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Doing it Right
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My Dream
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I've Altered the Deal. Pray I don't Alter it Again
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Debt and Mortgage
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on 9/26/2011
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Fatty No More
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Twenty Eleven
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Cubicle Justice
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The 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th of July
on 7/6/2010
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Doing it Right 10:24 AM, Sep 13, 2013

The biggest problem most Americans seem to have in common is finances. Making that check work for everything: bills, debt, savings, emergencies, and some form of a social life. For me, the unconscious level of priority went like this: social life, bills, debt, savings(emergencies).

The result was that I had a great time doing little dances with friends, sometimes overdrew my checking account at great expense, paid off very little debt, and had no savings whatsoever. There was a time when I did have some savings, and I was very proud of my savings plan. But my friend Keith told me on a long drive to Colorado in 2003 that savings is worthless if you have high-interest debt, so I emptied the account when I got home, and used it to make a one-time chip at the roughly six thousand dollars of credit card debt I had at the time.

Fast forward to 2008. Some bad luck pushed me to the unemployment line, and with no savings and six months before I got a job, my personal debt jumped to about twenty thousand dollars. The amount of time it took me to pay it off advanced the total to about thirty five thousand dollars because of assessed interest. The job I got didn't pay enough, to my mind, to pay my debt and bills, so the debt grew.

I got a new job in 2010 that paid significantly more than any job I'd previously had, and this naturally pleased me mightily. But after a couple months, I noticed that my financial situation hadn't really improved, and certainly to the extent that I expected twenty five thousand dollars of extra annual income would improve it. I realized that I was doing it wrong, and further, had been doing it wrong for my entire adult life.

I was sitting in a conference room in Dallas when I was going over my finances. The financial plan to which I was adhering was to track my expenses and enter every receipt's amount into a web application that I wrote. I entered predictable expenses like bills and debt payments into the application for future dates. The goal was to keep a realistic picture of how much money I had, which I realized quickly was the lowest amount of money in the future. Meaning if I had $700 in my account, but I knew that I had a $150 electric bill coming up on the 18th, The application would report that I had $550 available.

That was my problem. My thinking was wrong. The application was great, and it did its job very well-- I paid my bills, and seldom overdrew my account --but my situation never improved. I had no savings. No safety net. No plan for my now massive debt. I was doing it wrong.

I was being paid weekly, which was nice on its own, but no one check was big enough to handle my biggest bills, like my mortgage. So I got the idea to divide my mortgage in quarters, and make a payment for that much automatically each week. CitiMortgage did not like this however, and informed me that though I was sending them money, none of the payments registered as my actual monthly payment, so I wound up owing them a pile of money. It was unpleasant.

I decided that going forward, I would transfer that 25% amount I had been paying into my long-dormant online savings account, and at the end of the month the full payment would be made automatically from there. This worked exceptionally well, and I found that my biggest monthly expense was no longer a source for even the slightest worry. I had by accident discovered the first inkling of a better way. It was very exciting.

I proceeded to look at my full budgetary picture and for the first time, compiled a total of all my monthly expenses. I then compared that to my total net income, and realized that it was all well within reach. Anything extra was just that: extra. Before I got too carried away with that, I realized that the extra had to be used for debt, savings, and day-to-day spending. From that thought I concluded that debt, savings, and day-to-day spending had to be budgeted too, so I added amounts for them to my monthly expenses.

I determined that by splitting things up into two accounts, I could meet my financial obligations and goals more easily. I figured out how much money I would need to live day-to-day: food, gas, beer, the occasional fun purchase, and set it up so that this amount was all that was deposited into my checking account when I got paid. The rest went into the online savings account. Actually, the online savings account had a checking account element to it as well, so I used that, and called it my "operations account."

My operations account paid all my predictable bills automatically(mortgage, dues, cable, phone, electricity, etc) and was where the majority of my financial activity took place. Since my checking account had a set amount contributing to it, the operations account was where my monthly surplus went. That surplus went entirely toward paying debt. I went from struggling to make minimum debt payments to overpaying them by fifteen hundred dollars.

