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On Mindless Eating [Aug. 2nd, 2016|05:05 pm]
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Bad Idea

Everyone knows that mindless eating is a bad idea because you eat way too much without noticing, plus, since you're not paying attention, you don't even enjoy it as much.

Good Idea

However, I have found an excellent use for mindless eating: cantaloup that turned out not to be very good. In fact, I'd say it's a good idea for any food that's healthy but not very tasty (though not horrible) and that is easy/neat to eat mindlessly while doing something else.
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On Spanish Names [Jun. 4th, 2016|01:42 pm]
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We had a section in our text about Spanish names, but it's described very well and somewhat amusingly in a few paragraphs in James Michener's Iberia so I'll give you that quote below. (I'm adding more paragraph breaks to make it easier to read.)

A word about Spanish names. To explain the tradition fully would require many pages, for it is unbelievably complicated, but ideally every Spaniard, male or female, has two surnames [last names], the first and more important being the father's and the second the mother's. Thus Pedro Pérez Montilla can properly be referred to as Señor Pérez Montilla or simply as Señor Pérez, but to refer to him as Señor Montilla would be a real gaffe.

Spanish also has the handy little words Don and Doña, which have no equivalent in English and cannot be translated; they are used only preceding a given name [first name], allowing one to refer to a man or woman by the given name with no presumption of intimacy. Thus our friend can be called Don Pedro or Señor Don Pedro Pérez Montilla.

When he [our friend] married, let us say to Leocadia Blanco Alvarez, his wife did not surrender her surnames but merely added his, preceded by the preposition de (of), so that her name became Señora Leocadia Blanco Alvarez de Pérez Montilla, and she may properly be addressed as Doña Leocadia, or as Señora Blanco, or as Señora Blanco Alvarez, or as Señora Blanco Alvarez de Pérez Montilla, or as Señora de Pérez Montilla.

Frequently the paternal and maternal surnames are joined by either a hyphen or an y (and), which means that Don Pedro’s son could be named Antonio Pérez Blanco, or Antonio Pérez-Blanco, or Antonio Pérez y Blanco, although in recent years the last has become less frequent.

Many Spaniards today, in common usage, simply omit the maternal surname entirely or abbreviate it to a single letter. On the other hand, if Don Pedro and Doña Leocadia belong to the nobility or the aristocracy (or if they want to put on airs) the son will adopt the name Señor Don Antonio Pérez Montilla y Blanco Alvarez.

The problem is further complicated when a man has a family name which is unusually common and a maternal name which is less so, for then he becomes known by the more distinctive of his two names, which is only sensible. The five most common Spanish surnames, in order of frequency, are García, Fernández, López, González and Rodríguez, and just as the Englishman named Smith or Jones is accustomed to adding a hyphenated second name, such as Smith-Robertson, so the Spaniard becomes García Montilla, sometimes with the hyphen.

It is in conformity with this custom that the great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca is so often referred to simply by his maternal name. Anglo-Saxon readers encounter difficulties with the names of such historical figures as Spain’s two cardinals who exercised political leadership, Mendoza and Cisneros; in history books you will find many pages about them, and they were at least as famous as Richelieu in France and Wolsey in England, yet if you try to look them up in a Spanish encyclopedia you will find nothing unless you happen to know that the former was born Pedro González de Mendoza and the latter Gonzalo Jiménez de Cisneros. In each of these instances, however, the distinctive name is not maternal but merely a place name added in hopes of making a common name distinctive.

So far I have discussed only the simple cases; the complicated ones I had better skip.

In a small Spanish city to which a friend had sent me a postal money order I had a rueful introduction to this problem of names. My friend had assured me by phone that the money had been sent, and the post office had advised me that it had arrived and that upon presentation of my passport it would be paid. Accordingly, I went to the post office, but before telling the clerk my name, handed him my passport. He studied it, consulted his file of incoming money orders and said, ’Nothing here.’ I explained that I knew it was in hand, so with much politeness he searched his papers again and said, ’Nothing here.’ This time I noticed that he was looking at the A file, so I suggested, ’Perhaps if you look in the ...’

