The “Marriage Equality” Battle Is Over, But The War Continues…

Last Friday the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex marriage in all 50 states of the US. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia already have laws on their books which allow for same sex marriage while the remaining 13 states, mainly in the South and Midwest had banned same sex marriage.

Without going into too much political bullshit, the court ruled marriage equality is guaranteed under the 14th amendment to the US constitution. I see this ruling as the same as the Supreme Court ruling that allowed interracial couples to marry legally. Erin and I could not be married now if it weren’t for Richard and Mildred Loving’s fight against the system, Friday’s ruling is the 21st century civil rights equivalent.

I have no issue with individuals having a belief that same sex or indeed interracial marriage is wrong, that’s their constitutional right to have that opinion. But where I do take exception is when county clerks refuse to discharge their civic duty to issue a marriage license to same sex couples. Some people have resigned from their county positions because of their religious beliefs in light of the court decision, which is the right thing to do, but others simply intend to refuse to issue a marriage license to same sex couples.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has suggested that county employees refuse to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples under religious freedom laws if it goes against their faith. Backed up by an army of conservative lawyers waiting in the wings to defend county employees on a pro-bono basis should a lawsuit be brought against said employees because of their refusal to issue a same sex marriage license.

I 100% believe that any religious belief is a truly personal thing and should be checked-in at the door of the workplace. If religious beliefs are so strong that they can not do their job because of it, time to go and find alternative employment. A person should not and cannot be allowed to circumvent federal and/or state laws because it conflicts with their personal faith, anyone doing so should be fired and prosecuted!

Obviously I am one or those bleeding heart liberal types, I believe everyone should have the same rights and privileges regardless of sex, race, religion, sexual orientation or (insert type/class of person). I don’t understand why people are so against same sex marriage, just issue the damn license and move on with your day, issuing a piece of paper should have no long lasting effect on their existence in any way.

Final thought, the issue with the constitution is that it contradicts itself, how can we have religious freedom when the constitution guarantees certain rights that go against Christian principles. It’s a catch22 situation, what trumps what, should religious freedoms trump constitutional rights or vice-versa?

F1: A Declining Sport

Over the past few years I have become increasingly disillusioned with Formula 1 as a sport, more so this season. We are only eight races into the season and my will to sit down and watch races live has all but disappeared, in fact I completely skipped the Canadian Grand Prix, which turned out to be a complete snooze-fest as it happens, if Canada does not provide good racing, we know that F1 is in deep trouble.

I think that the direction that F1 has gone is a mistake, fast degrading tyres plus the requirement to use both tyre compounds during the race, the drag reduction system and the new 1.6 hybrid V6 turbo formula with fuel usage restrictions all make the sport feel so incredibly artificial. Many drivers have been complaining that they are not being challenged because they can not run flat out most of the race because of tyre and fuel conservation and the fans of F1 have picked up on this and switched off.

There has been talk about having 1,000HP engines which could be achieved by relaxing the fuel-flow regulations, free choice of tyre compounds, although both compounds would still need to be used, refueling was slated for a return but teams pooped on that idea citing cost and safety concerns.

But I think the biggest issue with F1 is that it is run by committee, i.e. the top six teams, Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull, Williams plus the team that finishes sixth in the constructors championship, leaving the bottom four teams out in the cold. Each team is going to want rules that give them the best chance of success, e.g. forming rules based upon their own personal agenda, which I find crazy!

The sport’s rules should be set by the governing body, the FIA and teams have two choices, either compete or not compete under those rules. Half the time teams can’t agree on a way forward because it does not suit their personal agendas. And while they squabble over the rules, the sport loses more and more of its fans, even the long term hardcore fans that get up at ungodly hours to watch races live.

I am not saying teams should not have a say in the structure of the sport, but it should be a “say”, not a blocking vote and all teams in the sport should be allowed an equal say instead of just the big six teams.

The funniest thing I have heard is that the FIA has opened up entries for new teams 2016/17, I don’t see a lot of teams wanting to risk F1 with costs being so high and the instability in the rules. Many of the lower rank teams, from sixth down are struggling to survive, Marrussia/Manor barely survived to make it onto the 2015 grid while Caterham and HRT have fallen by the way side and USF1 never made it to the grid.