I realized that with minimal effort on my part, I now had an actual date on when I was going to be out of debt. It was about a year and a half away, but compared to sixty or seventy years with minimum payments, or more likely never, that figure was immeasurably exciting.

In this way, I paid my last debt payment at the end of January, 2012. Since then, I've been saving money. By 2013, I had enough savings to be able to start investing and paying down my mortgage.

My only regret in all this is that I didn't do it from the beginning. I would be wealthy now if I had. So if you're reading this, know that if you're snowed under, there's hope! I'm not selling anything, and I'm not a Dave Ramsey adherent-- at least not by design. Today, I have a checking account with UMB which is tied to my debit/cash card. I have a credit card gathering dust somewhere in my room. I honestly don't know where it is. I should probably cancel it.

My Dream 12:27 PM, May 13, 2013

I had a dream last night, and I want to know what people think it might mean. Maybe some background is required. My dad and stepmother in Peoria just moved out of the house where the family moved in 1992, a couple months into my freshman year of high school, and into a smaller house that suits an empty-nested couple more appropriately than the old one.

The "old house," which I guess I have to call it now, has been home in Peoria for over twenty years. Mom died there when I was nineteen. It's where my family was centered when I became an adult. It's where my brother and sisters and I have introduced our friends and loved ones to the family. It's where we were a family. And now I'll most likely never see the inside of it again.

This has been the undercurrent in an otherwise inexplicable motif of sadness lately. I don't know why I've been sad, but it happened rather quickly. As my friend Amanda said, this kind of sadness is the worst, as there is no target-- no area of my life on which I know to focus my efforts. There's no one and nothing for which I particularly long right now, and maybe that's the problem.

I dreamed that I was in the basement of the old house with a group of people. Who it was in particular I can't say, except that I knew everyone well. The only specific person I can remember is my friend Nick, though not for any major part he played. The basement was for some reason filled with hidden venomous snakes. Looking at the main room revealed nothing at all, but behind furniture and under almost every object was a brown-yellow-red diamonback-ish snake. I recall thinking they were beautiful.

At the beginning of this, the group and I were looking for something that was recalled earlier in the dream, but is now lost with the passage of time. It was not a mystery though. Anyway, everywhere we looked there would be an agitated snake that would coil in hostility upon discovery, putting its neck into an S-shape in preparation to strike if its discoverer got too close. The only spoken words I remember were when Nick had a run-in with one of them, and took a bite on the ankle.

"Did he get you?" I asked.

"Yeah," he responded.

Nick left, presumably to seek medical attention, and after a while of this I was in the basement by myself with all the hidden snakes. I recall that I had no intention of harming any of them, and that doing so would cause for something to be lost that could not be regained, or would serve as some kind of failure on my part. So whenever I encountered one of these annoyed snakes I would respectfully back off and look elsewhere.

After some time, I was sitting on the old junky blue-upholstered chair that hasn't been in that basement in over fifteen years, and I looked to my left. At the other end of the room, lying in plain sight, was an enormous snake. It was at least fifteen feet long and a foot in diameter at its widest, and was lying in a close V-shape, seemingly at leisure. Its head was the size of a large men's shoe. It seemed to notice me at the same time as I noticed it, and began to threateningly charge me.

My legs didn't seem to work, and I made slow mushy progress to the stairs behind the chair's back. At this point either my dream changed or I woke up. I'm not sure, because I have no memory of what happened after that.

I don't know what this dream means, but I have some ideas. I would like to know your opinion on it.

I've Altered the Deal. Pray I don't Alter it Again 1:29 PM, Jul 27, 2012

Yesterday, Google announced additional details for the implementation of a fiber network to Kansas City. I'm not going to repeat that stuff-- it's all over the internet. Just look around. What I'm going to do is air a bit of a grievance about it, because the more I find out about this deal, the worse the deal gets.

