An Entire Cable Channel About GOLF?!

Today I learned that there is an entire cable channel devoted to golf. A whole channel, with golf competitions, Golf Talk, Golf News, and, for all I know, golf ”fashion” shows, golf course tours and travel shows, and golfing sitcoms set at country clubs. Maybe there are even golf movies played every week, with ”Caddyshack” and that Adam Sandler movie I forgot the name of being featured prominently.

I can’t imagine how appealing the Golf Talk shows must be. ”Here’s an old white dude putting a small dimpled ball into a hole. Here’s another old white dude not quite managing to putt a ball into a hole. Here’s a rare minority person, also attempting to hit a ball with a stick so that it goes into a hole.”.

Fascinating stuff.

The most exciting things about golf:

1. Tiger Woods being a jerk, though that forced us all to endure lame jokes like “Tiger is a lion cheetah.”

2. Phil Mickleson being a jerk, whining about paying his fair share of taxes when he earns in a single year about 400x what you or I will earn in our entire lives.

3. The Masters being collectively a bunch of jerks, denying membership to women, and having a weird fixation on boxy jackets in a shade of green not ordinarily seen anywhere unless it is St. Patrick’s Day.

A whole channel about golf. I can’t even.

The Thinly-Disguised Contempt For Quirkiness On Home Decorating Shows

I went through a phase where I watched a lot of home improvement shows. The impetus behind this was clear: I’d moved from a nice, if rough-around-the-edges place where I was settled in and mostly satisfied with my living arrangements, to a mostly windowless basement flat. As soon as I got clear on the fact that there was nothing I could do to improve the structure of the place, given that it would take thousands of dollars and it isn’t even my house to fix, I lost a lot of interest.

I still watch these shows on occasion, but forget my objections in between indulging in a mini-marathon of house-flipping, house-cleaning and house-redecorating shows. This weekend, I am watching these shows again, and my objections are renewed.

The “Clean House” people (for example) are completely unsympathetic when it comes to the cherished objects some homeowners have.

Now, believe me, I lack some sympathy for some of the stuff these folks want to hold on to, like “my child’s baby teeth” (a baby food jar re-purposed as a science fair exhibit), broken crap, clothes that went out of style years ago, particleboard furniture, duplicate objects (why do you need five broken vacuum cleaners?), and dust-collecting collections that aren’t being enjoyed or displayed (but, rather, are languishing in storage boxes or in dusty piles). I realize that stuff must go, and it is your own fault if you sign on for a “Clean House” crew to come into your hovel and throw out your crap and give you furniture and scrub your floors.

I also realize that the family has to give up crap and stuff so it can be sold to partially fund the house-cleaning. This makes sense.

The crews of these shows, however, don’t see any value in anything that isn’t brand new and in pristine condition, and they don’t seem to understand that quirky possessions and decor actually personalize a home.

These shows would hate me, I’m pretty sure, because I would not part with the stuff I cared about just to make it easy on the designers, and I would call them out on their attempts to shame me out of my belongings. The fashion shows would want me to get rid of my homemade sequined rock logo shirts, and my costume-y clothes that are appropriate for going out at night to clubs, and try to get me to wear beige linen suits or something, which isn’t me.

I do have a bit of packrattiness, but when it comes down to it, if I have no use for something anymore, it does go to the Salvation Army. (Eventually. I drag my heels about tackling tasks that take several days of labor to complete, and rounding up Salvation Army donations takes hours and hours if not days.)  I appreciate the idea of dressing tastefully and in a way that flatters your individual figure.  I just dislike how the hosts and staff on these shoes revel in imposing their taste on the people they are supposed to be helping, and the attitude that any resistance is wrong, bad, stupid, useless. Your home should reflect your own taste, not look like an “Ashley Furniture” showroom, and if you like leather pants and studded belts and wear them when it is appropriate to wear them, then you don’t need to be insulted into parting with them. If you are happy in your tie-dye, I’m not going to make you give ALL of it up, no matter how tacky it is. You have the right to dress badly on occasion if you want to, and to surround yourself with your favorite collections of crap if that makes you happy.

I watch these shows to get ideas, but still have these bursts of annoyance. Sometimes it is directed at a homeowner (who may be angling for freebies, as sometimes nagging people to part with their crap is sweetened with bribery) who won’t get rid of a pile of bald tires or a huge stack of plastic soda cups they got from fast food restaurants or the world’s largest plaid scrunchy collection or novelty Homer Simpson house slippers mended with duct tape, or macaroni/bean/rice art or whatever, but usually it is directed at the hosts, who seem determined to eradicate any nonconformity or quirkiness the victim might possess. How boring is that?

There could be a middle ground of some sort.

The other irksome problem with these shows is that IF they manage to pry some object away from the family to sell, but it doesn’t sell, they family does not get to reclaim the beloved item. The purpose of wrangling the thing(s) away is to make money for the refurbing, and to make space for the decorator’s Grand Vision, but if the item doesn’t sell and would fit into the redesigned space, they still have to wave goodbye as it goes off to charity. That a charity possibly benefits is the only mitigating factor.

Most of the time I am completely in synch with the house-cleaning team, and understand why a family with no toddlers (just teenagers) and no pets should sell baby furniture and pet care items. This makes a lot of sense.

Other times, I am irked with them.

They do not understand why people would want to keep some of their VHS tapes, and complain that DVDs are a superior format and “all” of those VHS tapes could be replaced easily with DVDs. Er, no. Some films do not get converted to DVD, and paying $15 (on average) to convert a movie you already have on VHS to DVD seems like a waste of money. They claim that vinyl records are dead technology (even though Amazon.com sells turntables) and the homeowner can just “download these tracks on MP3s” and I’m here to tell you that no, that is not a given. Also, unless you pirate those MP3s, you are looking at days or weeks of effort and a lot of cash to buy those electronic files, which can be lost or zorched or corrupted pretty darn easily. Also? Vinyl (acoustic) sounds different from a digital file. Sometimes this is bad, if the vinyl has been abused or neglected or damaged with a dull phonograph needle or warped, but sometimes this is good, and an audiophile can tell the difference between a warm acoustic version and a digital version.

They shame people, too. They tell collectors of toys that they are adults and should have no interest in toys. They tell crafters that they are being selfish and not thinking of their families if they want to pursue a hobby that requires supplies and space for them. They tell sentimental parents that holding on to baby toys and outfits is stupid because they “aren’t useful”. They sneer at dried flower arrangements and then replace them with woven pods filled with sticks. They nag homeowners to get rid of their homemade art, and then replace it with mass-produced crap or childish “We’re Not Artists” Art Projects.

For some reason, they see no problem with homeowners having fourteen television sets. TVs are great! But if the homeowners have lots of bookshelves, those pesky books have to go, immediately. I rarely see bookcases make it into the redesigned spaces. If they do, they are used to display generic pottery and “art objects.” They replace the quirky things the homeowners loved–and that you couldn’t just go buy at a Pier One, Crate and Barrel or Target–with bland things that designers plotz over because they add a “punch of colour”. Even DVD / VHS tapes get more respect than books.

The good thing is that the redesigned rooms DO generally look a lot better, but your average hotel room also looks better than your average lived-in bedroom.

I remember a couple of shows in particular that really annoyed me. One girl had a “Day of the Dead” skeleton/skull collection. It was pretty keen. It was living on a small shelf, and added a fun touch to the room. The designers took one look and proclaimed it “morbid” and wanted it gone immediately. The homeowner dragged her feet, and was shamed into selling the bulk of it. Except it didn’t sell, so her collection got thrown into a charity van. Another homeowner had been collecting vinyl albums for decades, and a quick glance at them showed a bunch of out-of-print rarities (along with some crap), and he was guilted into selling them and told he could easily replace them with MP3s. Good luck with that, I own a lot of vinyl that is not and will never be released on CD or made available through iTunes or pirate-y peer-to-peer programs. There was a guy who enjoyed playing video games, and the designer said “that’s not something adults do, buddy, get rid of them and grow up,” and I think the professors at my school in the Game Development department would like to have a little word with that designer. Just because he doesn’t play or understand video games (or surfing, or scrapbooking, or computer geekery, or comic book collecting, or whatever hobby they are harshing on at the time) does not make these activities childish or unworthy. How dare they!

