About those resolutions …

Back in February, I followed up on how I was doing with my New Year’s Resolutions after only a month. I was surprised to find that I was doing pretty well. Let’s see how I’m doing now that we’re five months into the year.

Creativity

1. Write more consistently, whether journaling, blogging, or creative writing.

I haven’t been able to attend my writing group for the last month or so because the meeting day changed due to a scheduling conflict for Melanie, the group’s instructor. I don’t have to have a writing group to write; I could blog every day if I simply had the motivation, and that would count as writing. In other words, I just used the writing group as an excuse for not writing. Sorry, Melanie. I take that back and restate it thus: I have not met my goal of writing more consistently.

I did, however, finally check out Ficlets.com after reading about it a few times on Wil Wheaton’s blog in exile. More on that a little later in this post.

2. Find another outlet for article writing (since ComputorEdge has gone virtual.)

I never heard from one of the computer magazines to which I sent a query letter, but I did hear back from another one, which is in its startup phase. We’ll see how that one works out. In the meantime, I wrote a second pro bono feature article for ComputorEdge, officially my 25th article for them. (Link goes to a PDF of the online issue.)

3. Publish some fiction. (Didn’t I say this last year?)

Other than putting a little piece up on Ficlets, I haven’t done anything in this regard except think about it. I think I like Ficlets, though. I’m a fan of structured writing, and the 1K limit on posts forces me to write tightly.

4. Play more musical gigs.

SR3 has played a couple of gigs recently, and we have a few more lined up. We will probably play at Federal Heights Day on September 20, as well.

5. Start teaching my stepson how to play guitar (his request, my responsibility to follow up.)

We haven’t done much with this since our initial attempts. It’s clear that Logan needs a Logan-sized guitar with standard tuning, but I haven’t had the money to get him one.

6. Transplant my Variax electronics into a Carvin Bolt kit or Warmoth guitar body.

I’m still not in a position to do this yet. I have scaled back my grandiose plans, though, and will be simply transplanting the Variax electronics into a nice body and adding a tremolo. I’ll save the passive pickups for a future project.

Physical & Mental Health

1. Learn how to get up earlier, consistently.

Through March, I did very well with this. However, I’m back to having a hard time getting up on time in the morning. In an effort to make progress, I have stopped taking the medication that was making me bleary-eyed in the morning, with no apparent negative effects. The key is going to be consistency. I need to get to bed at the same time on most nights, and then I will be able to get up on time easier.

2. Utilize my handheld BalanceLog software to track my eating and exercising habits.

Again, I haven’t been using it, but I’m at my lowest weight in the last few years. Go figure.

3. Ride my bike or walk to work more often. (If I get up earlier, this is not a problem!)

I still have not ridden my bike to work as much as I would like. Now that spring is here, I really have no excuse.

4. Schedule dental appointments to get my teeth taken care of.

I have not done this yet, despite my wife’s repeated urgings to do so. I’ve definitely dropped the ball on this one.

Financial Health

1. Get the amp out of the pawn shop, and never put it in again.

I had planned to get the amp out in February, but then I got a major wage garnishment from the State of Colorado for back taxes. (This relates to the 401k disbursement I took to buy my house not long before Intermountain Color — now Signature Offset — fired me and two other managers with no severance pay.) With this garnishment almost behind me, I’m hoping to get the amp out soon, as well as the two guitars I had to pawn in order to make rent and mortgage payments. 🙁

2. Continue to provide quality computer consulting, but stop devaluing my services as much.

I’ve been doing well on consulting. In the last week alone, I have made over $200 on consulting. I also have decided to take on the web hosting and design for a liberal poetry and essay site. In the interest of no longer devaluing my services, I parted ways with Flying Pen Press in March. The amount of time I spent working on the site was not worth the return I received when compared with other consulting jobs, so I officially resigned as their webmaster. I wish no one in the company any ill will, and I still want the company to succeed. I simply won’t be part of it when they do.

3. Keep current on space rent, car payment, mortgage, and car insurance.

Because of the garnishment I mentioned earlier, we did get behind on mortgage and space rent again. With my next check, the garnishment will be over, and we have a payment plan in place to have both space rent and mortgage payments current as of May 31 (including the June mortgage payment!) After August, things will be easier, because our mortgage will go down by about $275 per month. Before then, I should be receiving a raise at work, as well. See that light at the end of the tunnel? It’s actually daylight, not a train this time.

