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Archive for June, 2009

June net worth sadness

June 30th, 2009 at 07:36 pm

I update my net worth on a monthly basis, and unfortunately, this month has not been kind. My net worth noticeably went down, largely because of the choppy market, and to a smaller extent, the fact that I haven't been as frugal as I can be....

But I suppose that's an important rite of passage or something eh? Like some kind of tipping point to experience the market affecting me as much as my own income does.... It's been said that, one day, your portfolio's performance will be much more important than your contributions, but... we'll see.

On the personal front, I am slowly but surely rebuilding my emergency fund. I really do hate it when it runs low. July is slated to be the Month of the Emergency Fund. I'm going to stuff it with as much cash as I can... and use as little power to stay cool as I can. Big Grin

My ex is... interesting

June 30th, 2009 at 01:18 am

Back before I even arrived and started a blog here at SA, I kept in touch with a friend of my ex-wife, who at the time was worried about how my ex-wife is neglecting the children in order to run off to the ski slopes with her boyfriend whom she had an affair with.

Before I continue, I just want to say up front that, ex's friend, if you are reading this, I am not upset with you guys. Thank you for doing what you can to help my kids and trying to somehow keep my ex and I together.... While I'm at it, I do not bare ANY ill will towards you guys. I hope the family is doing fine, and in an ideal world, we could all still be friends....

Anyways I confronted my ex about leaving the children alone, obviously, because this sort of negligence clearly could not be allowed. Besides, I would hate to have law enforcement and social services find out. Yikes!

But instead of her being seen as a negligent mother, she wanted all of them to see what an awful and abusive man that I am. And that's why she had "no choice" but to leave me... and they need to stop associating with me.

Now, am I a wonderful human being who is without sin and who has done no wrong? No. Far from it. In fact, I've gone into much detail privately with some of you about just how bad I was. And I've been sorry and paying for those mistakes ever since. EVER SINCE.

But despite the fact that, I was in reality, provoked each and every time, and despite my apologies, and despite my sincerest efforts to work things out, my ex's only objective was to push all the wrong buttons at the wrong time in order to get me upset enough to record it on the phone, and show it to all of her friends what a bad person that I am. Thus proving her case about her being an abuse victim and me the evil monster.

And she got it. One night, she got me so mad that I said, "Damn you, Angel! I'm going to kill you!" over the phone. Of course, I didn't mean any of it, and certainly not literally. I was just so tired and agitated by her poking at me for nearly a week that the outburst finally came out. She knew that. I knew that. But no one else did. All they heard was me making a threat, because that's all she played.

That really, really hurt me, by the way. Because despite my terrible outburst, I thought the entire time, we were arguing because we were trying to sort our issues out and patch things up. At least, I really was trying....

But when I learned what had happened instead, I was so... heart-broken. I literally broke into tiny pieces. I had to stop talking to her, and except for work, I laid in the bed the entire time, in my depression and confusion, wondering what's going on and what I am suppose to do now....

And that's when I had to swallow that large, bitter pill of reality... that NO, my ex doesn't want to work things out. And that I had no choice but to prepare for divorce, because that's where she was taking it whether I liked it or not.

Now, I realize that every story has two sides, but assuming that I am telling the truth-- and I am telling the truth-- can you see the sort of personality I have to deal with? A woman that isn't interested in the truth, or what's right or wrong. Rather, like her own mother, she is convinced that she is always the victim, and if the world can't see that, it's only because they don't understand her position yet, and therefore, she has to try harder to explain or manipulate it until we all see her side.

So, why am I mentioning all this now? Because she hasn't changed... at all. She still does this! And it's difficult for me to talk about it here because she and many on her side knows my blog here. And sadly, that gives her an insight into me to work with.

And now you know the real reason why I deleted my blog earlier. Because, among other things, I was sick and tired of her doing that. Plus, because I know of this, I could never be completely free and open with what kind of information I share on here, because I always have to wonder just how she is going to use it against me. That's also why I've contemplated leaving this community before, even though you guys have been extremely supportive and understanding....

