Thursday, March 30, 2017

It Never Rains But Pours ... Or Floods

Very hectic week starting off in a very hectic way:

Sunday. The Day of Rest. Or, at Chez Hopper, the day of bagel run, Church, grocery shopping, five to six loads of laundry, house tidying, hamster cage and fish bowl cleaning, last-minute homework projects and other overdue discoveries. So last Sunday, after grinding through each and every one of the aforementioned, the wife and I finally got the little ones in bed by 9 and sat down to enjoy Happy Hour, the hour after our children go to sleep and before we go to sleep.

Normally we watch The Walking Dead, then the wife goes upstairs to bed and I read for a half-hour or so. Such was the case this night. I read perhaps a little too much, for I noted with shock the digital display 11:15 on the DVR. I went to the bathroom to brush and floss and get ready for bed myself when I heard a hissing noise.

This was a noise I never heard in my house before.

I went downstairs. Was it the radiators? They hiss, but this was not the normal hiss of steam. I was able to touch one without scalding my hand. Was it the dishwasher? It was running, so I turned it off, only to still hear that hiss. A faucet running? It wasn’t from the upstairs bathroom I was just in, so I checked the downstairs. Nothing running; not even the toilet.

Hesitantly I went down into the basement. We got a new furnace / boiler / water heater contraption back in November of 2015 that makes a hell of a lot of noise, but that’s usually the clang and bang of hot water and air shooting into cold seventy-five-year-old pipes. But that was where the hissing was coming from.

I opened the accordion doors that enclose the beast, and immediately found an expanding puddle of water on the floor. I heard the spatter of water shooting out from somewhere, and saw drops glistening all about the furnace and water heater. I reached in and put my hand behind one of the open pipes and my fingers found a stream of icy water shooting horizontally out the back against the concrete wall.

I panicked. There is nothing more I dread than water where it shouldn’t be in my house.

(I nixed us purchasing a dream house fifteen years ago simply because the realtor told me I’d have to buy Flood Insurance. No thanks.)

In a flash I ran up two flights of stairs and woke the wife. Then I grabbed a pail and went back to the basement. She called our plumber to see if he had an emergency service – why do these things always happen at 11:30 on a Sunday night? I wedged the pail up under the pipe and threw some towels on the floor to corral the expanding waterline. With frantic urgency I threw two dozen books up off the nearby rug and onto my desk. But my basement is a landscape of book skyscrapers and paperwork hills, and we needed to quell this growing disaster.

No luck with the plumber – answering machine. Plus I already emptied the pail twice and the water still shot out of the pipe with the same amount of pressure. Where’s the water shut-off? In fifteen years I’ve never had to use it. Must be in one of the two closets where we have the meters. The wife surfed the web on her phone looking for tips. She told me it’s outside on the side of the house. Was it? I dunno. I threw on some sandals, grabbed a flashlight, and went out into the 30-degree night in my t-shirt and sweatpants. Only thing on the side of the house was the FIOS stuff and the electric meter. Came back inside, went back downstairs, and opened up those closet doors.

Found a blue knob just off the floor, next to a gauge that measured “GALLONS.” That must be it. But it wouldn’t turn! The wife, holding a rapidly filling pail, said that that had to be it. I put some muscle in and eventually it turned, though after initial resistance it seemed much too easy to spin (Good Lord, I thought, just what we need right now – me to break the water shut off valve!).

“It’s starting to slow down!” she announced, and, yes, after about twenty minutes it was just a trickle.

She went to bed after mopping up the floor with beach towels. I turned off the heat (steam based), the dishwasher, and told her not to flush any toilets. Around 1 am I went back downstairs to empty the bucket a final time and noted it was leaking just a drop every couple of seconds. Then, and only then, I went to bed, but due to my own pipes overflowing with adrenaline, I didn’t get to sleep until 2 am.

Only to wake up at 6:30, to get back on the rat race merry-go-round.

Now, Thursday, I am starting to feel normal. Though I just nearly hyperextended my jaw in an extremely ostentatious but rewarding yawn.

On deck: Plenty of sleep this weekend, God willing.

PS. The plumber showed up around 11 am the next morning; good thing the wife works from home on Mondays. He said the water feeder thing was dirty due to lack of maintenance (true, we never scheduled maintenance this winter, but hey, I thought the thing was still brand new). Because of this, it didn’t know the accurate water level inside, so it kept pouring water into it, causing the leak out the overflow valve. Or something like that. $250 servicing got the furnace back up to normal, and we won’t need to service it again until November when we start using it once Fall turns frosty.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Honda for a Hondo

Way, way back, oh, when I was a sophomore in high school, I guess, I cashed in some bonds and some money I saved from birthdays and such, and bought this:

An early 80s Honda moped.

