October 30, 2015

Tell me your daydreams: 2015 edition

2000: I was a kid making minimum wage.
I had a high school diploma.
I dreamed about buying a house for my parents, and a house for myself. I dreamed about a career, and happiness, and dogs, and success.

2005: I was a 20-something making an entry-level salary.
I had a college degree and a toehold into my industry.
I dreamed about buying a house for my parents, and a house for myself. I dreamed about being able to afford insurance for Mom, and paying for my Masters / PhD in cash. I dreamed about the day I’d pay off the last of the debt.
Confession: There was some grumbling that my parents should have been more strict and some regretting of my life choices. “Do what you love,” they said. “You should pursue a degree in something you enjoy,” they said. Sure I was glad they weren’t the typical, high-pressure “You’re nothing if you’re not a doctor” immigrant parents but couldn’t they just once have said, “you can do what you love but what you love may not love you back”? I would have taken the hint!

I guess not. We didn’t talk about love.

So instead, after obtaining my hard won degree, I was toiling away, making not-engineering money. (Engineering runs in the family but the bug skipped me.)

2010: I was a 20-something making more than $50K/year.
I had a college degree and enough years of experience in my career field to make it to management. I had been audited by the IRS twice because apparently it’s weird for someone in their 20s to claim both their parents and a sibling as dependents. But it’s all legit. They didn’t hassle me after I submitted all the proper documentation.
I dreamed about buying a house for my parents, and a house for myself. I dreamed about being able to afford full health insurance for Mom, and being able to afford any comfort she could ever want.

2015: I’m in my 30s making more than $50K/year.
I have a degree, years of experience, and the respect of the right people so that for the first time, I made a career transition to a job created for me based on my strengths and potential to grow. Combining incomes with PiC gave our net worths a huge boost, and for once, I could comfortably pay for my own existence as well as my family’s. Comfortably is not the same as easily. Every penny has to be accounted for at the end of the year and I’d like to see 10% more going into savings. It won’t happen while more than $10K/year goes home, though. We’ve had reality-bending and I can’t shake the feeling that my happiness is built on the shambles of my old life.

I’m dreaming about an even more independent career, making real money. I’m dreaming about how to grow our first million, and how that becomes the next few millions. I’m dreaming about how those millions will lay the foundation of a Foundation, to help those in need. I know money isn’t always the answer but sometimes it is. I’m dreaming about how to ease Dad’s later years, but I don’t know how to do that without being dragged down the Brother’s Keeper Lane. Taking care of family is just not the same. Not now that we have a small child. I’m dreaming of building a school that functions how schools should: providing education, safety, and opportunity. A school that pushes every student to excel, not just the chosen few, not just the favored. A monument to education that embraces change and experimentation and doesn’t bow to the almighty standardized testing. I’m dreaming of helping kids stuck in the foster system, that broken system, a system that forces kids to scramble to survive and makes an enemy of those who should be there to help.  We live in a culture that will idolize a guy who can hit a ball but social workers who actually help kids are overworked, underpaid, and afforded no respect. Everywhere around me, I see broken systems and something has to change.

::Have your goals and dreams evolved very much over the past several years? What do you want to see change? What do you want to change yourself?


January 28, 2015

When a “What If” scenario kicks your ass: the death of a hard drive

Ironically, one of my what-ifs actually happened just as I was in the middle of dealing with insuring against it….

I was in the process of backing up all our photo files and had recently gotten the first phase done: back up to an external hard drive. I’d been haunted by this horror of losing all the important stuff, sowas on a kick to back up everything I could, work and photo-wise, to hard drives and the cloud.

Work was relatively easy once the first full back up was done – that bit took ages but it was done and the back ups run automatically.

Photos and personal documents, though, are scattered across more than one computer so I started with adding them to one unified hard drive first.  This was partly driven by immediate need;  my phone was staggering under the weight of the thousands of pictures and videos stored there and was threatening to kick the bucket entirely.  All those files were actually automatically backed up via Google but I rather foolishly assumed, and didn’t confirm by trying it, that there was a way to download all those stored files easily.

Having pulled all the files off the phone and saved them to the hard drive, I should have also temporarily stored the whole kit and caboodle to my working laptop. Hindsight, ever is it 20/20.

It slipped my mind, so you can just imagine my mini heart attack when I plugged in the external hard drive this weekend and found that it was corrupted.

