Category Archives: News

You’re Not Paranoid If They Really Are Out to Get You.

imageLooks like 2014 is shaping up to be the year of the hacked credit card.  My school’s been hacked; Many retailers have had to own up to the fact they’ve been hacked.

Just about every major retailer has been hacked.  Hedge funds have been hacked and their trades rerouted across the net.  Hacked.  hacked. hacked.

Well yesterday, I got a call from my credit card company.  Some ass-hat used my credit card to purchase auto parts, and went on a tear charging up several thousand dollars in fraudulent charges.

Another credit card cancelled.

Now I have to reset my passwords on just about every shopping site I’ve ever used. 


Kicking the Habit, Cold Turkey, and My Very Own Private Hell

fortune-cookie-testAs I slid the last Copenhagen wintergreen smokeless tobacco pouch into my mouth, I looked at the thunderstorms dancing on the horizon. 

As the nicotine slowly coursed through my veins, I remember thinking, “the next couple of weeks are going to be absolute hell.” 

That was the last coherent thought I had for nearly two weeks. 

There was no backing out.  My classes were finished for the semester, there was a natural lull in my work schedule, and ahead was a three day weekend.   It was the best time to quit and try to detox before my schedule heated up again.

But I implicitly knew it was going to be a lot tougher this time, but I didn’t realize how tough it was going to be.  The last time I quit tobacco was years ago — I quit smoking and packed on the pounds.  Dip and chew contain a lot more nicotine than cigarettes; a cigarette has about .5 mg nicotine; a single Copenhagen tobacco pouch has 11.2 mg/g nicotine (6.8 mg/g free nicotine).

Day 1.  I woke up and slapped on a 21mg nicotine patch.  The first day was uneventful until the afternoon.  Phantom hunger pains and mild fidgety nervous energy filled my hours.  I was mildly distracted, but other than that I was able to focus on my work.  I was overtaken by fatigue and ended going to bed early.

Day 2. Withdrawal starts to really hit.  I had more nervous energy, fatigue, anxiety, and brain fog.  Time appeared to slow down as I counted the minutes until I could go home.  I felt miserable. 

Day 3. Feeling better, adjusting to 21mg, but brain fog and a general lack of motivation, anxiety, fatigue, and crazy dreams.

Quitting Cold Turkey

I realized that if I continued using the nicotine patches, it would be weeks of withdrawal.  I made the decision to go cold turkey and toss the patches in the trash.

The first three days were pure hell.  The next several days weren’t so good either.

Cold Turkey Day 1. Saturday morning I awoke, and promptly went back to sleep.  I was highly irritable, fatigued, and suffered chills/shivers.  I also had heart burn and mild nausea. 

Cold Turkey Day 2.  Withdrawal hits like a freight train.  This is where I stopped being able to regulate my body temperature.  Hot flashes, where my arms feel heat radiating from them.  Later I would get the chills.  I experienced terrible jitteriness, cold intolerance, hot flashes, sweating, fatigue and nausea.  I spent most of the day in bed.  I couldn’t get enough sleep.

Cold Turkey Day 3.  Memorial day.  Full on flu-like symptoms.  I spent the day restlessly watching TV, angry, irritated, depressed, as I restlessly waited. 

At the 72 hours mark, over 90% of all nicotine metabolites should be gone.  Honestly, I didn’t get any cravings for nicotine, just the general feeling of being unwell.


Cold Turkey Day 4.  A rainbow of human emotion, drifting from near psychotic rage, depression, anger, anxiety, and debilitating fatigue.  Most troublesome is the brain fog – the inability to concentrate or think.  Muscle coordination seems to have been affected.  Somehow I managed to get through the workday.


I’m now at 18 days and counting.  I’ve already saved $58.5, not counting the endless trips to the corner gas station.

The next milestone is 21 days, where the number of acetylcholine receptors are down-regulated to match the levels seen in the brains of non-smokers (i.e., the physiological effects of nicotine are almost entirely reversed).

At 8 weeks, insulin resistance should have normalized.

In any event, quitting tobacco and dealing with the nicotine withdrawal has consumed my life for the last several weeks.  It has been more difficult than I expected. 

Buyer Beware, Especially When Listing Agents Lie Like A Rug, Part II.

In the last post, part I, I described how we placed an offer on a property where the listing agent misrepresented (by omission or negligence) relevant details about a house, and refused to present our offer to the seller.  Furthermore, she told us that they were taking the property off the market rather than deal with our low-ball offer.

You can imagine our surprise when we found out they were holding an open house. 

I assumed that the someone neglected to update the MLS or websites.  There is no way they would be holding an open house after they pulled the house off the market. 

However, today we had planned to visit four other open houses.  I told my wife we would drop by to see if they really were holding an open house.

Welcome to Our Open House!

We drove up and sure enough, the area around the house was festooned with open house signs and arrows pointing to the front door.

We had been lied to, again, by the listing agent. 

We walked up and rang the doorbell.  An older man’s voiced graciously beckoned us in.  We knocked the snow off our shoes, removed them, and we started to look at the property again.

