Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris

Book 3

As I was saying, Dead Until Dark is the first novel in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris.  The "Southern Vampire" novels, they are also called.  Not sure the Swedish sheriff would appreciate that, but whatever.

Do you all know the premise?  The Japanese have invented synthetic blood.  Since vampires are no longer compelled to drink blood from live people, they have "come out of the coffin" and want to be recognized as citizens.  Those that choose to live in human communities are known as "mainstreamers".

There is just enough of the fantasy/sci fi geek in me to debate whether the rules of this particular vampire world make any sense.  Mostly, I buy it so I won't bore you with the details. 

True Blood, the TV series, is nasty.  In a graphic-sex-beyond-my-imagination way.  The blood was cool, though.  The novel isn't quite that nasty, but one of the reasons is that the novel is told in the first person, and Sookie would have no way of knowing about Jason and that blond girl in the parking lot of Merlotte's, or about his ending up in the emergency room after drinking that vial of vampire blood.  So one the one hand, the TV show is cooler because it follows the other characters around - they are more developed and very interesting.  The book is more intimate with the heroine.  Because she is the heroine.  On the other hand.  Jason is nasty.

The other way the TV show is cool is that in the portrayal of Sookie's gift (or curse, depending on your point of view).  She can read minds.  The director or whomever did a really good job of showing how loud and awkward freaking crazy that would make you if you couldn't turn it off at will. 

But I was talking about the book.  And the TV show is not entirely faithful to the text.  For example, (slight spoilers here) when Long Shadow is killed, the TV show is very clear that Bill did it.  The novel is not.  It has Sookie blacking out and thinking that Eric did it.  Now, perhaps that is simply what she thinks, and another truth will come out later.  But it still a pretty big departure.

The character of Tara doesn't even exist in the novel.  I love Tara.

Anyway, if you like the show and would like to a) get further into Sookie's head or b) have a whole bunch of brain candy to get you through to the next DVD release, this is a good pick.

Score Two For Kindle

I had watched several episodes of True Blood before I took a look at the novels on which it was based.  The Sookie Stackhouse series is on Book 9 or 10.  When I decided that I like it, I figured I might as well read the books.  Or at least the first one.

I went to, to see if I couldn't burn through the rest of that gift card.  Too expensive.  Amazon, B&N, I don't want to pay retail, I don't want to pay shipping blahblahblah.  Then I went back to Amazon to check out the options for the Kindle. 

Books 1-8 in one box set download for $28.80.

I started mulling this over.  30/8 = less than four dollars per book.  Certainly within the realm of reason, assuming that I like them and read them all.  As if I need to read some more trashy vampire novels.  As if I didn't blow past that quota in the 10th grade.  And then I look at my bookcase and do the need vs. want debate in my head.  Then I tell myself that I should use the Kindle more because it will make my brother happy.  Back and forth, back and forth.  So I go to my mother.

"I need you to talk me out of spending money stupidly," I say.  And tell her my lame little dilemma. 

She tells me to buy the books.  Then she says, "Didn't we determine there is a $50 minimum on having these debates?"

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is why I cannot stop spending money.

So I buy them, and I start reading.

Here's the good part.  Just as Utter Scoundrel was talking about people being pretentious with the books they read (or pretend to) in public, I was discovering that if you read your trashy vampire novels on the one knows.  No one knows!

(until I blog about it.)

What Women Pay

I read this article on MSN Money when I was out of town - Seattle, I think – so I didn’t write about it. But MP Dunleavy (with the help of Consumer Reports) dug up a whole bunch of scenarios where women are charged more than men for essentially the same service. Of course, this is not exactly news. And while I have noticed such things before, I think I had rationalized them to “women have more hair, so a haircut costs more” or “there are extra fragrances added that lotion” or “men push harder in negotiations/bargaining”.

