Saturday, July 26, 2008

Better : Serving More Willingly

As I mentioned on Monday, I'm trying to get a project done by August 1st. The company being sold depends on it, and a $5000 bonus for myself and a co-worker depends on it. We've made good progress so far, but still have a ways to go.

Stingy Service

Sunday night my wife and I were talking about becoming better people, and I came to the conclusion that I needed to do more service and better service. It's not that I don't do service, but I usually have to be asked and I usually am running a cost-benefit analysis of my time while doing the other words I'm stingy with it.

Changing My Attitude

In light of that discussion, I tried to have a good attitude on Tuesday and Wednesday nights when I needed to go and do some service instead of working or sleeping.

Tuesday night was a meeting with the leaders of the mens organization at church. I'm the secretary now. We spent an hour an a half discussing how to help different families in the church who are struggling with different issues. The issues range from spiritual doubt to the emotional stress of someone who was driving during an accident which killed her mother and injured several others.

The seriousness of some of the problems discussed and the lack of easy answers makes me all the more grateful for my minor problems of not getting enough sleep so I can get a nice bonus.

On Wednesday I went and helped a friend of mine's mom replace the ceramic lighter in her gas oven and to fix her computer. The repairmen wanted $200 to fix the stove, and $150 or so to look at the computer respectively. It took about two and a half hours, but she really didn't need to be spending her money on fixing those things when I could easily fix them myself.

Service Doesn't Count As Sleep

The down side to service this week has been that I've had to work later and get up earlier to make up for the time. I think I did a good job this week being happy to serve, but happy service doesn't make my four make me feel rested.

Reset Button

It's 2AM Saturday morning and I'm configuring my computer to run tests against the code I've been working on this week. I will likely read this tomorrow or next week and say to my self 'What were you thinking? That doesn't even make sense'.

The point I was trying to make is this : Service can be a sacrifice. Sometimes we need to give up things we want (like sleep) in order to get the things we really want (to be better as serving others). Some people we serve because we are in a position to reach down and try to pull them up. Others we serve because we can help them in a way that they can't help themselves.

Whatever your reason, find a way to serve and don't be stingy with your service.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What Did We Learn?

My dad made a good point on Tuesday when I was discussing my job situation with him. The company I'm now working for (until it's sold!) essentially did what I had considered doing a month or so ago. That is, they hired me and then disclosed that it wasn't for the long term expected.

It's kind of funny being on the flip side of the equation. The situation isn't exactly the same (I will supposedly have a job at the purchasing company), but it serves to confuse my sentiments further on the issue of telling a company if you're leaving soon or not. So, we'll revisit the arguments once again:

The Real Company Treatment

Here's me last month on companies:

...I don't think for a minute that they are going to worry about me if they need to lay me off. I don't think that company loyalty or employee loyalty is a true principle or a moral obligation.

While I will supposedly have a job, the company didn't tell me about the change until after I had been hired (and after I'd quite my old job to take this one).

The Invisible Hand

The company was acting in its own best interest. They offered a reasonable salary and I failed to ask the appropriate questions. I thought I was acting in my own best interest, but me not doing my due diligence in understanding what I was signing up for is pretty much my own fault.

I'll still get value from the job in the month or so I'm there. The bonus and salary are good for the time. It's just a bit of an adventure right now.

Implications For Interviewers and Interviewees

So, if I were interviewing again with the intention to leave in 6 months, would I disclose that information? Yes, I think I would. I would personally rather be overly honest then appear dishonest. If someone else were to not disclose the same information in an interview though, I wouldn't hold it against them for a second.

I think the lesson I need to learn here is that when interviewing from either side of the table it's important to ask the right questions and be sure that what you are expecting from a situation matches the reality of the same situation.

Monday, July 21, 2008

New Job Turbulance

Sorry I didn't get anything posted this morning. My new job started today and I wasn't able to get to all the IRA research I wanted to. I did get open a Roth IRA at Fidelity, and I'll post about why I chose them soon.

The New Job

I started my new job today. The company is small, about 8 people. The salary is a step up from what I was making ($59,000/year vs. $52,500) and the work seems enjoyable.

Taking this job made sense for us. It seemed like a career step forward.

Stuff I Wish I'd Known

So, it turns out that a) my friend who I though was going to be my boss is actually training me to be his replacement and b) The company is being sold and I will be one of the assets being transfered to the new company.

