Monday, March 31, 2008

Working Late

I had to work late tonight. The big problem I face these days is that I have lots of things I have to deliver, but I'm in meetings all day. Need to find a way to balance that out. It was a problem I often had at Microsoft and I never really found a solution to that one.

The nice thing about working late is that I can actually get a lot done. There are a few things that are guaranteed when you work late

  • You won't get pulled into any meetings

  • Nobody will come by to distract you

  • You won't get any e-mails to distract you

  • You will actually focus on getting done what needs getting done because the sooner you get it done, the sooner you get home

One of the things that has caught my attention, and frankly bothered me a little, was the fact that so many employees at my company come to work late. In L.A. it can make sense since traffic eases up. Who wouldn't want to avoid traffic into Downtown L.A.? But it would make even more sense if they came late to stay late, because, quite frankly, we would be a much more productive company.

Alas, even though I'm almost always one of the first ones in (including today) there was nobody to be seen when I left the office. Heck, most people had scattered four hours before I finally called it a night.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Birthday Weekend

Birthday CakeMy Birthday was this weekend.  This would explain the lack of post on Friday as I took the day off of work to just lounge around and not do a heck of a lot.

It was a big birthday for me actually.  I'm now 30.  However, I've long gone past the point where I do anything really significant for my birthday.  I spent the day looking for some furniture and enjoying the California weather.   My girlfriend came down from Seattle this weekend and it was good timing for her.  While it was warm and sunny down here, I heard it was snowing in Seattle.  Sucks to be up north.

At night, we went to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.   We were going to eat in but I decided that it would be better (and frankly easier) to just go eat out.  Ruth Chris is well known for its steak, and it didn't disappoint.  I got the Surf N' Turf which meant a lobster tail and Ribeye steak.  It was mighty tasty.  Since I don't really drink alcohol, and we generally don't order apetizers, the bill came to "only" $130.

I was thinking as I was eating in the restaurant how fortunate I am to be able to go to this type of place when I feel like it.  I really don't worry about how much money I'm spending at these types of things because I do it so rarely and have more than enough saved so that it doesn't hurt my bank account.  At dinner, my girlfriend and I talked about her friend who is a lawyer who makes more money than I do yet has almost nothing saved.

Now if I wanted to, I could probably eat out at this type of restaurant almost every single night.  It would be expensive, and at the end of the month, I wouldn't have very much saved, but I wouldn't be going negative either, not even close  So it got me thinking what on earth can people be spending their money on to go through that much money.  If I can afford to go out to one of the nicer restaurants in the country every single night, what must someone who makes more money than I be spending his money on?

Other than that, it was a nice relaxed weekend.  The one other highlight was going to watch my friend Jenny play in a softball game and being part of her team's first victory.  If you have seen them in other games, you would know what a big victory it was as most people have never played a game of softball in their life.  I think my cheer leading was a major reason they won as this was only my second game in attendance, and they generally lose.  Coincidence?  I think not!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

It's Great to Work in Tech

DilbertI wonder how much of a stigma still exist for people who work in tech? At times in the past, and probably still today, it was considered an occupation that only geeks and nerds would have. Images of scrawny cubicle dwellers in glasses spending hours in front of their computer are synonymous with IT workers. (And now that I think of it, it pretty much does describe a lot of my coworkers)

But is there a better job that is available to the masses than working as a computer engineer? Think about it for a second. In all the companies I have worked for the following is true

  • Computer Engineers are well paid

  • Computer Engineers have extremely flexible hours. They can come in late and leave early if they wish, so long as they finish their work

  • Computer Engineers can easily get away with doing very little if they choose (see picture)

  • Computer Engineers have physically undemanding jobs

  • Computer Engineers are allowed, and usually encouraged, to take breaks during working hours (Foosball and Video games are the norm at my work)

  • Computer Engineers are in demand and thus jobs tend to be pretty plentiful

Its hard to think of a job that can be as easy (if one chooses) and pays as well as those available in the tech industry. Now while I greatly respect the job, I don't feel many other people do. I know when I was single and trying out the dating services I purposefully avoided saying I was a Software Development Manager. It paid off. Talking to my girlfriend afterwards, she told me she was already concerned that I went to Princeton, and that if I had stated what I did, her first impression would have been that I was too nerdy.