But all of this shenanigance gets tiring, you know? And not only that, if things don't work out in her favor, she'll just pretend none of it exists and wait a while... so that it can be forgotten. Somehow that makes it OK for her to lie to me and screw me. Repeatedly. And if I ever bring it up, it's because "Oh, it's Tim's anger thing again. That's why he can't let it go." Ugh.

I'm sorry, but my ex really bugs me. Not all women are like this, are they? Please tell me they're not, or should I just give up and be a monk for the rest of my life?

PocketMoney

June 29th, 2009 at 02:54 pm

Just wanted to make a quick blurb about the software PocketMoney for the iPod Touch.

There are plenty of personal finance software out there, even for mobile devices. However, most only one of two things: Track transactions or Budgeting. Very few actually do both (without some kind of workaround), and in my opinion, none does it as seamlessly as PocketMoney.

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say, so here's a screenshot of PocketMoney's budget section:


Maybe I'm just easy to amuse, but what you are seeing here is a very big deal! In just one screen, you can see your entire budget in detail with the numerical form, and at the same time, you can also quick glance it with the graphical form! A little busy? Yeah, but it's not so bad.

Also, functionally, PocketMoney updates both the transactions AND budgeting, at the same time, and you only have to enter the information once! It's hard to explain what a delight this is unless you yourself have struggled through half a dozen other financial software out there....

However, PocketMoney isn't the most intuitive software out there. I suppose that's the downside to having a software with so many features. That and I am crossing my fingers that it doesn't have any serious bugs. You see, for years, I've used the Palm version of PocketMoney, and I've never had any crashes or bugs with it!

When I transitioned to the iPod Touch, I decided to give Splashmoney a try. It worked for a while, but eventually ran into bugs and crashes. I don't know if it's the hardware, the OS, or the application that's causing it, but that's what got me returning to PocketMoney.

Best of all, PocketMoney is on sale right now! 60% off! I don't remember how much that is. I think it's about $3-4 dollars, and that to me is a ridiculously cheap price for what it's capable of doing for your financial life.

Anyways, I'm rambling, but if you have an iPod Touch, and you're looking for a powerful piece of software to manage your money, give PocketMoney a try.

The gong show

June 25th, 2009 at 01:19 pm

Anybody ever been to a Mongolian grill? They usually have a gong you can ring if want to.

I rang the gong once. Let me repeat this again so everybody is clear on this for later: I rang the gong once. I only did it because I've never rang it before.

Truth to tell, it wasn't all that exciting for me. No balloons or party favors. No flashy models coming out with large, glossy printout of a check for obscene sums that I can squander in conspicuous consumption. No magical revelations on a higher sense of purpose or finding inner peace. It was good for a cheap laugh, and that was it.

Fast forward to the last time I was at the Mongolian grill, and while waiting for my food to cook, a guy standing next to me asked, "You going to ring the gong?"

"No", I replied.

"Why not?", he inquired.

"Why not?", I repeated in cock-eyed bewilderment, wondering why he feels the need to ask why, "Because I don't want to?"

"Why don't you want to? You can ring it for any reason."

Now I'm wide-eyed flabbergasted.

"Uh look. I just don't want to, ok? I don't see the big deal."

"I'm going to ring it.", he retorted, "You gotta live a little you know? It may not seem like a big deal, but sometimes... it's like what these signs they've hung up say. You've got to go out and ring that gong in life."

Ok, now I'm irritated. Maybe he's drunk or just trying to have a friendly banter. Maybe I'm taking it too personally. I don't know, but by this point I was most definitely NOT going to ring the gong, just because I think he implied that I am a less of a man because I refused to go out and grab life by the mallet or something.

I turned around and silently waited for my food to finish cooking. His finished before mine, and he rang the gong before he left. He rang it, all the while intently staring at me, as if to say, "See? You are going to live a sad little gongless life, but I am a big, virile man who is going to live a life full of purpose, and gongs, and prosperity, and women, and gongs. Because I rang the gong and you didn't."