It would have been nice to be able to factor those things into the equation when deciding if I should take the job.

Naive Optimism

Despite a sentiment of gee-you-should-have-told-me, I still feel good about deciding to take the job. We prayed about if it was the right thing to do, and we felt that it was. I put my trust in God that He knew these details and that taking this job remains the right thing to have done. It may be the case that I was supposed to take the job, but wouldn't have if I had known all the facts beforehand.

Here are the reasons I'm still naively optimistic :

  • If me and my friend get everything fixed up by August 1st for the sale, both he and I will get $5000 bonuses when the sale completes (Mid to the end of September)

  • With the type of product the company has, I have a few guesses on who it might be being sold to, and I wouldn't mind working for any of them. They're places I wouldn't have thought that I could get into very easily.

  • I'll be having more of an architect position than I thought I would.

  • As we were programming together today I was able to help spot several errors and make several important optimizations. I thought that I would be pretty rusty in the language we are using, but it looks like things will be just fine.

  • This looks like fun project to be involved with. It combines several areas which I have been interested at a hobby level, which I don't have professional experience in.

  • The new company my current boss is starting sounds pretty neat too, and if things don't work out at the company that is buying the current company I think I'd be able to get a job with him at the new place.

Expect Less Posts For The Next Couple Of Weeks

As I said, if we can get a specified set of features working completely by August 1, I'll get a $5000 I probably won't be blogging as much till that's done. I'll try to post two or three times this week and next.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Retirement Investing Crash Course : IRAs

While I can keep my 401(k) where it's at if I want, I still need to set up a retirement account for my new job. This is the start of a three part series on retirement investing.

In this series I will cover

  • IRAs, what are they and what is the difference between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA

  • A comparison of the major companies where you can keep your IRA

  • An overview and comparison of investing styles

Please Note: I am not a trained financial expert. I'm not even an un-trained financial expert. I am a computer programmer who suddenly has a salary and a realization that I need to get my money in order. Please talk to a financial adviser or at least get a second opinion before following any of this information.

What Is an IRA and How Does It Work

Like many people, I knew that IRAs are a good way to save for retirement. Also like many people, I didn't know the details of how they worked, or how to make them work for me.

For the 2008 tax year you can contribute up to $5,000 to your IRA, unless you're making a huge amount of money. If you are making enough to be disqualified from IRA contributions, I'm not really sure why you're reading this...go pay for an financial planner already.

An IRA is an "Individual Retirement Account". You put money in and then choose how to invest it. Where you have your IRA account will determine what you can invest in (eg. Vanguard's options are different than Fidelities, etc.). Some options may include money markets, CDs, Stocks, Bonds, Mutual funds and Index funds.

Roth IRA vs. Traditional IRA

Contributions to a traditional IRA are made with pre-tax dollars. You have to pay tax when you pull the money out at retirement. With few exceptions, you cannot take money out of your Traditional IRA until retirement time.

Contributions to a Roth IRA are made with taxed money. You do not have to pay taxes when you pull the money out, including on the earnings. You can take out the amount that you have contributed at any time for any reason without penalty.

Proponents of Traditional IRAs often say that they don't trust the government to keep Roth IRAs tax free until retirement, they would rather get the tax deduction now. Proponents of Roth IRAs will counter than if the government tried this they would need to grandfather in all existing Roth IRAs. I think that the government would simply phase out the Roth IRA program if they decided they wanted to change it...but our government can be an unpredictable beast.

The real guessing you have to do when deciding which IRA to use to maximize your returns is what your tax bracket will be when you retire compared to what it is now.

If you will be in a higher tax bracket when you retire a Roth IRA may save you on taxes. If you are in a higher tax bracket now, then you may want the tax reduction now.

I personally think that when I retire I will be in a higher tax bracket. I think that a combination of inflation and career progression will have me withdrawing more per year when I retire than I am making now.

On Monday, a comparison of some of the major companies which will help you manage your IRA accounts.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Life Without a TV

When we got married we had a 12 inch Walmart TV, with a built in VCR. That was our TV for three and a half years.

We turned it on one day only to be greeted by the smell of a puff of smoke and to see the screen's final burst of radiant whiteness before giving out forever. Unbeknownst to us, our TV apparently looked suspiciously like a piggy bank, which caused our two year old to shove a handful of change in it. TV's don't like change very much.

