June 2015

This is a question that comes up often between my friends and me. In fact, it has come up twice with two different friends just this past week.

We were all at the dinner table at one point, and I believe the winning ticket in the hypothetical scenario was along the lines of 400 million dollars. One of those friends all the way at the other end of the table said that if he won the lottery, he would put the money in some sort of trust or annuity that would pay him in installments over many years so that he wouldn’t squander it all.

I nearly choked on my tiramisu before blurting out in a perhaps rude and definitely bewildered voice, “Did you just say you would put it in a trust where you can only get a little bit one year at a time?! I would never do that! I want my money now.”

You hear this all the time, right? If you win the lottery, you got to be careful not to spend it all. Even this Forbes article says don’t quit your job or buy a new house right away.

Now remember, we’re talking 400 to 500 million dollars. If I bought a modest mansion in Georgia and one or two new cars, I’d still be spending less than a million, hardly putting a dent in my new stash. I’m a frugal person and would be wary of completely changing my lifestyle over night, but come on. A 500 million-dollar winning should at least give you new lodgings and new transportation automatically.

“Oh, but if you start spending, you’ll never want to stop, and in just six months, your whole 500 million is gone.” It’s not uncommon to hear this sort of thing.

What!?

I have trouble imagining what kind of cretin could possibly spend (not gamble) 500 million dollars in six months or even six years. If you have that much of a spending problem, you deserve to lose all your money.

Now that my initial shock has decreased a bit, I’ll concede that my friend had some good points. A cursory Google search on what to do if you win the lottery brings up that interesting and well-informed Forbes article mentioned earlier. In that article, Janet Novack does say that going the trust/annuity route may save you in taxes depending on the laws in your state, but most likely not. The main reason to do an annuity would be to protect yourself from yourself, but I think this reason would be stupid. I trust myself, and I would think most people would feel the same way.

That being said, I’m not an expert on finances, so I would definitely put together as trusty of a professional team as I could, as a matter of course.

But it’s hard for me to believe you’d save more by an annuity. You should set strict limits, no doubt, and establish your own allowance, but still. It seems to me that one of the axioms of our capitalist society is the fact that it takes money to make money.

That’s the problem most of us have. We never have money, so we can’t make any. Sure, we can work for a modest income, but this is little more than slavery. We live and work in a servile state wherein our labor contributes to other people’s assets and not our own. The owner of the company you work at might not know a darn thing about your trade. But he has money to open a business, and you don’t. And that’s the way things go.

With 500 million dollars, it should go without saying that you’re never going to work again a day in your life. You’re just a sucker if you stay at your job or take up any sort of traditional employment. Your only work at this point should be spent on managing your newfound wealth.

Let’s do some math. Let’s say you’re 30 years old and you just won the 500 million-dollar lottery. I have no idea how much is taken out in taxes, but let’s just say 60 percent to be really conservative. That leaves you 200 million dollars. Just to wrap slave minds like ours around how much money this is, 200 million dollars means 5 million dollars until you’re 70. If you live till 90, you could spend 3.3 million a year before you ran out.

The math alone proves that even if you never invested your money or went on any exciting new capitalist ventures or did anything worthwhile in your life, you would make multi-millions a year, coming nowhere near the meager 50,000 you were making at whatever crummy job you had before you won the lottery. But if you think you still need your job in order to be a responsible adult and pay toward your children’s future, if you think 5 million dollars a year is simply 50,000 dollars too short, then by all means, throw your life away wasting eight hours a day at work.

Wait, hold the presses! My brother is complaining in my ear right now that I am not accounting for inflation. So let’s redo this with inflation. It might make all the difference.

If we assume a 3.4 percent increase in inflation each year for 40 years, then at the end of those 40 years, 200 million would be equivalent to about 52.5 million, according to this online calculator. 52.5 million divided by 40 would be 1.3 million a year. So that gives you some idea as to the effect of inflation.

Now what about salary raises for inflation if you did not quit your job? If in 2015, you’re making 50,000 dollars, in 40 years, assuming you get a 3.4 percent raise each year to account for inflation, that would tack on an extra 4.3 million dollars total, a small fraction of the 200 million dollars in your hand. And that’s if you work until 70. And we haven’t even taken out income tax yet.

So in my opinion, it doesn’t make a difference when you account for inflation. Not when we’re talking in the hundreds of millions. Which would you prefer: 200 million and never working again, or 204 million and working eight hours a day until you’re 70? Obviously, the former.

But that’s all conservatively and gloomily assuming that nothing happens in those 40 years, that you’re just sitting on the couch watching movies all day.

Obviously, you don’t want to do that. You want to do something with your life. You will probably want to make even more money. And that’s exactly what you should do. However, anyone who tells you that you need to remain employed is out of their minds.