I have a friend who collects action figures, nudie girls and folk art, and her own art is rainbow-coloured abstractions with glitter and sequins and found objects and (frankly) trash glued on top, and she surrounds herself with her art and collections, and her house is FUN. It may be cluttered, it may be dusty, but it is unique and interesting. She even painted her sofa rainbow-coloured and it has glitter paint and puffy paint and other oddments, but it makes her happy. What’s so wrong with that? It isn’t my style, it’s her style. If someone tried to guilt or shame her into giving up her toys and nudie girls and vintage sci-fi novels and folk art and ashtrays (no one on these decorating shows smokes, have you noticed that? No one. Ever) and video games and vinyl albums and vintage costumes and action figures, I’d have to go after them with a baseball bat, with or without nails sticking out, and beat them senseless for being arseholes. It’s what makes her happy.

Actually, there is a commercial out lately that irks me for the same reason: the message that what you cherish is not important if it somehow takes up space, is an unusual interest, and/or is “hard” to design around. The bitchy girlfriend in the commercial hates the music-loving “High Fidelity character” boyfriend’s awesome collection of albums, and throws a bitch fit. The boyfriend caves, and replaces all his stuff (supposedly he was able to do this easily and within a mere day or two) with an iPod stereo device. Bitch! I bet she didn’t have to give up a single pair of her shoes (or whatever her most beloved items were). The message is that you are a bad little consumer if you want to hold on to perfectly serviceable old things you love instead of running out to replace them with new technology.

I understand “paring down,” mind you. If you haven’t worn something in a couple of years, it doesn’t hurt to ditch it. Mass-market paperbacks are notorious for taking up a lot of space, and if you can buy it in a grocery store, it probably isn’t a work of great literature that will enrich your life. I would give a molar for a Kindle Fire HD tablet so I could travel without toting sixty pounds of books with me, and it would certainly help with “running out of bookshelf space” problems. One homeowner had twelve full sets of “seasonal dishes,” and I have to say I didn’t get the point of that, either. I can understand everyday china, “company china” and heirloom china, and MAYBE a few holiday pieces, but not twelve full sets of dishes and glassware for twelve people when the family has only three members and a table that seats six, tops. I understand getting rid of stuff that doesn’t work, and which has been kept because the homeowner thinks s/he will eventually repair it. I understand getting rid of scuffed shoes and cheap discount store handbags and huge stuffed animals. However, a lot of the things these house-cleaning crews want to get rid of are one-of-a-kind objects or collections that reveal something about the people who live in the house. I don’t like baby dolls, but if the homeowner collects them, there’s no reason why she has to get rid of all of them just because they are “hard” to design around. Consider it a challenge, instead, and provide tasteful display units.

My other gripe with these home improvement shows are the deliberately evil designers. On “Trading Spaces”, for example, I’ve seen some really horrible room makeovers. Some of the designers like stapling crap to the walls (a wall of moss comes to mind) that doesn’t look that great, and which is going to collect dust and allergens. Some designers feel the need to pick really startling paint colours that look great on television, but are difficult to actually live with, like taxicab yellow living rooms, or baby poo green dining rooms, fluorescent blue-green kitchens, or orange bedrooms. Some designers impose their preferences on the homeowners, so you get homeowners who like ethnic art coming home to Kuntry Kute kitchens (I’d vomit), or homeowners who like shabby chic florals coming home to a super Modern den. Some of the decorative touches are impractical (shattered mirror on walls in homes with small children) or perishable (grass, fresh fruit). They paint wooden furniture and glue tile to painted sheetrock walls and dump quarts of sand all over the floor. They are simply insane sometimes.

I also get grouchy with fashion makeover shows that go beyond correcting fashion faux pas and try to change the personality of the makeover victim. I may not be a rockabilly, or a biker, or a Goth, or into harajuku fashions, but some of the makeover nominees are, and they may not be “fashionable” in the traditional sense, they do have a style. A good makeover show would be able to design around these “counter culture” fashion statements instead of turning the makeover subject into yet another straight-haired, makeup-wearing, get-rid-of-your-glasses and put-on-some-high-heels, Gap/Banana Republic/Old Navy/Hilfiger clone. One gal I thought was cute just the way she was: she had punky black and red hair, cat’s eye specs, tattoos, and a Bettie Page pinup girl wardrobe that suited her personality. They turned her into a tanned, blonde, pearl-wearing Barbie. Did she look good? Well, sure, but she didn’t look like herself anymore. Another gal was into camping and had a job that required her to dress down, and they spent the whole show calling her trashy and dirty, and put her into linen suits and A-line dresses, but the woman still works where she is required to get down on a dirty concrete floor and crawl around, and she still enjoys camping, and I’m not sure how easy it will be for her to go hiking in four-inch heels by Christian Louboutin. (Or whoever.) The hosts bitch if the makeover nominee doesn’t want to get a haircut, or if s/he doesn’t like a particular style, or if they prefer not to wear a lot of makeup. Personally, I have collapsible arches, and while I own some cute shoes, I can’t just wear pointy pumps all the time. Apparently, if I felt the need to suffer for fashion, I could get collagen injections in the balls of my feet and my (non-existent, because I don’t torture my feet out of vanity all the time) corns and bunions, or give my soles a harsh acid peel. All this–none of which is a permanent solution, and each of which costs hundreds of dollars–so I can wear damaging pointy shoes for 2-4 months with less pain? Are they kidding me?

I had to confess that I don’t see the point of shoes or handbags that cost several hundred dollars, so maybe I am not the target audience. Yes, please do buy quality accessories if you can, but do you really need a pair of shoes that cost $800? Or a $3,000 handbag? Seriously? Why?

I am all for organizing, and throwing out crap and clutter, and dressing to suit your lifestyle, body type. I believe in hiding clutter and keeping what you see clean and elegant, and buying quality instead of throwaway crap. I agree that holding on to an old Pooh Bear or a bunch of straw sombreros from a trip you took years ago is probably a bad idea (Pooh Bears are a dime a dozen, and if you aren’t going to wear the damn sombreros ever again, why keep them?), and that no one needs to be defending parachute pants or stuff with holes and stains.

I just don’t like it when these shows try to shove people into a certain mold, or embarrass and shame them to get them to part with their things.

When You Find The Girl Of Your Dreams In The Arms Of Some Scotsman From Hull*

Damn My Bad Timing! Alas, my crush on the young Neil Innes has been renewed.

Yup, watched “The Rutles” on DVD this week. I expanded my paltry DVD collection to include this classic.

“The Rutles” quotes:

Narrator: Their first album was made in twenty minutes. The second took even longer.

Narrator: What did he like?
Iris Mountbatten: The trousers.
Narrator: Well, what about the trousers.
Iris Mountbatten: Well, they were very, um, tight.
Narrator: Tight?
Iris Mountbatten: Yes, you could see quite clearly…
Narrator: Oh I see…
Iris Mountbatten: Everything. Outlines. Clear as day.
Narrator: Yes, yes. Thank you.

Narrator: For four hungry, working class lads there are worse places than prison and Der Rat Keller, Hamburg is one of these. This is where they found themselves – far from home and far from talented.

Archie Macaw: They had something.
Narrator: What was it?
Archie Macaw: I think it was the trousers.

Narrator: Dick Jaws, an unemployed music publisher of no fixed ability signed them up for the rest of their lives.
Dick Jaws: Lucky really.

Interviewer: What’s your ambition?
Barry Wom: I’d like to be a hairdresser. Or two. I’d like to be two hairdressers.
Ron Nasty: I’d like to own a squadron of tanks.
Dirk McQuickly: What Ron and I’ll do is probably to write some songs, you know, and sell them to people. We tried to write some for The Rolling Stones and they’re probably gonna buy them.

Journalist: It must have been a great honour meeting the Queen.
Ron Nasty: Yeah, it must have been.
Journalist: What did she ask you?
Barry Wom: She asked us who we were.
Journalist: What did you say?
Dirk McQuickly: I said I was him.
Ron Nasty: I felt more like him than me.
Journalist: Do you feel better after seeing the Queen?
Ron Nasty: No, you feel better after seeing a doctor.
Dirk McQuickly: Not my doctor you don’t.
Ron Nasty: Not your doctor, no.
Journalist: What are you gonna do now?
Dirk McQuickly: Back to your place.

