World’s fattest mom decides to close her pay-per-view eating site

God bless America and the entrepreneurial spirit:

AKRON, Ohio — The man from Germany sent a credit card to Donna Simpson with specific instructions: Buy pizzas, Chinese food and other takeout.

He wanted Simpson to use his money to become as large as possible, and he got excited knowing he helped feed the 600-pound woman, she said.

“He didn’t even need to see me,” she said. “Just the fact that he was feeding me was enough of a thrill for him.”

For years, the 44-year-old mother of two was a star in the fantasy fetish community that worshiped the overweight and the feeding that led to it. Simpson had a website where men paid $19 a month to watch her eat. She flew around the world for various events. And she became famous in the British papers.

She has turned away from the fantasy world, replacing her pre-recorded videos of her with a blog about her journey to health. She already has lost about 85 pounds, and she hopes to join a gym soon to begin walking in a pool. She has modified her eating, as well.

“I realized that I was their fantasy,” she said. “Here I was getting bigger and bigger, and they had their thin wives, with 2½ kids and a picket fence.”

But Simpson said she earned at one point $1,000 a month from the pay-per-view eating.

“That’s pretty good for eating Ho-Ho’s,” she said.

See also, this image from The Huffington Post.

The difference between a high standard of living and a high quality of life

On three different occasions in the past month I’ve overheard people say something like, “I’m having a hard time keeping up with expenses”, “I’m working hard to maintain my standard of living” and “I’m trying to cut back.” This usually means cutting cable or not buying a name brand detergent. Little stuff that might add up, but it’s nothing much. Seemingly “drastic” changes are outside the American psyche. It’s all about maintaing your standard of living, often at the expense of your quality of life. Granted, if you’re completely unemployed, that’s different. But I’m talking about the squeeze we all feel from ever higher prices.

I’ve been there, too, and I’ve gone pretty far in my frugal ways over the years. If you haven’t already noticed, I really hate spending money.

It’s obvious to me through all this that there is a strong difference between having a high standard of living and having a high quality of life, and very few people ever think about how each fits into their life and whether they’re achieving it or not.

Ideally, we’d all have both, but very few of us do, or at least not the extent we think we deserve.

For most Americans, having a high standard of living means you have good food and water available to you and at your disposal. It means you have a spacious and furnished house in the “good part” of town with cable TV and high speed Internet. It means that when you want or need something, you go get in your car in the garage and go out and buy it and you don’t just look at the lowest priced item. This usually means you buy a nice car, “nice” meaning “late model year”. You probably have entertainment at your disposal, like movies, books and TV shows. There’s gray area here for sure; things like yachts and butlers may factor in at the high end, but I’m talking about the average here. And we know what that means: your car doesn’t make funny noises all the time or have big rust spots, you don’t eat Ramen noodles or boxed dinners, etc.

Having a high standard of living usually comes attached with some strings, though. For most people, this means you pay for things on credit, you have a car loan, you might have a mortgage, etc. In other words, you have lots of stuff and very little of it is actually yours. You’re only ever one medical problem away from losing it all.

On the flip side, there’s having a high quality of life. This is the emotional touchy-feely stuff that actually matters, but no one seems to have a handle on. It means you feel loved, you’re able to go to bed at night feeling like you accomplished something and you can wake up knowing what you need to do and you do it. It means enjoying your work, it means not feeling tired or grouchy or sloth-like all the time for no good reason. It means you’re in good health mentally, physically and financially. It means when a bill comes, you pay it and move on like it was just part of the day. It means when the water heater explodes, you can get it replaced and not feel anxiety. It means you have hobbies you enjoy and you take pride in what you do. It means you feel content and in control.

They’re rarely any strings attached to having a high quality of life. For the most part, with exception of companionship and love, all of that is very much in a person’s control. You can look for hobbies, you can change jobs, you can get your health in order assuming you’re not battling a cancer, etc.

What’s overlooked is that you can’t have a high quality of life until you get your standard of living under control first.

