Before you cast your vote this November, please try to see through the rhetoric just a little bit. There is a lot of talk about job creation, one way or another, coming from both sides of the aisle. It’s important to consider this: the government “creating jobs” is akin to an accounting trick.

The textbook example demonstrating the job creation fallacy is that of the baker. Suppose someone throws a brick through the front window of a small bakery. “Poor baker!” you might say, while someone trying to think outside the box says “The economy is really going to benefit from this!” After all, the baker has to pay someone to fix the window. As more windows are broken and more business comes in for the glass shop, more money changes hands. With this increased business, the glass shop buys new trucks and opens up new retail locations and warehouses. The shop also buys more supplies and hires more workers, who go out and spend their money on other goods and services. But this all comes at the expense of the shop owners with the broken windows. While someone is making money, someone is losing money.

When the government “creates jobs,” they are taking money away from people who would spend it somewhere anyway. Whether the bakery shop owner spends his money dining out, or at department store, or on investments, money continues to change hands. Sure, the broken glass might visibly give more people work, but that’s at the sake of other industries that would benefit from the bakery shop owner having the freedom to choose what he or she wants to spend money on.

It’s one thing to collect taxes and use that money to pay for services we all use, like building roads and bridges and providing police and fire department services. These industries still need to be sensibly regulated, however. We all were to pay for Alaska’s famous “Bridge to Nowhere” project, and I firmly believe that, here is Los Angeles, the police department does NOT (and will likely NEVER) need a fleet of 19 helicopters.

While government officials tout what an economic boon to the economy some programs are/were, things usually aren’t as they seem. The “Cash for Clunkers” auto trade-in program in 2008 was no government success story. According to a University of Delaware study, the program cost taxpayers an estimated $1.4 billion overall. But it was a noble effort to get all those polluting vehicles off the road, right? Well, if you consider that the Cash for Clunkers/Car Allowance Rebate System bill was originally crafted by a Representative from Ohio (home of GM factories and other major auto parts manufacturing), and a Senate version of the bill was co-sponsored by a Michigan Congresswoman, the real intention of the bill seems to be more of a local stimulus program.

For another example of central planning and “job creation” gone wrong, consider Solyndra. If you read some background on the company, the design of its solar technology was unlike any other in the industry. Right off the bat, this can’t be a safe bet, right? After all, investing in a unique product sounds a bit like what investors would call “speculation.”

Well, as you probably heard in the news, after the government loaned Solyndra $527 million, the company had a hard time competing in the market and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Even if you don’t see an issue with the government taking in taxes to give people work, consider that the government actually has very little to spend. If the government keeps spending/investing in such great ideas, how has the deficit swollen to a number larger than all the money in circulation? You see, many of our political leaders are experts at nothing more than being politicians. That’s why lobbyists come knocking on their doors and manage to convince them that the petroleum industry “really needs continued subsidies,” as do the defense industry and farmers.

Speaking of farming, while small, family operations may be more sensitive to market fluctuations, corporate farming ventures (with stable finances) are reaping the rewards of government handouts. Are you familiar with Cargill – the multinational, multi-billion dollar food and agricultural producer? That corporation accepted a total of $17 million in subsidies between the years 1995 and 2011. Last year, Cargill’s net income was over $4 billion, yet the government continues to collect taxes and, you know, provide help to those corporations that need it most.

Another massive industry that government funds is defense. Of course, we need to maintain some level of military, but considering the U.S. recently finished up an eight-year tour of duty in Iraq, with none of those elusive WMDs ever to be found, what purpose did it serve? Well, for one, it was a great opportunity to pump money into the military-industrial complex that’s so well integrated into Washington politics. Conspiracy? It absolutely became one! Don’t worry, I’m not going to say “9/11 was a government cover-up” and blah, blah, blah. I don’t believe that and, if I did, there is no evidence to prove such a thing. What is certain, though, is that lots and lots of tax dollars were spent on military vehicles, aircraft, and ships (plus regular maintenance and replacement parts), fuel, clothing, armor, food, weapons, tools, field medical supplies, generators, and, of course, medical treatment for our injured (mentally and physically) soldiers for the rest of their lives.

If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Aviator,” you might remember how Howard Hughes was grilled by Senator Owen Brewster over allegations of war profiteering. That’s a phrase you don’t really hear anymore. These days, you have former CEOs become Vice Presidents, who then award half-a-billion dollar, no-bid contracts to the companies they ran. The “revolving door” between high-profile public service and corporate leadership positions is a problem and is well-documented. It’s that kind of conflict of interest that results in a hammer costing $436 and $640 for a toilet seat procured by the government.