'Please, Señor Albert,’ he said. ’I know my business.’

In my passport he had seen that my name was James Albert Michener and he was smart enough to know from that who I was, and he had no cash for any Señor Albert. When I tried to explain what my name really was he became angry, and I was not able to get my money until Spanish friends came from the hotel to the post office and explained who I was. When the money was paid, the clerk took my passport again, studied my name and shook his head. When he handed back my papers he said, ’I am sorry for your inconvenience, Señor Albert.’

--Michener, James A. Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections. (1968) Random House: New York, pp. 41-42.

Our text describes many countries rather than just Spain and was published in 2012. It says the the double-surname tradition is practiced in many, but not all, Latin-American countries. The way this is described does not perfectly match what Michener wrote.

For example, "When a woman marries in a country where two last names are used, legally she retains her two maiden surnames. However, socially she may take her husband's paternal surname in place of her inherited maternal surname. For example, Mercedes Barcha Pardo, wife of Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, might use the names Mercedes Barcha García or Mercedes Barcha de García in social situations. ... Adopting a husband's last name for social purposes, though widespread, is only legally recognized in Ecuador and Peru." - Blanco, José A. and Philip Redwine Donley, Late. Vistas: Introducción a la Lengua Española (4th ed.) (2012) Vistas higher Learning: p. 86.

Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_naming_customs, 6/4/16) says that in Spain, "gender equality law has allowed surname transposition since 1999, subject to the condition that every sibling must bear the same surname order recorded in the Registro Civil (civil registry), but there have been legal exceptions." And then "In an English-speaking environment, Spanish-named people sometimes hyphenate their surnames to avoid Anglophone confusion or to fill in forms with only one space provided for last name."

The article also says they might have a first and middle name like we do (and go by either informally), though that would be called having a composite (vs. simple) forename rather than two names. "Legislation in Spain under Franco legally limited cultural naming customs to only Christian (Jesus, Mary, saints) and typical Spanish names (Álvaro, Jimena, et al.)." But now "the only naming limitation is the dignity of the child, who cannot be given an insulting name. Similar limitations applied against diminutive, familiar, and colloquial variants not recognized as names proper, and 'those that lead to confusion regarding sex." Wow. But "[a]lthough the first part of a composite forename generally reflects the gender of the child, the second personal name need not (e.g. José María Aznar)" and they can go by either name, so maybe their second name can be gender neutral.

Another interesting thing in the article is that -ez endings can mean "son of" (Hernández = son of Hernando, Sánchez = son of Sancho), implying things were done differently in the past.
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Affordable Housing Strategy [May. 30th, 2016|12:15 am]
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Today at a party I ended up asking someone if he had a plan for if his property taxes got too expensive. He had a very interesting idea on how to find a new place.

He said he'd read that our city is becoming too expensive for musicians to be able to afford to live here. So a lot of them are moving to Lockhart. New cafes and other places are being built there, so it's becoming a nice place to live, but you can still get back here for gigs.

Interesting philosophy: pay attention to where the musicians are living.
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Doctor List [May. 28th, 2016|01:46 pm]
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Although I've been quite lucky in my good health throughout my life, I've now decided it would be a good idea to start keeping track of all my many doctors. I have eleven I can think of right now:
* general practitioner
* eye doctor
* dentist
* oral surgeon - because I eat sugar and my wisdom teeth don't fit properly
* endocrinologist - for past thyroid issues
* the surgeon who did my half thyroidectomy
* radiologist - for mammograms
* gastroenterologist - for colonoscopies
* physical therapist - for past ankle and shoulder problems
* dermatologist
* Mohs surgeon - for the new basal cell carcinomas on my nose (this is the non-scary kind of skin cancer)

That's not to mention my insurance companies (health and dental), my pharmacy (and mail pharmacy), and the people who deal with blood work.

Just keeping track of their names is good so I can find them again if needed, though I'm also including contact information. Adding notes about them like who to talk to about various issues (like the insurance expert at my dentist's office) and whether and why I like them is also good.

