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September 2006

Personal finance

September 29, 2006   

I’ve been doing some reading on personal finance for the last six months or so. These are the ones I read almost everyday.

The biggest new pieces of advice I’ve learned from these are:

  • Ask for a lower rate for practically anything.
  • Pay yourself first; no one will fund your retirement but yourself.

After months of reading about it, I just called my credit card company and asked quite nicely for a lower rate, and they nigh-instantly decreased it by 5%. I don’t carry a balance so it’s just a theorectical gain, but still, it was nice. And really, really easy.

Do it!

Before submitting this entry, I called our joint credit card and they did not reduce this rate. But they said to call back in a month. Ok then! In a month, we’ll be in our second year with this card, so maybe something will open up.

Update: I just got our Comcast cable bill reduced from ~$81 to $62! I just said I’d like to either reduce my package or keep the package I have but get a discount. Even though I offered them a choice, they wanted to keep me on the same level of service, but for cheaper. Weird. I was very friendly and mentioned that I had been doing some competitive analysis and that Dish & DirecTV had cheaper offers. This discount is good for 12 months. Nice. Now, who else can I call?

Saying versus Being

September 29, 2006   

Sometimes, I say jerky-sounding things that have nothing to do with what I really mean inside my head. There can be a huge disconnect between how I meant to say something and how I actually ended up saying it.

Sometimes,I am a jerk. Last weekend, I was in fact an actual jerk. I could have said, “I acted like a jerk,” or “I behaved like a jerk,” but both of those statements leave wiggle room to claim that my behavior did not bear out my internal state of mind. I could blame stress, but it doesn’t change the fact of it: I was a big jerko. I not only said a bunch of highly arrogant things that were insulting to another individual who was present (for whom I had no ill will), on reflection it is clear that I actually believed what I was saying at the time.

Afterwards, I agonized over my words and my actions (worse to the recipient of said words and actions) and my state of mind (worse to my self-regard). I don’t want to be arrogant. I don’t want to be a jerk. I don’t want to try to make others feel bad. I don’t want to say things I haven’t thought through and cause collateral damage in the process.

I don’t mind insulting people on occasion — not always, but there are times when I mean it and want to. However, I DO mind when the person doesn’t deserve it at all and I didn’t even think it out enough to realize it would be insulting. It should have been obvious before the fact though.

It’s made me look at myself in a new light. I’ve always been very confident about my own abilities, but I don’t know what drove me to boast and be insulting, and I want to fix that.

Bumps ahoy

September 29, 2006   

My work is raining expectant moms. Last year, we had a run of expectant dads (now, they are dads), but this year appears to be all about the expectant moms. Yesterday, in the span of one 10-minute period, I ran into four pregnant women.


For my expectant friends (or to-be expectant? unexpectedly expectant?), here is a short article from CNN Money that discusses four money-related myths about having a baby.

On a money-related note, I’m trying to find ways to cut recurring costs, but Green Dimes might be something I might sign up for. For a dime a day, you get other people to take you off mailing lists (I’ve signed up with the national registries already, but still), reducing your incoming clutter as well as reducing paper production/processing/delivery costs. In addition, they will plant a tree for you every month you are enrolled. That’s pretty awesome for $3 a month, about the cost of a single coffee drink. I am going to look into who they are and who funds them first before signing up though.


September 28, 2006   

Man, I’ve been busy. I had a milestone deadline on Monday, so I had been working like a dog for the last few weeks. I hadn’t realized that it was actually stressing me out until last Friday night, when Seppo surprised me with a copy of this:

It came in a jacket! Is there anything cuter? This is not a rhetorical question!

Ok, maybe these guys:

Via CuteOverload, of course.

I’m not here to argue with you. Anyway, the point is this: Seppo knows how much I love Grease. I love Grease! I squeal when the songs come on. I sing along, tunelessly yet enthusiastically. It’s one of my many charms.

Eager to take a break after my fifth 12+ hour workday [side note: Wow, that sounds so wimpy — I used to be able to do 14 hr workdays with my eyes closed. Oh wait, maybe I was sleeping.] I popped the DVD in to see what awesome goodness this new release of Grease was going to bring me.