It didn't phase us too much though. For most of our married life we've lived as poor college students with too little money or time to spend on a cable subscription. We aren't anti-TV exactly. Two of the apartments we rented included free TV and we enjoy watching shows together (like Hawaii Five-0, The Simpsons and The Office).

The Internet Is My TV

Yesterday I realized something depressing though. The Internet is my TV. I don't mean that we use it to watch TV shows (though we do that too -- that's not the depressing part). What I mean is that I still get to keep up with all the dumb scare news stories, all the most 'important' celebrity gossip and am exposed to (close to) the same amount of advertising as when I had TV growing up.

My main news sites in the past have been :,, and My entertainment came from Slashdot, Digg, Engadget and Technorati. And there may have been the occasional indulgence in watching just plain stupid stuff over at YouTube.

Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of cool and worthwhile stuff on all those sites. But although I may not have a TV, I can't join in the moral superiority of the rest of the non-TV watching world.

The Internet, Advertising, and Me

I had though that I had tricked The Internet from attacking me with advertising. After all, I have Ad Block Plus installed and I use Firefox. I don't get pop ups, I can't remember the last time I was asked to punch the monkey, and I don't know the name of any 'single girls in my area' who want to meet me.

Advertising comes in many forms. For the last several years I have been actively seeking out stories, news and articles which pitch, promote and expo things I can buy!

Maybe it's worked too. We bought my wife a Mac and we own a Wii (and a new TV. Christmas present from my Dad).

Do you find yourself seeking out "news" and "updates" on things you would like to buy? Do you think that maybe you're purposefully and willingly exposing yourself advertising, re-enforcing your desire to get those things, under the guise of keeping up to date?

Where Does the Balance Lie?

Here's where I'm stuck. I studied computers and technology in school. I have a solid base in the fundamentals and am currently on top of what's the latest and greatest for a lot of different technology sectors. If I don't keep reading about the coolest latest technology, I will likely end up like so many greybeards in the tech industry -- they know the fundamentals and know what worked well back in their day, but are too far behind to implement new and better solutions.

If I take that view all the way, then I should keep on top of all the technology I can.

On the other hand, keeping up with it all can be draining. I haven't visited Slashdot, Digg or several other tech sites in more than a month. I get sore fore-arms really easily because I'm typing and programming for up to 10 hours a day.

If I do keep up with everything, I will get burned out. Besides getting burned out, I don't have as much time with my family or other hobbies as I'd like.

Dreams of Change

I'm incredibly blessed to have gotten a good education in a field that pays well. I have skills, experience and a network which allow me to get a new job pretty easily. I can make a good living for my family with technology related work. I usually love what I do too. I love to make things work and to fix broken code.

...but...sometimes I resent computers. I hate that I am a slave to system updates and upgrades. To new hardware advances. To security flaws. To power outages. To hacking attempts. To cool new programs that I just have to try out. Mostly though, I hate that I love working on them.

A part of me yearns to break free from them. Something in me wishes I could go weed the garden and plow a field and chase down runaway cows on a dirt bike. I'd have a wood shop in my shed with a lathe, a router, and a table saw. I'd be outside enjoying and working in reality instead of changing the magnetic orientation of particles on a metal disk fabricating a new artificial world online.

Reality and Me

What will I really end up doing? Probably I'll go get an MBA and become a manager somewhere. That'll get me off of the computer and away from the eternal upgrade process. It'll give me a bit of insurance against my RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury) which could one day turn into carpal tunnel syndrome. It'll also let me keep feeding and caring for my family; I don't even know how to drive a plow.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Job Transition Process : 401K and Insurance

Friday is my last day at my current job. Monday I'll start my new work from home job.

With the transition I need to make sure to take care of a couple of important things, namely my 401K and insurance.

UPDATE : Both sections have been updated with their respective resolutions


At my current job I have $1,194.76 worth of funds in my 401K. That isn't enough for them to keep me in it. Sadly I've put in $1312.52 so far and haven't had it open long enough for the company match to have vested yet.

I need to decide if I'm going to roll it to a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. Once I know which type I want I'm going to need to choose a company to get it through. That'll be a something to research today. The only thing I know right now is that I don't want to cash it out.

I believe that I have 30 days to get it rolled over.

