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Christmas Letters

2000 Christmas Letter

Welcome to the sixth year of the increasingly inaccurately named “Christmas Letter Trilogy.” The world seemed to have survived the whole Y2K scare without too much pillaging and plundering. Or at least there wasn’t any more than last year (adjusted for inflation). Despite the fact I didn’t get to spend six months in Europe this year and I didn’t have any awkward experiences in the women’s bathroom of any fast food establishments, I did manage to keep myself busy enough to write a witty and amusing end-of-the-year letter. My name is Omar Lutfey, and these are my stories.

I started off the year Dr. Evil style by giving the command to fire the (make quotation mark gesture with your fingers) “laser” on my eyes in an attempt to improve my less-than-perfect vision. The entire procedure took 15 minutes for both eyes and I was awake and alert the whole time. Overall I would say the procedure was roughly as uncomfortable as sitting through an entire episode of “Threes Company” where, because of some wacky misunderstanding, Jack, Janet, and Mr. Furley think that Chrissy is pregnant. I was quite amused by the smell produced as the laser sculpted my eyes. I kept thinking how little pieces of my eye were vaporized and then sucked into my nasal cavity. Then I realized the entire operating staff was probably having the same experience. At that exact moment in time I stopped worrying about my personal safety or how my eyesight was going to be the next day, and focused exclusively on the fact a room full of people I will most likely never see again were calmly sitting there breathing in little pieces of my eye. In retrospect, my state of mind may have been affected by the fact the doctors had me hopped up on Valium.

The new year is all about making changes, and at the beginning of the year 2000 I changed my work hours at my job to four ten-hour days a week. Dispensing technical advise for C++ libraries ten hours a day isn’t the best way to spend time, but having a three day weekend every week was pretty damn cool. I had every Saturday, Sunday, and Monday free from any job-related responsibilities. I quickly discovered that going skiing during the week is preferable to the weekends. The traffic on I-70 is 80 percent less likely to get you killed, you can actually park close to where you want to ski, and you can go into the ski lodge and leisurely enjoy a 14 dollar greasy hamburger without the weekend levels of noise and commotion. I am by no stretch of the imagination a good skier, but there were a lot fewer people around to see me perform the ever embarrassing “mogul wedgie.”

In February I decided to use some of my extra free time by helping out at Habitat For Humanity. As a nonprofit organization, Habitat builds affordable, quality houses for families in need. I’ve picked up many new skills helping out– everything from building foundations to installing drywall. I’m not sure it’s going to help me out in the world of computer programming, but I think they are good general skills to have under my belt. Some people have told me volunteering my time at Habitat is a good way to meet women. I won’t disagree with that statement, but I have also taken a liking to the various power tools they let me use during the construction process. Oh yeah, and helping out poor people– that’s good too.

I’m really good at putting things off a lot longer than I probably should at times, so this year I decided to get a jump on my mid-life crisis and learn how to ride a motorcycle. A coworker of mine and I decided to sign up for a motorcycle training class in April. I called up and discovered there was only one open position left in the next session. Being the kind and helpful friend I am, I told Scott that motorcycles are too dangerous, and I signed myself up for the last spot as to protect him from any temptation of taking the class. Ironically, a few months later he took a friend’s motorcycle out for a spin and crashed it into someone’s front yard. Scott is fine, the lawn he crashed into survived, but the motorcycle wasn’t really happy about the whole incident.

I learned quite a bit about motorcycles during the weekend training class. We started Friday night by learning what all the knobs, levers, switches, and pedals do on a motorcycle and worked our way up to actually riding them around on the driving range Saturday and Sunday. We practiced just about every combination of how to stop, start, turn, and accelerate. I was one of the few students taking the class that had never ridden a motorcycle. I never got the cone weave down as well as I wanted, but I managed to get through the class without hitting anyone else or tipping the bike over, and for that I received my motorcycle license.

Once I could legally drive a motorcycle in the state of Colorado, the next step was to go out and buy a motorcycle. For me, this was by far the most annoying part of the entire process. I’m not very good at shopping in general (my wardrobe is strikingly similar to what it was in high school), and my total motorcycle experience started two weekends ago when I spent hours riding the same motorcycle around a small training course. I started by looking around at different motorcycle shops to see what they had to offer. That didn’t turn up anything that I liked that also happened to be in my price range, so I turned to the classified section of the newspaper. I eventually found a motorcycle that I liked and could afford– a dark blue 1993 Honda Nighthawk 750. After driving my motorcycle a few thousand miles since April I have become very comfortable with its abilities and limitations. If I ever encounter a police officer who wants to pull me over, I won’t have any reservations about eluding him in a high speed chase through residential neighborhoods.

October 31 was the last day I worked at Rogue Wave Software. I had been working in the Technical Support Department for 3 1/2 years, and I decided that it was time for a change in my life. I’m going to miss working with everyone in my department and all the good times we had over the years. I can’t possibly list every cool aspect of my job, but I’ll never forget the foosball table, arsenal of Nerf guns, and occasional boxing matches with the phone coordinators. Of course I can’t leave out our annual Gashos/Haunted House fun activity. Each year in October we would go to the Gashos of Japan (a Japanese restaurant where they cook the food right in front of you), get really drunk on saki and plum wine, and then go to a local haunted house. If you are wondering why I left such a fun work environment, I discovered that some of the people in the company received their positions by selling their souls to the Devil and go about their daily business as nothing more than minions of Satan.