Now, I can't say that he doesn't have a point. Sometimes, you do have to get out there and experience life so to speak. But that's not what bugs me about all this. What bugs me is that:

1. He assumed I never rang the gong.
2. He assumed that ringing the gong is inherently better than not ringing the gong.
3. I think he assumed that my refusal to ring the gong is an outer confirmation of my refusal or perhaps even inability to go out and experience life to the fullest.

Again, here is why I didn't ring the gong:

1. He irritated me.
2. I've rang the gong before. It's over-rated.
3. The gong itself is not a life lesson. Sometimes? It's just a gong. Or, maybe it is. Maybe it illustrates the fallacy of reading too much into a percussion instrument. Maybe it illustrates the fallacy of passing judgment. Maybe it even illustrates the fallacy of a superiority complex.

Life isn't just about what you say and do, but it's also about what you don't say and don't do as well. There is wisdom in saying what needs to be said and doing what needs to be done, but there is also wisdom in not saying what should not be said, and not doing what should not be done. There is also wisdom in knowing which is which.

Frugality is actually a perfect example of this. We don't go out and spend our time, energy, and money doing everything. But that's because we are selective about what matters to us. We go without on so many things that ultimately doesn't matter to us so that we can focus on the things that do. To me, that's the true essence of a gongful er meaningful life.

Hmm what? No, I do not have little gong syndrome thankyouverymuch. Big Grin

The upside of being single

June 23rd, 2009 at 03:42 pm

So uh, I suppose there are more singles here than I previously imagined. Benny was lamenting about being single, and the truth is, I'm right there with him.

But, while there obvious downsides to being single, I thought I'd focus on the upsides of being single today. Because... having been married once, I can tell you there are some definite upsides.

The biggest thing is cost, especially if you are with someone who is spendy. Even worse if you are with someone who is a shallow gold-digger. Need I say more?

Another huge advantage is that you don't have to argue about money. Do I need to put in that bold? Because, that is a really big deal.

The other thing is that all of your money is focused on you. Yeah, maybe that sounds shallow, but then, we are also single. Someday, we may find that special someone that is well-worth every penny, but until then, it sure is nice to be able to spend it mostly on yourself.

I also think that single life is more "productive". Well, maybe this point is arguable, but my financial progress has advanced much, much more quickly since I've been single. Then again, I was also with someone who was spendy. Perhaps this is an issue of finding someone who is on the same financial page as yourself, but being single, the issue is also moot. We get to move as fast as we want, without anyone else to slow us down.

This one may be a guy thing, but guys are... typically reluctant to settle down. Some prefer the um freedom of bachelor life. So, if you're a guy and you're single, maybe that's a good thing.

Speaking of the bachelor life, a friend of mine sometimes use the escort service and go to strip clubs. Now, while I look down on such things and personally avoid them like the plague, we calculated all the money he has ever spent on it... and found out that it was still considerbly cheaper than me getting married! Even if he increased this habit to every weekend, it was still cheaper! By far!

Let me say this again: I don't believe in strip clubs and escort services. Not just in terms of cost, because they're still expensive, but in principle as well. Still, from a numbers point of view, I find it deeply ironic that this friend of mine came out financially "ahead" compared to me when I was married.

Well, that's all I can think of right now. Can you think of any other upsides? Yeah, I know being single sucks sometimes. But... if we must live it, we might as well make the best of it.

The dangers of knowing too much

June 22nd, 2009 at 01:53 pm

I don't believe that ignorance is bliss, but sometimes, I do believe there is danger in knowing too much.

In this particular case, oil prices is finally falling, and I am SO tempted to sell off my one energy stock (Conoco Philips).

The only problem is that it is being held in my buy-and-hold account, not the trading account. And what are we suppose to do in our buy-and-hold account? That's right, buy-and-hold. Besides, I don't really know what will happen to oil prices into the future.

But that's not the problem. The problem is I know the stock performance on a daily basis. And that's dangerous, because watching it fall, it tempts me to sell. So, from this point forward, I'm going to hide my buy-and-hold account tickers so I don't see it regularly anymore.

