Saturday, June 30, 2007

tumbleweeds blowing across the screen

I know, I know. Sorry.

Although I'm late, late, late in acknowledging the mini-PF BlogCon from last week, hats off to Madame X for organizing a fun-filled night of beer, burgers, and blogtalk. It was a great pleasure to meet the lovely Madame, along with Millionaire Artist and Moom. All three of them are, in a word, inspiring. Madame X posted a most excellent photo of the evening here. I'm the blonde, er, Madonna (I think).

What I find particularly clever about this photo is that Madame X's eye for detail is such that our actual seats at the table that evening are duplicated in mirror image.

Simply awesome.

As for where I've been in recent weeks:

The last month has been the end of the fiscal year and I've had my head down trying to get projects completed before the close of business. A couple of things that happened during this period:

The promotion went splat.
Two people from my large umbrella group made the cut to senior management, and then an executive-level decision was made to revoke one of the new promotions on the grounds of drastic budget cutbacks.

That would be mine.

The good news is that my management is fighting the good fight until the very end. Although it won't make a difference (I'm a realist here, kids), I'm at the top of the list for next year. In the meantime, I have tremendous support from my team and management, along with a nice bonus. That took some of the sting out of it.

It's sunny and warm in New York.
I've been out playing any chance I get.

The less-new-than-before relationship is going swimmingly. It's something of a distraction from blogging.

If you're still with me at this point, check back tomorrow and I'll have something posted about strategies to consider when asking for a raise, and what happened when I did just that last Thursday.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

what did she know and when did she know it?

The Casey Serin story has taken some weird twists over the past couple of weeks. Serin apparently jetted off to Australia to "work on his book." Some people think he actually slipped back into the US and has been cleverly faking photos to make people think he's still in Oz; others think he's still there and trying to set up new scams.

I don't really care one way or the other. What interests me is the focus that Serin's disappearance suddenly shifted onto his wife, Galina.

What did she know and when did she know it?

I can't answer those questions. Unless you're personally involved with either the players or with California law enforcement, you probably can't either. Some people are convinced that Galina Serin is an innocent spouse who was complicit only to the extent that she trusted her husband too much. Others see her as a fraudster in her own right.

In all the discussion I've read of whether she's innocent or guilty, there's one key point that seems to be missing: It was Galina Serin's responsibility to understand the family finances and she chose not to do it.

I've said this before elsewhere, but it bears repeating: Both partners in an adult relationship need to know where the money is coming from and where it's going. Simply trusting one partner to provide is a complete and utter cop-out. As you can see from Galina Serin's current situation, cleaning houses for cash with a mountain of community property debt hanging over her head while her husband stages idiotic emo photos in Australia, it's also stupidly dangerous in the extreme. I don't have a clear sense of the legal options that are open to Galina in this situation, but according to information provided early in the year by Serin himself, a good chunk of debt is in consumer credit opened in Galina's name. Whatever happens with the debt created by Casey, Galina's most likely stuck with the credit card debt to which her name is attached. It's going to take her years to pay it off, and her FICO score is undoubtedly in the basement. There's simply no easy way out for her.

Could Galina have avoided this situation if she had paid attention to the family finances? Possibly; it's hard to say. Should she have had a clear idea from day one about the family cashflow? Definitely. Even if all she could do was damage control after the fact, doing anything at all while Casey was losing houses right and left would have been better than doing nothing. If the available information is a reliabile indicator, as the Serin family finances imploded nothing is exactly what Galina did.

The Serin case is an extreme one, but you can look anywhere in the country and find financial disasters that might have been avoided if both partners took equal responsibility for knowing the household finances and participating in decision-making. Another extreme example is illustrated in the book Prince Charming isn't Coming by Barbara Stanny. Stanny is the daughter of one of the brothers who created H&R Block, so she grew up surrounded by wealth. She had more than a million dollars at the time of her marriage, but she cheerfully gave control of her finances to her new husband. Said new husband took Stanny to the cleaners and fled the country, leaving her destitute.

Does that sound like anyone we know?

The point I'm trying to make is that in an adult relationship, no one gets a pass for being uninformed about the family cash flow. It doesn't mean that disasters won't happen; of course they will. Rather than allowing oneself to be in the position of simply responding to events, however, it's critically important to be continually on top of the information flow. There may come a time when any one of us has to make some tough financial decisions without a lot of preparation time. Having all the facts at one's disposal greatly increases the probability of making good decisions that are appropriate to the specific circumstances. In addition, knowledge allows people to take proactive control of their financial futures, instead of simply responding reactively to external events.

Knowledge is power, my friends.