My personal view is that massive changes need to happen to rescue F1 from its current self destructive path. Will it happen? Probably not! But it’s clear that the current regime is not working, drivers are unhappy and unchallenged, fans are disillusioned, it’s definitely time for change, no question about it!

Real Estate Photography Tips

As someone who works in real estate marketing, I find myself increasingly frustrated and annoyed by the piss-poor standards when it comes to real estate photography, everything from bad metering, e.g. metering from a light source such as a window, which creates an underexposed image or using a forward firing flash creating horrible shadows to terrible angles and converging vertical lines. All of which could be fixed easily by following a few simple rules and spending more than a few seconds per shot.

Good photography is of vital importance in real estate as it’s the first thing that people see in your marketing materials before reading a single word of your marketing text. If you have poor photos, many will simply move onto the next listing, or maybe not even look at your listing because of a poor photo.

The first thing to do, whether you have a professional DSLR or point and shoot camera, buy a tripod, a cheap $30 tripod will do, it will allow you to set a slower shutter speed to capture more light, removing the need to use a flash. Most modern digital cameras have some sort of manual exposure setting and to avoid those blurry photos, use your camera’s self timer function to avoid “camera shake”. Always use the widest angle lens available to you and zoom out to it’s widest angle, I’d say 18mm on a crop sensor camera is the minimum wide angle you’ll need, a lot of point and shoot cameras are equivalent to that.

Preparing the room for photography is vitally important, I always open all blinds and/or curtains to maximize natural light and turn on all available lights in the home, remove any trash and generally tidy up, also remove fridge magnets etc. I like to open all interior doors and closets to show/highlight space.

From a shooting angle point of view, I always place my camera as far back into the corner of the room as possible on my tripod at about chest height (5ft) using the built in level of the tripod if available or use the viewfinder to get equal amount of floor and ceiling in shot, making sure that vertical lines are straight. In smaller rooms, set your camera in a portrait position (vertical) to capture more of the floor and ceiling, making the room look larger, this technique is great for bathrooms, walk-in closets and hallways.

Metering is very important, always take a metering point somewhere inside the room away from windows and light sources to get the correct exposure, this does tend to “blow out” the windows a little, but the room will be correctly exposed. To get a balance of light from windows and internal brightness, I use a technique called HDR (High Dynamic Range), I take 3 or more shots 1-2 stops apart and combine them in software which allows for visibility out of the window while keeping the correct exposure inside.

I hope that this brief write-up helps you produce better photos of your properties, if you have some questions, please feel free to post a comment below, and I will attempt to give you some advice.

My View Of Wolfenstein: The New Order

I know that I am late on Wolfenstein: The New Order but I didn’t buy it because I never pay $60 and it went on sale on Steam last weekend for $15 and… drumroll… this is my first every game “review”.

Firstly; Wolfenstein: The New Order plays on reasonably meager graphics cards, on medium settings at 1080p, my three year old AMD Radeon HD 6770 plays the game at 35-40 FPS, albeit the rest of my specs are pretty high, AMD FX 8350, 32GB DDR3-1866 and 2x120GB SATA 3 SSD’s plus 500GB 7200rpm HDD.

The game itself kinda feels like playing a character in a movie, not because you can’t tell the difference between a movie and game graphics, but because of the interspersed real time rendered cut scenes, which gives added depth to the characters. I also really like the animations when climbing ladders, sliding under stuff and pressing buttons, pulling levels etc, it actually feels like you are using the on screen items.

I don’t want to go too much into the plot line of Wolfenstein: The New Order, but there is aerial dogfight, prison break, many big bad robots which you can fight with dual wield weapons, a trip to the moon and blowing up a bridge. There is also a love interest for B.J. Blazkowicz, lots of social interaction between the resistance members and it has a surprising ending to the story line after you dispose of “Deathshead”.

So overall, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a great reboot of the Wolfenstein series with the alternative timeline of the Nazi’s winning the war. Graphically, it’s very nice even at medium settings, I attempted to use high settings and it ran at 15 – 18 FPS, which is hardly surprising with my graphics card being three generations behind the latest offerings. Sound is amazing, from the gun and environment effects to the film like score to accompany the action onscreen, I’d definitely recommend using some “hi-fi” headphones to enhance the overall experience. It’s definitely worth my $15 investment in the game!