Working a steady job is the proven worst way of trying to get rich. The reason rich people are rich is because either they started from nothing and risked everything they had in investments or in making their own business, or they started out with money (inheritance, etc.) and therefore had enough to invest and/or start or sponsor a business. It doesn’t matter how you get there, whether you worked for it or won the lottery. Once you’re in, you’re in. Now you are the boss, and you control your own destiny.

To be honest, you should probably quit your job and start a business even if you don’t win the lottery. But that’s another post for another day.

Matt
June 27, 2015, Byram, Miss.

“Isn’t here just there without a t?” – comedian Frank Caliendo impersonating Bill Clinton

I know just enough about computers and programming to be dangerous. My brother would correct me and say I don’t know anything about programming, because HTML and CSS doesn’t count, he says. It’s markup. Nevertheless, I like to fancy that when I write these posts and when I make HTML ebooks, I am programming.

Programming, coding, markup and technology in general haunt me, as I said in a previous post. When I make a post or an ebook or whatever it may be, and I slap a copyright and year on it, what exactly am I copywriting? What I see on the screen? The markup? The coding underneath the markup text files (Unicode or whatever it’s called)? The coding language under that?

Let me explain to you my metaphor for understanding computer text files. If you are a computer scientist, you can stop reading this now and go do something better with your time, because there are about to be more inaccuracies here than you are probably capable of handling.

I imagine thousands of rows of floodlights, with each row itself having thousands of floodlights. This wall of floodlights sits in the middle of some gigantic football field. Behind the wall, each light has a switch, and there is a man behind this wall responsible for switching these lights on or off. Of course, he must use an enormous rolling ladder like the ones in libraries in order to manage this.

The switch man is given a piece of paper that says which lights to leave off and which to turn on. He goes row by row and follows the piece of paper to the T. On the other side of the wall, the lights are now lit up in such a way as to look like a wall of text.

What is the text in this case? Is it what we see once all the lights are lit up, or is it the 0s and 1s that the man behind the scenes is working with to create this optical illusion?

My brother, Blake, is a mad genius, so I asked him this question. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but his answer went something like this:

“Young one, do you not see? The text only exists in the mind. An invisible idea, it is. What we perceive it as being, it is. Now, may the Force be with you.”

This was very enlightening for me, and it reminded me of a lecture at Yale I once attended (on Yale’s free Internet courses, that is). In it, Prof. Paul Fry explains deconstruction theory in understandable terms for a regular person like myself. You see, this whole problem of “what is the text?” goes all the way back to Plato and Aristotle, just like anything else. But the lecture isn’t about that. It is about how the question was treated by this guy named Jacques Derrida back in the 70s. Computers and the seemingly infinite number of coding language on top of coding language it takes for you to be reading what you’re reading right now, throw into relief, for me anyway, the following quote from Prof. Fry’s lecture:

[A] sign understood under the critique of deconstruction is something that is perpetually proliferating signification, something that doesn’t stand still, and something that can’t be understood as self-sufficient or independent in its nature as being both arbitrary and differential. It is a bleeding or spilling into successive signs in such a way that it perpetually leaves what Derrida calls “traces.”

And so then I went on to realize that my questions were so elementary. This whole problem of putting our finger on what is the text is a problem with pretty much any medium for expressing words, even “real life” paper and ink. When the priest kisses the Gospel texts, what is he kissing? The words? The particles that make up the ink that makes up the words? Is he simply kissing the content or idea behind the written text? Can you kiss something that isn’t there? This is just the example I thought of. I’m not trying to get into theology here, although one could if he wanted to.

This overthinking of what we are copywriting when we put the © signal at the bottom of our web pages opens up yet another can of worms: Who is the author claiming the copyright. The common sense answer is that it is the person who wrote the text, but common sense is no fun for a college-educated person like myself.

Let’s go back to our metaphor of the switch man and the wall of lights. Who is the author here? At first it seems to me that it must be whoever gave him the paper of which switches to turn on and which to leave off, right? Well, let’s say for the sake of argument that the author of these 0s and 1s just put random 0s and 1s down. Almost random, that is. He took the time to set certain parameters such that whichever random set he produced, it was sure to result in letters, maybe even intelligible words and sentences, if that is important for the sake of this argument. And let’s say that the author has not bothered so much as to look at the text he has produced, and it’s not like he can make sense of the 0s and 1s even if he tried.

So then, what happens? We look at the lights, and we read something very random, but it is, nonetheless, a text, whatever that might be. Who is the author? Is there an author? Well, certainly, the person we’ve been referring to as the author did, in fact, write the 0s and 1s under certain parameters. If we view his process as a kind of computer program, is the computer program itself the author?

