Friday, December 28, 2007

Think like Paul tip #1--don't use your emotions to think

Emotions are a piece of evolutionary luggage that served as an instinctive guide to help humans survive in an often dangerous world. The dangers of that world were often real. Fear, for example, is a way to keep from falling prey to a predator. If I am fearful of sharks I am going to treat possible interactions with sharks with a healthy dose of fear and respect. I will probably be more weary of my actions in areas where there is even a remote possibility of encountering a shark than I would had I not that fear. For example I may choose to not swim in the ocean because of my fear of sharks even though the probability of being attacked by one is incredibly small. I don't personally have a very strong fear of sharks, but I do have one. I find myself fighting my fear of sharks when I swim in the ocean. If I were to be rationally fearful of the dangers that are most probable I should probably be more fearful of rip currents and drowning.
I consider myself a person who is guided mostly by logic and reason, more so than most people.
Yet, I find myself acting irrationally because of my emotions. I recognize this and because of that, I can overcome my fears. I use logic and probability to overcome my fears.
I have trained myself to consider communications that strike an emotional chord as suspicious. If you hear things that scare you, make you angry, or make you feel good there's a strong chance that the person who wrote that message intended for you to feel that way.
Consider advertising. If you were trying to advertise a product, wouldn't you want to create good emotions to go with your product? How many product advertisements can you name that make you angry? The only ones I can think of are ones that do are from banks, and that's because I know that the purpose of most credit card advertisement is to make people more comfortable with living in debt.
Advertisements that are meant to anger me are usually political ads. Towards the end of an election you always hear the real dirt on the flaws of the candidates. I think the thought behind those ads is to anger voters into voting against a candidate. This is the art of Rhetoric--using the emotions attached to language to evoke an irrational response to a message.
When you act on emotions created by a message, you're really complying to the will of the creator of that message. You are allowing yourself to be used by someone else. Most people allow themselves to be manipulated like this every day and have no idea that it occurs.
If you can recognize this pattern you can keep control over your actions. I personally consider everything that evokes an emotion as suspicious. Consider the sources and consider their reasons for evoking those emotions. You can then question what they want from you and possibly conclude why.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Slavery is real.
I am a slave to many masters.
There are fewer now, but there still are some.
The first master I escaped was smoking. The freedom from that addiction is a gift that I enjoy every day.
The second master I escaped is religion. That freedom is just as sweet.
The remaining masters are lenders. Since I took stock of my situation I have cut the number of lenders in half. With each credit card balance I pay off I feel my anxiety drop.
My goal for the year is to have only our mortgages outstanding in 12 months and to have the remainder of our credit card debts paid off by April. It can be done --about 16,000 in credit card debt left--down from around 30,000.
Another 6,000 left on the car.
I enjoy my life more with each shackle I break.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

We can build bigger strollers! We have the technology

Strollers just don't take up enough space in crowds!

Monday, May 21, 2007

What makes you feel valuable?

I was chatting with a friend this morning. She's a veteran BA/PM. She's really frustrated that the development team and business team that she's working with.
One point of frustration that she has is the business process and the computer application that performs this process is unnecessarily complicated. The thing that frustrates her is that there are people who take pride in the process' and application's complexities. They take pride in the fact that they have mastered, or are capable of using, this process where others need to suffer to learn it. The process is very valuable to the company so therefore they feel they are valuable to the company
This is not uncommon in IT. People get a big ego when they create something that nobody can understand. You hear a lot of hushed bitter voices snickering "If I ever decide to leave, they'd be screwed without me."
It's true to an extent. When you lose people with specialized knowledge it can hurt. When it happens, it usually isn't the end of the world that the person predicts.
I think this is a fool's argument though.
I would argue that making a complicated process difficult for other people to understand is no great achievement. It is true that there is some value that your process, and by extension you, will be to your company/customers.
First off, wouldn't you rather make a complicated process more simple? Aren't simple things easier to work with and understand? Isn't it easier to train people to work with processes that don't have a whole lot of special and/or irregular rules?
Secondly, do you want to be valuable because only you can support something you created? Do you want to be rehashing work you did five years ago?
Finally, think about what that says about your work and you. Unless you personally are there to constantly tend to what you built, it will fall apart. That really just says that you're not a very good designer.
Is there any profession where that attitude prevails? Imagine a mechanic who thought that way, a carpenter, or a doctor.
I, personally, would rather do new things. I don't care to support old applications. I'd rather not rehash the same issues I worked on a year ago. I'd prefer to get things right and move forward.
Instead of making a system so complicated and intricate that only you can make it work, how about making a system so simple and straightforward a non-techie could operate it. Wouldn't that really be the greater achievement?
Having the ability to create applications that work and are easy to understand, and more importantly, c is going to provide more career security in the long run.