Galina Serin probably knows that now.

Too bad she chose to learn it the hard way.


Saturday, June 9, 2007

why I don't own an iPod

The iPod is everywhere. The latest incarnation of the shuffle is small enough to get sucked up in the vacuum, but it holds a bazillion MP3's - quite an improvement over the eight-song Rio I picked up as a thank-you for some work I did at a conference some six or seven years ago.

I refuse to get one.

Let me tell you why.

Although I think the iPod is a really, really cool piece of technology, I don't want one for the simple reason that it will cost me money. Here's how:

1. I don't own a PC.
Yup. Don't have one and don't want to spend the money to buy one; I use my work laptop for everything. Reasonable personal use is allowable according to both the employee handbook and the general culture of the firm. Opinions vary on this, but I think that loading up MP3's on a company-owned device goes beyond the bounds of reasonable use.

What about blogging?

Err, let's not think about that one too much.

2. MP3's last only as long as your hard drive.
If you've ever toasted a hard drive, you know what I'm talking about. If your data's not backed up, then eventually you'll pretty much kiss it goodbye for good, usually at the worst possible moment. Of course, it's not difficult to back up your MP3's (and all of you do that, right?). In my case, that would mean buying either a backup device or a CD burner. I'm not sure how legal it is to rip my own MP3 files onto CD (not that I'm too concerned about it), but the last thing I need in a small apartment is more stuff.

We back everything up at work, by the way. I just don't think I should be backing up a personal MP3 collection on firm resources. It's that reasonable use thing again, you see.

3. Apple hasn't solved the battery issue to my satisfaction
Unless something has changed that I don't know about, there's no real way to replace an iPod battery without sending it in to the manufacturer or buying a new device. No thanks. Unless the battery is as simple as a flashlight and I can change it myself, that's just another money suck waiting to happen.

Among the non-pecuiniary reasons for not wanting an iPod, I give you these:

1. I wouldn't really use it.
This is New York; I like to be alert to my surroundings, especially running. The only time I'd use any kind of a portable audio device would be when I'm using the dreadmill or assaulting the elliptical at the gym. When I'm doing one of those two unfavorite activities, I'm just as happy lip-reading CNN instead.

2. I'd vacuum it up.
First thing I thought of when my friend showed me hers.

3. It would add complexity to my life.
The more toys one has, the less time one has to spend with each one. I don't have a lot of toys, but the thought of setting it up, having to find songs to put on it, synching it, updating it, blah blah blah - it's mental clutter and I don't need it.

So, there you have it. The iPod is a godsend to some people, but to me it would be no more than a nuisance. It's become so ubiquitous that I'm starting to get a kick out of not having one the way I do about not having pierced ears.

Sometimes, when everyone else has something, it's kind of cool to be the kid who doesn't.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

the curtain rises and Act II commences

Casey Serin's back. Let the games begin!


Sunday, June 3, 2007

stupidity costs me money and time

I mentioned here that I've sustained a serious running injury that will keep me benched for the next two months, if not longer. The injury is an overuse one that first started bugging me three or four months ago. I ignored it because when it first started, I was still planning on running the Boston Marathon.

I withdrew from Boston because of a family emergency, and I was very distracted at that time; getting the pain checked out didn't rank very high on my priority list. Once things calmed down, however, I continued to ignore it.

That was stupid.

The pain remained steady for a couple of months and then increased dramatically over the past several weeks. Once I finally got it checked out, I got a severe scolding from my orthopedic guy over leaving it for so long. He warned me that if I continue to run on it, I will have problems for the rest of my life.

So okay, I'm taking two months off. I can't not exercise, so I'm alternating between assaulting the elliptical machine at the gym and cranking my mountain bike around Central Park, both activities sanctioned by my doctor and physical therapist. I've also been trying to calculate the cost of the injury, both in time and money. Here's what I've got:

Financial Cost of This Particular Stupidity:

  • Co-pay for specialist assessment: $20. There will be at least two more appointments at $20 a pop.

  • New sweat pants to wear at therapy appointments: $14.99 (This was necessary, in my opinion. My only other sweat pants dated to 1989 and were simply unacceptable to wear out of the house.)

  • New shoes (two pairs of supportive Tevas and one of Merrills): $114.28 (I have been told that I now have to wear shoes inside my home, and after living in Japan I can't bear to wear shoes in the house if they've been outdoors. The Merrills and one pair of Tevas are for that. The other [identical] pair of Tevas is to replace my outdoor Tevas, which are ten years old. The doctor proclaimed them not supportive enough and completely worn out anyway.)

  • Brace to wear at night: $23.99. Would have been $43.99, but I had a $20 gift certificate through Amazon.