Ruttling Orange Peel: Yes Sir, I originated The Rutles, they got it all from me. Every single bit of it.
Narrator: Well, how do you mean?
Ruttling Orange Peel: Well Sir, they come here and they took everything I ever written. Those four guys from Liverpool came here.
Mrs Ruttling Orange Peel: He’s lying!
Ruttling Orange Peel: I ain’t lying!
Mrs Ruttling Orange Peel: He’s always lying!
Ruttling Orange Peel: I ain’t lying!
Mrs Ruttling Orange Peel: Everytime there’s a documentary on white music around here he claims he started it all.
Ruttling Orange Peel: I did, I did, I did!
Mrs Ruttling Orange Peel: Last week he claimed he started Everly Brothers, Frank Sinatra and Lawrence Welk. He’s always lying!

Narrator: Che Stadium. Named after the Cuban Guerilla leader: Che Stadium.

Narrator: In 1966 The Rutles faced the biggest threat to their careers. Nasty, in a widely quoted interview apparently had claimed that The Rutles were bigger than God and had gone on to say that God had never had a hit record. The story spread like wild fire in America. Many fans burnt their Rutles albums. Many more burnt their fingers attempting to burn their albums. Rutles album sales sky rocketed – people were buying them just to burn them. But infact it was all a ghastly mistake. Nasty, talking to a slightly deaf journalist, had claimed only that The Rutles were bigger than Rod. Rod Stewart would not be big for another eight years.

Dirk McQuickly: It’s not up to me. If you come to me and ask me I’m gonna tell you the truth. Because it is the truth, I have had tea. Lots of tea. Indian tea. And biscuits.

Narrator: It was a bombshell for The Rutles, They were shocked. And stunned.
Dirk McQuickly: Well, we’re shocked.
Ron Nasty: Yeah, shocked.
Barry Wom: Shocked.
Dirk McQuickly: And stunned.
Ron Nasty: Yeah, stunned.
Barry Wom: Very stunned.

Narrator: Decline had a reputation as a hard man. His only weak spot was dishonesty. Anyone was free to inspect his books but no-one could find his accounts. He struck terror into the hearts of his sub-ordinates. People would commit suicide rather than meet him. In business his left hand never knew who his right hand was doing. Nasty adored him – he was a man after his own wallet.

Narrator:
 In the midst of all this public bickering, “Let it Rot” was released as a film, an album, and a lawsuit. In 1970, Dirk sued Stig, Nasty, and Barry; Barry sued Dirk, Nasty, and Stig; Nasty sued Barry, Dirk, and Stig; and Stig sued himself accidentally. It was the beginning of a golden era for lawyers, but for the Rutles, live on a London rooftop, it was the beginning of the end.

Your mother should know that this is probably my favourite scene in the film, bar none.

Watching Neil and Eric Idle (centre left and centre right) mug for the cam here has me cracking up each and every time.

Rutle Trivia

The Rutles was first shown as a sketch on UK TV show Rutland Weekend Television written by Eric Idle

When Eric Idle hosted Saturday Night Live the original TV sketch was re-shown leading to the film being made

The full title is actually The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash

Stig O’Hara’s character stayed true to his image as The Quiet One by not speaking one line throughout the film

Ollie Halsall provided the singing voice for Eric Idle’s character as well as playing Leppo, the 5th Rutle

Neil Innes also appeared in The Beatles movie Magical Mystery Tour

In the original TV version Dan Aykroyd’s character who turned down The Rutles actually shot himself as opposed to being asked “What’s it like to be such an asshole?”

The Rutles minus Eric Idle re-formed in 1996 to record Archaeology in response to The Beatles Anthology series

A sequel was made in 2002 titled The Rutles: Can’t Buy Me Lunch but is yet to be made available outside of the USA

The studly and well-coiffed young Neil Innes, one of my Imaginary Boyfriends. *pine, sigh* (ROFFLE!)


Who the Heck Is Neil Innes?

Not content with providing a pitch-perfect impression of John Lennon as Ron Nasty, Innes also wrote the music and lyrics to all The Rutles songs.

Neil Innes was also a regular on the Monty Python TV series and movies. For these he was also the guy responsible for a whole host of their songs.

In Monty Python And The Holy Grail, Innes played, among other roles, that of the Minstrel taunting Eric Idle’scharacter Brave Sir Robin for running away – “When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled. Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about, and valiantly, he chickened out. Bravely taking to his feet, he beat a very brave retreat. A brave retreat by brave Sir Robin”

In more recent years and despite nearly being sued himself by The Beatles during the making of The Rutles, Innes successfully sued Oasis for plagiarism. Their hit Whatever was deemed to be too similar to Neil Innes’ song How Sweet To Be An Idiot.

I’ve had Bonzo (Doo Dah) Dog Band and Rutles albums for decades and enjoyed them, and played them on my radio show, and of course The Beatles were a godly influence on my young self. Not that anyone else had heard of them, of course.

But, ah, bad timing, Not that Neil Innes isn’t still cute as the proverbial button, but he could be my granddad. Woe!

Previous depressions about having a crush denied include finding out Jim Morrison got fat, wrote bad poetry and died, and that Nick Drake didn’t get fat, wrote good poetry, but still died.

Quel dommage!

Also, I learned that writing poetry, good or bad, may be detrimental to your health.

* No mention of Hull is complete without a shout out to the dearly departed Mick Ronson.

Miss ya, Ronno!

 

Old Friends I’ve Never Met

I mention from time to time how I’ve been online since dinosaurs roamed the earth (or so it seems) and I used to have far more expendable free time. A few years ago, I stumbled upon Wil Wheaton’s blog (I’d guess this was about 2001), and was pleasantly engaged by his writing and wit.

Further, I felt a kind of geeky commonality with the guy.

Now he out-geeks me by a factor of Warp 9 at least, having been shoehorned by short-sighted writers into becoming the most loathed Star Trek character of all time (at one point), and “Throw Wesley Out The Airlock” campaigns sprung up world-wide, all conveniently forgetting that dude!, he’s a little kid! What kind of power did he have over the lines written for him, or the director’s creative choices? So he became the uncoolest kid in space, forced to wear itchy polyester sweaters and Save The Day in various obnoxious ways, and I’m sure that there was a lot of geekly rage along the lines of “Damn, why couldn’t I be on the motherfuckin’ Enterprise, instead of him? as well.

Anyway, I was never disturbed overmuch by Wesley Crusher. Then again, I have never been a huge fan of the Trek franchise. It is enjoyable, but I don’t exactly feel the need to fuss over the technobabble and contrived plot points. Further, I can take or leave television, for the most part. Since Comcast snatched “my” channel away from me (CourtTV), I occasionally watch Law and Order reruns and go through brief spurts of interest in other things (I was mildly addicted to home design / remake shows for a while, but that may have been because I wanted to look at Evan Farmer and listen to his cartoon character voice, and muse over how no carpenters I have ever seen look anything remotely like Carter or Andrew Dan Jumbo. (WRYYY? So unfair.) I kind of like hanging out at Home Depot from time to time–well, every once in a blue moon–so I have seen my share.

Some blogs and websites just…stop, after a while, leaving you hanging. What happened to Isabella V., of shes.aflightrisk? She got an Esquire feature, earned the scorn, and attention, and male interest, of a sizable chunk of the Internet denizens at the time, then…poof. Nothing. But when she was updating semi-regularly, her writing could reach descriptive heights few bloggers can even hope to aspire for, all while sounding like an interesting espionage novel / gothic fiction tale of monstrous parents and unlimited wealth in the making. She became her own action hero, showing smarts in some areas (Debian and AirSnort on a Dell laptop, learning to pilot small aircraft) while being a typically short-sighted twenty-something in others (refusing to dye her distinctive copper-red hair, blogging in the first place while on the run). At any rate, she stopped posting in March, 2006, after writing fewer and fewer intriguing entries of any depth, and, well, who knows where she is now? Did her personal adventure end in her favor? We may never know.