As you can see, a lot of baggage comes along with government “job creation.” Though we are often fooled into thinking this money reshuffling is an investment for our future, what actually results is greater deficit spending. It’s important to note here that we never really operate with any kind of budget surplus. And a lot of the money that’s moved around and redistributed ends up in the hands of special interest groups and friends of the higher-ups in the public sector.

Next time you hear some mumblings from the government about creating jobs, consider the hidden economics and who the beneficiaries truly are.

 

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Further reading and cited sources:

John Stossel’s Broken Window Fallacy –

The Broken Window Fallacy- How hurricanes, war, taxes, welfare, green job subsidies, and stimulus don’t actually create jobs –

Wikipedia – “Parable of the broken window” –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_broken_window

Burton Abrams and George Parsons – “Is CARS a Clunker?”
http://www.relooney.info/0_New_5687.pdf

Environmental Working Group – “Cargill Turkey Products – EWG Farm Subsidy Database”
farm.ewg.org/persondetail.php?custnumber=004497123

Cargill reports fourth-quarter and fiscal 2011 earnings
http://www.cargill.com/news/releases/2011/NA3047889.jsp

CNET – “Case study: A simple tool” –
http://news.cnet.com/2009-1009_3-5404307.html

Frédéric Bastiat

Henry Hazlitt

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Sometimes we need guidance. We needs changes and an action plan that helps the nation. Other times (quite often), we need obstruction. We need roadblocks and partisanship. It’s healthy. What’s dangerous is a lopsided government that passes laws unabated. That’s what happened with the Affordable Care Act. It’s a tug-of-war between two parties – two parties whose ideals I have lost faith in – even though we all know issues are more complex than always siding with the “left” or the “right.”

Affordable Care Act
Health care for all has always been popular to talk about. It’s wise and noble to take care of people, but it doesn’t make sense if you can’t pay for it, especially when your government’s debt is greater than the total amount of money that is even in circulation.

We’ve been lied to about simplicity. We always are. That’s why we need obstruction. We need our representatives to sometimes just sit down and shut up and to stay at home and not get paid $174,000+ a year. We were promised the Affordable Care Act would bring costs down for all. Since the law was passed and the Supreme Court upheld it, my health care premiums have gone up 30%. I haven’t needed the services of a doctor in years. I promise to get a checkup soon, but I’m just saying that the reason my costs have gone up isn’t because I’m visiting the doctor too much.

You know, as Americans we once had the freedom to do nothing if we chose. All this talk of rights these days…you once had to the right to be left alone. These days, so the government can “regulate interstate commerce,” you have to either pay into the public health care system or the private health care system. Either way, you have to pay. Instead of just regulating an industry, the President also found it acceptable to regulate people. That’s not freedom. Additionally, if government continues to get more into the insurance business, what ensures demand will lower costs? I have heard for years that the medical field is a great one to get into because 1) people will always need health care and 2) hospitals are already understaffed. If there is a lack of medical professionals and suddenly the entire country has medical access, it seems, Houston, that we might have a problem.

I know a lot of people who are happy about the pre-existing condition part of the ACA. That is, the insurance companies cant deny coverage to someone that has a pre-existing condition. Well then it’s not insurance anymore, right? What it turns into is paying for a service while forcing a company to subsidize the majority of the bill. According to the healthcare.gov website linked to at bottom, the ACA prevents insurance companies from charging higher premiums for pre-existing conditions and from setting lifetime limits on coverage for certain benefits. Allowing health insurance companies to assess risk and charge a higher amount for continuous care encourages healthy behavior. I try to be a cautious driver, and I would be pretty upset to find out I’m paying the same amount for car insurance as someone driving a Maserati or someone who has caused numerous wrecks.

I also understand that some people are born with a handicap or illness. Now, in a demand for equality for all, for all things these days, folks with unavoidable “pre-existing conditions” are also finding themselves in the same insurance category as people who have developed diabetes from lack of exercise and poor food choices, and people who develop chronic conditions like cirrhosis from alcohol abuse. Some of them say “What I do with my body isn’t your business.” Aha, but it is! It’s every taxpayers’ business. In 2009, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics cited the direct health care costs of smokers as being $96 billion and, resulting, the cost of lost productivity as costing $97 billion.