Then there was mention of a lawsuit. Two ladies sued Saks for charging them for alterations on their evening gowns when alterations on men’s tuxedos are done for free. It sounds like wealthy women with too much time on their hands, but I guess the battles must be fought by those who have the means. It becomes scarier as Dunleavy notes the differences in mortgage and insurance rates and then the bottom line:

“When you look at each product or service individually, the affront doesn't appear so egregious. But it all adds up: a few bucks for alterations, a percentage point or two in mortgage interest, higher health care co-pays. Then consider that, on average, a woman still earns about 78 cents to a man's dollar (or $78,000 compared with $100,000 paid to a male colleague with the same level of experience).”

The moral of the story is that while there are larger battles to be fought here, the average women can make her statement by being a more educated consumer. Vote with your wallet!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Goddam Salinger

Chicago blogger Erin Shea wrote a piece about JD Salinger yesterday. She had been listening to the NPR report with an English teacher. ““This is the book they keep,” he said. “This is the one they never give away.””

Shea continued:

“I never have either. Yellow, worn and frayed, I have never let go of my original copy, the one my parents bought me for Christmas when I was in 7th grade. I’m looking at it right now, searching for underlined words, my name scrawled in the margins, dog-eared pages. Do you ever open a book and find something inside like that? As though these books you’ve been carrying around with you for years and years suspend time for you somehow by keeping those things for you?”

Oh, hell. So I went to into my library to look for it. It took awhile because it was still wrapped up – in a book cover way, with the actual English assignment – “supposing that our district was facing the prospect of having Catcher in the Rye banned…” There appear to be Diet Coke stains on the piece of paper – which also have my name and the title of the book written in purple ink in handwriting that was once mine and the word “pesadia” on the back in pink ink, in handwriting that I don’t quite recognize. Kris used to write in pink, though. What does “pesadia” mean, anyway? Cursory Google search gave me nothing.

Also in the pages was a little card that came with the candy cane – my school did a fundraiser every holiday where you could send treats to your friends – from Matt my sophomore year. I won’t even tell you what he wrote, but it was vulgar. I do not have dog-eared pages, underlining or notes in the margins.

I couldn’t say that this book changed my life on any conscious level. But around that time – the half-way point of my sophomore year - was when I started to like being in a classroom again. When I stopped hating the world and started to get over myself. If I had to be there I might as well learn something, right? How many teenagers do you know whose rebellion was substantially over before they even turned 16?

Anyway. I ought to toss that old, damaged thing in the trash and get a nice new copy, but I won’t.

“It’s funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Crazy as 10 Plastic Surgeries

As much as I enjoy the spa, I have always loathed paying money for a manicure.  Two reasons:

  1. I can mostly do it myself.  I even have a bloody paraffin bath!
  2. I will never have really nice nails again, so why the heck would I spend money to have them groomed?
However, now that I am old and my skin is dry...

For the last couple of years, my fingernails have been peeling.  Not breaking, not splitting.  Peeling off in layers.  I have tried many products and nothing is helping.  It is definitely worse in the winter.  I have been told by the professionals, over and over, that if I would get regular manicures, it would get better.  That has always sounded like a sales job to me.

However, you may have noticed that there are deals everywhere on the mani-pedis.  (I hate that term.)  Apparently the reasonable people have determined that if we are all going to try to save more money, blahblahblah.  So I went in.

The nail technician (as I believe they prefer to be called) told me that the issue is taking care of the cuticles.  Makes sense.  How?  Rub baby oil into them every day.

Baby oil?  I can't run around my house with baby oil on my hands!  How would I even touch the computer?!

Gloves, she says.

Well, I only have one pair of moisturizing gloves, I would have to wash them much more regularly than I do and anyway, I don't think they would hold up to actual baby oil.

Wear latex gloves, she says.  It sounds weird, but you get used to them.

Would you believe I actually went to CVS and bought a box?

I will not be doing this every day.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Five Cent Bags

I heard a lot of grumbling about this last week and I was going to wait a bit to watch the (r)evolution before commenting, but the AP just ran an article on Washington DC's new tax on disposable bags.  Every time you buy something in DC, the cashier will ask if you want a bag (or how many).  You are then charged 5 cents per bag.  The article talks about people avoiding it by shopping in Virginia - where other taxes are higher - or imperiling their purchases.

