Do You Have Any Goals For 2009?

I used to set New Year’s Resolutions. I did about as much with them as many of you. My resolutions usually had to do with losing weight, paying off bills, or finishing college. One year, I decided to only set one resolution each year, and that resolution is more facetious than anything. Each year I set the following resolution:

  • I resolve to continue doing everything the exact same way I did it last year.

That resolution is facetious because I realized the first time I did it, and each year after, that it’s impossible to live up to. Each year we learn and grow and expand our horizons. Our lives and the lives of those around us change each and every year, to the point where after another 365 days, there are many things we’re not doing anymore, or we’re not doing the same anymore.

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Customer Service Redemption

Due to the frustration I went through in May when my cable modem stopped working in my computer room and my seeming inability to get the situation corrected through Comcast’s 1-800 number, I’ve been ranting on my blog about the situation. Last week when I linked the original post, a Comcast representative invited me to email the details of my situation to her. It took me through the Christmas weekend to get the email put together, but when I did, it was sent up to corporate. Corporate scheduled a technician to visit my house and investigate the problem. The tech came, replaced some coax and splitters, and checked the signal strength. I am now able to keep my cable modem and router upstairs in my computer room, safe from the kids and our Borg cat that likes to eat wires. Seriously, we had no lights on our Christmas tree because the cat ate some bulbs and the power cord.

I’ve written before about how smart businesses will monitor the web for negative incidents. I’m glad that Comcast did that. To be honest, as long as my cable modem and TV work, I am perfectly happy to stay with Comcast. There really isn’t a viable alternative to Comcast high-speed internet, but as long as it works I’m happy. I don’t have any complaints about our cable package, which is honestly a very low price. Several years ago we dumped our expanded cable to try to save money. This was right after Joshua was born in 2004, the same time we switched to DSL. After 3 weeks with a newborn baby and only basic cable, our sanity was stretched to the limits. We’d spend Saturday mornings in a half-catatonic state watching those used car commercials. I found out about a $5 value package and asked for that. Our cable and internet bill is under $60 or $70. We don’t at present see a need for a several hundred dollar a month digital package. I don’t watch sports, and as long as I have the History and Discovery Channels and my wife has Food TV and the kids have Nickelodian, we’re happy. I also recently discovered that we have Speed, which was a nice surprise. Maybe I should channel flip more often.

I know that customer service is one of the most expensive and time consuming functions of business, and no business can expect to please everybody. I was very happy to see that Comcast monitors blogs.

University of Phoenix Moves to gmail

I notice that a lot of hits come to my blog from Google searches about the University of Phoenix and gmail. I graduated from UOP in 2007 with a BSIT degree, and I have written several posts about the university. I have no idea if any of my posts are helpful, as nobody ever leaves a comment. For all I know, they click and leave.

This is the information about the UOP accounts on gmail. I notice UOP still manages to come in under the normal requirements. When I was a student, we had an 8 MB (yes, seriously, 8 Megabytes) limit on our email accounts. This included our newsgroup postings. Now they have a 2 GB limit with gmail. That's nice, but my personal gmail account is over 7 GB by now.

I'll have to wait until I get home to set up my account. I might as well. I don't know if I'll take a Master's program from UOP, but as an alumni I should have lifetime access to the online library.

Frugal Dad- Language of the Perpetual Poor

I came across an interesting blog post today. It's been up since April, but I just found it today. I was reading comments on I Will Teach You To Be Rich and found the Frugal Dad blog. I agree with the post, and linking it saves me the trouble of writing my own.

As The Frugal Dad says, there is a difference between the "perpetual poor" and those who are financially hosed due to other circumstances. Dave Ramsey uses the terms "broke" and "poor" as a contrast. Broke is a circumstance while poor is a mindset as Dave puts it.