After 2 hours of Googling, testing and troubleshooting, it was relatively clear that this was a corruption that’d probably require actual professional data recovery. With all the Little Bean expenses looming, though, spending several hundred dollars on this was not an option if it could be helped so I went another route. If I could retrieve all the data then I could just reformat the drive and save a new set of files (which would now also be backed up seventeen other ways!)

Except there was no easy “Download all” button on Google Plus.


With thousands of precious photos of Doggle that were now only in one, poorly accessible place, I just went into silent FIX IT NOW mode.

Relatively silent.

Tried Google Drive, no love.
Tried downloading albums, but since I’d not organized all the photos into albums, downloading from there was no good as it ignored anything not in albums.
I flipped out a bit on Twitter, which brought the amazing @daNanner to my aid, with suggestions of using Picasa to pull the whole archive off G+, but alas, still no good.
Further Googling was fruitless, so I resigned myself to painstakingly downloading each image one by one. This was a huge pain, to go from oldest to newest, you have to load the entire archive.

Then @daNanner popped up again with another suggestion: Google Takeout. Her Google-fu is strong, this was the answer!

It took an hour to download everything into zip files, another dozen hours to download the SIX 2G zip files, and yet another five to sort them because the archive files were a complete mess but the photos are saved and destined to be saved as many ways as I can think of: two external hard drives, a laptop hard drive, a backup program like Backblaze or Crashplan.

October 20, 2014

Applying the safety pads for Life

Usually, playing the game of “what if…” is just another way to drive yourself mad slowly.

In my teens: What if my hands never get better (the fibro was only in a couple places at this point)?
In my 20s: What if I’m too sick or crippled to work by the time I’m 30 (the fibro had spread every joint in my body)?
In my 30s: What if I have a family, then become crippled from the pain and have to stop working? What if (it’s only a matter of time, according to the USGS) we get hit with a huge earthquake and we’re not prepared? What if Little Bean is (any number of horrible things)? What if one or both of us dies in the near future? What if my brother deteriorates further, or hurts someone? What if my dad’s health fails because he won’t take care of himself?

Some things, I have zero control over. *ahem* Family and their health. Or their decisions that I think are terrible.

The rest of the time though, and usually it’s financially, it morphs into my To-Do List, because the answer tends to be “that’d be horrible! Now how to prevent it (or mitigate the pain)??”

1. What if one or both of us dies?

Estate planning, get our wills and trust sorted – there are hard conversations to have but PiC and I are getting to be more and more on the same page about these things. We have ourselves to consider, Little Bean to consider, our extended families to think of. And not just consider, we have to determine exactly who we would ask to take care of things in the event of our untimely demise: who would take care of Little Bean? Who would take the dog(s)? How will they be adequately provided for? What if one of us dies? What if both of us die?

Of course these aren’t FUN questions but I’ve had to consider these things since I was 19 and the primary breadwinner. Real life isn’t always a carnival unless this is the house of whatever-mirrors.

2.What if we lose one or both jobs?

Savings, steady as she goes – I won’t reduce our savings rate from at least 25% of our gross income, period. There’s nothing we want or need badly enough that we couldn’t cut somewhere else to preserve that savings rate because I refuse to compromise in a way that exposes us more to the risk of being poor and sick/disabled. I watched my mom live and die without savings, without choices, and without adequate care, I’m not doing it.

Investing, take some risks to grow our assets – As much of a cash hoarder as I am, we have to increase our income in ways that will provide a viable means of retirement income when the time comes. Research continues to effectively invest our income across a variety of vehicles, not just the stock market. Anything can happen and diversifying is one kind of insurance against any single area crashing.

In an ideal world, I don’t want to work a corporate job until I hang up my spurs, and I know PiC doesn’t want to either, so this serves more than one purpose.

3.What if we get in an accident/lose our home?

Insurance, speaking of …  – Every so often, I reevaluate not only if we can get a better rate, but also whether our insurance is enough for our needs. We carry car insurance, homeowners’ insurance and an earthquake rider. I’m also considering an umbrella policy.

We’ve been scoffed at for carrying an earthquake insurance rider and to that I say: Psh! I’m no fool, we can’t afford to cash flow the rebuild of our entire home and the cost to live in the meantime, and that’s the risk I’m insuring against. In an area where the USGS predicts a 99.1% chance of a catastrophic earthquake in the next 50 years, it’s hardly throwing money away.

4.What if our computers crash or die a fiery death?