Now you would think that women would love to date a computer engineer and that it wouldn't be a turn off. After all, it is a well paying, secure job, that still would leave time for her or their family. But I guess its just hard to overcome the image of Dilbert and Wally.

What do you think. What are some of the best jobs that an average American can have?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Why is HR Always Difficult?

I really wonder why HR is difficult at most companies.  It's odd because

  • It is one of those things that is found at every company.

  • It is pretty much the same job function at every company.

  • It is one of the more important things at every company as people really care about their benefits, pay, promotions, etc.

You would think that after all these years HR would be down to a science.  I haven't had any major problems at my new job that couldn't be dealt with but at the same time it hasn't been the smoothest of things either.  I need to go to the eye doctor and somehow my information didn't make it to the insurance company, so I have to wait until they can go and process it.  I'm kind of on a tight time line because I want to get some glasses for driving before I drive from Seattle to Los Angeles in a few weeks.  It's just one of those things that should have been taken care of that isn't.  It's probably because they deal with such sensitive and important issues that one minor slip up seems magnified. So perhaps I am being a little unfair.

Now in fairness, I never really used HR at Microsoft because I never really had a problem.  They take good care of their employees, almost too good if you ask me.  The nice thing about Microsoft is that you can take care of most things on your own without ever having to deal with another human being.   Want to change your benefits, do it online.  Want to take vacation, just do it yourself online.  Maybe that's the key to things, take the "human" out of Human Resources.

What are your thoughts?  Have you had issues with your HR department?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Saving Social Security

Social Security CardFrom the obvious files, Treasury Secretary Paulson declared that  we have to do something to fix social security.  Not sure where he has been the last decade or so when it became pretty obvious that we had a mounting problem.

Clearly we can't sustain the current path.  Either taxes need to be raised (they are already pretty high) or benefits need to be reduced.    Now, we all know how I feel about taxes, so I'm clearly not in favor of that.  I also see how it would be unfair to reduce benefits to those already retired or near retirement.  To me, the answer seems pretty simple.  Start promising less to people like myself and raise the retirement age.  If people near retirement need to work a little bit longer, so be it.  Social Security was never meant to fund people 1/3 of their life.

You know what the scary thing is?  I'm not sure if people fully realize the full extent of the problem.  Read the article.  It talks about how Social Security will start running a deficit in 2017 and go bankrupt in 2041.  What is not talked about is the fact that what happens in 2017 when the government has to start drawing from the "trust fund".  The fund is nothing but government issued bonds.   This causes a double whammy.  When they come due, what do you think happens?  The government needs to somehow turn these bonds into actual money.  How do they do that?

The old trick of issuing bonds won't work, can't pay bonds with bonds.  So the government now has three horrible choices.

  1. Cut spending somewhere else

  2. Raise taxes yet again

  3. Print money causing massive inflation

Considering how hard it is for the government to do either of the first two now when the pain would be relatively minor I have a bad feeling that the government will do #3.  So not only will I not get any benefit from Social Security, not only will I have to pay for everybody else's benefit, but all the money that I have saved for myself will become worth a lot less.  Sounds like a great future.

Monday, March 24, 2008

California - Totally Worth it

It's been a little bit over three months since I moved back to California. Was it worth it? Well there are a couple of things to consider. Let's talk about the negatives first.

  1. In a little bit under 3 months, I've already paid $2000 in state income tax. My equivilent in Washington would be $0.

  2. Traffic is bad enough that I've started taking the train every once in a while.

And that's about it. On a personal note, my girlfriend is still in Seattle, so California has been a little bit of a drag without her. But she is moving down soon so that will soon rectify itself. Now let's talk about the good things

  1. Housing wasn't as bad as I thought. I'm paying $1700 for my two bedroom. For this area, it's a pretty good deal. Still slightly more than I would spend in Redmond, but not by much.

  2. If you like looking at girls in short skirts, there are definitely more of them around. Not only are they better looking but they obviously have the opportunity to wear short skirts because ...