Most people go through life and say to themselves, “Once I have X, I will be ok.” No, no you will not. It’s the new American Rat Race. You won’t win. The only way to win is to not play that game. How many people go to work and do a job they hate, all so they can afford the car and the stuff they say they need and want? How much sense does it make to drive to work to pay for a car, for instance, just so you can have a car to get to work? Do people realize what this means? “I have to have a nice car so I can get to work to earn the money to pay for the car I use to get to work.” Or, “I have to go to work to make money to pay for the hobbies I like, but never have time for because I’m always at work and too tired to do anything when I get home.”

For a long time I thought I had to have a new car, the best clothes, all the latest gadgets. I don’t anymore and I’m better off for it. I think I’ve hit a level of maturity, that at the risk of sounding like a pompous ass, that most people much older than me have not.

If I could go back in time to talk to my 15 year old self with what I know now, I’d tell me:

  • Don’t ever worry about your credit score, because it’s just a number assigned by banks to help them make money off you.
  • Don’t ever spend a dime on school you can’t pay out of pocket unless you’re going into a highly specialized field, like law or medicine.
  • Don’t ever take out student loans; the payoff isn’t always that great and isn’t guaranteed.
  • Academic inflation will keep happening, whether you have a degree or not. For most subjects, learn to teach yourself and then do good work that gets noticed.
  • Don’t ever buy a new car; they depreciate too quickly and you lose too much money.
  • Don’t ever buy a car that costs more than $10,000 — and pay for at least half of it in cash at the time you buy it.
  • If you can, don’t even buy a car. For most college students, urban dwellers and single people, you probably don’t need one anyway.
  • Make time for exercise, and find a sport or activity you love, because it’ll make you feel a lot better about yourself.
  • Don’t ever eat processed food; have you ever seen someone eating a Big Mac that said, “I’m really glad I ate that.”? You’ll feel and be better off if you eat well.
  • Always do just the things you’re comfortable with. I know people say you should “break out of your shell”, but you don’t have to try everything to know whether you’ll like it or not. I’ve never been hit by a train, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like it if I were.
  • Be very careful about who you lose your virginity to; you’ll only ever lose it once and you’ll remember that moment forever.
  • If you think you can’t handle a credit card, don’t get a credit card.
  • Never take a job just because it’s a job. No one ever had a good time working at a fast food joint. If you’re young and don’t have anything to lose anyway, share space with friends and do what your heart really wants to do. Think and figure out a way to make a living out of that.
  • Don’t feel guilty about pushing people out of your life; sometimes it’s for the best.
  • Stop being so naive and dumb; read the news and read as many books as you can. It’s the only way to develop a sharp mind, and you don’t have to get a degree in everything just to learn about something.
  • Writing is a more important skill than math, so devote your efforts accordingly. Sorry math people, but most people just plain write and communicate more than they do general math.
  • Don’t be swayed by marketing and what other people do “just because”. Remove yourself from a situation and make a decision based on what’s best for you in the long run.
  • Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you have to get something pierced, tattooed or dyed. Ask that 70 year old guy with an ugly ink blot on his arm what he thinks of that 50 year old tattoo today.

When you start doing what actually makes sense, and realizing that sometimes it’s okay to work harder or devote time to one thing and not another, you can actually achieve a high quality of life without having a necessarily high standard of living. Luckily for me, I’ve done most of the things I mentioned above, either by sheer will or just plain dumb luck.

An unhelpful guide to Washington County

The Salem Leader
Generation Why – Column
Justin Harter
December  2011

An unhelpful guide to Washington County

I think I speak for everyone when I say, “Transparent government is good.” The ability for a unit of government to act as open as possible is healthy and necessary for a democratic society.

At the state level, here in Indiana, we do pretty well. You can watch Supreme Court arguments online, you can read every appellate court’s opinion, research school data and test scores, budget information, see census information, meeting information, how to setup a business, tax information and a lot more. Indiana has a really informative site compared to a lot of others. It’s also completely self-funding, meaning IN.gov runs entirely on the revenue it brings in from online license sales.

