Archive for 2006

Crossover

  • ~2004-11: Cash assets (including 401k) exceed balance of mortgage
  • ~2005-06: Principal part of (minimum) mortgage payment exceeds interest
  • 2006-12: Ready cash accounts (after cashing in some under-performing CDs) exceed remaining balance of mortgage.

It is sorely tempting to pay the thing off and be done with it, but I’m not quite willing to throw away my safety net, however fast it may recover. I do have a fair bit beyond my target safety net, but I will be spreading that out a bit for the sake of caution, especially with my financial situation about to undergo a major adjustment. Still, while I don’t have the exact income adjustment yet, it looks eminately possible to have slain the mortgage in another year’s time.

The Open Door

It’s not that I felt trapped, really. I’ve had little doubt that I would get along okay, if I suddenly found myself unemployed. This mental safety net being rather necessary to broaching a possibly unpleasant subject with my employer. It’s just that while I don’t worry about being able to go ‘somewhere’, I haven’t had any place in particular I wanted to go for a long time.

I got disenchanted with the video game industry when I begin hearing about the massive crunch time. Meanwhile I’ve discovered a definite preference for improving the place I’m at instead of picking up and moving someplace else.

After a while, Google seemed like possibility; they’ve been hiring aggressively (though often PhDs, so maybe I wouldn’t make the cut). I suspect I’ve suffered for lack of senior programmers to learn from, where I am now; it would be a good place to correct that, but perhaps I’ve stagnated without such influences.

But I found it. Intentional Software is building one of my ideas – a model-centric programming system. This is one of the things I would work on if money was no issue. There are probably some bright people there as well. And did you catch the inverted E and A in the name? These are the assertions ‘there exists’ and ‘or all’, concepts I’ve only come to appreciate, superficially yet, recently. (Principally through Inform and Godel, Escher, Bach) Intentional hasn’t talked about this in the blog yet, but I doubt this was an accidental choice.

I’m not going anywhere soon. I’ve still got my roots. But I’ve got a much stronger saftey net.

LJ and the art of speaking in public

You may not want to read this, if you are at all squeamish with restrooms and related activities.
Continue reading ‘LJ and the art of speaking in public’ »

Mixed messages

I meant to continue sooner; last week Tuesday evening I found out I was flying out Wednesday-Thursday; Sunday was a martial arts seminar. No doubt general procrastination has had some effect too.

Anyway. you can’t make life style cut-backs without a few reservations. Mine are: why couldn’t I ‘cut it’? (to use a different sense of the phrase) At some level, when things came up, they got done, so why couldn’t I handle everything in the normal flow of things? Many people do more, yes? At some level it feels like admitting defeat and failing the responsibilities of daily life. This feeling is what held me back for a very long.

That comes from within. On the other side, is without. When I talked about cutting back at work, what I heard was that I was one of the few people who could be trusted with such an arrangement. There were other statements of which I’ve forgotten the specifics, but which I took as effectively praise. The effect was not dissimilar with the martial arts school, and the condo board seems to love me, even though the best things I can say of the process so far is I’m learning from my mistakes.

I think what bothers me is the disconnect in the messages. As nice as it is to hear praise, are people feeding me lines, or am i taking an unnecessarily dim view of my own actions?

Pacific Soul

One of those magazines which I’m thinking about canceling made the decision a little harder by handing me a nice concept. The article The Economics of Life in Balance (Regina Gregory) outlines the philosophy of the pacific islands, mainly through an imaginary dialog with Adam Smith From the setup:

I call the appropriate model “Ponomonics,” from the Hawaiian word pono, meaning goodness, righteousness, balance. Apart from being more culturally appropriate it is more ecologically sustainable as well.

Pono seems to fit my personal philosophy rather well, and I found myself drawn much more to the pacific side of the dialog (of course, the article was designed to do exactly that.) In any case, ponomonics includes things like working less instead of maximizing earnings, which makes it rather apropos at the moment.

About two years ago, I broached the subject of a reduced work week with my employer. With my new resolve to make changes, I re-opened the dialog, and we have a tentative agreement to work out the details and actually implement it.

…I’ve got subscriptions.

For those of you not familiar with the line, the first part is “I don’t have issues…”

But, more seriously, the, er, issue at had is actually magazine subscriptions. With wish I do have some issues. Basically, there was a time when I had too man subscriptions; it seemed like the few idle evenings during a month got taken up reading them. Quite some time ago I started pruning out the less interesting ones as renewals came up. It’s somewhat more manageable now, but a little while ago I basically decided that I really need to cut them all out. The ones that have survived up this point brings us back to the shooting babies situation a little bit. The main argument for cancellation comes down to quality: magazines a like the junk food of reading. Sometimes tasty in the moment, but ultimately devoid of real depth.

