Friday, March 30, 2007

This is Your Financial Wellbeing

I can think of a lot of people who need the paper cup explanation of money management.

(Also, I like the random box in the supermarket that I swear says "Whales.")

The quality of the video isn't great. But the quality of the lesson with the paper cup is priceless.

Monday, March 26, 2007

I am useful!

My butt may be getting more sleep than I am (my apartment contains one metal chair and one deflated air mattress, so my butt is sleeping like a narcoleptic on downers), but today I was finally able to pitch in at work. Since I've spent the first few weeks at my new job being introduced to dozens of new people in morning and afternoon lightning rounds and then sitting in training, I was beginning to think that I was completely useless. But no, it is not the case. I can find reports. I can explain the German abbreviations for debit and credit. I can show people how to figure out what those funny new strings of numbers mean. I can save a variant. I can retrieve it for you when you forget that we saved it (again).

And when I accidentally wipe out your entire payroll transaction, I can re-enter it for you in FIVE minutes. Yeah, I know. Whoopsy daisy. But still, I believe I netted out to positive usefulness today. It feels good. And makes me sleepy.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Real Estate (or should I say Fictional Estate)

So I'm trying to sell my townhome. When it had been on the market for eleven days, someone offered me $40k less than the asking price for it. They offered us this verbally, and my agent said, verbally, in terms that I thought were much too polite, that the offer was, "too low." I don't want to go into numbers, but if Target has a sale like that, the damn thing is on clearance. Real clearance, with the little red price sticker.

I know it's a buyer's market, but you do still have to pay for property. I'm a motivated seller, but I'm not, like, wanted by the law. I'm not on a slow boat to Panama. I'm motivated, not at gunpoint. Nonetheless, these people wrote up a formal offer and sent it to us, telling us that we had something like eight hours to respond.

I don't know if you've ever done the whole offer/counteroffer thing, but it involves signing a whole bunch of paperwork and, if you happen to live in a different state than your real estate, a whole lot of faxing. So I just paid $25 and spent a Saturday in a public fax shop to put together a counteroffer to this clearly fantastic insult of an "offer."

Today the agent phoned my agent and said that they wanted to put in a counteroffer for $39,999.99 less than the asking price just to prove to us how rude we were for wasting their time. Wow. Okay. Because we told you before you went and did the formal offer that there did not appear to be any way we could come to an agreement. I think my agent suggested to your agent that forclosures might be a good place to look for the kind of deal your client wanted. But we wasted your time.

Oh, crap--I promised that the blog would be 30% less bitter, didn't I? Ummmm. Okay, give me a second.

But every cloud has a silver lining. For one thing, the nasty bad people were so insulted that they are never going to darken my doorstep, inbox, or voicemail again. And for another thing, today my agent showed my little townhouse to a woman and her dad, and they loved it. They even complimented the two-story purple wall extensively. They sound so damn adorable that I'm thinking of coming down on my price. Because along with my bitter, bitter attitude, I have a soft spot for people who like purple. And because that whole saying about how you catch more flies with honey? So true.

(Wait, am I a FLY in that metaphor? I have got to buy some beer before I blog again.)

Finally, a movie I can get excited about

I pretty much assume I'll be disappointed by movies made out of books I love. History is on my side. "Marathon Man" is just not the experience it should be--there's absolutely no sense of the main character's transformation--the astonishing evolution that makes the book so thrilling. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" was just a mess, despite the inspired casting. Don't get me started on "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (but I bet Bram Stoker would like his name taken off of it) or "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" (Ken Branagh's getting two demerits here--dude, what were you thinking?).

There are good ones--I'm not saying there aren't. "The Princess Bride," while it doesn't capture my favorite bits (I'm a sucker for a bitter romance, what can I say, and the book's flavor is a little more pleasantly tart), is definitely a good film and true to the spirit of the original. I think Branagh's "Henry V" is a masterpiece (of course, adapting a play is sort of cheating, but cutting in scenes from Henry IV as flashbacks to support his interpretation was genius). And clearly Emma Thompson was stopping him from screwing up, because after she left him he made "Hamlet" (oh, yeah, there's something rotten in Denmark, all right--yuck to this star-studded failure) and she went and did "Sense and Sensibility," which is probably the best Austen adaptation anywhere--thrifty, economical, and sensitive, which I'm sure Austen would appreciate. "Tom Jones" is the ultimate adaptation--it captures the bawdy, defiant humor and indiscriminate sex appeal of the book perfectly.

