Taxes

It’s almost tax season and I enjoy taxes a little too much. You may have heard that wealthy corporations and millionaires avoid paying taxes and meanwhile the little people like yourself have to pay huge amounts. Want to act like a millionaire and avoid paying your taxes too? Let’s find out how.

I’m going to use an example of someone who makes $40k because that’s a nice round number, and also falls into the lowest Canadian tax bracket, ie the one you’re most likely to be in early in your career and before you’ve gotten a handle on how wealth works.

The first $11,474 on your paycheck is tax free. That leaves $28,526 that’s subject to a 15% income tax. Since that first 11-and-a-bit thousand doesn’t count, your average tax rate (in BC – other provinces are different) is 14.61%. You owe the government $5842 of your hard-earned and you get to keep $34,158. I’m sure they’ll spend it wisely. (Check the numbers yourself if you want, with SimpleTax’s calculator here.)

It’s pretty painless – the payroll person at your work will helpfully deduct 14% from your check each month so you never even see it, and in the spring your tax bill will be zero, or close to it. You might even get a return if payroll dude did the math wrong.

And that’s the end of it, I guess.

No, wait. I brought you here for a reason. Millionaires.

If you have a million dollars, it’s very easy to stash it all in an indexed mutual fund that will pay dividends, or capital gains, about about 7% a year. (Here’s some nice simple portfolios you can invest in that will get you returns like that.)

You can pay yourself 4%, reinvest 3%, and keep doing that infinitely. Basically never work again unless you feel like it. The capital will keep growing slowly if you withdraw at that rate, so you can just keep it up forever. 4 percent of a million is like $40,000. Convenient, hey? The exact same salary you get! Wouldn’t it be great to just get paid $40,000 a year forever, and never have to work for it? It’s possible, and all you have to do is start with a million bucks.

Okay, end sarcasm.

Someone who has a million dollars is rich, safe to say. Rich people should pay more taxes, right? That’s the whole point of the marginal tax rate, right? Only here’s the thing – only half of the capital gain is subject to income tax, and it’s taxed at your average tax rate. This millionaire did nothing but sit on his butt and watch grass grow this year, so he doesn’t have any job income, and only $20,000 in taxable capital income. His average tax rate is 4.3%.

So the millionaire only has to pay $1,784 tax on their $40,000 income.

The highest tax rate in Canada is 33%, if you make over $200,000, but a five-millionaire can make that much just by letting his dividends grow and still gets taxed at only 11%, a lower rate than you, who spent the whole year grinding for your 40 large.

Doesn’t that kind of suck? Wouldn’t you rather pay less? Like they do?

Let’s find out how. You need to get rid of $5842 in income, tout suite. The easiest way is to stash it in your RSP. Money in your RSP is tax free if you don’t withdraw it til you’re a thousand years old and not making money anymore, and at least it’s still yours. You can put 18% of your income in there each year, and your payroll person was going to take it off your paycheck anyway so its not like you were using it. Tell payroll to stop making deductions, and just put 14% of your paycheck directly into an indexed mutual fund as soon as you get paid. Then you can start making your own capital gains. If you don’t know how to do that there are lots of super good tutorials to get you started here: Canadian Couch Potato

Another fun one is medical expenses. It’s kind of bullshit, but there are quite a few medical expenses that our provincial healthcare won’t cover – glasses, physiotherapy, hearing aids and medical devices (like wheelchairs). But you can pay for them yourself and claim them as medical deductions. For myself, I got new glasses and a hearing aid this year, for a total of $2200. Of that I can claim $1187. You can get $200 for moving expenses too. Don’t forget to check if you have any educational amount leftover from school – it’s around $5000 a year and that carries over.

Contributions to charity, and, for some reason, political parties and churches, also work. I don’t agree with that philosophically, but those are the rules.

Reducing your taxable income this way as well will let you pay less for MSP as well. RSP and medical contributions are deducted from your net income, and if you get that down to 34,158 then your MSP bill will only be $56 this year, instead of the $72 it probably was last year (if you made 40,000 last year as well). Put just a little more in your RSP and get it under $34,000, and you will only have to pay $46. That’s almost a good deal for healthcare, even if it doesn’t cover wheelchairs. Hopefully it covers the cost of all those goddam envelopes they insist on sending out every month. There’s like 16 of them on my kitchen table now, all addressed to people who don’t live here anymore.

