Saturday, May 18, 2013

Goin' Solo

The effects of Superstorm Sandy are still evident in seaside towns throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Since news stories of continuing struggles--like hundreds of families still living in temporary housing--have long since disappeared from the headlines, most people not directly affected have no clue that there are still serious problems.

A quick drive through south shore towns on Long Island will reveal hundreds of homes that remain uninhabitable and many more where people are living in what amounts to permanent construction zones.

We're lucky. After about a month without heat and hot water and nearly three weeks without electricity, we were able to get back to a semblance of normalcy. Duct tape and a few rolls of plastic sheeting keep most of the construction dust out of our living area, but we've become accustomed to the fact that a thin layer of crud will be a semi-permanent feature for the foreseeable future.

Now that demolition is finished and the debris has been carted away, the rebuilding begins. My challenge is to complete the project myself--solo. Except for a few tasks which I am prohibited from tackling myself, like tying into the main soil stack, my intention is to go it alone.

Plumbing is nearly complete. With the ceiling and walls open, I'll be adding an upstairs master bath, a ground floor kitchen and two additional heating zones. Hot and cold supply lines are installed and DWV lines are in place, ready to be tied into the main stack by a licensed plumber.

Thank Heaven for PEX and PVC.

More than 40 years ago Mr. McGuire took recent graduate Benjamin Braddock out to a quiet spot to offer one important word of advice: "PLASTICS!"

How true.

In addition to modern plastics, other miracle advances like the JobMax multitool and the drywall lift make Goin' Solo much less daunting.

So stay tuned and wish me luck. I'm gonna need it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Seek Professional Help

My previous blog post described my first swing analysis at GolfTec during the 2009 U.S. Open. It was extremely helpful. After that first one-swing video lesson, I received a promotional, in-person swing analysis with a GolfTec instructor in Lake Grove. She broke down every element of my swing and corrected my atrocious posture, alignment and swing plane.

A few months later I took advantage of another promotion at GolfTec in White Plains. On that day, the instructor was able to help me refine my set-up and improve my takeaway and swing plane. Following these two sessions my game continued to improve, but I was still plagued with inconsistency.

That's when a Groupon offer found its way into my inbox. Two 45 minute lessons with highly respected golf coach Walter Ostroske for just $45.

It was an offer I couldn't refuse.

I immediately clicked accept and print, then called Mr. Ostroske to schedule my first lesson. By the time I took four swings with my 6 iron, Walter had identified my problem.

"Your set up is perfect. Good posture, although you could use a bit more knee flex. Nice take-away. Good swing plane."

Walter was very positive and encouraging, so why was every third ball squirting out to the right?

He placed the butt end of my driver four inches outside of my left temple and told me to take another swing.

Before my clubhead made contact with the ball... BAM! My skull whacked the grip.

"You're swaying forward during your downswing," said Walter.

We spent the remaining forty mnutes hitting balls, trying some drills and analyzing how the swing felt.

By the end of the lesson I was fairly confident that I could feel where my body position should be at impact. Walter then told me to practice the drills he recommended and come back after a week or so.

Two weeks later, after a few practice sessions and a nine-hole round at Eisenhower, I returned for my second lesson. My swing had improved. My impact position was better, but my follow through was still ugly. Walter showed me how my right side was outracing the rest of my body which caused my arms to collapse at impact.

The result was that horrendous "Chicken Wing" finish we all see at our local municipal course.

More swings. More advice. And a terrific two-club drill that helps keep the body in sync from takeaway to follow through.

My shots became more consistent and more powerful. As a result, I can now feel where the clubhead should be at every stage of the swing.

I thanked Walter and told him I would continue my practice routine and call in a few weeks to schedule another lesson.

Now let's see if there's any effect on my scorecard.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Inlier

In Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell contends that the most important common factor among great achievers is the 10,000 hour rule. Deliberate practice, conducted over long periods with professional feedback is more important than inborn talent.

Great news for all of us inliers—average folks with average talents—right?

Not so fast.

Dan McLaughlin, a 32 year old former photographer, decided to test the theory using golf as the experiment.

To make a very long story short, Dan quit his job and committed to putting in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice with professional coaching and feedback. His goal: To qualify for the PGA Tour in six years.