Creationism Taught in Science Class, Are You F**king Kidding Me?

In the state of Louisiana a law was passed in 2008 called the “Science Education Act”, Governor Bobby Jindal told NBC’s Education Nation that he signed it because it allowed creationism into public schools.

A freedom of information request revealed that Louisiana public schools are using the bible in science class to debunk evolution. One teacher claims “God created science” as proof of creationism, another teacher claims that “stupid people made up evolution because they don’t want to believe in God.”

I am not opposed to the bible being taught in schools as a separate class, I had to attend “religious education” classes in high school back in the late 80’s/early 90’s in the United Kingdom, but it was for balance, not to debunk scientific fact. Children should not be exposed to this kind of brainwashing in our public school system, by all means, present alternative theories, not promote creationism over evolution.

I think it’s a gross abuse of power by state politicians, administrators and teachers to enforce their religious agenda on our youth. Yet, in the United States, religion is so engrained in the psyche that many will go to extreme measures to denounce any difference of opinion from theirs. Education should be about education on both sides of the coin equally and let our young minds decide for themselves.

This situation in Louisiana is a prime example of why I despise the Christian faith so much, most Christians refuse to except any alternative view of the world and will do their damnedest to convert those who don’t share their views. A good example is when I was in elementary school, we had to attend church 2 times a week as it was a Roman Catholic school and was told by the clergy that those who don’t follow the word of God will be cast unto Hell. Do you think this is an acceptable thing to say to a 5 – 10 year old?

In recent times we have heard a lot about freedom OF religion and I am all for that unless it infringes on others liberty. So having freedom FROM religion should also be an accepted practice. I firmly believe teaching creationism as science fact deeply infringes on people’s liberties. Creationism is a belief with zero scientific basis while evolution is backed up by literally millions of years of hard evidence.

$35k, not enough to support a family of four!

Recently my wife got screwed over by a property management company for the second time in seven months and is now without a job as of five weeks ago, which is taking a huge toll on our finances and proves that a single $35,000 (gross) income is not enough for a family of four to live on in 2015!

We are now at the point where services need to be cut as the little savings we had have now evaporated. I was smart and used some of our savings to pay off some loans/credit cards to reduce our monthly outgoings, but that is still not enough. Bottom line, my net income is just under $2,100 and my outgoings are just shy of $2,400, a difference of $300 and that’s making minimum credit card payments!

The above figures do not include such luxuries as groceries, clothing, fuel and essential drugs for my wife’s fibromyalgia. We are paying close to $500 in medical insurance premiums, only to have to pay an additional $430 per month for Lyrica to treat the condition out of pocket. I would cancel the kids and my medical insurance for a period of time to reduce costs, but because of the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act I can not cancel without receiving a tax penalty when I file my taxes in 2016.

Looking at my finances, I can save $240 by cutting non-essential services such as cable TV, WWE Network, Spotify, Audible, StreamVia VPN, Adobe CC and dental insurance, which still leaves me $60 short of breaking even without adding groceries and fuel for the cars. The only other possible savings would be to default on my $334 car payment which would mean we would be down to one car and also ruin our credit rating, which we have worked so hard to repair over the past five years. We have gone from having about $6,000 in collections to being current on all loans and credit cards with a 700 credit score.

We have been considering moving out of state for Erin to find work as the Wichita job market is limited, she has been applying in Kansas City and Oklahoma City and we have made a number of trips to KC for interviews, which costs about $50 in fuel each time and so far, it’s been a no-go. At this point, moving out of state is also a no-go as we’d have to break our lease, costing us over $2400 before factoring in paying deposit and pro-rated rent on new home in our chosen market and the physical moving costs.

So as you can see, the situation is dire and I am at a loss of how to fix it… a life of crime, maybe?