So maybe if you can act like a millionaire yourself, you can feel a little better about the ludicrously low taxes that rich people get to pay, and the punishingly high ones extracted from lower income people.

Look, I’m not against taxes. The role of the government, as I see it, is to protect the common resources. That means the land, the people, the water, the oil, all of it. I especially care about the weaker members of our society, the ones who end up on the street after trauma leads to mental illness and addictions, getting stuck in the poverty trap. I want to be compassionate to them and make sure they get what they need,  and I want to chip in my share for it. But our provincial and federal governments act like it’s not their job. They act like selling our land and resources for stupid cheap prices to corporations and letting millionaires off the hook for income tax is a good idea, and they don’t look after people with the money they’ve got.

It’s frustrating. I think I can use my money more effectively than the government, and I will as much as I can, within the rules.

Hope this helps some of you save some money too.

 

*** I did my best to be accurate and cite sources, but please tell me if you see any discrepancies.

Recursing For Bike Polo

This week I got to write a recursive function for the second time in my programming career. I’m always excited when this happens, and the event is so rare that it gets a blog post every time.

If you don’t know or care what recursion is, now’s the time to stop reading. Otherwise, we’re about to get technical, so pause your music and pay attention.

Recursion is a programming concept where a piece of code calls itself. It’s kinda hard to come up with a metaphor to explain this in non-programming terms – maybe think of a 3D printer that prints copies of itself. I dunno.

Anyway, I’ve been making a scoring application for my bike polo club. We’re having a tournament in January, and we’re not satisfied with the software options that are currently available.

Normal polo clubs use Podium. To use that, we have to get all our players to sign up for the League of Bike Polo and register themselves in our tournament with their teams, before the day of. The trouble is, our club hasn’t got its shit together. Hardly any of our players even know how to operate a computer, let alone sign up for LOBP. Besides that, our tournaments are traditionally mixers. That means you don’t choose your team – you throw your name in a hat and play with whoever you draw. We like it that way, because it keeps things low-key and egalitarian. The weakest player in the tournament still has a chance of scoring a few goals, and the winners are likely to be three strangers who have never played together before. It gives the Victoria players a chance to do okay, even though we’re playing against some of the best players in the world, who come over from Seattle and Vancouver.

So we don’t like Podium that much. (Though it is an excellent piece of software and a great contribution to the polo community!)

Jawn asked me to come up with something better last year. I think he asked me the year before as well. He asked a third time this year, with 4 months of run-up time, and this year I’m actually experienced enough to pull it off.

Instead of trying to master Javascript on the spot to create a fully browser-based application (that’s what I tried and choked on last time), I used the tools I’ve used on the job for the last three years – CakePHP and MySql. I use an older version of Cake, 1.3, at work, but my boss has been making noises about upgrading to 3.0 lately, and this was a good chance to learn how to use the newer version. So CakePHP 3.0 is the framework.

Setting up the framework on a borrowed server from work took a day or two. Figuring out how to create a plugin from the command line, then controllers, models, and views, took another week or so. Once the wiring was sorted out, I started on logic. Our user, in this case one Jawn Fawn, creates teams. Each team can have three players. They’re drawn out of a hat (in real life) then entered on a form (in the app). The teams are added to a tournament, and then you get a nice table with all your teams displaying.

Click a big plus sign to start a round, and you get… what?

Well, in the first version, you got a list of teams matched up at random. Winners get two points, ties get one point each, losers get nothing. So after a round, teams are sorted by how many points they’ve got, and then the teams with more points play each other and the teams with less points play each other. This makes sense to me, it’s a fair way of determining who the best player in a tournament is.

Except, that’s not really our goal. No one who plays polo in Victoria cares who the best player is. We’re here to get rowdy and drink in public. The weather is always terrible. Sometimes there’s soup, but the soup is usually cold. Showing each other up is the last thing on our minds.

No, the goal is to make sure that every team plays every other team, and that repeats happen as seldom as possible. Last week, I demoed the app to Jawn, and to my total shock, he didn’t care about my pretty ajax interface or the nice bubble display of complete matches. The first thing he asked was, “So if Big Country and the Beavers have the same score in round three…. they play each other again?”