There are qualified successes. "Tristram Shandy" felt exactly like reading the book--it stretched its medium and had that special brand of satire that is really only funny if you're on its side to begin with (assuming you can tell that there are "sides" and that you can tell which one you're on--the labels are sort of slippery, and you'll get made fun of for being on the wrong side of the fence at some point, even if you don't know how you got there). It's an interesting experience. It's probably not going to achieve the popularity of "The Little Mermaid," but I'm pretty sure it's okay with that.

So when I see that a book I love is becoming a movie, I have this continual triumph of hope over experience--I get all excited, and then I remind myself that I should really try to be realistic. Stardust isn't my favorite Neil Gaiman book or the one that inspires my imagination the most, but I have a lot of affection for it. I've been finding it harder and harder not to be hopeful about the upcoming film. Especially now, because the trailer just looks amazing.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My Former Employer

My former employer has opted not to pay out my vacation. Apparently it is well within its rights to do that, because I was salaried and did not live in CA or MA, but that wasn't especially evident in the reams of paperwork I was given when asked to set my resignation date. Whatever. I'll look at the paperwork again, and if I think it's egregiously misleading, I'll write a letter, but frankly it's like my divorce--I just want out, and money is no object.

My message, dear readers (at least, I think there's more than one reader), is this. Your employer doesn't love you. Your employer doesn't want you to be happy. Your employer wants you to help it make money, and once someone (either party) has lost interest in that facet of your relationship, your employer just wants to do whatever protects it from legal action. Think of that the next time you're slaving late into the night because you want everything to be fair and perfect. (You know who you are.) Your employer's perfectionism ends with your last paycheck (or maybe a little before). So why does yours end at one in the morning?

Next entry I promise a new, improved blog that's at least 30% less bitter.

Air Mattress Says, "Hsssssssssssss!"

I got back from a business trip last night, and the air mattress was getting a little low. Not unusual after two days unattended, I figured, so I pumped it up...and immediately heard the most depressing sound ever. I thought maybe it would at least be a slow enough leak that I could sleep on it tonight and wake up on the floor, but it turns out that the air mattress is a crafty devil. First, it keeps you awake with its hissing, and then it gently deposits you on your hardwood floor. Luckily, I was just too tired to cry. And in a gesture of human kindness that's far better than luck, a gallant human with a bed took pity on me after only a few minutes of making fun of me. Still, the world of air mattresses is never going to be a rich or compelling world for me. I plan to run away from it as fast as humanly possible.

9 more days you little bastard. 9 more days.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Gobbler

Okay, my friend Natalie posted this in a comment to the post about the Grand Canyon monstrosity. Because I was moving 2500 miles, I neglected to visit it until today. The page Natalie linked to has to do with James Lileks's visit to the Gobbler hotel. James is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. His commentary on the Gobbler is funny--very funny, like those Weight Watchers recipe cards. You must visit. Right now.

Go here to view James's story about the Gobbler and how his interest began, and to browse in a comfy way.

Go here to have James guide you through the Gobbler, which is by far the funnier choice.

And if you're curious about the guy, you can take a look here.

And, not that you should squander all this hysterical content in one evening, but you should also check out the Institute of Official Cheer, which includes such bounty as a 1977 Frederick's lingerie catalog.

OneNote Rocks

People I work with are sick of hearing me sing the praises of OneNote. Back when I had a Mac, I tried DevonThink, which is like OneNote on steroids and which has the sexiest search features known to man (fuzzy logic--vastly superior to OneNote's search capability). I think of DevonThink like the Beta to OneNote's VHS. It is unequivocally a better product, but OneNote is just too damn easy to use, and it has the Microsoft power ring behind it. Also, I can use it at work, where all the machines are Windows. Sorry, DevonThink. I've been forced to abandon you.

Explaining OneNote's usefulness is next to impossible. I keep explaining it to techhies at work, and they give me things like SnagIt. SnagIt is cool for capturing screen shots, but OneNote is good for that too, and for oh so much more. For me, it replaces the hole where my memory used to be. I can record information about transactions there. I can have a page for every transaction and add to it when users have issues. Every time a user has an issue, I can consult my page and find whether I've seen the issue before, or I can search my whole notebook for the transaction code and pull up every reference to it. I know my memory should hold all that crap, but the memory, she is weak and fragile. And after my recent move, she's also stumbling around trying to remember things like where to find the grocery store.