Update [Jun, 6 2015, 23:51]: To kick us when we are down, my wife’s debit card got compromised and someone spent nearly $250 at Walmart in Florida. But our credit union, Meritrust have been great about it and refunded the debits after we launched a dispute, the money was back in our account within 48 hours. On the flip side my wife finally applied for unemployment after six weeks and her claim was approved within 72 hours and will get about $1400 per month. Hopefully this will be good luck, Erin has an interview on Monday, she’ll probably get the job and not benefit from the unemployment benefits.

Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix 2015

The 2015 Monaco GP was the usual procession at the front until the 65th lap when Mercedes made a very bizarre call to pit Lewis Hamilton for fresh tyres while he was comfortably leading the race when the safety car was deployed for Max Verstappen’s crash on lap 64. The net result being that Hamilton ended up coming back out behind both his team mate, Nico Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in third.

The conspiracy theorists will be having a field day; there really was no logical reason for Mercedes to pit Hamilton where track position is all important as overtaking is a tough task with all the armco lining the Monaco circuit. Do I think it was deliberate? no, that would be stupid given Mercedes have just signed the 2014 drivers champion for a further three years, but it was a bad strategic mistake by Mercedes.

Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen who triggered this series of events with his collision with Romain Grosjean had a lively race. First driving into the back of the other Lotus driven by Pastor Maldonado who was having rear brakes issues, damaging his front wing. Then had a terrible pit stop on lap 30, his crew having a tough time reattaching his rear wheels, losing 31 seconds and dropping him to near the back

Over the next 30 laps, Verstappen mounted a resurgence to follow Vettel through past his team mate, Carlos Sainz and Williams’ Valteri Bottas as Sainz and Bottas moved aside to let Vettel lap them. But Grosjean had been warned over the radio about this tactic and the Frenchman pushed Verstappen wide around the outside of the hairpin after letting Vettel through, which ultimately led to the crash between the two drivers and Verstappen’s retirement and subsequent safety car 14 laps from the chequered flag.

The second black mark for me was Red Bull’s decision to have Danill Kyvat move aside for Daniel Ricciardo as the Australian was faster; only to have Ricciardo give the position back when it was apparent that he was not fast enough to overtake Hamilton’s Mercedes. In my view these sort of shenanigans ruin the race and damage the image of F1, this is supposed to be motor racing, not synchronized driving!

Ricciardo employed “not nice” tactics according to Raikkonen to get onto his team mate’s gearbox, the Australian nerfed Kimi Raikkonen wide at Mirabeau, but at the same time, Raikkonen did not allow enough room for Ricciardo so I guess the stewards deemed it a racing incident and took no further action.

On the flipside, a big positive for me personally is that Jenson Button scored Mclaren Honda’s first points in more than two decades finishing the race in eighth place, while team mate Fernando Alonso suffered another mechanical issue retiring his car on lap 43 with overheating which caused gearbox failure.

Force India’s Sergio Perez and Sauber’s Felipe Nasr had solid if very anonymous races to finish in seventh and ninth respectively while Toro’s Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, who started from the pit-lane and later got caught napping by Verstappen, claimed the final point after his team mates collision with Grosjean.

Lewis Hamilton was clearly downbeat after the race after driving a flawlessly from the front until the ill fated decision to pull him in for a third set of tyres. Hamilton stopped on track for a while during his in-lap after the chequered flag, probably to collect his thoughts before continuing to Parc Ferme and remained calm in post race interviews, I’m not sure I would have remained calm after such an incident.

2015 Monaco Grand Prix Results

1. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:49:18.420
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +4.4
3. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +6
4. Daniil Kyvat (Red Bull) +11.9
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +13.6
6. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +14.3
7. Sergio Perez (Force India) +15
8. Jenson Button (McLaren) +16
9. Felipe Nasr (Sauber) +23.6
10. Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso) +25

[Shock] Cox Have Done Something Good For Customers

I was watching The Tek from TekSyndicate today and find out that bandwidth caps are coming to Cox Communications customers. But Cox already have “soft” caps on their HSI packages you say and you would be right, I wrote extensively about this previously in my The Bandwidth Cap That Cox… article.

But it seems that this time, although the company failed to notify customers about this change, much like the lack of transparency in the employment of original data caps, they have done something for the customer. Cox have significantly upped the data cap for each tier with Starter getting bumped from 30GB to 150GB, Essential up from 100GB to 250GB, Preferred jumps from 250GB to 350GB, Premier more than doubled from 300GB to 700GB and Ultimate with a whopping 2TB of data transfer, up from 400GB.