And I’m like, “Yeah, I guess so?”

“Well that’s no good”, said Jawn. “The whole problem is that I don’t want to have to keep track of making sure teams don’t play each other too often.”

“Ok, I’ll give it another try.”

As usual in programming, the last 10% of the problem takes 80% of the development time. That’s basically what happened here, and it took another whole week to come up with an algorithm and an implementation that worked. Here it is, with lots of comments. It appears to be working, according to my tests, but I haven’t tested much. Still have to bug Jawn to kick it until it breaks. For some reason, he doesn’t drop what he’s doing and immediately start testing when I send him a demo, I have no idea what’s up with that.

Two things frustrated me for a whole day each. One was the part where the function calls itself. I was calling the function and then returning the array of matches. Instead, I need to return the function call within a conditional statement (if there are more unmatched teams, recurse…), and only return the matches when the condition is not met.

Second, I forgot the “break;” at the end of the foreach loop. It’s important. That was the “break”-through that let me finish it today.

Finally, the reason it had to be recursive in the first place. You grab the first item on the list of teams, then iterate the rest of the list until a match is found. What if no match is found? You have to iterate again. And so, you call the function again.

The tournament is set for January 21st. If you live anywhere near Victoria, I hope you can make it to see my work in action!

Can he suffer music?

A lot of languages have gendered nouns and articles. For an English speaker, this is difficult. Gender is only relevant to your doctor and the person you’re sleeping with. Why does a book need to have a gender? Why does a table need gender?

French has made me familiar with the concept at least. Un livre is a male book. Une fleur is a female flower. Sometimes the e on the end of the word gives a hint (ordinateur is male, basse is female), but as you can see from the book and flower example, that’s not really reliable at all. All you can do is memorize as many pronouns as possible and hope for the best. French and Spanish speakers will recognize me as a foreigner no matter how fluent I get, because I’ll never stop mixing up the genders. It’s a mistake not even a child would make in their native language.

Now we come to Danish. They have the “common gender” and the “neuter gender”. Not only does that not make sense, it makes me wonder  exactly what Danes do in bed.

Here’s another fun one.

“Kan han lide musik?”

Does he like music? Or rather “Can he like music?” But you could also translate it as “Can he suffer music?” because “like” is the same word as “suffer”. This might be another key to the Danish psyche. They don’t like things, they’re simply willing to suffer them. When the men in white with clipboards come around asking Danes if they like their lives, they all say yes even if they’re suffering. I assume this is how they earned the title of “Happiest Nation on Earth” for 50 years running even though they never get to pillage anymore.

Words for feelings

Danish lessons continue here, where I’m learning about Mette’s new boyfriend, and how difficult men are to buy presents for.

“Mænd bliver aldrig glade for sko,” imparts her friend, after she suggests that she might get him some new shoes. This means, “Men are never happy for new shoes.”

“I just don’t understand him”, says Mette, or “Jeg forstår ham bare ikke.”

“How can one walk in the same shoes for years without getting tired of them?” which is “Hvordan kan man gå rundt i de samme sko i årevis uden at blive træt af dem?”

Yes indeed, Mette, I feel your pain. Men are difficult to get presents for. While I was learning these new words, I started thinking about how languages evolve and how vague concepts become concrete, known phenomena when we invent words for them. Like, you know that feeling when you’re in a cheap motel? Like maybe you were on your way someplace more interesting, on your way to an adventure or to meet with friends or just go home, but you got caught by the rain. Or the ferry was full. Or you had been driving for 14 hours straight and your head started to nod, then you came awake with an snap, still in your lane and driving straight, but with your panicky heart beating twice as fast, and your eyelids starting to close again anyway…

Okay, so you’re in that shitty motel. The room is cheap, yet still twice as much as it looks like it’s worth. There might be other people there, but you won’t see them. You take a long shower, just for something to do, and watch TV for the first time in several years. You turn it off after about seven minutes, because the commercial that was playing when you turned it on hasn’t ended yet.

You listen to the silence and it starts to close in.

What’s the word for that?

Maybe Danish has a word for it. I need to get back to learning.

 

 

How to learn a language when your attention span is shorter than a puppy’s

I don’t know if there’s a standard best way of learning a new language, other than immersion. I’ve tried French and Spanish so far, and although I can read both languages well enough to navigate French and Spanish countries, I’m nowhere close to fluent. So I can’t tell you what the most effective learning method is, but I’m guessing it doesn’t matter that much as long as you practice a lot.