With Wil, I felt, and feel, a sort of kinship. He bemoans once having an ICQ number under 100,000, and I nod and sigh and say “Yeah, me, too,” even though I never even really used the damn thing. (You, of course, may not even know what ICQ even refers to, and that’s OK.) I, too, remember alt.wesleycrusher.die.die.die, but for different reasons. Me, I remember it was one of a rash of alt.something.repeated_word.repeated_word.repeated_word newsgroups that sprung up at pretty much the same time. Wil namedrops Kibo, and has a fondness for O’Reilly’s zoo, whereas I merely beta-read a book or two, and was not geeky enough to catch geek errors, but only Red Pencil typo-level bloopers. Of which there were few, IIRC. He has a fondness for Fark and Homestar Runner. I’m completely jealous of his wife, not because she is married to Wil Wheaton, but because she seems to be a really cool chick I’d easily like and befriend if I had the opportunity. I don’t think I’m quite as cool as Anne.

Wil loses me a bit when he fusses over sports (I could not care less, though footie and fencing (and Jackie Chan marital arts films) are awesome), but his tales about conventions ring true (and I especially love his kind, but damn accurate, miniature word portraits of some convention attendees who need to get out of their parents’ basement already and take the “you should really just relax” mantra of MST3K to heart…because, even as a Token Non-fandom Guest at many conventions, I have met more than my share of those, and don’t get me started on fursuiters) and I used to try to learn what makes console gamers tick, given that my thesis class professor was in Game Development. (This is why I got and finished Post Mortem and Syberia in a weekend, and revisted Zork, and would be dinking around with Myst if it wasn’t an UBISOFT product tainted with StarForce drivers, a fact unknown to me when I ordered it, and I have the driver zorching software, but it is against my principles to knowingly install crappy drivers on my machines if I can avoid doing so, thus I keep looking at Myst and sighing, because it would be nice to play those games. But I don’t think I’m ever going to be into MMORPG type games (too much enforced socialization required) or first person shooters (too twitchy and adrenaline-spiking for me, when I play games to think and relax and be escapist for a while), or a fan of buying yet another expensive electronic device that requires a television to work.)

What always got to me was the openness of his blog. He fully admits that he was a farking arsehole when he was in his late teens and early twenties (and that makes him different from most boys that age..how?), though not without extreme provocation, and he shares excitement when things go well in his life, even if it is just something as mundane as a busy Saturday laying down sod, and I think I really feel his heart most when he writes excitedly about a project he has high hopes for, only to have those hopes crushed (yet again). Wil’s not what I would call an emo blogger, though, and I rarely comment on other people’s blogs, even those I really like. So I’ve been tempted to comment once in a while, or had been tempted in the past, but never did. As time goes on, it seems more and more odd that I know so much about this stranger, both the external, acted, persona and the less-external, partially revealed, blogger, but never, ever have contacted him, though he gives a number of contact points, implying that, well, I could.

Anyway, real life intruded, and I sort of wandered off, and lost some bookmarks during the Great Mac Meltdown of 2002 (one of two, whereby my Macs were endlessly reliable and awesome, day after day, and then, one day, fell down and could not get back up…not sure if this is better or worse than dealing with the typical PC-related woes), and since I am a Serial Obsessive, I forgot to re-bookmark good ol’ Wil. Even when I saw him posting at Fark or Killogg’s, or noted that he’d written a couple of books. (You should know that I pretty much lurk at places like Fark, because I don’t have the energy to get all geeked up and participate and go through the hazing process, but I’ve lurked for ages, on and off, because I’m just geeky enough to get where they are coming from.)

I re-discovered Wil’s blog, and re-read the old entries from the beginning. I got up to 2004, and it’s nice to know he’s still blogging, as I may get hooked again once I catch up to the present. At least I think he’s still blogging. It would be a shame if he’d quit. I’m not skipping ahead to the end to find out what the last chapter looks like. Not yet.

Interestingly, we “kinda-sorta” know some people in common. One Kevin Bacon-esque link is through a guy who used to work at Dad’s Garage in Atlanta, Joseph, though I sincerely doubt he’d know me. We were not close, and, in fact, I may have known he’d moved to California, but I didn’t really ponder the fact much. I may have spoken to the guy a total of a dozen times, and may never have introduced myself. I always liked his stuff, though.

There are other “you like what I like, so I like you” moments, and what is friendship, at least on an acquaintance level, but a shared set of interests? We share the same views on politics, he remembers many of the same cultural references I do (I suspect we are about the same age, actually), and sometimes I imagine that we have a similar sense of humour (I think “Gonads and Strife! WEEEE!” is hilarious, too). You get MOAR LOLcat slang and an occasional assumption that no one reads my crap but my buds from me (hence, some half-assed ramblings), and more WILLIAM FUCKING SHATNER(!!!1one!einz!!1)  and carefully tailored work from Wil, and so I think he kind of wins that one.

We both have “friends in high places,” but he actually gets to see his more often, and is not, like me, a crappy correspondent. Mine tend to be music folk, his tend to be actor folk.

At any rate, I was pleased to be reminded of Wil’s blog recently: he’s on Twitter. Hello, old friend. How’s by you?

Don’t spoil the ending for me. I kind of want to catch up the slow, enjoyable way.

Lastly, in tribute to Wil, here’s a Star Trek-related post from Happy Fun Pundit, posted in 2003. (Don’t worry, Wil apparently loved it.)

The Star Trek Universe, nutshelled:

10.    Noisy doors.

    You can’t walk three feet in a starship without some door whooshing or screeching at you. My office building has automatic sliding doors. They’re dead silent. If those doors went “wheet!” every time a person walked through them, about once a month some guy in accounting would snap and go on a shooting rampage. Sorry Scotty, the IEEE has revoked your membership until you learn to master WD-40.

9.    The Federation.

This organization creeps me out. A planet-wide government that runs everything, and that has abolished money. A veritable planetary DMV. Oh sure, it looks like a cool place when you’re rocketing around in a Federation Starship, but I wonder how the guy driving a Federation dump truck feels about it? And everyone has to wear those spandex uniforms. Here’s an important fact: Most people, you don’t want to see them in spandex. You’d pay good money to not have to see them. If money hadn’t been abolished, that is. So you’re screwed.

8.     Reversing the Polarity.

For cripes sake, Giordi, stop reversing the polarity of everything! It might work once in a while, but usually it just screws things up. I have it on good authority that the technicians at Starbase 12 HATE that. Every time the Enterprise comes in for its 10,000 hour checkup, they’ve gotta go through the whole damned ship fixing stuff. “What happened to the toilet in Stateroom 3?” “Well, the plumbing backed up, and Giordi thought he could fix it by reversing the polarity.” Between Scotty’s poor lubrication habits and Geordi’s damned polarity reversing trick, it’s a wonder the Enterprise doesn’t just spontaneously explode whenever they put the juice to it.

7.     Seatbelts.

Yeah, I know this one is overdone, but you’d think that the first time an explosion caused the guy at the nav station to fly over the captain’s head with a good 8 feet of clearance, someone would say, “You know, we might think of inventing some furutistic restraining device to prevent that from happening.” So of course, they did make something like that for the second Enterprise (the first one blew up due to poor lubrication), but what was it? A hard plastic thing that’s locked over your thighs. Oh, I’ll bet THAT feels good in the corners. “Hey look! The leg-bars worked as advertised! There goes Kirk’s torso!”

6.    No fuses.

Every time there’s a power surge on the Enterprise the various stations and consoles explode in a shower of sparks and throw their seatbelt-less operators over Picard’s head. If we could get Giordi to stop reversing the polarity for a minute, we could get him to go shopping at the nearest Starship parts store and pick up a few fuses. And while he’s shopping, he could stop at an intergalactic IKEA and pick up a few chairs for the bridge personnel. If you’re going to put me in front of a fuseless exploding console all day, the least you could do is let me sit down.

