, to realize a loss in 2008, knowing I would put that money into my Roth in 2009 only days later. Fidelity charges a special fee for selling shares held less than 30 days, but this wouldn't apply since I had enough longer term shares in Diversified. However, I do earn a "warning letter" about frequent trading on that account saying if I continue to jump in and out of the fund quickly they will put some kind of lock on my account. This is still more flexible than Vanguard who put the lock on there automatically. Since I don't plan on doing this again, I'm not worried about their letter.

Not including the new purchases, since 2004 I have contributed $20,000 to my Roth account and currently those investments are worth $13,500. So I've lost about a third of my money in the last three years. Horrible. And because Roth accounts don't pay taxes on gains, I can't claim the losses either.

After the shares are bought I should have a nice blend of mostly large-cap funds (Contrafund), with smaller amounts in small cap (small cap growth and small cap value), and international (total international market) funds. We'll see how that goes.