Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Please Don't Feed The Neighbors

My current and very temporary housemate is a super nice and earnest guy. Sometimes slightly pathologically nice and earnest.

Just now I crawled into bed, feeling a bit under the weather, only to have Accordion Neighbor come out on his stoop, as is his wont on warm evenings, and start in with the accordion music. After a little bit he mercifully took a break-- at which time I heard housemate applauding from his open bedroom window. "That's fantastic!", he yelled down, "Please don't stop!"

Then housemate came padding down the hall to my room and stuck his head in, saying, "Hey! Turbo! Did you hear that guy out there playing the accordion?! He's really good! You should come listen!"

Dude. You're only going to be here for two more weeks. I might be here, like, forever. Pleeeease don't encourage him...

Not A Jumper

One of my (entirely reality-based) private clients came in to the office today. Just after sitting down to start our meeting, she had a sudden look of horror, pointed out the window, and said "Oh my GOD! There's a guy on the ledge of that building! I think he's going to jump!"

I leapt out of my chair and over to her side of the room, so I could see where she was pointing, expecting to see a psychiatric emergency in progress. And sure enough, there was a guy in business attire halfway out a fifth-floor window of the brick building across the plaza from mine. He had one leg dangling over the sill, and one arm on the outside of the window.

But, somehow, my first instinctive reaction was to relax and say "That guy is fine." He looked, maybe, a bit too relaxed himself. He looked a bit too interested in something going on across the street, rather than being focused on the ground below, or his internal problems. He didn't seem to be moving or testing whether he could give up the solidity of his perch. I'm only piecing this evidence together after the fact; at the time, all I noted was that he looked okay. Then I remembered that there had been an ambulance out in the street a bit earlier, and a person had been taken out of a restaurant on a stretcher. It became clear that the window guy had just been watching the goings-on with the medical emergency, and maybe getting some fresh air at the same time.

Maybe all those years in shrink school were actually good for something, if I can pick a suicidal person out from a non-suicidal person at 100 yards.

Math Quiz

Math quiz time, stock market geniuses!

Suppose on January 1, 2009, you take $100 (Canadian) and invest it in aluminum. Now suppose that in 2009 aluminum appreciates by 11%. Then in 2010 it devalues by 10%. And it alternates like that from then on-- one year gaining 11%, the next year losing 10%, so that on average it gains 0.5% per year.

By the end of 2056, how much is your investment worth?

(a) $127.05
(b) $168.29
(c) $97.62
(d) $110.07
(e) It cannot be determined without knowing the future U.S. / Canadian exchange rate.

And a follow-up question: If someone were to offer you a fixed interest rate, instead of this up-and-down averaging 0.5%, how low an amount would you accept?

(a) 0.2%
(b) 0.3%
(c) 0.4%
(d) 0.45%
(e) 0.499%

Answers later in Comments, maybe.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Just As I Said

You might've thought I was just joking, with my observation/prediction. Apparently, and unfortunately, not.

Based on the cat-o-gram, I predict the S&P 500 will bottom out between 800 and 900. You heard it here first.

In the meantime-- aiie.

They Don't Call It A Depression For Nothin'

Things are looking pretty grim out there in U.S. economy. Energy prices way up, employment down, property values way down (but property taxes the same), and the stock market slumping.

The percentage of my clients mentioning that financial worry is contributing to their mental health issues has about doubled over the past month. Yet, whether by coincidence or not, the rate of new referrals coming in has slowed way down. If I had to guess, I'd say people are getting increasingly more stressed and depressed, but feel decreasingly able to afford a shrink.

And I can't say it isn't affecting me, too. Watching your life savings erode by a double-digit percentage in under a month is not a fun feeling. Combine that with the sharp drop-off in new clients coming in, and yes, I'm thinking maybe I better cut out some of the non-essentials from my life. Such as my shrink.

The suicide rate went up 20% during the Great Depression. Let's hope our fearless leaders figure out a way to improve this situation before we head down that road again.

P.S. Speaking of roads, I've also been hearing a lot about road rage from my clients lately. I wonder if there's a connection.