I was in love with this clunky yellow motor scooter. Say what you want about it, now, but back then it was cool. Yes, cool.

For a summer, spring, and fall I motored all over town. I had a padlock to keep it safe from the many, many evil thieves and no-gooders looking to steal it. Every couple of days I’d wash it with a big fat sponge and a bucket of Palmolive dishwater, then I’d hose it down. Once I even took a wrench and removed the seat and all the fenders and reattached them. Me!

Then, I dropped it like a hot potato, as they say.

Because later that fall I got an itch that needed scratching.

I had come to the conclusion I needed an electric guitar.

I didn’t know a thing about electric guitars. I did tinker on an acoustic guitar my parents bought me for a year or so (with lessons – “Goodbye Old Paint”) a few years prior, but thinking back, I believe it was watching a pal pluck some basic chords that got me desirous of playing again. That and my new-found fascination with Led Zeppelin.

So I did what anyone who wants to follow in Jimmy Page’s footsteps does.

I turned to the Sears catalog.

It seems that this was advertised for sale in the Sears catalog.

There was a Sears a few towns over, and my mother could drive me there. And it cost just about as much as my moped cost, which my cousin expressed interest in buying from me.

So I swapped a Honda for a Hondo.

Now this Hondo might look familiar to you. It’s basically an imitation Stratocaster. A when I say “imitation,” I really mean “imitation in the cheapest sense possible.” Twice as heavy as a regular Strat (I’d find out later). It never ever stayed in tune. Use the whammy bar and the whole thing went out of whack. It hissed when plugged into an amp with the guitar volume on zero. The pickups sounded like cardboard.

But it was my first electric guitar. I did with it what I could.

Three years later I bought my first real electric guitar, a 1969 Gibson SG, and followed it with a Les Paul and a real Stratocaster.

But it all started with the Honda.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sanibel Island

Is where Hopper will be, with the Mrs., in one calendar month.

Right after tax season ends.

First vacation sans children in five years.

All due to a throwaway line he uttered sometime back in January: “I just want to go somewhere warm this winter.”

Friday, March 17, 2017

π Day Redux

Saw this pic yesterday morning and was filled with a glorious hope for all things American pop culture to grand Western Civilization:

Then found out it was a photoshop.

Oh well.

But I love that someone in the Colorado Rockies organization even thought to do this!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Underachieving Nor'easter of 2017

New Rule of Thumb:

Take the number of inches of snow weather forecasters predict and cut it in half.

That’s how much snow you’ll get.

In my town, right in the path of superstorm Stella, we got eight inches, with drifts up to two feet. Not the eighteen-to-twenty-four weathermen were panicking over (rather, trying to panic us over). I get the whole “better safe than sorry” thing, but this is starting to be ridiculous. When a big storm truly hits no one will believe them, and that’s when we’ll all be sorry.

So according to my new rule, I should’ve expected ten to twelve inches of snow, still 25-50% more than we received. I’ve rationalized this in two ways.

First, I derive the “cut in half” new rule of thumb based on two points:

1) Weather forecasters in the media have a vested interest in overstating their predictions: Fear = Profits. The more fear they dish out, the more we’ll be watching to know more to be prepared; and

2) Weather forecasters are generally wrong as often as they are right.

Second, why I’m okay with the “cut in half” rule still being an overestimate:

1) I want to be prepared regardless for the rare time of true emergency; and

2) Point #2 above is anecdotal.

So, Weather Channel, Accu-Weather, National Weather Service, et. al., you are all on notice. Please continue to overhype future storms and spread the fear and panic. Because Hopper now cuts all your predictions in half.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Cleveland Spiders

I have a new favorite retro baseball team! Well, actually, it’s my first favorite retro baseball team, but it’s really, really retro.

The Cleveland Spiders.

I’d read about them before, first probably a few years back when I started watching baseball again as a means of relaxation. Spiders? That name leapt off the page at me. Who the heck would name their team the “Spiders”?

Well, they’re kind of an interesting part of history.

Owned by streetcar tycoon Frank Robison and his brother, the team lasted thirteen years at the tail end of the 19th century, from 1887 until 1899. For the ’87 and ’88 seasons they played in the American Association league and were known as the Cleveland Forest Citys (some sources say Cleveland Blues). In 1889 they jumped to the National League – yes, the National League that we watch today – after changing their name to the Spiders.

Allegedly because of the way the players looked in their uniforms.

How a baseball player looks spider-like, I can’t quite imagine.

Anyway, the Spiders had a kind of Bell Curve spread of success over their lifetime. The first two seasons were somewhat unremarkable (sixth and seventh place finishes out of eight), but the club began turning things around in ’91 (fifth), helped tremendously by a young pitcher named Cy Young.