Apparently, the tax is an attempt to clean up the Anacostia River by reducing litter. My plastic bags almost never end up in the garbage.  In fact, I let up on using the reusables a bit because we kept running out of plastic bags to hold our recycling.  And the smaller ones I brought to the library for use at the Used Book Store. 

Here is my favorite part of the piece:

"This is like a behavioral economist's dream," Dan Ariely, an economics professor at Duke University and author of "Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions," told the Washington Post. "Here we will see people go to extreme lengths to save very little money."

It seems that since its January 1 effective date, the estimate is that plastic bag use has been reduced by 50%.  I expect there will be some sort of counter-revolution.

Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell

Book 2

It is absolutely no surprise to me that 23 days into January I have only finished two books.  I can't get off the Internet long enough to watch TV, let alone read a book.  Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell, has been on my shelf for about ever.  I pulled it down because some friends chose it for a Book Club pick. 

It is a study of the split-second decisions we make.  Conscious or unconscious, good or bad and how they happen.  There are several case studies, including that of Amadou Diallo, the immigrant from Guinea who was shot to death by police in New York in 1999.  Gladwell does an excellent job of breaking down how such a horrible, horrible thing could happen, and how it might be prevented in the future.

Interestingly, several chapters included things I have learned in school over the last couple of years.  One was about a company that set up testing that tries to determine unconscious prejudices.  I remember going online and trying it, and I could swear that I wrote about it, but I can't find the entry.  Another was about New Coke.

I don't want to do much more analyzing before the Book Club discussion, but suffice it to say that I liked this one.

And now I shall go to Paradise Lost.  But only because I can be reading that along with the Internet.

Saturday Trip to the Library

I ran over to the library today to donate my text book to the cause.  My old textbooks have been earning decent returns on the Used Book Store's Amazon site.  The regular (termporary/construction) parking lot was completely full so I parked over in the commuter lot by the train station and walked back by the new library.  I posted these pictures on the new UBS Facebook Group page, but I am re-posting here to give myself some perspective.  From these, I can almost believe that it will be done in November.  This was the view from the corner of Jackman Park.

Actual walls and something roof-like and shape.  Over on the right-hand side, you can almost see that there were lights on inside the building.  We were told that if they got enough done before the winter really set in, if there was enough structure to protect the workers from the elements, that construction could continue through the early months of the year.  It seems they succeeded in that.


This is the corner of Glenview and Harlem.  There are bricks!   I have seen the blueprints dozens of times and am still not sure where the entrances are.  But this looks like there will be doors here, I think.  I know the parking lot is going to be where the current library stands. 
So I went in to donate my book and the lobby was just packed.  I am not sure what was going down today, but there were lots of kids checking out lots of books and that made me happy.  Maybe we are getting somewhere.

Another Health Care Rant

The diagnosis was chronic sinusitis and an allergy to mold.  The treatment was three different allergy medications and weekly shots.  A year later, I have dropped one of the prescriptions and have graduated to bi-weekly "maintenance" shots.

In the past, say six months, I have come to the conclusion that I will never entirely kick this allergy.  I might be taking Allegra D for the rest of my life.  There are way worse things.  However:

Several months ago, when I went online to re-order my 90-day supply of the drug, I was shocked to find the cost had gone up:  $340 and change.  Now my insurance pretty well reimburses me for the cost, but still.  $340/90 days = $3.78 per day.  For one drug.

Claritin D has been available over-the-counter for awhile now.  Both drugs are aniti-histamines and both have a decongentant.  My insurance won't cover Claritin D, but my flexible spending account will.  Claritin D costs $20 for a 15 day supply on  $20/15 days = $1.33 per day.  About 35% of Allegra D. 

I have pretty well determined that the decongestant, rather than the anti-histamine, is important to me.  So I gave Claritin D a try.  I bought a box on  It seems to be working.  So I went back on line to order a 90-day supply.  Do you see where this is going? gave me the message that my state regulates the drug and I can only order one box at a time. You know, because of the meth-fiends.


There is no way I am going to pay shipping every two weeks for this drug, and there is no way I am going to go to the actual drugstore every two weeks to pick it up.  I will just keep my prescription, thank you.