5.    Rule by committee.

    Here’s the difference between Star Trek and the best SF show on TV:

Star Trek: The Next Generation:

Picard: “Arm photon torpedoes!”
Riker: “Captain! Are you sure that’s wise?”
Troi: “Captain! I’m picking up conflicting feelings about this! And, it appears that you’re a ‘fraidy cat.”
Wesley: “Captain, I’m just an annoying punk, but I thought I should say something.”
Worf: “Captain, can I push the button? This is giving me a big Klingon warrior chubby.”
Giordi: “Captain, I think we should reverse the polarity on them first.”
Picard: “I’m so confused. I’m going to go to my stateroom and look pensive.”

Firefly:

Captain: “Let’s shoot them.”
Crewman: “Are you sure that’s wise?”
Captain: “Do you know what the chain of command is? It’s the chain I’ll BEAT YOU WITH until you realize who’s in command.”
Crewman: “Aye Aye, sir!”

4.    A Star Trek quiz:

    Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and ‘Ensign Gomez’ beam down to a planet. Which one isn’t coming back?

3.    Technobabble.

    The other night, I couldn’t get my car to start. I solved the problem by reversing the polarity of the car battery, and routing the power through my satellite dish. The resulting subspace plasma caused a rift in the space-time continuum, which created a quantum tunnelling effect that charged the protons in the engine core, thus starting my car. Child’s play, really. As a happy side-effect, I also now get the Spice Channel for free.

2.    The Holodeck.

    I mean, it’s cool and all. But do you really believe that people would use it to re-create Sherlock Holmes mysteries and old-west saloons? Come on, we all know what the holodeck would be used for. And we also know what the worst job on the Enterprise would be: Having to squeegie the holodeck clean.

1.    The Prime Directive.

    How stupid is this? Remember when Marvin the Martian was going to blow up the Earth, because it obstructed his view of Venus? And how Bugs Bunny stopped him by stealing the Illudium Q36 Space Modulator? Well, in the Star Trek universe, Bugs would be doing time. Probably in a room filled with Roseanne lookalikes wearing spandex uniforms, walking through doors going WHEET! all day. It would be hell. At least until the Kaboom. The Earth-shattering Kaboom.


That one’s for Uncle Willie.

Naming The Baby

Are you expecting? Congratulations, that’s lovely news!

About baby names…I have learned a lot, since I have become an auntie. Mostly, what people should not do, unless they wish to psychologically wound their child for fun and profit. If the Naming Of Cats is a delicate matter, the naming of babies is even more important. Babies tend to live a lot longer than cats, and will be far more wounded by a bad name than a cat will ever be.

1. Do not name the baby after the place the baby was conceived. Not only is this tacky, but Dallas, Paris, Brooklyn, Ledge, and Cheveigh-no’Vah are all cruel names.

2. Do not make your child cry when they go to a souvenir stand and cannot buy a tacky souvenir with their name printed on it correctly. If the name you pick is so unique, you doom your kid to have to spell it forty times a day for the rest of their life, not to mention misspelled mail, and difficulties with the IRS. Of course, you should probably not label your child with his or her name, as that makes it easier for bad people to convince your child that they know him or her.

3. Random capitalization, apostrophes, hyphens and strange symbols are not allowed. No Mac’Quenzees, SaNDeE*s, or La-Dunna-Brae-Lynns.

4. If you are not directly descended within the past three generations from a Native American tribe, a French person, a Japanese person, a German person, or a person from an African country, it is probably wise not to name your child a name that has no relevance to your culture. No Chaim Morimotos, Dakota Changs, or Ghislaine Washingtons, please.

5. “Sexy” names doom your child to a lifetime of working in a strip bar. Also, they are only suitable for pets or small children. Ever meet an Aunt Brandie, Uncle Jaiden-Kaydyn, Great-Uncle Bryce-Lasher or Grandma Neveah Typhani?

6. Watch those acronyms. There are lots of ways a three letter acronym can embarrass your kid. Do you want them to go through life deprived of monogrammed stationery just because their initials are ASS or PUS or TIT?

7. In an attempt to be unique and save your child from being “Jennifer S.” in a sea of fourteen other Jennifers, do not merely misspell Jennifer. Choose a less popular name, not a less standard spelling.

8. Speaking from personal experience, call your child by their first name and not their middle name. Otherwise you have to explain to the world why your parents chose not to do the standard thing, and the government, schools, doctors, employers, et cetera, all have to be trained not to use the unused first name and to call you by your middle name instead. This annoys all parties concerned.

9. “Mac” and “Mc” mean “son of”. Hence they are not really suitable as parts of a female child’s name.

10. Androgynous names were a cute trend in the eighties. But the whole “It’s Pat!” thing wasn’t funny even as an SNL skit. What’s wrong with “Mary” or “Michael”? Except, of course, then you have women like the gal who was in the Bangles who goes by Michael and confuses everyone. It’s your call, but check out some famous male serial killers some time: more than a few had “feminine” names. Might not be as cool an idea as you’d imagine to name a child a “catchy” androgynous name.

11. Names that are also proper nouns or concepts are poor choices. Don’t name your kid after gemstones, flowers, months, seasons, emotions, virtues or colours. This sounds very 1960s these days. Or, in the case of virtues, like Faith, Hope and Charity, very turn-of-the-PREVIOUS-century. Also, Murphy’s Law being what it is, your child will probably grow up to lack the very virtue his or her name suggests he or she has. Happy will be on Prozac, Faith will be an atheist, Chastity will be a ho, Hope will be an emo cutter, and Charity will be a yuppie scumbag who steps over starving homeless people to save fifteen cents on a mochaccino. Also, avoid any boy names that are punchlines in jokes such as “What do you call a man with no arms or legs sitting on your doorstep? (Matt) What do you call a man with no arms and legs thrown in a pool? (Bob).”

12. A warning when naming boys: Speaking of serial killers, names like “Wayne” and “Lee” are popular with serial killers, as are “double first names” in general.

13. 90% of all female middle names in the USA are Marie, Ann(e), Lynn(e), Jo, Lee / Leigh or Sue. This sounds very 1950s these days.

14. A simple test.
A. “And now, performing a sexy trick with ping pong balls and pythons, is !”
B. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the distinguished senator from the state of <X>, Senator <potential kid’s name here>.

15. How will the child’s name sound when you are angry and call them by their full name? Try it now! Shout <potential child’s full name> at the top of your lungs. Does it sound silly?

16. Avoid names that could conceivably belong to someone’s pet, such as Muffin, Brandy, Max, Spike, Rex, Bunny, Smoky or Kitty.

17. If you want to call your child “Bob,” great. Call him “Bob,” but put a full name on his birth certificate anyway. Little Bob may prefer to be known professionally as “Robert” when he is an adult.

18. Choosing surnames as first names confuses everyone. You never know, when given a list, if someone omitted the comma or not. Is it Taylor Brandon, or Brandon Taylor? Piper MacKenzie or Mackenzie Piper?

19. Don’t name the child after a pop culture figure. By the time the kid is old enough to learn his or her own name, that pop culture figure will most likely have disgraced him or herself horribly. Or the TV show will have long been canceled. Or Michael Jackson or Kobe Bryant will get caught doing naughty things to other people’s no-no places. Pity the kids named after Kato Kaelin or characters on Friends. Pity the children named after characters in those shitty “Twilight” books.

20. When picking a kid’s name, write them out. Make a list. Without telling your friends why you ask, get them to tell you who they think of when they hear the names. Because your kid will get asked if s/he was named after so-and-so at least a hundred times in his/her life, and if the first associations that pop up are not to your liking, that’s a bad sign.

21. If you are American, or from a country that does not have accent marks on a standard keyboard, don’t saddle your kid with a name that requires special characters to type properly. No Renees with accents, Zoes and Chloes with umlauts, or Bjorns with the special O character in there. I have a relative by marriage who regularly expresses her annoyance with her name because it is never spelled correctly, thanks to her parents insisting on an accent mark over an e.

22. What does the name rhyme with? If you don’t think about it, your child’s peers surely will, within three minutes of meeting them on the playground for the first time.

23. There’s no such thing as a name that is too “common”, like John or Mary. There is such a thing as a name that is too popular. Uniqueness is not guaranteed with a name, the child will be unique regardless. There are better qualities to be unique about than a name, which is something the child had nothing to do with. Better they be unique for qualities of character or achievement than a name.