I grew up listening to my mom telling us that we can't afford basically anything I might have asked for. Of course, there always seemed to be plenty of money when she wanted to take a trip or buy something, but that's another story. My parents never gave me access to their financial statements so I can only go on my perceptions. When I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I came across an interesting mindset. Rather than saying "I can't afford it" you should ask "How can I afford it?" I've taken this a step farther in asking "Is this a wise use of our money at this point in time?" Note that there are some issues with Rich Dad, Poor Dad, but you can read about that here. In any case, I will say that Rich Dad, Poor Dad is dead on about the mindset part of finances.

I have had several jobs I didn't like. With the exception of the Navy which had me under a contract, when I reached the breaking point of not liking a job, I got another one. In the case of my last job, I got a college degree then I got a new job. It was hard work but I had to do it unless I wanted to stagnate there until the contract ran out, which I didn't.

When you find yourself in financial difficulty, there are usually two options: cut expenses or increase your income. One way to increase income is to get a better job. Another is to freelance by offering a skill you have in your spare time. Sometimes you can only cut how much it costs you to live by so much, then you've got to find a way to increase your income. That's what I did when we had Joshua. I was working the swing shift, my wife was on the day shift, and we had no time together. I floated resumes, got a better job, and she was able to come home. Actually, it was more complicated than that. The two guys I worked with told me about a "5 year plan." I sat down to try to figure out where I wanted to be in 5 years, and I realized I did not want to be there in 5 years. That story goes on a lot longer.

If you find yourself constantly swimming upstream with your finances and just can't seem to get ahead, why not stop. Find a quite place and examine your life. Do you find yourself to have a limiting mindset? Do you place more faith in lottery tickets than in your own ability to succeed? Do you read much, or try to improve your skills or develop new ones? By read, I don't mean the mindless motivational fluff like Rich Dad, Poor Dad or Think and Grow Rich. I mean, do you read anything that will teach you something? Do you read books or magazines about your trade? Have you ever talked to your manager about what it will take for you to move up?

There are many cases when we're only prisoners of our own mindsets.

How Would You Like to Live in a Tiny House?

I stumbled across the Tiny House Movement today. Wow. I'm not sure what else to say. I guess I can say good for those who want to live this way, and have achieved that goal. I'm not sure I could do this. My books alone would not fit in that kind of house. It might be fun for a weekend, but my family would have to be in dire straights. Of course, CNN really doesn't explore the issue in this story of how families are doing.

People have a few prime reasons for moving into these tiny houses. One husband and wife had a construction business that went south. Making tiny houses was a way to boost revenue. The other guy didn't like his job and didn't want to be in debt. He lives in a 100 square foot house on $15,000 a year. Most people move into these things to be "green". Well, good for them.

I'm not opposed to doing weird things. My wife is planning to go the entire month of January without spending money, with the exception of gas and tolls. We'll see how it goes. There's no doubt we're going to see some economic changes, and we had all better adapt as they come. I don't think it's wise to overreact though.

My 2009 Productivity/Tech Wishlist

Lifehacker released the wishlists of their contributors for productivity in 2009. Rather than post this in their ever-expanding comment section, I might as well post my ideas here. This is what I would like to see for productivity and general technology in 2009:

  • A production Samsung Epix driver for the Celio Redfly (I found a beta, but it still causes problems on my phone
  • A real smtp fix for Windows Mobile 6.1- the last one didn't fix the problem on my phone
  • Outlook task syncing on the iPhone/iPod Touch
  • Better conflict resolution in Windows Mobile Device Center- stop duplicating everything forcing me to spend hours manually deleting thousands of records
  • Gmail tasks in mobile view and on Google Calendar (this could superceed the Outlook task wish)
  • Since this is a wishlist, I'd love to see my company do a tech refresh on our BlackBerries. The 7130e is, well, old.

I'll probably come back and edit this later if I think of anything else. What would you like to see for productivity and technology in 2009?