Many of y'all probably have me beat on the number of doctors and other health workers you see and you have my condolences. The human body is amazing, but it can often use some help. I'm glad we have so many experts available to counsel on and provide this help, especially when they actually understand our problems and know how to fix them or at least relieve them.
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On Host Families [May. 25th, 2016|09:40 pm]

We just learned that during the Granada part of our study abroad class, we will be staying with host families rather than in a dorm as previously described.

Lately I seem to be taking all news badly at first and this was no exception. Oh, no! I will have to speak Spanish to them and I can't! And I'm set in my ways now! And they probably expect a twenty-year-old!

Okay, really I know that staying with host families is awesome and that we will learn so much more about Spanish language and culture than we ever would staying in a dorm with a bunch of other foreign students. So really, this is a great development.

But families are made out of people, and we won't know what they're like. So I've been reading up on it. Guess the number one reason people host students.

Ready with your guess?

It's to earn money. So, we'll be like foster children.

Okay, no, that makes sense and is perfectly reasonable. And the other reasons are because they think it will be fun in some way. The ones with kids think it will be good for the kids. The old ones think it will be nice to have company. That sort of thing. The important thing is to communicate well and try to get along and be understanding and flexible, things that, at least in English, I am good with.

Another idea is to think about all the ways I am odd and set in my ways to help me prepare myself for living with strangers. I normally think I'm a pretty flexible person, but am I? (I used to think I was energetic before I worked at summer camp.) I am used to:

* eating pretty much whatever I want and I'm super picky - now I will be eating whatever the family is eating (this is the scariest - they could expect me to eat giant cockroaches from the sea for example)

* eating whenever I want - now it will be three meals a day and very few snacks (probably okay; I probably won't get so hungry that I can't pay attention as much as I want to--I won't be at work!)

* eating however much I want - Spaniards might be like Italians with the feeding = love culture (I already weigh more than I need to)

* having a live-in boyfriend - yeah, that's not going to be happening

* telling the truth - will little white lies be expected?

* dressing casually - supposedly you can tell tourists because they're wearing shorts and white sneakers (it's probably okay to wear my regular clothes and look like a tourist, so long as my shoulders are covered if I want to go into a church; I won't have to wear high heels and make-up or anything)

* joking around - I won't know the language well enough to do this most of the time (I might start to feel lonely, but I'll get to see Robin daily, so that should be okay)

* a bunch of American cultural stuff I don't even realize

I don't think I care about laundry differences, cleanliness differences, sharing a room with a host daughter, having to be decently covered to get to the bathroom, or having to share a bathroom. But I'm sure there will be issues of some kind.

Plus I'll have to bring a gift. Something that is typical of where I'm from and can be a nice memento for them. That hopefully they would like. No clue.

(My first thought was Texas-shaped tortilla chips and salsa. Or some hideous longhorn tourist thingy. Uh, no. Bluebonnet refrigerator magnet? Banana chocolate chip pancake recipe?)

I'm just reminding myself--it's better than boot camp or other military living arrangements, it's better than prison, and it's better than being a foster kid (as a minor). And it's only a week and a half.

Plus, I kind of miss having new roommates all the time--learning new ways to do things and new recipes. And maybe it really will be awesome. (Though I do better psychologically if I go in with low expectations and thus am more likely to have the surprises be pleasant ones.)
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On Individualism [May. 10th, 2016|09:07 pm]

A friend of mine said that when she went to Argentina, it felt like home. When I asked why, she said that one reason was that everyone moved their hands a lot when they talked. She does this also (though not as much), but that embarrasses her mother who wants her to sit on her hands. So it was kind of exhiliarating for her to see that.

Another reason is that Argentinians are not into individualism as much as we are. So they have extended families and they are more community-minded. And she feels that America's love of individualism leaves people to have to do things by themselves, and when they fail, they get blamed for not trying hard enough.

I had never thought of that before. But I've definitely heard of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. And of people not realizing that some people are living life on a much easier game setting than others.

As for me, I am a huge fan of individualism (for myself). I do get to live life on almost the easiest setting possible, so I don't have any problems associated with that (unloving parents, racism, sexism, serious health problems, etc.).