The real estate agent was talking with a couple.  The husband was talking.  I got the feeling he was the type that liked to talk, who liked to impress people with his intimate knowledge of unimportant things.  The agent was nodding and smiling.

We quietly drifted through the house looking at everything again.


I felt a sense of sadness when I looked into the nursery this time.  In a few months, the air outside will be filled with the sound of jack-hammers, the whine of diesel backhoes, and heavy machinery angrily digging through the cold earth.  The sellers must be desperate to leave this place.

As we drifted down into the basement, the wet musty smell had been replaced by incense, but the place looked different.  Even though they had added lights to brighten the place up, somehow the place looked smaller and more awkwardly laid out.  We saw things we missed before.

We went back upstairs and by then, the other couple had left.  The real estate agent met us with a big practiced smile.  He asked us to put our names down on a sign in sheet.

I looked at the information sheet and saw the disclosure booklet, which was had many pages about the surrounding community and remarkably few words about the “City project” and assessment.

I saw they had MLS printouts and I asked about the city project.  The agent said, "It’s just a little utility work; I think they did most of it already."  That was eerily similar to the lie my real estate agent was told by the listing agent.

They are actively lying to people to sell the house.

I had originally envisioned confronting the listing agent, but I felt sorry for the family.  There were no indignant declarations, or shouts; there was no confrontation or profanity.  We just left without a word.

As we left, a two young boys raced past me into the house.  A husky man with a salt and pepper beard followed.  Lastly, a small framed woman drifted by, holding an infant

She must have seen the pictures of the nursery and thought it was a great house for an infant.

Buyer Beware, Especially When Listing Agents Lie Like A Rug, Part I.

In the last few weeks, we’ve been actively trying to find and purchase our first home.

Experienced real estate agent. check.  Buyers representation agreement. check.  Mortgage pre-approval and submission of a stack of tax returns, bank statements and other financial documents.  check.   The only thing left was to find a house and buy it.

Unfortunately, we had no idea we were stepping into a distorted world of house flippers, hucksters, and sellers who have a detached sense or reality. 

But what happened this week made me frustrated and angry.

Last week, we looked at house #5 with our real estate agent.  While the price was substantially more than most other houses in the neighborhood (cost per square foot), it was perfect.  The only defect was that the garage dumped into a very busy county road. Other than that, we loved it.

After the showing, we were ready to make an offer just as soon as I figured out what a fair price was.  I looked at the MLS sheet again, and saw some terse verbiage about a city project and assessment. The MLS remarks had a city project id, there was an assessment, and, something about a payment to the buyer from the city for replacing a retaining wall and fence. 

My buyer’s agent called the listing agent, who casually explained that it was “a little utility work and she thinks they completed most of it.” A URL was provided that led to some newsletters the county sent out several years ago when they were voting for the project.

My agent suggested I call the city.  He said he would do it if we wanted, but it was probably better if I had all my questions answered directly.  I agreed and I said no problem.  After all, it’s only a little utility work and most of it has been completed. 

Major and Extreme Disruption

The next day, once I caught up with all my work, I took a break and snuck into a quiet conference room.  I plopped down into a chair, pulled out my notepad and started dialing the city.

I called the city’s main switchboard, and after I was transferred several times, I finally connected with someone in the city’s engineering department.

“Hi.  I’m hoping you can help, or point me to someone who can.  I’m putting an offer on a house and I have a few questions about some utility work.”  I said.

“I definitely can help.  What’s the address?”  she cheerfully asked.  I gave the city employee the address.  “Oh” her tone immediately changed from one of cheerfulness to quiet resignation.  “what questions can I answer?” 

I made mistake of asking the general question, “can you describe what kind of impact the construction will have?”  That is the exact moment when the fire hose of bad news started to flow.

You see, when a listing agent says, “a little utility work,” it means a three year major construction project.

The city engineer basically stated that the project would be extremely disruptive, and would take place in two phases, over a total of three years. The street would be closed to all traffic and be completely torn up.  We would not have access to our garage for the better part of the summer.  We would also might have to park a block or two away during the construction.

They would be digging down 20 feet to replace a 36" water main, sewer lines, and putting the power lines underground.  Other utility companies would be allowed to work in the area as well.

Moreover, they were going to excavate in the front yard and behind the house, in addition to the county road (on three sides of the house). 

Construction is going to start in April, end in November, and resume the next year, and finish the following year.  On the plus side, she said that by November they would have partially paved the county road and would be allowing traffic on it, but the final layer of payment would not added until 2016.

I was dumbstruck.  She mentioned something about the assessment and easement negotiation with the home owner, but I was overwhelmed with idea that I am purchasing a house that will be the nexus of heavy construction for three years.

I discussed it the real estate agent, who wisely suggested we move on.  But after talking with my wife, we decided to make an offer with a price that takes into consideration the construction.  We made the offer.

The house was listed at $179k; I offered $145k. 

“I’m not going to present your offer.”

The seller’s agent was not pleased. My agent relayed that the listing agent basically told him that she would not present the offer to her client because it was too low.  Apparently, there was some back and forth and I got the same URL in an email. 