4. Make a spending plan (a.k.a. budget) and stick to it.

The “Mad Money” budget that I made is working pretty well, although most of my Mad Money has either gone into the gas tank or to help pay bills. Again, after my (hopeful) raise and reduction in mortgage payment, it should be much easier to stick to the budget, as well as pay down other old debts.

5. Track finances better with Quicken on computer and handheld.

I have completely fallen off the wagon with Quicken since my last post about this. I need to take statements for the last three months and reconcile them with my Quicken account so I can get back on track.

Home Improvements

1. Clean cat boxes daily.

I started out the year well with this chore, but I’ve fallen back again. I’m not as bad about it as I once was, but I’m definitely not in the habit of cleaning the boxes daily. This is one of the simple things that I can control; I just need to do it.

2. Help more with household chores without having to be asked.

I still help out in the kitchen, though not as much as I was. Again, I’ve backslid on this, and again, it’s something I can control.

3. Reduce household clutter gradually (this will help mental health, too.)

This is a tough one. Lannette and I have too much stuff and not enough room, and although I consider myself to be fastidious, I get overwhelmed with clutter and give up. We have made some changes; the city had a trash amnesty day recently, in which we got rid of quite a bit of unused stuff, and we’ve re-arranged some of the storage cabinets inside the house to make them more useful. Lannette found a china hutch and buffet on Freecycle, which allowed us to free up one of our huge bookshelves that we had been using as a pantry. This means I can bring in the books that I still have in storage in our shed. 🙂

4. Upgrade my computer (new mobo, RAM, and video.)

Eventually, my old motherboard died forever. The culprit: bad capacitors. I have fixed other motherboards with similar problems, but this one had far too many capacitors leaking brown fluid to spend time replacing them all. So, I was forced to upgrade to a new board, and now I have a great base upon which to build. Unfortunately, I’m running onboard video because I couldn’t afford to get a new PCI-E video card to go with the new board. When I can, I will get a good video card and maybe get back into gaming a bit.

5. Replace carpet with hardwood flooring throughout the house.

No change here. I really hope we can do this this summer. It will take a good chunk of money and a lot of work, but it will get rid of the carpet that the cats ruined, will make the house easier to keep clean, and will increase the value of our home.

6. Landscape yard.

Things are moving on this front. The park where I live replaced some poorly made rampart walls with better ones, driving piles into the hillside to help support the walls. This left a lot of old rampart bricks available for resident use, so my neighbor collected a lot of them. His lot sits about four feet below mine, and we would both like to see a low wall placed along the property line, which I would backfill with the dirt I moved into our back yard when building our shed three years ago. I just found a $10 used wheelbarrow to help with this task. My neighbor doesn’t have enough bricks to run the length of the yard at the height we need, but I promised him that I would purchase the necessary bricks to bring the wall up level with my yard later this summer.

7. Install carport/awning.

Nothing has changed in this regard. I would love it if I could build one of these this year. I can envision it, but I don’t know if I can afford to do it, either in terms of money or time.


Overall, it feels like I’ve backslid since February, particularly in the areas of keeping up with the catboxes and the household chores. The garnishment didn’t help things any, and if I’m able to rescue my amp and guitars, I will be very surprised and happy. I just hope there’s not another garnishment waiting around the corner.

24th ComputorEdge article

My latest article for ComputorEdge hit the web on Friday. It’s entitled “The Dark Side of the Coin,” and is about Internet resources people can use for climbing out of debt. It was while researching this article that I truly found the usefulness of JD Roth’s GetRichSlowly site, as well as Leo Babauta’s ZenHabits site (which just won Best Overall Blog for the Performancing Blog Awards 2007. (I’m not sure I would make a verb out of “performance,” but then again, it does make a unique blog name.)

I’ve been dealing with debt in various degrees for at least the last twenty years. After losing my job in 2005 (during my honeymoon, I might add) and after Lannette’s diagnosis of fibromyalgia and resulting need to leave the corporate workspace, we found ourselves living on about a third of the income we had been bringing in while both of us were employed. The effect was catastrophic to our lives, resulting snowballing debt we couldn’t pay, a vehicle repossession and near eviction from our home.