I decided to celebrate my last day at Rogue Wave Software by going out that night and getting a four point speeding ticket. It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. The cop clocked me going 57 in a 45. To make matters worse, he didn’t even give me a chance to beg and grovel my way out of the ticket. I was telling a friend I had met online about what happened, and it turned out that she knew the officer who issued me the ticket. When I went into the courthouse to defend my driving skills, the clerk at the main desk informed me that the district attorney has offered me a zero point plea bargain. How cool is that? I accepted the offer and got out of there before they had a chance to change their minds. I never thought anything useful would ever come about from meeting women over the Internet, but I stand corrected. Thank you, Jenny 🙂

Where am I going to go from here? What will the true new millennium hold for me? If you know the answers to these questions, please e-mail me so I can get on with my life. I’m thinking of getting out of the computer industry all together and following my dream of dying my hair blue and forming a comedic guitar duo that sings funny songs for spare change out on the Pearl Street Mall when the weather is nice. I’m not sure exactly what kind of 401K plan that would provide, but I’ve already written a few songs such as “Taco Bell– Village of the Damned” and “Tupperware Death Party” that I believe will help me earn a name for myself in the cut throat world of street performing.

Well, I guess I’ve rambled on enough for this year. I wish only the best for everyone in 2001. Everyone, that is, except for Jar Jar Binks– I wish only bad and evil things for that computer generated monstrosity. I fantasize about him being pummeled to death in the next Star Wars movie by the Ewoks after some wacky misunderstanding during his gratuitous vacation scene on the third moon of Endor. But that’s just me. Thank you for coming, have a good night, and drive safely.

Do Pennies Make Our Lives Better?

Until last week I considered myself neutral on the entire penny issue. A recently published report sponsored by Americans for Common Cents (a pro-penny group backed by zinc companies) documents the effects if the Federal government were to take pennies out of circulation. Some of these negative consequences includes an effective 600 million dollar “rounding tax”, erosion of consumer confidence, and increase in the national deficit.

I believe this report should be viewed with extreme skepticism. Aside from the copper coating, pennies consist of 98% zinc. I will admit upfront that I have no previous experience with the zinc industry or how it operates, but I think it is reasonable to believe they make a fair number of dollars producing all those pretty pennies for the US Treasury Department. Every time a penny is lost down between the couch cushions, dropped down a wishing well, or carefully placed in the path of an oncoming locomotive, the zinc industry is there to help produce a brand new one. That doesn’t even include pennies that just get worn out by getting jiggled around in pockets and purses on a daily basis. If pennies were to be taken out of circulation, I don’t think the zinc industry would be very happy.

After reading about how important the zinc industry thinks pennies are to the survival of this country, I started thinking about how pennies fit into my life. Every night I take the change out of my pockets and put it into a jar that sits on my nightstand. Once the jar gets filled up I take it to my bank and put the money into my checking account. The jar goes home and the whole process starts again. If I lived in a world without pennies, I think it would take a little longer to fill up the jar, but the process itself would remain unchanged.

I thought about this long and hard, and I have been unable to envision how pennies make my life any easier. Parking meters and vending machines don’t like pennies. Parking meters swallow my pennies, but don’t allow me to leave my car parked any longer. I guess it’s not worth their time to give them back. Vending machines generally spit the pennies out into the coin return slot. I suppose I would not be too happy if I was waiting behind someone who needed to insert 125 coins before the king-sized Snickers bar dropped out of the machine.

Can our great nation survive without pennies? How can we fairly conduct commerce without the proper tools to pay the exact goods and services? The answer is that we do it all the time without even realizing it. Do you ever stop at a gas station and worry about how you are going to pay for gasoline that costs $1.59 and 9/10ths of a penny per gallon? Do you ever wonder how the gas station can charge 9/10ths of a penny for a gallon of gasoline? Of course not– the gas station just rounds it to the nearest penny when they calculate the total price. Sure, they could set the price at $1.60, but then it doesn’t seem like quite as much of a bargain.

Pennies used to be produced entirely of copper, but in the 1980’s the composition was changed when the cost of producing a penny out of copper exceeded the value of the coin itself. According to Americans for Common Cents, it costs taxpayers 0.72 cents to produce a penny. What are we going to do when, as it did once before, pennies are too expensive to produce? How about pennies with holes in the middle? Or better yet, we could get rid of the metal all together and declare that any scrap of paper with the hand written phrase “This piece of paper is worth one cent” is legal tender up to four cents. At least that way we could all sleep easier knowing that we don’t have to pay 600 million dollars in these so-called rounding taxes.

A sign that pennies aren’t valued in our society anymore can be seen in those little trays near the cash registers of most gas stations. A lot of people believe it’s easier to give pennies to a total stranger than slide them back into a purse or pocket. Do people leave their pennies in the tray because they believe in karma, or is it easier than having the coins stick around in their pockets until laundry day? Personally, I think it’s a little from column A and a little from column B. Either way, it doesn’t speak well for the value of a penny.

In all honesty, I don’t know which course of action is the best for our nation. I’m sure that either way the sun will still rise each morning, another wildly successful boy band will rocket out from total obscurity, and people will find something else to annoy them in their every day lives. Perhaps somewhere down the road I’ll write another article that starts “What’s the deal with nickels? Why are they larger than dimes? Do they REALLY make our lives any easier….”