Dan is 3,000 hours into his quest and has his handicap down to 6. Pretty cool.

But who has the resources to walk away from job and family responsibilities for six years and spend six hours a day six days a week pounding golf balls? Not I.

So being a man of modest desires, I offer a modest proposal. Over the next four months I will put in 100 hours of deliberate practice, with a small amount of professional coaching and feedback—I can’t afford a full-time professional coach—and break 80 from the white tees on a reasonably challenging course.

First, a little history. I began playing golf in my mid-forties and fell in love with the game immediately. My first efforts were pretty dismal, although not untypical.

I shot 114 on my first attempt at a real golf course, Turnberry Isle in Avventura, Florida.

However, I broke 100 only a few weeks later and was consistently shooting in the high 80s and low 90s within three months.

I’m reasonably fit and fairly athletic so I was able to model my swing after the professional golfers that most resembled me in height, weight and build.

After a moderate amount of practice my swing became the envy of all my playing partners and I routinely outdrove friends 10-to-15 years my junior. My scores, however, still hovered around 90.

In a do-it-yourself attempt to improve, I started tinkering and compensating. By 2007 my swing had degenerated into an ugly, un-athletic atrocity. Worse, I started hitting fat shots, skinny shots, shanks and even, on occasion, total whiffs. I came very close to giving up the game.

It was painful.

Then, during the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage I stepped into the American Express exhibit where GolfTec had set up a swing analyzer. I got strapped into their electronic harness and took my best 5-iron swing.

A few weeks later I got my results along with some tips on how to improve posture, alignment, take-away and follow through.

With a little practice my game came back to its familar mediocre state.

Then, I stumbled upon the Dan Plan which has inspired The Joe Plan which is designed to help players fulfill the modest desire to improve their game and get more enjoyment out of every round.

Today is my first day. I’ll start my practice routine, which I’ll describe in subsequent posts, and play nine holes later this afternoon to get a baseline score. I have never kept a USGA handicap index, but my intuition tells me it’s between 18 and 22.

Wish me luck.

Next installment: Professional feedback.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Joe Girardi Cites Global Warming in Yankee Loss

During his post-game press conference, Joe Girardi blamed anthropogenic global warming for his team's improbable loss to the Mets. "There's no other exlanation. The only way a Mets player can hit a homerun is through the use of illegal performance enhancing temperatures."

When asked to explain, Girardi ranted that Ike Davis couldn't hit a ball over a Little League fence without climatic juice.

"That ball barely made it into the first row. And it went off of Swisher's glove, so it should have been a grounds-rule double."

When a reporter from the NY Post suggested that a ball bouncing off a player's glove and over the wall is indeed a homer, Girardi accused him of being a right-wing climate change denier.

"SHUT UP!" he explained, then stormed out of the pressroom without answering any further questions.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Farewell Breaker

Edward Woodward died yesterday at the age of 79.

Best known as Robert McCall on the hit 80s crime show The Equalizer, Mr. Woodward played the title role of Harry "Breaker" Morant in the breakthrough Australian film Breaker Morant and turned in an exceptional performance as the Ghost of Christmas Present in the George C. Scott television version of A Christmas Carol.

In what is one of the most powerful scenes in all of English literature, Edward Woodward gave the Spirit an aura humanity tinged with excruciating dread.

'Spirit. are they yours.' Scrooge could say no more.

'They are Man's,' said the Spirit, looking down upon them. 'And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.

This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want.

Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it.' cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. 'Slander those who tell it ye.

Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.'

'Have they no refuge or resource.' cried Scrooge.

'Are there no prisons.' said the Spirit, turning on him
for the last time with his own words. 'Are there no workhouses.'"

In the same way, he brought Robert McCall to life. A disillusioned retired intelligence operative of independent means, he was a true-to-life James Bond. Instead of fighting evil geniuses, he took arms against a sea of trouble caused by the random acts of violence that were so common in the New York City of the 1980s. The Equalizer was a great show with great supporting players, great locales--shot on the streets of New York--and great, great music by Stewart Copeland.

The Equalizer tapped into the undercurrent of fear that was pervasive in pre-Giuliani New York City. They couldn't make that show today with its dark and foreboding atmosphere.

I never liked Rudy, but you cannot dispute the fact that he transformed New York.

Requiem in Pacis Mr. Woodward.

