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Confessions of a Future World Dominator

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A Fistful of Dollars Feb. 27th, 2011 @ 10:34 pm
It's another Sunday night and another eventful week is in the books.

Last weekend, we had visits from Stacy and Brendan, and Brian & Jen! There were winery trips and a visit to the spa for massages. Yesterday, C & I had dinner with Mary & Jay at their place in downtown DC. Such delicious beer and corned beef. Today was another day of Bradley Method classes for C & I, and Stacy & Brendan should be arriving once more in an hour or two. They went to Florida for a week's vacation, using our place as a good midway point.

There's a noteworthy event that took place a few weeks ago that I've been meaning to write about. As her Valentine's Day gift, I helped Courtney pay off the loan on her car. (She then used her February car payment to pay for the spa visit.)

This marks the completion of a goal we set for ourselves several months ago, when I first started crunching the numbers for our baby budget; since C will be leaving work and staying home with the baby--meaning we'll be living off of my paycheck alone--making our best effort to improve cash flow and money management has been a high priority item. To be fair, in the past year or two I've been increasingly focused on the topic of personal finances... but the stakes are real here, and the car payment represents an important victory on the road to supporting my growing family.

Now, don't get me wrong... I'm reasonably well-paid. I'm by no means the richest person in Northern Virginia, but compared to many (not all) of my peers, I'm making some serious coin. I was named "Most Likely to Succeed" in my senior year of high school, and while I know that money isn't everything, I consider it to be a significant metric in measuring my adherence to what I consider to be a mandate from my peers.

The important part of all this is that on my paycheck alone, we will be able to cover all our living expenses, bills, and debt payments, continue to save money and make some investments, and still have a little--not very much, but some--room to breathe and have fun a bit. It makes me happy to know I can do this, and it makes me a little nervous to think that the financial well-being of my family will rest squarely upon my shoulders. (I'm not too nervous, mind you... still confident, just... aware.)

The debt payment part is what really tends to capture my attention. This is money that I pay now, but that I will not pay forever. It is the weight of faceless corporate entities that weighs on my mind and shackles my dreams. It is money that needed to be borrowed, that was generally well-used, and must now be returned. Now that C's car is paid off, the loans are solely educational in origin. Courtney incurred a lot more in student loans than I did--have I mentioned that having work reimburse you for grad school is FUCKING AWESOME--but it is rapidly becoming apparent to both of us that there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel, though it is still a bit far off.

To be successful in something, you first have to define your goal. To reach your goal, you need to have a plan. My goal is to eliminate our student loan debt. I have a particular loan payoff tactic that I've developed and put into practice twice now, first with my own car and then with Courtney's. We set aside money in our shared savings account toward different defined goals with different allotments. We call these "reserve items." There's a reserve item called "Emergency Funds" and one called "Baby Fund," both of which are pretty self-explanatory. We also develop reserve items in the amounts of our outstanding debts, and put a little bit more money toward them with every paycheck. This is on top of making our regular loan payments (in amounts that are often higher than the minimum required).

To an imaginative mind, it's like a flanking attack on debt. The above-minimum payments make the total loan amount diminish, which I will call "death from above," or DFA. Meanwhile, the savings toward eventual loan payoff are constantly building up higher and higher toward the point where they will ultimately be sufficient to pay off the debt in full... which I will call "death from below," or DFB.

Like any good flank attack, the two components work together to make the attack more effective. The DFA is always making the goal (debt payoff) more and more achievable via DFB, while the DFB allows for the psychological confidence needed to keep up the attack. DFB also allows financial flexibility, since you can choose which loan to target. Plus, you earn interest on the money instead of your creditors, since it is in your possession until you choose to deploy it. Granted, this can work out to a slight loss in terms of efficiency if your loan's interest rate is higher than that of your savings... but the flexibility can be worth it. To put it bluntly, shit happens, and it's handy to have a pile of money handy when it does. (I submit my own honeymoon as Exhibit A of evidence.)

