Not a link to my year in pictures

Google gave me a link to my year in pictures. And they have a lot of my pictures, because they have all the pictures I took with my phone. (But not the pictures I took with my camera, which is what I use if I’m planning to take pictures.)

However, the video that Google produced is hilarious, because way over half the pictures I took with my phone were taken to document the condition of the various apartments we moved into.

Whatever Google’s algorithm for selecting pictures is, it’s is pretty good—many of the pictures they selected are the better ones. So half the pictures Google shows me are pretty good pictures of Jackie and Barbara and Rosie and fall color and interesting things we did.

But about half are pictures of damaged carpets, damaged tiles, damaged plaster, damaged trim, damaged closet doors, etc. Here’s one:

IMG_20140802_105258908
Preexisting carpet damage in our winter palace

But, now that I think about it, maybe that’s fair. Maybe that’s a pretty good representation of my year.

I’m so glad we’re done moving.

Why we moved

After our old apartment complex changed hands, our neighbors spent the whole summer worrying aloud that the new management company would raise the rent.

We declined to join in. I expected the rent to go up, but we had been getting such a good deal for so long, I figured that the rent could go up by 20%, maybe even 30%, and still be competitive.

Then we saw the proposed lease from the complex’s new owner, and went straight from “wait and see” to “let’s find a new place to live.”

You see, the new lease (I almost put the word in scare quotes) was an internet-style agreement. You’ve seen them—you’ve probably clicked through to agree to hundreds of them by now. They’re the ones with these two characteristics:

  1. There’s a long list of “terms and conditions” that they can change at any time.
  2. They doesn’t promise that the service they’re providing actually works.

For a broad range of internet stuff—especially stuff that’s free, like an email address or a web tool—a contract of that sort is perfectly reasonable. If someone is kindly letting you use some service for free, it’s fine if they decline to stand behind it, and understandable if they ask you to agree that the service is offered as-is and shouldn’t be relied upon for anything important.

For real-world stuff—especially real-world stuff you’re paying for—signing such an agreement is a terrible idea. Any adult with experience in the real world would know better.

Sadly, young folks don’t have much real-world experience. Worse, the current generation of young folks—having clicked through hundreds or thousands of such contracts—see them as normal.

I bring this up now because the new management company’s so-called lease was my first instance of such a contract for a real world thing.

An Internet-Style Apartment Lease

They raised the rent of course; this was not a surprise—and would even have been okay. But the proposed lease was an internet-style agreement. That was a deal breaker for us.

They Can Change the Terms and Conditions

A lot of internet-style contracts allow the other party to change the terms and conditions at any time, just by updating a document on some website.

This is fine for certain kinds of things, such as an internet service. Specifically, it’s acceptable for any service where you engage in individual transactions. Maybe it’s a video service where you pay $x to stream a video one time. Maybe it’s a service that will print your photo on a t-shirt or a coffee mug for $y. If they change their terms in some way that makes the service no longer attractive, you can just quit ordering.

It’s even true of a service with a subscription format, as long as you can cancel the service at any time. An example might be a service where you get to listen to unlimited music for $z a month. If they change the terms so that it costs too much, or they put limits on the music (or they lose access to the music you most want to listen to), you can just cancel.

Where it becomes completely unacceptable is when it’s a longer-term contract you can’t just cancel, such as a lease.

The contract the management company wanted us to sign said that they could change any of the terms at any time. If we didn’t like it, we’d have 30 days to move out.

That’s not a lease at all! The whole essence of a lease is that I know that I have an apartment I can live in for a year, and I know what I’d have to pay.

This is more like month-to-month renting, where I have to be ready to move out at any time. Except that it’s worse than month-to-month renting, because I’m committed for the full duration of the lease.

In fact, it’s even worse than that—the plain terms of the contract would allow the apartment company to change the duration of the lease as well: They could have come back the day after we signed and said, “We’ve tripled the rent. Oh, and we’ve also changed it from a 1-year lease to a 99-year lease: You have to pay for the rest of your life.”

I doubt if a court would tolerate such a thing, but I’m not going to sign a lease with unacceptable terms and hope that the court will take my side.

They Make No Promises

The other thing that’s common in internet-style contracts is that the party offering the service doesn’t promise anything.

That’s perfectly reasonable for a free service. If a company offers to let me use their cool thing for free, I’m fine with clicking through an agreement that says that they don’t promise that the thing even works and don’t promise to fix it if it breaks.

You know where it’s really not reasonable? In an apartment lease.

The whole point of an apartment lease is that you give them some money every month in exchange for a habitable place to live. They promise to keep it habitable if stuff breaks (you promise to pay for anything you break), and when the term is up, you return the apartment in the same condition you got it, except for normal wear and tear.