Welcome to my exciting world.

Sweltering summer quickies

June 19th, 2009 at 07:34 pm

Netflix
I finally signed up for Netflix. I knew that this on-demand viewing was the "wave of the future", but I had no idea that it was as sophisticated as it is! Seriously, Netflix has made at least 5 seemingly good recommendations to me!

The downside is that it does add an extra monthly expense to my budget. That alone has been the reason why I've delayed Netflix for so long. The upside is that it helps me keep me off the streets, and not roll with the bad crowds. That's good right? Big Grin

Heat
The heat is ridiculous. The room AC, so far, has only been able to cool off half of my room, but frankly, that's enough for me... because that's the side where I sit. Big Grin Hopefully, the energy savings will be significant for the next billing cycle.

FireCalc
This is my current FireCalc projection. Frown



Of course, FireCalc is just a rudimentary Monte Carlo Simulator, and it's based on my current numbers, like... if I am attempting to retire right now, instead of some made-up projected number that I am expecting later on. I know that's not using it quite right, but I wanted to know where I stand right now, and that's as good of an answer as any.

On the upside, there's still plenty of time for things to improve (or muck up), so I'm not reading too much into it.

Blah
This may not be entirely financially-related, but although I am "only" 35, I am beginning to have those... thoughts. You know, the ones about, "Where I am? How did I get here? Where am I going?" thoughts. And I have to say, I'm honestly not all that happy with the answers to any of those kinds of questions.

Well, whatever happens to me, all I can do is the best that I can right? I also think that I'm going to be single for the rest of my life. I shouldn't say that because, when I was single, I never thought that I'd actually get married, and when I was married, I never thought that I'd actually get divorced. So, life is full of surprises, I suppose, but I don't know... I'm getting older. And I am beginning to wonder why anybody would want to put up with a guy like me.

Sorry to sound so down, but that's how I feel right now anyways.

And to be perfectly honest? I'm not sure if it would be an entirely bad thing to stay single. Yeah, I mean, secretly, everybody wants to find their "soulmate", but for all practical purposes, I don't have it that bad at all. So, I really can't complain....

I don't know, just rambling. Big Grin

Now and then

June 17th, 2009 at 07:32 pm

Although I don't have the details on this one, another popular Samurai lore is that a Samurai with a stick would hide behind a doorway, and strike other passing Samurais to quickly test their abilities.

An unskilled Samurai would be struck by the surprise attack. A skilled Samurai would be able to successfully deflect such an attack. But a Samurai who displays mastery in their skills... should be able to "sense it" and not step through the door at all.

The lore is so popular, it was even shown in Akira Kurosawa's famous movie, "The Seven Samurai".



In any case, the point of this illustration is that a skilled swordsman is able to anticipate in advance, not just respond, much less become a victim of a surprise attack.

The moral of the story is,"Foresight and preparation are the keys to the gate of success."

...I should get a job writing fortune cookies. Big Grin Anyway, it's the eastern equivalent of "An ounce of prevention is a pound of cure."

And this is exactly why it's so important to have a sense of personal finance. Not just because it's to live life now, but also to be able to anticipate and prepare for future needs and potential problems ahead.

And this is also why I get funny looks from my friends when I tell them that I currently don't have enough (money). Because, from their point of view, they think I have it made. In the context of only the present, yes, I suppose I am doing well... for now. However, in the context of anticipating future needs, I am FAR from ready.

Now, as you are sitting and reading this, you may be nodding, "Yes BA. I get what you're saying, but... isn't this kind of obvious?" Funny, I thought so too. And yet, from other people's perspective, they think I'm being paranoid or greedy or some other negative connotation.

To me, to be able to foresee the future need of a house downpayment some day, for example, doesn't exactly qualify as paranoia or greed.

In all things in life, I strive to be that smart Samurai. The one who sees two steps ahead, and doesn't have a giant bruise on their forehead. Because... bruises hurt. Big Grin And so do financial pitfalls.