UPDATE : It turns out that I will be able to keep my 401K right where it's at. I won't be able to make any more deposits though, so I'll still need to open an IRA of some sort for my new job.


I should've asked more questions at both jobs. I'm not sure if my current insurance will disappear on Friday when I leave work, or if it'll continue through the month. I would assume that it would stop the moment I stop working for the company.

I won't be filling out the insurance paperwork at my new job till Monday, which means I might need to pick up some basic insurance for a weekend. If that's the case I'll try to find something with a super high deductible, just in case of an emergency.

I would just risk for the two days except that :

1) In 2006 my wife had been without insurance for a week or so. The same day her new insurance started we were in an accident and she broke her toe.

2) My wife is taking a ~500 mile (round trip) car trip this weekend to go to a cousin's wedding and I'm going camping. Both of those activities have a higher than normal chance of accidents occurring.

UPDATE : The insurance here is monthly, so I've got old-work insurance till the last day of July, so that's good. On the down side, I found out that new-work insurance coverage doesn't start until September first.

I looked into the COBRA plan as suggested by chackoc in the comments. COBRA for the four of us was going to be $900+ for the month of August.

We found and bought a one month policy with Assurant Health. My wife used them once before for a few months between coverage and found them easy enough to work with. We got a 100/0 % plan with a $1000 deductible for $220.64 including the $20 setup fee.

That'll cover us if something big happens and we'll be able to handle paying $1000 with our savings if something small happens.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Leftovers for Breakfast : Completely Random Snippets

I didn't have enough coherent thoughts to make a post on a single subject today, so you get some follow ups on a couple of subjects!

It's time to pay off the Credit Card

The credit card is due next week so I transferred the money to pay it off from ING yesterday. We'll be paying off $1,492.26.

At ING we made $2.29 in interest this month in the sub-account that money came from. There's still almost $400 in the account, so the $2.29 isn't solely from the Credit Card float. The $2.29 doesn't account for interest earned between when I paid off the Credit Card last month and the end of last month. I call it close enough.

We also will be getting $14.92 cash back for this month's charges.

That's $17.21 we wouldn't have if we were going cash based!

The Garden is Still Growing

The first crook-necked squash was big enough to eat. We had it in stir-fry. There are a whole bunch of green tomatoes on the vine. There are several gum ball sized watermelons now, and some fifty-cent piece sized pumpkins.

We planted two types of cucumbers (English types and regular types). One of them has probably close to 100 blossoms in the row, but we're not sure which row is which type.

The Okra, Kohlrabi and newly plated lettuce have sprouted and are growing well.

Learning to Live on A Budget

As of the 11th we'd used up about 2/3 of our budget while being only 1/3 the way through the month. Some of the expenses we'll get back (from the babysitting flex spend account, for example) but some of it is just us learning to live within our budget.

At the start of next month you'll get to hear our reasons and excuses...and our plan to do better.

Freecycle Saves Us Money

Once upon a time we had a bread maker which I had bought a thrift store for $5. We made home made bread for three or four months, decided we were eating too much bread and sold the bread maker for $15.

After the Easy and Cheap Home Made Bread post on Get Rich Slowly yesterday, I decided I wanted to get a bread maker again. My wife agreed as long as we buy and use whole wheat flour instead of the white flour we currently have.

I sent an email out to our local Freecycle list to see if anyone had one they didn't want. Someone responded to my email and all I have to do is drive the 10.1 miles to pick it up. That'll cost less than $5 in gas to get there and back.

Monday, July 14, 2008

With a Sound Financial Base, You Don't Need Many Rules

At church yesterday we were discussing how the difference between doctrine, principles and rules. I realized that the same concepts applied to personal finance, and present them here for your feedback.

  • Doctrine -- Doctrine are the final answers on everything. In the finance world this would be the laws and regulations in the finance industry, the details of your credit card contract, etc. There are a lot of points of doctrine.

  • Principles -- Principles are attitudes and beliefs which guide your actions. They should be built on top of the doctrine. For example, the principle of "Spend less than you earn" is built on top of the doctrines of fiscal responsibility, bankrutpcy and the laws governing reposesion, among other things. There are less principles than doctrine.

  • Rules -- Rules are the actual implementation of your principles which you follow day to day. Rules are what you need to do to stick to your principles and be in line with the doctrines which you need to follow. Rules might include things like "Only use the Credit Card when I have sufficient funds in my Savings Account" or "Any non-budget purchases need spousal approval" etc.