24. GoogHoo is your buddy. Enter the child’s potential name into a search engine. If any axe-murdering necrophiliac rapist politicians come up in the search, a different name might be a good plan.

25. Celebrities can name their kids crappy things because, face it, most of those kids will never have to work at Burger King, will hang out with other damaged celebrity children in designer-labeled, Botoxxed herds, and they can afford to hire lawyers to sue the pants off anyone who mocks them for being called Apple, FiFi Trixiebelle, Tallullah Belle, Jermajesty, Saffron Pine, Rumer, Peaches, Pilot Inspektor, Jor-El, Dweezil, or Moon Unit. Your kid probably won’t be so lucky.

What Suze Orman Keeps Trying To Teach Me

Some money management tips I learned by reading and watching Suze (pronounced Suzie) Orman. Please note, right up front, that I consider myself to be financially-challenged. I’m not a stupid person, but money management professionals and banks and investment companies all seem to delight in using terminology and obfuscation and Scary Big Numbers and Percentages and I get intimidated. I’d say I’m at the level where I know enough not to make mistakes I’ve already made, or those that are glaringly obvious (or cons), but not savvy enough to guarantee that I won’t blunder in the future if I chose not to take advantage of the free advice and education available to me.

In short, I am a Money Moron. Right now I am making a mistake that Orman warns against: going back to school (in this case, for an AS Paralegal) when you are not 100% sure what you want to do once you have that degree in hand. Point being, I’m racking up big expenses and loan debts, am not currently employed full-time, have no job offer lined up for me on graduation day, and so on. On the other hand, not knowing what I want to do and NOT having a degree that might get me a decent job while I figure that bit out…that isn’t much smarter. Career counselling didn’t clarify things. So here I am.

I’ll share what I’ve learned, but I am telling you (in the equivalent of nine-foot-high flashing neon letters) that it behooves you to check into these things yourself. Dude! I’m a stranger on Teh Intarwebz. Keep that in mind. All I can do is promise that my intentions are good and that I hope to help, or to spur you to get someone professional to help you. Consumer Credit Counselling services are, I believe, absolutely free. Or, if your parents are money-wise, ask to talk to their assets manager about planning for your own future. (Imagine how proud the ‘rents will be of you!)

First thing you need to do is utilize what’s called the FACT act. You can get your credit score FREE once a year. There are three main credit score reporting entities (e.g., Equifax). Your score may vary slightly between the three, and there may be errors in your report. To be frank, I’m not entirely sure if you can ask all three bureaus for a report free per year or if you must choose one and pay for the other two, or if you should poll one the first year, the second the second year, et cetera. That’s up to you. Your credit score should range between 450 and 850. Some banner adverts wanting you to give them click-through commission money set the lowest rung at 300, which I assume only makes those with 450 (the worst possible score) feel better about themselves…surely some poor schmo has an even lower score, right? As an example, 740-780 is a very decent credit score to have. A score in the 600s or lower? Not so good.

Why a credit score is important:

* The higher your score (better), the lower the interest rates you have to pay on loans and lines of credit. Interest rates basically require that you pay money that you will never get back and cannot profit from. Often they are unavoidable if you cannot buy a house, car, piece of property outright. You may find the convenience of having a credit card, even one you do not use, is worth paying an interest rate. Car loans and student loans have interest rates.
* Your future employer can see your credit score. A good one implies good things: you are frugal, careful with your money, responsible, prudent. These are qualities a boss appreciates. A bad credit score implies the opposite. This is particularly vital if your job requires you to deal with company funds, a corporate account, billing, taxes, et cetera. Even creative types may get a job that requires responsible use of funds to purchase office equipment, or a corporate credit card for travel. If you can’t handle YOUR money….
* Your relationships. In most cases, debt accrued prior to marriage remains your problem. The sticking point is, it indicates that you are not a responsible person. No matter how much in love with you someone is, hearing that you have severe debt or credit score issues is not a turn-on. If you want to buy a car or house together, your low credit score is averaged with your partner’s high credit score (or, in worst case scenarios, the higher score is actually thrown out altogether when determining what interest rates you’ll pay). Banks are less eager to issue loans to you and, by extension, your family. And who is going to pay the bills if you have learned nothing from your money misadventures and continue to use credit irresponsibly? You may think you’re too young to be bothered about worrying about getting married or buying expensive things. Okay…imagine the crimp in your spontaneity if your credit score is so horrendous that when you try to open an account at Hollywood Video (when you and your schmoopie decide on the spur of a moment to have a movie date night at home) and you are turned down.
* You contest a bank error or identity theft purchase. Your poor credit score will be considered relevant, and it will take longer for your complaint to be checked out, because, naturally, you could be desperate enough to be trying to pull a scam.

The most basic problem with having a crap credit score is that you’ll end up paying thousands or tens of thousands of dollars more (than someone with a decent score) for life’s necessities. If you can find a way to get them financed at all. In essence, you’re going to be fined repeatedly for carelessness, ignorance, poor money management, financial disaster you couldn’t do anything about, whatever it was that precipitated your credit score problem. In short: FIX IT.

Suze Orman also urges young people to invest in the only truly undervalued resource available these days: the young people themselves. Stocks, property and land are no longer undervalued, generally speaking, and buying low and selling high and making a fortune is far more difficult, if possible at all. You, however, are your own best, and a unique, asset. Orman urges young people to focus on Career Building.

One way to improve your credit score is to manage credit offers wisely. Conventional wisdom says that you should close all cards but the one you use. Because of something called a credit-to-debt ratio, this can be deadly. Let’s say you have five credit cards, all with $2000 available credit. You’re only using one, and it is maxxed at $2000. You may think it would be wise to close the unused four cards now. It’s not. As it stands, you have $10K in available credit, and are only using $2K. That gives you a credit/debt ratio of 20%. If you close the other four cards, your credit/debit ratio is suddenly 100%. You now have only $2K in available lines of credit and you are maxxed out at $2K. Bad idea.

Another trap to watch out for is closing older lines of credit in favor of newer ones. Let’s say you got your first $2K card ten years ago, the next 8 years ago, the next 6 years ago and the last two four and two years ago respectively. If you close down all but the most recent credit card, you have erased ten years of your credit history on your report. This assumes that you established a credit line at all. Just having a card doesn’t show credit worthiness. You must use, pay off promptly, and then LOCK AWAY cards you plan to use to establish a good credit rating. Don’t carry them with you. If you want to go so far as to rent a safety deposit box (good for passports, heirloom jewelry, birth certificates, copies of car papers and house papers, et cetera), or a fireproof home safe, you can put the unused cards in there so you don’t have to fear impulse spending or theft. You should NOT carry them all around with you.

Another pitfall is applying for too many credit offers in a short amount of time. This raises red flags to people looking at your credit report.

Lastly, getting cards just because you can and collecting them is a bad idea. Not only do you risk financial ruin if the information is stolen somehow, a large, unused line of credit, after a certain point, is not in your favor. This is especially foolish if these cards require an annual fee.

Invest In Yourself as an Asset

If you have a job that you want to turn into a career, you must bite the bullet and put in your dues. That means coming in early, leaving late, not abusing lunch hours or breaks, not calling in sick all the time, coming in on weekends, dressing appropriately (as if you had the job you want), doing everything you are asked to do, looking around for other things you can do for the company, keeping office politics at bay by avoiding socializing while on the clock, avoiding chronic complainers, and by becoming indispensable. Know where the bodies are buried. Network laterally within your industry as well as upwards: seek mentors both within and outside of your company. Brainstorm new ways to make your boss or company look good. You must make your boss dependent upon you before you, as an undervalued asset, become valuable. Prove yourself and continue to prove yourself. Love what you do, and focus on that rather than solely money. Working in hope of a reward is never going to satisfy as much as working at a job you feel competent at and which you care about and enjoy more often than not. The goal is to see work as being separate from your play time. Net surf at home. Call spouses and partners at home or when outside of the building on your lunch break. When at work, work. That is how you become an invaluable asset and you will be rewarded for it by rising within the ranks in a career you love.