And then there’s local government. This is where most every county in Indiana falls flat. I’m a professional website designer, and I’ve been doing this with great success for many years now. I’ve organized web development conferences, met many of the leading developers in the country, I teach it and I do it daily. I say this with some level of authority.

So I’ve paid some attention to www.washingtoncounty.in.gov, the official website for the county.

First, from a transparency standpoint, they do a couple of things well. Meeting times are posted clearly and the officials for each department are listed respectively. You can easily find out the names of who runs what.

You can also view county court case records, thanks to a program funded by the Indiana Supreme Court. You can also do a land records search.

However, when you think about some other things you’d really want to know about, you can’t find it. The county’s site has very little information on tax information — just basic statutory information. The county’s budget isn’t published anywhere online, either. It’s completely void of tax rates and how the money is allocated.

Speaking of budgets, county and independent audits, contracts, and projects with open bids are not available online, either. If the county had an open bid for a project, unless you show up to every meeting, you have no way of knowing what’s going on. Plus, wouldn’t it be great to know how much a contractor got paid to pave a stretch of road?

There isn’t much information about the county commissioners or the county council online. You can see when they’re meeting and the address and phone numbers of the office holders, but it stops there. If you wanted to know what they do, where they’re from, how long they’ve been in office, other positions they hold or an electronic means of contacting them, you’re out of luck.

There’s little information on building permits and zoning. If you wanted to establish a business and knew nothing of Washington County, the county’s website directs businesses to the Chamber of Commerce site (which is very similar to the county’s in style). The Chamber’s website doesn’t have this information either. If you’re a factory owner and you wanted to relocate, zoning and tax rate information is probably at the top of the list of things you’d want to know, and it’s not there.

The county’s website doesn’t disclose if it belongs to any taxpayer-funded lobbying organizations. The county lobbying isn’t necessarily bad — this would cover regional compacts (like economic development groups) or subtle things like hosting a luncheon for state or federal legislators. Perhaps the county doesn’t do any of that, but we have no easy way of knowing without a disclosure.

Right now, someone is saying, “Well, Justin, if you want to know all that you can come into the courthouse and file a public records request.” I’d do that, except the county’s website doesn’t have information on how to make such a request. And I think I speak for everyone when I suggest that in 2011, people shouldn’t have to drive to a special building to find out information on their publicly funded governing bodies. When I hear that, I hear, “Making this difficult is a feature, not a bug.”

And the most egregious issue: the site flat doesn’t work on millions of devices. If you use a smartphone, tablet or new Macintosh computer, the site fails to load because of an archaic chunk of code on the site’s homepage.

Everything I’ve mentioned here doesn’t cost money — the county doesn’t need to spend thousands of dollars to invest in anything it hasn’t already. All it takes is the time of a few employees to compile the information in an easy to read, easy to access format and publish it. For most of this stuff, it’s just a matter of writing some additional content.

With that in mind, there’s no reason why Washington County can’t capitalize on the failings of every other county and leapfrog the competition on the most public-facing and highly visible piece of marketing the county has already invested in.

Un-driving the car: the last vroom

For the first time in the nearly ten years I’ve been driving cars, I do not own one.

Today I sold my Toyota Rav 4. The last of a long line of Toyotas that I’ve owned, starting with my 1995 Toyota Corolla that I got for $5,000 when I was 15 years old and on my learner’s permit.

Over the last several months I’ve been playing with the idea of not having a car. I’d have to go out and start it up just to make sure the battery wasn’t drained. At times, I’d only really drive it once or twice a month, and usually that was just to get something taken care of for the car.

I no longer own a car and don’t intend on buying another. For now, I’m relying on my trusty Jamis bicycle and my Kymco motorbike. I’ll rent a car for really long trips. My new mantra for life is, “Never trust a man on four wheels.”

I thought it’d be interesting to try and figure up how much money I’ve spent on cars over the years. Here’s the best I can remember, as conservatively as possible:

1995 Toyota Corolla – $5,000 purchase price + $1,400 for insurance annually for 4 years + $650 for a new axle + gas and oil. I don’t remember how much I spent on gas or oil changes, but if you take the average price of wear and tear on a car at that time of .39 cents a mile x 12,000 miles a year, I spent about $4,680 a year on oil and gas + taxes of $150 a year.