To be fair and honest, from a monetary standpoint, premature deaths partially offset money that otherwise would go to social security and Medicare payments. But that’s no justification. There is also the emotional cost brought on by losing a loved one from a situation that could have been avoided. Due to new regulations, the poor stay poor and the middle class becomes poorer. Health care for all is not free. As mentioned, my health insurance premiums have recently gone up. The following is a message from my representative:


Non-binding Resolutions

Now, taking a little focus off the Affordable Care Act, Congress wastes a lot of time. Did you know our representatives frequently bring forth official declarations, congratulating sports teams for accomplishments? For example, in 2011, Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland introduced a resolution titled “Commemorating the victory of Loyola University Maryland in the 2012 NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse National Championship.” As you might expect, it passed unanimously because it’s fluff. The day before that, the Senate passed a resolution called “Commending the Pacific Lutheran University Lutes Softball Team for winning the 2012 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III Softball Championship.” And the day before that, another resolution passed called “Congratulating the Miami Heat for winning the National Basketball Association Championship.”

Not only do these resolutions take time, they also use up taxpayer dollars. According to South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, the total cost for printing copies of a single “simple resolution” page for our legislators comes to $1,200. DeMint also estimates that the 112th Congress may have already spent $400,000 on these non-binding, feel-good time wasters. Fortunately, there is a “Pay for Printing Act” being proposed that would require legislators to spend money from their own Members’ Representational Allowances (MRA), which currently ranges $1.3-1.6 million for the House and $2.9-4.6 million for the Senate, per member, per year.

I remember one of my college professors had a framed letter on the wall from one of our Congressional representatives. It was some of commendatory note, which I’m sure the prof was very proud of or else he wouldn’t have put it on the wall. Aside from the time spent crafting a letter, it probably took something like $1 to print and send that note. The same can be done for winning NCAA and NBA teams and, if a representative wants to make their praise public, take it to Twitter for free. My representative is on there, and yours probably is, as well.


Gold Medallions

Congress also has a bad habit of telling people they are really important by spending a lot of money on them. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated in 2000 that it would cost $30,000 to produce a gold medal to give to Ronald and Nancy Reagan for their service to the country. The price tag was also the same for a medal to give to then-Pope John Paul II . It was slightly less, however, to give medals to John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, and to the family of the late cartoonist Charles Schulz ($25,000 each).  These are just a few examples. Other such medals have been proposed and awarded. Rep. Ron Paul made a good point in 2007 about the award proposed for the Dalai Lama:

I wonder if my colleagues see the irony in honoring a devout Buddhist monk with a material gift of gold. The Buddhist tradition, of course, eschews worldly possessions in favor of purity of thought and action. Buddhism urges its practitioners to alleviate the suffering of others whenever possible. I’m sure His Holiness the Dalai Lama would rather see $30,000 spent to help those less fortunate, rather than for a feel-good congressional gesture.

We cannot forget that Congress has no authority under the Constitution to spend taxpayer money on medals and awards, no matter how richly deserved. And I reiterate my offer of $100 from my own pocket to pay for this medal–if members wish to honor the Dalai Lama, all we need to do is pay for it ourselves. If all 435 of us contribute, the cost will be roughly $70 each. So while a gold medal sounds like a great idea, it becomes a bit strange when we see the actual cost involved.

You see, political gridlock is not all bad. In fact, if more opposition happened, maybe, just maybe, there would be more focus on more important matters. But until Congress stops spending time on congratulatory resolutions, swiftly pushing through hugely unpopular bills (that result in a “shellacking” during the next election cycle), and spending nearly the average taxpayers’ annual salary on a medallion, I’m going to think Congress needs to “work” less and also get paid less.

_______________________

Article sources and further reading:

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: “Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions” –
http://www.healthcare.gov/blog/2011/01/preexisting.html

U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention: “Economic Facts About U.S. Tobacco Production and Use” –
http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/economics/econ_facts/index.htm#costs

Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives: “Congressional Salaries and Allowances” –
library.clerk.house.gov/reference-files/112_20120104_Salary.pdf

Congressional Budget Office: “Cost estimates search” (Congressional gold medal award costs search results) –
http://www.cbo.gov/cost-estimates/search?page=1&filters=ss_cck_field_congress%3A%22106th%20Congress%20%281999-2000%29%22%20sm_cck_field_budget_function%3A%22800%20-%20General%20Government%22%20created%3A%5B2000-01-01T00%3A00%3A00Z%20TO%202001-01-01T00%3A00%3A00Z%5D%20sm_facetbuilder_Paygo_Facet%3A%22Paygo_Facet%3Afacet_1%22