The attack from the top will inevitably meet with the attack from the bottom, and the debt will not survive. With the money that would normally go toward paying that debt freed up, the next debt can be hit even harder until it too expires, and so forth... until you are debt free. Brutal, but effective.

I vowed to have that car loan paid off before the baby arrived, and we did. The next (hard) goal is to pay off one of my student loans completely before the end of the year. It definitely will not be easy, but even if I don't make it, I'll have made a lot of progress toward making ultimate victory arrive more quickly.

The big goal is to have zero student loan debt remaining between my wife and I before I turn thirty.

One of my friends told me a few months ago that I'm "pretty fucking great at being awesome." I didn't call this blog "Confessions of a Future World Dominator" for nothing.

It is on.
Current Location: living room
Current Mood: determineddetermined
What I'm hearing:: "Returns A King" - "300" Soundtrack by Tyler Bates

Holographic Cat Shelf of the Lucasian Chair at Cambridge Feb. 21st, 2011 @ 10:41 pm
(In the car, driving to Wegmans.)

K: Our little girl is too young to experiment. Maybe not to be experimented on, though.
C: I love how that seems more ethical to you.


(after watching Star Trek: The Next Generation's final episode, "All Good Things...")

K: Heh, look at the cats on the couch, all curled up and cute.
C: I just read a quote in one of my blogs: "A house needs no sculptures that has a cat."
K: Unless it's the home of the Lucasian Chair professor at Cambridge, apparently. Data had sculptures AND cats.
C: This is true.
K: He even had them on the mantelpiece... of a holographic fireplace that hid a viewscreen.
C: (laughs) Can you imagine? When Data wants to contact somebody...
K: (laughs) He just turns off the hologram and the cats go flying!
C: No! He said "computer, restore image," not "resume hologram." So if it was only the image that disappeared...
K: Then he has holographic cats, too?
C: No! Then there's a cat hovering in midair, sitting on an invisible forcefield! (laughs) Admiral Riker will have a big bushy cat in front of his face!
K: It looked like he did already.
C: True.
Current Location: living room
What I'm hearing:: sleety stuff outside, and the refrigerator

Thundersnow: A Winter Adventure Feb. 1st, 2011 @ 12:08 am
I was warned last week that it was going to snow on Wednesday. "I'm going to come in early so I can leave early," the lady said.

I looked outside on Wednesday around 11am; no snow, just rain. No big deal, I think, returning inside.

4:30pm: Courtney tries to get ahold of me at work; eventually successful. She left work around 1pm, and got home just before the snow began. Tells me that if I'm not heading out the door yet I should get going, because the weather is not improving. By this point my onsite supervisor of sorts has already left, and I've heard at least one person remark about thunder and sleet.

4:45pm: I leave the building and go to my car. There is half a foot of wet, heavy snow on everything, with a heavy flurry falling all around. NOT GOOD. I quickly realize that it's going to be a long drive home. I call C again, telling her not to expect me home until 6:30pm or 7pm. There is beef stew cooking for dinner.

4:50pm: Car cleaned off, I leave the parking lot. The trip home is about twelve miles. The roads are poorly plowed--if plowed at all--and there is a line of cars on a route that is normally clear. The cars move slowly.

6pm: I have barely traveled two miles. I try calling a coworker who lives much farther away to suggest he book a hotel for himself before it is too late; I do not reach him. WTOP puts on an interview with a VDOT representative who explains the clusterfuck in which I find myself. The roads were "pre-treated" with de-icing materials the day prior, but the rains washed most of it off the roads. Government let out workers early, leading to an early rush hour that slowed down everyone leaving at normal time. The snow was falling all during this time; with the traffic gridlock, plows are unable to move snow out of the way. Welcome to a near-worst case scenario for traffic in the DC area.

6:30pm: Another mile and a half or so. Traffic is now stopped in my direction. I opt to turn around and head to a restaurant to wait for a while, as the radio says snow is supposed to stop around 9 or 10pm. I'm at an intersection, so I take my opportunity.

