We closed on the house! We and the our brilliant credit union are now home owners of the house we hope to be our retirement home–at least for awhile and not that I am about to retire any time soon either. Our builder Mark P. will be up there to start work on Tuesday. No buyers remorse yet!
Sometimes all the stars align to make life more interesting than the long periods of doing the same thing day after day that seems to be normal. When I was younger, those long periods of the mundane seemed boring. Now they just seem restful. Last night, it dawned on me that, with two days before we are supposed to close on your our new (old) house, I have not made all the arrangements for all the utilities to be switched over to us. At the same time, the sickle cell disease project on which I am working is scheduled to deliver its first device for testing in Africa at the end of April which means I need to complete a boat load of finishing touches. All the while, I have to decide whether I want to stay in my current job and travel to Texas once per month or switch jobs and travel to Vancouver, BC fairly frequently with intermittent trips to China and other far away places (currently leaning toward BC).
In the mean time, we have to make a plan to get all our stuff from Texas and North Carolina to Washington state. The Texas part we have handled, but for the North Carolina part we do not know whether to do it ourselves (fly out there and drive back over a week), hire a couple of college kids to fly out there and drive the truck back for us, or just bite the bullet and get a moving company today. All of these items with their fun and interesting cash flow challenges. And none of this mentions that we start a full-blown remodel of the kitchen and a partial reconstruction of the roof on the new (old) house. Whenever I get too stressed, I look at the picture of the view we hope to have out the back of the house when we are now fogged in or clouded over or both. That helps some. What will help more is to have all this behind us with a cup of coffee in my hand sitting on the porch for a few weeks in a row.
Our annual tax effort started today. This last few years it has been a little more challenging than in the past. I have switched jobs, moved, performed contract work, etc., etc., etc. Even with a good accountant to help out, it is a struggle to get it done in time. In the middle of all this, we are making another move, maybe changing jobs, settling the estate of our parents, buying a new (to us) house, moving across the country and doing a remodel. I know I should be thankful though–I think I have the most unselfish siblings in the history of the world and, of course, Lorena never stops helping. The settling of the estate has been the most amazing thing. My siblings have bent over backwards to do everything they can do to make things come out right. We have all heard horror stories and are thankful to not be part of one. I think if we survive through the month of June we might arrive at some more order in our lives.
There might be a better Credit Union in the world, but I seriously believe the one to which our little family belongs is at the top of the heap. We have been members for just about twenty years now and they unfailingly do virtually everything they can possibly do to help us out. The first time that happened was on a business trip to Czech Republic when unexpected travel/business expenses came up and I need to increase the line of credit on my Mastercard. No problem. One phone call, a happy conversation and we were done. They have helped with college, kids accounts and now our new house (wherever that might be), making unique and special accommodations to make the whole thing possible. It is a joy to be part of their family. Now, I understand the credit union is open, not only to those who work at businesses closes by, but anyone in a fairly extended area around Portland.
But Lorena did not let me keep it even though it was pretty much out in the middle of the street and we could not find the owner. She said, “I know what needs to be done with that!” I am sure she does.
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. —1 Timothy 6:10
I watched a TED talk last night that reinforced my resolve to never watch a TED talk unless someone I trust recommends it highly. I have no idea what inspired me watch the thing–the title was a dead giveaway, “How to Become a Millionaire in 3 Years.” I would argue that the narcissism advocated in this video accounts for much of what is wrong with our society. The presenter makes three points, the first of which is that the reading of books is important to success.
Then he goes on to say, “All the books in the world can help us to solve all the problems in the world.”
Just wow. Next he says we only need to read the books that help us solve our own problems. The example he gives is that if we want to know about money we should read books about money. And it gets worse. The next he makes is that you should befriend those people who can help you reach your goals. The idea that the point of friendship and the selection of people with whom I want to associate should be centered on whether or not they can help me reach my goals–in this case, the emphasis was on financial goals–is repugnant.
The final point was that it is important to have goals is to write them down. That is not such a bad thing if the goals are not so narcissistic. But the way this it was expressed gave me that same creepy feeling I get when I am around someone who has bought into the whole “name it and claim it” theology thing.
My immediate thought after watching this was that this was not how the most successful people led their lives. People like Jesus, Paul and even the likes of Michaelangelo, Bach, Beethoven, Abraham Lincoln, Tesla and Einstein were successful because of their singular vision of something bigger than themselves. People whose whole goal in life is aggrandizement of themselves and the accumulation of goods and power are almost never remembered with fondness and admiration. No one remembers the sports stars and actors for more than a generation or two. Those who work on something bigger than themselves for the glory of God, to do the right thing and to help others without regard to money, fame or power are the ones who are truly successful, not the narcissistic visualizers.