Unless you happen to be a hardcore Internet user, these caps should be enough, I have Premier and 700GB is 250-300GB more than my average usage which involves a lot of HD streaming media services such as Spotify, Youtube, Netflix, Hulu and WWE Network. The 700GB of data transfer would equate to over 22GB per day, which is not impossible, but the average user would be hard pressed to exceed the data cap unlike the previous 300GB cap, which was very easy to exceed when streaming HD video!

From what I can gather from the online document concerning Cox’s data plan and usage, which is dated April 3, 2015, prior to the data cap change on May 7, 2015, it will remain a soft cap with an Email, telephone or onscreen notification. For persistent bandwidth abusers, a temporary suspension or termination of service might be an option. Personally, I still believe data usage caps are bullshit in this day and age, Internet connectivity is expensive, upto $100 per month for some tiers, these providers need to use their profits, federal grants and subsidies to upgrade their network instead of limiting customers.

Kids These Days

At the risk of sounding like an old man, what has happened to to kids these days? Let me explain, my 10 years old son is high functioning autistic and has a real hard time making friends and he has recently made some friends from a foster home across the street, who also attend our son’s school. These kids have been coming around to our house to hang out with our son and the behaviors they have exhibited have not been good according to my standards which came from the way I was raised back in the 80s.

I’ll start with waiting to be invited in, these kids have no concept of that, as soon as the front door is opened, they proceed to enter, I have to physically stop them and if they leave for a while and come back, they completely fail to knock on the door and let themselves in. When I was growing up, we always knock and wait for the door to be answered and be invited in, even if we had only left for a short time.

Second is bringing additional kids who we don’t know to our home and expect them to be let in, like they have some sort of entitlement. Back in the 80s we would ask if we could bring someone else before turning up at the door. Third is asking for food, we’re not their parents, if they want food, they can go home and raid their own fridge. My mother would’ve beat me if I asked someone else’s parents for food!

Fourth and final thing is going into other rooms like bedrooms or using the bathroom without asking permission first, even today as an adult I still ask if I can use the bathroom in someone else’s home. Most of these things are basic common courtesy things, which it seems is not taught by parents these days.

I have to admit that I am considering not allowing my son is hang out with these kids as I don’t want him to start acting like them. We had such a huge battle to get our son to use manners and show respect like he should, I don’t want him to regress in mimicking these neighborhood, more streetwise kids.

Update [May, 31 2015, 19:42]: I have barred all these kids from my home now because they have zero respect, one of the kids opened a brand new pack of rabbit food and poured it into the rabbit cage, which could have made our rabbit ill, asked for food a number of times and they really have no interest in my son, they just want to use my son’s gadgets, my house is not an amusement arcade. Today was the final straw with one kid turning up at my door banging on the door, window next to the door and constantly ringing the doorbell, clearly the parents haven’t bothered teaching these kids how to behave.

The Perry Reid / Chapel Ridge Screwjob!

Right now, I’m furious, my wife has been fired by Perry Reid Properties for absolutely no reason other than the regional manager, Rachelle not liking her it seems. The regional manager would not give a reason other than “it’s not going to work out”. Which is my view is a steaming pile of bullshit, clearly there were no complaints about her work, it came down to a personality clash with the regional manager.

Erin was asked to apply for the position of manager at the property, which incidentally is called Chapel Ridge in Haysville by the maintenance technician. So she left her position as assistant manager, which paid a comparable salary to become manager of Chapel Ridge and two weeks later, suddenly she is without a job for no legitimate reason, which in Kansas is fine, no reason required to fire someone!

I personally believe the regional manager got rid of Erin because she showed up her lack of knowledge about Sec. 42 property management. Erin asked a simple question “do corporate generate this form or do we generate it at the property?” and the regional dodged the question multiple times before telling Erin to call corporate. I ask you this, how can a regional have less knowledge than a new manager?