  3. The weather is SOOO Much better.

Let's look at that last one shall we. The weather forecast for tomorrow in Redmond is

Redmond Weather Forecast

It's going to be fairly cold and pretty rainy. Typical March weather. The forecast for Pasadena tomorrow.

Pasadnea Weather Forecast

Not quite the same thing. It is actually pretty damn hot down here lately. If you go outside and stand in the sun for a while you will actually start to sweat.

So on the one hand you have pretty girls and nice weather on one side and traffic and a few thousand dollars on the other. So is it worth it? Yes! There are some things money can't buy, and most of the good things you can find right here in California :)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Let Them Foreclose

Foreclosed house

For the most part, I haven't talked too much about the housing mess that is causing a ripple effect in the rest of the economy. This despite the fact that I actually have pretty strong feelings on the subject. Government plans to help troubled borrowers are growing by the day. Local news story are constantly featuring poor borrowers who were "tricked" into buying a house or worse yet felt they have a right to own their house despite the fact that they could never afford the payments.

Despite all the sob stories, I will admit I feel very little sympathy for most people. If you count my girlfriend and I as a household, we are in the top 5% of households in terms of income. Yet we have deliberately stayed out of the housing market these past few years because it was very clear to any rational person that housing prices were over inflated. If we could barely afford payments on a standard loan on a regular house, how was anyone else affording it?

The answer is they couldn't. These people took out loans that they would eventually not be able to afford or could never afford in the first place. That's why I don't feel bad for most people. The people I really don't feel sorry for are

  • Anyone who took out a stated-income (liar's) loan.

  • Anyone who refinanced their house and took equity out to pay for consumer goods they didn't need like a new car or vacation.

  • Anyone who didn't read the fine print and who uses it as an excuse

  • Anyone who bought a 2nd house as an investment (Investments lose money.  They are risky, it is the nature of investing)

How anybody can feel bad for someone who took out a liar's loan is beyond me. They are called Liar's loans for a reason. There is a reason that banks require documentation of income for loans. They want to be sure that you can actually pay the loan back. Most people's income is documentable. So the only reason for most people to use a stated income loan is that they in fact can't afford the loan they are applying for. How much common sense (or maybe it is lack of common sense) does it take to not get into one of these loans?

As for the third one, people who argue they didn't read the fine print. Can't really feel bad for those people either. It is the biggest purchase you will ever make. You need to take the time to understand what you are getting into. If it is too difficult for you to understand, find somebody who can understand it. You can not trust your real estate agent or mortgage broker on this one. They have a vested interest in making sure you sign the loan and structuring it in a way that makes them the most money.

So while it may sound harsh and somewhat cruel, I really do hope our government does nothing to help people out of a mess they got themselves into. While I'm sure there are rare and isolated cases where people were deceived, I believe this not the norm and there are avenues of recourse for people who were legitimately deceived. But anything close to a wholesale bailout for those who should have known better is akin to rewarding stupidity. It makes me think of the movie Idiocracy where stupid people breed the smart people out of existence.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

This Wild Market Explained

Wild Markets

I keep commenting on the stock market because it is on one heck of a ride and makes for pretty interesting drama. You could make a lot of money if you just bet on the volatility of the market.

A casual observer would wonder what the heck is going on. It looks like for every up day there will be a down day. Anybody who has watched the market for any length of time knows that these fluctuations are not normal. So what the heck is going on? Here is my explanation.

These problems all start with the Fed,technology, and globalization. In the early part of the decade, money was very easy to come by. To stave off a recession, the Fed pumped money into the market by lowering rates to ridiculously low levels. Added to this were new financial instruments which made it easy to slice and dice debt in ways neverthought of before. You sell these in a global market hungry for returns and safe investments and you have a situation where money is easy to come by and nobody knows who really owns what.

Now imagine you are a consumer who can get credit cards very easily. If you are like most Americans you are going to get as many as you can get and start spending. Well that's what happened here. Now imagine you have a scenario where not only can you get cards easily but chances are if you run up debt, the bank might not be able to figure out you actually owe them money. What do you think is going to happen?

