Bob Ross painting #2

March 5, 2017

This time, we tackled Chill With Bob Ross S1:E13, “Artic Winter Day.” It took three hours to do what took him 30 minutes, but I feel like we improved over the last attempt.

Here’s Deena’s.

Here’s mine.

Before we started: the grimace of determination!

Profanities made things easier.

Letter to City Council

February 24, 2017

Today, I wrote a letter to my local city council requesting they pass a resolution calling for President Trump’s impeachment. You can read it below. Sorry for the bad scanning.

If you’re curious, Richmond CA’s resolution can be found here.

I hope you’ll consider sending a similar letter to your local government.

Another Hobby I Don’t Have Time For

February 16, 2017

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, Deena and I each painted the “Valley View” painting in S1:E3 of the Bob Ross: Beauty Is Everywhere series now on Netflix. Click to view a gallery of our attempt to paint some happy little trees and mountains:

Oil painting would be another hobby I don’t have time for, but damned if I’m not interested now. This is far from over (he said, shaking his fist).


February 11, 2017

A couple scenes from my life over the past 24 hours:

#1. School Field Trip

Kid picks up a rock. “What’s this?”

The scientist answers, “That’s coprolite. It’s fossilized poop.”

Kid drops the rock.

#2. Sleepless

The band played a discordant cacophony of Les Miserables while trapeze artists swung overhead and baton twirlers cavorted downstage. Disheveled men with armfuls of paper staggered around, shouting about work and schedules. Confetti and Roman candles completed the tableau.

Pointless to try to sleep. I gave up and got out of bed. Might as well check email for a while.

Satisfied, the band immediately stopped playing. “Take five, guys.” They vanished from the stage.

It’s OK to Lose

January 25, 2017

There’s a troubling myth being propagated in our national culture. It says winning — success — is everything. That if you lose a fight or other contest, you’re worthless. We saw this in the juvenile commentary after the Dec. 31 UFC women’s bantamweight bout between Amanda Nunes and Ronda Rousey, and we’ve continually heard this from our president and his sycophants.

I’m coming up on four years now as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, and one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned on the mat applies to life in general. It’s that it’s okay to lose. It’s how we learn.

There’s a spirtual aspect to this if you’re a fan of Taoism. The yin-yang symbol is one of motion: the white and black halves tumble over each other, propelling each through the cycle of development. The Tao Te Ching says, “Yield and overcome; bend and be straight.” Because when I accept defeat, I release my ego. I acknowledge that someone else might be better than I am at a particular task, that someone might even be stronger or more intelligent. When I accept the Socratic paradox that wisdom begins with knowing that I know nothing, then I am ready to learn from others.

The opposite of this is someone ruled by ego. He whines and lies if he thinks he’s going to lose, and he swaggers and taunts when he wins. He gaslights when objective truths don’t serve his popularity. And he learns nothing. When this person is an average Joe, it’s a tragedy. When this person is a national leader, it’s a catastrophe.

There’s probably nothing I can do to solve the problems at the top of our government. All I can do is ride the storm out, spending that time teaching the next generation the equanimity it will need for actual success. In the meantime, I entertain the fantasy that Ronda Rousey and Hillary Clinton will set their sails in these winds of fate. So, you’re not a world-champion mixed martial artist, and you’re not a president. So what? It doesn’t matter anymore. Ride the sailboat to where you should be now.

It’s OK, Ronda

December 31, 2016

Here’s me this morning.

The Masque of the Red Death

November 11, 2016

“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe. Just a short review.

Read it.

If you need help interpreting it, let me know.

A Meditation from the Dark of Night

November 9, 2016

I woke up at 3 a.m. to use the bathroom but resisted the impulse to check the election results. What if Trump won? sober thinking said. There’s nothing you can do about it, and you won’t be able to go back to sleep. That lasted for an hour until I finally checked my phone’s browser on the bedside table.

At that point, I got up to do dishes.

I have a feeling that keeping my small corner of the world clean is all I’m going to be able to do for the next four to eight years, as the United States of America lurches toward its ignominious end. I’ve done all I can for the world outside my house.

On the up side, I predict a resurgence of the horror genre.

Don’t Let the News Beat You Up

November 4, 2016

Let your kid do it instead!

Nah, it didn't hurt.

Nah, it didn’t hurt.

The Cost of Being an Uber Driver

October 27, 2016

The word “Uber” cropped up in my life several times last week, so I became curious about what it costs to be an Uber cab driver. My conclusion is that it’s not worth it.

