back to school (the imaginary kind)

james meredith memorial

This is an old article from brip blap – almost four years ago – so in case you missed it the first time, here it is again…

I have given some thought over the years to going back to school. Ah, to be back in the fraternity, drinking Schlitz, playing lacrosse and sleeping from 4 am to 2 pm. Oh, you thought I meant for the classes and the knowledge? Are you kidding me?

[In 2007] I was invited to participate in a meme: to devise a list of 5-10 courses you would take to fix your life. I was supposed to pick one of the courses that the person who ‘tagged’ me for the meme chose, as well, so that we can skip classes and copy each other’s notes. Just for the sake of being different I’ll attend 7 (imaginary) courses.


  1. Art of Persuasion 101 is the class I’d like to share with her [Melissa, who originally tagged me]. Why? Who doesn’t need this skill? Is there any way that’s NOT a useful skill to have? I can think of a million ways that could be useful, but in particular being able to persuade my son to eat his breakfast would be a HUGE benefit!
  2. Car Maintenance for Your Post-2000 Car 101: When I was younger, I managed to do a lot of car maintenance on my 1976 Mercury Comet without too much trouble. Nowadays I open up the hood and don’t see much that I can distinguish from the guts of my Toshiba computer. I’m nervous just adding wiper fluid. Hopefully this imaginary life-fixing college would have an imaginary community college campus where I could take a class like this one.
  3. Simplification 101: As much as I do try to simplify, there is always something new to complicate my life. I’d like to have a magic bullet – as much as I know there isn’t one – so why not take a course like this?
  4. Yoga 102: I have been to a yoga course, and I liked it. I like the idea, I like the fact that many pro athletes rely on it for conditioning, and I like the promised stress relieving benefits. Yet… I never do it. I need a class to convince me once and for all that I need to engage myself fully in yoga.
  5. Real Estate Appraisal/Inspection 101: OK, the real estate bubble burst. OK, this isn’t your typical college course. However, I can’t imagine any way, shape or form it wouldn’t be handy to have a good understanding of how to appraise and inspect and evaluate real estate. Even if you never invest in real estate, being able to help family and friends or even look at your own home would be a hugely useful skill.
  6. Environmental Studies 202: I’ve read a lot about the environment. One book in particular shook me terribly, but I sometimes feel that I could use a twofold course about the environment: 1, the detailed science around global warming, 2, a detailed examination of the environmental threats faced by urban dwellers and 3, how to protect your home. Fortunately most of this information is available through blogs and websites so I’ve got a lot of resources to fall back on.
  7. Getting Off the Grid 101: I get really worried sometimes that I’m “out there” too much…hence the semi-anonymous blogging. There may be too many people with too much information about me. I think a thorough course in how to “disappear” myself as much as possible would probably be handy later on in life. I may actually soon de-anonymize (is that a word) brip blap [ed. note: since 2007 I have…], so I probably have to be careful about this…

I suspect as I look at that list I may have been too narrow minded – these are hardly grand themes to fix my life, just tweaks. I just thought that something like “Perfect Retirement Planning” wouldn’t be as interesting to read. In any case, these courses would fix parts of my life.

And one more course for nothing more than my own enjoyment, Astronomy 103b “Just the Cool Stuff.” I love astronomy – discovering planets, dark matter, Voyager and Pioneer trivia, quasars, and on and on. I am really, really fascinated by the Pillars of Creation. Oddly enough, I never took a course in astronomy while at college and have never done more than show a layman’s fascination. I think in an alternate lifetime I was an astronomer, though, because I could read about this stuff for days. Nothing close to earth like the space shuttle or the space station, but the crazy far-off stuff just fascinates me. It won’t fix my life but it might make me happier… so that might be a fix, anyway.

Tags. Hmm. I tagged a bunch of people recently so maybe I’ll stretch past my normal blogroll and tag-ees and go to some blogs I haven’t mentioned much (or at all) before, but that I do read: Variable Interest and One Money Dummy Getting Smarter. And as always, tag yourself if you feel so inclined!

Recommended Reading

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by kschlot1

what message are you sending?

girlonbike

Here’s a tshirt I saw on a little girl once, which read:

1. I want it.
2. You buy it.
3. Any questions?

I doubted the kid chose such a ridiculous shirt – I know from personal experience that kids are more likely to clamor for Angry Birds or Cars t-shirts than they are for ones with words – so what parent would buy such a shirt?