And I love that I get to live my life the way I want to. I mean an extended family sounds fine, but it would be my family. Much as I love my family, and I do love them all greatly, I prefer my current living situation.

Also, I don't want kids, and I don't have to have them. In an extended family, of course my nieces would be running around all the time.

And I don't have to go to church (or synagogue). And my lover can be the gender I want. And we can move away from our home towns (I much prefer Austin to Chicago except possibly in August). And if I want a low-stress job even though it's low-paying and low-status, that mostly affects just me. And all kinds of stuff like that.

Yet though the U.S. still has an individualistic mentality, now it is being tied to the idea that everyone should be the same anyway. The far right wing sure wishes that everyone should be sticking to the gender assigned to them at birth, waiting for sex until marriage, marrying someone of the opposite sex, having kids with them, not having abortions, attending church, not getting divorced, and not getting on welfare or needing food stamps.

Yes, in a perfect world where everyone wanted that, and where there were no fetal problems or rape, etc., this would probably be nice. But not everyone wants that. Even people who do want that sometimes change their minds about part of it as they go through life. So that is not what the U.S. is supposed to be about! We are supposed to be multi-cultural! And live-and-let-live!

Semi-related Quote of the Day

R - It's so annoying when people want everyone to be just like what they changed into. [Example: some people who no longer smoke]

D - That's still better than when people want everyone to be just like they wish they were, but they're not, and they feel guilty, so they take it out on everyone else. [Example: some closet gay people]

Other Quote of the Day

D (after Cruz dropped out of the primaries) - The good news is Ted Cruz won't be president.


D (later) - I'm now thinking that if Trump becomes President, he will quickly get angry about Congress not doing everything exactly how he wants and he will stomp his feet and resign. (And try to sue them all.) So maybe he wouldn't be so bad after all. It depends who he picks for vice president.

Looks like he's picked Ted Cruz. Okay, nevermind.
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Work Travel [May. 6th, 2016|12:16 pm]

My brother, who works at a call center, is going to get to travel for his job, to help train people in another call center. In Bosnia. Suddenly I am curious about this country. When you've only heard of a country from being in the news, that's a bad sign, but it seems better now. And has beautiful old buildings. He hopes to take many pictures and share them on Facebook. Yea!

Quote of the Day

On identifying words as adjectives: "I always just go with the "can this word be used to modify a ____ (fill in blank with any noun - for me, that's usually a cat)" method!" - Eco Cat Lady in a comment in her amusing I Don't Think You Said What You Think You Said
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On Public Restrooms [May. 3rd, 2016|11:39 pm]
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First of all, why are public rest rooms an issue? That's weird.

Second, what I think is the weird thing about public rest rooms is not what's in the news but that they are a thing which is still kind of "separate but equal" in modern times. Why do we even have that?

Our society is weird about nudity, yet it thinks people of the same sex should be allowed to be nude in public together in locker rooms. And share dorm rooms. And that same kind of thinking is probably involved in rest room philosophies. I mean, I guess some people re-arrange their clothing in rest rooms, so I guess it's similar. Plus men actually pee right out in the open. But I really don't see why we don't just have female-like rest rooms (stalls for everybody) and let everyone use them.

Third, I was realizing that I never notice anything about the other people in a public rest room with me except their locations. I am looking for a vacant sink at which to wash my hands, for example, so I really am noticing the spaces between the people. (I do the same thing on buses and can pass right by people I know without noticing them!)

One exception: My favorite restaurant has giant cardboard cut-outs of famous people and they put the male one in the female rest room and vice versa for some reason. I admit to panicking a bit when I saw a man in the rest room, but my first though was, "Oops, am I in the wrong rest room?"

And finally, I wish I could think of a good way to show solidarity with people who have to think about which rest room to use. When Nazis made Jews wear yellow stars, other people could wear yellow stars in solidarity. But I can't think of anything like that for this situation. Normally I can be quite creative, but it's just not coming to me.
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Plumbing mysteries [Apr. 25th, 2016|09:20 pm]
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Many plumbing realities don't make sense to me.