Bills, Data, & Records – while I’m mostly banking and doing most transactions online, I don’t think our system is nearly ready for any number of problems. I do most of the bill paying, this needs to be more automated and organized so that PiC can take over if necessary. I do all our investing, he also needs to have easy access to the necessary information. And we need to make sure all our important records are not only digital, they’re saved in more than one place in case of natural disaster.

5.We live in CA, what happens WHEN we experience a real natural disaster?

Earthquake, Fire, & General Disasters – Where you have an earthquake, you have a huge risk of fire following. Just look at what happened in Napa, recently. We have a long way to go on this prep and I’m just getting things organized. We need an emergency kit for us at home, for PiC’s office, for the cars, and for the dog. (Seamus is really strong so he could actually carry his own emergency pack of food and water once I find one, that’s one minor relief.)  It’s weird how much easier it is to spend money on immediate needs even when I know this is something that just absolutely has to get done.

I’ve ordered some emergency food, but we still need food, water, some form of shelter, decent shoes, crank powered radio/charger thing, flashlight, etc. Basically add everything in this post with an eye to portability in case the house is damaged and unsafe; I don’t love the premade kits because of the need for portability so I’m taking some notes from the USGS recommendations.

Also, we need a plan for what we do when and if this disaster strikes and PiC and I are separated.

Think that’s enough to be getting on with? What’s on your mind when you start thinking What If?

June 23, 2014

In case of (money) emergency, break glass

Nicole and Maggie’s “where can you tap if you came up short” post was good fun.

My short answers:

Credit cards first assuming it’s under 50K and not a long term recurring expense. Pay it off with….
1. Expenses checking account.
2. Savings specifically holding money for the expenses account.
3. Emergency cash fund.
4. Several CDs.
5. Sell off stock portfolio.
6. Retirement savings.
(How short is short??)
7. Sell the property if it’s that bad.

But of course that just triggered a bunch of questions. What are we talking about when we say, short?

If I “overspent” in any given month (wedding expenses, I guess are the only thing that has recently been in this category), it’d be on the credit card. Those are paid in full with cash in my our checking account specifically meant for paying bills. We put our paychecks in there, less our automated savings, so whatever’s in there is “fair game”. Of course, when that goes above a certain amount, I skim right off the top and put it in emergency savings too so that grows a little faster than generally planned. What? I LIKE SAVINGS.

(Shoot, I LOVE savings. Like I love donuts. And I love donuts.)

I still leave a healthy amount in there (up to several thousand) because nothing in the emergency fund comes out for anything short of a medical emergency, job loss or death in the family.  At that, while we didn’t do anything extravagant so it wasn’t an unreasonable amount, Mom’s funeral was paid in full with a check the day of the arrangements. And before that, her major dental expenses went on my credit card, and was also paid off in full. So that checking account can bear up against a few strains pretty easily.

If we are talking job loss, though, that’s a different story. That’s ongoing expenses for an undetermined amount of time so I’d be looking at ways to mitigate the lack of income (unemployment income, freelancing, consulting – whatever) at the same time as tapping the emergency fund.

I spent almost a year unemployed. During that time, I worked the network HARD while freelancing and writing; back then the emergency fund wasn’t nearly as healthy but the expenses had also been trimmed back to a fare-thee-well, so the rate of withdrawal wasn’t truly atrocious. Scary, yes, because once I was tapped out, that was me AND my family on the street, but objectively, not that bad.

Our expenses now have grown: two households, two dependents, pets, long distance family to visit, etc. We CAN cut back in some ways but not a whole lot. So the list generally stays the same.

It’s both comforting to know that our savings could probably carry us at least a year based on our expenses not changing and assuming no emergencies (though c’mon, one bad turn tends to breed another), and scary to think it probably couldn’t last 2-3 years. My comfort zone lies in a much higher amount of savings.

:: Over to you! What’s your emergency money plan?

June 19, 2013

In Case of Emergency …

We recently had the fire alarms go off midday when I was hanging out with Doggle and it wasn’t clear if it was just a drill/test or if it was the real thing. Of course the first thing I did was what you’re not supposed to do: went to open the front door without feeling it first to see if there was heat behind it.

In my defense, I knew it was a bit stupid to do at the exact moment of doing it, but I could hear neighbors’ voices very nearby so it was more of a calculated risk than just a stupid impulse.

It wasn’t clear from the babble if anyone knew what on earth was going on but since Doggle and I were already prepping for our walk, we poked out around outside to see if there was any reason to believe there was really an emergency.  All we saw were confused neighbors milling about asking if I spoke their language and chattering to one another.