Friday, May 18, 2007

My stupid name game

I play this head game with people's names all the time. The rules are simple, switch the first consonant sound of the person's first name with the first consonant sound of their last name.
For example: for the name Fun Paul; I'd use Pun Faul.
Let's do some more(I'll grab a few from whatever's on my browser):
Haris Pilton
Shnuce Breier
Agberto Lonzonles
Donney Jepp
Tonald Drump
It can be fun form of self amusement.
I must have learned this from all those issues of Mad magazine I read as a kid.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Out of the pot and into the fire

I read a fun little post about SST Card Services over at the Consumerist. They are reporting that people are complaining about deceptive, fraudulent, incompetent, or outright crooked practices that SST is running.
I feel for the people who are stuck with credit card like that.
Oddly I performed a little experiment with a credit card from Providian. Which, at the time was considered to be one of the worst predatory lenders.
In college I thought I'd see for myself how bad these guys were. I responded to a 0% Aria credit card ad online. This was a card that our friends at Providian ran. I named it my ghetto card because it was a colorfully ugly card with sparkles.
I was meticulous about my use with the card. I never spent more than I could cover and I always sent in a payment in full within a couple of days of receiving my bill. To mix things up I took out one cash advance.
Here are my observations:
The 0% that they advertised was the 0% that they'd charge you for the initial grace period. This is a standard feature of just about every credit card. After that the APR shot up to something like 19.9%. What they really should have advertised is 19.9%
19.9% is really high.
The limit was incredibly low. I'd like to say it was $500. It may have been less. My other credit cards had limits of $20000 and $5000 at the time. After 4 months of diligently paying off my balance they raised my limit to $750. They offered me one of the most absurdly terrible deals ever, which was an additional $250 in credit for $50. They were going to charge me money for the privilege of charging me money.
When I took out a single cash advance I sent in sufficient funds to cover the entire bill before the statement came. I was surprised at the acrobatic bookkeeping that they used to keep that cash advance interest rate, good old 29.9% going. Somehow my payment would not seem to get processed until I made a regular purchase at the lower rate.
Their customer service was horrible. I used to work as a trade journalist. I had to call people behind phone trees all the time. I like to think that I'm very good at navigating these things. Theirs was a true labyrinth. I don't think I was ever able to get a human on the phone when I called them. Even the old don't push any buttons trick didn't do anything.
Their web site was no better, it was all about setting up another account.
On the plus side I did receive a check from a class action lawsuit.
I decided to close the account after I graduated and the account had been paid off in full for a few months--I overpaid the final statement by $25 to avoid the double cycle billing or trailing interest pitfalls.
With a $-15 balance I set out to cancel my account. I tried calling their customer service. No luck there. I eventually called the corporate office of the parent company Providian. Luckily for me, they are a public company and I was able to get their corporate contact information through a finance resource, e.g., I then worked their phones until I was able to get the executive customer service for the card. I think they were glad to get rid of me because they didn't put up much of a fight.
What were my conclusions.
Well, I was a responsible credit card user. I was kind of hoping that they would have charged me a late fee, after all I was paying off my balance the day that the bill arrived, but that never happened.
I can only imagine a person using their card less responsibly. If they miss a payment or let their balance exceed their limit I'm sure Providian would have hit them with the default rate at the first opportunity. With that said I did play by their rules and didn't get hurt too much. I did pay the cash advance interest rate when I don't think I should have, otherwise I can't say they took undue advantage of me.
That is the best that I can say of them. On the downside their customer service was horrible. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to try to dispute a charge or to get an explanation from them.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I love my Wii

