1.25.2009

Being Green


I'm obviously taking a different path toward being green. I'm wandering off the straight, wide freeway of militant paper-savers but hey, I'm still moving forward, right?

Can you be green without being obsessed? Please tell me yes.

I read about 30 or more blogs about being frugal, which to me is on this same path. Some of the cheapskates get exclamation point-crazy about coupons for crappy food-like substances or driving across town to save a penny for gas. Other blogs make fun of the penny-pincher extremists. I notice the penny-pinchers don't comment. Is it because they don't subscribe to practical blogs? Or are they too busy washing out plastic sandwich bags to notice?

I have to confess: the crazies are much more fun to read. But you can only play these tightwad games so long before you realize you could have better spent all that time calculating price per wearing of each clothing item your family owns* by doing . . . anything else.

My credit cards are starving and it feels great. I'm certainly not starving and that doesn't feel as good. Does anyone really want to hear about someone else's weight gains or losses? If you're tempted to tell someone, please stop. Save your energy for something less self-absorbed.

And while your saving your energy, relax. Extreme people are hard to be around, whether it's extreme green or extreme diet plans. Unless you're blogging. Then go extreme all you want (if you can spare a minute from making your own laundry detergent to write something down). It makes much better reading.

*Here's how you calculate clothing value: divide the cost of an item by how many times you've worn it. A $10 shirt I wore twice is $5 per wearing and a $30 shirt I wore 80 times is .37 and 1/2 cents per wearing. Which one is a better deal?

(Isn't Jazlin just delightful? She's in Dylan's new, now paid off, awesome car.)

Scary Thought Revised, or Why NPR is Worth $35/yr


It always happens this way. I'm driving somewhere and turn on NPR. My favorite show is Marketplace, as lately it's become a prescient little window into the decline of Western Civilization as we know it. It's not on. I leave the radio on and get out the cell phone. I can't just drive, you know.

No one's answering. In the background I hear Terry Gross interviewing someone on Fresh Air. I have a lot of respect for her as she asks the questions I would ask if I were half as smart and ballsy.

Okay, I'll listen. She interviews interesting people. Usually I have no idea who they are, as the only people I've heard of are either dead (History Channel) or on "Top Chef." Why doesn't she interview Tom Colicchio?

She had Rivers Cuomo on recently, for example. I know Weezer but I don't care. My mind wandered while they were talking. It wandered back and zoned in like my dog with chicken when Rivers started talking about going back to school as an English major. A rock star went back to school? Took English classes? Was critiqued by his own set of brown-nosing kids living with or off parents? Why am I not in English classes?

This particular day, Thursday, I'm driving home from my Algebra class. She's talking to some guy about drones. I read Dune. I'm not interested.

He's telling a story about a 19 year-old who is so good at killing Iraqis via video games in Virginia, that when the kid teaches all the big guns in the military, they're somewhat resentful. This is thought-provoking in a variety of ways.

I keep listening.

The drone guy continues to talk. He's starting to scare me. He's explaining how iRobot, one of the companies building the drones, is getting so good that people really don't have to be involved. He says the Bush administration says, "We'll always have humans involved," he says, but adds, "when they start using superlatives, that's when I start to worry."

He gives an example of drones targeting a US helicopter and thankfully being able to shut it down before striking, but that was years ago and technology has advanced so far that humans are only in the loop to shut them down.

He says the medical field has ethical rules but the military robotic field doesn't, of course. He says some people working in the field are worried we'll get another situation like Los Alamos, where, without controls, we open up a pandora's box of something we can't handle and we can never go back.

This is really not what I wanted to hear on the second full day of Hope. Couldn't you just interview Tom instead?

If you need scarin', here are the details: 'Wired For War' by P. W. Singer Explores Robots On The Battlefield Listen Now [38 min 47 sec]

1.21.2009

WTF?!?!?!

My sister Jan is the successful one. She's been at IBM for 27 years, in various important-sounding positions. She's most recently working with selling to the government, basically, and government is the one sector in this sucky economy still hiring.

IBM just had an outrageously lucrative quarter. So what do they do? Lay off my sister! This is IBM. They didn't even lay off people during the Great Depression. She's in sales, she's successful, and she's probably already doing at least three peoples' jobs.

She's a little surprised, to say the least. She has a pension, severance, and the opportunity to apply to other internal jobs. Well, her whole department of 80 people who all got laid off today have the opportunity to apply to the 10 reorganized jobs available.

When I got laid off from Fujitsu on August 15, 2001, it was the best day I'd had in years. It was pretty obvious it was going to happen -- our office was left with just me and my boss and we hadn't had a sale for months.

Being in the first round of layoffs, I got a little severance and my piddly 401k grew like crazy in the six required months before I could get to it. The people laid off after me got none of that. So I still haven't found work -- I got to be a stay-at-home mom for a while. You don't appreciate what you have when you're always thinking of what you want.

Since Jan's house is on the market, unsold, and big and expensive to maintain, it would be really convenient if it would sell. Then she could afford to be a stay-at-home mom, too.

And maybe, just maybe, she'd be able to answer the phone when I call!

School Would Be Better Without Brown-Nosers

People who suck up suck. If you're the one being sucked up to, I'm sure it's a big compliment and you enjoy the fact that someone wants your approval so badly that they have to act in this demeaning manner. If you work with suck ups, you know how irritating that can be. While everyone else is actually doing work, the suck ups are scheming a way to get credit and praise. It sucks.