These are just my opinions on the topic, but I have decided to make the best of the fifteen minutes the video cost me and visualize myself avoiding self-help TED videos, books and people. Maybe I should read a book about it, too.
Maybe the Scandinavian countries are not so hot after all. There are a couple of articles that came onto my radar six or seven months ago that made credible something that I have wondered about for a long time. I am just getting around to writing them up. For years, we have heard about the wonders of living in Scandinavia and that the quality of life there is better than in the United States by just about every measure. It turns out that is just not true. Articles have trickled out saying there is trouble in paradise (see here and here), but the idea that the emperor has no clothes at all is a subject that has only started to receive traction in the last year or so.
An article titled Debunking the Myth of Socialist “Success” in Scandinavia reviews a book on the subject. It is a great article and definitely worth a read. Amazingly, the book it reviews, Scandinavian Unexceptionalism: Culture, Markets and the Failure of Third-Way Socialism, is available online for free at the time of the writing of this article. I had followed this subject some because of my interest in Sweden’s horrible record with respect to persecution of homeschoolers and their failed attempt to catch up with Finland in public education. In addition to all the schooling problems, it turns out that socialism continues to fail everywhere it is tried, too, Scandinavia included.
I am no longer a spring chicken. In four or five years I actually hope to quit my day job and go to contracting. To that end, Lorena and I have started to look for a house we can buy in an area we want to live. We have a good idea about the area of the country where we would like to settle, but no idea at all about specific neighborhoods. So, what we think might work as a start is to buy a small, older house on a normal sized lot in a neighborhood somewhere in that area. The idea is to fix the house up enough so it is livable, but not so much we will not be able to sell it easily, then live in it for two to three years so we can get to know the neighborhoods in the area. If we find a neighborhood we like, we can take our time to find a house to remodel or a lot on which to build without a whole lot of pressure. It really fits in to our “no debt” mindset, too. I have actually started looking at houses and talking to contractors. I do not know when or even if we will buy something, but it certainly does not hurt to get started.
I regularly read the Bayou Renaissance Man blog by a science fiction (and now western) novel writer who is especially interesting when he writes about debt. I read an article to which he pointed about a guy who got into serious debt while getting a Bachelors degree in English (bad idea), then went to Alaska to work as a laborer to pay it off (good, but unnecessary if he would have gotten a decent degree). He wanted to double down on his first bad degree choice by going to Duke for a Masters degree in liberal studies, but chose to live in a van in the parking lot and work menial jobs so he would be debt free when he finished. All of that would have been completely unnecessary if he had gotten a degree that would allow him to get a job in the first place.
The reality is that what he did was pretty cool. He was a whole lot smarter than me with respect to how he thought about debt when he was in his twenties. I in am one of those guys who, while I funded my 401K over my entire career and am in OK shape when it comes to that, I did not pay much attention to any of this at all until the blood started going to my brain sometime after my 40th birthday. So when I woke up in the early 2000’s, I had to scramble to do a bunch of things others had already accomplished. I discovered Dave Ramsey and got out of debt. That was good, but I had a finite amount of time to prepare for things like paying for the kids’ college and getting my house paid off. It was compounded by the fact that the kids both skipped high school, so my college payments started way early than I had initially planned.
I am going to try to write about the debt problem a little here. The focus is not going to be on global or national economics, but on what I did to shore up my own situation and what I expect to be another economic meltdown within the next few years. It is especially interesting to me right now because we are in the Dallas, Texas area in the middle of a house buying frenzy–houses in our town stay on the market for around three days and are selling well above appraisal value. All the signs indicate that the house of cards will come tumbling down soon. I am not sure what I should do, but I know I do not want to participate in the frenzy.
Kelly bought her own car insurance yesterday and will register the Ford Fiesta in her own name later this week. Christian is doing the same this week with the Honda Accord. Lorena and I are now a one car family. The only remaining thing like this that connects to the kids is our family cell phone plan. Some might think it would be best for me to turn that over to the kids themselves, but they would be wrong. I told them that as a condition for their cell phone plan, they have to provide Lorena with tech support for her phone and tutoring for her community college. In my book that is an absolute steal. It would be a steal at twice the price!
Betty Blonde #381 – 12/31/2009
Click here or on the image to see full size strip.
I found an interesting article on the tuition costs for degrees at the different public colleges and universities in Michigan. I was amazed. The cheapest were around $62K while the two most expensive were $85K and 108K with the rest ranging pretty evenly between $62K and $84K. It that is true, we got a screaming good deal. We paid around $2.5K per year per kid for tuition and fees at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh and around $7.5K per year per kid for them to finish up at NCSU. That means, we paid about $10K for community college and $30K for university for a total of $40K. So our kids graduated from what we would argue is the best school in North Carolina (including UNC, Duke, Davidson and Wake Forest, but we are biased) for $20K per kid.