Things are better now, but still somewhat tight. I’m working on creating multiple income streams that can help a little; my writing for ComputorEdge was one of those streams, but the magazine’s new Web-only business model (a.k.a., no more pay for articles) means that I need to find a replacement for that. Perhaps the replacement will come from computer consulting. Perhaps it will come from selling other articles. If I get really lucky, maybe it will come from writing short stories (but that means I need to actually submit some, and not squander the opportunities when I get them.)

At any rate, the blog resources mentioned above are very helpful and inspirational, and I recommend them to anyone who wants to get a handle on his or her finances (or life, for that matter.)

Of Laptops and Cub Scout Slides

Christmas 2007 just slipped into the past a few minutes ago, and I’m reflecting on what I’ve given today. Specifically, I’m thinking about one of the things I gave to my stepson: a laptop computer.

It’s not a great laptop; it’s about eight years old (300 MHz, 128 Mb RAM, 12 GB HDD, no wireless, bad hinges), but it’s still a laptop. It will run the basics, like a word processor and a web browser when we get a wireless card for him. I got it (and another nearly identical laptop, which I might be was able to repair for my wife) from a co-worker last Friday, so it was a very last minute thing, but with a little tinkering and some research, I was able to make it run. Logan had asked for a laptop for Christmas, and my initial thought was that there was no way we would be able to buy him one. We’re still struggling financially, despite my new job, so a laptop seemed completely out of the question.

Now, though, I wonder if he’s disappointed. When we gave it to him, I explained that it had bad hinges and he needed to be careful with them, and I explained that it was old and slow, and wouldn’t run World of Warcraft like he probably wanted it to, but he would be able to do his homework on it and play basic Pogo.com games and so forth on it. Maybe I was just reading something into his reaction, but he seemed disappointed.

Or maybe I was just seeing through his eyes, and imagining what he was thinking. I remember when I was eight — a few years younger than Logan — and I joined Cub Scouts. My family lived in a trailer, like I do now, and we got my Cub Scout uniform at the thrift store. One thing we couldn’t find at the thrift store was an official brass Cub Scout slide for my neckerchief, though. I desperately wanted the official slide, because I wanted to fit in with all the other kids. I begged and pleaded, and my parents said it cost too much money to get a new one, and that I would have to make do by tying a knot or something. I was devastated.

Little did I know, my Dad had an idea. He loved tinkering in the little metal shed next to our trailer, much like I enjoy tinkering with computers in the spare room at my house now. He found a block of wood about two inches long, drilled a hole lengthwise through the center, “painted” it royal blue with a thick magic marker, and wrapped a leather thong around it several times, gluing the ends in place. When he was finished, he called me out to the shed and presented it to me, a proud smile on his face. He had fashioned a one-of-a kind neckerchief slide for me, from scratch.

I hated it. It wasn’t anything like the shiny brass slides the other kids had, and I hated that I was from a family that was too poor to buy me a new slide, or even a new uniform.

I can only imagine how my Dad must have felt. I don’t remember if I reacted politely, or if I told him outright that I hated it, but I’m sure he knew the truth, and I’m sure it hurt him that I didn’t appreciate the work he put into it, or appreciate the fact that it was made from scratch.

Looking back on it now, I was an idiot. I should have reveled in the uniqueness of my Cub Scout slide. I should have showed it off and told everyone how my Dad had made it for me with his own hands out of wood, leather, and glue. That was part of the spirit of Cub Scouts, after all; we made things, we were taught to be resourceful, and we were taught to honor our parents. My homemade slide was far better than the shiny brass ones (which I later found out were just cheap plated metal anyway.)

I know, a laptop and a Cub Scout slide are two drastically different things. But times now are drastically different from what they were thirty-five years ago, too. Despite the disparity, there are some similarities between what transpired then and now. When I gave Logan the laptop, though, he wasn’t rude; he didn’t say he hated it. And, after watching a movie with me, he booted up the laptop and wrote part of a short story on it, balancing it on a TV tray with one of my shoes propping up the loose screen. Despite the fact that it was still broken enough that it wouldn’t hold its own screen weight, he didn’t appear to hate it.