I think Nintendo Wiis are awesome.
If you can get one, I give my unqualified recommendation for the Nintendo Wii.
The thing I like about my Wii is the amount of interactivity and activity that is required to play a lot of the games.
The technology is incredible. I think that the direction that Nintendo took with the elegant Wiimotes is a real breakthrough in human/computer interaction. If you haven't heard about these, what they are are candy bar sized controllers that have motion sensors and IR sensors. What that enables players to do is to provide input by moving the Wiimote. You can use it like a pointer or, in the case of a game like Wii Sports, swing it like a baseball bat, tennis racket, or a bowling ball. You can also plug in a Nunchuck controller for two handed control. The Nunchuck also has motion sensors. Wii boxing is a game where you hold the Wiimote in one hand and the Nunchuck in the other. You literally throw punches in real life to punch in the game. It's a lot of fun and it's a good workout.
I haven't played all of the games that I have so far--I broke down and bought the 6 game bundle from Wal Mart. So far we've had a lot of fun with the following games: Wii Sports--included, Wario Smooth Moves, Excite Truck, Cooking Mama, the Rayman Game, Trauma: Second Opinion.
I have been a little disappointed with Call of Duty 3 and Tiger Woods. With both of them I think that the controls are not quite refined enough.
I'm especially disappointed by Tiger Woods. I think there's a huge potential for making a great golf game, but the control issues are a huge negative. I'm not willing to put a whole lot of time trying to adjust to the game's quirks. I think they could have a real winner if they keep the course content and make the controls work perfectly.

The Art of the Best Buy Sale

After reading another great story about Best Buy's shady tricks at my favorite consumer related website, The Consumerist, I remembered my observations of the typical Best Buy Sales Pitch.
The thing that I find humorous is that before you agree to buy something they tell you how great it is, then once you say you want to buy it, they tell you it's an awful product with shortcomings that can only be overcome by purchasing accessories and service plans.
"The TK421 is an excellent hdtv. It will make watching sports unreal. It's great for parties."
Customer says they'd like to buy it.
"Did I mention that these things have a $400 bulb that could burn out every year. Fortunately we have a two or five year service plan for just $35 a year. If it burns out once in the next five years you'll save money. Did I also mention that these things need to be calibrated when you get them to your house, that's included in the plan. The bumps from delivery really messes with the electronics. You'll also want to get our special mounting hardware, the one that the manufacturer has in the box is notorious for breaking. Do you have Monster Cables? Oh, well you'll want them, they're specially made with the finest metals and insulated with inert gasses.
Would you also like a complementary 6 week subscription to Entertainment Weekly? It's free. All you need to do is cancel if you don't want it. It's really easy."
Everything in the second part is the sales person's upsell. That's where Best Buy tries to make their real money. The margins on accessories and plans are insane. Just about every accessory they try to sell is marked way up. The sad thing about the whole deal is all of that stuff is completely unnecessary.
If you purchase the stuff with a credit card that offers purchase protection--a platinum card or just about any AMEX card, you've already extended the manufacturer's warranty without spending $35 a year.
You shouldn't be spending more than $10 on any kind of cable either. Let me make this very clear, they're all made out of metal, the only differences in quality are the gauge, shielding, and connectors. You should be able to buy better and cheaper stuff online or at a hardware store for a fraction of what you could spend at Best Buy on Monster products.
What I actually recommend for people to do is to Shop at Best Buy or Circuit City or wherever. When you find something you're interested in, write down the model number then go online and read what people are saying about them. If it looks like a good product, use a service like Froogle to find the lowest price by the most reputable merchant.
Best Buy hates when you do this so I'm all in favor of it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Lawn Fun, Why I use a $200 mower instead of a $2,000 one