7pm: Traffic has stopped moving in the opposite direction, now, and started back up in my original direction. Watching the increasingly stupid antics of drivers all around me, I opt to bug out for a while and wait for the rookies to clear off the roads. I pull through a gap in the cars in the neighboring lane, fight my way up a mushy sidestreet to make a U-turn, and pull into a gas station to scope things out and call C with an update on my situation. After a quick walk around the gas station dodging cars, I spot a McDonalds and a CVS next door a few hundred yards away, accessible via parking lots... meaning I can avoid the traffic-clogged road.

7:20pm: I have gotten my car stuck in front of the CVS, my first dumb driving move of the night... or the second, if you consider leaving work in the first place dumb. I feebly pace around the car trying to figure a way out, but cars haphazardly "parked" around me make escape impossible for the moment. I walk over to McDonalds to eat, read, and relax for a while prior to working on my escape. My attitude is calm, almost zen, almost enjoying it. Okay, no almost... I'm having fun. It's basic, primal... man vs. nature in the storm, man vs. man in traffic, man vs. self as I think of Douglas Adams and remind myself "Don't Panic."

8pm: I eat a McSomething made out of chicken, and drink Dr. Pepper. I figure I'll need the caffeine. The place is packed with travelers, chatting with one another and asking new faces coming in from outside about the traffic. I spend most of my time sitting and talking with Bernadette, a nice lady who is almost home but opted to pull in to take a break. She's originally from the Carolinas, and at least once mentions that she wants to know why the police aren't out "directing traffic" to help ease congestion.

10pm: The snow has slowed somewhat, and Bernadette & her passenger drives me over to my car in her SUV. She waits in her vehicle while I start my car, and the driver of the car next to me--probably a CVS employee who had just gotten off shift--is trying to extricate himself as well. We have Bernadette make tracks for the other guy to hopefully drive in, and I start pushing the car. He's not really a winter driver, but we manage to almost get him to vehicular freedom. Bernadette drives off with a wave. A plow is clearing the lot thirty yards ahead of me; now that his car is out of my way, he pushes my car while I ultimately drive into the newly cleared patch, busting through a mini-snowbank created by the plow. I wave my thanks, and return to the road.

11pm: I'm actually making progress, and am over halfway home. My little four-cylinder front wheel drive car is successfully making its way past what should be superior winter cars that have been left abandoned helter-skelter on the sides--or sometimes near the middle--of the road. I don't understand why so many people abandon their cars... it seems in this area to be a habit of the weak-willed, the foolish, and the unlucky. Some describe the scene as "vaguely apocalyptic," and I understand what they mean. I'm south of Route 50 now, but there are flashing police lights ahead near a hilly turn, though, and traffic is pulling out of line to make a U-turn and reroute. I follow suit.

11:45pm: I pull partway into my parking spot at the house. I have to shovel out my parking spot a bit.

12:00am: Shoveling is done, car is off, I'm inside. Victory.

I actually did have a relatively pleasant time during my seven hour commute home, even though it took me a quarter tank of gas to make it. I also calculated my average speed to be somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 miles per hour. It was an adventure, and I had wanted an adventure recently.

I was supposed to take the next morning off anyway for a meeting with my thesis advisor and a meeting with my company supervisor. Both meetings got cancelled/rescheduled, and I opted to just take the whole day off, like C did. We did venture out later that day, and the roads outside our development were mostly clear; however, the roads in our development can't really be said to have been plowed at all, they were that bad. People pay for an HOA here? On the bright side, C made pumpkin bread pudding that was delicious.

Well, now it's late and I have to go to bed. We'll see how tomorrow goes; there's supposed to be a bit of an ice storm now/tomorrow/Wednesday.

At the very least, I had a bit of amusement. I went to the VDOT website, and it said "VDOT is ready for snow. Are you?" I am more ready for snow that VDOT shall ever be.

I'm from Upstate New York.
Current Location: living room
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished

The Offspring Jan. 23rd, 2011 @ 02:34 am
We've been working our way through more of the third season of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Today, we finally made it to "The Offspring", featuring Data's android daughter, Lal.

