Thursday, January 31, 2008

Follow-up

Here's
a bunch
of people
that agree with me
that getting
a huge refund
is not a great idea.

(Next thing I know, someone's going to try to tell me that the Virginia Lottery is a great retirement investment, Option ARMs are the best thing since sliced bread, and buying a hybrid vehicle saves you money!)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Fail Blog

Came across this (from Boing Boing) today: The Fail Blog. Think lolcats, but with more fail and less cats. Hilarious.

Year in Review 2007

Managed to get it up before the end of the month!

1. What did you do in 2007 that you'd never done before? Whitewater rafting (on the Colorado River), helped build a house

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year? I think I did worry less about what people thought of me, but I didn't finish the workbooks I wanted to finish. I prefer "goals" instead of resolutions (it has a more holistic feel as opposed to something that has to be started on January 1st) and this year I'd like to graduate, pay off my car, and open an IRA.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Lauren (to baby Jacob) and Pam (to baby Alicyn)

4. Did anyone close to you die? not this year

5. What countries did you visit? Just the US this year

6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007? My PhD and a new job

7. What date from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? October 23rd, because something in lab actually worked.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Getting into cancer camp finally

9. What was your biggest failure? still labwork, yeesh

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? Just the usual neck pain that I always seem to have, and a bit of a sunburn from the beach

11. What was the best thing you bought? the Nintendo Wii for Matt's Christmas present

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? Mom

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? The Hopkins Business Office

14. Where did most of your money go? Old Navy and Starbucks

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Cancer Camp, beach vacation, VaCo concert

16. What song will always remind you of 2007? John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change" and just about anything by The Clintons

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? about the same
ii. thinner or fatter? thinner
iii. richer or poorer? slightly richer

18. What do you wish you'd done more of? Succeeding

19. What do you wish you'd done less of? Failing

20. How will you be spending Christmas? We spent Christmas at home, finally!

22. Did you fall in love in 2007? Do you have to fall out of love to fall back in love?

23. How many one-night stands? I still can't think of anything funny to put here.

24. What was your favorite TV program? I watch so much TV, it's hard to say. Carpoolers was funny. And I still like House.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year? Hate? No way. Don't miss? Probably.

26. What was the best book you read? Memoirs of a Geisha

27. What was your greatest musical discovery? The Clintons, Lloyd Dobler Effect, Granian

28. What did you want and get? A tempurpedic mattress and American Eagle shoes

30. What was your favorite film of this year? The Bourne Ultimatium

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? 26, and Matt got some people together to go bowling. And bought me a pink and green ice cream cake.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? a shorter commute and successful western blots on the first try

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007? My personal fashion concept has not changed in like four years. But my closet keeps getting more crowded.

34. What kept you sane? still God, I don't think there's any other explanation

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Paul Adelstein and John Krasinski

36. What political issue stirred you the most? Bush's veto of the appropriations bill that would have properly funded the NIH

37. Who did you miss? Sean and Jen

38. Who were the best new people you met? Ted, Alix, Josh, Ed, Heather, Trevor, Bernadette, Fed, and EVERYONE else at Cancer Camp!

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007: You can accomplish anything with enough WD-40 and a good wrench.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: Sticking with the Relient K theme, as usual. "And sometimes I think that I'm not any good at all. And sometimes I wonder why, why I'm even here at all. But then you assure me I'm a little more than useless, And when I think that I can't do this, You promise me that I'll get through this And do something right, do something right for once."

(YIR 2006, 2005)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Tax pet peeve

I've been reading some message boards/comment threads lately, and one thing keeps popping up over and over that drives me nuts. Allow me define a few terms for the less-informed:

1. Tax RETURN - The paper or online form you fill out. This is not a check.

2. Tax REFUND - Money given back to you by the government because you overpaid your taxes during the year. If this is more than like $500, you're doing it wrong. Ours was $14.

3. Tax REBATE - Money given back to you by the government out of the portion you actually did owe (i.e. not in excess).

THESE TERMS ARE NOT TO BE USED INTERCHANGEABLY!