Congressional Record – House H6505: Ron Paul’s statement on the Dalai Lama’s proposed Congressional gold medal –
http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2006-09-13/pdf/CREC-2006-09-13-pt1-PgH6505.pdf

Los Angeles, 2012. In this town, so many people have to be careful what they say. They have to be careful about what they do and where they go. Privacy is at an all-time low and sometimes, by association, you could end up on some shutterbug’s camera and in the tabloids. That happened to me. No one claimed I did anything, but rather, the story was about the person standing next to me. Below is a screen-grab from a scrolling graphic that appeared on the tabloid show “The Insider” a couple years ago. That’s me in the white shirt.

 

Image

 

Popping up in the media here and there is fun, but the appeal quickly vanishes when people become interested in everything you do. I know this because I work with famous people everyday. Some of them are withdrawn in their personal lives, and some of them will walk around The Grove, wearing a hat that advertises the show they star on. When they do that, it’s because they genuinely enjoy people. It’s like an invitation for people to say “Hey, I love your work….your character is so funny….you seem like a cool guy.” That’s a lot different than trying to find appreciation for paparazzi out on the sidewalk, trying to take a picture through your kitchen window at 3 AM.

With a little research, you can probably figure out who the star next to me in the photo above is/was. She was not happy at all about the photog staked out across the street. That hat she is holding in front of her face is mine, and we could hear the loud, quick snaps of the camera shutter from all the way across the street. This was just one isolated incident.

Right now, at this moment, the same scene is playing out in various parts of this city. With that in mind, I have to wonder: to what degree does the overexposure of celebrities, and the display of who they really are, cause them to lose their mystique and appeal? I’m not so sure that the answer is something that can be quantified. But now that technology has given celebrities a voice other than a scripted one on television, exposure, for some of them, has clearly been problematic. In 2009, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined by the NBA over a Twitter post, and Courtney Love has been sued over them. Former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner was busted for linking to a picture of his namesake, and athletes were booted from this year’s Olympic teams over their tweets. These are all instances of public figures showing poor judgment in 140 characters or less.

Back in the day, most things were hearsay. There was no “citizen journalism.” There were no smartphones, and it was rare for people to even own a camera. Back then – 100 years ago – Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper provided Hollywood gossip to the masses via newspaper and then radio. In the years since, unauthorized biographies of people and music groups (like Led Zeppelin’s “Hammer of the Gods”) have made society collectively gasp and ask “Is that true? It can’t be!” But now we know with much greater certainty that many celebrities are just so clueless about reality. They prove it by their actions and their own careless words. Don’t get me wrong – some are extremely smart, as are the ones I know, fortunately. But others…. We’ve all seen and heard those folks from “The Jersey Shore,” and there’s also people like Jessica Simpson, Kanye West, Britney Spears, Spencer Pratt, and Sarah Palin. Some people are immensely talented at their craft, and they know how to sell themselves. But they seem to know little else.

Earlier this year, Spike Lee tweeted what he believed to be the address of George Zimmerman, prior to Zimmerman’s arrest for shooting an unarmed, black teen in Florida. Many people questioned the motive of Lee’s tweet (mob justice?), and the address ended up being incorrect and was that of an elderly couple.

Comedian Gilbert Gottfried also caused a stir when, after the 2011 tsunami in Japan, he began posting a flurry of jokes to his Twitter account. Among them: “I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, “They’ll (sic) be another one floating by any minute now.” Gottfried was promptly fired from his gig as the voice of the duck on the Aflac commercials.

Another outspoken celebrity, who is no stranger to controversy, is Ashton Kutcher. His “brownface” Popchips commercial caused a stir, as did the time he provided a PSA-type Twitter post about human trafficking, citing debatable statistics. What really caused an uproar, though, was his disagreement over Penn State football coach Joe Paterno’s firing for his knowledge of child sex abuse involving one of Paterno’s assistants. Kutcher claimed he didn’t know details as to why Paterno was fired and apologized. In what was probably a wise move, Kutcher then turned over control of his Twitter feed to his production/media company in 2011.