I'd seen the episode before and knew how it ended, but I cried anyway. It's different now.

Courtney told me that I'm going to be a great father, because I care about people and love them strongly. I hope she's right.
Current Location: living room
What I'm hearing:: Orchestral Suite from "The Inner Light" - Jay Chattaway

A Plan for 2011 Jan. 9th, 2011 @ 11:13 pm
Happy New Year!

C & I have returned from our annual grand tour of upstate New York. We visited family in Rochester and Syracuse... unfortunately we didn't make it up to Watertown this time. The big snowstorm that smacked the Eastern Seaboard stayed far enough east of us that it didn't affect any area we were in, though Stacy reported that the snow was pretty heavy upon her return to Albany.

I also had a bout of sickness on the way back to NoVA on Sunday that put me out of commission for two days and left me feeling weak for two or three more. I think it was probably food poisoning. Maybe some questionable IHOP from the day before, or maybe something funky about the blueberry cereal I had that morning. All I know for sure is that from just past the northern border of Pennsylvania southward, Courtney did all the driving while I first clutched a plastic grocery bag, then cowered under a blanket. I lacked an appetite for nearly two days... for me, that's saying something.

But I'm feeling better now, and it is time to get on with my year. It is going to be a busy one! There are three primary areas in which I would like to improve myself this year, so here they are, along with the plan for improvement in each one:

1. Physical health. I've been monitoring my weight for a few months now, and I'd like to drop a few pounds. Working a desk job is a lot different from running and biking and fencing around all over the place like I used to at RIT, and I'd like to stay fit and active, especially for the arrival of the baby. My goal is to exercise at least three hours a week.

2. Social health. I make remarks all the time to Courtney that I'd like my friends to come visit us down here, and that I need to stay in better touch with people. My goal is to email at least one friend or family member every week.

3. Intellectual & academic health. I'm getting close to being done with my MS; I anticipate completion in the spring of 2012. With the baby coming, though, things are going to be very, very hectic and distracting. To help myself focus and stay on track, I'm setting a goal to work on research (ideally thesis-oriented) at least three hours a week.

I've got a spreadsheet in Google Docs where I'm tracking these resolutions with dates, and I've shared the spreadsheet with Courtney. That way, I have a way of recording my compliance, and I have someone who can help hold me accountable (if she checks the spreadsheet, anyway... I make a lot of spreadsheets). There are also three bonus goals that I've set for myself:

Bonus Goal 1: Write at least one blog entry per week. Pretty self-explanatory; I keep thinking of things to write, but never write them... bad habit. I want to write, and I've got stuff to write about, so I'll hold myself accountable to do so. This should help with the social goal.

Bonus Goal 2: Run at least 150 miles in 2011. This one I'm pretty confident I can do; according to my Nike + iPod records, I ran about 100 miles or so in 2010. This should go hand-in-hand pretty well with the fitness goal.

Bonus Goal 3: Complete at least one creative project every quarter. This will be a nice counterpoint to the intellectual/academic goal... making an amusing or interesting video would serve as one project, while making a wheeled gardening station for the back deck would count as another. I have a few other ideas, as well.

So that's the plan... my weekly goals run from Mondays to Sundays, so I've managed to squeak in my blog entry for the week. I also emailed my buddy Jason C., though unfortunately research and exercise lagged this week. I blame food poisoning. Fortunately, tomorrow is the start of a new week... time to hop on the wagon!
Current Location: living room
Current Mood: accomplishedambitious
What I'm hearing:: sounds like Indy the cat is investigating the recyclables
Other entries
» One Last Message For 2010


What else could it be? Happy New Year, folks. :-)
» A Look Back at 2010
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Enjoyable $HOLIDAY to you!