The point of the lesson at church was that if our doctrinal base is solid we don't need as many guiding principles. If our guiding principles are good we don't need to keep track of as many hard and fast rules.

I think the same thing applies to finance. For me, the less absolute rules I have to keep track of, the better. I also don't want to learn all of the financial regulations that might affect me (there's a reason I didn't major in finance). So, I have some basic financial rules I use in my day to day, and if something seems to fall outside those rules, I can consult my principles and see what I should do.

What financial Principles and Rules do you live by?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Weight Loss Tip : Brush your teeth?

I'm not quite ready to chalk this one up as a fact, but the timing is interesting at least.

This week I had some cavities filled, and the and the week before I had a dental checkup. In the 10 or so days leading up to the checkup I kept my teeth extra clean and flossed almost daily. Between the checkup and getting the cavities filled I did the same thing, and now since Tuesday when I had them filled I've been brushing more often to keep food from getting stuck on the new fillings.

During this same time period I finally broke through the 215 pounds barrier, which I posted about last Friday, and as of this very moment I weigh 211 pounds.

If the two are by chance related then this is how I would explain it :

I am too lazy to brush my teeth; I would 
rather not eat than eat and then brush.

Are they related? I don't know, probably not. Still, I'm going to try to keep brushing.


Side note:

I hadn't been to the dentist since either 2000 or 2003. I know I went before my mission, because I remember having my wisdom teeth out at that time. I don't remember if I went after my mission, but before I got married...I may have. I know I haven't been since we were married.

I had two small cavities (didn't even need Novocain for them). My wife had one big cavity (almost a root canal, but not quite!) and two small ones.

We went to the dentist mostly because my new employer doesn't have dental insurance, but my old job does. Since the 18th is my last day we figured we might as well use it while we've got it. Talk about good timing!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jumping On the Garden Band Wagon

Gardens seem to be a popular trend among personal finance / self improvement bloggers. In my own defense, we've been into gardening since before it was popular. I grew up with a garden, and we've planted one several times since we got married.

Anyways, I thought I'd add a little here about mine. This picture is from a few weeks ago, and things have grown quite a lot since I took the picture, but it should give you an idea of what's happening.

We've got corn, lettuce (several kinds), cucumbers (3 kinds!), crook necked squash, watermellon, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, okra, bush beans, pumpkins and kohlrabi.

We got a bit of a late start this year because we had to get permission to till up the back yard from our landlords, and we didn't think to do that until the snow was gone.

The tomatoes and peppers came from starter packs from Lowes, everything else except the potatoes was from seeds. We had finished planting the seeds and had a little room left. I remembered we had some older potatoes in the fridge, so I sliced them and thre them in the ground, and three of the four chunks turned into plants.

The Kohlrabi and Okra were kind of mistakes. There were a couple of patches where beans, lettuce and carrots hadn't come up. I hated the thought of wasting the space, so we went back to Lowes to see what we could get that would grow quickly. The Okra and Kohlrabi both had "45-60 days" as their time till maturity, so we bought them. I've never eaten a Kohlrabi, and my wife has never had Okra. We added three more tomato plants, more cucumbers and lettuce at the same time.

I spend about 15-20 minutes watering the garden each night. It's kind of nice to just stand outside and not think about anything except the garden. I spend most of my day working on computers and worrying about computer bugs, so escaping to the real world is something of a reprieve.

My goal is to spend 30 minutes 2-3 times a week weeding the garden. It looks like I'm going to have to do that today and tomorrow, because I haven't gotten to it yet this week!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Home Buying : Should I use an agent?

We're hot in pursuit of a house. We think we know which one we'd like to buy. As we're about to get into buying the house, I'm wondering if we should use a buying agent. Here are the pros and cons as I see them so far. Remember, I am a first time home buyer at the very beginning of the process. I don't know much about it and my current opinions could be bad ones.

Pros of a Buying Agent

  1. Proximity to the house We're 1400 miles away from the houses we're looking at. An agent could look at the house for us, do local paperwork, etc.

  2. Professional References A buying agent would know who to get to do the appraisals. They'll know which appraisers run high and which run low. They'll also know which building inspectors are on the level and which do a shoddy job.