This is me, one of the trying-to-be-good people, leaving the conscientious-consumer party because the regulations are lame.  I am sorry, Blue Cross, but I ordered the Allegra D.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Reconnecting with the District

I had a horrible moment Monday night:  Checking into the hotel, it hit me that I wasn't particularly happy to be there.

I am always happy to be back in Washington.

So I quickly determined that it had been rather too long since I made a pilgrimage to President Lincoln's shrine and set out to do so after work on Tuesday.  The first awesome thing that happened was that walking along..what is that, Independence Avenue?..when I reached the back garden of the Smithsonian Castle.  Or is that the front garden?  The front door faces the Mall, right?  Anyway, something caught my eye:

I'd forgotten how pretty those gates were.  Forgotten is not the right word.  I'm not sure I ever noticed before.  I have walked by that garden dozens of times, on my way to someplace "more important" and barely looked at them.  I'm sorry that I only had my lame camera phone, because it doesn't remotely do it justice.  The half-dead Christmas decorations seemed both oddly and appropriately pretty in the 50-degree mid-January late afternoon. 

So I had my content little moment of "always something else to see" and then I moved on.  When I crossed over to the Mall, I caught a glimpse of my Favorite Museum on the Face of the Earth and remembered that I hadn't gone through the entire thing - post-renovation.  So I went in and toured the Military History exhibit.  Loved it.  There were several pieces that belonged to George Washington, including his uniform and camp gear.  They also had General Grant's camp chair. Oh!  And a uniform that General Powell used in Desert Storm.

Seriously, I would love to know how that came about.  Did someone from the Smithsonian actually call him up to ask if they could have his old clothes?   It's not exactly an inaugural gown.

Then I hurried back to the Lincoln exhibit because I loved that the last time.  I stayed so long I was actually kicked out at closing time.  Walking down the steps, I saw this:

Has this always been there?  Have I walked into this building a hundred times and not noticed it?  What the heck does this have to do with American History?  I actually looked it up.  I believe the sculpture is called "Infinity".  A curator named David Shayt wrote in a piece last year:

"Large works of public sculpture outside our museum doors reveal aspects of a museum’s
self-image. They beckon, reassure, or confront visitors with new ideas about what might lurk inside."

Now, this museum has always celebrated industry and technology, but even with that understanding, I'm just not feeling this piece as representing the essence of the place.  I don't think the concept of "Infinity" really tell helps tell the story of American History.

Whatever.  I don't know anything about art.

I never made the official pilgrimage, but at least I will look forward to it on the next trip.  For real.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Proposal from the HR Blogosphere

Charlie Judy, who blogs over at HR Fishbowl, said something that made me cheer:

“So I propose that the rest of January is Shut up for Haiti Month. Work really hard to stop complaining about your job for just two more weeks. Recognize how lucky you really are. And save everyone else from your ignorance of what really matters. And although I’m a sympathetic and empathetic HR guy, if you complain over the next two weeks, I’m not listening. PASS IT ON!”

How many people in your office came back from the holidays thinking the season to be grateful is officially over? Here is the rest of the piece.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pushing Facebook

The steering committee for the Used Book Store met today for some review and planning. We talked a lot about the new building and how we will use the space. Then we came to how we will continue to promote it. I don’t know how we got to talking about Facebook, but I offered to explore the options. Of course, the easiest way to explore the options is to just go ahead and set up the Group.

The first thing I discovered is that I can’t invite people to join the Group unless I am actual Facebook friends with them. So, here it is. You are all invited.

I put in an Event for our next sale and my favorite link on the Library’s web site – the web cam on the construction site. Then I coerced our director to let me set up an account for her. By the time we had traded e-mails and she had verified her account, she had four friend requests. If Facebook were a popularity contest (and it sure might be), she wins.  Now.  I'd better start figuring out what kind of content to add.

How exactly did I go from being a Facebook Hater to a Facebook Pusher?

Donating to Aid in a Disaster

The Chicago Tribune published an article by Jon Yates regarding charitable donations in the event of an emergency, like we are seeing in Haiti.  It was a warning about the people trying to cash in on the generosity of those trying to help.  "Look before you leap" was the main idea..  Yates says:

"There seem to be more and more every time there is a disaster," said Steve Bernas, president of the Better Business Bureau in Chicago. "Americans are very generous, and these scam artists come out of the woodwork."