But now the strengths concept of Input is casting a little doubt on it. If I totally cut myself off from new information, am I also cutting out my power source? Of course there is the content argument again – it’s not that I won’t be reading, it just won’t be remotely current events. Problem? It’s somewhat of an open question – I’m probably going to keep evaluating renewals as they come up, with a definite prejudice towards cancellation. Magazines need to earn their keep, and, usually, when I look back over past issues, I can’t find anything that really affected me.

There is Movement in the Heavens

I’ve ‘known’ for a long time that I’ve gotten a little over-committed. It often seems like I spend a large portion of my time building other people’s dreams, often operating in non-core modes while doing so. The fact that I haven’t done anything about the situation has had sort of a positive feedback effect, in terms of stress level.

I’ve made these kinds of changes before. Years ago I stopped using MUDs, for instance. But such low-hanging fruit got taken long ago. What is left are those things that have some fairly deep personal significance, and those which support some larger community.

Which raises the whole self versus community issue. (To an extent I already did this in with Knecht.) Surely the community would be more important as a higher form of organization. But a community is formed of individuals, and how can it thrive unless the individuals thrive? It is in some sense a false dichotomy. If we assume that a person always acts in his own self interest, then my continued participation in these various communities is proof enough that these things are important to me.

A few weeks ago, I was to leave for a trip at godawful-early, so I went bed rather early. to try and get some kind of sleep. I don’t think I got any actual sleep, but the rest probably did me some good. I spent a fair part of the night thinking the above thoughts, and it finally clicked: I’ve got to make some changes, and it’s come to shooting babies.

Pretty much everything is being effect to one level or another. I’ve stopped the harp lessons: for the level of practice I’m getting now, three hours of practice or reflection will probably do more for me than two hours of driving and one of instruction. I’ve stopped getting vegetables in produce deliveries; cooking takes time, and I’d gotten into a mentality of ‘disposing’ of things before the next shipment came; not a healthy relationship with food for many reasons. Board game design, languishing for months now, will not be subject of conscious effort for some time. (i.e., ‘I should do this now’; the ‘I shoulds’ are what is getting me down.) I’m also going to see about re-arranging my martial arts responsibilities to be more in line with my talents, so that it can energize me instead of draining me.

Financial Slight of Hand

Years ago when I moved to my current home, I took a survey of the local banks. Thankfully the one with the best interest rates was also an independent bank nearby, though I didn’t place as much emphasis on walking distance then as I do now. It has since then been bought, and the name progressively watered down until the old name has essentially disappeared. Still, they haven’t done anything else to offend me, and it is pretty nice having the bank just down the street. But that is a bit of tangent. The point is, that since I first joined, the interest rates have proceeded to, basically, stink.

A while ago they started advertising a new program; a checking account, which if you maintain a certain rather high balance, earns a decent interest rate – several times what my ‘savings’ account was earning. It still baffles me what logic led to this program. Of course, there were lots of reasons to not take the offer. The prospect of getting a new account – with new checks and different account numbers, especially with several automatic payments, was somewhat daunting. There is also a little bit of a scam with the savings account – interest is paid quarterly, and unpaid interest is forfeited if the account is closed before that time. I’d also heard of socially responsible investing, but have never had time to investigate.

The net effect of this, was, of course the inevitable non-action, for most of the year. But a few months ago (the time delay until now evidencing yet more procrastination), it was just after the end of the quarter and social investing had gotten no further than before, so I asked about. It turns out that they are much smarter about it than I had feared – they changed the type code on my existing checking account with a few clicks (and a signature for the sake of form), closed down the savings account, and the whole thing was over rather painlessly. It still baffles me a little that they will raise the interest rate so much for the asking; I guess they are counting on lazy people like me not to ask, while having the program there to attract some new customers.

To be fair they bank will save a little a money for having one less account to maintain, and fewer transactions between them – I would deposit a little of each paycheck into the savings acocunt; my bank visits go much faster now that I have a single deposit.