Know, too, the difference between a Job and a Career. Jobs will feed, clothe and put a roof over your head, but they are not necessarily soul-enriching like careers are. Treating Jobs like Careers can burn you out. You must not make a decision about whether a Job is or isn’t a Career for at least six months or so, though (unless the fit is grossly wrong for you): work as if it IS a Career.

If all of this sounds deadly to you, that’s a sign that you are working a Job, not a Career (or Calling). Time to re-evaluate what you want, and what you feel you are meant, to do.

How To Invest Your Paycheck Wisely

One thing you should try to do is maintain your current standard of living even when your pay grade improves. This requires discipline and sacrifice. Obviously, if you are living below subsistence level and you get a pay rise, adjust to that. Once you have a decent, if non-extravagant, lifestyle, however, treat future pay rises as more money to invest in your future.

If you have an opportunity to put money into a 401(k) or 403(b) plan (403(b) is for non-profits), DO NOT PASS UP FREE MONEY. If your employer is generous enough to provide matching funds, contribute up to the level they will match. Then stop. If your employer does not offer matching funds, there are better investment strategies.

If you’ve contributed to your 401(k) or 403(b) up to the level of what your employer will match (remember, they are giving you FREE MONEY when they match what you contribute), consider paying down or paying off your credit cards. Start with those that charge you the highest interest rates per year. Do NOT close them if you want to establish a better credit/debt ratio.

After you have contributed up to the level of matching employer funds and paid down your highest interest rate credit cards, it’s time to consider a ROTH IRA. If you choose not to touch the IRA until you are 59 1/2 years old, then wait another five years, you can take out that money TAX FREE. If you have an emergency, you can withdraw WHAT YOU HAVE CONTRIBUTED penalty-free. You can’t touch the interest you have earned, but you can claim your contributed funds.

After you have funded your IRA to the maximum, consider saving for a down payment on your own home. Property is the best investment you will ever make. It appreciates in value, in general, far better than do stocks or interest-earning savings plans. It is perhaps foolish to do this without funding your 401(k), paying down your credit line debt and funding an IRA, as those are solid foundations for future investment healthiness and houses can be money pits if you aren’t careful. Establish your base first.

Buying A Home

The typical down payment on a home is 20% of its market value. Many people choose to pay 10% of that and finance the rest. “Normal” homes in “normal” real estate markets gain 4-5% / year in added value. That can be up to 40% / year return on your investment (if you are paying 10% down). Once you have owned the home for two years, up to $250,000 of appreciation is tax free gain. If you co-own the home, up to $500,000 is tax-free appreciation in value. A half million dollars. After your first $250-500K of tax-free appreciation, any further added value is taxed at a capital gains tax rate.

How do you know if you can afford to buy rather than rent? Many people make the mistake of thinking “if I pay $700 in rent, I can afford a $700 mortgage.” Often this is incorrect. (See: foreclosures.) Suze Orman recommends that you “Play House” for six months to see what you can afford. The first thing you should know is that hidden costs (PMI–more on this in a minute, insurance, property taxes and a fund for emergencies / basic maintenance / home repairs) typically add up to 45-50% to your monthly costs. So if you are paying $700 now in rent per month, assume you’ll be paying $1050 a month with a $700 mortgage. There are other hidden costs (your car insurance rates may go up, depending on circumstances) and not-so hidden (maybe you just can’t WAIT to get a new living room suite and TiVo now that you’re a Big Grown Up Person With A House). Some property owner headaches don’t reveal themselves until time has passed: a tree with roots that grow into your septic system, inadequate weather management requiring a HVAC system to replace window unit air conditioners and space heaters, dead birds in your chimney, pest control, lawn and garden maintenance, replacement of major appliances that die unexpectedly, chances in zoning or community regulations that require you to erect or tear down a fence or shed on your property, and so many more troubles you wouldn’t believe it. This is why a house fund is vital; ditto an inspector checking that your desired home is up to code and has no hidden problems (some you may opt to address when negotiating for the price of the house, choosing to accept a lower price in return for you taking on the burden of fixing the deficiency yourself or requiring the current owner to address problems before you sign on).

So. What can you afford free and clear? You’ve learned that $700 per month rent does not mean you can afford $700 per month for a house mortgage IF you’re struggling to survive on $700 rent now. Yes, you’re paying yourself, in essence, when you own rather than rent, but if you fall behind on your mortgage payments, the bank can seize your home and foreclose. Bad juju when that happens.

PMI, as mentioned earlier, is Private Mortgage Insurance. If, like most people, you don’t have $20 to put down on a house, you have to have PMI. Currently this runs at about $45/month PER each $100,000 you have financed. There is a little-known way to deal with your PMI in advance. More on this in a second. What you should NOT do when financing a house you can’t pay the full 20% down on is a piggyback loan. Many people finance 80% of thir mortgage through one lender and another 10% through another. (This doesn’t add up to 100% because it assumes you’ve paid the minimum 10% down typically allowed.) As interest rates are rising, a piggyback loan is a dangerous way to finance just to avoid the PMI. A smart way to deal with the PMI is to pay it up front. On a 30-year mortgage for $200,000, PMI up front is $2000. So, by offering to pay PMI up front, instead of a $200K mortgage, you have a $202K mortgage which adds only about $14/month to your mortgage as opposed to the traditional way, paying as you go, which would, in this example, be $90/month. As a bonus, it is tax deductible if you pay upfront, so pay it up front and be done with it.

I mentioned Suze Orman advising folks who want to move from renting to owning to “Play House” for six months. Essentially this is a low-risk way of proving to yourself whether or not you are ready for home ownership and can afford your dream house.
1. For six months, pay your rent on the first of the month. No exceptions.
2. For six months, put half of what you pay in rent into your savings and do not touch it.
That’s it. If you do it for six months, are NEVER late, even by one day, with your rent payment and if you don’t feel overly pinched in your lifestyle (ou can afford your basic needs as well as a reasonable amount of wants every month and are still socking money into retirement plans, paying off bills, socializing as you normally do, buying the same amount of groceries you normally do, and so on) then you are ready to own your own home.

Lastly, after you have your home and have lived in it without financial distress for a year, it’s time to start an emergency savings fund. This is an account, perhaps separate from your normal savings account, where you sock away enough money to live on for at least eight months. This protects you in case you are seriously ill, in case you lose your job, in case your family has a crisis, and so on. This isn’t your normal savings fund, it isn’t your household maintenance fund, it’s a separate fund to be used only if you need to keep your head above water during an emergency. For most of us, this is a pipe dream at the moment, but it is what Orman recommends once you have dealt with your retirement savings, your credit cards and other debts and have purchased a home.

Education and Debt

Is it worth going into debt with student loans to get an education? In most cases, YES. It’s getting so that even the most basic and menial and lowest entry-level positions require you to have a bachelor’s degree even to be considered. Even some blue-collar positions require advanced degrees and special training.

Get your degree to invest in yourself as a valuable asset. Become more marketable. Caveat: don’t go to school IN LIEU OF building a career just because you don’t know what to do. Why accrue more debt? (I’m guilty of this!) Some student loans are tax-deductable up to the first $25,000 you pay.

Social Security

In short, you shouldn’t count on it being there for you. If you retired tomorrow, it would still not be there for you. It does not cover even the most basic survival needs. How do you save if you aren’t earning any money? First, invest in yourself, get a good start on your chosen career track and become indispensable. If the problem with Social Security worries you, consider taking a stance politicaqlly on what affects your future. BE AWARE of things that AFFECT YOU. Be proactive. Be informed. No one will care for you when you are older, or it is at least something you should not count on, so if you don’t get involved, you revoke your right to complain about the state of things later on in life.

Bankruptcy Doesn’t Make You Bad

You managed your money poorly or circumstances beyond your control led to your financial ruin and you had to declare bankruptcy. This doesn’t mean you are a bad person. You must not punish yourself for your mistakes. On the other hand, most people who declare bankruptcy once, declare it twice. Don’t be that person. Learn the financial lessons you need to know, ask for help from qualified professionals, and change your way of thinking about money.