Obviously, she must not know how bad it is going to be.  I looked over the two year old newsletters in the URL to see if I made a mistake.  The newsletters touted new bike trails, beatification and in small print mentioned some utility work.  There was a timeline that mentioned negotiating rights of way.

I realized several things that I had missed.  1) it was possible that when they construct the new road, they might expand the road (shortening the driveway to the point it is useless); and 2) more importantly, the seller might have sold a portion of their property to the city. 

I called the city again, got even more information.  The sellers had negotiated (and was paid for) a temporary easement by the county, and also negotiated a payment plan for the assessment with the city.  Therefore, the sellers knew about the construction.

I hammered out an email with the facts from the discussions with the city, and cc’d the listing agent.  At that point, I felt like the listing agent was misrepresenting, but my agent said he expects the other agent to be ethical and professional.  Giver her the benefit of the doubt, he communicated in a statesmen like fashion.

Regardless, I know the sellers knew of the construction.  They met with both county and city personnel and negotiated payment.

Then nothing.  I assumed the listing agent was ambushed with this information and was probably scrambling to verify the information with the city.

A few days later, I asked my agent to see if the buyers had received the offer.  The response:

The Sellers would take their home off the market and wait until the work is complete or further along so Buyers can see this will be a better improvement for all rather than work with an offer at this price.

If I was an optimist, I would have imagined that the listing agent confronted the sellers and after a heart-felt conversation, they decided to take the house off the market.  But I’m not.

I think you can guess what happened next… onward to part 2.

Happy New Year

This is obligatory new year’s post, wherein I ponder failures, setbacks, and successes last year and plan goals for next year.

Above all, I want to wish my readers a happy and prosperous 2014 year.  For many, 2013 has been a rough year, and I’m personally hoping 2014 will be better.

If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance.  

I empathize with all of the roughly 5 million people who lost their health care insurance due to the “Affordable Care Act” (a.k.a. ObamaCare), and who are now reeling from rate shock.

I received multiple notices that insurance available to me was cancelled or killed.  The first came from the contracting house that I bill through, when the medical insurance plan for consultants was killed because it didn’t meet the minimum requirements of the ACA. 

Next, I received a notice from the University of North Dakota explaining that the student insurance policies were being killed, again, because it didn’t meet the requirements of the ACA.  UND scrambled and was able to offer a much more expensive insurance policy with an exorbitant price tag.

Luckily for me, I kept paying on my high deductible catastrophic medical insurance plan, even though the rates kept increasing every several months.

I’m now paying the equivalent of a lease payment on a luxury SUV every month, for the luxury of having my medical bills paid, but only after I’ve paid $6,800 out of pocket first.

Privacy and Security

I have always seen curious traffic through my Chinese Zyxel DSL modem/router, even with the firewall configured to block everything but a few ports.  I didn’t give it much thought since I had secured my Linux and Mac machines.

Then, my Mac Pro was hacked, shortly before Apple and Facebook announced that an attacker had managed to infect developer’s mac’s with Trojans.  The Mac would wake up at strange hours of the night and I would see network traffic that shouldn’t be there.  I reformatted the machine only to see the infection return.  Looking at Wireshark traces, I would see traffic from odd IP addresses, even with the internet disconnected.  Turns out some of the other laptops were infected and were constantly trying to infect other Macs.


I purchased a Cisco ASA 500 and configured it.  I then nuked each one of my macs and reinstalled each OS by hand.  While I saw an enormous amount of inbound probing and automated attacks stopped by the firewall,  everything seemed normal again.

For several months, I was free from the tyranny of Chinese hackers.

That is, until the Cisco ASA 500 appliance started spewing out multicast packets and flooding the network with packets.  Someone had hacked my Cisco ASA 500 firewall.  Disgusted, I put the ASA 500 on the shelf and purchased a 40Mbps DSL modem router.

Now, my machines appear to be safe.  For now.

In 2014, I’m going to become religiously paranoid and security conscious.

Even More Education

Several years ago, I had been invited to apply for a programming job several times by a technical lead (during a consulting engagement).  Last year, I did apply, and was willing to take a big pay cut for the illusion of job security. 

The Vice President of Engineering flatly turned down my application, because I didn’t have a degree in engineering.  To add insult to injury, at the same time they gave a job offer to one of my friends, who was on a H-1B visa, telling her when she gets her green card she has a job.  I’m happy for her, but I felt snubbed.

After fuming for a few weeks, I thought really hard about it, and I decided that my midlife crisis would consist of me going back to get a second degree — an Electrical Engineering degree (which is definitely cheaper than strippers and a divorce, but not by much judging by today’s tuition).

And I started looking for work elsewhere.  The day I left, they laid off twelve permanent employees.  Since then, lay-offs have become a yearly fixture at the company.

In any event, this semester, I’m taking four courses.  I’ve slowly gotten to the point that I have relearned all of the higher mathematics that I’ve forgotten along the way.

Better Financial Decisions

Lastly, my goal for 2014 is to make better financial decisions.  To keep more of what I earn, and earn more.