More Partial Fulfillment

Back in my post about "where I thought I'd be", I also mused that "After a few years of observations I would build some cairns across the meadow to indicate where the sun would set at the solstices and equinox."

Well, I have no meadow, or places to build cairns, and you can't see the horizon in any direction from my house. But I was delighted to read some posts over at the Vigorous North (here and here) noting, and photographically proving, that my own street is lined up on a perfect axis with the sunset at the equinoxes. This seems improbably due to chance. The street ends at a bluff looking roughly west, the street grid in my neighborhood is skewed about 30 degrees from the grid of most of the rest of the city, and the streets are long enough that a few more degrees either way would abolish the equinox effect. These facts lead me to believe that this was done intentionally. And it's pretty cool.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Partial Fulfillment

I almost forgot to tell you-- I had, last weekend, partial fulfillment of my "Where I Thought I'd Be" musings when I received distinguished world-traveling visitors here at the Turbopalace. Exotic Canadians Johanna (of Adventures of a Geogeek fame) and Kevin made an impromptu 12-hour drive from the wilds of Ontario to our fair Smallish City, for the purpose of picking up a shmancy sea kayak Kevin had ordered from the U.K.

Yes, these people are serious about their kayaking. Unlike me, since my kayak hadn't been out of the cellar in two years (too many boats), and I still hadn't fixed my paddle which broke over a year ago. But J & K kindly brought me a spare paddle, and made me haul the old hulk out of the basement. K. took the ferry over to the island where the kayak merchant lived, while J. & I paddled over. Then we had a lovely paddle around the bay, stopping to roam around an old fort. (I'm not sure what kind of camera J. was using that makes our grey-green waters look Virgin Islands-turquoise.)

Anyway, back at the Palace we went out for beers and stuff. It was a great visit. I hope they come back. And now I am wondering if I can entice other international readers to visit-- Hello, Australia? Israel? Kansas City? [Note: I suggest you come in the next two weeks, or wait till June...]

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Little Boxes, On The Hillside, Not All The Same

A recent post over at The Slow Lane had me thinking about places I've lived, so I just did a quick tally: over the years, I've spent at least three months in eight houses, five dorm rooms, three apartments, two trailers, and a tent. Out of all of these (possibly excepting the tent), my favorite home was also the smallest: a spare, white-clapboard cabin in the woods, at the end of a dirt road, overlooking the Connecticut River. Surrounded by white birches and clinging to a steep hillside, it was known as The Birch Perch.

On the uphill side of the Perch was a sailboat-sized kitchen, a bathroom just big enough for a tub and toilet, and a bedroom just big enough for a double bed and a propane heater. The front/downhill side of the house was one open room, windowed on three sides, looking out over a tumbling field and down to the river. There was one small closet, one small built-in bookcase, and not much else. At about 350 square feet, it didn't quite qualify as a Tiny house-- but it certainly was Very Small by most standards. Rough sketch, from memory:

I particularly liked the kitchen, in which everything could be reached by rotating, rather than walking. It was also wonderful to look out into the woods while cooking, watching birds and chipmunks, and watching 9 watching the birds and chipmunks. And although there was nothing architecturally striking about the house, there was something exceptionally pleasing about its proportions. I never took any measurements, but I suspect that its various walls, floors, windows, and other rectilinear areas were close to, if not precisely, golden rectangles. Somehow just being there tended to put things in their proper perspective.

It had other fine features: the farmer neighbors, for example, maintained several kilometers of trails for cross-country skiing, which could be accessed by launching off my miniature front porch, schussing down the meadow, and careening into the woods. After long days of residency I often did that by headlamp. And it was across the river from a strawberry farm, which, went the wind was right, would send delicious aromas wafting up the hillside.

There were certain shortcomings as well, such as the eight-gallon hot water heater (which made the bathtub pretty pointless-- sometimes in desperation after a painful day of skiing I'd put all my pots on the stove and try to heat up enough water for a hot bath.) And, as the previous resident pointed out to me, it was not a good place for more than one person to live. Due to space constraints she wouldn't allow her then-boyfriend (now husband) to keep more than a toothbrush at the Perch. This caused some friction, and, ultimately, they vacated to cohabitate-- so I moved in.