Oh, and two other things - first, I also keep hearing people complain about "people who don't pay any taxes" also getting a $300 rebate. This is a misnomer - you have to have at least $3000 of income to qualify for a rebate, and while people making that little money certainly don't pay income taxes, they *do* pay Social Security and Medicaid taxes. So just think of it as a payroll tax rebate, if it makes you feel better. Our generation isn't going to see most of the payroll tax money we're paying anyways.

Second: to the person that claimed that if we don't go out and spend our rebate check, we are "stealing from the government" - DIAF. But not before you send me your rebate check. I'll gladly spend it for you :-)

Actually, one more thing. You are not going to get a rebate check in time to bet it on the Super Bowl, or pay your 2007 tax bill, or your heating bill for this winter. Stop being an uninformed sheep. If you can't even educate yourself about the basic details (pick up a paper! go to your library and read cnn.com!) then I think you also ought to forfeit your check...to me.

Thank you.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

First article is real, second may not be

This is a very interesting article that was published in The Atlantic (a legit magazine). It was posted in response to this article, which is also interesting (in a different way) published in The Daily Mail, which is a bit tabloid-esque. No promises on the factuality of the second article.

----------

Matt Green: What time are you guys getting there tomorrow?
Me: Dunno.
MG: We're going to try to get there at 2:30 or so.
Me: We probably won't be there until at least 4:30.
MG: Oh crap. Just leave the stuff there then.
Me: I volunteer until 2:30.
MG: Just gotta do good, don't you.
Me: Sorry, the blind people need me.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Six figures

If only I were talking about my income... :-/


So...that took 3 years, 8 months, and 26 days.

No, mom, I was not driving when I took that picture. I may have a Maryland driver's license, but I also have enough sense to turn onto a side road and pull over before I take a picture of my dashboard. Unlike 78.2%* of this state.

*Completely made-up statistic

Thursday, January 24, 2008

It's a conspiracy, I tell ya!

Go to Google Translate and translate "Heath Ledger is dead" from English to Spanish.

UPDATED: As Matt pointed out in the comments, the "conspiracy" is over. Apparently after it hit Fark, it got enough publicity that someone from Google thought it would behoove them to fix it. People at Google read Fark? GBTW!

Anyway, for the record books, it was translating "Heath Ledger is dead" to "Tom Cruise esta muerto."

And it was really funny to go to the Fark comment thread after it was fixed and read all the comments of people saying that they didn't get the joke.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Craaaaaziest ending ever

So, that was the first NFL overtime I think I've seen. I had no idea that NFL overtime was sudden death. That seemed a bit unfair to me (having the outcome of the game basically riding on a coin-flip) but I did read a statistic that less than 40% of teams that win the coin flip win on the first possession. Anyway - crazy crazy. Green Bay wins the toss, throws an interception. Giants move the ball down the field a bit, and the FG kicker (who had missed the previous two kicks from closer in) nails a 47-yarder for the win. Nuts. And apparently Eli Manning's superstition was correct - every time his fiancee watched a game from the suite, the Giants lost. He made her sit in the stands even though it was below freezing.

Oh, and there were these three crazy chicks in Green Bay bikini tops. Did I mention it was way below freezing? That's pretty hardcore.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Heard on the radio

Craftmark Homes commercial: "New homes out-pace the stock market as a smart investment." O RLY? Out-pace it in suck, maybe. The DJIA is down about 4% over the past 12 months. The REIT is down about 26%, and median home sale prices are down in all but three major metropolitan areas across the country (Charlotte, Portland and Seattle). Real "smart."

Interview with a Washington Wizards player, about their win over the Knicks: "In the second half, he [Knicks star Quentin Richardson] was less more aggressive, and we were able to step it up."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Politicourtney

Just when you thought the mortgage "relief" plan couldn't get any dumber...Bush capped the amount of mortgage debt that can be forgiven tax-free at...wait for it...TWO MILLION DOLLARS.

What the heck???

A sign of the partisan games politicians play: I heard on the radio last night that Gov. O'Malley released his Maryland budget plan. When he described it, he talked about providing for safe neighborhoods, good schools, etc. while still coming in under the recommended spending increase for the year. The Republican response was "Well, we haven't had a chance to read it yet, but Gov. O'Malley could have done a better job about cutting spending." Moran.