It also points to the virtuality of money; to the bank the transfer was just subtracting one number and adding to another. Now I have a similar effect – I have one account that is both checking and savings, and the dividing line is kept entirely ‘on paper’ solely for my own purposes. This actually made for something of interesting question in the beginning – do I keep my checkbook in ‘available funds’ or in the actual account balance? I ended up going for the actual balance to simplify balancing with the bank statements. But now I can play the same kinds of financial games the bank can – I rolled my personal ‘minimum balance’ into the the virtual savings balance, since any short term shortfalls can just borrow from the savings instead of actually hitting a bank level overdraft. Likewise my ‘saving deposit’ has become a small book-keeping entry, together with keeping the new dividing line in mind as I make payments in the checking account.

Meanwhile, I ran across Zopa, which has a bit of the anti-institutional flavor, and even better rates. Of course this a bit of a long term investment (minimum 12 months for full repayment) and the savings ‘account’ is my 6-months living expense buffer + liquid emergency cash + big purchase savings. I’d have to double the 6-month figure to be able to withdraw living expenses at rate I want, and of course the longer term markets have better interest rates. In any case I’ve put off experimenting with it until the tax year is over, for the sake of simplicity.

Strengths

Strengths

I’ve been strangely attracted to several of the Gallup books. I started with First, Break All the Rules, which just had a really good title. Basically, they attempted to figure out what makes managers effective and employee’s satisfied by polling and surveys, which is about as scientific as you can get when studying people. One of the ideas is to focus on strengths instead of weaknesses. They make some vague references to system of strengths, but don’t go into any detail.

The next book, Now, Discover Your Strengths addressed that area. Of course beyond the list of strengths and a code for the web based survey, it is largely exposition. Anyway, the survey results (the free-with-purchase version is pretty sparse on details):

  1. Input
  2. Restorative
  3. Intellection
  4. Ideation
  5. Analytical

Which is almost suspect for being so monotonously about information. But that doesn’t really surprise me much either. Of course there are lots of theories about identifying the difference in people. I take some confidence from the survey backing, as opposed to one person’s ‘professional opinion.’ Like scientific theories, one of the main tests is explanatory power, and this does explain a few things.

When reading the book, I picked up on Responsibility and Harmony (i.e., ‘can’t we all just get along?’) as two that might explain some of my recent doings. Since the cheap versoin doesn’t show the ranking beyond the top five I don’t know where they ranked. But Restorative (likes fixing problems) explains both.

It’s not so much that I like taking on responsibility; I usually don’t offer until it’s obvious nobody else is stepping forward – the most direct way to solve the problem is to do it myself. Of course, I’m probably not the best person to do most of these things, which is a nice clarification – if I can find someone better suited to the task, I will have better solved the problem, and can get on with my life.

Harmony is a simple matter of fixing discordant social situations.

Now I’m just left with the problem that work best with ideas and logic, whereas most of the activities I’m involved in, well, don’t.

Knecht

Summary: a while ago I read The Glass Bead Game. I use it for some reflections on my life. We might hit some minor spoilers along the way.

The book The Glass Bead Game has something of a cult following, mostly for the idea of the glass bead game contained within it. I found about it through these means in boad game circles, though some people take very seriously.

There are several additional short stories attached to the book; they are placed in the context of the novel as works written by the main character. But notes attached to the edition I read give the real story: the work started out as a collection of short stories of which The Glass Bead Game was but one. However, it took on a life of it’s own and eventually absorbed the rest.

In the process of so growing, it may have taken on many themes. I’ve forgotten many of the details, but when I looked at the the collection as a whole, I saw one theme tying them together: service. Knecht means servant in german (the books original language) and is the name of the main character; a fact directly referred to in conversation within the text.

The book is set in the fictional future society of Castalia, a sort of ivory tower devoted to intellectual pursuits. Within this society, people are appointed to posts of office. One of the stated principles of this society goes something like this: “From time to time you may be called upon to performa an office. Understand that this is not a granting of power but a restriction of freedom.”

That is pretty much how I feel lately. I’m president of the condo association, relatively senior student at the martial arts school, de-facto leader of the software department at work (by virtual of seniority and lack of initiative on the whole) participant in a game design group that might not make quota without me, lover of books, harp player, and cooker of most of my meals. In short, a little bit torn.

I’ve come to understand the buddist idea that desire is the root of unhappiness. I want to support all the people and groups I interact with. I also want to dive into the internet, read a book a day, and develop a unified programming system. It’s getting to the point where it seems like I should drop something. In the past I’ve left, MUDs, role playing, and video games for all practical purposes. The problem is there isn’t really much left that can be passed off as pure entertainment; I’m either supporting an institution of some sort, or contributing to my own growth and health.

Except, of course, that stress and worry aren’t very healthy, by most accounts.