Every now and then I think of calling the owner to see if he might sell the place to me. I've had some ideas about knocking out the ceiling, building a loft... there might even be room for two, then. At least for weekends.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I had a pretty good system for depositing my checks from the office. Each Friday I'd gather the week's checks, add up the total, and put them in an ATM deposit envelope. On my way home, I'd stroll past the bank and put them in the ATM-- a process which took maybe 30 seconds. This was faster than waiting in line for a teller, and, besides, the tellers are usually closed by the time I leave the office.

Then a few weeks ago I went to the ATM as usual, but found it had been replaced with a shiny new different-looking ATM. A plaque affixed the the front read "NOW - DEPOSITS ARE EASIER THAN EVER BEFORE!"

Now if there's one thing I hate, it's when corporations lie to me, trying to convince me that something they've changed for their own benefit was actually changed for my benefit. For example, a few years ago most of the single-serving yogurt producers downsized from eight ounces to six. One company made their containers proportionately smaller, indicating on the package "New More Convenient Size!". Another kept the original size packaging, but added the enthusiastic phrase "Now With Room For Mix-Ins!" This stuff enrages me.

So you know where this is going. The new system for depositing checks at the ATM requires you to put the checks into the machine one at a time, allow the machine to scan them, confirm the amount of the check, and then request permission to put in the next check. The process takes, roughly, 25 seconds per check. So even if I have only 20 checks to put in (a very slow week), I'm standing in front of the ATM pushing buttons for nearly 10 minutes. Meanwhile there is usually a line of exasperated people growing behind me, wondering what my problem is. I sometimes try to explain.

One time, just after teller-closing-time, an employee in the bank saw me doing the ATM marathon and came out to apologize for the new "easier than ever before" system. "Why have you done this to us?", I asked plaintively. She explained that there had been a rash of fraud, in which people put in an empty deposit envelope, claimed a hefty deposit, then accused the bank of losing their money. She allowed as the new method "is really terrible for business owners." Yep.

So now instead of the old, convenient system I go over to the bank at lunchtime, wait in line, and tie up one of their tellers to deposit my checks. Progress.

Monday, September 22, 2008


I could put you in touch with any number of women-- ex-housemates, ex-girlfriends, etc.-- who would testify that I'm a super-considerate guy around the house (read: I always put the toilet seat down.) After having a string of female roommates, though, I now have (temporarily) a guy sharing the Turbopalace with me. And I have to say, I'd forgotten what a pleasure to be leave the seat up.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Recipe for Turbo stress: Three adults, a four-year-old, and a one-year-old overnight on a 30 foot boat. Driving rain. Fog both ways. And a Coast Guard inspection boarding.

All I can say it, thank god for foul weather gear. I love my foulies. If I didn't have my foulies I would've jumped overboard. Now I need to go get the sleep I didn't get last night.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

White lies?

Suppose a psychiatrist is giving you a prescription for an antidepressant. And suppose the antidepressant in question has this strange-sounding yet very typical property:

If the doctor tells you it has a 10% chance of working, it will have a 35% chance of working.
If the doctor tells you it has a 50% chance of working, it will have a 50% chance of working.
If the doctor tells you it has a 90% chance of working, it will have a 65% chance of working.

What do you want the doctor to tell you? This happens every day.

[*Addendum after reading various comments: Okay, so the percentages/statistics where merely for illustrative purposes. I don't actually tell anyone a percentage for efficacy. But there is a substantial placebo effect for many medications, antidepressants for sure-- and as the doc you have the option to play this up, or play it down. And what you say can influence whether there is placebo benefit or not. I have a colleague who, I think, gives her patients more encouragement than I do that the medications will work. She might say, for example, "I really think this medication is going to help you a lot". Whereas I might say, "This one has a pretty good chance of helping you, but it's hard to predict, and we might need to try several before we hit on one that works well." I suspect, overall, that her patients do better than mine-- they may even have to try fewer medications to find one that works. On the other hand, based on scientific data, she might be exaggerating a bit. But is that the right thing to do? That's the question...]