Now you are seeing it play out on a trillion dollar scale. People are starting to wonder who is going to pay the bills. Companies who have these loans on their books know this but are stuck. They need to have cash in hand for either margin calls or to run operations but they don't have much assets to sell other than what could be worthless loans. They could try to sell the loans but they would have to take pennies on the dollar. So they sell other assets. Assets which are much more liquid. This causes the market to drop quickly. Of course whenever this happens, the Fed, for god knows what reason, steps in to save the day giving access to easy money yet again making the panic subside. Since markets go up when money is cheap, the market rebounds.

It still doesn't fix the inevitable problem, there are a lot of bad loans out there and someone is going to have to pay for them. This is why I'm still so bearish on the market.

For all the bluster about how bad housing is, prices are still pretty high. I look around at the houses for sale in California, and for all the doom and gloom most are still for sale at or above 2005 prices. That's nuts. What is going on is that sellers are refusing to believe they can't get the ridiculously high prices, so they just hold on, praying for the best. That's why the housing market hasn't bottomed yet. But eventually it will have to, because there are enough people who eventually have to sell because they have to move or they can't afford the payments anymore. The same thing will happen to this market. Companies are praying a miracle will happen that will make these loans worth something. That miracle isn't going to happen, and eventually they will have to write them down. When that day comes, then we will really be in a bear market, and only then will it be time to go all in.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008



Much like I figured it would, the market reversed sharply. At the beginning of the day, stocks started higher, but eventually fear took over greed and stocks plummeted.  Much of it can be attributed to the exact opposite reason that stocks went up.  There was hope that the financial sector had seen the worse of it.  This move down shows that the fear still exist that the worse is not over.

However, there was one bright spot.  Visa had its IPO and it was up about 28% from the open.  Now the good thing about Visa is that its market is actually growing and some would argue that it is almost recession proof.  You see, Visa makes money on its transaction fees.  It owns the largest credit card network in the world and makes money each time one of its cards are swiped.

Its actually a fantastic business model.  If you are like me you can appreciate it because you pay for everything with credit cards, even the little transactions.  What's even better is that they actually don't have liability for consumers who don't pay their bills, that is the responsibility of the issuing bank.

So do I think its a buy?  Maybe.  Mastercard has quadrupled since its IPO, and Visa is the better company.  I still think its kind of dicey right now to be playing in the market, but if you want a good risk in a time when nothing really looks very good, Visa may be it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why the Fed Rate Cut Hurts You

The fed, as expected, cut the rate 0.75%.  This was slightly less than a lot of people were betting on as the fed funds future rate actually seemed to imply a 1% expectation.

That being said, the market celebrated with a gigantic day with the major indexes up over 3%.  So it's time to celebrate, pop the champagne, and go running into the market right? The economy is saved! Not so fast.

The feds action definitely helps the banks who got themselves into a mess by taking the easy money and making some bad loans.  The Fed's actions are squarely to ease the credit crunch which is hammering the financial markets. However, the fed has no control over what the banks do with the easy money.  And by all indications the banks aren't passing on the money to their customers.

Despite the Fed rate cuts, the cost of mortgages are actually going up.  The
average 30 year fixed mortgage is just under 6%.   This despite the fact that the 10 year note currently stands at 3.5%.  For those that don't see the significance, this 2.5% difference (referred to as the spreads) is normally only 1.5%.  The spread represents the risk a bank is willing to take and the widening of the spread shows that they aren't willing to take very much.  Add that to the fact that they are owning willing to lend to those with high credit scores, and you can see how this isn't helping the average American very much.

So what are the banks doing with the easy money?  There is actually an arbitrage opportunity here since they can borrow the money and invest it in higher yielding government bonds.  Of course, you can't do this since you can't borrow from the Fed.  Sucks huh?

But at least the Fed cut isn't hurting you right?  Saving the banks is a good thing isn't it?  Sure if you don't mind higher inflation and a weaker dollar (causing the price of imports and commodities like oil to rise).   If you don't mind taxpayer dollars being used to bail out billion dollar banks.  If you believe that the way to fix the problems caused by easy money is to throw more easy money than the fed is doing the exact right thing.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Make A Shopping List

Stocks had a better day than I expected.  The Dow was actually up while the Nasdaq came off its lows of the day.  This is probably in reaction to what is perceived to be a sure thing, the Fed cutting the rate very deeply.  Most are predicting a 0.75% cut.  Some even believe the Fed will cut as much as 1%.