One of the things I did with OneNote is to take notes and screenshot diagrams from the multitudinous piles of crap that allegedly help you study for the PMP Exam (I haven't passed yet, so I'll keep you posted). It was terrific. I could have a big old sheet in my PMP section on, say, Scope, and then I could add notes on scope from each and every pile of crap that I studied. And, because I was trained on the Cornell note-taking method, I created a column for key words, test questions, and cues on the left. The problem? The darn column moved around like crazy, and it was very difficult to go back and add things and keep everything organized. If I added text on the right, I needed to add spaces in the column on the left, and getting it all to line up was sometimes more trouble than it was worth.

The solution is here. Microsoft (yes, yes, the devil) has provided a OneNote template for the Cornell method. See, it doesn't take much to make me happy. Was that so hard?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

My Prosopagnosia* Kicks My Ass Again

So I'm in the elevator today, and I'm thinking, gee, I wish I knew what Annie Leibovitz looked like.

Let me backtrack. I have a real problem remembering faces. It's even worse than my problem with names. I only remember the names of really important people--usually the people who fix my problems. Still, as bad as my memory for names is, it is nothing compared to the utter black hole that is my fusiform gyrus. (Oh, look, that part of the brain does number recognition, too--I suck at that. I'm amazed this enormous hole in my head didn't show up when they were scanning for brain tumors.**) I can remember a voice instantly and recognize it effortlessly years later. You have no idea how often this ruins movies for me. But I need multiple exposures to someone's face before it gets remembered, and sometimes I don't even get it down then.

Which is why I found myself staring at this woman in the elevator and thinking, I just wish I knew if this were Annie Leibovitz. The rest of the elevator was crammed full of guys with camera equipment, one of whom was discussing the difficulties of cobbling together a custom tripod. So, like lightning, I figured it must be her. But never had it occurred to me that I would be anywhere near Annie Leibovitz. The sheer improbability combined with my total inability to summon up even a hair color made it impossible for me to decide. So I probably acted like a jerk, standing there and staring at her with utter lack of recognition and showing more interest in my tuna melt than in her fame and talent. As insults to celebrities go, lack of recognition isn't the worst you can do, but I probably stared at her for far too long while my brain ticked over, frantically hunting through boxes buried somewhere under all the SAP fastpath codes and Monty Python skits and scraps of movie dialogue in search of the half-assed scribbly index card that is my equivalent of a Wikipedia entry.


* No, not really.
** Yes, really.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Air Mattress--Not As Fun As Air Guitar

For those who don't know, I recently moved to Brooklyn, NY. I am thoroughly exhausted and therefore not really blogging. But here's a short overview:

1. A foot is much, much smaller in NY than in the rest of the world. Here 600 square feet is just friggin' tiny. And here's the thing. You think it's HUGE.
2. Air mattresses are NOT almost as comfortable as a regular bed. It is EXACTLY like sleeping on a plastic bag full of air. (See "exhausted," above.)
3. I am doing my shopping at some middle-eastern grocery store that sells pierogies and has a deli. They call me darling. I am sold. Of course, I've only shopped there once, and I was sleep deprived and suffering severe culture shock. Consequently I am living on granola. It's not pretty. Also, I was so tired I bet I can't find them again, even though it's a straight shot from my apartment.
4. I am around the corner from a renowned tattoo parlor.
5. Tonight I rode the subway with a woman who looked like she was reverse-engineered from Boy George. No, really. She didn't look like the woman Boy George might have aspired to emulating. She looked like someone photoshopped Boy George. It was like that line in Victor/Victoria--"a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman."
6. My users still swear at me. Some things never change.
7. The help desk still requires screen shots to achieve communication. I actually stood behind a user as she took a screen shot in an effort to get them to stop asking her the same question over and over. "This button? Yes. I press this button, right here."

In other words, I'm right at home.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Not a Chance

No offense to the People of the Tall Pines. I wish you the best, I really do. But even if you paid me $25, I would not walk on this thing, and if you ask me to pay the $25, then really you're just inviting ridicule.