Shower dangers

You know that thing where you're taking a shower and someone turns on a sink or flushes a toilet somewhere else in the house or perhaps the hotel room next door suddenly your shower is too hot? I think I get that. Some of the cold water in your carefully calibrated water flow has been diverted, so ouch.

What I don't get is why this never happens in my house. It's awesome. Apparently I have a remarkable feature known as good water pressure. I do not live at the bottom of a hill or anything. I don't know how I got this, but I love it.


Sometimes we used to get weird noises for which the technical term may be "dinosaurs in the pipes." Apparently when air gets trapped, these noises happen and you have to flush the system. Or something. I really don't get it. Are the pipes always sitting around full of water? I guess so. Except not drain pipes.

Dissipating hot water

Before starting my shower, I turn on the hot water in the bathtub. It comes out cold, which I understand--the water in the pipe between the water heater and the tub has cooled down. So I have to wait for the water from the water heater to push that out of the way until the freshly heated water arrives.

While I'm waiting, I'll sometimes do something else like brush my hair out, and so I don't just blast it but keep it on low. Slowly, the water turns itself into a trickle, and then maybe even completely off. I don't get that. I have not drained the water heater; the water is still cold even.

Increasing water volume

Shortly after we got our new water heater, we also got a new kitchen faucet.

I had a style that Robin refers to as "trailer house" and we haven't been able to find a good replacement until recently. We found an adequate replacement at the Habitat Re-Store a while back, but eventually decided to use only the hot water side because the cold water side was too hard to turn off.

But it got to where we couldn't turn the cold water off at all, so Robin looked again and found a replacement in a style he refers to as "restaurant." The store selling it calls it a wall-mounted swivel faucet. You can see a picture at Webstaurant Store.

This worked out great, but sometimes when we turn the hot water on, it turns itself on more and more. I can watch the lever moving. Sometimes it can go from a tiny trickle to blasting (and maybe more, but I'm afraid to wait any longer). It's hard to rinse your dishes when you can use only one hand so you can control the water flow with the other hand. This happens only sometimes, and only with the hot water.

Robin theorizes that the water pressure is so great that it can turn our now smoothly moving faucet handle. Maybe as it gets older and stickier, this problem will go away.
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On Homeowner's Insurance [Apr. 13th, 2016|11:17 pm]
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When buying homeowner's insurance, the recommendation is to insure your house for the amount it would cost to re-build it.

So how much is that? I started with the default amount my insurance company suggested the first year. And then every year you can keep insuring for the same or for a higher value they add, and I've been choosing the higher value about half the time.

Actually, that's probably just flood insurance. It looks like my homeowner's insurance is adjusted upward each year automatically.

Personal finance blog advice

Personal finance blogs say you might be over-insuring because construction costs could be much less than the market value of your house which includes both the value of the buildings and the value of the land (location, location, location).

My tax office actually sends out notices of the appraised value of the property and they even break it down into categories. The relevant categories for my house are "structure and improvement market value" and "market value of non ag/timber land." So I could choose the value given for the "structure and improvement" part only.

However, an interesting thing happened between 2013 and 2014. Apparently they realized that gentrification was happening, so they raised the land value from 55K to 100K. And at the same time they lowered the structure value from 110K to 95K. Yeah, I'm pretty sure that construction costs did not plummet during this period.

I've tried googling construction costs in my city. If I could find average construction costs per square foot, that would be very helpful. But no. I can't find any such metric, and people asking this question always get answers that say it depends, with either no numbers or ranges so huge as to be worthless.

But at my last neighborhood association meeting, I picked up some meeting minutes from the Austin Neighborhoods Council that says "the total cost of new housing units in Austin is now averaging at least $245 per square foot (construction by itself representing $175 of that cost)." Score!