I am fairly certain there is a deeper circle of hell for criminals that rob the good samaritans who are trying to help those in need. 

Personally, I stick with the Red Cross for my donations.  They have been around forever and the last time I remember a scandal regarding their use of funds - it was after Sepetember 11 - I was actually on their side.

My friend Jodi posted her suggestions on Facebook.  I have not personally vetted these, but if you would like someplace else to look:

Four ways to help Haiti: 1). Partners in Health (; 2). Doctors Without Borders (; 3). Yele Haiti ( or text "Yele" to 501501 to make a $5 donation); 4). State Department (text "Haiti" to 90999 to make a $10 donation).

I am digging the text donations - that was a great idea for reaching out to a different audience for contributions to the effort. 

So please give what you can - and give wisely.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pilot Program - Sheraton Seattle

The Sheraton in Seattle was running a pilot program last week. It was characterized as “going green”. The deal was that if you voluntarily forgo housekeeping service for one day, you will receive a $5 voucher for the restaurant. The vouchers can also be traded in for Starwood Hotel points.

I gave this serious thought. Here’s what went through my brain:

1. If they are trying something, I should try it. Points for trying new things.

2. I already skip having the linens changed. I can hang up my towels and reuse them like a normal person.  And it's not like I ever make my bed at home.

3. I wonder what the housekeepers think..less work for them or less tips?

Then the lightbulb went on – could this be an excuse to reduce staff?

Hm. Well, I tried it. I left the card on my door the next morning, asking housekeeping to skip me. When I came back to my room that night, housekeeping had clearly been there. I was very glad that I had left a couple of singles on the dresser so that I wouldn’t spend them.

I left the card on the door. The next morning, the card was on the floor by the door along with the $5 voucher. Housekeeping did not go to my room that day.

Now. I don’t remember the next sequence of events, but I meant for housekeeping to come the third day, and they didn’t. I was left a voucher. I called down at 5pm to ask about it. The guy on the phone said that if I wanted my room cleaned, they would send someone by that night. I finally figured out that the card was to be left on the door the night before the No Service day, as opposed to the day of. And I had received a second voucher. No one came by that night.

I quit fooling around.

The primary problem is that I didn’t necessarily know the night before whether I wanted housekeeping service or not. But the more I think about this, the more it seems about staffing and the less it seems about “going green”.

If I am already skipping the linen change and skipping the fresh towels, what’s left but the electricity of running the vacuum cleaner? Staff time. Why would I have to decide the night before? So they can tell people not to bother coming in to work? And is the Sheraton thinking of nickel and diming on the “extra” costs, like the airlines? (Inasmuch as they charged me $10.95 per day for Internet, I would not be surprised.)

I don’t think I approve.

Sin in the Second City, by Karen Abbott

Book 1

Sin in the Second City, by Karen Abbott, is a pop history book about the red-light district at the turn of the century. (Note: It is my declaration that “turn of the century” means the 1900s. If we want to talk about the 2000s it is “turn of the millennium”. I just decided.)

Two sisters open the most fab house of ill fame on the continent. The harlots appeared genteel and educated. They were well-paid and kept in good health. There was a waiting list a mile long of girls that wanted to work there. If you wanted to make an argument about why prostitution should be legal (and I don’t) you would point to the Everleigh Club. Except for that part where Marshall Field jr. was (allegedly) shot inside.

Outside its walls, however, Chicago was getting uglier and uglier. The Chicago Way, one might suggest, is eternal. But White Slavery is no joke and the good people and Good People were fighting it. This book chronicles both the Club and the fight.

What Abbott did really well as a storyteller was to make me sympathetic to two sides – the sisters and the reformers. The sisters were never a part of a White Slavery operation, but were certainly operating outside the law and in the same industry. As a reader, I could root for the Good People to take out the Bad Guys and still root for the sisters to stay out of the crossfire. While they made fun of the lady who lead the anti-cigarette league.