Loving Your Tech To Death

While catching up on over 150 blog posts in Google Reader, I came across a post about Loving Your Cellphone to Death. The concept seems a little morbid, but I try to avoid condemning these things. Throughout history, people have been buried with cherished possessions. Consider the ancient Pharaohs, who were buried with wealth and even servants for use in the afterlife.

All I know is that when I die, I honestly don't care what you do with me or my possessions. I once asked my wife that following the Golden Rule, I don't want a funeral procession unless it's done at 6 AM on a Sunday when nobody else is on the road. I've been held up by one too many of those things. One time I was trying to run out to pick up lunch and couldn't get off my street because of a funeral procession that seemed to be endless. Another time I couldn't get off the highway because a seemingly 20 mile long funeral procession was taking up the right lane and I couldn't exit. I'm sure all the people that would show up for my funeral could fit in one car. Consider that my contribution to the non-disruption of traffic and of other people's lives. Hopefully, we won't have to worry about that for a very long time.

OK, all that aside, is there anything YOU want to be buried with? Do you want to take your cellphone with you, or an iPod, or a Bible, or something else?

Merry Christmas

My wife told me that my blog has taken a negative tone lately. She's probably right. I'm thrilled that she's been reading it. For today, let's feel hope and joy.

Isaiah 7: [10]  Moreover the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, [11]  “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.” [12]  But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!” [13]  Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? [14]  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. *

Luke 2:[8]  Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. [9]  And behold, * an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. [10]  Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. [11]  “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. [12]  “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” [13]  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

[14]  “Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” *

[15]  So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” [16]  And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. [17]  Now when they had seen Him, they made widely * known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. [18]  And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. [19]  But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. [20]  Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

(All Scriptures taken from the New King James version of the Bible, from PocketBible for Windows by Laridian Software).

Merry Christmas to all! Joy to the world!

As always, those of you who so prefer may have a wonderful non-specific cultural observance.

I don't have one of those silly iTunes blog plug ins, but this post was written with Trans Siberian Orchestra's Christmas Cannon Rock playing in the background.

What Christmas Traditions Do You Have?

Assuming you observe Christmas (if you don't, I assume you would skip this post), do you have any favorite traditions?

Growing up, we always got to open one present on Christmas Eve, before bed. Then on Christmas Day, we'd get up for hot chocolate and open our stocking presents. Then we'd have breakfast and open the rest of the presents. We always had a "manager", normally my mom since she knew what everybody was getting, who made sure that everybody had a present ready to open. One person would open a present while everybody would watch. We'd take turns. Being a small family, it stopped after that. Sometime around 10 or 11, we'd be done, and that was the end of Christmas. For a few years we'd eat lunch at the base mess hall, since they had a good spread. My mom was cheap and didn't like to cook or clean up, so that was a real bargain for her. We never had dinner, since my mom didn't like to eat after lunch. Seriously, some Christmas dinners consisted of sandwiches since my dad, my brother, and I all had bodies that enjoyed some sort of evening norishment. Normally after we finished opening presents we'd just take our presents back to our rooms to play with, then call friends and see what everybody else got.

Contrast that to today, sharing Christmas with my wife's family, and those were the good old lazy days. Today, Christmas is a whirlwind of activity and appointments. Last year, Christmas ended up in 4 locations! That was a lot of driving.

In my wife's family, everything starts on Christmas Eve with the 7 Fish Feast. As I understand it, this is an Italian tradition. This is normally held at the fire hall, as it encompasses the whole extended family plus friends. It gets pretty large. I don't think there are 7 actual fish, but there are fillets and shrimp and scallops and pasta and wine. That's good enough for me! In previous years, I tried to take Christmas Eve off when possible, but I'm new on the job and don't have a big vacation balance built up, so after work today, I have to drive from Philadelphia to home, then down to my in-laws' house, then to the fire hall. I expect a lot of traffic. I always preferred to just get to my in-laws' around noon and sit there all afternoon to avoid traffic, but that's not an option this year.