It has been one hell of a busy, eventful year. In the spirit of last year's New Year post, here is a recap of the big successes from 2010, starting with the big ticket items:
Successfully marry your girlfriend, complete your semester classes, and perform shift work

We're going to have a baby in April 2011!
  • did some awesome things at work!
  • received more raises at work! (Now at ~30% more than what I started at just over three years ago)
  • survived several massive snowstorms without wrecking my car!
  • purchased a rifle/shotgun!
  • started and fully funded a Roth IRA for the year!
  • ran my second 5k... again, up the side of a Goddamned mountain! (and I improved my time, too!)
  • gracefully recovered from a massive honeymoon mistake, with help
  • attended three different performances at Wolf Trap! (Bill Cosby, Irish Tenors, Great Big Sea)
  • drove a new Camaro!
  • paid off my car! (which is not a Camaro)
  • moved to a bigger place in NoVA!
  • established significant financial cushions for emergencies and baby preparations!
  • improved my relationship with my dad
  • took a candlelight tour of Mt. Vernon for my birthday with Courtney!
  • reach the halfway (and 2/3) marks for completion of my MS!
Other notables from this year:
  • didn't quite make it to a fourth Wolf Trap performance, with the National Symphony Orchestra... oh, what a weekend that was
  • adopted a new kitten... for about a week
  • discovered via severe leg pain that yes, ergonomics ARE important
There's some stuff from 2010 that I'm not particularly pleased with myself about, as well... but those are better saved for my next post, which shall outline my plans and resolutions for 2011. For now, it is time to celebrate the successes, and try to further coordinate dinner plans with friends for the evening. Peace!

(PS - I also hope to make some headway on catching up on my "Year in Review" photologue entries, since there's plenty of pictures to be shared. To make the task more daunting, I'm going to try and catch up on 2009 as well as 2010... expect a photo tsunami in the next month! For past years, simply click the "year in review" tag on this entry.)
» The December Midpoint 2010
To resolve the cliffhanger from last entry...

Baby Face!


(Or, in the parlance of Cake Wrecks, "It A Gril!") We have an idea for a name, but I'm going to save that--and a few other semi-related matters--for another post... for now, admire her cute little baby face! Everything seems to be developing nicely, right on track for an early April birthday. :-D

In other news, today is my 26th birthday, and this is my traditional annual birthday post.

I started my birthday pretty early this year, going to bed after midnight last night. I stayed up late to finish my last homework assignment for the semester, and to try and see a few meteors... the Geminids reached their peak around 1am on Monday morning, but it was overcast here. Fortunately last night was beautifully clear with a waxing moon. It's been very cold and windy for this area, down into the teens at night and struggling to reach thirty in the day; fortunately, I was able to wrap myself in a blanket and stand really close to our deck door in the dark and have a slightly warmer vantage. I could easily make out Orion, and I spotted two Geminids shortly after midnight with a little patience. Hooray!

I woke up very cozy and warm, as I've been wearing a wool sweater and socks with my pajama pants to bed. I was greeted first by a kiss from Courtney, then by Indy standing on my chest, meowing in my face to procure his breakfast. About thirty seconds after I got out of bed I got a birthday phone call from Mom. Nice timing!

I had to jump-start my car this morning. It has been starting with increasing difficulty these past few days, presumably due to the cold nights. Fortunately, I got a portable power supply for Christmas last year or so from Mom & Dave. Though it hadn't been charged in a while, it still had sufficient juice to start the car with ease, once I made a good connection to the battery terminals and figured out how to keep it from falling off the engine. The car started fine the rest of the day, but I predict a repeat performance tomorrow morning. (The power supply is charging now in anticipation.) The low power caused my car stereo to lock down--it's a theft-prevention "feature"--and at least two auto places I visited didn't have my car's model of battery. Oddly enough, though, I'm not really bothered by it... it was a fun and interesting way to start the day!

My coworkers surprised me with a tiramisu cake today that was rather tasty and served as my lunch. I was very happy about this, especially since nobody at work last year had a clue it was my birthday at all. Progress!

I left work early to do some battery hunting, and to make sure I got to GMU on time for my final exam. The test went alright; I used just about every minute available, but I answered every question. Of course, with this class, I do that all the time... it's just a question of how many I actually get right. :-P The test wasn't quite as bad as some folks had insinuated, but I'm still happy to be done for the semester.