On the other side of things, the media’s interest is ratings-driven. Thus, they have a tendency to bring out the worst in those people we expect the worst from. Just pay a little attention to the magazine racks in the checkout line at the grocery, and you’ll see what I mean. So with celebrities constantly being under scrutiny, it makes sense to “think before you speak.” Sometimes you never know who it watching or recording a conversation. Technology has allowed us to have greater insight into the minds of people like Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, Alec Baldwin, and Christian Bale.

Maybe it’s just me, but I grew up thinking most celebrities had their acts together… that’s how they got famous, through talent and intelligence. Now it seems that it’s more a matter of drive and luck – no intelligence (and sometimes talent) necessarily needed. Thanks a lot, reality TV! So I’ve got to give props to the stars that seem to be less impulsive and generally steer clear of stirring up controversy that can jeopardize their careers: Steve Martin, Natalie Portman, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp…

Technology has ultimately bridged the gap between celebrities and Joe Schmos. You and I can send messages directly to our favorite actors and actresses directly on Twitter. Not that they will necessarily respond, but the medium has made such people more accessible. Twitter – it’s kind of a like a giant high school, with a quantifiable measure of popularity. But hey, we are all in this high school together. Never has it been more understandable to hear this being said: Celebrities are people, too.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @leavingcelestia 😉

The disclaimer comes first. Don’t take this purely as advice for your situation. Even a lot of people who called themselves “experts” you should be skeptical of, and I’m not expert. With that said, here are my discoveries…

You’ve heard it before: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I’ve really taken that to heart, seeing the ups and downs of my first stock purchase back in 2008. Recently, I have diversified my portfolio and have also started looking for a place to stash some cash. I know, you’re probably thinking “You can put some cash in my pocket,” but I bet you won’t pay interest.

If you are having trouble saving money to put back for retirement, here is an idea that might help you. If your employer offers direct deposit, have them take out an amount every week that you won’t miss. In my case, that small amount goes straight into a bank that I only have a savings account with and rarely visit. It’s really out of the way, which is great because it’s not so tempting to use that money on a whim for something else. When I reach a goal of $500 or $1000, for example, that money gets invested.

CDs

CDs are a tricky thing these days. Rates are sooo LOW, LOwww, lowwwwwww, but the important thing to remember is that rates are even lower for that money sitting in your savings account. Although you will get a higher interest rate for that five year CD, a lot can happen in that time. Your best bet is probably going to be to lock away that money for two years and search for better rates when that term is almost up. Alternately, if you plan on socking away, say, $1,000 in a CD every year, you could continually set up 5 year terms and, eventually you’ll get to the point where you have a CD term ending every year.

Now, when it comes to IRA CDs, the guidelines are slightly more complex. With that direct deposit money I spoke about, I was going to set up an IRA CD at one of the banks that had a higher yield rate listed on bankrate.com or bankaholic.com (I forget which). With the particular bank in question, I browsed through some reviews and decided to navigate on over to their website to start setting up an account. I think that’s when the Lord Almighty blessed me with a sign… honestly. I filled out all my personal information, clicked “submit” and suddenly lost my internet connection. When it came back, I was like “Okay, I’m going to read a little more and make sure this is the right bank.” It turned out it wasn’t. I discovered some fine print on another page saying they charge an annual $30 IRA account maintenance fee. I was going to make about $10 a year on the two-year CD I was going to set up, so going with that bank would have actually made my retirement account lose $20 a year!


STOCKS

When I first bought stock, I didn’t have the freedom to decide what broker I was going to use. My employer decided that, as I was purchasing through an Employee Stock Purchase Program. The broker is a major one that you’ve heard of, and I like how the system works. I bought the stock when it was at an all-time low in 2008, at less than $1 a share. Knock on wood, but the stock has shot up since then, back to a more normal value for that company. A dividend is paid on the shares every-so-often, and the dividend reinvestment program is awesome. It’s great to periodically check in on your account and discover that you have more stock shares than the last time you logged in.

Automatic dividend reinvestment is great, but some DIY stock brokers like Scottrade don’t allow it. Instead, when a dividend is paid, the money goes into your account. It seems like a ploy to add money to your overall balance, to get you to buy more stock, which means having to pay the $7 transaction fee more often.


IRAs

This is where it starts to get into those murky, giving-specific-financial-advice waters that I am trying to steer clear of. But if you don’t already have an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA), they are a smart choice. There are some limitations, but the tax benefits can be great. This year, the maximum contribution limit for most people is $5,000. There are also some income limits to consider. If you’re earning a six-figure income every year, chances are you’re not eligible.