When Google announced last year that they would be building an unprecedented fiber network in Kansas City, all involved and affected were buzzing with energy and excitement, myself included. A gigabit of internet access to everyone in town! 650,000 residents thrust all of a sudden into the future. The potential was staggering.

The unimaginative could only see the face value. Higher-speed access to the internet. Youtube and facebook will load faster. Netflix loads faster, and possibly at a higher quality. But I saw that this was huge. It was much a greater catalyst than that, because my thought was that the potential for innovation, capitalism, and commercial opportunity would be so great that this would be the biggest economic watershed for Kansas City since the railroad bridge was built in 1869, and possibly bigger.

This was what I thought Google's idea was too. Then, over the intervening months I started to read about Google's fiber initiative including residential television service, and I became confused. What reason do they have to break into television? How will that foster the commercial renaissance I had envisioned? If anything, it'll just make it difficult for existing carriers to do business in Kansas City. That isn't innovation. With both KCMO and KCK bending over backwards to make this happen, that's government-sponsored competition killing. My opinion of Google declined.

Then, the announcement was finally made as to how things were going to go down. A marketing-laden presentation was given yesterday, to highlight the major points of Google Fiber, talking entirely about how it can be used and enjoyed by people at home. No mention whatsoever was made of the business application of it. No mention whatsoever was made of how it would improve public services, or level the playing field for Kansas City's ailing schools and underfunded hospitals. It was basically an expensive advertisement for a home ISP. Again, my opinion of Google declined.

It was announced that KC had been divided up into geographical areas referred to as "fiberhoods," which surreptitiously excluded large parts of the city. Each fiberhood coincided loosely with existing neighborhoods, or did as much as possible, and residents of each could now preregister for Google Fiber service. But a couple hooks were added without specific announcement. If a fiberhood didn't reach a number of preregistrations by Septemer 9th equal to an arbitrary percentage of all the housing units within it, the Google Fiber would not become available there.

Further, and cruelly so, in my opinion, Google has seen fit to deny access to its network to schools and public buildings in fiberhoods where the arbitrary goal isn't met. The goal for most of the city is five or ten percent, which on its own is very significant. However, in downtown it's twenty five percent, with the highly noticeable exception of the River Market, which is five percent. Google claims on the registration page and interactive maps that fiberhoods that don't reach their goal by September 9th will not get service, and the ones with the highest percentage of registrants, as compared to their goal, will get service rolled out first.

This is not a good time to live downtown. Amazingly-- flabbergastingly, downtown might actually not get Google Fiber service.

This is not a good time to innovate. This is not a good time to move your company to Kansas City. This is not a good time to invest in Kansas City. Because unless we hear something different, all we're looking at with Google Fiber is faster Facebook and Youtube.

Debt and Mortgage 1:37 AM, Dec 11, 2011

I'm taking tonight off from being irresponsible to get some work, Christmas shopping, and personal accounting done. Through some belt-tightening, planning, and relatively lucrative employment I've managed to pull out of the thirty thousand dollars of debt into which I plunged when I was unemployed in 2008 and 2009. By this time next month, I will be 100% debt-free for the first time since I was 22, when I got my first credit card and lost my childlike mind. So that feels good.

The next step is resolving what I see as a big financial problem for which my debt has made me incapable of addressing: my mortgage. Remember the mortgage crisis that culminated in the printing of zillions of worthless dollars in 2008 to make believe the problem had been addressed? Well, I'm one of those "toxic" mortgage customers. I took out a loan for the full buying price of my place when I bought it in 2007, and got an APR of 6.375% on it. That's bad. Especially with the dizzyingly low rates that are available to qualified borrowers nowadways. But over the past four years(it'll be five years in March!) I've made sure to always pay more than the amount due on my monthly payment, even if it was only a couple dollars. Some months were small, others were big, but now, I've managed to lop the last three months off my term and save myself about four times what I've overpaid. That feels good, but I'm still sitting with under 20% equity on my place.