We meandered until we found a repairman apologizing profusely for the false alarm and lack of advance notice. About 30 times over, because every resident in the crowd interrogating him had to ask the same questions that were asked before:

1. This is a test?
2. Why didn’t anyone tell us?
I don’t know but I’m really sorry about the inconvenience and for alarming you.

Poor guy. The false alarm was annoying but it was even more annoying not to be able to ask my legitimate and original question over the clamor.

What have we learned?

  • A lot of our neighbors are panicky and annoying.
  • We aren’t prepared at all for an actual evacuate-now emergency.

I immediately sat down and started a list of emergency packs I should make up in case we ever do have such a calamity. It’s most likely to be an earthquake considering we ARE in the Bay Area, but anything could happen. All of these have to be portable in case only one of us is home at the time. And I pray that one of us IS home if anything happens, I can’t imagine Doggle figuring out how to find us, microchip or not.

  • Doggle, on leash
  • Doggle’s pack (that I wish he could carry for himself) prepacked with: 5 lb bag of food rations, 1 L water bottle, 2 travel bowls, paw gloves in case of bad footing, extra leash, a dog blanket, 1 large and 1 small towel, poop bags.
  • People pack: Water, food bars, (2) changes of clothes, towels, hygiene pack (toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, contact solution, nail clippers), Swiss Army knife, med kit (bandaids, triple antibiotic ointment, gauze, med tape, antibiotic wipes), water purifier, flashlight, extra batteries.
  • Mini Radio?

To pack on the fly/seasonal stuff:

1. Information pack: computers, external hard drives, charger pack, phone charters, passports.
2. Jackets, gloves, hats, extra socks and shoes.

We don’t have everything on hand so these won’t come together right away but most of Doggle’s pack is done.

It feels like I should have stuff that I associate with the wilderness/camping like a shovel, matches/lighter, can opener but maybe that’s overkill?

:: How prepared are you for a disaster? What should I add or remove from my packs?

October 16, 2012

The Chase British Airways Card, Avios Points and flying British Airways

When I started traveling and doing business overseas, I knew right away that  I would have a hernia over paying stupid fees like foreign transaction fees. No sirree, traveling and traveling for work may appear to be a fun “perk” to some but no way am I paying what I consider stupid tax for the privilege – nope.

Preparing for the trip to Thailand had me thinking on the BA card, ruing having  missed the better bonus offer, then had the premium offer offfered when I needed to book another ticket so I figured that it’d be worth the exchange of an annual fee ($75) for the cost of a ticket. I kept that card for a year longer than I had originally planned, racked up another ticket’s worth of point so we’re now at about 120K points, paid another $75, and I’m thinking about canceling the card once I confirm I have another Chase card in the wings that serves the no-foreign-transaction-fee purpose.

Having flown BA a couple of times, I’d call the service is middling-fair. I’ve always been economy class and don’t expect much from the cattle-prod section. The food’s been nearly edible, the seats are sittable and you can generally get some rest even despite the lights-on-lights-off acts.

The thing that infuriates me, however, is the discovery that my points may well be worthless for the very reason I earned them.  The point of earning mileage points and paying the fersnicken annual fees was to redeem for two free flights with a modest fee attached.

Would you believe that a search for two seats on a reward flight to London out of a local international airport costs 100K points and nearly $1400 each?!

For the same itinerary, the same cash would buy 70% of the seats. It’ll cost another $675 to buy the rest of the two tickets.

It seems I might as well save my reward points and upgrade, because why waste that many reward points and pay the majority of the price to get exactly the same seats? If I’m going to burn points and cash, I had better be getting something of value, hadn’t I?

Needless to say, this had made me incredibly cranky and though I was willing to be persuaded into keeping this card long-term as a secondary card, carrying an annual fee though it does, this ridiculous scheme firmly set my mind against keeping it. Though the service provided by some of the major domestic carriers is subpar, I will say that redeeming rewards from them has always been reasonable as long as the flights were available. Most times, if it wasn’t at the last minute, they were available.

Of the domestic carriers I use most frequently, only United has implemented a tiered fee schedule that charges higher fees for late bookings or changes to the itinerary, close in to the departure date.  The highest fee is $150 per ticket to change a booked flight, which is fairly high but doesn’t touch the egregious fees of British Airways just to book.

Eventually, I’ll get around to making a decision on these points: either we’ll use the points to book some domestic flights at much lower fees or I’ll save them for a really nice upgrade when we have the time and money to travel for a little while.

What would you do? 