Suddenly I want to do comparisons:
* Latest appraised value of my house (last July) = $125K structures
* Square footage of my house times $175/square foot average = 960 x 175 = $168K.
* Amount of insurance I'm actually paying for = $133.5K dwelling + $13.K other structures = $146.5K
* Amount of flood insurance I'm paying for = $150K

And what about last year?
* appraised value = $95K structures
* homeowner's insurance = $144.7K
* flood insurance = $150K

So I seem to be paying between the appraised value and this researched amount--so maybe not enough, but not as little as it could easily be.

Anyway, this quote was summarizing something a guy named Wendler said based on a study his development firm made on housing affordability. Well, he won't be doing a study every year. And how much can I trust a development firm--I don't know if his is one of the slimy ones, or even if there's such a thing as non-slimy development firms. Oops, my bias is showing. Sorry, decent development firms!

Interestingly, this time when I googled construction costs in Austin I found the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's Construction Costs Standards. These show "New Construction Average Cost per Square Foot plus One Standard Deviation" for various types of construction such as labs, food service, and parking lots. No telling how much a standard deviation is or even why they would just add that on. But they update these every year. They don't list houses, but they do list "Housing, Apartments," which should be a little cheaper. And the amount they list is $179, very close to the $175 value in the study.

So I could look here each year to keep up with inflation. (Last year the figure was $171.) I can always look up inflation in general, but construction inflation may be very different.

Of course this is for the whole state; I'm not sure how well other college towns are correlated with mine. I'm pretty sure Houston and Dallas used to be more expensive and now they are less expensive.

Insurance company advice

According to Forbes:

Insurance experts say failing to have enough insurance to cover the cost of rebuilding your house if it’s destroyed is the biggest mistake homeowners make. Amy Bach, executive director of the consumer advocacy group United Policyholders, says one 2009 study found that two-thirds of U.S. homes are underinsured.

Why? For one thing, many homeowners buy only enough insurance to cover the amount of their mortgage. But the mortgage may be, at most, 80 or 90 percent of the value of the house, depending on the original down payment (less, if the home has appreciated in value).

For another, some policyholders insure an amount equal to the current value of their homes. But this figure may be far less than the actual cost of rebuilding your house, including labor and supplies (and both of those may rise sharply after a storm when there’s big demand and short supply).

What should you do? First, calculate how much it would cost to rebuild your house.

You could ask your insurance agent, but Bach encourages you to use a professional home-replacement cost estimator, who’d likely provide a more accurate number. The fee can run about $300, but some insurers offer this service for free to their high-value customers.

Ugh, and double ugh. Of course I expect insurance companies to say you should buy more. But they have a real point about everything costing more right when you need it. (Well, it's probably worse for hurricanes and earthquakes, that we don't get, than floods and tornadoes and fires.)

For the second ugh, I am not paying $300 per year to get this estimate; that's many months worth of premiums. Nor am I willing to be a high-value customer to, well, anyone.

Vaguely related information

According to those same meeting minutes, Wendler's study defined affordable as "a price of no more that $312,000 which is said to be what a family making 150% of the median family income might be able to afford." That implies that a family making the median family income "might be able to afford" a $208,000 house. Half the population can't even afford that. So $312K is a pretty whacked definition for "affordable."

The minutes continue: "In the 78704 area the study found that the prices of housing ranged from a low of $300,000 to $750,000 with the lower end all being what he called 'tiny' units of 500 sq. feet or less. In the 78702 area, the prices ranged from $300,000 to $600,000 with again the lower priced being 'very small.' In both areas Wendler said his study found that the closest thing to 'affordable' housing units were either existing older single family houses or older apartment units--both of which are being torn down to make room for newer higher cost housing."

I used to think that new housing means more supply which means lower prices. But the new housing I see is ALL "luxury" housing and I'm rarely in the two zip codes mentioned above. Market economics means those things should stay empty until the prices come down and people should quit building that stuff, or at least the prices of the older stuff should go down, but that's not how it's working. I mean, if things aren't affordable, where are people living? They don't all have millions of roommates like in NYC. Do they just spend 1/2 or 2/3 of their income on housing? Thus making it harder for other businesses to get customers?

So how about you guys? Those of you who are home owners, have you thought about the amount to insure your house for and, if so, how do you make your decision?
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