The contract the new management company wanted me to sign specifically said that they didn’t promise the apartment would be habitable. They also specifically didn’t promise that it would have any appliances, nor that they’d fix them if they broke.

They would have been within the terms of the lease to show up one day and take down the doors and windows, pull out the fridge and stove, shut off the heat and water, and drain the pipes. (It would probably have been illegal, but it wouldn’t have violated the lease.)

I saw this coming some time ago, and have written about it before. (Specifically, in a post called Reject Variable Terms and Conditions that I wrote for Wise Bread back in 2009.) I didn’t expect that I’d start seeing them in apartment leases this soon, though.

No sane person would sign such a contract—unless they’d been trained by click-through internet contacts that such terms were normal.

An internet-style contract is fine for an internet service. It’s even fine for a real-world service that’s not critical to your life or your business, as long as you can cancel it at any time.

It is not fine for anything you depend on. And it’s never fine for a contract that they can change but that you can’t cancel.

We looked around for a new place to live, and found one easily—one with a real lease.

Other Issues

Most of the above is an edited version of an article I originally wrote for Wise Bread, but that the editors didn’t want. For the Wise Bread article, I was focusing on internet-style agreements and why they’re bad for real-world stuff. The rest of this post is just a short description of the other reasons we decided to move. There were two of them.

First, they were going to start charging separately for utilities that had been included in the rent. This is something that I’d be fine with in theory—we probably use less heat and water than average. Except that heat and water were not metered per apartment. Without actual per-apartment numbers, the plan was for the complex to charge us made-up numbers. (They had hired company to make up the numbers for them, supposedly by allocating the complex’s actual costs to apartments by size. But there was no transparency, so I stand by my characterization of the charges as being made-up numbers.)

Second, they were also going to start charging extra every month because we have a cat. (We had already paid an extra pet deposit to cover any damage the cat caused, including a non-refundable part to pay for a more extensive cleaning.)

All told—higher rent, made-up utilities cost, cat rent—the increase would have been several hundred dollars—something like a 50% increase to our monthly housing cost.

We might even have paid that, to avoid the hassles of a move. But we weren’t going to sign an internet-style not-really-a-lease agreement.

Jackie with ecstatic cat

Among the things we pitched out and replaced in our latest move was the cat’s scratching post.

Sadly, the cat showed no interest in the new scratching post, and was more interested in experimenting with other nice things to scratch: cardboard boxes, wooden chairs, and pants (with legs inside).

Finally today, while Jackie was reading in the window seat, I spotted the cat standing on a cardboard box near the new scratching post, and though I’d see if she could be enticed to show some interest. I went down and got the container of catnip and came up to sprinkle some on the new scratching post.

She liked it.

The luxury of inattention

I read a lot about fitness.

Non-fiction about fitness can be motivating. I find it especially useful to read when I shouldn’t workout due to injury. It lets me maintain momentum through a period when I’d otherwise be idle. I also find fiction about getting in shape to be motivating. (Either one is generally a lot more motivating than most of what passes for fitness motivation. I’d meant to link that to the motivation stream in the “Fitness” community I follow in Google Plus, but decided against it. Too much of the so-called motivation is either demotivating or outright offensive.)

There’s an issue with this source of motivation: both fiction and non-fiction come with a worldview—a model of what fitness is, what it’s for, what behaviors lead to it.

This is noticeable in non-fiction, particularly when the model is weird as to its goals or methods. But it’s especially noticeable in fiction, because then it gets bound up with the goals of the fictional characters. For example, the hero in Greg Rucka’s Critical Space (I’ve mentioned the fitness montage in the middle of that book before, as a good example of the sort of thing I find motivating) is getting in shape to be ready to defend against an assassin.

As long as I’m choosing reasonable behaviors that lead to fitness in a model of my choice, I figure the fact that there’s an action hero doing some of the same stuff is harmless.

Sometimes the fictional character’s worldview resonates with me. For example, one thing Rucka’s hero describes is that learning how to carry himself—learning how to be balanced, centered—teaches him how to see that in other people. My taiji practice has begun to produce the same result in me. I notice when people do or don’t have a good vertical structure, something that I never would have thought to notice before.

Other times the fictional character’s worldview holds nuggets that are genuinely worth picking up. It’s common, for example, for a hero to get better at paying attention to what’s going on—to be more vigilant and watchful. Clearly a useful perspective if you’re living in a thriller or an action-adventure, but probably even if you’re not. Paying attention to what’s going on around you is just good advice. Even if you’re not being targeted by an assassin, being inattentive makes you more vulnerable to everything from muggings to being hit by a car.

Which brings me to the title of this post. As someone who does not live in a thriller or action-adventure, I have the luxury of not paying attention.

