Two Credit Cards Down…

14 Apr

I paid off two credit cards on Friday. Out of the four cards I have, they were the two with the lowest balances but the highest interest rates.

Friday was payday. I sat down and paid all of the utilities due for the next two weeks online. Debt free but cold & sitting in the dark just wouldn’t do!

I then put into my online budget tracking program (provided by my credit union’s online banking system) any other anticipated expenses for the next two weeks: Gas, food, etc.

That still left enough cash to pay the two card balances & have some money left over for incidentals. Before I could talk myself out of it, I logged in & paid them off.

It is a wonderful sight, seeing an outstanding balance of ZERO on your statement.

I eagerly await the day when ALL of my statements have a balance of ZERO. Goose egg. Nada. Zilch. Nothing owed to someone for things long gone, or interest paid for something I still have.

That day will be awesome.

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Livescribe Pluse and Echo pens: The Agony and the Ecstasy

7 Apr

In 2009, I got my first Livescribe digital pen. It had a USB connection, allowing you to sync hand-written notes to your computer, as well as a built-in little camera that took pictures of the aforementioned notes. The feature that amazed friends and colleagues the most was the fact that if you turned on the audio recording feature, the pen and associated software would keep track of what was being recorded while you were writing a particular thing. The pen was a stroke of genius, a lifesaver for people like me who have far too many things to keep track of at work, and are flummoxed when people ask “give-me-the-answer NOW” types of questions. The software (Livescribe Desktop) allowed me to type in a particular term and keyword-search across all my notes taken with the pen. Bad handwriting wasn’t even a major problem. The pen and software usually had a 99.999999% success rate at finding all the notes containing the word I was searching for. The pen was great for work, training, people who couldn’t write very fast, and people who needed, for whatever reason, to C.Y.A.

I was in love for the first year or so…until the pen’s poor design allowed it to roll off the table and cease to function.

No worries. I purchased another. Now, these pens were at least $150 at the time, so, no small thing to replace one. But, I NEEDED it at this point.

About a year later, an update to the pen’s software (or was it the firmware?) was released. I’d had no problems with updates to this point, so I went ahead & downloaded the update when prompted. Thus began my nightmare…

The update didn’t install successfully. “No worries”, I thought, “must have been a hiccup with Windows” (Microsoft carries more than their share of the blame when any computer problem happens, sometimes even if the person is running on a Mac…).

I tried again to complete the update. Nothing. 

I rebooted, disconnected, re-connected, checked support pages, Googled…Nada. Eventually, I came across reports of other people having similar problems. The only solutions that eventually surfaced were to roll-back the software to the earlier version. After much trial and tribulation, I got the pen to work again, but at the cost of the last week’s wroth of notes. Sure, I had the written notes in the actual physical paper notebook (which I also had to purchase to work with the pen), but no searchable notes, and no recordings where applicable. Bummer, but no real harm done. I’d just have to train myself to sync with the computer on a regular basis.

All went well until the next update. Same issue. Same results. Only this time, I “bricked” the pen by following the support suggestions. No more worky. Very, very bad.

Back to the Target store (or was it Best Buy?) to purchase yet another pen. By this time, the capacity available for the pens had increased, the boxes became smaller yet flashier, and they carried a new name: Echo (to replace Pulse).

How prophetic the name turned out to be, as I am currently hearing an “echo” of my experiences with the prior pens: The dang updates aren’t working again! Now my pen is stuck in a perpetual “Updating…Do Not Disconnect!” loop. After a while, you HAVE to disconnect (you need to go home from work, your computer needs to be restarted for updates that actually WORK, etc.), and try again. Uh, NOPE!

Lest you think to yourself: “Well, maybe it’s the computer!” No, it’s not. There have been multiple computers involved in this lab experiment gone awry, across multiple operating system versions. You may also think: “PEBCAC” or “PICNIC” (“Problem Exists Between Chair And Computer” or “Problem In Chair Not In Computer”), but I assure you, that is also not the problem. I work in a job where I have random computers and electronic devices thrown at me on a daily basis, usually with a limited amount of time to work some CSI-level magic on them before they have to be returned to their owners or have the results ready for court. In other words: I’m no computer n00b. I am not the Weakest Link in this scenario.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that I can see this same drama playing out again sometime in the near future, I am addicted to this pen and will have to buy another if I can’t get this Echo unstuck.

I’ve tried using apps on my iPad and other devices that say they do similar things, but they fall so short. Like low-fat ice cream, they make LOOK ok, but they’re just not as smooth and enjoyable.

Sigh. Livescribe pens, I wish I knew how to quit you.

Link

Serene Makeover: Inner Edition

6 Apr

Serene Makeover: Inner Edition

Seriously considering ordering this book by A. J. Towne.

Debt free* IS possible, but it isn’t easy

5 Apr

I work in the same room as a person who is debt free* (except for his home). He has five children, a wife who never held a job outside of college, and is an all-around super nice guy. He makes less than me (not counting overtime, which he is able to get, while I am not), but income is not the problem in my case, and I’d imagine that it’s not the REAL problem for most middle-class, college-educated, gainfully employed people. If someone is out of work and can’t find work they’re capable of doing that is sufficient to put food on the table, then the following rambling does not apply to them, and I sincerely wish them the best of luck. I’ve been out of work before. It ain’t easy.