Maybe we can settle it for the moment by saying the computer program is the author. But most of us would say that the author, to be an author, must be intentional. The computer program is not intentional, so it is not “really” an author, and whatever it produces is just a bunch of meaningless mumbo jumbo. In other words, we might say that without an intending author, there is no “transcendental signified,” to quote Prof. Fry, along with Derrida.

Fine, but just so you know, some people, such as Derrida, seem to disagree. They say that an intentional structure, such as a text, is separate from any intending author. Prof. Fry explains:

[T]o speak of an intentional structure as a center is not at all the same thing as to speak of an intending person, author, being, or idea that brought it into existence, because that’s extraneous. That’s something prior. That’s genesis. That’s a cause, right? The intending author, in other words, is outside, whereas we can argue that the intentional structure is inside. But that’s a problem. How do you get from an intending author to an intentional structure and back? A center is both a center and not a center, as Derrida maddeningly tells us. It is both that which organizes a structure and that which isn’t really qualified to organize anything, because it’s not in the structure; it’s outside the structure, something that imposes itself from without like a cookie cutter on the structure, right?

If we apply this to our metaphor, then it seems like we’d have to conclude that the author of the 0s and 1s in both examples of 1) intending what he writes or 2) randomly generating what he writes, is, in any case, an imposition onto the text. It doesn’t matter what he did or did not intend, because the text now in existence supposedly has its own inner logic and meaning. That’s why you get the aloof writer types that refuse to comment on their work. It’s why we’re still, in 2015, trying to figure out what “drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry” means. It’s why SCOTUS Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., said in 1920 that the Constitution is like “a being the development of which could not have been foreseen completely by the most gifted of its begetters.”

Some people say, as I suggested earlier, this is all just a bunch of mumbo jumbo. Justice Antonin Scalia artfully rejected these notions of living texts when he posited, “You would have to be an idiot to believe that.” The same thing might be said about deconstruction. This conclusion is usually what I end up with when I think about these things too long and decide to snap out of it.

So, I will snap out of it for now. We’ll just put all this all behind us as a bunch of idiotic chattering. That is, until my literary theory class next semester. I’ll get back to you then, whoever I am.

Matt
June 16, 2015, Byram, Miss.

I’ve got a lot of projects in the oven right now, including learning French, preparing for what I want to do for a proposal/dissertation, working a content management job, doing creative writing, learning Chinese, going to church like I’m supposed to, etc. I’m not very organized, and some projects and commitments seem to slip slowly but surely to that dark place known as the Great and Terrible Back Burner.

One of those projects I’ve been working on for a while now is a book about a friend of mine named Julio Chojeda Torres. Julio lives in Lima, Peru, and like me, he has spinal muscular atrophy. We met back in 2009 via Internet SMA and disability circles. We hit it off from the beginning and became fast friends. We practiced Spanish and English over Skype and helped each other with translations.

Julio is a translator and jack of all trades at the Ann Sullivan Center of Peru, a school and training institution for children and young adults with disabilities. It really is an amazing institution with a great story, and I’d encourage you to read more about them.

Read about Julio too, which you can do for now on his blog, and in a few months, I hope to have a nice little book prepared for you. He had the idea more than a year ago, and the book will be based off our many late night conversations and several audio interviews with him and some of his closest friends. I hope the book will do justice to Julio’s story, and any proceeds from the book will go toward paying for Julio’s caregivers and equipment, since there is no government assistance in Peru for people with disabilities. Julio spends most of his paycheck every month just for someone to get him out of bed in the morning and back in bed at night. He has no help to take him home during the weekdays after work, so he literally sleeps at work during the week and only goes home on the weekends.

The Ann Sullivan Center and Julio’s relationship with the founder, Dr. Liliana Mayo, is a very moving story, and I’ll be blogging about it here and there as I gather more interviews, transcribe them, and write the book. Stay tuned!

Matt
June 15, 2015, Byram, Miss.

“I well know what temptations are, and that one of the greatest of them is to put it into a man’s head that he can write a book and have it printed, and thereby earn as much fame as money and as much money as fame.” — Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quixote II, prologue)

I have been haunted lately. Haunted by an idea, or set of ideas. It goes like this: I can simply write text, upload it to this thing called the World Wide Web, and anyone searching for the key terms in the text can very well find. It’s amazing, and only recently in my life have I really discovered this.

I mean, I guess I knew it was there all along, but only after learning some basic HTML and CSS code and working in content management did it occur to me just how text-based the Internet is. It still amazes me that on my brother’s old disability blog, I wrote a ranting post about Apple OS’s then-terrible on-screen keyboard, and it got disproportionally more traffic than all the other things I wrote. Basically, a bunch of people were frustrated by the same problem, searched the Internet just like I had for a solution, and, there being no solution, they were left with my rant.1 It amazes me that I write a bunch of articles every day in the summer for a retail company, and consumers find my articles and buy the stuff I’m promoting. It amazes me that anyone can post a news story online and almost overnight become a real competitor for the big newspaper corporations.