Also on the grad school front, I received a response back from my advisor. He took a sort of sabbatical for half a year and left the country to go do research (and travel) in Europe, which sounds like fun. It would have been nicer if he'd given me a heads-up in advance, though, because that was right in the middle of my (not very) directed study this summer. I didn't get the paper done in the summer and received an incomplete. I finished the paper and emailed him, but he never responded before his deadline and the incomplete lapsed into an F, which he told me to not worry about because "it can be taken care of". Two or three months and a couple of friendly reminder emails later--in which I point out I can't be reimbursed my tuition fees for an F--and he now says that with my committee member's concurrence, he's submitted a change of grade request to the department secretary to revise it to an A. Three credits, 2/3 done with my degree, and back to a 3.8+ GPA? Happy Birthday to me!

Courtney cooked some tasty feta cheese chicken for dinner, and made me some excellent apple pie. Lots of folks have left birthday wishes on Facebook, too.

On the whole, it's been a pretty damn good day. :-D
» Drumroll, Please...
I've been waiting for tomorrow for a while now.

Courtney & I are taking the day off tomorrow to go see an ultrasound of the baby. Ideally, we'll be able to find out whether the baby is a boy or a girl.

I'd be happy with either, though I think it is a boy. Courtney thinks it is a girl, and is sick of people telling her it's a boy "just because they have a feeling."

I asked folks on Facebook what they thought it was, and it seems like quite the mix... Cylon, Borg, kangaroo, hybrid, genetic mosaic, nerd, man bear pig... for real answers, I think it is currently 7-6 in favor of boy. Someone--can't remember who right now--told us to check the "Chinese conception calendar," and that it had never been wrong in their experience. I think that points to boy, too.

Everyone at work is having girls. EVERYONE.

I honestly have no clue which way it's gonna go. We might not even have conclusive evidence one way or the other tomorrow... but what I do know is that it is finally really really starting to feel real, that there's going to be a little teeny person here in about 4.5 more months...

Awe-inspiring. Unnerving. Exciting.
» Happy Thanksgiving
My leg hasn't been hurting recently. I haven't been to the doctor yet--I should go in just for a checkup, at least--but the issue seemed to be resolved by changing how I sit at work. That's right, kids, ergonomics is serious business; once I started paying attention to my body, I noticed that I was starting to have pain in my mid-back all the way down through my butt into my leg. Right about the same time I noticed this a friend posted a blurb about sciatica on her Facebook wall, which got me thinking about nerves and what irritates them. I have a few different computer monitors at my main spot, but one of them was on an adjacent desk so I'd have to turn and lean to see & interact with it. I've since moved all the most frequently used computers to the same desk and started thinking more about my posture, which has improved things drastically.

Speaking of work, I went in for a couple of hours this morning. I had a few things to take care of before taking a few days off for the Thanksgiving holiday, the main task of which was maybe a touch bittersweet but largely good and somewhat sentimental. It also gave me the hours I needed to achieve overtime for the week, as well as holiday pay. Today was also payday anyway, so good news all around.

C's parents and sister came down for dinner for the third year in a row; I think that technically makes it a tradition now. Stacy and her boyfriend Brendan are currently en route from Albany, and will be arriving in an hour or two. We've got a few dinner invitations from friends, a holiday party at work next week, a birthday and Christmas not long after that... plenty to keep us busy.

I've got it pretty good, and I have a lot for which I'm thankful:
-my wife, who supports me in the busiest, toughest times (and the lighthearted fun ones too)
-my family, which got bigger this year and will increase by one next April
-our new place, which helps facilitate the above
-my friends, who are generally pretty awesome individuals
-my job, which provides plenty of challenges and has increased my salary by 30% since I started in Sept. '07 (though the hours are a little trying sometimes)
-my coworkers, who may be the best team I'll ever be privileged to work with
-our cats, who have not yet found a way to kill me in my sleep (though not from lack of effort sometimes)
-plenty more

I hope that everyone who reads this has just as many reasons to be thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
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