  3. Bargaining They know the market and the business. They may be able to do a better job at knocking down a high price.

Cons of a Buying Agent

  1. They have conflicting interests Since the agent is paid a percentage of the house price they make more money if we spend more money. This removes motivation to help us find a lower priced house, or to bargain hard to get a price lower.

  2. They Do Nothing I Couldn't Do They may know what forms to fill out, but if the selling agent is interested in getting the house sold, they'll make sure I sign everything I need to.

  3. Higher Price The buying agent's pay has to come from somewhere. With the right negotiating it may be possible to have everyone else come out ahead by cutting the buying agent out of the picture.

Higher Price

This is the one I really wanted to talk about.

I called a friend yesterday who works at a real estate company and who has her real estate license. I wanted to get the scoop on buying agents to see if we were going to need one when we go to buy this house.

The quote which made me discredit everything else she said was
...and it doesn't cost you anything because the seller pays the agent fees...

OK, yes, it may be technically true that I will not be the one who writes the check to the agent, but isn't the check paid with money I just barely gave the seller?

One strategy I think we will be trying to use to lower the price is to not use a buying agent. By not using a buying agent we can pay less, the selling agent can take a larger incentive and the seller can keep more. Here's how it works in my mind.

With Buying AgentWithout Buying Agent
House Price (we pay)$100,000$98,000
Selling Agent Commission3% ($3,000)3% + $400 as motivation ($3340)
Buying Agent Commission3% ($3,000)0% ($0)
Money Left for Seller$94,000$94,660

We give the selling agent extra beyond the 3% commission so that he/she stands to gain from the deal. I pay $2,000 less on the house and the seller makes an extra $660. The benefit margins increase for everyone as the price of the house increases of course.

Since the selling agent and the house seller have more than likely already signed a contract stating what the commission is, reaching some sort of arrangement like the one listed above will depend on what their contract says and on their flexibility within the contract. They may be willing to break the contract if they will both come out ahead.

It will also depend on the house seller being smart enough to realize that selling the house for less money still nets him a higher return.

The Seller Agent Takes All (and splits it) Scenario

Removing the buyer agent commission will only work if the seller contract has a separate percentage for the buyer agent to earn. In some cases the selling agent will simply take a higher percentage (like 7 or 8%) and then split that with the buying agent.

In cases like these the seller doesn't have much, if anything, to gain, but I'm hoping that we'll have more power over the selling agent. We could
  • Tell them that at the current price we would want the buying agent's percentage
  • Tell them that if we don't get the house reduced by an appropriate amount that we will get a buying agent so that their commission is reduced

Have you used a buyers agent? Should I?

Does anyone here have experience using a buyers agent and think I should? Has anyone not used a buyers agent? How hard is it to do the paperwork on your own? We'll see how well the negotiating goes once we get closer to buying. For now we're still looking, but we're narrowing in on choices and will have to start talking to sellers soon.

New Job : I Am Now Free To Move About the Country

I got a job offer last Thursday. It's for the position I interviewed for last Tuesday.

The salary is $59,000 a year. That's $6,500 more than my current salary. There are less benefits, namely no 401K, or life or dental insurance. There is health insurance though, which is nice.

The best benefit though is that it's a work at home job. Besides getting an office with a window (my current office is solid walls) this means that when we go to move in January I can take my job with me. It means that even in a new city we'll know what I'll be making before hand.

The work is more up my alley too. Less of a computer-for-computers-sake type product and more of a computers-as-a-tool-to-help-people angle. It's a small (6-8 people) company which gives me more autonomy, which I've been wanting.

Mostly though we're just happy that we'll be able to save more towards our house and that we'll be able to move there more easily when we find one we like.


I think we might just go out to eat to celebrate, even though it wasn't in our budget (neither was an extra $6500 a year!).

Monday, July 7, 2008

Reading : The Sun Also Rises

I just finished Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises". Wikipedia says that The Sun Also Rises is considered Hemingway's best novel by a majority of critics. His only other book I've read is The Old Man and The Sea, but I don't remember it being so abjectly boring, slow paced and meandering.

No Plot

I couldn't figure out a plot to this book. It follows the lives of several characters between France and Spain. There is a little bit of a love triangle story, they go to some bull fights, and that's it. No struggles, no triumph over evil, nothing.

It reminded me of this classic Calvin and Hobbes cartoon which says "not having my emotions manipulated is such a weird experience".