When I played the first singalong (words appear karaoke-esque on the screen while the musical numbers play), I got really giddy and couldn’t stop giggling. Pretty soon, I had tears streaming down my face, but it wasn’t really that I was laughing so hard. I was so physically relieved from my constant stress by the act of laughing that I cried.

Yeah, it was really confusing. So yeah, I figured out I was stressed. LOL.

Since passing the milestone, it’s been much better. I work really well under a medium to high amount of stress. Under zero stress, I get a bit lazy. Under way too much stress, I apparently work insane hours then cry while singing along to John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John singing “Summer Nights”. That final falsetto is killer. I laugh every single time. Hey, but I get things done. I don’t think I’ve ever missed a work deadline.

Anyway, Seppo is really awesome when I’m under tons of pressure. He solves the dinner problem for us everyday, makes me feel really cared for, and brings me silly gifts to lighten my mood.

Thanks Seppo. 🙂

Podcasts I’ve been enjoying

September 18, 2006   

I love these podcasts. Excellent.

I’m still trying these out.

I suspect these will be useful at some point.

Do you have any podcasts that you’d recommend? My one-way commute lasts about 50 minutes to 1 hr 20 minutes in general. Many days, I’ll listen to a Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me or a Word Nerds podcast, with a couple of the shorter ones thrown in. Since I’ve only recently started doing this, I’ve had a huge backlog to listen to, but frankly, I am going to need about 2-3 more weekly updating podcasts to round out my listening or I’ll run out. I’m still looking into books, but audiobooks are so damn expensive that it may not be worth it.

The ones I can download from the library only play on MS devices, so I tried to put one on one of my work devices, only to find that there isn’t enough on-board memory, so I’d have to buy an SD card (or use the one for my camera), which could be ok, if it weren’t for the fact that the particular device I have does not have a standard headphone jack, which means I’d have to buy some sort of an adapter (ETA: other than the headphone jack-to-tape deck adapter I already have for the iPod Nano) to listen to it in the car. Which all translates to more trouble than it is worth.

This morning, on the Word Nerds podcast, they discussed the various ways people equivocate: lingually (with words), paralingually (with non-word vocalizations), and non-verbally (without words, duh). I realized as they were covering both what equivocating (or prevaricating) is meant to do and how people do them, that I’d been conditioned by my mother to dislike paralingual (e.g. sighing) & non-verbal (e.g. shrugging) forms of equivocation but to engage ridiculously in the lingual forms, always diluting my statements with phrases like, “sort of”, “somewhat”, “maybe”, “perhaps”.

They also discussed the use of the active versus passive voice as applied to equivocation. I found it interesting that when I speak to people about things that could potentially be perceived as negative, I use a passive voice, (e.g. “There is a mistake in the code,” rather than “You’ve made a mistake in the code.”) fairly consistently, where as when I want to say something positive, I make it a habit to use the active voice (e.g. “You have great taste in clothes,” rather than, “That is a great shirt.”)

I don’t have a concluding thesis or anything. I’m still working out how this plays into my communication with others.


September 12, 2006   

Movie: I watched In Her Shoes sometime last week (or maybe the week before). I had heard that it wasn’t marketed right at the time of release, and I can believe it. My guess is that it was publicized as a light-hearted “chick flick” (I hate this phrase and its inherent sexism so much — not that I think people who use it are trying to be sexist, but it’s a phrase with a lot of baggage that I think inhibits real meaning from being conveyed) when it’s actually a drama with some funny elements about familial relationships, in particular, that of siblings.

I could see where there were shortcomings in the execution of the story: the younger sister was made flat and virtually unsympathizeable too soon such that when her other dimensions are revealed, it was probably too late for most people to care; the older sister also suffered from a slightly similar issue; the love interests were sketched out too quickly, etc.

However, despite all the shortcomings, I really connected to their portrayal of sibling relations. Their hurts and sorrows felt real, their inability to remove each other from their respective lives despite the hurts made vivid sense. The way they tried to protect each other reminded me of my own siblings.

