Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Time and money

Today, in honor of Earth Day, I decided to recycle some office paper. I salvaged the paper clips and binder clips to reuse but otherwise tossed 3-4 years of my working life into the trash. The files started with 2003 and were thick with the defects I fixed for each release of the Big Fat Enterprisewide App, but by 2005 the defects were thinning and I wondered if maybe I was programming myself out of a job. In 2006 I received kudos for a task well done, that task being training our replacements, and again I wondered if I was doing too good a job. But I'm still here! Less one file drawer of paper to move to the new building, the new building that has not yet been started.

Thanks for participating in my honesty survey, although after giving it some thought, the survey may have actually been about money. Otherwise honest and noble individuals are often reduced to dunderheads when it comes to money. I'm surprised by those who cannot NOT spend every cent they earn (and then some!) or those who are well off but can't part with a single dollar for charity or those who think they are poor but can afford to send their kids to parochial school. And what we each are willing to spend money on is also very telling indeed.

I've come to the conclusion that I will never be rich, will always have to work for a living, but will also not become homeless or destitute, partially due to dumb luck but also because I try to make wise financial decisions. Somehow I have always found a job when I needed one, always made enough money to get by (although at times, things were a little tight), chose to have only two children, chose to own only one car, chose to live in a modest house (which is almost paid off!) I don't carry a balance on my credit cards, I avoid buying things I don't need, and I make an effort to share my so-called wealth with a variety of charities that are important to me.

While I am happy to buy my kids the occasional gift, they are both self-supporting adults who do not need my money (of which I am SO proud!) Several of those co-workers who thought I should keep the tax refunds that were not mine to keep subsidize the lifestyles of some of their adult relatives, presumably because they equate money with love and/or to assuage guilt. One fellow may wind up in bankruptcy because of his "generosity".

Several years ago (before the current economic downturn), my financial advisor suggested I was living too far below my means. But I look around and wonder, What else could I want? Really, the only thing I want right now is to be able to retire as soon as possible. Living below my means will help me toward that goal better than anything else. Besides, when you buy something, you have to take care of it even if you don't use it much, and also find a place to keep it. My house is small and my time is limited, so I'd rather keep my belongings to a minimum.

I know. I'm a bad consumer.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Survey says

About five years ago I was accessing my checking account online and discovered two tax refunds, one from the federal government, one from the state. My initial delight changed to confusion in about two seconds because 1) I was not expecting any refunds that year, and 2) I had not yet filed my tax returns. I called my credit union to report the mistake (it turned out to be some transposed digits in the account number) and forgot about it.

The next year, the same thing happened. And the next year, too. Each time I reported the error immediately. After the third time, though, the other party was so impressed with my honesty that they rewarded me with their state tax refund, which amounted to several hundred dollars. Totally unnecessary but very nice of them indeed.

Each time these errors occurred, I related the story to my co-workers. Surprisingly (at least, to me), a couple of my co-workers berated me for reporting the error right away, suggesting I should have just kept the money and waited to see if the error was ever detected. I never considered keeping the money - someone was enthusiastically and mayby anxiously awaiting its delivery - and besides, it could easily be traced to my account. My co-workers then suggested I should have spent it, like that would have disguised the electronic audit trail.

Anyway, this seems like a good topic for a survey! Since not very many people read this blog, invite your friends and family to stop by and voice their opinion. I'm really curious to see if I am too honest for my own good.


Monday, April 13, 2009


I have not lost a single additional pound following the four-day jump-start of the Flat Belly Diet, after which I lost four pounds. This lack of progress is due to the fact that I am finding it nearly impossible to stick with 1600 calories a day because I'M HUNGRY! Instead of four 400-calorie meals, I am eating five. And while I am not losing weight, at least I have not gained any back. So, if I ever get down to my target weight, I know how many calories it takes to maintain.

My daughter is also following the FBD, more or less. I asked her if she was hungry, and she said, Yes, but she just tries to distract herself. So that is going to be my strategy, too - set hard limits on how much I eat and how often and when I feel hungry in between meals, try to find something to keep my mind off food. At home, this is relatively easy, but it would help if my job weren't so BORING.