In fact, strong pitching led the Spiders to the postseason championships three of the next five years. In ’92, after finishing second, they lost to the first-place Boston Beaneaters in the “World Championship Series” 5-0-1. (Ties were a part of the game back then, usually due to darkness.)

Two moderately successful seasons followed, a third and sixth place finish, both with winning records, until the Spiders made it back to the championships again. This time it was called the “Temple Cup” (kinda like a cross between the Stanley Cup, a tea pot, and an urn). Reaching the rarified heights of professional sports, the Cleveland Spiders defeated the Baltimore Orioles 4 games to 1 to claim their place as league champion, in 1895.

The following year the baseball gods demanded a replay, a do-over. Again the Orioles finished first with the Spiders nipping at their heels, only this time Baltimore swept Cleveland to retake the Temple Cup.

Then the Bell Curve began to turn south.

’97 and ’98 resulted in a pair of fifth place finishes, though both with winning records.

Then the Bell Curve really, really steepened.

In 1899 the Robison brothers saw an opportunity in the bankruptcy of the St. Louis Browns. They salvaged the team, renamed them the “Perfectos,” and, thinking St Louis a juicier market than Cleveland, shipped their premium Spider players, including Cy Young, over to the newer team. As a result, the quality of play on the shores of Lake Erie plummeted, and my now beloved team earned its place in the annals of baseball history as the losingest team of all time:

20 wins, 140 losses … for a “winning” percentage of a meager .130.

In 1900 the National League dropped four teams, the Spiders foremost among them. The Robisons sold off their assets in the club, and thus endeth the Spiders. Cleveland, however, was not to be without baseball for long. The Grand Rapids Rustlers moved in the following year, and the team was called the Lake Shores, Bluebirds, Broncos, and Naps before settling on Indians in 1915.

Much of the Spider’s success was due to one man, with a prototypical late 19th century name: Patsy Tebeau. He arrived in Cleveland in 1889 playing first and third, and became the team’s player-manager in 1891. Though he never brought a first-place finish to the team, he did guide the team to the championship in ’95. He, too, was one of the team members transferred to St. Louis at the beginning of that final, 1899 season.

Tebeau had somewhat of a fiery, abusive temper and wasn’t afraid to use it on players and umpires. He played for thirteen years and had a lifetime batting average of .279 and a managing record of 726-583. After retiring from baseball he ran a saloon. Twenty-three years after that championship season Patsy put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, after his wife left him.


(Each season had a handful of ties, which have been left out)

1889 … 61-72, sixth out of eight

1890 … 44-88, seventh out of eight

1891 … 65-74, fifth out of eight

1892 … 93-56, second out of twelve

1893 … 73-55, third out of twelve

1894 … 68-61, sixth out of twelve

1895 … 84-46, second out of twelve

1896 … 80-48, second out of twelve

1897 … 69-62, fifth out of twelve

1898 … 81-68, fifth out of twelve

1899 … 20-134, twelfth out of twelve

(The St. Louis Perfectos finished fifth, 84-67)

Combined record 827-938, .469


’92 – lost “World Championship Series” to the Boston Beaneaters 5-0-1

’95 – won “Temple Cup Series” over the Baltimore Orioles, 4-1

’96 – swept in the Temple Cup series by the Baltimore Orioles, 4-0

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Happy π Day!

In honor of this year’s π Day, may I propose a question tangentially related to the greatest and coolest mathematical constant ever? Okay!

Is it more logical to say that a circle has no corners, or an infinite amount of corners?

Now don’t go doing anything too crazy out there tonight! The Great Nor’easter of 2017 may have been a bust, but trust this dude just back in from shoveling – it’s nasty out there!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Opportunity (Almost) Knocks

Finally, it looked like an opportunity presenting!

I was home a bit early after picking up Little One at the library, enjoying the hour between the day and night jobs. Sometimes I shower, sometimes I make dinner for myself and the girls, sometimes I just bop around the house wasting time, like this day, plucking my guitar as my oldest is logging on to the laptop to do homework. In the waning hours of daylight, I casually glance out the window and spot him.

The opportunity!

Across the street is a grungy hipster, clipboard in hand, knocking on my neighbor's door.

My neighbor, a plumber in the process of flipping the house, doesn’t have time to listen to the grungy hipster’s spiel. Dejected, the grungy hipster secures his clipboard and heads down to the next house.

Now I’m excited. Remember this list, these twelve questions I sent out into the aether seeking liberal answers? My quest to understand the liberal mind? Now I’ll have the opportunity.

I explain my plan to twelve-year-old Little One, who looks back at me as if I am either the weirdest thing she has ever encountered or a typical dad ready to willfully embarrass his offspring. All I want is for her to keep an eye out the window for my progressive friend while I go find the iPad, get to the Hopper blog, and pull up the twelve questions.