Seriously – girls are being drugged, kidnapped, raped and enslaved outside your door and you want to crusade against smoking cigarettes? Priorities, people.

When the district was dismantled, the Everleigh Club went down first and the sisters retired. With all of the pure evil houses in town, they took out the least offensive because it was the most famous. An embarrassment to the city, they called it. It somehow felt like they – the politicians, I mean – couldn’t deal with two women that had been playing their game and winning.

It made for a good read, anyway.

Seattle, Take 2

Among the many, many reasons that I appreciate my employer is that it sends me to places that I would not have otherwise visited.  And while the Pacific Northwest has always been described to me as a lovely place to visit, it just wasn't on my list as a priority vacation spot.

We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel on Pike Street.  I will have a rant on a certain pilot program later, but in general it was a nice place with a good restaurant and a great location.  Here was the view from my window, for those of you that like these things:

Interestingly, one afternoon when I ran back to go online and do my day job, I heard children screaming outside my window.  When I looked out and down:

I saw the playground of a daycare center.  It was a third floor rooftop adjacent to a high rise.  So that's how they do it in the city.

Since I was there working, the opportunities to enjoy the city were primarily at dinner time.  I was with one group that went to the revolving restaurant in the Space Needle.  (Note to Joy:  I only ate there.  I didn't see anything.) 

I skipped the appetizer, because I already figured that I might want dessert.  There was a special on the menu - I forget what it was called but it involved butternut squash risotto and shrimp.  We were dining late, and when the waiter said they were out of it I let out a rather loud "Aww, man!".  Then he said he had two left in the back and asked if I wanted him to put one aside.  Ummmm.....yes.  Yes, I do.   And so I learned that tantrums sometimes work.

A couple of nights later, I went with a group to the aforementioned Waterfront Grill.  Again, skipped the appetizer because I had already seen the flaming Baked Alaska.  I ordered the crab-stuffed shrimp, which was lovely. 

Finally, on Wednesday, I went to Pike Place Market, known in my office as "that place where they throw the fish".  Again, it was all about the food.  There was a lady handing out samples of baked apple chips.  Apple chips do not impress me, but I took one and walked on.  It was fabulous, and I went back to buy a bag.

I found a local history book that doesn't look boring and also picked up a Seahawks jersey for the nephew's birthday.  Then I came home.  Oh, and here are the random pics of the bay:

I still think it's a hotbed of hippies. 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Booking Travel

I have a lot to write about (Seattle and the book I finished and True Blood) but I can’t find the cord to upload my few pictures and I don’t know what I am going to read next and I hate posting my books without something new to put in the “What I’m Reading” corner because it looks lame and I am only five episodes into True Blood so I shouldn’t talk about it yet. So.

I have read several interesting articles on travel lately. This one by Christopher Elliott in the Chicago Tribune lists certain types of trips that we should not book online.

I have used the leisure travel expert from my employer’s business travel agency twice – once for a cruise with my friends and once for a tour of Spain and Portugal with my dad. I felt like an Internet pansy, but I am happy to say that both cruises and international travel are on the list.

For the cruise I took (several years ago) I wanted someone to tell me why one line or one itinerary was better or worse than the others. It also helped to get the plans in order and then tell my friends to call the travel agent to book themselves.

For my summer vacation to New Orleans, I booked online. I was using United miles for the flight, so I used their website. While doing that, I found that I could use miles to book my hotel. I was comfortable doing this because I have been to the city several times before and I did additional research online before settling on a hotel. Also, I am a savvier traveler now than when I went on those tours.

But I was just telling my mother about how every revolution has a counterrevolution (according to Professor Blight) and here it is with booking online:

Elliott says:

“A recent Forrester Research study suggests there's something of a backlash when it comes to booking travel online. It concludes 15 percent fewer travelers will use the Web in 2009, compared with two years ago — a finding that comforts many travel agents who previously saw themselves on the endangered list.”

I am happy to know I am not alone here. And I haven’t had to learn the hard way. Yet.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dining in Seattle

I suppose I should compose actual reviews of the two finer restaurants I have been to this week, but right now all I can think is blahblahSeattleblahSeafoodblahblahblah.  Because I just had this for dessert:

Baked Alaska at the Waterfront Grill.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Becoming the People I Hate

I am leaving for Seattle tomorrow.  And I am packing the laptop.