Roth and Traditional IRAs each have their own tax rules but, in my exploration, it seems that most people prefer the Roth. With the Traditional IRA, you can deduct your contributions on your tax return every year, and you pay on your earnings when it’s time to retire. With the Roth, you can’t deduct the yearly contributions from taxes, but the money isn’t taxed at retirement. In other words, for people who can do without that tax break, it’s probably wiser to go with the Roth. Again, though, consult an adviser for your personal situation.

Another thing I have learned is that contributions to your IRA have to be cash, unless you’re rolling another investment vessel like a 401k into the account. Otherwise and unfortunately, you can’t do things like take stock shares in a regular account and transfer them directly to an IRA. Rather, you would have to sell your shares and use the proceeds as a contribution to your IRA. From there, you could buy shares of the same stock again if desired, but that wouldn’t be so wise because of the taxes you would have to pay on the stock sale. I would love to make a hefty profit, then move it to a tax-advantaged account, but it’s just not to be.

That just about sums about my recent discoveries for now. If you have any questions or have your own helpful tips to add, feel free to comment below. Happy investing, and good luck!

Old Lemon-Monroe High School - Monroe, Ohio

It’s possible that my high school was one of the junkiest in the nation but, man oh man, did that building have tons of character. These days, it’s always under threat of being torn down but, so far, various groups have found use for the facilities – parts of which are are apparently over 100 years old. My siblings went there, my parents went there, and so did my grandparents.

The condition of this building was so poor a decade ago that the main entrance had to be closed when cracks under the facade (where it says “high school” in the photo) began dumping chunks of concrete on the ground below. Thank God no one was injured or killed.

Another similar incident occurred when one of the towering, football stadium lights fell back onto the tennis courts behind it, smashing up part of the concrete court in its carnage. Again, no one was hurt, but this happened an hour or two after my gym class had finished up playing tennis. If the light would have fallen forward, it would have landed on a little roadway in between the courts and football field, which could have landed on a car.

Regarding the building’s character, what has long made it unique is that it’s such a hodge-podge of construction, brought on by the conversion of farmland into neighborhoods. As the community grew, so did the school. One small building eventually morphed in the large structure you see above. Over the years, a second gym was added (respectively referred to as “the new gym” and “the old gym”), a large auditorium was built, and “the new wing” was added.

Monroe, Ohio is a town where most people stay for good. They’re born there, and they die there. The history is rich, and the schools have always proudly shown that. Display cases are filled with trophies, trophies, and more trophies. Plaques have always adorned the walls to brag of various student accolades, and the Old Wing walls were lined with giant, framed assemblies of senior photos from most of the school’s graduating classes. On days when time was on my side, I could look and find photos of my parents, their cousins, my grandparents, and their siblings. I hope that tradition carried over to the new school, which opened in 2005.

I wouldn’t say any of my classmates came from disproportionally wealthy families, although there was a great disparity between those lived “up the hill” in Brittany Heights and those who lived in places like “the reservation” – a run-down neighborhood where all the streets were named after Native America tribes and located next to the ultra blue collar steel mill. Those people have to power wash their houses every few years, due to all the particulate matter blown about from the factory next door. You get what you pay for.

It’s a little sad to see what time and neglect have done to the old high school. As a student there, whenever a ballot issue would come up to raise money for the two schools in the district, I remember the cost of upkeep cited always seemed astounding. I wondered then how it could be so high, but now I get it. I took the photo above in 2004 or so. The last time I visited the school, in 2009, the parking lot was filled with giant cracks, plywood covered the bottom section of windows, and the yellowish exterior bricks (limestone?) have developed large, white stains.

Some sort of long-term preservation effort would be nice, but the questions of “how,” “why,” and “who” have all kept people scratching their heads. When the school district moved into its new, giant K-12 school (which looks like all the other new schools in the Midwest), a church had talked about taking over the old property, mostly to use the auditorium. Additionally, a health science academy was a tenant for a time, as was the school district in the next city over. Apparently that district ran out of building space and used the old high school as a middle school for a few years.

Although the building is, and has always been, unsightly, it’s rich in history. Many generations have passed through the doors. Whatever the fate of the building is, the memories will always remain, and sometimes you just have to hold on to those while you walk away….

Vasquez Rocks!