I have firm belief in American engineers. Scientific study has accomplished truly wondrous feats (the wonderbra, skyscrapers, suspension bridges). I'm sure it's perfectly safe. But I have no desire to pass out as I look down 4,000 feet to the canyon floor. I've gotten brave about a lot of things, but this is not one of them. Sorry!

I'll be in the gift shop. You pick me up when you're done.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Goodbye, Bully Bougainvillea

I've been working on putting my townhome up for sale, because I'm moving to Brooklyn next week. Yeah. I'm a little behind. Thanks for pointing that out.

ANYwho, I've been trying to keep up with this endless list of stuff my realtor keeps pointing out. Now, let me be clear. The woman is an amazing realtor. She actually comes over and dabs touch up paint on my walls. She helped me trim the trumpet vine in the backyard. And she knows what makes a place sell. So the list is a list of good and useful things that are good for me and good for my townhome. It's just so damn long.

Part of the problem is that I seem to have very low standards. One of the kitchen cupboards doesn't close. You close it, and then it swings open like there's a little ghost inside it. Doesn't bother me. Sure, part of me would like it if it were shut. But I'm pretty sure it's nothing sinister, so I've lived with it for two and a half years. It's on her list.

The bathroom tile was coming up when I moved in. I never ever get any water on the bathroom floor. I'm a freakish freak of a person, and when I get in and out of the shower, I go to great lengths to make sure no water escapes. So I was sure the tile wasn't getting any worse. But that chicken came home to roost in a big way. (Now I have all new tile in there. I guess it's nice. Who am I to argue?)

Then there's the matter of the bougainvillea. The big bougainvillea that bullied all the other plants in my tiny enclosure had a rough winter. It actually got down around freezing for like ONE night this winter, and these plants that stride around here summer after summer threatening to kidnap and eat your animals all turned out to be big babies. It was like watching a big, scary, macho wrestler pass out while getting a tattoo. Not that I've ever done that.

So the two bougainvillea and the TVUO (tropical vine of unknown origin) out front all looked dead. No, seriously. You had to cut them to see if they were alive. Donna, my realtor, was philosophical about it. "These look dead. We should get rid of them." Apparently she was expecting tears (and let me just say that I've been really stressed lately, so that wasn't an unreasonable expectation). But I did not need to be asked twice. I trimmed them back as far as I could by myself, and then recruited help to get them out of the ground. The grapefruit tree that's been cowering there all this time practically wept with gratitude.

Also marked for death was the sickly desert sage. This plant reminded me of a story that I think Tina Fey told after she won the Emmy for SNL. She was being interviewed by Conan or Jay or someone, and she talked about how image conscious everyone is in LA. By way of illustration, she described standing in line behind this woman who looked just beautiful. This woman looked young and vibrant and perky, and had long silky hair like a mermaid. Then the woman turned around and revealed herself to be an old woman with approximately seventy years of tanning damage. That's what the desert sage was like. As you walked IN to the townhouse, it looked all gorgeous, with lovely purple flowers and mossy green foliage. As you walked OUT, it looked like a dead skeleton. Sort of a Dorian Gray effect.

My gay best friend, Mike, came over to help me with the yard work. I've never seen anything so butch as him pulling that desert sage out of the ground--it was like Paul Bunyan yanking trees out of the earth. The bougainvillea put up a bigger fight, but eventually victory was ours. My trash bin is really full, and I don't think I can clean out my fridge, but whatever. We did good work, and the grapefruit tree and the trumpet vine have the place to themselves now. Both of them are already growing leafier to show their appreciation.

Now all I have to do is...the rest of Donna's list. Which involves paint and decorating and sanding and cleaning and hiding and staging and generally pretending that perfect decorator Barbie lives here, wearing clothes that never get dirty, showering with pretend water that never generates soap scum and walking on clean floors with her clean Barbie feet.

I can be Barbie for a week, I'm sure. Stop laughing, or I'll hit you with this bougainvillea stump.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Thoroughly Exhausted, But Here's A Link

This blog is just fascinating. It's perfect for anyone who's been dragged through an Ikea. It's also perfect for anyone who's stood in front of two Ikea products and realized that although each of them is almost perfect, neither of them is exactly what you want. Well, if you were motivated enough, you'd be able to Frankenstein them together into a super Ikea product.

I think my favorite is the woman who says she hates Ikea but felt compelled to buy pillowcases and make them into a sassy skirt. There's apparently a lot of sassy skirtmaking inspired in Ikea. Who knew?