  • Lacrosse ball to massage the area: $5.

  • Approximate Total Financial Cost of Stupidity: $218.26

    It's also galling that my goal of not buying any new clothes or shoes this year went completely out the window.

    Time Cost of This Particular Stupidity:
  • Time spent at doctor's office both at appointment and because doctor was running behind: Four hours. (The receptionist told me this is normal for him.) Future cost will be another four hours each time at least two more times.

  • Time spent buying shoes online: Thirty minutes.

  • Time spent trying to buy brace and finding the store closed: Ten minutes.

  • Time spent trying to buy brace and finding the store doesn't carry them: Fifteen minutes.

  • Time spent buying brace online: Fifteen minutes.

  • Time spent buying sweat pants that don't make me look like the back of a bus: Thirty minutes.

  • Time spent on first physical therapy appointment: One hour of consultation plus forty minutes of travel. With appointments twice a week, this will be repeated at least sixteen times.

  • Time spent stretching and icing daily, on doctor's orders: About an hour total. Multiply that by sixty since I have to do it every day.

  • Approximate Total Time Cost of Stupidity: Eighty-five hours.

    That's over two hundred dollars and more than three and a half days committed over two months for not effectively preventing an overuse injury and once it happened, not getting it looked at in a timely manner.

    I hope you learned something from this. I did.


    Saturday, June 2, 2007

    this is the way the world ends

    Not with a bang but with a whimper.

    T.S. Eliot

    In Casey Serin's case, it's a whimper that doesn't know quite when to stop.

    It's been an interesting week in Casey Serin Land. The 24-year-old Casey is the owner of the website iamfacingforeclosure (dot) com (sorry, but I'm not willing to give him any free link publicity by actually linking to his site). Unless this is your first foray into PF blogging or you've spent the last nine months holed up with your fingers in your ears going LALALALALALALALALA, you probably know that in a very short period, Serin bought a bunch of houses in hopes of flipping them for a quick profit and instead ended up losing six of them to foreclosure. Serin committed multiple federal crimes by lying on his loan applications, and for some reason he blogged about it.


    To date, Serin has not been punished by the law but the sudden disappearance of his website suggests that a sound spanking has finally been administered by his wife. The weird part is that after the website was replaced with a blank page on May 31, a cryptic goodbye message popped up a few hours later. Less than 24 hours after that, Serin began modifying the page with a whole variety of goodbye messages, at one point stating that he was forced to choose between his marriage and his blog, so he killed his nine-month-old baby (the blog), just as it was starting to walk and talk. After some six iterations, the blank page returned. In a bizarre twist of events, Serin actually went through with hosting a live call-in talkcast on Friday night, apparently without his wife's knowledge. All is quiet in Casey Serin Land at present, but I wouldn't count on it staying that way for long.

    The sheer stupidity of Serin's actions over the past nine months and his profound knack for annoying the shit out of people have been beaten to death on a wide range of websites, so I'm not going to reiterate the obvious. There are some key points that can be drawn from the Casey Serin saga, and I'd like to share a few of them here:

    1. Once it's on the interwebby, you can never take it back.
    People interested in seeing Serin pay the piper have assiduously scoured the infobahn for dirt on Casey Serin and reposted much of the content of his blog on other blogs, taking it entirely out of his control. One of the gems that has been posted and reposted all over the place was his participation in a chain internet posting scam at the tender age of fourteen. It's reasonable to assume that a fourteen-year-old doesn't tend to think of the long-term consequences of what looks like an easy way to make money, but Serin's a grownup now. His choice to leave a lasting record detailing personal vignettes like how he hates his sister-in-law's cat because he's jealous of the attention his wife pays to the cat, not to mention that he feels that his wife is holding him back from the great adventure of living in his car, will follow him and his family around for conceivably the rest of their lives.

    This was completely avoidable.

    2. Don't confuse your enemies with your friends.
    A great many people initially responded to Casey Serin's foreclosure plight with compassion, and some of that compassion resulted in legitimate business opportunities. Others saw a naive young man and a fast buck to be made. Casey was unable to tell the difference betwen the two. Lack of discernment compounded with immaturity, impulsivity, irresponsibility, and poor decision-making turned out to be a deadly combination. By trying to play one helper against another and repeatedly dropping everything to run after every crackpot idea tossed out by a stranger without doing any due diligence of his own, Serin managed to blow each and every good opportunity that came along. Meanwhile, he shackled himself to a ripoff of a PR contract and continues to count among his friends at least one person whose naked ambition to feed off of Serin's notoriety guaranteed his own long-lived internet infamy.