08/10/2012

I dipped out of work a little early yesterday, telling the bosses I had something to do. Considering it was a slow day, the fact that I get no official time off, and we all-too-often work the standard 12 hour day (standard in our line of work, that is), they understood and didn’t ask any questions. I packed up my bag and made the 15 mile drive to the Vasquez Rocks for a photo mission.

If you aren’t familiar with this particular geologic structure, it’s a collection of smallish, sandstone mountains that have shot diagonally out of the earth. The rocks have been used in numerous productions over the years like Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, NCIS, 24, Roswell, Blazing Saddles, The Big Bang Theory, Power Rangers, Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video, etc.! etc.! etc.!

Sometimes I am a little long-winded, so I am going to post a few photos and let them do most of the talking.

 

 

 

 

The middle photo gives the best perspective for demonstrating how large these formations are. They are a pretty easy climb, and it’s so peaceful atop the peaks. They even have a haunting whistle when the wind is blowing, in a way similar to blowing on the top of a bottle. It’s worth a quick visit if you’ve never been and ever get the chance.

The Vasquez Rocks are located in northern Los Angeles County, about 40 miles north of Hollywood. If you go hiking in the area, bring plenty of water and watch out for rattlesnakes!

If you value your photos, videos, and documents – and I know you do – you may occasionally back up your digital files, without any real consideration for long-term storage. But we all know hard drives (even external ones you rarely use) will fail on occasion, and plastic storage media like DVDs and CDs degrade over time. So what’s one to do?

First and foremost, the best practice to battle the digital reaper is to copy/back up the same data to various types of media. I am currently in the process of backing up everything on my two computers to an external hard drive and to a pair of DVDs. When a project or a set of files is finished copying to the backup hard drive, I also burn that project to a primary DVD and then make a backup DVD.

In 2007, Google wrote a rather long-winded report on the typical failure rate for hard disk drives (linked at bottom). In summary, the biggest killers of hard drives are heat and shock. Time usage can also certainly be a contributing factor, though Google’s results came from hard drives that “remain powered on for most of their life time.” Such drives, on average, had the biggest jump in failure rate between years 1 and 2. Additionally, it’s been noted in the tech world that traditional, magnetic hard drives (aka Hard Disk Drives or HDD) lose their magnetism, and thus their ability to store information, over time.

On the other hand, solid state hard drives (SSD) are quickly gaining favor because they have no moving parts that might fail, and they can retrieve data much quicker than magnetic drives. Browsing through various forums and articles, however, it seems there is consensus that long-term storage on a SSD is inadvisable. Such drives can begin losing information within a matter of months without frequent use.

The positive, though, is that the previously mentioned Google study proclaims the SSD failure rate to be lower than that of those HDDs with all the moving parts.

 

Drobo storage:

To help solve that problem of disk failure and subsequent data loss, some companies have developed technologies that copy data to multiple locations. Here in the office, we use the Drobo S hard drive storage system, to back up video that continually costs millions of dollars to produce. The unit is an external box capable of holding a total of five hard drives, for maximum storage space of 15 TB. The drives in the Drobo all work in unison, essentially making the whole unit one big-azz external hard drive. When you use the “dual disk redundancy” setting, though, the 15 TB storage then drops down to around 7 TB total. In that mode, the information on the drives is duplicated and spread around on all the drives in the Drobo unit. Our tech consultant purports that all the data would be safe even if two of the five drives in the Drobo were to crash simultaneously. Woah!

 

G-RAID Storage:

A lot of tech types in the entertainment business gravitate towards G-Technology’s G-RAID drives. They look sleek and cool and seem super durable. I worked on a TV show a couple years ago, wrangling and backing up all the footage shot everyday. Prepping for the show, the Producers came to me to find out what we should be storing all the footage on. I suggested G-RAIDs. “Nooo, noo, nooooooo! We can’t afford that,” they responded. So they bought a bunch of regular G-DRIVES instead. If you aren’t familiar with the conventions, I will briefly describe them in the short paragraph below. Otherwise, feel free to skip ahead.

– G-RAID drives are actually comprised of two hard drives, connected together inside an nice, aluminum, external hard drive housing. In the standard operating mode, when you connect the drive to the computer and drag files onto it, it copies the information to both drives inside the unit. If one of the drives were to become corrupt, your data should be retrievable from the mirrored, non-corrupt drive contained in the housing. As opposed to G-RAID drives, regular ol’ G-Drives are made by the same company and only have one drive inside the similar-looking housing. –

Backing up all the data for the aforementioned show onto the regular G-Drives ended up working great. I replicated the “dual disk redundancy” of a G-RAID by connecting the two G-Drives together and copying all the files to the main drive I designated, and then copying the same information to the backup drive.