As one specific example, when I play Ingress, I pay very close attention indeed—but the focus of my attention is on the fictional augmented reality of the game. Despite its grounding in the actual built environment of public sculpture, the game really distracts me from paying attention to the people who are nearby. I do make a point of being very careful about cars—I don’t cross roads or driveways with my head down at my phone—but I’m much less attentive to people nearby.

While I’m playing Ingress, an assassin would have no trouble getting to within arm’s reach completely unnoticed.

The other augmented reality game I play, Zombies Run!, isn’t as bad, because it doesn’t occupy my eyes. Even so, its fictional world colors my perspective of the real world.

I’m not alone in this. Mur Lafferty describes the immersive power of the game this way:

I was running to avoid a zombie chase . . . and I passed another runner going the opposite way. I nearly yelled that she was running right toward the zombies and she should turn and race away like me. But since I don’t want to be labeled the neighborhood crazy lady, I didn’t do this. I also feel a need, when I pass someone walking, to tell them that they should pick up the pace because of what is behind me . . .

An immersive game is fun. It is a great luxury to feel safe wandering about in public with my attention on a fictional world rather than the real one. I probably indulge myself a bit too much.

In this case, it would probably be wiser to take the advice of my action heroes, and pay attention.

License your photos thoughtfully

What’s the big deal with Flickr making commercial use of creative commons licensed photos that were licensed for commercial use? What did people think they were doing when they licensed their photos?

I have a bunch of photos licensed with the attribution license, and a few have been used many times. Here’s my most popular:

Foreign Currency and Coins

That image has been used thousands of time, mostly on financial websites, but also lots of other places, including printed publications. This is just what I had in mind when I licensed it. (Click through and read the comments—a few of the people who used it posted to thank me.)

When I first started writing posts at Wise Bread, I tried to take most of my own pictures. I did that for a couple of reasons. One was so I could get the picture I wanted; at least as important was so that my photos would be unique. (So many financial sites used the same few stock photo sources, so readers pretty quickly started seeing the same images over and over.)

When I didn’t think I could create an image of my own, my go-to source for alternatives was creative commons licensed photos on Flickr.

Before I started using creative commons licensed photos myself, I’d put a creative commons license on some of my images, but was inclined to use a more restrictive license, including non-commercial. After all, I figured, if someone was making money off it, didn’t I deserve a cut?

But for use on Wise Bread, since I was making money, I figured that I shouldn’t use images marked non-commercial. And I was surprised and pleased at just how many people shared their images without that restriction.

I was so grateful, I started licensing most of my photos with an “attribution” license, meaning that I was allowing commercial use—just like the use I was making of other people’s images. (Some photos I didn’t license—mostly those with pictures of people. Properly speaking, a creative commons license is silent on the issue of a model release, but most people don’t think about it when they use an image, and I didn’t want to be in the position of enabling that behavior.)

My point here is simply that I knew what I was doing—and I would certainly hope that everyone else who used a creative commons license did as well. If you license a photo for use with an attribution license, you are explicitly permitting commercial use. It seems bizarre to complain about it when it happens. What did you expect?

Because I think it’s a somewhat nicer photo, I thought I’d also share my second most-used creative commons licensed photo on Flickr:

Piggy Bank Awaits the Spring

Believe me, I didn’t choose the license without thinking about it. Anyone may use my creative commons licensed photos, in accordance with the terms of the license.

That includes Flickr, and Yahoo. Duh.

Finally done with the moving

Moving is one of those things where you’re never really done, but I’m going to draw a line here and declare this move officially done, because: We found a tenant for our winter palace! We didn’t pay the rent for December. Utilities have been switched over to the new tenant’s name, and we’re expecting final bills for the gas and power, and the water. (Bonus: the landlady said that we’d left the place very clean, so we’re getting our damage deposit back.)

We’re not doing with the moving in, of course (although we continue to make progress—we spent some time today hanging pictures).

I don’t have much more to say about it than that, but since I posted about so many of the steps from Country Fair to summer place to winter palace to Winfield Village, I thought I ought to bring the saga to a tidy close.

We are still planning a little open-house event for local friends. We’ll keep you posted.

Arrow, superheros, and gamifying exercise

We’ve enjoyed the TV series “Arrow” right from the start, and I’ve been particularly amused this season, when it appears that everyone (except the police captain, and maybe poor Felicity) is now a superhero (or supervillian): All of the Arrow’s team have what amounts to superpowers, Merlin has long had them, and now Thea is all trained up, and her sister Laurel is working on it.

In fact, in the Arrowverse, it seems that anybody can develop superpowers with a fairly short period of intense workouts.