Century of the Self

June 17th, 2009 at 02:41 pm

I just got referred to a BBC documentary that shows what could be the harbinger of American consumerism.

Truth to the tell, the documentary is a little slow, but it's interesting nonetheless. In a nutshell, it shows the transition between appealing to the intellect and selling on need, to appealing to the emotions and selling on want.

Now, I'll be honest with you. I'm no different. My sense of want and my emotions still factor into some of my purchases. However, I suppose recognizing the problem is the first step to recovery, and that first big step is to realize exactly how they are selling to you.

Extreme homes

June 16th, 2009 at 02:54 am

But maybe not in a good way.... Big Grin

So, a commentator from an earlier post got me thinking about what could possibly be done about my living situation, which is without a doubt, the biggest expense I will be facing into the near future.

Short of finding a livable closet from an eccentric landlord for a low monthly rent, I'm guessing buying is the next option.

You know, the internet really is an endless source of fascination. For example, Bargaineering muses upon the question of "How much house can $10,000 buy?"

While we're at it, Tiny House Blog is a good stop for all things tiny and quasi-livable. I say that because some entries are nothing more than over-sized sheds, although some don't seem half bad. For example, what do you think of this one? Here's another interesting one.

And yes, I've looked into trailers, RVs, and houseboats. For the price they want, I might as well be looking at a small, fixed, land-based dwelling. That said, I must say that the idea of a houseboat is not without its appeals.

Still, the exercise comes down to finding a way to keep my future housing cost down, and realistically, it still looks like a condo for a $100k. Frown

Well, OK, there is one other option: The DIY path. I wonder if there is a blue-print I can buy for this little number? Big Grin

Electric summer

June 12th, 2009 at 04:49 pm

Finally got my electric bill for last month. This month is of particular interest to me because I am running mostly on my room air conditioner rather than central cooling.

To recap, I spend most of my time at home in basically one room, and it seems like a waste to cool an entire house that includes the dining room, living room, kitchen, two other bedrooms, and two other bathrooms that I am not using. (Except the kitchen, but you know what I mean.)

Plus, the central AC has been on the fritz. It's good thing that I know an HVAC guy whom I have a good rapport with. He did patch it up, but he also said that, ultimately, that unit needs to be replaced, or it's going to keep failing. Hence my decision to go with a room AC.

So, how much did last month's electric bill cost me? $42.85!

That's actually pretty amazing compared to last year, which was $71.13, and the year before, which was $60.83!

This is despite the fact that my electric usage has increased because I am also running a new, power-hungry PC and speakers now.

So, was the room AC a good investment in the end? I guess it depends on how you look at it. If this was to replace a working central AC, my quick napkin calculation shows that it would take roughly 5 years before I can break even from the upfront cost of the buying the room air conditioner.

However, because the central AC unit is failing, and replacing that would cost roughly $3000, I think this really is the best investment for me.

And that's far better than the alternatives that I may have um entertained....

Biting my tongue

June 10th, 2009 at 12:27 am

Once in a long while, you run into someone who is an "internet troll". Someone who will post things that are inflammatory, whether they realize it or not. Trolls love provoking people. It's what they do. It's what helps them sleep at night, and it's what gives them that morning glow when they wake up.

Well, in the past few days, I just realized that I ran into one of the most infamous trolls in the internet world of investing. I'm not going to mention any names or relevant details because, to be honest, I don't want him to Google this stuff and find me here. Big Grin

Perhaps it sounds like a cop out, but seriously, this guy has been AROUND. Morningstar, Diehards, Motley Fools, you name it. Anywhere and everywhere, he'll pick fights about how his position is right and no one else is, and when he gets banned, he'll gripe about it on his website, about how everybody would rather enjoy their ignorant bliss rather than hear his prophetic truth.

So, what do you do when you are directly confronted and provoked by a world class celebrity internet troll?

After carefully considering the situation, I've decided that I'm going to literally bite my tongue and stick my head in the sand. Yep! I never thought there would ever an occasion where sticking your head in the sand is a good idea, but here it is!