But it is my belief that this is too little too late.  I really don't think it matters what the Fed does at this point.  The Fed Funds rate is a blunt instrument and the economy is way to far in its downward trajectory for something like this to rescue things.

While I think the market will continue to go down, it is about the time you need to create a shopping list and start thinking hard about the companies you want to own 5 or 10 years from now.  My shopping list needs to be updated but I still think its a good list.  Actually, if you take a look at the list, all my stocks are doing well comparatively to where the market was at the time.  Some of them are doing great like Potash.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Lookout Below!

Bear Stearns

Talk about the bottom falling out. Today, it was announced that JP Morgan Chase will acquire Bear Stearns for $2 a share. This is seemingly a bargain basement price because Bear closed Friday at $30. It traded as high as $170 a little over a year ago. You couple this with the unusual move by the Fed to cut a key interest rate on Sunday, and you have some very serious developments.

This portends very bad news for the markets tomorrow. While the market has been down this year, their always seems to be a rally that quickly follows it. This tends to demonstrate indecision on the markets part as people keep looking for the bottom.

What these two events demonstrates is that, despite all the doom and gloom surrounding the market these days, the problems facing the markets are even more serious than previously thought. JP Morgan would not be able to Buy Bear Stearns at such a low price if things were not dire for that company. The Fed would not step in on a SUNDAY if they didn't think something really bad was about to happen on Monday.

So what to do? I still am going to do nothing because I've been setting up for this eventuality for a while. I will have some stocks that get beaten up, I'll probably even lose a lot of money in the next few days, but I'm not one to panic even if I think the market could easily go down another 10-15% if not more.

For those without the same stomach that I have, get out while you can. As some of my readers have commented, it has been an up and down ride, but it's about to go straight down for a while.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Effect of Rising Oil Prices on Everyday People

Oil pricesI'm taking public transportation. There, I said it. Only two weeks ago, I talked about how oil sped past the $100 mark. Shortly thereafter, I complained about my commute and how I was going to start taking the train to work. Well oil hit $110 a barrel today. Up until recently, you haven't seen the spiking price of oil translate into higher prices at the pump, but I think that is about to end. The odd thing is is that there is no reason why oil should be this high.

I liken it to the speculation that was rampant in the housing market. Nothing was supporting the run-up in housing prices other than the fact that lots of other people wanted to buy houses despite the actual lack of demand for housing. The same thing is going on here. There isn't a high demand for oil. People, like myself, are starting to take a hard look at alternatives. The supply of oil is actually rising, not falling, so it is clear that there is actually an oversupply of oil at these prices.

At some point, like housing, oil prices will retreat, fundamentals always catch up. That's not to say I don't think it will hit $120 before too long. That's the thing about speculation, it can go far longer than you ever expect. I thought housing was crazy in 2004 but it went on for several more years.

Most people can't change their routine very easily. Either there isn't convenient transportation to work or there really is no alternative to driving. So the money comes from somewhere, and it has to come from either savings or from spending diverted from somewhere else. With the economy already in a recession, that is going to make the situation that much worse.

How has the rising price of gas affected you?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Market Up - Will It Last?

The Dow had an up 400 day, mostly on the news that the Fed was going to inject $200 billion of liquidity into the market.   This gave hope to many investors that the worse might be behind us and that it was time to get back into the market.

I kept my money on the sidelines.  I'm not sure how this Fed action at all solves the fundamental problems that caused the market to tank in the last few months.  We are heading into a period where we need to pay for the excesses of the last few years.  We can delay it, and that is what the Fed seems to be trying to accomplish, but in the end, someone is going to have to pay up.

The market reacted to relatively weak news, and this stimulated others to jump in not to miss the boat.  But when the smoke clears people are going to realize that the fundamentals just aren't there.

Take this opportunity to get rid of any stocks that you have been wanting to get rid of for a while.  Days like this don't come by too often and you have to take advantage of them when you can.

Monday, March 10, 2008

New Job and Expectations

I’m about three months into my new job.  Like any job there are some good and there are some bad, but I will be honest and say I’ve been frustrated at my job much more than I should be considering I am in what should be the honeymoon phase.