I heard that a tax rebate could be coming soon in the economic stimulus package that's supposed to be announced tomorrow. The thing I think is sad is they said it would primarily be directed to lower and middle income families (I'm not sure if we're a middle income family or not) "who are most likely to go out and invest those dollars in a cash register." Given that we as a country have a negative savings rate and record amounts of debt...ugh. I'm not one to turn down "free" money though. Quotes because "Bush does not believe a stimulus should be offset — or paid for — by any tax or spending changes elsewhere." Must be nice to be able to make up money whenever you want it.

The DJIA is down 14% from its peak about 3 months ago. Not really worried about it. The Baby Boomers ruined social security and the housing market for Generation Y, so we'll gladly take cheaper stock prices at the expense of their 401K accounts. Hurrah for dollar-cost averaging. And no I won't get off your lawn either!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Today I feel..." - hopeless

At the rate I'm going, I'm never going to graduate.

I actually calculated my "success rate" today, i.e. weeks when something I did actually worked vs. total weeks I've been in my thesis lab.

It was 7%.

This week has been yet another part of that 93%.

Sigh.

----------

Things that have changed my life (for the better):

1. SLS-free toothpaste. I used to get canker sores like every two weeks. NOT cold sores. Cold sores are caused by a virus. The best research to date on canker sores is that the cause is rooted in an autoimmune reaction to the epithelial layer in your mouth. Anyway, mine were bad. Sometimes bigger than a pencil eraser. Always painful, and the only thing to treat them is a lidocaine/alcohol goop that burns like hell until the numbing kicks in. Then I read a clinical study showed that removing exposure to SLS (a foaming agent in 99% of toothpastes and mouthwashes) reduced the incidence of canker sores by 80%. I was able to finally find a SLS-free toothpaste, and damn if it didn't work. Now they only show up about once every other month or less, are much much smaller, and infinitely less painful. Amazing.

2. Snore Stop. Matt's snoring had gotten progressively worse over the past couple of months, to the point where I was pushing him over 2-3 times a night, and even waking up in the middle of the night from the noise. He said the Breathe Right strips wouldn't do anything for him because the problem isn't in his nose. I finally begged him to try one of the throat sprays. But when I went to the store to get one, they were all out. I was desperate, so I bought a box of the only non-strip option - Snore Stop. The first night he used it, he was so quiet I thought "Oh my god, I killed him" and leaned over to make sure he was still breathing. Anyway, he's still alive and if your S.O. is a snorer, I'd highly recommend it.

----------

Carly reserved our beach house for this summer. We decided to go for an oceanfront sans hot tub this year (last year we had the hot tub but were a lot back from the ocean). It looks great and it will actually work out to less per room than last year by over $100 (assuming we can hopefully get people to fill the other two rooms). Can't wait for July.

----------

Back to the grad school thing, I decided that 2009 is IT - either I walk at graduation or I leave. At that point I will refuse to waste any more of my life trying to make the previous 5 years "count" for something. At some point feeling like a failure nearly every week has to outweigh feeling like a failure at holiday gatherings for the next 40 years when people ask me why I didn't finish grad school. I can still go to the patent office as a GS-9 instead of 11 and still be making over twice as much money as I'm making now without driving three hours a day and running on a treadmill doing the same experiment six times because something didn't work AGAIN.

I need another piece of chocolate. Someone at church tried to sell me girl scout cookies because they said I looked "Mary-Kate and Ashley thin."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Saturday, January 12, 2008

For poop and smiles

Bent Objects - this is a great site. Just click. You won't regret it.

Anyone ever used bugmenot.com? I tried today for an latimes.com article login. Completely worthless; not a single login worked.

"Directed" a chapter from a psychology textbook (on the Milgram experiment and the psychology of war and dictatorships). Finally broke the curse of the awkward reading material. They said I should be able to actually record something next week, w00t! They currently have cell biology and environmental science textbooks being recorded so I'll probably work on those.

Syrup pumps came in yesterday, and I've made a caramel macchiato and an almond mocha this week. I think I've got the hang of everything now.

Ease my worried mind

Still researching the patent office job. From reading online (blogs, articles, etc) It seems like the biggest complaint is not having enough time to meet production goals. But there's some conflicting stuff out there. For example, 70% of survey respondents said that they "had to work overtime regularly to meet production goals." But at the same time, 60% of patent examiners are getting bonuses for exceeding production goals. So something doesn't add up there. Another thing I hear a lot about is a very high rate of attrition, particularly in the first 1-2 years of the job. Some numbers put it as high as 50% of new hires.