Uber and its drivers I expect will have a different opinion. Maybe my calcuations are wrong or unrealistic. If so, please leave a comment. This is a discussion, not a Matt Warner Proclamation.

What is Uber?
Uber is an app-driven way to hire taxicabs or to become a self-employed taxi driver.

Riders use the Uber phone app to summon the nearest roaming Uber driver. The app lets riders know what driver to expect and even shows a moving icon on a map. At the completion of the ride, the rider’s payment method is charged; no cash changes hands. The payment goes through Uber’s bank, and Uber takes a commission before forwarding the balance to the driver. Drivers and riders can leave satisfaction ratings for each other.

Drivers likewise use the Uber app to signal they’re ready to be hired. It appears easy to become a driver: just upload documentation like your driver’s license, car registration, and proof of insurance to Uber, undergo a background check, and blam, you’re in business with your own car.

The appeal of using Uber as a passenger includes not having to use cash and receiving information about your driver. The fares might also be cheaper than an ordinary cab, depending on who you talk to.

The appeal of becoming a driver includes being your own boss and setting your own hours; that’s certainly worth a dog whistle from my world as a family man, business co-owner, and writer. I imagine there’s also the thrill of seeing the money ring up on your smart phone with every ride, like playing a real-world video game, plus the fringe benefit (if you’re an extrovert) of interacting with people.

The Driver’s Money
To build the below spreadsheet, I relied on Uber’s fare estimator to calcuate the fare-per-mile to three known destinations here in Staunton and Augusta County, VA. I averaged those figures to use as the gross rate in the “per fare mile” column.

The “Vehicle costs” per mile assumption uses the IRS standard mileage rate deduction for 2016. The IRS calculates this rate to be inclusive of fuel, depreciation, maintenance, taxes, and insurance.

Not shown are further start-up costs, such as the “No Smoking” and “No Alcohol” signs I would probably buy, and the Commodore stain protection I would seriously consider investing in prior to transporting my first drunk-sick college student. Uber also encourages drivers to give their passengers perks such as water bottles and gum; that would be an ongoing operating cost that’s not shown below.

The one-third (33%) set-aside for income tax is the figure we use here at Deena Warner Design to estimate our taxes. What it means is that once cost-of-business deductions are taken, one-third of every dollar deposited into our personal bank accounts gets escrowed into a savings account for income taxes. One-third is on the high end of our combined federal and state income tax liability. (We save separately for things like property tax and business licensure tax.)

The strongest deterrent I can see to becoming an Uber driver is the operating cost per mile, assuming the IRS calculation is accurate. You don’t earn money when the passenger seat is empty, which means you’re only burning fuel when you’re roaming your area or even driving to pick up a waiting passenger; I labeled these non-fare miles as “overhead miles.”

The spreadsheet shows my estimate that, at least in this area, the take-home pay would be between 57 and 84 cents/mile. Counterbalance this figure against the overhead mile cost of 54 cents/mile, and it means you need roughly equivent numbers of fare and overhead miles just to break even.

Perhaps this ratio is acceptable to most Uber drivers. For all I know, they’re completely stationary while on the clock and between fares. Or maybe business is so plentiful that they never travel more than a couple overhead miles between fared rides, and the fared rides traverse several miles at a time. This latter scenario seems more likely for taxi driving in dense, urban areas.

Not so in my more rural area. Based on this local article from a year ago, I assume the Staunton/Waynesboro/Augusta County market isn’t nearly so profitable as the more populated Charlottesville market. Charlottesville is an 80-mile round trip for me. So if I wanted to do business there, I’d need to pick up at least 80 fared miles just to break even on a given day.

This of course doesn’t address the question of market saturation, about which I have no data. How many people in this area have downloaded the Uber app as either passengers or drivers? That would tell me if there was a healthy predator-prey balance. Uber, unfortunately, doesn’t appear to furnish that data nor seem to care, instead relying on the market’s inherent Darwinian capitalism to balance itself out.

A few frank conversations with Uber drivers might clear up some of these questions. If I do that, I’ll write on this topic again. But for now, I think it’s time to draw some …

It doesn’t seem financially viable to be an Uber driver around here. As others have pointed out, Uber could sweeten the pot by reducing their commission or allowing riders to tip drivers. They could also furnish data on market saturation so that both riders and drivers could make informed decisions ahead of time. But it seems unlikely they’ll do any of this. After all, they’re making money hand-over-fist and expanding internationally; why rock the boat?

As I said, I’m interested in your Uber experiences. Is my math wrong? Do you think I’m full of shit? Tell me.