I think my biggest problem is probably a mismatch in expectations.   This is something crucial to get right whenever you start a job and it is something that I unfortunately did not do well here.

This company has the exact opposite problem I had at Microsoft.  Microsoft moved too slow for me; this company moves to fast.  I was expected to come in and start making some pretty big decisions and contribute right from the start.  For someone in my position, who has to understand the product, technology, and process to do his job effectively, this put me in a very awkward position and quite frankly hurt my credibility.   I needed time to get my bearings and learn the ropes.  It would have been foolish of me to come in and start making changes left and right.  Even with what I know now and the problems that are evident, it is clear that some people aren’t open to changing things.

Managing expectations, it is something everyone has to do well in every job.  It is even truer the higher you go up the food chain where expectations become big and every missed expectation is magnified.

This is probably something you really need to nail down before accepting the job.  I’m usually pretty careful about this and I would argue I was even with this job.  There are some things you just can’t know before you really start a job, but you should still do your best to get a lay of the land.  I suggest you do the following (which I did)

  1.  Ask what your success criteria will be in 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year

  2. Who will be assigned to help you learn the nuances particular to any company

  3. Do you have any immediate deliverables?

  4. Who will help you with those deliverables if your ramp up time is longer than expected?

It is my strong suggestion that you limit your responsibility and deliverables immediately after starting a new job.  Biting off too much when you start can be frustrating for all involved.  I have to say this is one thing that Microsoft did well when I started.   I literally had no responsibility the first month I got there.   In about month and a half in, I was expected to deliver my first deliverable and even then it was small and manageable.  Only after I went through my first full cycle (about 6 months in) was I really expected to drive and deliver.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Refocusing

I've done some deep thinking this weekend about a lot of different things.  One of the things I thought a lot about was this site.

I started this site out with the stated goal that I wanted to take my money and find some way to double it within a year.  As any regular reader has realized, this journey has been sidetracked for any number of reasons, most notable of which is that my situation in life has changed considerably in the five months since I started this journey.  Back then, I had all the time in the world as I was voluntarily unemployed and was rather enjoying it.  But being the workaholic that I am, I admit I was itching to get a new job and start on the next challenge.

That challenge came much sooner than I could have expected, and it flipped my world upside down causing me to move back to LA.  So here I am now, three months later, and barely made a dent in my Double Journey.  So what now?  Do I pretend that I can find some way to do this in the few months that I have left?  Do I just abandon the whole idea and move on?

Well, I can't just quit.  And to be honest, I really do like blogging and  running this site.  I've learned a few things, even learned a few things that have helped me at work, and I plan to continue this site.  However, I probably need to refocus the site.  I need to come to grips with the fact that short of taking the money and betting on black, I'm not going to find a way to do this in the time frame I originally laid out.

So I will keep doing what I've been doing.  I'm going to continue to blog and I'm going to continue to find ways to try and make money.  I'm just not going to put on an artificial time line of a year to go do it.   Is it going to take me two years, five years, ten years?  I'm not sure.  For those who have come along with me so far, please continue to do so.  I will find some way to make this happen, and I could still use all the help and encouragement I could get.  I'm just not going to make it my main focus.  I've actually done well in terms of making money by not trying to make money.

All my life I've focused on working hard and doing a great job with the belief that money would take care of itself.  So far, it has.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Life Without TV

Sony LCD

I am in the market for a new TV. I'm one of those people when I buy something I analyze it to death to make sure I get a good deal. It's what I did when I bought a fridge, and it is ten times worse now that I'm trying to buy a TV.

Here is the thing, despite the fact I want to get a really nice TV, I probably don't need one. I've gone over two months without any Cable TV and while I sometimes miss it, I have definitely found other things to occupy my time. It's been rare when I sit around and think, "Gee, I have nothing to do now. I wish I had a really great TV."

And the thing is, I not only save money not buying the TV (and not buying something is as good as earning that money), but I don't pay for cable. I would probably get satellite and I would get an HD setup since I would have a HDTV. That would cost me somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 a month. Something I could definitely afford but doesn't hurt me not to spend it.