The two lessons I got from that are:
- Community college is an amazingly great bargain
- North Carolina is a great place to go to college
The 2015 Alec-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index, Rich States, Poor States report just came out and Oregon is now 45th out of 50. After a seven year absence the state has a feel to us that is rough around the edges prosperity-wise. There is a fairly stark contrast between what it felt like for us to live in Oregon and the upbeat feel of North Carolina and, especially, Arizona.
Day 997 of 1000
Ten years ago, when we restarted our homeschool, we made a plan to get Kelly through college by 2014 followed by Christian in 2016. We did it two year early because Christian finished two years early than our plan. I only thought about it about once per year when I made the yearly plan for the next year’s homeschool and bought the books from Sonlight. The plan was completely forgotten while we did the work of homeschooling. Now that we are at the end, it has dawned on me that we have not given much thought to what comes next. Of course, I have my work, mortgage, and retirement to consider, but those are continuing things that require thought and readjustment on a regular basis when I change jobs, move, run into an unexpected expense, etc. We have goals in all that, but they are just going to be part of life until I die, so I planning for that kind of thing is just part of the landscape.
Now though, Lorena and I have to figure out what we want to do next. Does Lorena want to finish her degree or start a business or do both? Do we want to live in Portland or Phoenix or Prescott or stay where we are? There are competing interests in all this. The kids are both going off to graduate school on the west coast. We would like to be near them so we could see them on a very regular basis, but they are at the age to start making their own way without too much interference from us. Are we thinking of moving just so we can be by them? Maybe. But is that bad? Maybe, maybe not. I thought life was going to get less complicated at this point, but it looks like I am wrong.
Betty Blonde #115 – 12/24/2008
Click here or on the image to see full size strip.
Day 776 of 1000
There is an interesting article over at The Numbers Guy blog at the Wall Street Journal titled Government Shutdown’s Price Tag. It basically says whatever number the government calculates as the cost of the shutdown is just wrong. He talks about how badly the calculation was done during the last two shutdowns and what it is impossible and worthless to even try (Hint: The U.S. economy is about the same complexity as the weather). There are a couple of other things that make Obama’s shutdown even more expensive that are of the Obama’s own making. Beside the greater amount of money Obama spends to keep people out of parks than it would cost just operate as usual, there is a good chance the Democrats will pay the furloughed government workers for services NOT rendered. From the article:
There is one other big variable to economic impact: What happens if Congress chooses not to award back pay to furloughed workers? After every prior shutdown, Congress has made up the withheld salary. “If the current situation lingers for several weeks, I suspect this Congress will be less willing to offer that pay,” Mr. LeBas said. “The multibillion price tag for doing so is more meaningful today in a deficit-conscious world, than it was almost 18 years ago.”
Whatever number is selected as the cost of Obama’s shutdown will almost certainly be used to blame the people who were actually trying to remedy the situation.
Day 620 of 1000
This is the first in a series of three posts about things that have helped me develop and sustain a career I love. The first post is about how to stay in close touch with people with whom you have worked. The second post is about how to give away free work whenever you can. The third is about how to invest significant efforts in helping previous employers, people who can never help you, and “the least of these.”
I have a career that I love. Beyond my wildest expectation, it gets more enjoyable every year. It did not start out that way. There are several simple things I wish someone would have explained to me about career and life that I did not realized until I was in my forties. This is the first of two posts about the rules I believe got me here. Of course, the rules are not the only thing–you have to know how to do the job, but the rules set things up for my success. The first set of rules has to do with staying in touch with colleagues and are listed at the bottom of this post. The second has to do with giving things away (yes, that means for free) and life-long learning. First, a little about my background and career path.
Through no fault of my own, I have a great career doing work that interests me with good people. At some level I have always known it was by the grace of God because I certainly did not plan it that way. I (barely) finished a degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing in 1978. I got pretty bad grades and when I got out, surprise, it was really tough to get a job. I was a microcosm of what happens to people who study non-STEM degrees today with the exception that college was pretty cheap at the time, I was not saddled with a lot of debt, and I (again) got pretty bad grades.