So I actually went digging for some hard numbers. And because everything is on the intarwebs, I found what I was looking for - production and attrition by Technology Center (TC) for fiscal year '06. The TC I'd likely be working in, 1600 - Biotechnology and Organic Chemistry, has a) the lowest number of counts required out of any art unit, which means that TC-1600 examiners are allowed the most time to earn each count; b) The highest actual production rate (almost 110% of the target count goal) which suggests that the time allotted is sufficient to complete the required production; and c) an attrition rate roughly in the middle of the pack of TCs, about 10% annual turnover. One thing I'd be interested in learning is the attrition rate by GS grade; my wager is that the GS-5/7/9 hires account for more of the turnover than the GS-11/12 hires.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I'm not scared of the rumors, and will still be registering for an interview after my next committee meeting - which is looking like it'll be on the 27th for February. Which gives me 46 more days to actually get some stuff to work.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Getting better

Espresso Machine, Day 2: "Perhaps we don't need QUITE that much espresso..."

I decided to stick with the cinnamon dolce latte attempt for today. I used a bit less espresso in the filter, and stopped brewing halfway between the 1 and 2 mark (note to self, those are 1 and 2 SERVINGS, not 1 and 2 ounces). I still ended up with a little over the 2 mark, but I poured a bit out to get it back in between the 1 and 2 mark - giving me roughly 2.5-3 ounces of espresso, instead of what was probably 6 or 7 yesterday. No I didn't drink the entire thing yesterday. I steamed the milk for a full minute too, and strangely there was no steam left when I was done. Shrugs. When I poured everything into the mug, it came to the perfect level (just enough room for whipped cream) and the milk was foamier this time as well. Result? A MUCH more drinkable beverage than yesterday. And I didn't need to add more syrup because I could actually taste it today instead of having it overpowered by the coffee. Fairly Yum.

So now I can't wait for Tuesday so I can redo our budget numbers. We upped Matt's retirement contribution by a percent, and we'll have some wiggle room to allocate more money towards gas since it's projected to be $3.50/gallon by summer. I cannot WAIT to stop commuting 500 miles a week and getting gas every other weekday.

I was thinking about opening a ShareBuilder account to start investing in some ETFs (Exchange-Traded Funds) but decided against it for now because we should max out our tax-advantaged accounts before we start investing in a taxable account. So that'll have to wait for a while.

Once we get my car paid off in March (and take care of a few small things like my car registration renewal and new tires for Matt's car and our vacation deposit) we should be in good shape for the rest of the year.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Class system

Economic class, that is. I read something in a fark comment thread about the lower class trying to better themselves and get a leg up in this world (either through legit or other means.) I think that's great, but it's a two-edged sword. The reality is, there will always be a lower class. Without the lower class, the middle class and the upper class means nothing. And everyone in this country could have a Harvard PhD, but someone's still going to need to flip burgers and pick up trash and any number of other low paying jobs. It's just the fact of our society.

Two other things - I heard somebody say that we as a country are moving more and more to a "privatize the profits, socialize the losses" model, and that sucks. And I'd like to reiterate the idea of the American DREAM. That's all it is, a dream - not a right. You have the right to life, liberty, and the PURSUIT of happiness. You don't have a right to be happy, or own a house, or drive a car, or have cable TV. I think people forget that sometimes.

/end soapbox

And we're off

Espresso Machine Day 1: "Well, I'm going to go make a latte or blow up the kitchen." "Okay."

So I got the espresso machine and syrups last night, got everything set up on the counter and read the instructions half a dozen times. This morning, I measured, I brewed, I steamed, I sprinkled, and I ended up with something vaguely resembling a Starbucks cinnamon dolce latte.

A very, very strong latte. I brewed too much espresso and then instead of putting all the steamed milk in first and then adding espresso to fill, I did it the other way around. Oops. But all in all, not bad for a first attempt, and I successfully depressurized the machine without scalding my arms or blowing up the kitchen.

Changes for tomorrow: Use a little less ground coffee, and stop brewing a little short of the 2-shot mark. And I can steam the milk a little longer, because I certainly had an abundance of steam left over when I was done today.