I still feel like it’s an inadequate present, though. I want to make it a useful tool for him. I have plans to fix the hinges so he won’t have to prop it up with shoes, and I will get a wireless card for it so he can check his e-mail and do research on the Internet. (Update 1/4/07: I received the new hinges for both this laptop and my wife’s laptop yesterday and installed them last night. Now both laptops have nice, stiff screens that support their own weight.) Maybe I should find a way to wrap a leather thong around it and “paint” it with a royal blue Sharpie … no, then he really would hate it.

Maybe someday Logan will look back at this night and remember how he felt about his first laptop. And maybe, just maybe, after he’s gotten older and has a different perspective on things, he will realize that there was more heart that went into fixing that broken laptop than there appeared to be, and maybe that memory will be as special to him as my memory of my Cub Scout slide became when I got older.

Or maybe not. Either way, I hope he’ll let me know in thirty-five years or so.

The author at 8 sporting his custom Cub Scout slide

2007 Resolutions

Yes, like every other blogger in the blogosphere, I’m going to post my resolutions for the new year. I did this once before, in a prior incarnation of the Lytspeed Communications site, back before the term “blog” existed. I did keep a few of those resolutions, namely dropping the weight (45 pounds, actually!), playing more live music, volunteering for Colorado Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, and learning more about coding HTML, but not in 1997.

Yes, my online home turns ten years old this year. And though I don’t have the popularity or visitation that mainstream bloggers have, I do feel pretty good about being ahead of the curve.

I think my resolutions for this year are quite a bit more reasonable than the ones I made in 1997. Maybe I’ll look back in another nine or ten years and see how many of them I accomplished this year.

Okay, enough stalling. Here are my resolutions for 2007:

Manage Finances Better – I have always had a hard time with finances, and I’m getting tired of always being behind the 8-ball. It’s time for me to get it together this year.

Take Care of My Health – My heart attack scare of a couple of years ago really woke me up, and I have made some changes to prevent that from happening again. However, there are some other concerns I need to address before they become Big Issues.

Write Every Day – Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make one better at what one practices, and I haven’t practiced writing enough. I need to write every day. What I write and which medium I use is immaterial; if I write every day, I will get back in the habit I used to have in college, when I was most prolific. Yes, that means more blog entries, too.

Publish Some Fiction – 2006 was a great year for me as far as writing goes. I published several articles at ComputorEdge, sold four poems to Romantic-Short-Love-Stories.com (now defunct, unfortunately), and actually managed to turn a meager profit for the year after deducting my writing-related expenses. However, I didn’t accomplish one of my main goals for last year, which was to publish some fiction. It’s time to complete the set this year.

Do My Taxes On Time – Last year, I was late — very late — in doing my taxes. I guess this could be part of managing my finances better.

Buy a Variax – Line 6 makes the ultimate geek guitar, and I want one so bad I can taste it. (Yum! Rosewood!) I have all kinds of ideas on how I could use it to make things easier in my gigs.

That’s it. Hopefully I’ll get somewhere with these goals this year, and if you’ve made resolutions, I hope you reach your goals as well.

Wireless Security Revisited

Last year, I wrote an article for ComputorEdge about the dangers of leaving a wireless network unsecured. A reader, calling himself “Anonymous San Diego Criminal” responded to the article in a letter to the editor, complaining about how I was advocating wireless security and limiting the dispensation of free Internet access. He also said the article implied that anyone who used unsecured wireless networks without permission was committing a crime, hence the name he chose to identify himself with.

Today, I saw a news article (no longer online, from what I can tell) from a Portland, Oregon television station website, describing how a man had been arrested for persistent unauthorized use of a coffee shop’s wireless Internet connection. According to the story, the man was also a level 1 sex offender. Though the story doesn’t say what destinations his Internet packets visited, the fact that he is a sex offender and used someone else’s bandwidth for his Internet access seems suspect.

No, Mr. Anonymous San Diego Criminal, I don’t think most people intend to misuse unsecured wireless networks. But doesn’t it make sense to lock down the networks to keep out those who do misuse them?