So my plan is to ratchet up my monthly payments with my newfound extra money each month, with the goal being to get over 20% equity, and qualify to refinance at one of these great low rates. I have a spreadsheet on google that outlines my monthly expenses, debt, savings, and projections thereof. My plan is to increase my mortgage payment by an amount roughly equivalent to 0.7% of my principal balance each month, with the goal being to get over 20% as quickly as possible, so I can refinance for super-happy-big longterm savings.

What I've discovered though, is that I really don't have any savings whatsoever, and a monthly budget surplus seems like an ideal way to fix that. I have a couple of noticeable expenses that come up once or twice a year, and having a savings to deal with them and anything else unexpected seems like the reasonable thing to do. So here's the plan. Save up about two months' salary, then scale the monthly contributions to savings down to a trickle to push hard on the mortgage for about a year and a half.

Then I refinance, and fix my place up. Let's see how it goes. Check back with me soon.

Stank 1:25 PM, Sep 26, 2011

Yesterday, besides working, I undertook the most revolting experience I have had to endure since I would say, 1995, when I worked at Ben Schwartz Food Mart back in Peoria.

Last week, I was in my friend Nick's car, on the way back from Lawrence. We had just watched the season premiere of Parks and Recreation, and a good time was had by all in attendance. I got a series of texts from my roommate about how the keg was pouring 90% head. The keg is from my favorite possession: my kegerator.

Anyway, I promised my roommate that I would look into it when I got home, and put it out my mind. I checked it out the next morning, and in my various times in and out of the fridge to check pressure gauges and stuff, I noticed that the top of the main fridge door was wet. I opened the freezer and it wasn't even slightly cool inside. I looked down at the wall and saw that the kegerator was unplugged. Because of the appendage we use to regulate the temperature inside, the unit will very easily become unplugged.

I explained to my roommate that it was because the beer had warmed up that it was pouring mostly head. I plugged it back in, and the compressor kicked on immediately. Upset by the loss of a fair quantity of meat and seafood that had completely thawed, we disposed of a couple of items from the freezer and went about our business.

By Friday evening, a tinge started to manifest in the air. I didn't notice it, but my roommate wore a disgusted look on his face from it. I assumed then, that it was me, and sheepishly went to take a shower. By saturday however, it was an outright stench throughout the common area of the whole apartment. Walking in the front door was a wall of stench. It took us at least a day to figure out what was going on. We turned the place upside-down trying to place the odor. My roommate was certain that some sewer gas had belched up through the kitchen sink, so he filled the sink with water. But over the next day, the stench only got worse. The closest thing I can think of to compare it to would be like the pen of unhealthy livestock. But even that doesn't do it justice.

But I was sitting at my desk yesterday, and it occurred to me that the stench appeared at about the same time as the kegerator caper, and I decided that the two events couldn't have been coincidental. We zeroed in on the kegerator and found that the smell's intensity had a zero added to its arbitrary measurement of revulsion, when we were close to the kegerator.

So we performed surgery on the kegerator, convinced that somewhere inside it there was a foul reservoir of thawed meat and seafood leavings that had to be cleaned out. In our exploratory surgery, we discovered the path of the drainage was actually determined by design. the natural slope of the floor of the freezer led back to a catch that fed into a pipe that went down. We followed that down to the bottom-rear of the unit, and there, sure enough, perhaps two quarts of the most vile liquid I have ever seen or smelled had accumulated.

I unplugged the fridge, propped the freezer door open, and we stuck a couple plates of baking soda into the freezer. We left for a while, and when I returned, I pulled the fridge away from the wall in such a way that the pan was as exposed as possible, and tried to think of a way to tackle it. It was attached to the compressor, so the only way to pull it out would have been to detach the compressor's housing and unwire it, and I wasn't about to do that. Between the lip of the pan and the heat-dissipating grated structure of the refrigerator's rear was perhaps an inch of clearance into which I could insert something to extract the reeking poisonous liquid.