My Recomendation

Read something else. At least Old Man and The Sea was shorter. I thought it was more interesting too.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Weight Wait : Slow Progress, but Progress None the Less

Getting below 215 pounds has been a drudgefully slow experience like trudging through deep snow made ofmolasses. I would get down to 215, then bounce around between the 215 and 220 marks on the scale for a few days, then back down to 215. This has been going on basically for the last month.

It didn't help that we went to visit grandpa-inlaw or that my dad and siblings came into town (and treated us to dinner several times). It didn't help that the frozen lunches I had made to bring to lunch were meat-and-potatoes type meals. And it certainly didn't help that I was doing consulting instead of exercising in the evenings.


That's behind me now though! (I hope!). For the last four or five days I've now been bouncing between 214 and 217. My spreadsheet says that I need to lose 0.5297 pounds per week for the rest of the year to reach my goal. I would rather do better than that so that in November and December I'm not trying to lose weight over the holidays (just trying to maintain it).

Plan : Eat Less, Garden More

Being a highly environmentally conscious person (joke), I've been known to eat the remaining four pieces of sausage just so we don't use a ziplock and put them in the fridge. After I've already had breakfast. Including three pieces of sausage.

My new plan is the same as the old plan. Eat less, exercise more. Here are the specifics:

1) I'll leave half of my lunch in my scooter's trunk. If I really get hungry or stay late, I can go get it. If I don't use it for lunch it I can eat it for dinner.

2) I'll go weed the garden like I should be doing anyways. I should probably weed for 30 minutes two or three times a week to keep them under control. That's more exercise than I'm getting now and as long as I do it near dusk I enjoy being outside.

Weighing Less Is Nice

Weighing about 215 is a nice feeling. I have more energy, my clothes fit better, I probably even get better gas mileage on my scooter. The best thing for me so far though was that when some friends invited us to go to the pool last week I didn't feel embarrassed when I took off my shirt.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Interview Tip : They Know Who You Are

I had a great job interview today. I don't know if I will get the job, but the interview itself went well. It's for an online company, and would be a work from home position. Working from home would have it's own challenges but at least I would be able to take my job with me when we move in January.

Before the interview the interviewer already knew a ton about me. About the projects I've done, about my family and more. All sorts of things which I never told him and which certainly weren't on my resume.

Also today my wife interviewed a girl to be our baby sitter. With just her first name and Email address, we were able to track down her livejournal site, her facebook page, photos of her on MySpace and her profile on YouTube. Although the interview went well, based on what I've found about her online I don't think we'll be hiring.

How did my interviewer find out so much about me? How did we find out so much about this babysitter?

Digital Archaeology

I sent my resume from my Gmail. My Gmail users name is the same as the handle I use everywhere online. I also have a domain name or two which match that same handle. And one of those pages links to my wife's blog, etc. etc. etc.

In this case it was beneficial. I have done several projects which piqued the interest of my interviewer. There is also quite a lot of material on my website which showcases my programming abilities, but which aren't things I'd bother to put on a resume.

For the babysitter things didn't end up as well. It started the same way. She replied to our Craigslist posting, listing only her first name in the email. We googled her email address and got nothing. By dropping the '' portion though we got enough leads to find out more about her. She's had 8 siblings, two died of cystic fibrosis. She says she is a Mormon but her pictures and words say she doesn't practice what she says she believes. (Note: Our baby sitter doesn't have to be Mormon, but we'd rather not have a hypocrite).

Shots in the Dark

Sometimes you can hit a dead end and can't find any more information via Google or other search engines. If that's the case it may be time for a couple of shots in the dark to try to locate the individual. Teens and college students can often be found on Facebook or MySpace if you know their name and school. Brazilians can often be found on Orkut, other South Americans on Hi5. Business professionals can sometimes be found on Linked-In (although most of Linked-In is also indexed by Google it seems).

Hiding Your Tracks

Being found online is a mixed blessing. It makes it possible to reunite with old friends and find out about others before meeting them. It also makes you more vulnerable depending on what you've put online.

If you have material online which you don't want a future employer, date or colleague to see, you need to hide your tracks. The best way to hide your tracks is to create a new online identity strictly for business (or nefarious!) purposes. For example instead of I might send my resume in via my new and improved address.

If creating a new identity isn't really an option, or if your name is unique enough that someone could search and find you (eg. not John Smith) then you may need to work to remove or hide the existing bad data.