Since back in season one, where one could already this principle at work with Oliver, I was trying to convince Jackie that we ought to become superheros. She expressed a willingness, although I suspect she was just humoring me. I can’t speak for Jackie, but I so far do not seem to have superpowers. Probably my workouts have not been intense enough.

Anyway, the upshot is that I was an easy sell for Six to Start’s new Superhero Workout game, which was just released for Android. Like their “Zombies, Run!” game that I’ve mentioned several times, it gamifies exercise, and I’m a sucker for that. (Not to mention being a sucker for fictional characters getting into shape.)

So far I’ve just done the tutorial and part of the first storyline workout. But even in that little bit, I was already exercising more intensely than I have been. A few more weeks of this, and I’ll no doubt be besting multiple ninja warriors both unarmed and with swords.

Dealing with the dark

I’m prone to a particular bit of black humor this time of year. Usually a little earlier—maybe at the beginning of November—I’ll mention how early the sunsets are, how late the sunrises are, and point out that things are just going to get worse for six more weeks, and that it’ll be twelve weeks before things are this good again.

I joked similarly to my brother a day or two ago, and he pointed out that, although my joke is true in October or November, in December it’s wrong: by this point in the year things almost don’t get any worse. And he’s right. After all, the word solstice comes from the Latin for standstill.

Today there’s going to be nine and a half hours of daylight, and on the solstice there’s going to be nine and a third hours of daylight. Big whoop. I can deal with that.

Rounded to the nearest minute, we have already reached our earliest sunset of the year. That is, today the sun will set at 4:27. It will continue to set at 4:27 until December 13th, when it will set at 4:28.

(The sunrises continue to get later for a bit. It’s not until December 29th that we get a sunrise at 7:15, and not until January 4th that we get a sunrise at 7:14.)

I didn’t use to take much comfort in this. Knowing that things didn’t get much worse from here on out didn’t help when I was already depressed. But these days I tolerate the dark pretty well, and that means that I can take comfort from knowing that things are already about as bad as they’re going to get. Yes, it will still be mostly indoor exercise weather until March, but that’s okay—I have strategies for indoor exercise.

I’m not sure exactly what to credit for the improvement. I suspect that not working a regular job is the biggest factor, but taking vitamin D supplements seems to have helped as well. And, of course, getting enough exercise is both a cause and an effect.

 

Today’s run

It was preternaturally warm today, so I seized the opportunity to go for a run outdoors.

I skipped the zombies, figuring I’d save them as an incentive for running on the treadmill. With mild weather, running outdoors is its own reward.

When I’d seen the forecast, I’d imagined that I might run on the trails in the Lake Park prairie and woods. But in the actual event, the warm southern breeze over the cold ground produced enough dew that it might just as well have rained, making it muddier than I thought would be really fun for a trail run. So, instead I just ran down Curtis to Prospect, and then south along the bike path as far as the Savoy Rec Center, and then back again. It came in at 3.13 miles.

It was a great run. It wasn’t even hampered by a stumble right at the end, when I caught my toe on an uneven bit in the pavement. I went down on the wet asphalt, but managed to turn my fall into a credible parkour-style roll, and then come up on my feet ready to keep running. I don’t know how much was pure luck and how much was the time I put in practicing my shoulder rolls back in May, but I’m pretty pleased with the result either way. I have one teeny-tiny scratch on my palm, but am otherwise unhurt. I don’t want to think about how much skin I’d have left on the pavement if I’d slid rather than rolling.

I can’t really expect any more weather this warm until spring, but between fond memories of this run and the zombies, I have high hopes for putting in the necessary treadmill time to be still in shape for running when spring comes.

Fleeing zombies on a treadmill

I went for a treadmill run with “Zombies, Run!” this morning. Despite it seeming like a particularly ineffective way to flee the zombies, it was by a wide margin the easiest 30-minute treadmill run I’ve ever had. I can usually just barely get myself to run 20 minutes on a treadmill.

I’ve gotten in the habit of setting any treadmill to an incline of 1%, because I find that matches my speed on the treadmill with my perceived level of effort. (That is, when I’m running at a 10-minute pace on the treadmill, it feels about like running at a 10-minute pace outdoors, if the treadmill is set at a 1% incline.)

This particular run came out at just over 31 minutes and just over 2.5 miles. I had turned off the GPS on the game and told it to use the accelerometer instead. At the default setting, it suggested that I’d gone 2.31 miles, so I bumped up the stride length by about 8%. Next run I’ll see if the treadmill distance and accelerometer distance aren’t just about the same.

I’ve been playing the game with the zombie chases turned off. That was mainly with the thought that it would increase replayability—I figured once I finished all the missions, I could go back and play them all again with zombie chases turned on for a fresh experience. Since I’m currently in no danger of running out of missions, I might turn them on for treadmill runs, to add a bit more variety.