Fast forwarding to the show I work on now, the Drobo unit was purchased as a replacement for those G-RAID drives that I had always previously thought were so indestructible…. it turns out they aren’t quite so reliable after all. Remember, I said before that the footage we back up costs millions of dollars to produce? Well, that means we also have to be able to access that footage at any time for flashback sequences and such. Over the years, we amassed eight G-RAIDS, and two of them ended up failing. Two of eight – that’s 25%! Our computer guy had to send them in for data retrieval, which meant they were out of service for a couple months. That’s right, when we plugged in drives to get the data we needed off them, two of the G-RAIDS failed. Done. Kaput. Stemming from actual experience, my preference these days is to backup files to two separate drives, rather than using a single “raided” enclosure that shares one circuit board.

 

Summary so Far:

G-RAID drives aren’t as safe as they might seem. If possible, backup your data to multiple hard drives and then to other storage media, like DVDs. The up-and-coming solid state hard drives have a limited life span, just as magnetic drives do, and it’s also worth noting that those SSD drives don’t hold information so well without having frequent use.  ( –> http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/ssd-reliability-failure-rate,2923-9.html).


Obsolescence:

Aside from the question of which storage media to use for long-term backup, another consideration for the future is file format compatibility. Codecs change and many programs eventually lose backward-compatibility with previous versions of the software. Unless you plan on keeping old computers around, consider archiving your most important documents as basic files.

For DOCUMENTS, consider saving in Real Text File (RTF) or basic Text (TXT). These formats lack in the ability to save things like flashy banners, text boxes, and other things that make your document look more like a fancy webpage or magazine cover, but they will continue to save your basic text for the long-term.

For PHOTOS, JPEG files will probably be the best bet for the future. The majority of cameras these days save in that standard format, and JPEG is the predominant format to display images on the internet.

For MUSIC backup, consider MP3 files. The proliferation of that file format really came about with online file sharing in the late ’90s and the subsequent development of MP3 players that so many people take to the gym, hook up in the car, and pack on vacations. The MP3 format will likely continue to be around for a long time. For audio enthusiasts, WAV is another great format to use. It’s the format encoded on standard music CDs and provides a higher fidelity sound than that of the MP3 format. For many people, the difference in sound in negligible.

 

Off-site Data Storage:

Off-site data storage is an important consideration if, God forbid, disaster strikes your area. Here in California, a sizable earthquake could break down this infrastructure for a long while, and such destruction could destroy those hard drives and other storage media. Aside from earthquakes, some parts of the world have to contend with floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and tsunamis. Sometimes houses and apartment buildings burn down. These aren’t pleasant thoughts, but it’s true. For these reasons, it’s wise to keep a backup copy of your data off-site. When finished with my current project of backing up ALL my photos, music, and documents, I plan on keeping a small book of DVDs at a relative’s house, which is in a different town. You could also keep your backups with a friend, at the office, in a safe deposit box, etc. Also, when keeping such things in the possession of others, be sure to use your best judgment, based on what the content of your backups is. If some of the information is sensitive and potentially embarrassing, take the safe deposit approach or just leave it off your off-site backups.

 

Photo Prints:

For photos that are really important to you, print ’em out! My family has some tintype photos from the 1800s, portrait paintings from the early 1900s, and a collection of film negatives and slides. In other words, physical portraits can last an extremely long time, especially under proper care. For long-term storage, again, the best bet is to keep a copy at home and another off-site. Be sure your printer paper is acid-free, as well as any envelopes you may be storing them. If at all possible, keep the photos stored away so exposure to air is minimal, and don’t touch the photos if you don’t have to. That way you will keep oils from your skin off the photos.


Second (and Final) Summary

Ultimately, there is no single, bullet-proof data storage solution. Your best best to ward off data loss is to back up files to two or more storage mediums, which can include a combination of hard drives, DVDs, online/cloud storage, tape drive, and even CDs. Periodic backup is also crucial, since hard drives will inevitable fail and plastic storage media will degrade. Even online storage shouldn’t be used as a single source of data backup.

If possible, transfer your backup files to new media every 3-5 years to keep your storage devices fresh. Keep copies of your data off-site and, lastly, put your most important files in a physical medium (like photos) when applicable. Happy data preservation!