My first reaction was to hope that it was meant just the way it sounds – as a joke. My son (who was a reluctant napper in his toddlerhood) had a t-shirt that said “Naps are the enemy.” It’s a joke. I put it in the same category as “I’m with Stupid” t-shirts. But part of me thinks that this message, humorous or not, is going to be repeated again and again around the child, to the child, and (because it’s funny) approvingly. I don’t want my kids to think naps are a bad thing, and I don’t want this girl to think she gets anything she wants just because she asks for it.

That t-shirt summarizes an awful lot of what is wrong with the debt/consumer society. Could you imagine what kind of values that little girl is going to have if she continually sees her parents whipping out the credit card to buy her every little toy (now) or shoes or makeup (later) when she demands it? She’s going to be a financial wreck when she finally goes out on her own. The saddest thing is that her parents probably think they are being nice. There is a saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” If a parent thinks they are being nice to a child by giving in to their every desire – giving them a “perfect childhood” – they are laying the groundwork for the road to (financial) hell.

So what would you put on a t-shirt? Would you wear this one:

let me tell you how to be rich

  • step 1: spend less than you earn
  • step 2: figure out how to earn more
  • step 3: start over at step 1

It’s not funny, because I couldn’t think of anything clever, but give me some ideas – there has to be a cute or clever way to get this message across. “My piggy bank can kick your piggy bank’s a**?”

What’s the slogan for your t-shirt?

to be a billionaire

the world's billionaires

the world's billionaires

 

An excellent infographic, courtesy of our friends at Statista.  I’ve written before about how to become a billionaire.  The world population as of 2010 was 6,840,507,003.  Only 1,226 of those humans are billionaires, which is – in percentages – 0.000018 percent.  The wealth increase in the world’s billionaires has been in their net worth, not in the number of billionaires.  As I wrote about in my earlier article, your chances of being a billionaire were far, far better if you were an American in the latter half of the 20th century, but in the first half of the 21st you’ve got a much better chance if you’re not an American.    So who wants to be a billionaire?  Honestly, I don’t.  I’ll settle for hundred millionaire, because I’m simple like that.  Hah.

home before dark

2003-02 Central Park

Related to an earlier post about consulting, I had an interview with a ‘traditional employer’ back in the mid-2000s. I’d had a long standing consulting relationship with the company and was even offered a position with them about a year into working with them. Once every six months there would be a brief flurry of interest about bringing me on board as a regular, full-time employee. The last time this happened, when I received an offer, I wasn’t ready to join for many of the reasons I mentioned in my earlier post: I wasn’t willing to give up the flexibility or decent hours that I enjoyed. Another reason I didn’t share with them was my general state of mental exhaustion with audit and Sarbanes-Oxley. I just couldn’t bear doing that full-time forever, and hoped to start transitioning more to finance and systems.

So we went through another little series of feints at one point and I was left feeling a little queasy. A new group had been formed in the company to do work similar to my area of specialty, but probably a little more technical than my usual ‘big picture’ work. I interviewed with two women, both of whom were very pleasant. I had spoken with one of them before as a consultant, but she didn’t remember me and I didn’t bring it up.  The other one I hadn’t met before, but she placed a great deal of trust on the recommendation from the woman I had reported to for the on-and-off couple of years I had worked with the company.

Both of the interviewees made cheerful – almost gloatingly so – references to how hard they were working and how much travel they were doing and how they worked weekends and late into the night. It made me a little bit sad and a little bit angry both at myself and at the culture I live in.

They were proud of spending so much time away from home. One of the women told me how important it was to get along with the team because you spend more time at work than you do with your family.  True, perhaps. But I thought ‘how sad for her family.’ When did that sort of thought process become normal? I think it is important to get along with your coworkers, but the way in which it was presented made it seem like it was a choice, and that the choice should be to focus on your colleagues even at the expense of your family.

Corporate professionals aren’t really compensated fairly. I wonder how you would feel if you calculated how much a Fortune 500 company makes in profit per year and then think about what your share of that profit was. If they have a good year, does your gross go up? No. If they have a bad year, do you get laid off? Maybe. The upside goes to the executives and the downside goes to the employees. I think half of the corporate workforce would like to say “hey, if I work hard and I’m successful, I want to be paid more.” I guess you might argue that’s what promotions do, but there are definitely plateaus there. I took a huge leap when I went from staff to management but once I hit management it definitely was a declining rate of increase each year. I make a lot more as a consultant, and if I work long hours I get paid overtime. If I work less, I get paid less.  If you’re a corporate employee on a salary, please do this exercise:  keep track of when you arrive and leave at the office for a month, and then take your monthly salary and divide by hours worked.  Include time spent at home checking email, too.  It’s the only way to be honest with yourself about what your ‘true’ salary is.