With that being said, and exceptions for folks with catastrophic medical bills and extremely bad luck, being in debt for more than a mortgage seems to stem from a string of short-term missteps which add up to long-term debt slavery.

I’m not exempting myself from this. I drive a 15 year-old car that I love and is very reliable, but before that, I leased cars or bought cars brand-new off the lot. Not a smart financial decision. Nor is it smart to not plan ahead and start saving money for repairs on and eventual replacement of your existing vehicle.

I love gadgets. I love the “new hotness” that comes out, promising the bacon but seldom delivering anything more than sizzle. Many of my friends end up with my “old & busted” technology (that is actually not “busted” at all) that works just fine. My bank account pays the price for my addiction to the “bleeding edge”.

I like to make people feel good by buying them awesome gifts or picking up the check for dinner. This can get out of hand very quickly. A friend who is out of work could certainly use a free “we’re here for ya buddy, pick-me-up” night out on the town, but you certainly don’t have to do it all the time.

And speaking of dining out: The grocery store sells food. Did you know that you can buy that food, take it home, cook/prepare it & eat it, almost always more cheaply than you can find it at a restaurant? Sure, people are busy and going out to eat or stopping at the fast food joint is easier in the short term, but think of all the money you can save if you make dining out a once-in-a-while thing.

College loan debt is the one area where I’m inclined to cut people a lot of slack. We’re told from an early age that education is the key to living the good life, and many are told that they have to pay top dollar and go to the best school at which they can gain admission. This backfires on so many people financially and it’s a shame. I am extremely lucky because my previous employer, that I worked at from the age of 18, offered tuition reimbursement. All I can say on this topic that might help others is: Remember that you can’t get rid of college loan debt, even in bankruptcy. You can hardship defer it, but it’s just re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Eventually, that sucker is going down. Put on your life jacket as early as you can.

Many people have no idea how much debt they’re actually in. Some don’t factor interest into the equation, or they believe that always making on-time credit card payments mean that the bank backing that card will NEVER jack up the interest rate to loan shark-worthy levels (WRONG!). Some seem to be running on the “YOLO!” budget. Yeah, “You Only Live Once”, but do you want that one life to be spent dodging phone calls from creditors, juggling balances between cards & having to steal your kid’s Social Security number to avoid having the power cut off in the house because you’re broke?

Let Me Google That For You – A site to help those who are always “helping”

3 Apr

There is an actual online site named “Let me Google that for you” (lmgtfy.com) that allows you to forward a friendly-yet-snarky, somewhat passive-aggressive link to friends, co-workers and others who COULD have looked things up themselves, but decided it would be easier to bother you.

For example: After being interrupted no less than three times today by the same person at work, who always starts off with “Hey, off the top of your head, do you know…?”, I gave up spending half an hour looking things up for him & simply started forwarding the helpful links provided at lmgtfy.com

In my line of work (Digital Forensics), there is too much information to have instant recall for 90% of it. People in the industry know that they must come up with some kind of organizational system for their notes, whitepapers, research, etc. Or should I say SOME in the industry do. Others are content to let the organized person in the next office/cubicle act as their walking reference manual. It is distracting, annoying and usually completely unecessary. If you’ve looked all over & really can’t find the answer, there’s no harm in asking for a little help. If you didn’t make any effort to find the answer yourself, and you’re relying on others three and four times a day for things you should know, then don’t be surprised when you start receiving links from lmgtfy.com in response to your questions.

Neighbors and Puppies

2 Apr

Puppies are a great way to meet new people. I’ve noticed that neighbors who have seen me as they drove or walked by, but haven’t stopped to say “Hello” are suddenly VERY friendly when I am outside with the puppy. If you’re shy and WANT to meet people, get a puppy. Of couse, if you’re just introverted like me & would rather not be bothered…well, you’ve been warned!

How do you figure out what you REALLY want to do with your life? A Boot Camp might be one answer.

1 Apr

ImageWhen I was in my late 20s, I signed up for a two-week Boot Camp at the CIA. No, not THAT CIA (although that would have been cool, too). The CIA I’m referring to is the Culinary Institute of America. That’s me in the photo, standing on the far left.

Attending the boot camp was a way for me to find out if I wanted to make a living as a professional chef. As it turns out, I didn’t. Way too much standing until my legs shook, burning myself, finding vegetables chock full of bugs, and near-misses of being run through with a blade by someone who turned around unexpectedly with a knife! But the experience got me thinking: Why isn’t there something like this boot camp for EVERY career? It cost me several thousand dollars for the experience, but at the end, I knew that I didn’t want to spend any more time persuing that dream. Can you imagine a world where everyone had the chance to “try out” a career before getting stuck on a fast track (or slow boat) to Nowheres-ville? Even if it cost them money up-front? What’s a few grand compared to five, ten, fifteen years of your LIFE spent climbing the wrong ladder?