So, the most effective method I found was to take a large spoon and bail the pan out a tablespoon at a time, over the course of about an hour, enduring the mortally toxic odor all the while. Three times I had to break away to breathe out my nausea. After it was done, I put a bunch of baking soda into the pan, and sprayed down the floor with 409. I boiled the spoon for about 40 minutes before putting it in the dishwasher. Maybe some day it can be used again.

Blu-ray 9:01 PM, May 19, 2011

I am now employed, as you probably know, but if you did not, there it is. I am now employed, and I'm excited about it. As lovely as that news may be, that's not what I decided to blog about for the first time in over two months. No, I'm writing here on this seldom-viewed website to tell you about my experience with a new consumer-grade technology.

Pursuant to the fact that I am now newly-employed, I was in the Chicago area for my new-hire orientation, which I must say was excellent. Previous employers, especially the one where I supported battle simulations, could take a lesson from the practiced brevity and high-density content that was cheerfully and interestingly delivered over a period of two days.

But again, I digress. Since I was in the area, I arranged with my patient accommodating new employer to let me fly in early and spend the weekend with family at my brother and sister-in-law's house, not far from where I would be staying over the course of the orientation period. This all fit very well with scheduling, and a lovely weekend was had by all. When my brother dropped me off at the hotel, I immediately began to miss him, and got emotional when I had closed the door to the room behind me.

That said, I wanted to talk about Blu-ray, the purported next generation in consumer-level video storage. I honestly found the picture to be a little too good, if you can understand that. The motion was so fluid that I was forced to step out from behind the fourth wall and come to the realization that the robotic smoothness, as if I'm looking through a window and not at a large television set, is actually a little disconcerting, and I would actually like to have the slightly choppy nature of DVD and its predecessors.

Realism is not important, I've decided, when watching movies. It's the same reason I think movies that are projected in 3D are grasping for a level of realism that is demonstrably unnecessary. I'm aware when I watch a movie that the people I see are not really there, and cannot respond to my suggestions at how to disarm the bomb or come to terms with a death. Comedian David Mitchell made an excellent point when he said that people actually dislike being realistically immersed in the settings of the media they consume. A good example of this is sculpture. Sculpture is extremely realistic, and by its nature is far more realistic than painting, yet it is far less popular.

But even with all that in mind, I think I could live with Blu-ray, but for one problem. Intrusive advertisement is rampant. A significant portion of set-top Blu-ray players are wired for internet services like Netflix Streaming, Hulu Plus, or just plain old Youtube. As such, they will take advantage of this internet access to force the user to sit through commercials before they can watch their own movie. As far as I know, there is no setting that allows users to disable these ads.

This is on top of elaborate and patently fluffy animations and menu screwiness, along with Final Fantasy 7-style animations for production houses and distribution companies, which are also ads in themselves. They cannot be skipped or avoided in any way. The aggregate result of these delays is that the "feature," for which the legitimate consumer forked over money to watch cannot be watched until several minutes of ads and menu juggling have been accomplished.

Also added to the delay is the fact that since Blu-ray is a poorly written and implemented technology, there is an actual computer processing period that takes place for the loading of the underlying software that reads and displays the information stored on the disc.

On top of this is the customary, and now completely ignored MPAA/FBI warning about copyright and its legally protected status. I find it especially outrageous that due to the nature of ripped media(ie, illegally obtained digital copies of movies), these warnings are never seen by the people who decide to infringe the copyright. This means that pretty much the only people who have to sit through the display of these warnings are the people who legitimately purchased the disc. So basically, the people who play by the rules are being punished for doing so.

Incidentally, upon a quick check on my roommate's streaming setup, Netflix doesn't stick the FBI warnings into their features either. You just hit play and the movie plays. I agree with most people that physical media is quickly becoming a thing of the past, and that in a short time, people will remember physical media like DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and VHS tapes as something from a bygone era. However, Blu-ray discs and even DVDs are still very much in the mainstream.