Now that I think about it, I actually don't spend much more money living in California vs. Washington. My rent is $1700 per month. That is about $300 more than a similar place in Washington. Add to the fact that I do not pay for water, trash, gas, a second parking space, or anything else other than electricity and the gap narrows even more.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Taking the Train

goldline.jpgI plan on taking the train in the morning. The Pasadena Gold Line, the train I will take, is pretty convenient as it is about a 5 minute walk for me in the morning. It takes me to downtown where a bus that goes directly to my building is waiting for me. As the cost is only $1.25, it is pretty cheap for me to take the train. When you take into account that gas is running $3.50 per gallon, and it looks down right cheap for me to take the train.

Up until now, I haven't done it. It's amazing the excuses one will come up with to try and avoid doing something. First, it was because I had to walk 5 minutes. Then it was that the times weren't all that convenient. Then it was that nobody in California takes public transportation. In the end, it was just a change to my routine that I wasn't quite ready to make. It's amazing how we are such creature of habits. It affects all aspects of our lives. It just makes sense for me to take the train. It will save me money, and for the most part it will even save me time.

Speaking of this, I am starting to think L.A. public transportation gets a bad rap. I took the LAX fly away this past weekend. It travels from Union Station to LAX for only $4. Seriously, that's dirt cheap and very convenient. Way easier than getting someone to take me to the airport.

Monday, March 3, 2008

How Imporant is an Ivy League Education?

I got a comment yesterday on my post on How to Get Into an Ivy League School. In it, the reader was stressed about trying to get into an Ivy League school despite the fact that he has started "late" as he is almost done with his Freshman year.

Before I go answer that question specifically, I really want to touch on something. In no way should you feel stressed about getting into an Ivy League School. Let's just be clear, it is very hard to get in but not getting in does not mean the end of the world. The vast majority of people who apply do not get in and they go on to live perfectly happy lives. I firmly believe that you can get a fantastic eduction no matter where you go, it is up to you to make the most of it. It is true, that most of my friends who have attended Ivy League schools have gone on to have great careers but you should not confuse correlation with causation. Most of these people got into an Ivy League school because they are just the type of person who would succeed in any environment. Just keep that in mind.

So despite my own words which may suggest that I've greatly benefited from my Ivy League degree, please keep those words in context. You will do fine in life so long as you are smart and driven. It does not matter what school your diploma comes from.

OK, now that I got that out of the way, let me answer this person's specific question. You have nothing to worry about. I personally didn't take any AP courses my Freshman year. I only took one my Sophomore year (that was basically all my school offered to Sophomores). I did however take every honors course that my school offered in the respective grades.

I'm no expert on the subject, but I heard of people who botched up their Freshman year, and recovered their Sophomore and Junior years to still get in. From the sound of it, my reader is doing well in the classes he is taking, so this is not a worry. If you show good progression and you take the hardest courses you can your Sophomore and Junior years, I think you have nothing to worry about. So don't sweat it. Do well in the classes you are taking now, and make sure you take the hardest courses you can going forward. To balance it out, you should be sure to be involved in as many extra-curriculars this year to show that you were committed to making an impact in other ways this year, not just academically. Best of luck to you.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Bought a Fridge

FridgeSo I had to buy a refrigerator for my new apartment. Despite living on my own for the last decade or so, I've actually never owned a fridge. There was always one in every apartment I rented. This unit didn't have one, so I had to go out and buy one.
It actually took me a real long time to decide what to get. You see, I'm just not use to buying big ticket items. There are very few times I've ever spent over $500 on any one purchase. I had considered just getting a cheap fridge and saving the money. Why get a good fridge when this isn't a real permanent option and I will in all likelihood move within a year?

The counter argument of course is that I hate buying things that I get rid of after a short time only to replace it with another item. You end up spending way more money than if you were to just buy the better item in the first place and you are incrementally happier with that purchase for the life of the product.

This is part of the reason that this journey will prove and has proven so difficult for me. I am not use to buying things and getting rid of them quickly. I do things for the long haul, and this short time frame is just foreign to me. Well that and the fact that I barely have any time to sleep much less think about how I'm going to make money.

Somehow I managed to equate the stock market with buying appliances.  I really must be some sort of finance geek.