I worked for awhile at nights in the mail room at a large technology company running computer reports around their multi-building campus. It was truly a dead end job, so I decided to go back to college and get a technical degree. If I had had a brain in my head, I would have done the leveling classes to get into a Masters degree program. No really great school would have accepted me because my grades were so bad, but knowing what I know now, it would have been pretty straightforward to get accepted at a good regional University as a probationary student long enough to prove that I could handle the degree. I already had a lot of the math and chemistry, so it would not have taken long if I worked hard. Later in life, I actually worked with a woman who did exactly that to get into a Masters program in Mechanical Engineering with an English degree and no math.
So, I went to a technical college and got a two year associate degree in something called Computer Systems Enginneering Technology. It was kind of a cross between computer programming and electronics. With that, I got a really good job at a company named Triad in Silicon Valley training technicians how to work on specialized computers specifically designed for auto parts store. After I had been there a couple of years, a friend told me about a program where I could pay in-state tuition in Oregon while I went to school for a semester in Guadalajara. It sounded great, so I headed to Mexico.
I made no job plans before I went to Mexico, so when we got toward the end of the semester, I started to worry because I had no money. Thankfully, my Mom, Grandma Sarah, was way ahead of me. She saw a want-ad in the newspaper for a technical writer at a robotics company named Intelledex in Corvallis. She sent my resume, I went to the interview when I got home, and they gave me the job. At that time in 1983 there were hardly any industrial robot companies, but one had been started in Corvallis by a group of the engineers and scientists who worked at the Hewlett-Packard ink-jet printer facility. Within a couple of years, I had moved over from the robots to work on something called machine vision. A machine vision system is a computer that has a camera connected to it. The system captures images of things that are happening on conveyor belts and workstation tables to guide robots, check the quality of assembled parts, and that sort of thing. That is the field in which I have worked for the last thirty years.
I stayed at Intelledex for eight years as a technical writer, trainer, applications engineer, and regional sales manager. I got to know enough about machine vision that one of our customers, the University of Texas at El Paso, invited me to start and run a vision laboratory to develop machine vision systems for use in factories in Texas, New Mexico, and Northern Mexico. While I was there, I was able to take the leveling classes I needed to enter and complete a Masters degree program in Industrial Engineering. We were successful enough that, I actually got invited to lecture to the faculty at the National University of Singapore about the program and some of our systems got deployed as far away as Israel. After that I got invited to Texas A&M to start a similar program there and to start a PhD. That program and the PhD never progressed very far because marriage and real life got in the way and lead me back to machine vision with Motorola, another of our old customers in Florida.
What made my career take off
It should have dawned on me that the reason I had the educational opportunity at UTEP and the job opportunity in Florida was because of connections I made in my work with the robot company. I left Motorola to start a business that was pretty wildly unsuccessful and needed to go back to work. I really did not know where to go, so I went back to the well and called some of my old Intelledex friends. They said, of course we will hire you. That was really a wake-up call. The people that rehired me were now at a different company, ESI in Portland, that had purchased the machine vision part of Intelledex. I realized the people I worked with before were not only just workmates, they were friends who valued what I did. Not only did we enjoy working together, they valued me for the contribution I could make.
The next big event in my awakening was initiated by the dot-com bubble. I got caught in a mass layoff due to business conditions and I found myself on the street. That really set me on heels. I had a mortgage to pay and a family to feed. I wracked my brain and called everyone I could to find a job. One of the guys I called was a camera salesman. He said he knew of a job in, of all places, Corvallis. I called the guys and guess what? It was populated with some other of my old compatriots from Intelledex. By now I start to clue into the fact that I have friends out there. It really irritated me that no one emphasized the importance of staying in touch with workplace colleagues. My rules for a great career were an outgrowth of that epiphany.
Right now, the shoe is on the other foot. Some of my old Intelledex compatriots work for me as contractors. It is nice to be on the other side of the equation and reinforces the knowledge that a job helps both the employee and the employer.
Rules for a great career
- When you leave a company (or move from one division to another) make a list of people for whom you have respect.
- Follow the careers of the people on your list and send them an email or even a card whenever they get promoted or change companies.
- If someone on your list loses their job, wrack your brain and make some calls to people who might be able to use them. It helps both the employer and the employee.
- If a company tries to recruit you and you cannot take the job, actively try to find someone who can feel the need and make follow-up contact to see if they are still looking.
- Take every opportunity possible (after putting God and family first) to meet with your colleagues and ex-colleagues in informal settings (e.g. Take them to lunch when you are in town).
I received an email two days ago from what I will just call an unfriendly acquaintance. He and his wife both work in the same field as I. He saw I had a connection with a company that might be able to give work to his wife. He essentially had to swallow his pride and ask me for a favor. I will derive great joy from introducing his wife to the CEO of a company that very well needs someone like her. This will help an old friend (the CEO), create a new friend (the wife), and turn an unfriendly acquaintance into a friend. The CEO is already on my contact list, but the (hopefully) ex-unfriendly acquaintance and his wife will now be on my contact list whether the job works out or not. I plan to contact all three in the next couple of weeks to see what happens.