It would appear to me that the MPAA is either trying to shape consumer behavior by making their products a pain in the ass to use, or they're just hopelessly out of touch- oblivious to the sensibilities and preferences of normal people. The former seems highly unlikely, given the fact that many movies are still not available on streaming services, so I'm going to bank on the latter.

I'm also probably never going to purchase a physical disc for a movie again, as I'd rather pay just once for a movie than over and over with commercials.

Fatty No More 1:15 PM, Mar 3, 2011

Ever since I stopped growing, I've had extra weight. In high school it wasn't that big of a deal. In college it was a minor annoyance, and everybody says that you're "supposed to gain weight" in college, due to the party culture. After college, I started to make my own money, and spend it on things I wanted, including foods I wanted. Invariably, these were terrible culinary choices. McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Chipotle were regular stops for me, and when I went to the grocery store I would buy terrible things: hot pockets, hot dogs, microwave burritos, american cheese, white bread, peanut butter, jelly, 2% milk, soda, junkfood, and beer.

I lived this way for over ten years, and now I'm the heaviest, fattest, and most out of shape I have ever been in my life. It's easy to continue, facing the choices that have to be made to turn things around. It's easy to go with the flow. But I recently realized that the path of least resistance could easily mean terrible things for me, and not very far down the road. Heart disease. Cancer. Death. I'm 32, and these are very real possibilities for an unhealthy person.

I was getting a drink with my friend Jon recently, and he was telling me about the changes he made to his lifestyle in 2010. He was just as heavy as I am, or possibly heavier, and now he looks fantastic. He lost over fifty pounds over the second half of 2010. He talked about how unhealthy food gives your brain a short seratonin rush that passes quickly, and leaves you wanting more of what you just ate, regardless of whether you're hungry.

Elsewhere and historically, fat has been viewed as a sign of luxury and abundance. Only the wealthy could afford so much food that they ate more than they needed. Their wealth allowed them to eat for pleasure, not sustenance. As with so many things, American industry has turned the concept on its head.

The cheapest, most accessible calories available in Anmerica are in fast food. The easiest and most apparent way to fill your stomach in America is to load up on extra value meals, and in so doing, pump your body full of endorphines that give you a short-lived high that your body learns to associate with eating unhealthy(but admittedly delicious) food. The result of this is that poor Americans are fat.

This means that people with the means to eat healthy in America are failing to realize an enormous bit of potential when they don't. While unhealthy food is ever-present and marketed in-your-face, healthy food is still readily available to anyone who wants it. It certainly gets a bad rap though. My friend Jon made an excellent point though, when he said that there are extremely profitable systems set up in this and every country that operate on the assumption that people will just do what's easier in the short term, and those who see through that and act accordingly place themselves at an enormous advantage.

I decided then and there that I was changing my life. That was Monday, February 21st. The next day, I walked into the cafeteria at work for lunch, and instead of going straight for the deli or the fried/grilled counters, I went straight to the "home-cooked" counter which always features two ever-changing selections. One is the "comfort zone," and the other is the "right choice." I'll leave the distinction to you, but suffice to say, I went for the right choice, and on a whim, I decided to treat myself on top of this with some roasted potatoes.

My custom when eating is to eat all the least pleasant things on my plate first. So I ate all the squash and peppers and chicken(though I love chicken, but I needed an in-mouth accompaniment with the vegetables) with it, and last on my plate was a pile of greasy roasted potatoes. I took a bite of one, and almost immediately after swallowing it my stomach roiled with indigestion. I realized immediately that what Jon has told me was correct. I threw the rest of the potatoes away, and I've been eating healthy ever since.

That was eight days ago. I've been walking about a mile per day in my commute, and trying to run on the treadmill upstairs at least once a day, but i haven't been as good about that. Even so, my most recent weigh-in has me at 8.7 pounds lower than when I started. I feel better than I ever have, I'm sleeping better, and I have more energy.

The next couple of months should be very exciting for me.

Want to see older stuff? Check out the archives.

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