Coffee, Coffee Everywhere!

Just got a new Keurig Platinum coffee maker. Only problem is that I have this visceral aversion to buying trendy convenience stuff like those chic little K Cups filled with serving-sized portions of designer coffee.

Then I stumbled upon this little gem that lets you re-use K-cups, filled with your own favorite Java.

The site is here: Reuse your Keurig K-Cups!

I'm gonna give it a try.

Besides, those designer coffees always smell better than they taste.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

All Rangel-ed Up

Rarely does a single piece of mail cause one's heart to flutter, face to flush and knees to buckle.

But, then again, rarely does a piece of mail arrive with the dreaded return address:

Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service

That's the "Welcome Home" that greeted me this past Tuesday as I dragged myself through the front door after a rough day of earning a living, playing golf and ferrying adolescent infants from one suburban soiree to another. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I owed our esteemed and infallible federal government... $11,589.22!

Holy smoke. What did I do this time?

Now look, I'm not the Secretary of the Treasury.

I'm not the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

I'm not a New York Times columnist who also consulted for Enron.

I'm not even a graduate of the Harvard Business School, a Fortune 500 CEO, a wheeler dealer in foreign exchange arbitrage or the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee.

The tax code, for me, is not all that complicated.

I don't have income from esoteric foreign sources, like Timothy Geithner.

I don't keep piles of cash in my freezer like Rep. William Jefferson of New Orleans.

And I didn't make billions selling collateralized debt obligations to individual investors and pension funds while also making private wagers on the collapse of the mortgage market, like Goldman-Sachs.

It's also very difficult for me to make HONEST mistakes about rental income from condos in Puerto Rico, villas in the Dominican Republic and sublets from multiple rent-controlled New York apartments.

Unlike Charles Rangel I don't have those kinds of investments.

Most of us don't and if we did, we'd be evicted, audited, harassed, terrorized and waterboarded before being prosecuted.

No, my life and my income streams are exceedingly boring.

So, what was my transgression?


How on earth can I un-report? My life, again, like most of our lives, is an open book.

The federal government knows who I am, where I live, what I do and how much money I make.

It's all documented by the gigantic legion of American businesses, large and small, who, in addition to struggling to earn a profit also have to serve as government tax collectors.

Every year these businesses send out millions of W-2s, 1099s and a wide variety of related tax documents that make it impossible for ordinary citizens to claim complexity or honest mistakes when confronted by a jack-booted stormtrooper carrying a Treasury Department ID card.

But, there it is in horrifying black and white on official Department of the Treasury stationery.

Non-employee compensation: $17,000
Capital Gains from the sale of stocks and bonds: $17,225

With penalties and interest... I owe $11,589.22!!!!

Quick, let's go to the videotape.

In this case, the TurboTax file for the year in question.

Click the "Income" button. Scroll down a few lines...

There it is, right on my Schedule C: Non-Employee Compensation, $17,000.

Whew, that's a relief.

Scroll down a few more lines to Investment Income and presto... under Capital Gain...

Proceeds from Sale = $17,255
Cost Basis = $15,900

Capital Gain = $1,355

Whew... relieved again.

Not very complicated. Not much wiggle room to claim an honest mistake. Every penny documented and reported to the powers that be in our nation's capitol.

But very quickly, my sense of relief turned to anger and outrage.

How can a dedicated public servant waste time and resources generating a 26 page document that seeks to explain why I owe back taxes on income that I have already been taxed on?

What's more frustrating is this: How can this Mensa member suggest that my capital gain on the sale of stock is exactly equal to the proceeds of the sale?

Does she believe that I PAID ZERO DOLLARS?

I'm not Hillary Clinton.

Stock certificates, cattle futures contracts and mansions in Chappaqua do not appear, as if by magic, in my Christmas stocking every December 25th.

So now I'm on the seventh draft of my reply letter. I've taken out the references to Cossacks and Brown Shirts. I've even removed my description of this particular bungling bureaucrat as Her Highness, the Twittering Twat of the Treasury. That one hurt. I like the alliteration.

But if we cannot expect the people that write the tax laws and collect the taxes to understand the complexities and requirements of the tax code, the very least we can hope for is that the people who have the power to terrorize us through the mail system should be able to read a simple--a very simple--tax return.