In other news, well, there isn't any to speak of. Yesterday was Easter, but we don't really do Easter. Hell, we barely do xmas. I consider myself agnostic, my daughter is an avowed atheist, and while my son told me once that he believes in God, beyond that, things get a little fuzzy. (The only time he might have heard anything about God was during locker room prayers.) My dad had never been in a church until he married. My mom came from a long line of ministers and tried to get us to go to church once in a while, but it was a lost cause. When I found out that her brother had converted to Catholicism, I went around telling people I was "half-Catholic" as I thought it was like being half-Danish. Anyway, the closest to Easter I got this weekend was calling my dad and putting ham in the scalloped potatoes for dinner on Sunday.

No real update on last Friday's issue at work, either. Today was very quiet. Too quiet.

Friday, April 10, 2009

It was a good Friday

When I arrived at work today, it looked like having my carpets cleaned was going to be the highlight of the day, but it actually got better and better.

Several years ago, I wrote a little application that has run without fanfare or problem for a select number of users, until this week, when suddenly it began to hang after submitting a query to a database. For most users, instead of executing in a few seconds as it usually does, it was taking 5-10 minutes; for some, over an hour. Totally unacceptable.

After lunch, I found out that not only was my little app affecting its own users, it was slowing down everyone in the corporation who was trying to use our big, fat, enterprise-wide business application. Wow. I didn't know I had such power.

What's even better is, it's totally not my fault. Nothing has changed with my app for years, so it is either a database problem or a network problem. Dance, infrastructure team, dance!

I think my work here is done.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Crying at work

No, I did not get "right sized". Things were a little slow today, so I was stealth-reading an essay in the NYer by David Sedaris, trying desperately not to laugh out loud, mopping up silent tears of hilarity. Who thought a giant box of condoms in a shopping cart at Costco could be so funny?

Once the new building is built, I won't be able to do any of this - read, stifle laughter, dab my eyes - unnoticed. When we move into the greenest office building in northeast Indiana, we will trade our tall (over five foot) cubicle walls for short (three foot) ones. Ostensibly, this is so everyone will be exposed to the natural light streaming through the high tech windows. Everyone will also be exposed to everyone else. But, more importantly, everyone's monitors will be exposed to everyone else instead of just the techno geeks who monitor (heh) our Internet access behind the scenes. I predict the economy will suffer from the sudden slow-down of online shopping.

How can a company lay off 10% of its work force and still erect a new building, you ask? Funny accounting. My employer won't own the building; instead, they will sign a 12-year lease while someone else owns it. Still, closing an office in South America while erecting a building in the Midwest looks bad. I for one would gladly sacrifice my new (short) cubicle walls in favor of keeping my current (tall) ones if it will save someone's job.

For a while there, I was obsessed with doomsday scenarios (besides unemployment), to the point where I started collecting two-liter pop bottles to store water. I don't drink much pop, let alone from two-liter bottles, so I asked a co-worker to save me his. I was too embarrassed to tell him why, so I made up a story about building a cold frame and wanting to fill the pop bottles with water and use them as a heat sink. Now he periodically asks how my cold frame is coming along. I tell him I am still accumulating building materials for it, which is sort of true.

And, speaking of doomsday, I finally finished listening to Collapse on CD. Or I should say, CDS - there were 22 of them. A very interesting book, but I was disappointed in the ending. Jared Diamond sounded like he was going to make some suggestions about what we as individuals could do, but then he didn't. I think I will focus on reforestation (this from someone who last summer cut down four silver maples in her backyard) and population control. I hereby pledge to have no more children.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Our turn

Thursday morning, as I was walking into the building at work, I mused that things had been awfully quiet lately - no announcements, no town halls - and wondered what was up with that? Upon opening my email, I found out: 10% reduction in staff in the coming 12 months, by retirement, attrition, and "redundancies". Shit.

My department reorganized last year, and at that time, trimmed about 10% of the IT staff worldwide. So the general feeling, as expressed by my line managers, is we have already done our part. But I am sure they have a list of potential lambs to sacrifice.

I feel relatively safe because I support several esoteric but high-profile applications. One is being phased out over the next year or so. Another is slated to go as well, but the end date is TBD. The third actually generates income, and I am the last programmer standing on that project.

After revealing just how much money the company lost last year, the CEO and chairman of the board resigned a month or so ago. These were the two guys who kept reassuring us that everything was fine. Were they asked to leave or are they rats deserting a sinking ship?

Later Thursday, they announced some office consolidations and shifting business. We are supposed to get a whole new building in the coming year, but they have not broken ground yet. I will feel a whole lot better when the heavy equipment shows up.