Are people just really good at hiding their emotions? I saw dozens of people in the office churning away at their work, seemingly content. Maybe they were just hiding it better than I am, but I wondered when exactly I lost that burning desire to claw my way up the corporate ladder – and to do it cheerfully. I definitely had it – I worked long hours and played the political games with the best of them for most of my early career. But somewhere in there my will to sell my life to my employers just died. I view my work as a distraction from my life, rather than the other way around. Article after article that I read tells me that unless my work and my values and my goals align, I will be miserable. That may be true, but a significant component of that equation is simply the number of hours you spend on work you aren’t that interested in.

What is the effect on young families? I really dread the consequences of generation after generation of kids growing up in America seeing their parents once or twice a week on the weekends. One of my favorite quips is that no-one ever wishes on their deathbed that they had only spent a little more time in the office.

 Does it matter if it ‘matters’? I have done my bit of mentoring and helping younger people become successful throughout my career, I guess. I have paid my taxes and earned enough to create a good home for my wife and kids, which took some effort after 2008. I don’t work for Halliburton or the Carlyle Group. One of the biggest disconnects I had with the big client I mentioned at the beginning of the article was my suspicion from my time working there that something was rotten in Denmark.  My suspicions were borne out in 2008, of course; just read The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.

But I didn’t take the job offer, obviously, and after 7 years of consulting I still come home while it’s light out 99 out of 100 workdays. That may not be everything, but it’s something, and my hope is that for my kids it’s a big something.

computing power and links

hal


I recently purchased a new laptop – my old one was starting to overheat, the hard drive was full, and it was almost 4 years old.  I use it a lot of for online money-making ventures, so it seems reasonable to replace my laptop before the old one kicks the bucket.  And the power in machines today has become quite impressive, even in lower-end laptops.  It has been about 8 years now since I moved from desktops to laptops; there was a point at which the computing power of laptops “caught up” and the reasons for a non-portable device disappeared. I’ve been amazed by how well (knock on wood) my strategy of buying a low-end, but new, laptop every few years has worked.  I’m also assuming that some event horizon will be crossed at some point where I will start having no need for a new computer except for hardware failures.  Between various cloud storage services, external hard drives and my home “cloud drive” I probably have 2 TB of memory available… and most of my “computing” is online work for which disk storage isn’t necessary.  This whole blog, for example.

But then again, I still remember thinking “this PC has 4 MB of memory.  4 MB!  How could I ever use FOUR?!” back 15 years ago (give or take a few years).  So who knows?  I couldn’t see moving my “computer experience” to a phone, even though I’m able to do a LOT of my content consumption on my Samsung now, but maybe in another few years laptops will seem as much of  a needless “extra” as a desktop does to me know.

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by racatumba

the intolerable cruelty of spoons

intolerable cruelty

intolerable cruelty

If you have never seen the movie “Intolerable Cruelty” by the Cohen Brothers and starring George Clooney (heard of him?) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (heard of her? the T-Mobile lady?), you are missing some exceptionally clever dialogue (but before you rush out and rent it, I’ll warn you that it is has a  dull and conventional ending).  There is an exchange between the massively successful lawyer played by Clooney and his right-hand man as they discuss a wedding gift for a client of theirs:

Wrigley: What do you think?
Massey (Clooney): What are they, ladles?
Wrigley: Berry spoons.
Massey: Spoons?
Wrigley: Berry spoons.  Everybody has spoons.
Massey: And nobody needs berry spoons.
Wrigley: Everybody eats berries.
Massey: Who are you, Pollyanna? Where’d you see ‘em at? A Martha Stewart catalog right next to the silver napkin rings? Stadium seat ass-warmers?

Ouch.

