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Doing it Right

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.

3:27 PM, Jun 9, 2014

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And We're Back

I started this website in 2002(wow, twelve years) as a personal journal, a log of my activities, a way to keep my loved ones apprised of what was happening in my life, and the biggest force for technology education I have ever encountered. This site taught me how to write in perl, how to run a webserver, how to manage system permissions and a hundred other system administration tasks on which I now depend for my living. It was an ongoing love affair with technology for me-- my very own project that allowed me to sandbox whatever new or not-so-new concept I wanted to try.

It was an emotional outlet for me. If I was happy, sad, angry, excited, worried, or if I'd had my heart broken, I poured out my feelings here, and it was always a therapeutic, if overly revealing exercise for me. This was where my creativity was focused. I would gather steam on an idea to talk about, and have it out in a long or short blog post. For years I thought nobody was reading, but I've since learned that this was not the case. People I didn't know, but have since befriended have told me they used to read bahua dot com and check back often for updates. So I suppose I must have been doing something right.

In any case-- whether I was reaching anyone or not, my own feelings about the site were unaffected. It was outlet of creativity. It was my ongoing technology project. It was my tutor in the ways of a host of technologies, most of which I use heavily today to make my living. It was not just the world's window into my life-- it was my portal to my own creative satisfaction and the expansion of my technical mind. I didn't realize at the time how important it was to me.

Almost six years ago, I joined Facebook. It seemed like a great idea. Keep in touch with your friends, and even reconnect with some old friends from whom you've fallen out of touch. But after a couple years, I began to observe a bit of a problem. Aside from the site's marketing-centered modus operandi, (which is fine-- they're in business, after all) I noticed that my own creative output had been refocused on Facebook, and cut into tiny pieces. If I ever had a great idea that came out in my interaction with someone, it was just a comment. It was just a timeline update. Everything on Facebook scrolls off the bottom, out of reckoning and memory. It's a short-term medium that by design doesn't preserve anything. It's difficult to look back and see how we used to be. You can, of course(sort of), but business works based on what is the easiest thing for the consumer to do-- and on Facebook the easiest is the shallow memory.

I also noticed that my own efforts with this website fell off almost entirely. As the archive page will attest, my updates got more and more rare after the summer of 2008. Prior to Facebook, I posted upwards of twenty-- sometimes over thirty updates in a single month. Complete sentences and entire thoughts went into them. Facebook provided a replacement for my venting and outlet, but at the cost of it disappearing quickly, like a breath in the wind.

Then we all got on Facebook on our phones. This meant that instead of sitting and allowing myself to be bored, I would pick up my phone and scroll, scroll, scroll. Now, it is literally impossible to go to a social place-- a bar, a restaurant, a city street, a store --and not see someone retreating into a phone to have at least something to do. For years I thought this was fine-- an actual improvement on things. I would not have to be bored anymore! But I recently realized that boredom is important. Being bored allows my brain to ponder things, analyze things, come up with ideas, and be creative. I realized that boredom is where my creativity is born, and I took action.

I uninstalled the Facebook app from my phone. I changed from always having at least one Facebook tab open in my browser to removing the bookmark for it and only checking back in every three or four days. I'm a little over a week into the purge, and it feels great. I amazingly have found that I have more time to work, and work on my own projects. One such personal project I picked back up was bahua dot com. I dusted off a "beta" site that I had working at about 65% by the time I got on Facebook, but then neglected altogether for years, and set to work to getting it working. Now enough of it works that I'm ready to start using it again.

So, it's good to be back, and I hope to be able to integrate this site into present-day use.

11:46 AM, Jun 11, 2014
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Off to Denver

Ali and I are hitting the road this morning for a stint of wedding planning with her family in Colorado. She's running late, so I'm testing the ability to post new content to this newly revamped webpage from my phone. My computer is powered off and my solar keyboard is up in the window to recharge while I'm gone, so this phone is my best bet.

The trip promises to be a bit tedious with the weather as it is. From where I sit in the bedroom I can hear great volumes of water being kicked up by every passing vehicle out on 7th Street, along with the persistent rattle of drops against my windows that I normally find comforting, but this morning I find to just be unnerving.

We'll have a good visit though. We've both been looking forward to it for some time.

7:22 AM, Jun 12, 2014

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Back Home, Catching Up

We made it to Denver, spent a brilliant weekend there, and got everything done that we needed to do. We have a venue. Ali and I will be getting married at the Table Mountain Inn in Golden, CO on Sunday, April 19th, 2015. Ali managed to pick out a dress without losing her mind on Saturday, and we were able to make good use of the time that remained to us over the weekend. I even managed a couple runs for exercise, though the air at 5000 feet is much thinner and caused me incredible fatigue very quickly. It will take some acclimation when we move there.