Before Erin even took the job, I had a bad feeling about Perry Reid Properties and I will tell you why. Erin was asked to come to an interview; but instead of calling her like a professional company, they asked the aforementioned maintenance technician to tell Erin that the interview will be taking place at the local corporate office and not the property. And guess what, that message was never delivered. So Erin drove all the way down to Haysville only to have to drive back to downtown Wichita to attend the interview.

Then on week 1, after a discussion with the regional manager on a plan moving forward, in which the regional made it clear that it was “Erin’s property” and agreeing that Chapel Ridge needed some new photography as existing photography is terrible. Erin asked me to look at the property and give a quote for photography of the community, as I am the best property photographer/marketer in this city from what I can see based on the evidence I have seen in the local market, standards are unbelievably low!

After the regional manager threw insult after insult at Erin the a couple days later, I had no intention of doing business with Chapel Ridge Apartments or any other Perry Reid property. It’s not like Erin signed a contract with me without getting the go ahead from the regional manager, she was just being pro-active.

Not only that, the regional manager intimated that Erin stole money from the company. Erin was attending a trade show and needed cards for the show. So she went ahead and ordered cards and handed them all out, only for the regional to accuse Erin of taking the money instead of buying the cards.

The regional manager also made reference to not liking friends working together, so why in the hell did she hire Erin as it was no secret that all three had been friends prior to working at the property?

I actually advised Erin to walk out at the end of the previous week and go back to her previous position, but Erin wanted to stick it out even though it was clear her days were numbered at Chapel Ridge.

When Erin was informed about her termination she was training the leasing agent who had been there for months under the previous manager, yet had not been given any training at all in Sec. 42 housing/paperwork, which I have been reliably informed that the regional manager, Rachelle instructed the manager to do. The leasing agent, a friend of ours was calling Erin for advice almost daily before Erin started work at Chapel Ridge when the manager had left for the day after completing her 8 hours. Which could have been avoided if the leasing agent was properly trained, but the regional manager considered the leasing agent to not be intelligent enough to understand Sec. 42 housing rules, hence no training!

You know my biggest annoyance, the person that asked Erin to apply for the position, the maintenance tech was constantly on the phone to the regional talking about Erin behind her back, I don’t know who called who; but this is not acceptable behavior for a so called professional company employee.

Moral of the story, if you have niggling doubts about an employer, don’t take the damn job.

Update [Apr, 25 2015, 13:38]: Now, because of this crap, my wife has spiraled into a circle of depression, she is blaming herself for something beyond her control. All she wants to do is sleep and wallow in her own self pity and worst of all she is talking about quitting property management throwing away 10 years of experience, qualifications and certifications, which is just increasing my anger level.

Update [Apr, 25 2015, 22:29]: I now find out that the regional manager couldn’t wait to call the maintenance tech, who was on vacation to report Erin’s departure, this whole situation stinks of being a personal issue, completely unrelated to Erin’s work performance. It’s just sad that the US allows for companies to treat workers like this. In Europe workers have more protection against this sort of action.

Update [Apr, 27 2015, 20:17]: The regional manager, Rachelle refused to give Erin a reason for dismissal, but was perfectly happy to disclose the reasons to the leasing agent and maintenance tech this morning, very unprofessional and cowardly to boot. So the reason #1 for dismissal were asking for a quote before checking the budget (seriously? it’s a quote, no agreements were made or contracts signed).

Reason #2 was Erin taking the action for a 11 year resident of cleaning their carpet and replacing a faucet, which the regional manager conveniently forgot she had agreed to. The residents had a crumbling sub-floor, which would’ve resulted in the resident having to move and there was no comparable units available on the property, which would’ve meant having to let them out of their lease. Erin’s actions kept them on the property until the end of their lease. It seems to me that Rachelle wanted to spend zero time and/or money on residents and some of the reviews of the property online seem to back that up.

Reason #2 is complete and utter bullshit, hence why I document my every action in Email or signed document, you always have to cover your butt. And reason #1, if it’s company policy to check the budget before getting quotes, which for the life of me I can not figure out why, then that just needed to be explained, rather than a termination of employment. Rachelle is very unprofessional and if this is an example of how Perry Reid operate as a company, God help their residents across their properties.

// End of story for me, Erin is better off out of Chapel Ridge and Perry Reid Properties!