Day 610 of 1000
Christian sent one of Kelly’s comics to the NCSU student newspaper a couple of days ago, the editor loved it, and put it into today’s paper. She is kicking herself for not having submitted more. We are at the end of the school year, so there is really not much chance to get anything else published this year. She plans to build up a stockpile of comics to submit as soon as the school year begins next year. When we talked about it, she promised to let me publish her work here, too. I have tried to get her to draw consistently and have put stuff on the blog when she produced it, but life is so busy during college, she has not made it a priority. I think all that has changed now and I think it will make this blog more interesting.
I have thought a lot about what I want to do with this blog and how to make it grow lately. Publication of Kelly’s comic strips has been a big part of that. In addition, I talked about the blog a bunch with my buddy Eric from Indiana when he came to visit us a few weeks back with a couple of his kids. We spent a good amount of time talking about blogging and blog monetization. I have given some thought to whether I want to do that with Google AdSense, an Amazon Affiliate program, or some other mechanism. We talked about things I might be able to sell on my blog. Eric showed me several websites on the mechanics of blog monetization. The general consensus from all of them is that content drives blog traffic and sales. Eric also showed me how to determine whether a keyword search on Google was of interest to anyone with the Keyword Tool.
It all sounds pretty interesting and fun. I decided I would try to create content that was both interesting to write (to keep me interested and motivated) and interesting enough to read that more people would come to this blog. Here were a few of my ideas:
- Create more series about how we approach education. Skipping high school and teaching kids to program are the first two. I have some ideas about some more.
- Convince Kelly to provide me with more comic strips.
- Add a weekend series of on-line music videos we like.
- Post a lot more often.
In the final analysis, I think just getting in the habit of writing more often will help a lot. I have given more thought to the blog and posted more the last several months than ever. My readership has taken a fairly dramatic jump, both in quantity and the amount of time spent on the site. I believe dedication to writing and thinking about interesting things to write will do more to improve both the quality of the blog and the readership than anything else. I plan to give this a year or so to improve content and increase readership. I am not sure I will ever monetize the site. The reality is that this kind of writing gives me clarity that I would not have otherwise. I will try to write about where the blog is going every now and then, for my own self as much as for anyone that reads this.
Day 112 of 1000
This week is finals week at Wake Technical Community College. Everyone in the house except me studied for finals. I worked on a project for my new job which involved mostly study about a new product. I am going to be glad for three weeks of non-study activities starting next week. The one fun thing that happened this weekend was Christian’s Macroeconomics project. He had to put together a brief video of some macroeconomic principle. The first pass was not so good, so he decided he would try to learn how to do animation and use that to smooth over the rough spots. This is what he produced:
Day 108 of 1000 (212.9 lbs.)
I heard a Subaru promotion on the radio during my morning commute this morning. They have a promotion where they pay $250 to one of five charities, two of which are liberal wacko charities when someone buys a car. Why would Subaru think I would buy a car from someone who sends money to charities I find odious. In addition, the price of the advertising, administration, and the money that goes to charity could have saved me an additional $500 on the price of the car. Let ME decide where I want my money to go. This is exactly why I object whenever a company for whom I work tries to strong-arm me into giving to the United Way. Their methods are suspect, give money to hate organizations, and have been caught with there hand in the cookie jar. Let me repeat, let ME decide where I want my money to go. I work really hard to avoid doing business with companies who do this kind of thing.
Kelly and I just had the following instant message exchange. The first link is an article she wrote. The second link is about students who study hard stuff versus students who don’t. After the exchange we discuss why it is OK to finish your career in something other than just STEM stuff.
Here is a great quote from the second article:
…people with an undergraduate STEM major make $500,000 more over their lifetime than non-STEM majors.
hey dad check this out
Very, very cool! No it is not sad! They move up in the world so they are managing STEM people. You need experienced ex-STEM people to manage STEM people and sell STEM created stuff.
Some STEM people move right into the the sales/managment/marketing mode–that is not bad either.
I am going to be wearing a STEM and a marketing hat.
yeah that is super cool
Now that we found out NCSU is going to make dramatic tuition increases, Christian has decided he is going to make do with the equipment he had. RWDub’s Reviews will be quite happy to know he uses Linux Mint on a USB stick to run the computer and persist his data between boots. There is no money even for a hard drive. It is good thing we had that old cardboard box from when we could afford to buy stuff from Amazon. We are going to have dig up a mouse somewhere, too.