A mindset that often leads to bankruptcy is feeling deprived. You feel you are entitled to nice things. You shop to fill emotional voids within, because you are sad, or feel ugly, or feel lonely or feel “less than” peers who have expensive toys that you do not have. You have to fill emotional voids in more self-affirming ways and practice delayed gratification. Frills and thrills in the now should not cost you security and luxury when you are older. Buy quality when you buy things that are intended to be around for a while. Cheap furniture, cheap bedding, cheap towels, cheap electronics: the cost of repeatedly replacing cheap quality goods is far more than buying a good quality, sturdy item at the start. You don’t have to have it all at once. Buy good quality pieces in stages. Consider reducing your possessions and collections. Shelving to house collections takes up space and costs money you could spend on other things. Anything you collect that is not worth the aggravation it would cause to move it to another place should be reconsidered. (I’m guilty of this: I hold on to a sizable collection of vinyl albums, for one.) Scale your possessions to the available storage you have, rather than buying more storage to house your possessions. If your collections don’t mean as much to you as they once did, but you keep them out of sentiment, consider selling or giving away all but a few of your favorites or most valuable. A well-chosen arrangement of things is more pleasing and has more impact than mere quantity of items, and is easier to display and enjoy and dust around.

Charity

When should you give? How much should you give? Do you consider yourself a charity?

When you give, it is a reflection of your values and a way to give thanks for what you do have. As a bonus, giving feels GOOD. Givers get a feeling of pleasure from their own generosity, and acknowledging that you are in a position to help others contributes to a feeling of personal power. That feeling of power and the warm glow that comes from helping the less-fortunate will color your inner views about your own situation positively. Decide what you can give each month, open-heartedly, and make a commitment to sit down at the first of the month when bills come due and make your donation to a charity you care about the first thing you do. The feeling of abundance you will have, giving to others in need, will make paying bills feel like less of a drudgery. You may not yet be rich, but you can still help others, so you can’t be poor, right? Your monthly donation does not need to be extravagant. If you can spare a dollar, give a dollar. Resist the temptation to give only when major disasters strike. Do it consistently. Also, don’t do it via automatic bank transfers. Physically write out a check every month and send it yourself, from an open-hearted desire to be helpful to others. If you can’t give money, give of your time. Donate clothes to the Salvation Army, books to the public library, pet toys from a deceased pet who can’t get any use out of them anymore to a rescue group, old computers and printers to non-profit groups, feminine hygiene supplies and new diapers to a battered woman’s shelter, board games and yarn skeins and knitting needles to nursing homes…use your imagination. It feels good helping others, and that good feeling, associated with money matters, will help you associate fiscal responsibility with positive feelings.

Cynical misanthrope? There are plenty of animal preservation charities, charities that fund the arts, Public Broadcasting, charities that help the homeless regain their dignity and shelter, charities that support your college or high school, charities that help with historical preservation, charities that promote literacy…whatever ignites your passions, be it politics, or children, or abused animals or certain environmental causes, there is a charity you will feel good about supporting. You can even donate anonymously if you fear getting spammed by requests from other charities. Buy a money order each month and sent it off anonymously. Pick a different charity each month and drop money orders in collection baskets, or library donation boxes, or buy canned food for food drives, pet food to animal shelters, or toys for holiday gift drives. Pledge to yourself to spent a certain amount each month and be true to your promise and do it before your money goes towards less life-affirming places (such as the cable company or utilities). Increase the sum total of joy in the world by doing small, but vital, things to help.

Investing in Markets

I won’t go into this, because it’s all new to me, but essentially you make a commitment that you’re going to invest $500 a month (or whatever) into certain mutual funds or investment groups. It’s recommended you get an advisor to help you when you first start doing this. Say you have five investment options you pay into each month. Resist the urge, at least for a while, to try to guess the direction of the stock market.

Assume you have a 14-year mortgage and a sudden windfall of $25,000. Your mortgage has a fixed rate (one hopes). It is likely that the interest on your mortgage loan is far lower than other expenses you could make. Assume also you plan to stay in your house. Take your windfall, talk to an investment counselor, and then chose the groups you want to invest in. Don’t invest it all at once. Divide your windfall money into equal amounts and buy the same amount of investment fund shares each month. This will average out better for you than if you paid off your mortgage.

Mutual funds and stock groups you can buy for $100 minimum:

iShares Dow Jones US Basic Materials (IYM)
iShares Dow Jones US Real Estate (IYR)
iShares Lehman Aggregate Bond (AGG)
iShares MSCI-EAFE (EFA)
Vanguard Total Stock Market UPER (VTI)

(I had Vanguard shares before and currently have a lot of Columbia shares, which aren’t available for $100 minimum buy-ins. Vanguard performed well at the time, if that makes a difference to you, and tends to be conservative (e.g., low risk, moderate potential reward, probably the best potential for maintaining portfolio value over the long haul).)

Let’s say you invest $500 a month into these five share groups (asset classes). The goal is to invest about 20% of your total 100% investment per share group / asset class. This means that each month you should rotate which asset class you buy stock from, trying to maintain a 20% division of funds per asset class. Don’t try to guess what will be “hot,” discipline yourself to rotate through all the asset classes. (This information comes from MSNBC financial information articles, and you can read more about each asset class and what you’re buying there. For example, basic materials (IYM) includes buying precious metals like gold, and others include foreign stock offerings along with US-only stock offerings.)

Lastly, MSNBC Financial wizards recommend investing inPIMCO Community Real Return Strategy Fund(PCRDX) once you can afford to buy in $2,500 minimum amounts. As with all stock advice, consult an expert, preferably one at your bank. I have merely the barest clue what’s going on with all this, I have not yet had a sit-down with my advisor to get educated (beyond the basics).

When you feel financially free, your spirit is free. You remove a huge area of stress from your life. I’m not there yet, but I’m striving to learn. I figured I’d share what I’ve recently read. Typing it in here helps me retain the information and makes it feel more accessible and understandable.

Remembering The Crocodile Hunter

Never thought Steve Irwin would be barbed to death by a sting ray. Croc hors d’oeurvre? Sure. Actor Sharon Stone’s guy got chomped on by a Komodo dragon, so that was a possibility. Big-ass pissed-off anaconda (on a plane)? Maybe. Shark? Well, okay. He didn’t play with sharks much, though, right?

But…buh…whuh…?

A sting ray? The little rubbery guys that swim around and around at Sea World down in Florida? They look sort of like grey washcloths with tails? Right. I’ve touched those things. They can’t be the same species that did in the Croc Hunter. Right?

How bizarre.

Dubya almost chokes to death on a pretzel and lives, the Croc Hunter is taken out by a amphibious pot holder and dies. You know he was aware that sting rays had a pointy end. It’s just depressing. It’s not like he was a Darwin Award nominee doing something stupid around wild animals, like, say, covering a child’s hand in honey so a wild grizzly bear will lick it for an Oh So KAH-YOOT!!!! picture. (Hand up if you got called “Stumpy” in high school!)

That’s just not right. Too bad Death isn’t like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld-dwelling DEATH, who might be amenable to a less stupid cause of death in exchange for a funnier one. I’m just saying, he could be reasoned with.

“YOU’RE RIGHT, A STING RAY IS NOT FUNNY ENOUGH. HOW ABOUT IF HE GETS BONKED ON THE HEAD WITH A BRASS CROCODILE BY AN IRATE DWARF OR SOMETHING?”

Right on, DEATH, that would be displaying a proper ironic twist.

“I’M VERY GOOD AT WHAT I DO, YOU KNOW.”

The day Irwin died, “Crikey” was, apparently, the obligatory headline for all 4,000 people I interact with online on a daily basis, all of whom had something to say about Steve Irwin’s death. I am not kidding.

There was a person who said it was sad that the children would ‘only’ have their dad around on video…um…I wish I had something more than three or four short, muffled, background comments being made by my (late) dad left hanging around on something better than a corroding cassette tape from the mid-1970s and FIVE blurry or black and white photos, total. That’s it. Of course, I have always looked just like him…except I’m not a bald guy. 🙂 I feel bad for Irwin’s kids and widow, but I think that as far as memories go, they at the very least got very lucky that their dad was filmed for a living.

And his daughter? Couldn’t be cuter. She reminds me of my nieces.