April 24, 2012

Career Life: Securing the battlements for a promotion

As you may know, I was promoted this year.

It was a long road in getting there, and I thought I’d share some of the process.

Even though I had the advantage of knowing the job description when it went live, it was never a given that the job was mine. This was serious business. Sure, I could learn from someone else. But this was my team. And I wasn’t prepared to let someone else be my boss, other than Boss.

I considered this a strategic battle and I prepared as such.

Stage One: Signal of Intent

Once the job was created, my mind was ticking. There was never a moment to just sit back and think about it so I kept the back of my mind in high-analysis mode for weeks about what I had to shore up before the interview.

Then, of course, I went over my resume about ten more times before I was satisfied, and started crafting a cover letter.

I hate writing cover letters.

One of the benefits of my job for this situation has been hiring and hiring a lot. I’ve read well over a thousand resumes and cover letters, and helped other people with theirs. It didn’t make writing mine easy, critiquing is always easier because of the mental distance, but it was easier.  Once completed, rewritten, burnished, and rewritten again, I asked the favor of the eyes of a few respected expert resume and cover letter readers for feedback. *Interestingly enough, I wasn’t comfortable submitting my cover and resume until I had already started working my way through some of the areas I knew were weaknesses or lacking. There had to be truth in advertising as an internal candidate.

Stage Two: We Have Contact – The Interview

It was unfortunate timing that the process coincided with my Mom’s passing. My Powerpoint was half done and largely unpolished, my plan was still putty and I had to pull it all together while trying to stay on top of work. Jobs may be easier to get when you have one but the process is pretty painful.

Still. Eye on the ball: my team.  (I’m not possessive, oh no.)

Once the interviews were scheduled, the panel was set. I knew who my audience would be and what perspectives/departments/concerns might be represented in our conversations. From there, I tailored my presentation.

Honestly, despite carefully dressing (totally out of character for our culture, predictably earning me a few jibes), an excellent Powerpoint tailored to be inserted into each conversation with individuals rather than having them each sit through the same thing, I felt that my performance was inconsistent.

I was not in my best form that day (or any other day that month – holidays, new life, without Mom were basically hell). The most important person to sway on the panel was very insistent to sticking to a script and after a full day swapping gears between work and interviews, I simply didn’t keep framing the conversation as I should have.

It took about four days before I got past post-interview jitters and unnecessary recapping.

Stage Three: Immersion and Negotiations (pre and post offer)

Post-interview, I immediately immersed myself in salary negotiation and interview technique writings and videos. It didn’t matter if I wasn’t at that stage yet. I was still, in essence, at that stage. I needed to be in the right mindset. It was the next best thing to practice and to achieve a sense of control and calm. 

As well, without practice, all of the following would feel impossible. It would feel “easier said than done.” I simply couldn’t leave anything to chance or hope, so analysis, strategic planning and more planning it was!

The interesting thing about negotiating with this particular organization and the people involved is that while they certainly don’t make it seem like the job itself will be rescinded simply for the asking, they have been less that open to negotiating itself. Or that initiating and continuing the process for more than a weak gesture means you’re “hard-nosed.”  Nossiree. Know what I know?

This is business.

“When people with hiring authority think of winners, they think of people like them who live and breathe this business thing.  They negotiate things as a matter of course: that is a major portion of the value they bring to the company.  Volunteering a number when asked says the same thing to people with hiring authority that flunking FizzBuzz says to an engineer: this person may be a wonderful snowflake in other regards, but on the thing I care about, they’re catastrophically incompetent.  It will also cause them to retroactively question competencies they’d previously credited you with.”  Patrick of Kalzumeus, in his 7000 words on Salary Negotiations  

My mindset:  I represent my business interests in this negotiation and those interests are my life, my ability to make choices, my freedom. This is my family I’m negotiating for.

And if that isn’t enough, I absolutely acknowledge that as a woman, as a minority(somewhat, this is a slightly wibbly wobbly factor), and as a relatively young person, I apparently have the cards stacked against me, not to mention the dismissive attitudes that don’t come right out and say: it’s not that your work doesn’t merit the higher salary, but you’re just sort of too young so we don’t actually understand why you’re asking as you should be glad to have landed the job.

And to that I say: You’ve had the time and opportunity to observe extremely high quality, high powered work and know that I will bring even more value over the next period of time, and for that? Appropriate compensation is appropriate.

But at this point, it was a waiting game. I had been interviewed, other candidates would be interviewed, and a second round of interviews would commence for final candidates.

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