I look with some real regret at some of the specialty cooking items I’ve bought over the years.  If you are talking about a place in your house to review for frugality, most American kitchens would be a good place to start.  Some useless items I own (or now “owned”) and some alternatives:

  • A mortar and pestle versus a spoon and a bowl
  • White wine glasses, red wine glasses, port glasses, margarita glasses, martini glasses, shot glasses versus 8 ounce tumblers.
  • Dip serving bowls in fancy designs versus plain bowls.
  • Three different can openers versus one can opener.
  • An olive spoon versus a regular spoon plus a colander.
  • Eighteen different pots and pans versus one expensive pan, one large pot and one small pot.
  • Three sets of salt and pepper shakers versus one set.

Bubelah would be quick to tell you that most of these were pre-marriage wastes of money and she would be right.  I loved to buy specialty drinking gear, for example – coffee cups for coffee, taller glasses for champagne or white wine, fuller glasses for reds (must let them breathe!) and martini glasses because you don’t see James Bond sipping from a tumbler.  I also went through a gourmet cooking phase when I had to buy idiotic accessories like mortars and pestles – used approximately four times in five years.  I might argue it was simply a hobby with expensive tools, but I know the truth – it was a waste.

All of this clutter contributes to a bad sense of organization in the kitchen, a waste of money and I think ultimately drives a nagging desire to get a bigger kitchen (and a bigger house). One of the moments that stopped me wanting any more gadgets in the kitchen was the movie “Out of Africa” with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep.  Again, great things in the movie but ultimately a bit of a disappointment.  However:  in one scene out in the savannah or veldt or whatever it’s called Redford drinks his morning coffee out of a tin cup.  He drinks water out of the cup throughout the day.  Later that same day, he rinses it out and uses it to drink wine in the evening.  Same cup.  I thought that was an excellent way to think about kitchen gadgets, or any other gadgets.  We could probably buy about 8 tin coffee cups (in case we have guests) and ditch all of our other glasses.

Of course, you want some beauty in your life and you do not want to have a pleasant meal on tin plates and cups.  If you were seriously frugal, maybe, but then again we could put up paper blinds instead of curtains and use old newspaper for toilet paper, too.  There is a limit, and there is a happy medium.  But the idea of a tin cup has reminded me each time I flinch walking by a clever no-stick spatula at Williams Sonoma that I already have a spatula made of plastic that will survive in a landfill for 10,000 years after I am gone.  And I do not need another berry spoon.

 

who hates The Lorax, and links

lorax

Went to see “The Lorax” this weekend.  Here’s a short commentary on expectations, politics, and message.  I expected the theater to be packed.  I loved the book as a kid, my kids have heard it many times and we were all eagerly awaiting the movie for a while.  Since we were going to the first matinee showing on the first day of release, I expected a madhouse.

Not so much.

I think it may have to do with many factors.  Florida’s still in bad shape.  In northeast Florida, more than half of the homes are underwater, and the unemployment rate stubbornly lingers at 10% or more.  But there’s also a fairly conservative population here, and let’s be honest: conservative politics and movies that say the environment needs to be protected even at the expense of business are not buddies in America circa 2012.

So the theater was half empty.  My brother, by contract, lives in a fairly liberal area (and I’m just going by political definitions here based on who they are voting for).  He took his kids to see it and he said it was packed.

I think it’s safe to say that the environment, like abortion or contraception or unions, etc. and etc. ad nauseum, is a topic that has become inextricably linked to our political parties.  It’s not hard to figure out what side I’m on.  I drive a Prius.  Every time I pull up next to a housewife getting out of a Hummer, I make a guess as to what side she’s on, too, and I bet I’m right.  But once it starts filtering down to kids, the differences which will arise in 20 years are going to be more and more stark.  My kids are going to grow up with a certain set of values, and Hummer Mom’s kids will have a wildly different set.

It’s always been like this, of course – Catholic vs. Protestant, Romans vs. Christians, all the way back to Neanderthals versus Cro-Magnons.  I think it will continue, too.  But it is startling to see that a cute, friendly movie, which teaches that trees are a good thing, seemed (in my opinion) to be anathema to a large chunk of the population.  I’m sure there is a conservative equivalent… I wouldn’t see something that they would love.

Oh, well.  Unless….

Off to the links.  If you’re a blogger and want to be included, send me an email via the contact form – I’m always happy to see a few good new articles.

Also, I’m part of a blog network, The Money Writers, and I’ve been working on starting up a Twitter account and a Facebook page for the group, so follow/like, etc., I’d appreciate the support. It’s a work in progress, though.  Plus, I’ve added “Pin It” buttons to my posts – I’ve been messing around with Pinterest and decided to see if anyone has any interest in pinning my stuff.