I really liked it. I might read the book.

Books: Speaking of books, I just finished the audiobook of Outlander [note: get this on iTunes instead so you can save time ripping it] yesterday. A few days ago, I had finished reading Life of Pi. Right after that, I finished reading The Reader.

I found interesting parallels in the story structure of Outlander and Life of Pi. While, overall, I found both of them to be excellently written books with a gripping story and engaging characters, I was bored to tears by the first section of both of them. Actually, that’s not precisely true; they were not in fact boring. It’s more that they seemed to move around aimlessly without a sense of direction or tension. They also didn’t make me grow attached to the characters. That happened much later in the books for me. So my interest lagged. It took me something like five tries over 3 years to get past page 70 of Outlander. It took me three tries over countless months to get past part 1 (of 3) of Life of Pi.

There is a lot of setup going on in those parts for both books. When you get to the end, you see how the setup really pays off, that the story would be missing something if you did not have the kind of setup you had. How do you reconcile those two things? On one hand, too much set up could mean that you lose the reader due to impatience at what feels like a story that is going nowhere and at times feel like an indulgent exercise on that of the writer. On the other hand, by the time the reader gets to the end of the book, the beginning makes perfect sense in the big picture and the pays off in terms of providing a consistent character base to build the story on is vast.

When I read, I want at every step of the way, one or more of the following:

  • Something that’s making me grow attached to a character
  • Interesting dialogue and/or action
  • A sense of direction/growth/tension (or resolution thereof)

You can’t, and you shouldn’t, have all of those things at the same time all the time. But if you can’t provide at least one of those things in most of your scenes or chapters, I think there is a real problem. There should be purpose to each and every scene. If there isn’t, if it doesn’t add anything to the greater whole, whether it is in terms of character development, insightful commentary, plot development, general entertainment, etc., then there is no reason to leave the scene in as-is. You have to edit as ruthlessly as an indie filmmaker on a desperate budget. Actually, I don’t have any info to lead me to believe indie filmmakers on a desperate budget are any better at editing than the bigwigs. 😀

The DaVinci Code had atrocious characters and dialogue, so much so I almost quit reading. But the movement of the plot was undeniably (to me, at least) engaging and was a page-turner. Both Outlander and Life of Pi kept me up until unreasonable hours of the night (er, morning) to finish them up because the stories had become so compelling and the characters so empathizable. Clearly, the beginning sections were not slow out of a lack of talent but by a conscious decision, perhaps to serve as a contrast. I’m not sure. But it bugged me.

The Reader was a very short, very sparse story and did not suffer from such an issue because the characters were instantly intriguing. It’s also worth reading.

Food: I’ve been obsessing about food lately. All I want to do is eat, cook, eat, read about cooking, read about eating. Luckily, in October, Seppo and I will be hitting up WD-50 and The French Laundry, so I’m all aglee. Is aglee even a word? Probably not.

On a completely unrelated note, it’s SANTOKU, people of Food Network and PBS, not santuko. I’m calling out Chris Kimball of America’s Test Kitchen and Rachel Ray on their consistent misuse (and even consistent misspelling!) of this word.

Work: I’ve mentioned this to a couple of people now, but I feel like now that I’m pretty busy at work, my brain is on fire. The vague sense of overall stress/looming deadline approaching has flipped some sort of trigger in my head and now I’m working like a dog, reading again like a maniac, sleeping a little less, playing sudoku obsessively, meeting with friends, calling people (ok, that’s like 1 call a week, which is a huge increase), watching tv, thinking about picking up another knitting project, and cooking up a storm.

When I’m not busy at work, I can barely motivate myself to go to work and eat whatever is in front of me. I think it’s like driving a manual: if you are driving around all day in second gear, you aren’t going to go anywhere fast and it’s gonna wear on your engine. If you gear up, you can go much faster and further with more efficiency. Something, work this time, kicked my brain into a hgher gear, so I’m all woo-hoo.

Now I just have to be careful to not burn out.