Two purchases to make my life easier: syrup pumps (because opening the cap, measuring the syrup, recapping the bottle, and washing the tablespoon are cumbersome) have been ordered, and I'm buying a 2-cup measuring cup because mine is only 1-cup and steaming 1 cup of milk in a 1-cup measuring cup leaves little room for error (I used a separate mug today; one more thing to wash).

----------

We got Matt's title release in the mail yesterday, it makes me all warm and fuzzy to look at it :-) And then today Matt tells me he got an e-mail from ASM saying that they're getting rid of bonuses for everyone except managers. I was about to say "Well, at least they already gave you yours for 2007" but then he tells me that they're just going to adjust his salary (hopefully by the same amount or more). So I guess that works out fine. Cancel the visions of the Jelly of the Month Club that were running through my head. ("But it's the gift that keeps on giving all year!")

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I'm working on scheduling a committee meeting for the second half of February. I jokingly said "I guess that means I'm actually committed to doing some work over the next six weeks now" and two separate people thought I was serious. Come on guys!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

You're doing it wrong

Criminal rule #63: If you're going to kidnap some guy's dog for a $600 ransom, don't tell the guy you're going to kill the dog anyways BEFORE you get the money.

Punk-ass kid got arrested, dog is still missing. (link)

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I had my first real session at Recording For the Blind and Dyslexic (RFBD) today. It looks like it's going to be a fun experience. You have to learn how to "direct" before you can start recording, so that's what I'm doing now. Directing simply means following along in the book being read to check for reader mistakes, monitoring the voice levels, and running the recording software. More interesting than simply passively listening in on someone else. Oh, and I'm 2-0 on training with "awkward chapters." During my orientation session, I was listening in to an older guy reading from an EMT training manual...the chapter on human reproductive anatomy. Today, the girl I was working with was reading from a book called The Nine, about the Supreme Court justices. You may wonder what kind of chapter I could find in there - it was discussing a Texas case taken up by SCOTUS on whether or not states had the right to criminalize sexual behavior (specifically homosexual behavior) between consenting adults.

Only in Texas.

It was still an interesting chapter.

Friday, January 04, 2008

When caught in a lie, back up and tell a half-truth

At least, that's what the mom did when confronted with the fact that the "daddy who died in Iraq" she and her daughter wrote about to win Hannah Montana tickets a) wasn't her daddy b) was alive c) never served in the military.

Half-truth #1 - "I thought the contest was to write a compelling Christmas story."

Half-truth #2 - "It was never my intent to deceive." (actually that's probably a non-truth, but you get my drift.)

AND double intarnet bonus: she had to take down her MySpace page, and she has the fakey-est eyebrows I've ever seen. (link)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Off to a great start

(Not.)

Two interceptions, a handful of sacks, couple of three-and-outs, a missed field goal, a downed linebacker, and a 10-0 deficit. And a partridge in a pear tree. That was a terrible first quarter. I can only hope it gets better after this and the Hokie "bowl game curse" doesn't rear its head this year.

Update: Nope, bowl game curse continues (now up to 7-14 in team history). At least it wasn't as embarrassing as it could have been.

Frack-a-frack-a-fractals

I've always thought that fractal art was pretty awesome. Way beyond me, but it looks totally cool. Here's this year's entries into the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest - I made the first one (-BLuE-) my new desktop background. Rotated 90 degrees, obviously.

Kinda sums it up

(Courtesy of PHD Comics)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy 2008

Unfortunately it's not been so happy for me, as I came down with the flu on New Year's Day. I spent most of yesterday evening on the couch in pajamas, a sweatshirt, a bathrobe, socks, slippers, and three blankets trying to get warm. My fever was 101.1 and I ache all over (that's really the worst part of the flu, I think). And the exhaustion...I took a shower and then had to take a nap; I went outside to get the mail and had to take another nap. Ugh.

I can't decide if my stomach still hurts or if I'm hungry...I hate that feeling.

But on the bright side, we own Matt's car finally and should own mine in another 3 months or so. And I'm looking forward to the VT bowl game tomorrow.

I'm working on my "year in review" survey that I've filled out the past two years and should have that up in a day or two. And provided that I'm feeling better, my first volunteer session with RFBD is Saturday morning.