    As for those people who wanted to help: Many of them got so fed up with dealing with Serin that they washed their hands of him entirely.

    3. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
    Recent discussion in Casey Serin Land speculates that he shows signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and/or Bipolar Disorder. While I think Serin would certainly benefit from a mental health workup, it's not for me or anyone who isn't a mental health professionals to speculate. I would hope that someone in Serin's family is at least trying to get him to see a mental health specialist.

    Let me say that again. It's incumbent on Serin's family to at least try to get him to see a mental health specialist.

    I'm not qualified to make a judgment about Serin's mental stability, but the contents of his blog indicated that he's probably not the most tightly wrapped person out there. It could simply be that he's imaginative and eccentric, but if there's something genuinely wrong in the wiring, he's probably going to be the last person to see it. His family can't force him to get help, but they're in the best position to convince him to do so.

    I hope they're trying.

    4. Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. (Thomas Edison.)
    Based on the contents of his blog, Casey Serin characterized himself as obsessed with work. As his blog unfolded, however, it was increasingly clear that his concept of work didn't really jibe with the conventional wisdom of do-something-and-get-paid or sell-something-and-get-paid. It turned out that he thought of moderating blog comments as work. Critics both gentle and blunt noted that without a sustainable income to live on, moderating comments doesn't really count as work, advice that fell on deaf ears. Whether intentional or disingenous, the general image Serin managed to convey was that of a young guy who had big dreams of getting rich quickly, but wasn't willing to make any actual effort for it. In other words, he comes across as freakin' lazy. Not surprisingly, there were plenty of blog readers who didn't take kindly to that attitude. The Millionaire Next Door notes that most wealthy people got that way over time, and although many of them did take risks, the risks were by and large calculated and based on solid analysis using all available information. People generally don't get rich flying by the seat of their pants, but that's exactly what Serin tried to do.

    There's a lot more to draw from this story, but I don't think we've heard the end of it yet. It's intermission in Casey Serin Land, so let's all have a drink and hit the head. After that, feel free to grab the popcorn and join me for Act II, for I am sure there will be one.


    Friday, June 1, 2007

    okay, even I'm getting grossed out now

    I don't offend that easily, but the ads that have been popping up on this site in the last few weeks are starting to get to me. My breaking point was a large image ad that looks like it came straight from the cover of a smutty magazine with the caption Wanna Play?.


    Sorry if anyone was offended. I went through my ad specs and changed each ad type to only family-friendly ads. I also disabled the annoying interstitial ads (she said tit, huh-huh-huh), which are those redirects to ad pages that require clicking the Skip button to go back to this site's main page.

    I hope these changes improve your end-user experience.

    ETA: Well, dammit. Those gross Wanna Play? images are still coming up. It might take a while for the change to be fully propagated. Just avert your eyes for now, unless you're getting your own personal jollies from them. In that case, enjoy them while they last.

    Sorry about those, I really am. Meh.

    Oh, and thanks to a severe running injury that has me benched for two months, I'm going to magically have time to blog for a while. Check this space sometime tomorrow for some cogitations on Casey Serin's final downfall.


    grubby numbers post

    It's the first today, my favorite day in the entire month. The June mortgage payment gets credited to my account tonight, and that means I've got seventeen months left on this bad boy.

    What makes this payment extra-special is how it maps to my milestone chart:

    September 2001: Offer of $249,000 was accepted by the seller. Ran the numbers to see how much the mortgage was going to cost me in interest. It almost made me sick.

    December, 2001: Finally closed. Signed my name to a thirty-year committment of $199,200. The bank's attorney showed me my co-op stock certificate and said Take a good look at it now. Next time you'll see it is in 2031. (I asked for and received a photocopy.) Lay awake in bed that night wondering how I would ever pay off that much money.

    January, 2002: Made my first full mortgage payment. Added an extra $400 against principal.

    October, 2002: Refinanced to a fifteen-year mortgage in order to take advantage of lower mortgage rates. Realized I could probably pay this thing off in eight years.

    August, 2004: Drastically upped my prepayments and set a target of August, 2008 for final payoff.

    February, 2006: Big milestone: 50% paid off. The principal balance finally dropped under $100,000.

    January, 2007: In 2006, I had to raid my emergency fund several times for unplanned travel for family medical stuff and to replace dying large appliances. Retrenched on prepayments to rebuild my emergency fund and adjusted my payoff target to November, 2008.

    June 1, 2007: Another milestone reached: the original $199,200 mortgage debt is now $49,011. The mortgage is 76.4% paid off.

    Suddenly, November 2008 doesn't seem quite so far away.


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