Therefore, the best method is one that you can do every day without dying of impatience or boredom.

For learning Danish, I’ve looked at some podcasts like this one – Copenhagencast. I didn’t like that one much. The lady speaks so slowly that I get bored waiting for her to get to the next word. I’m doing this in the morning over coffee on my way to work, so my attention span is good for about 20 minutes tops. When I went looking for a lesson that would get moving a little quicker, I found this, One Minute Danish Lessons. The title is a lie – the lessons are three or four minutes long, and they waste the first thirty seconds of each episode with some stupid music and an explanation of the one-minute-lesson concept. It’s the same explanation every time. I really didn’t need to hear it more than once. I haven’t gotten to the end of one of those lessons yet, even though they are only three or four minutes.

I’ve got some comic books and kids stories to read as well, but I’m not even at that level yet. Looking up every word is difficult when you’ve got a coffee cup in one hand.

These aren’t complaints. Learning Danish is hard work, there’s no way around that. But I only want to do the language learning work, not get distracted by things like coffee cups and stupid music. So this is just looking for the path forward.

This might be a start: SpeakDanish. You can play each short phrase of a conversation over and over again, fast and slow, with the Danish text and English text right next to each other. This won’t be enough on it’s own, I don’t think. I’ll probably have to write the phrases down as well to stick them in my mind. But I can play the phrases while I’m eating breakfast. Now to find out if I can get my job to pay for the license fee.

Also – here’s the section about swearing. It’s free, enjoy!

 

Morgenkys

I’m learning Danish. When I learned French, they started us on colors and seasons, then moved on to verb conjugations. It was pretty dull. The first Danish I’ve learned is “morgenkys”. It means morning kiss. That is what happens in the morning during traffic when cars are too close together and they bump into each other.

I’ve also learned “skjold” which is shield, “sværd” which is sword, and “svært” which is hard, from a story about Thor that I read in Danish refugee school. One other word “ikke”, I haven’t figured out what it means yet except it seems to be a negation.

“Burkabilist” means burka driver, and refers to the people who wear burkas while they’re driving, even though they are not supposed to because it restricts their visibility. I suspect that this is a racist word.

“Motorvejen” means motorway, and the pronunciation is the same as English, despite the odd choices they’ve made about spelling.

There aren’t any tow trucks in Port Renfrew

We came upon a motorcycle accident on the way out to Port Renfrew today. I was leading a group of five motorcycles, and ahead of us was a different group of three – two big Harleys and a BMW Dakar. Ahead of them there were a few cars, going slower than motorcycles like to go, so we were all bunched up. Two of the cars split off at China Beach and the third one saw that he was holding us up, so politely pulled over to let us pass.

The group ahead of us took off and were out of sight in moments. In my group, we had a couple bikes riding two-up, one inexperienced rider going slow, and another who rolled her new bike out of the dealership yesterday. So I didn’t feel any need to keep up with them. My group continued at our relaxed pace until we found the BMW on the side of the road and two riders standing near it looking shell-shocked. The second rider’s bike was nowhere in sight.

I pulled my group over at the next open spot and ran back to see what was up. A Harley rider had target-fixated in the middle of a curve and gone right off the road. Not just in the ditch, but 15 feet up the gravel embankment on the other side of the ditch. By the time I got there on foot a camper had pulled over and given him a chair and some water. He had a cut on his face, a deep gouge on his right arm, and a horrible purple scrape bruise on his leg, but he was able to stand and walk at least.

I’ve seen plenty of people having bad days, but this was the first time I’ve been first on the scene, or close to it. Normally there’s already ambulances present or on the way, but this happened between Jordan River and Port Renfrew. There is no cell service and no human habitation of any kind for 20km in either direction. Everyone was just standing around, wondering what to do.

I checked the rider for broken bones and serious bleeding, then recruited a couple of my friends to help move the Harley back down into the road. I checked my odometer so I could report the location – there were no landmarks of any kind. Then we continued our weekend jaunt to Tomi’s Cafe and got on with lunch. In PR, I was worried, so I asked at the cafe if there was a tow service I could call and send back. There’s no such thing in Port Renfrew. So I had my friend call the RCMP in Sooke and tell them what happened and where, and ask them to make sure the guys were safe.