In site news, it appears that this site doesn't look great on a mobile device, and the right-hand element that shows random pictures and links to random posts takes up way too much space on a phone screen. I am happily able to make updates to the site from my phone though. I will need to work on some of the CSS, and make some layout decisions.

I've been working hard since we got home last night on some programming projects. One is a financial tracker that gives a short view of all my stock investments with a single simple command. the other projects have been for work, and as I write this I just sent off an email to the rest of my team at work saying that one of the aforementioned projects is finished enough that people can play with it. It's already identified two production servers with serious problems for which no alarm was ever generated. So I'm pretty pleased about that.

5:26 PM, Jun 18, 2014

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Net Neutrality

For the last couple centuries, human civilization has enjoyed an unprecedented sustained boom, as the scientific method has allowed for technological innovation at a speed and on a scale that could scarcely have been previously imagined. The rate of innovation and invention is so great now that there is a thriving enormous industry of lawyers to argue over who invented what, and who owes whom what for whatever use of said previously claimed innovation. The rate is so great that products are obviated by newer products in only a matter of months, because new technologies enable them.

Some decades ago, an electronic communications network was invented, and was initially only really used for defense and a small portion of American academia. Over the years and by degrees, the internet grew to what it is now: the largest source of information and interaction in the world's history. People downplay its importance, but make no mistake. The internet is the single most important, most powerful tool in human existence. Nothing comes close. It's had a multiplying effect on technological advancement too. It's allowed innovation to snowball. I, for example, would not have a career if not for the access I've had to it. I would guess that anyone reading this could say the same thing.

Meanwhile, while modern society has benefited enormously from the internet on an uncountable number of fronts, little has changed with regard to the US Government, with respect to large monied organizations being able to effect change through donations and dubious financial associations with individual lawmakers. Defense contractors donate to campaigns to get lawmakers to sign off on a bid or a no-bid contract of some kind. Insurance companies make use of quid-pro-quo politics to write themselves into the benefiting side of healthcare legislation.

It's called crony capitalism. It's what allows companies that don't succeed by normal means(selling products for money) to stay in business. High-ranked corporate executives are golf buddies with prominent lawmakers, and said prominent lawmakers secure a channel of income and political power through their associations with these high-ranked people by making it more difficult for competitors of their buddies' companies to do business. If you have buddies in Washington, you need not fear for the future of your company.

Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner, and a host of other internet service providers are currently supporting actions that will establish for themselves a dedicated tier of commercially-centered internet access, for which the commercial beneficiaries on the other end will presumably pay. The justified concern that most informed people have is that while the ISPs claim that the purported tier will be of a higher quality and speed than that of the current offering, the natural inclination is that ISPs will not spend the money to create this proposed tier, and will instead just slow all the unsponsored internet access down.

In response, politically active groups have sought to establish what they call Net Neutrality. It's a term that describes an ideal world in which all access to the internet is open and available to everybody on it, with no throttling based on content or requests. Several lawmakers have come out in support of Net Neutrality, claiming it will preserve the open internet. Several more have come out against it, claiming a need for faster access to high-demand internet-based services. Far more lawmakers have remained quiet about it, sitting on the fence and watching which side of the issue for which their support will be more politically advantageous for them.

Let me go ahead and burst your bubble. ISPs are already doing this and have been for years. Behind the normal scenes is a pitched price battle between ISPs and the companies that offer services the ISPs' customers want to access. Arrangements are made in which companies agree to pay the premium demanded by ISPs, presumably commensurate with the traffic these services generate and the cost associated with that extra traffic with the overall goal being that requests go answered, and the internet ticks along with little or no impact on the users.

A significant part of the power of the internet is that no political body controls it. The current push for Net Neutrality is attempting to put that power into the hands of the US Government, under the assumption that something as important as the internet simply cannot be trusted to the stewardship of profit-seeking ISPs, whose interests are presumably not aligned with ours. However, given the fact that the US Government has a pretty miserable track record with regard to crony capitalism, putting control of the internet in government hands not only violates the apolitical international nature of its governance, but also just allows ISPs to use existing cronyist channels to achieve their non-competitive means.

A second tier, which is the current issue up for debate, could go either way(speeding up access for companies or slowing down access for you and me), and for that reason I oppose its creation. We don't need faster access to amazon or netflix or facebook. The companies depend on the ISPs, and consume a measurable portion of the bandwidth it costs the ISPs a lot of money to provide. I see no problem with them compensating the ISPs for this. Business to business is a well-established concept, with centuries of precedent behind it.

Net Neutrality currently means handing over the most important resource the world has to commercial cronyism, with a dash of government corruption and incompetence.

11:27 AM, Jun 23, 2014

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