So! Let's, uh, talk about something else, eh? Right, sooo, who here has Netflix? Because I'm beginning to think that maybe I should subscribe to it. In particular, does anyone use Netflix's Blu-ray? Do they cost the same as DVD rentals?

Punny

June 9th, 2009 at 01:02 pm

1. The roundest knight at King Arthur's Round Table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
3. She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.
4. A rubber band pistol was confiscated in an algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.
5. The butcher backed into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.
6. No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.
7. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.
8. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.
9. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
10. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
11. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.
12. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
13. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other, "You stay here, I'll go on a head."
14. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.
15. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said, "Keep off the Grass."
16. A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to a hospital. When his grandmother telephoned to ask how he was, a nurse said, "No change yet."
17. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.
19. The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.
20. The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
21 A backward poet writes inverse.
22. In a democracy, it's your vote that counts. In feudalism, it's your count that votes.
23. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.
24. Don't join dangerous cults, practice safe sects!

(Courtesy of Pioneer Woman)

I heart my PC

June 5th, 2009 at 01:21 pm

A friend of mine decided to upgrade his PC as well, and since I recently built mine, he was asking me for pictures. I didn't see how pictures of my PC would actually help him, but since he's a very good friend of mine, I was happy to oblige.

And since I have the pics handy, I thought I might as well share it here as well....

But before I do, I just want to emphasize that, despite the extravagance, I've done everything possible to keep costs down on my rig without compromising quality.

* The AV receiver and speakers were a bundle deal from Sears of all places.

* The HDTV is actually advertised and sold as a computer monitor, but it IS a fully-capable HDTV and is absolutely one of the cheapest in its class! In fact, I think it's one of the best kept secrets in Best Buy, if you don't mind the relatively small screen size.

* And finally, I won't say I took the cheapest route with the PC, but I did try to keep costs down. The overall specs are considered average by today's standards, but it can do everything I can ask for and that's more than enough for me.

Also, all of the parts were bought with scalability in mind, so upgrading shouldn't cost as much into the future.

With that in mind, here are the pictures:







I'm sure I'm biased, but I think my set up is actually slightly better than some (but not most) movie theaters! Of course, the ideal seating is only for one person, but that actually helps a lot when it comes to minimizing costs.

Just the same, a part of me feels bad for spending all this money. Suffice to say, I'm done buying stuff I don't need for a very long time!

It is what it is

June 4th, 2009 at 05:47 am

Sometimes, I get kind of down when I think about all the things that I feel like I should have accomplished by now, or that I should be smarter somehow, or make more money.... I don't feel very smart, or rich, or accomplished....

That's why I have to remind myself sometimes that "It is what it is." Sometimes, I just don't know what else to say other than that. I'm not Superman. I'm just a regular guy.

But then, maybe my mistake here is that I am blogging close to 1:30am in the morning. Big Grin It's hard not to feel small when I am tired and sleepy. I feel like my life can never quite seem to come together, no matter how hard and how much I try.

Um, I guess I am rambling. Big Grin But I am also learning to try to look at things on the bright side. The bright side is that my life really has hit a nice stride right now. Sure, it isn't perfect or without its concerns (especially with this economy), but... as my blog subtitle clearly states, "It Could Be Worse"....

I was in the grocery store earlier today, and there was this really obese man in a wheelchair, who couldn't reach the two bottles of Gatorade off the second to the top shelf. So he had to ask me to get it for him, which I effortlessly walked over and grabbed for him. As he turned around and rolled off, I couldn't help but think, "Wow, I can't imagine living like that. Being so big that it would be a challenge to even get out the house and go shopping, and I would also have to be confined to a wheelchair."

So... my life isn't perfect. But! It is what it is, and it could be worse. Sigh. I'm relieved, and yet.... I don't know. Ever look up at the faint blinking stars on a balmy summer night, wishing your life can get better somehow? Only to wake up the next day, back to the grindstone under the hot glaring sun, wondering if this is going to be all there is to it?