I’m not writing all this to say it’s all about traffic, “conversions” or anything necessarily related to money. For some reason or another, only now in my life have I realized how much quality and potential there is to be enjoyed on the Internet. Maybe it was going back and reading about the beginnings of the Internet, especially before the World Wide Web and the dot com bubble. The Internet started out as primarily an academic, text sharing enterprise, and I suppose it is the more serious or at least “old-fashioned” uses of the Internet that are suddenly interesting to me.

Take blogs for example. On thinking about Internet history of the past decade or two, I can remember a time when it seemed like blogs were the way people were increasingly going to express themselves, find friends, connect, write, share, sell, etc. I remember the days of Xanga and blogrolls with nostalgia. Forums also provided cool spaces for niche dialogue, even if they could be clunky. Something just seemed better, more hopeful, more sane about those days, even if it was not as — shall we say, sleek? — looking as Facebook is now. I won’t go in to a diatribe about why Facebook is terrible, because I don’t need to. We all know it. Blogs or even personal websites provided our true friends with a place to bookmark should they ever wonder what we’re up to. And it tends to be higher quality, deeper, longer information. I won’t say I don’t find my friends’ pithy photos interesting and fun, but I believe blogs and personal websites can take the same kind of information and make them even deeper and more meaningful for readers/friends. Usually, I would rather see a friends’ photo album with descriptions or funny stories that they might post on their blog every once in a while than be able to see it literally in the moment it is happening. Even the people who blog every day usually do not feel pressured to make it short, if they don’t want to, but with Facebook and Twitter, people tend to say less, ironically.

I’ve gone on too long, but this is all just to say, I think you should start blogging. Or even make your own website if you care to learn just a few programming basics. It’s not that hard, really. Of course, there are a million other things you could do. For instance, I just made the best HTML version of Don Quijote currently online with more books to come in the future. Offer a service of some sort. Set up an online storefront. Give stuff away, especially information or expertise knowledge. Publish your own books. Publish other people’s books. Find valuable sources for good reading and weed out all the useless stuff on the Internet you don’t need to read. If you concentrate and don’t get distracted, the Internet is a pretty cool place, after all.

_____

  1. The page still gets, like, five to ten views a day, apparently. If you Google “apple keyboard viewer shift”, it’s the No. 3 result. If I could get away with it, I’d slap an advertisement or affiliate link or something on that sucker and see what happens. Apparently, WordPress.com allows it! Maybe Keystrokes’ AssistiveWare would give me a deal? …

Matt
June 10, 2015, Byram, Miss.

They say aspartame can kill us. I’ve always loved the blue packet myself, especially after I came down with diabetes in the summer of 2010. That was the same summer my Grandma, who lived with us, was cooking pound cake every day in a feverish attempt to see if she could reconstruct an old recipe she had lost. I ate pound cake for breakfast every day for two months and got diabetes in the fall. That sweet tooth can be a bitch sometimes. However, I can now say I’ve tasted about every artificial sweetener there is, and I proclaim that the best one is probably … [drum roll] …

That’s right! Liquid saccharin! The powdery saccharin, aka Sweet’N Low, can be kind of gross, but the liquid version pictured above is awesome. Truth be told, I have not had it since I was a kid . I have sweet memories, though, of licking the saccharin off the lid and practically drinking the stuff straight. It dissolves better in cold drink than any powder ever could. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find these days, and I am slightly inclined to think that the reason for this is all the distrust and conspiracy theories going around about artificial sweeteners. In other words, if the packets in restaurants might be give us cancer when we’re 75, then drinking the stuff in liquid form should surely kill us on the spot.

I don’t know about all the conspiracies, but I will say, I’m still alive. And it is hard for me to believe artificial sweetener is somehow more of a risk than eating insane amounts of sugar daily, which is pretty much what everyone who’s not diabetic does. I’m reminded of the time someone told me my blood sugar was high because of drinking diet drinks. When I pointed out that diet drinks had no sugar, this someone responded, “Yeah… That’s what they say.” At the time, I just thought this was an ignorant person ignoring facts, but I soon realized their theory was just a slightly more insane form of the Doctrine of Sophisticated People on Facebook that says that diet drinks can give you diabetes and/or raise your blood sugar. I’ve had people swear to me I’d be better off drinking regular, sugary sodas. I know they are wrong, because I have tried it. Objectively, sugary drinks have made my blood sugar rise more than non-sugary ones with artificial sweetener. I know, I should have been a scientist.

So ignore the warnings. Drink liquid sweetener and enjoy, if you can still find any.

Matt
June 8, 2015, Byram, Miss.