I imagined what would go down as he rang the doorbell and I answered. “Hi,” he’d say, and before I could get in a word edgewise, he’d say something like, “I’d like to discuss how Donald Trump is destroying the very fabric of civilization” or “Did you know that Planned Parenthood – and women’s reproductive health – is under attack?” or “Would you like to help stamp out LGBT discrimination?” or “Can I get your signature to help raise the minimum wage to $18 an hour?”

Then, I’d hold up a finger and say, “Sure. But first, I’d like to ask you a question or two.”

Actually, twelve. These ones, here.

But, alas, ’twas not to be. Hipster headed down the block towards the busy highway, yet he never crossed the street and returned back up past my house. I waited anxiously, scanning the sidewalk from the living room window, but didn’t see him. Maybe he got detained at a house down the street and I had to abandon my quest to get ready to go to work part two. Or, possibly, as Little One offered, the dude spotted me on lookout, got creeped out, and hightailed it out of the neighborhood.

Oh well. The twelve questions for a progressive remain, at this posting, unanswered…

Friday, March 3, 2017



“Thirst is the surest proof for the existence of water.”
   - Austrian novelist Franz Werfel


Make a selection from –

   16 ounces of Fijian water, chilled to 60 degrees
   A bottle of Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Märzen
   An empty glass

and drink!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Introduction to a Mathematical Analysis of Tax Preparation

Warning: This post is not for the faint of heart. Or for 99.873% of mankind. Nor is it for anyone driving, operating heavy machinery, or in need of their mental faculties within the next hour.

Last night a young woman came in to get her taxes done. At first, it seemed simple. Just her, no dependents, two W-2s, no other income. Then it got more complicated. Seems that for the first six weeks of 2016, she lived and worked in New York, out in Long Island. Then she got a job over here in Jersey, in her chosen field, so she moved mid-February and began her new work. So though her federal is not affected and remains a 1040EZ, she now has to file a New York non-resident return as well as a New Jersey return, and both prorated for the amount of time she spent living and working in each.

It became a little embarrassing because I couldn’t find where to establish her residency dates in New York via the software we use. Plus the fact that a New York return contains two dozen forms doesn’t help. The clock was ticking and I was, in all honesty, getting a little frazzled (it was only my second New York return of the season, so I’m far from comfortable with them). I asked her if I could work on the returns over the next couple of days since she has until April 18 anyway. She said yes.

This morning I got to thinking about all this as I was shampooing and shaving in the shower. Doing a tax return is like solving a jigsaw puzzle. The more complicated the return, the more numerous the pieces and the more exotic the picture. The more returns you do, the more familiar these jigsaw puzzles become, and solving them almost becomes second nature. So I asked myself, how many patterns of returns are there? How many set types of a return? In the case above, my client had the return type of [Federal 1040EZ + NJ resident + NY nonresident + zero adjustments / credits / deductions].

At first I guessed 50, but then, recalling the class on finite math I took in 1989 which covered permutations and combinatorics, I realized it had to be much more.

Rinsing out conditioner, I mentally made a very rough list that determines the option for most major variables when doing a tax return:

Type of Federal return (1040, 1040A, 1040EZ) = 3

NJ resident vs NJ nonresident = 2

NY resident vs NY nonresident or no NY = 3

Has child / child dependent care credits Y/N = 2

Has capital gains/losses Y/N = 2

Has substantial interest income Y/N = 2

Has retirement income Y/N = 2

Has education adjustments/credits Y/N = 2

Has health care penalties/PTC adjustments Y/N = 2

Has other deductions or credits Y/N = 2

Has anything out of the blue Y/N (such as another State) = 2

Multiplying everything out, we have

3 x 2 x 3 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 =

3^2 x 2^9 =

9 x 512 = 4,608

Or 4,608 different sets/patterns of returns.

But that’s somewhat of an overestimate. In fact, if you are on a 1040EZ, you most likely do not have all the credits and deductions and alternative income listed. So if we just calculate the 1040EZ permutations with the state return(s), if any, and add that to the 1040/1040A option combined with all the permutations of the credits, deductions, etc., we get something like:

3 x 2^10 + (1 x 2 x 3) =

3 x 1024 + 6 =

3072 + 6 = 3,078

3,078 different sets of sets/patterns of returns.

Even that overstates the number of sets though, because some of those credits/deductions/etc. merely involve clicking a YES or NO button in our software, while others involving inputting a completely new form or forms. So each would have to be weighted somehow in some way, in terms of effort needed, as well as typical frequency of occurrence.

Out of fear of driving you comatose, I shall not do that. But my very inexperienced gut tells me that the result of this further weighting will yield an approximate number of

150 different sets of sets/patterns of returns.

Me, I’ve only done around 15, or 10% of the jigsaw puzzles.

Full proficiency expected sometime the beginning of February 2018.