My lawn has always been a mess. Always. I grew up with a yard that was maintained if it was mowed and weeded if all the ragweed was out. I used a riding lawnmower to mow the grass, anything it didn't mow, didn't get cut. I don't think we owned a sprinkler. There was about a two week period where the front yard was much more yellow than green. In my parents' defense, the lot we lived on was huge and extensive lawn care was deeply impractical. It was a lot of fun though, because we had a couple of riding lawnmowers. It was never hard to get a friend or two to give me a hand mowing the lawn, or as we called it go kart racing.
I have a much smaller lawn now. It's roughly 100' by 60'. When we bought the place a few years back the lawn was a mess. My dad was kind enough to give us one of their riding mowers. It got the job done, but, as my old boss used to say, it's like using a sledge to pound a thumb tack.
I could get the whole yard done in about 20 minutes if I put it in one of the fast gears.
Aside from being more tool than I need, I never really liked using the rider though. I don't think it does a particularly good job of cutting. To sharpen the blades you need to either disassemble the mower deck or jack the mower up and get a sharpener under the deck. I don't particularly care for either option.
Also, when I'd mow, I spent a good chunk of my time trying to get that last strip of grass and edging up the spots that I couldn't get with the mower.
If I had to get off the mower, there was about a 4 step process to secure it so the cutoff doesn't trip. This can be a big time waster when you just want to move something out of the way.
Mowing on a rider is loud. The bumps and jolts are a little rough on the body.
When I wasn't mowing I had to maintain it also. That meant changing the oil, keeping gasoline around, and whatever else it might have needed.
What I chose to do is to get a reel mower and use it instead. I really couldn't be happier with it. I bought a Brill Luxus 38. At $200 it's at or around the top price that you can pay for a non-motorized lawn mower. That's around the entry price for a motorized push mower. You can get other reel mowers for less than $100 even.
The reason I started looking into getting a reel mower is I remembered hearing from people who used to use reel mowers. They all said the same thing about them, they did a heck of a job mowing, but they were tough to push. Tough to push isn't a problem.
I looked into how they mow and I then understood why they do such a good job. The way a reel mower works is it has a spinning reel with around five blades on it. There is also a stationary blade that the reel blades spin very close to. The two blades cut much like scissor blades do.
A conventional rotary mower has a single blade that will cut the grass by spinning at high speed. What I've read will happen is that the rotary blade will actually start to rip the grass out after the blade dulls. I liken it to cutting through tall weeds with a machete, whereas the the reel is like using a set of shears.
Because it is a contact free mower--the blades come within a paper's with of each other, it is very quiet. It's also not that bad to push, it only weighs 25 lbs. I find that the only times I really need to work are when I'm going uphill into thick grass. I know this may sound odd, but it's actually peaceful and relaxing to mow. I find myself doing it about every third day.
The lawn has never looked better. The reel is able to cut extremely well at lower heights, I keep mine at about 20 mm.
Another big plus is I can let our pug come out with me while I mow. There's absolutely no way that he can get hurt by the mower. I am in complete control of it. When I stop pushing, the blades stop spinning. I can stop the reel completely with the ball of my foot if I need to with no risk. I can safely stop mowing at any time and grab him before he wanders off on one of his pug adventures. I don't have to worry about 5 hp of unattended force spinning a metal blade.
The one other thing I really like is the way I can mow over things. You don't need to move hoses or worry about the water shutoff. The reel will go right over it and not even touch it.
On the downside there are a few considerations however. It doesn't do a great job cutting dandelions. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. It makes them easier to spot and remove after mowing.
It doesn't work great when the grass is wet. The wheels will slip a little. No biggie there.
Probably the biggest thing you need to worry about is keeping twigs and other stuff out of your yard. Every now and then a twig or a pine cone will get caught in the blades. It'll stop the mower. It's not a big deal to get it out. I find that it keeps me raking stuff out of the yard.
I almost forgot one of the nice bonus advantages, no gas!
If you're looking into getting a new mower, I recommend you seriously consider going with a reel.

When choosing decorations for your car

Here's my rule about putting things on your car that identify you with a group. If you choose to decorate your car with a sticker or one of those plastic chrome fishies, and you don't want to lessen my opinion of that group, then please don't drive like a jerk.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Rule #1:Be nice

One of the most influential moments in my life was when I was just 17. My mom woke me up and told me that my grandmother was en route to the emergency room.
Grandma's cancer struck a heavy blow that morning. For the past ten years, she fought her lymphatic tumors like a champ. She lived an active life and never ever complained to others about her symptoms.
I remember the emergency room was pretty quiet that morning. There was no activity until grandma arrived. When she was wheeled in, something special happened. Grandma was completely lucid and smiling. I have no doubt that she was in incredible pain, but you wouldn't know it by her voice or her words. She was polite and patient with the nurses, even when they had trouble finding a vein.
Even though she must have been in considerable pain she never failed to be polite and friendly. She acted like she was trying to help the doctors and nurses with their work, more than she was with trying to relieve her incredible pain.
On that day I knew that I'd have no excuse for being a jerk to anyone, ever.
I try to remember her example as I live. I mostly remember that she was always lively, cheerful, and supportive. I can't think of a negative thing she ever said about anyone.
She's gone. She was one of the very best.
All I can do now is honor her by striving to be those things that I admired the most about her.

Have fun

You may call me FunPaul. I write software for a living now. It been a windy road getting here, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.
I chose this nomme de plume, or nomme de internette?, because I think it fits my personality and my perspective on life. Having fun and enjoying life is essential to living a healthy and successful life.
I hope that I can share my experience and perspective in a way that is enjoyable and constructive to read.