= $30,120 over the four years I owned that car.

 

2006 Volkswagen Beatle – $6,000 purchase price + $600 for a new battery, radiator, turn signal, wipers and tires + .40/mile for 6 months I owned it (6,000 miles) + $650 for insurance.

= $9,650 over the six months I owned that piece of crap car.

 

2008 Toyota Yaris – $15,500 purchase price + $1,300 annually for insurance x 2 years + $212 taxes annually x 2 years + .49/mile for 36,000 miles (what it had when I sold it).

= $36,164 over the two years I owned that car.

 

2003 Toyota Rav 4 – 10,800 purchase price + $590 for insurance over 6 months + $180 in taxes + .49 mile for the 7,000 miles I drove it over 6 months.

= $15,000 over just 6 months.

Now, if you take away the sell price of each of these ($1,700 for the Corolla, $4,500 for the Beatle, $12,000 for the Yaris and $7,000 for the Rav), I’ve spent at least $65,734 for car stuff over 10 years.

I’ve tried to balance getting a good car for a good price at the demand I had for driving at the time. The Corolla was my first car, the Beatle was my second but it had too many maintenance problems. The Yaris was when I was living in the suburbs and commuting downtown for an hour one way every day. The Rav was my middle-ground after the Yaris when I started working from home.

This doesn’t factor in little things, like the floor mats I replaced in all of the cars, car washes, parking fees and other little piddly things that get in the way. I spent $250 on the Rav right after I bought it to get the window tint replaced and fixed. But at the very least, $66,000 in car-related expenses. Would you like to have $66,000, because I know I would.

That’s why this ends today. I sold my Rav, paid off the difference of about $4,000 and I no longer have a car payment. I wanted to unload it fast because in the next three months I would have had to pay $550 for insurance, $150 for taxes and registration renewal and $750 for car payments, plus it was due for an oil change and it would likely need new tires and brakes. Or about $2,100. In just three months, not counting gas, which costs the average American about $6,000 a year.

I just got back from a quick trip to the bank, on my bicycle in the slushy snow, and it didn’t cost me anything and was just as quick as a car (in fact, I followed a car from the bank to my neighborhood just as quickly as they could drive). The bike was $550 when I bought it. At that rate, I could buy about 119 bicycles for the price of all the car expenses I’ve had over the years. My motorbike, which I bought for just under $4,000 costs about $5 to fill up with gas, the insurance rates are less than half what I paid for the car and I can park just about anywhere I want and goes just as comfortably fast as a car.

Now I get to save, and save, and save…

The French’s Fried Onions people can go to Hell

Being a good southern(ish) boy, I like things fried. So whenever I eat some pasta dishes or a casserole of any kind, I reach for my trusty can of French’s Fried Onions. There’s nothin’ in em but onions and the oil.

For years, the can’s looked like this:

1001029 041500220208 A 400

Perfect. Big, easy to open, keeps stuff fresh and you can shove your entire face into the can. Now, because they’re thoughtless assholes, they’ve changed their package design. Probably in the name of “corporate rebranding” or “enhanced product placement” or some other bullshit. This is what the new package looks like:

IMG 0523

Yeah, that sorry piece of crap. That’s me trying to shove my mitt down in there. What’s the first thing you wanna do when you pop off the lid? You wanna stick your grubby hands down into it and pull out a big handful of fried onions to eventually shove into your maw.

Instead, with this new god awful container, you can’t get more than four fingers down in there. If you expect to be able to move your fingers, you can stick in three and under no circumstance can you get your thumb down in there, too. Which means you can’t get any of them out of the container unless you stand on one leg, say a prayer, sacrifice a goat and pretend to tickle the bottom of this stupid container like some three-fingered sloth.

Terrible. Just terrible.

I’m switching to the store brand. I’ll never buy another can of French’s Fried Onions for as long as that can sticks around.