The whole time I was thinking about what I could have done. One of the stopped camper vans had a big first aid kit in it. I could have asked if any of them had actual training to go with the kit, and if not, administered first aid myself (I do have training). I could have asked my friends to go ahead without me and stayed with the injured rider and his friend and helped them flag down a truck. I could have gotten the BMW’s name and phone number, at least, so I could get in touch with him and ask if they made it out okay, or pass it along to the police.

None of these things are my responsibility, exactly, but it’s what I would want someone to do if I was in that situation. If I was the injured rider, I would be too shocky to do anything useful for the rest of the day. If I was the friend, I’d be standing there thinking “I can’t handle this. I need an adult.” Which is pretty much what the guy was doing. He was a new rider out on his first big ride ever, with his two friends who were supposed to be more experienced than him. But one of them just ate it, and the other one was far ahead before he noticed his crew was gone, and took a long time to come back.

So I wish I had taken responsibility for the situation and seen it through to the conclusion. Of course that would have derailed my plans for the day, but come on. It’s just a Sunday ride. I guess what stopped me was the feeling that everyone else was older than me, more experienced, and knew what to do better than I did. But based on what I could see, that was not true. Everyone else was looking for someone to take charge as well. I could have done it, but I ran away instead.

The guy was not dying or anything, but the worst case scenario I can think of is that he ended up riding his dented motorcycle, shocky and bleeding, back to Sooke (50km of twisty roads) before getting proper care. I would never want to do that. I would never want any of my friends to do that either.

It made me wonder, what is the procedure for dealing with an emergency out there? My friends and I, and hundreds of other motorcyclists, whip out to Port Renfrew every chance we get, enjoying the windy roads, the glimpses of ocean, and the total absence of speed traps. My group doesn’t have any hooligans, but accidents aren’t that rare.

There is no cell phone service. There is no data connection. There are no police in Port Renfrew or Jordan River – the nearest RCMP outpost is Sooke, and it’s probably staffed by like two constables. There’s no tow service in PR or JR, as I was appalled to learn. And there’s not really any “adults” to call – no one today had any more of a clue what to do than I did.

Luckily, there is one thing you can count on, on a sunny August weekend – tons and tons of traffic. And almost everyone is prepared to help, with Canadian enthusiasm, as long as you give them clear instructions and only ask them to do things that they can do. I’d like to have a plan in place in case something like this ever happens again. I’m unlikely to start carrying a first aid kit or satellite phone, so my plan relies on helpful strangers.

First, check for injuries and make sure no one is bleeding to death. Flag down one of the millions of RVs that drive through every weekend if one hasn’t stopped already. Tap them for blankets, lawn chairs, and water. Move any injured people off the road, sit them down, give them water and blankets, and have someone keep an eye on them watching for shock. Move all vehicles off the road as well. Ask the involved parties whether they want to try flagging down a ride to the next town or send someone else there to phone for help. If they’re incoherent, make a decision for them. Don’t be in a hurry to run off or send anyone else running off for help, because frequently help arrives on it’s own. But if not, send someone to the next town and phone Totem Towing or ambulance/police for help, depending how bad it is. Wait until everyone is on their way home. Get names and phone numbers sooner and not later, so you can check up on them. Give yours as well. And from the very outset, understand that your leisurely Sunday ride is cancelled, and that God has provided you with a Learning Opportunity instead. Be grateful for it.

I hope writing this out helps me get it right (to my own standards) next time, though, of course, next time is likely to be a completely different emergency and need a totally different response. So it goes.

On the way home to Victoria, we stopped to stretch our legs in Jordan River and a constable pulled up. He asked us if we were the ones who called in the accident. He had looked for the downed rider at the spot and along the road but hadn’t seen him or his friends. Neither had we, so I guess they all made it back to safety somehow.

“‘What is the EU?’: Hours after voting for Brexit, the British are frantically Googling the European Union”

This hilarious headline has been all over the news since the Brexit vote and will no doubt get pulled out at every dinner party conversation about Britain or Europe from now until the end of time. About 4 people have shown it to me now, each of them shaking their heads and saying “lol look how dumb they are“, or something like that.