First, because I might get some real work done on the road.  My employer does not require this, but I feel compelled.  I hate that.

Second, because I just started that new class on Academic Earth and I want to keep going.  And I can't wait a week?  I hate that.

Third, you can never trust a hotel to have the TV channels that you want, not to mention being in a different time zone.  So I am bringing Season 1 of True Blood on DVD (that I did finally buy at Target for $17).

Really?  I need to bring a whole laptop to watch some DVD's?  I hate that.

Finally, I just don't think I can survive offline that long.  I really hate that.

It seems I am one of those people.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Best Financial Advice I Have Ever Heard

Liz Pulliam Weston at MSN has updated her article on $500 in the bank.  It is the reason that I read MSN Money.  So many people that are trying to build an emergency fund are intimidated by the traditional advice - to save six months of expenses for emergencies.  The idea of putting away so much is daunting, so we don't bother to try.  The better idea is to start by squirreling away $500.  $500 will cover most of the unexpected expenses that derail our savings plans.  Car repairs,  A/C breaks down, the sweet potato that killed the garbage disposal...

Seriously, if you have been having trouble building your savings, please read this.

The Good News

USA Today reported today:

"Visitor counts at the Smithsonian Institution's museums have rebounded to more than 30 million visits in 2009 for the first time since a slump following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks."

The Smithsonian doesn't charge admittance fees, so the economy is "credited" with the uptick.  And since area hotels have been slumping, the thought is that Washingtonians are getting out there.  Awesome.  I cannot tell you how many Saturdays I spent as a poor college student on the National Mall.  It always felt like we were surrounded by tourists. 

It also didn't hurt that My All-Time Favorite Museum finally re-opened after that horribly, horribly long renovation.

The article goes on to suggest that the staycation trend has people visiting museums in their own cities, which I think is fabulous.  I went to the Art Institute last year, but it was only because my dad was in town.  Now that I think about it, I should really get over to the new Holocaust Museum in Skokie.

The moral of the story is that we should use the resources we have available.  Museums are relatively inexpensive, generally entertaining and we might even learn something.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Judge's Ruling

I was telling you about my new box calendar - "365 Little Ways to Save Our Planet". On the weekend, there was a combined page. How are they going to do 365 Little Ways if every weekend is doubled up? There are two tips on the weekend page. So:

Is combining the weekend page saving paper and "going green"? Or is it a cheap ploy? I can't decide.
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Monday, January 4, 2010

Facebook Etiquette

I had a weird Facebook day.  I've only been active on it for a few months.  I don't post every day, but I look at it most days. 

Mostly, I was expecting a bunch of groaning about the first official day back at work.  And there was some of that.  My friend Greg was joking that his Wii Fit cursed at him for stepping on.  But there was also some serious stuff.  My Aunt Jacquelyn was posting about the death of a friend.  My friend Austin was in a car accident. 

I was just going to post that I had beaten Cake Mania Two.  Or that I took out seven episodes of Chuck and have ten to go before Sunday.  I would be "I am sitting on the patio" guy except that I don't post five times a day.  And really, if I were to be the personification of a damn commercial, it would be "sitting on lucky couch" guy.


Facebook is such a chaotic mess of random and clever and complaining and celebrating.  I don't know how to respond most of the time, so I just don't.  How lame.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Trying Something New

You know how people talk about a "Starbucks Factor"? The silly little thing you keep doing with your money that adds up to real money over the long term. The first one I identified for myself was magazines. I would buy one every single time I was at the grocery store. Sometimes more. So I bought a subscription to Vanity Fair, the one that I liked best, and put a moratorium on the grocery store magazines. I have done no math on how much money that has saved, but I expect it is a lot.  In the interest of full disclosure, my mother will tell you there is an enormous pile of unread Vanity Fair magazines in my house.