After that, we go home. In the last two years, we were afraid that the kids would fall asleep in the car so we had to stay at the fire hall until about 8 PM so we could put them in their pajamas and nighttime diapers and let them fall asleep in the car. This year the kids are a little older (3 and 4), so we could probably leave around 7 without fear.

Christmas Day we wake up the kids and go to open presents. My wife makes hot chocolate (I need my coffee too) and we usually eat a Stollen when we can find one. We can't dawdle, because around 10 or 11, we have to be at one of my wife's aunts', uncles', or cousin's houses for the more immediate family. There we eat leftovers from the 7 fish feast and exchange presents. One day I might start tracking how many candles get regifted from year to year. After that ends, we head to the in-laws' house for more presents, then hang out there until dinner. After dinner, I have to load all of our stuff in the car, and for some reason in New Jersey the weather likes to give me a cold rain right about this time. Then we go home.

Last year varied. After leaving the immediate family, we went to the in-laws' for the afternoon. Then my wife's sister wanted to host dinner, so we drove over there. For some reason, my wife was sick, so I had to leave to drive her back to our house, then go back to attend to the kids. I remember that the heat was cranked all the way up, about one setting below "Christmas in August". When I sat down to dinner, I was asked what I wanted to drink. The coldest thing in the house was beer, so I asked for beer. I still look back at the irony that I drank a beer at Christmas dinner, not to drink beer, but to keep myself cool. Seriously, it was hot in there, and honestly, the beer helped because I also had to attend to both kids.

Unfortunately, when Christmas falls on a Sunday, the running around precludes church attendance.

This year, hopefully things will be simpler. We're doing Christmas dinner at our house, so we'll get up, open presents, to to cousin's, come back home, open more presents, then have dinner. Of course, the trade off in driving is cleaning up. I'm not spared from having to load presents in and out of the car in the cold rain, because we brought ALL of the presents, like for everybody in the family, home on Sunday night, when it was really cold.

Merry Christmas, or happy unspecific cultural observance, whichever you prefer.

How Do You Treat the Santa Discussion?

Note: Windows Live Writer crashed, and I'm using TypePad's WYSIWYG client. This post published yesterday when I tried to save it as a draft, so if you saw this in an RSS reader in it's unfinished state, that's why.

Note2: Merry Christmas!

Growing up, my mom was adamant though that we understand that "Santa is pretend." You would be surprised at the trouble that got us into. My dad was career Air Force. When I was about 5, he brought me to work with him. He was an E-5 at the time. His E-7 started asking me about Santa Claus. I responded as my mom taught me "Santa is pretend." This (I must use strong language) SON OF A BITCH started yelling at me and demanding that I for whatever reason believe Santa is real. This exchange brought me to tears as I had no idea at the time what I could have done to make this SON OF A BITCH angry with me. I have no idea what his problem was. What kind of low-life SON OF A BITCH makes a 5 year old boy cry over SANTA CLAUS? I imagine a person like that lives in a trailer park and spends his military retirement pay on lottery tickets and cheap beer (I think far less of lottery tickets than I do trailer parks and cheap beer. I can see a use in life for trailer parks and cheap beer). Even more disturbing was my dad's lack of a reaction, although to this day my dad remains impressed at how I stood my ground against his idiot supervisor. I realize that in the late 70's, E-5's didn't start chewing out their superior non-comms, even if they were idiots. I still can't see myself putting up with that kind of crap if somebody tried that with my boys. I don't think I'd stand for it even if that person had the ability to ruin my career unchecked like the E-7's my dad always seemed to work under. When I was an E-5 in the Navy, I let loose on E-7's over lesser stupidity than that, but I guess things changed a little in my generation. I grew up watching my dad come home frustrated at the stupidity that he worked around, but without the courage to speak up about it. I guess in his generation, you just didn't tell your boss when you disagreed; you saved up your frustrations until you got home and shared them with your family in various non-constructive ways. I decided I wasn't going to live like that. 

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