Please don’t be one of the people who repeats it, because it is a bullshit story based on nothing.

The story came from Google Trends. You can play with it here if you want. https://www.google.ca/trends/. If you have taken even one semester of statistics you should be aware of how easy it is to use simple graphs like these to spin any story you want, by carefully revealing some numbers and concealing others. The charts are updated in real time; if you look at it right now, you’ll see a much bigger spike than the one that was originally reported, caused by all the people who read the article.

Some other possible reasons for the spike:

  • Kids (too young to vote) asking their teachers about it, to which the logical response is “let’s look it up.”
  • The peak of that trend was actually the day before the vote; ie, people getting informed about it before making a choice. It’s super easy to distort that fact by changing the search filter. Searches the following day were still triple the normal numbers, but lower than the day before, and “triple the normal numbers” means something like 1000 people. To me that’s a non-story. 1000 people in a nation of 64 million may be a spike on a graph, but only if the chart had pretty low numbers in the first place.
  • All it means is someone decided to Google “what is the eu” – it does NOT mean that the searcher didn’t know what the EU was in the first place. To Google the two letters “eu” on their own is nonsensical. It’s a common word in French that has nothing to do with European Unions. It’s a misspelling of “et”, the blockbuster film about a lost alien. It’s a misspelling of “ei”, or emplyment insurance, which you get when you’re out of a job. If I wanted more information about the EU I would also google “what is the eu” and not “eu”. I would do so around the time of a major referendum about it. It’s normal behaviour. It doesn’t mean that you don’t know what the EU is – it means you’re intelligent enough to realize you probably need to know more.

All this doesn’t really fit into the narrative of a horde of thoughtless sheep voting for “leave” because ignorance made them think all Britain’s problems came from an amorphous overseas blob called the “EU”. I’ve heard a lot about anti-intellectualism – the complaint that normals and muggles think they don’t need no experts or college learnin’ to know what’s best for them.

I’m starting to sympathize with the normals and muggles though, because the so-called intellectuals have a habit of acting like condescending jackasses. Please don’t be one of them; when you do that, you are making the world worse by increasing the divide between “us” and “them” and that’s how we got into this fix in the first place.

I’m saying “we” and including myself in the group that is affected by Brexit. “us” and “them”, “Canadian” or “British” or “European”, “remain” or “leave”, “conservative” or “liberal”, all these words are tools that are used to distract us into fighting amongst ourselves while we’re being robbed.

Stop condescending. Stop patronizing. Stop it.

Alarm Clock

I stopped using my alarm clock recently.

When I was a kid, my dad was my alarm clock. He’d wake me up every morning for school. Sometimes he woke me up really early, like 4 am. My mom was a bus driver and we only had one family car, so dad drove her. They couldn’t leave my 6 year old brother and I alone, so we went too. She had to go to a farm a half-hour drive south of town every morning at 5 am to get the bus, warm it up, (call for a tow and a substitute if it wouldn’t start; sometimes it didn’t), and begin her route. She’d work her way from Black Creek to the south of Campbell River, to the ferry dock, to Sayward, north of town, and back to the Christian School to drop kids off.

My brother and I wandered around the farm while we waited for the bus to warm up. There were calves, tractors and corn to look at. Dad would either pace or do the crossword. Once they were sure the bus was going to work, dad and Tim and I went to a truck stop called the Purple Cow and had breakfast. It was not every morning, but pretty often, when I was four years old. Early mornings were cold and blue-grey, and I could see my breath no matter what time of year it was. I was not awake at 4 am and the whole thing passed in a chilly cloud of cow manure, diesel exhaust, bacon and cigarette smoke. I think that was so long ago that people still smoked indoors.   

My dad kept waking me up for school until I was 12. He is chronically punctual for everything, sometimes to the point of absurdity, and he enforced this on me as well. If the bus was coming at 8:00, I had better be standing on the road at 7:45. If it took me an hour to get ready in the morning (it did, and still does – I move slow), then I had to be awake at 6:30. So every morning at 6:30, he’d come in and gently tap my shoulder. I’d growl, pull the blankets tight over my head, and roll away.

He’d shake my shoulder harder, finally wrestling the covers off altogether and dragging me out of bed. This went on for years. On Saturday I’d sleep in till noon or later, in protest. To his credit, he never bothered me then. On Sunday I was forced to get up for church, and every Sunday I’d swear, without fail, that when I was a grownup I’d wake up whenever I damn well wanted, probably at noon.