I discovered, rather recently, that particularly in the wintertime, my Starbucks Factor is actually Starbucks. I have been buying hot chocolate at the coffee cart in my building every day that I am at work. I just decided that I should stop. Bring something from home, since I can't manage to do so for lunch. But instant hot chocolate doesn't taste right to me. So I bought a shiny new coffee mug to keep at the office and a few boxes of French Vanilla Cafe.

I am not entirely sure this experiment is going to work. The hot chocolate is primarily milk, which has a lot of protein. Chocolate milk is the perfect breakfast food. This fake coffee really doesn't substitute in that area.  But it is hot and it tastes fine and three dollars goes a lot farther.
We'll see how it goes.

Score One for Kindle

I finally decided that my next course on Academic Earth will be The Poetry of John Milton, by a Yale professor named John Rogers.  I have had Paradise Lost on my shelf since I graduated college, but when I would wander over to pick my next read, it never seemed like reading it myself would be any fun.  Each time I looked at it, I wanted Dave Mullaly, AP English Teacher Extraordinaire, to teach it to me.

The textbook is a simple "complete works" that retails for $50.  I figured I would take the nice Borders gift card my Dad gave me and buy it off the website. doesn't even list it in inventory.

Spending $50 of my own money on this book is not acceptable.  The online used book stores only drop the price down to $40 or so before shipping.  So I started asking myself if I really need it.  I only really wanted to read Paradise Lost.  I hadn't planned on reading every assigned piece of material.  I just thought that being able to follow the lectures with the text in front of me would be cool.  Then I thought of the Kindle.

Kindle has tons of out-of-copyright material priced around a dollar, and sure enough, there was a Complete Works of Poetry from John Milton.  Done and downloaded. 

It is obviously not the same thing.  In fact, from the Table of Contents, I am having a great deal of trouble matching up titles of poems to those listed in the Syllabus.  And the poems do not have line numbers listed, so it was a bit hard following the professor exactly through the first one.  But for $.99 I can certainly deal.

God Bless the Internet.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Best and Worst and Book of the Day

I was at my friend Noah's last night with my friends.  All nerds and big readers.  Jamie said he was thinking of committing to the 100 Book Challenge.  I told him that if I could (just barely and totally cheating) make 50 in 2009 he could easily make 100.  Right now he is reading the third volume of a biography of Lyndon Johnson.

He asked which of the 50 books I liked least.  I thought of that one I picked up in Charleston a couple of years ago.  This morning, when I got online, I found that I didn't actually read that book in 2009.  So my official answer is The Dogs of Babel.  The best, of course, would be The Killer Angels.

You might recall that last year, Joy gave me a Book a Day Calendar.  Each day, I would read the page and put it in the Yes or No pile.  There were also plenty of books that I had already read.  I kinda wish I had made a pile for that, also.  Statistics, you know.  I could even have made a pile of "Have it but haven't read it yet."  But I didn't think of that.  Early in the year, I was really worried because the Yes pile was proportionately pretty big.  Either the picks became less interesting or I became more discriminating and in the end it was pretty reasonable.  So.  Just so I have it written somewhere, here is the list To Read.

  1. Dec 21 - The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis
  2. Dec 9 - The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, Daniel Mendelsohn
  3. Sept 10 - The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright
  4. Aug 2 - Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books, by Maureen Corrigan
  5. June 16 - Ulysses, by James Joyce
  6. April 19 - The Friendship: Wordswortth and Coleridge, by Adam Sisman
  7. April 3 - The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, by Debby Applegate
  8. Feb 24 - Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak
  9. Feb 16 - The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech that Nobody Knows, by Gabor Boritt
  10. Feb 6 - Sliver of Truth, by Lisa Under
  11. Jan 17 - Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life, by Allen Shawn
  12. Jan 16 - Forgetfulness, by Ward Just
  13. Jan 7 - Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Austistic Savant, by Daniel Tammet
I purged a few going through that pile.  Wherever I was shopping for calendars didn't have a Book a Day one, so I picked up 365 Little Ways to Save the Planet.  I just opened it and January 1 says,

"Never throw toxic household waste that may contain solvents, such a paint thinner, down the drain or into your trash.  Check with your community's hazardous-waste disposal department for information on proper disposal and drop-off sites."

Hm.  Not impressed.