The first thing to do is to remove pictures which don't portray you in a positive light from social networking sites. Make your profile private while you're at it.

Next, do some research on yourself. Make note of what information you can find about yourself via Google, Altavista, MSN Search, Yahoo, etc. For any site which you do have control over (eg. old forum posts which you can still edit) be sure that the content is what you want seen.

For content which you don't want to show up, it's a bit more difficult. You will likely need to do a bit of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for yourself. You will need to create enough new pages with your name (or handle) on them that Google and other search engines will link to those good pages before the bad ones. You can create good pages for yourself by blogging and posting in forums among other things.


Taking care of what of your data shows up online may help you land that next job interview. Be sure to research the person you're interviewing with if possible. And if you're going to be blogging about your salary and financial situation be sure to use an alias so future employers don't know how much they *really* need to pay you.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Moneythly Report : June / July

I'm going to start a monthly money report on the state of our finances. Each month I'll post how we did for the month (charts and category breakouts) and post our budget for the upcoming month. In future months I'll post budgeted vs. actual expenses as well.

June Report

The huge recreation fee is where we went to visit my nearing senile Grandpa-in-law. His girlfriend thought that he'd paid for the hotel for us, but we ended up having to pay for it. She had tried to be nice and put us up in the nicest hotel in town too. While we were there they probably gave us that much in camping gear, so it kind of evens out anyways I suppose. It's still a huge chunk of unexpected expenses.

July 1st Assets and Liabilities

Here 'Due' means when it starts charging interest.

ING Savings: $3891.11
ING Checking: $424.24
Credit Union Savings: $5.00
Credit Union Checking: $123.18
Credit Union Money Market: $0.14
Credit Union CD: $6,082.79
Credit Union Credit Card: -$1,145.14 (Due July 25)
Big Bank Checking: $100.08
Big Bank Credit Card: $0
401K Vested Value: $1,254.30
Student Loan: -$6075 (Due June 2009)
Car Loan: -$15,580 (0% interest. We start payments in November [$380/month]).

July Budget

Green is income or remaining positive balance. Salmon is variable expenses, red is fixed cost expenses.

We should actually save a good deal more than the $390 listed above. We have roughly $900 coming in to our account in the next few days as we cash a check and get the reembursements for child care expenses (via. our flex spending account)

You'll note the $0 on groceries. We are using our grocery gift cards and are planning to not spend any grocery money beyond the gift cards.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Better: Less Clutter

I've been decluttering my home lately. Most of the things we've gotten rid of we gave away so this definitely falls under the 'Better' umbrella and not 'Richer'.

Between a local used clothing store, Craigslist, Freecycle and an extra bag of garbage we've given away:

* Two broken Mac Plusses
* 20-25 German novels
* Pair of shoes that didn't fit
* A box of firestarters for camping
* Baby front carrier
* 6 or so large boxes which electronics (cameras, computers, etc.) had come in.
* A joystick I only used once
* Two extra diaper bags
* A pile of extra clothes that don't fit
* A book on tape
* Bag of extra baby clothes
* Extra microwave
* Extra toaster
* An extra wireless router, Ethernet cord, and other miscellaneous small electronics
* A tea kettle we've had sitting on our stove for four years (and used only ~6 times)
* An extra DVD/CD burner

That's a lot of extra junk sitting around. Some of it is hard to part with. I know that some day I'll wish I still had the wireless router. When we move we may wish we had the microwave. If our toaster burns out we'll wish we had our backup. My hope is that by giving these things away now, when we need them again someone else will be decluttering their life.

In the four years we have been married we've gone from pretty poor to depending on my parents for support to doing pretty well. During the rougher times we both developed a habit of accumulating things for free when we could (for example from Freecycle) so that we wouldn't have to buy them later. My collection of electronic parts has kept my computer running for far cheaper than buying new ones.

Because of that 'collect it when we can' mentality though we're both somewhat overly attached to our backups. Do I need three wireless routers? No, of course not. Do we need two extra diaper bags? The odds are slim we'll ever use them. We could have tried to sell everything, but we've been blessed with everything we need and more, now it's our turn to share and help others who need it. Also, if we'd waited maybe we would've grown attached again.

(Video: Quartet Reprise sings 'Because I have been given much' on Music and the Spoken Word)