Eventually we got tired of this routine. I think my reaction must have gotten violent enough that it was making my dad hate mornings as much as I did. He bought me an alarm clock. For some reason, this solved the problem. The alarm clock is impersonal – I can’t be mad at it. I set it for 6:45 instead of 6:30, and got up with no problems for the rest of my school career.

However, I’m mostly deaf. I don’t wear hearing aids at night. I never could hear the beep that the alarm clock made, so I set it to wake me up with the radio. After a couple years I started sleeping through the morning lite hits, so I changed it to play static from a dead channel, and cranked the volume up. Over the next 14 years, the alarm clock got louder and louder and I slept through it more and more often. For a good long time I never hit the snooze button, but the first time I tried it the spell was broken. I started hitting snooze 3 or 4 times. The last hour before I got up was jangly, broken, stressful sleep.  So this year, I gave up on the stupid thing altogether and stopped setting it.

Now I wake up at exactly 6:30 every single morning. Weekends included. Thanks dad.

Mom’s Spaghetti

I woke up at the usual time and decided to stay in bed. I used my feet to pull my phone off the charger where it sleeps at night and emailed work. “I’ve got vertigo. I won’t be in.” Then I texted my two best friends, one after another, and said, “I can’t walk. Halp.”

Then I lay in bed for another hour til the roommates were gone, so they couldn’t see me crawl to the bathroom on my hands and knees. The world wouldn’t stop spinning so I closed my eyes. Coming back from the bathroom I had to stop a couple of times in the yoga pose known as “the Child”, clinging to the floor so I wouldn’t fall off. I stopped at the refrigerator also for about two swallows of almond milk, but they came right back up again. Last night mom made beef stroganoff for dinner. It was delicious and I ate a lot of it, but that all came out the wrong end as well.

I made it back to bed and stayed there, not moving at all, til 11:30, when Shane and his girlfriend Jenna showed up with ginger beer to rehydrate me.

Shane attempted the Epley Maneuver, in which an assistant rotates your head around in a prescribed pattern in an attempt to let the loose crystals in your ear canals tumble out. These crystals, apparently, are what cause the dizziness. They’re not supposed to be in your inner ear fluid – when they find their way in, they cause ripples in the fluid that make your brain think you’re still moving even though you’ve stopped. It’s the same sensation as when you get off the merry-go-round at the park and everything keeps spinning for a while. Except it’s super annoying and it won’t go away.

Anyway, the Epley Maneuver works, eventually, but you have to do it just right, and it usually takes a bunch of tries. We didn’t know that and thought it was supposed to work after the first couple of tries, like it did last time I had vertigo in 2012. We also figured it doesn’t have that great success rate, because it didn’t work when Shane had vertigo in 2015.

Jenna thought I probably had an ear infection, and voted for emergency room. Off we went. ER at noon on a Monday is not too bad. I got in and inspected by a Dr. Tristan Jones within about 10 minutes. He checked that I didn’t have a fever or any kind of neurological problems, made sure I wasn’t high, and told me about a regular expressions problem that he’s been having with his side project. I politely refrained from telling him the joke about regular expressions. (You tried to solve your problem with regular expressions; now you’ve got two problems.) (This is a programmer joke. If you don’t get it, that just means you’re normal.)

He told me it was BPPV (benign positional paroxysmal vertigo) like I originally thought, and that the cure is either Epley or just suffer it out.

He went off to get a printout of official instructions for the Epley Maneuver, and I quickly texted Shane for help again, knowing that his pickup lines are more effective than mine. He replied with “Do you make house calls? and when he says no, say “What if I promise to be getting out of the shower every time you call?”” Sadly, he was too late and I ended up using my own line – “Do you need my email address in case you need someone to commiserate with about code?” He wasn’t having it. What, it’s noon and I’ve got vomit on my sweater already. It’s literally mom’s spaghetti. He’s not into that? Oh well.

I hung out on Shane’s couch for the rest of the afternoon. I’m still dizzy and not sure if I’m going to work tomorrow. Comedy makes me feel better, but if this doesn’t go away after three days I’m going to take up hard drugs as a lifestyle.