But, maybe that's not a bad thing. I do need to be more financially secure though. Then, maybe I can live my life, like this. With it being what it is right now. The truth is, I haven't been actually "happy", or close to it, until more recently. It seems to be a gradual, incremental thing for me. I think having this new PC helped a lot. You kind of have to understand that, until the past several years, I've always had a PC. I don't have any particular emotional attachments to machines or anything, but to me, it's always been my window to the world. It informs me and entertains me. It cheers me up when I am feeling down, and helps me keep in touch with people who matters to me.

Speaking of PCs, have you guys ever seen that crazy Intel commercial about the co-inventor of USB? If not, click here and see for yourself. I think it's hilarious. Bonus geek points if you can tell me what's "wrong" with the commercial though. (Yes, you can look it up if you want. It's not a test.)

Well, perhaps that's a good, high note to stop my rambling. Big Grin

TV and cellphone

June 2nd, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Did the over-the-air digital mandate finally go into effect? I noticed that I completely lost my one analog channel. Decided to completely rescan, but still ended up with only 3 good channels. Oh well, I can't complain since it's free.

Wow, I had to double check this month's phone usage, because I really thought I made a mistake somewhere. But... apparently not. I used only $1.67 worth of minutes! I guess this makes sense because most of my conversations were through email. This pre-pay arrangement is really working out nicely for me!

Koans

June 1st, 2009 at 01:08 pm

There is an interesting eastern parable I've read once that, despite its arcane nature, has always stuck with me. As far as I know, it's based on a true story that's been passed down in oral tradition.

But before I start, perhaps I should explain what a koan is. A koan is a question, riddle, or parable with a moral lesson or answer of sorts. However, unlike western parables, it doesn't tell you what the lesson is. You are suppose to figure it out on their own, but by doing so, it helps to guide you closer and closer towards enlightenment.

A famous example of a (beginner) koan is, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" For fun, would anyone like to take a stab at it?

So, as you can imagine, koans can be quite challenging. Some monks will meditate on it for years before they realize what the "answer" is suppose to be. As such, it also takes masters decades to craft one to pass on to future generations....

And that's why, in the days of ancient Japan, a remarkable rumor started to spread throughout the countryside. A young, traveling writer of sorts has been been dazzling people, and stumping monks, with his own koans! Many respectable monks have heard his koans only to excuse themselves without a further single word.

An eccentric monk by the name of Shosan heard about this, and urged by his fellow monks, they decided to go visit him.

He asked the writer to recite one of his koans. Happy to oblige, he does so. As he is doing so, Shosan pushes the writer. The writer is confused by this action. Shosan then calmly states, "Please continue." Perplexed, the writer continues to recite his koan, and Shosan pushes him again. The writer yells, "Why did you do that?" "Your koan?", Shosan replies. Cautiously, the writer attempts to finish his koan. But as he tries to do so, Shosan jumps him and starts thrashing him. His fellow monks jumps in to restrain Shosan.

As Shosan is dragged away, he yells, "Beginners should not write their own koans!"

Get it? Yes, Shosan was one crazy monk. But besides that, the real reason why other monks couldn't seem to grasp his koans, and the real reason why they ultimately had to excuse themselves was because there was nothing there to get. The writer was a fraud who was self-deluded into thinking that he was on to something, and therefore, he was better than everybody else.

And in his self-aggrandized ignorance, he also failed to realize that he managed to insult and belittle a very sacred institution in Zen Buddhism. To monks, koans aren't stuff we read and giggle about in a fortune cookie. Rather, it's more like me coming along and claiming that I have written my own Bible, Torah, or the Qu'ran.

Throughout my life, that story has always stuck with me. It has kept me humble (believe it or not Big Grin), and made me question everything in my life... but in a good way! Whenever I start to get too smug and think that I've got something all figured out, I would stop and ask myself, "Am I writing my own koan?" Do I really have it all figured out, or have I only deluded myself into thinking that?

Although I learned of this story through martial arts training, as you can tell, this parable applies to everything else in life as well, including personal finance. Is there a reason why I am bringing this up? Maybe. Big Grin But first, what IS the sound of one hand clapping?