My economics class is full of geeks, including the teacher (surprise). Being a morning class, the average age of attending students is about 19. I guess they've honed their brown-nosing skills so well during high school that they naturally bloom whenever there's the slightest fertile brown-nosing ground.

The teacher asks questions like, "How much would you be willing to pay for a doughnut?" The class gets all excited to help out. Inevitably, a student or two will continue talking. Especially the girl who sits in front of me. "I read in 'The Economist' online about this exact same thing," she says. "Some of my friends say that's not true, what you're saying, but I don't listen to them."

My education is a big test of how long I can stay quiet. Come on, kids, if we all shut up, we can get out of here faster. It's a lesson you'll learn in meetings, when you suck up to someone and gain employment. The more you talk in meetings, the longer they last. The more people hate it when you start talking, and the less you'll be loved by your colleagues who have to do your work because you're too busy trying to take credit for their work.

The girl in front of me does know some things. I know she reads "The Economist." She doesn't have to tell everyone about it, though. We don't care. We're not here to hear her. I, actually, want to learn something and not more brown-nosing techniques. There's only so far you can go when you suck up.

(Stella's sucking her finger and that's why she's here. She's the best baby ever, and she didn't have to suck up to have me say that.)

1.20.2009

Barack Obama!!!

Living through Presidents like Nixon and G.W. make a person just a wee bit cynical. All that's out the window. We have a freakin' cool President. Even snarky Charlie is inspired to do great things and be the best we can be. We're picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off, just like we were asked to do. We are believers in this country! Who knew?

Today is the greatest . . . keep singing the Smashing Pumpkins song because YES WE DID!

1.12.2009

Green Sinning


I'm sinning! I'm driving instead of taking the bus or riding my bike, or even walking.

PCC is three miles away. Bus #44 goes straight there from the bus stop right on my very corner. It's about a 15 minute ride and the bus comes every 15 minutes. For $2, that's pretty convenient. If you were designing a bus route just for me, this would be it.

I walk as much as I can so three miles each way is nothing. In fact, I'll be doing exactly that as soon as I finish this. So why aren't I walking to PCC?

I should be riding my environmentally friendly 1977 Raleigh, as that would be fun and a good way to start the day. I can't. I have visions of the snow and it makes me cold just thinking of my bike. It's still dark in the morning. I don't want to die.

These are pathetic excuses that I wouldn't accept. The real reason I'm driving? Besides the fact that I'm lazy and wait until the last minute to leave, always? I have a Yaris which gets almost 40 miles to the gallon and gas is cheap. Parking permits for the whole quarter cost $33.

To me, buying just a little more gas and spending a one-time fee of $33 for parking seems so much easier than having to find $2 in cash first thing in the morning. And for $4 a day (or $8 if I go and come back) divided up per day, I can get gas, parking permit, and more than one cup of coffee for the same price.

Is that bad?

Get a Hobby or Two


I made my daughter stand in front of the Apple store on Waikiki beach so I could take a picture. It's important to 1): take pictures which will be embarrassing to your kids later, 2): take pictures of all the things you enjoy, as many as possible in one photo, and 3): have a hobby or something to do like take pictures so you aren't the most boring person in the room.

We had fun in Hawaii and I have the pictures to prove it. I brought my crocheting, as I'm pretending to make a baby blanket for Stella. Maybe I'll get it done when she's still technically a baby. Maybe not.

It was too hard to look at yarn when there were sea turtles within ten miles of us. Sitting still is better done when it's raining and you're looking forward to a vacation, not while you're on it. Unless you're on the plane. Then it's a good excuse to avoid talking to the freaky fat man sitting across the aisle with his mom/wife who insists on flossing for the whole flight while he asks her nutritional-type questions about the airplane food.

I used to write in a little book I carried with me everywhere. It got to the point where I was blatently writing down everything I overheard people saying around me. I got a lot of weird glances but I got a lot of crazy stuff immortalized in little notebooks all over my house, which I eventually threw away.

If I had a notebook while on that flight, you'd get exact quotes from the fat man and his mom/wife.

See why hobbies are good?

Evolution of Higher Education


Don't ask why I'm going, again, back to freakin' community college. Okay, ask. Maybe I can figure out an answer on the fly.

I enrolled before I got copies of all my transcripts. I enjoy economics and I can't get a job. I took graduate coursework in Geography and writing so I figured I should minimize regret and get that Master's degree. My life would be just peachy if I did what I should have done long ago, right? That's one of my many excuses. I have extras if you need any.

So I get my transcripts and there are so many more classes than I ever remember taking. They're all upper division and all A's. I don't remember taking half these classes. I have to look up the courses to remember the most vague idea of what I might have learned. Did I really take a whole year of volleyball? Children's literature? Film editing?

I had way more credits than I needed to graduate when I got my B.A. but most of them were in the same subjects. They didn't count toward my major and they didn't count as electives since I took ten social science electives and only needed two, for example. There's a history here.

Now I have a zillion writing class credits, all upper division, and lots of film class credits that I hope I had a fun time doing the homework in because they count for crap. Why didn't I take more of something useful? No wonder I have no skills.

I do have knowledge of all the subject matter for my four one-hundred level economics and geography classes, except that knowledge is from a decade ago. Last time I was in geography, the population growth rate in Kenya was approaching 4%. Now it's at about 2.7%. They've moved on so much their in another section of the demographic transition model. Just like that!

At least I'm not trying to impress teachers with which I'm not really impressed. I don't have to talk in class to show I know things. It's so much easier to enjoy learning fun things without dealing with the self-imposed stress of trying to exceed my own expectations of myself.

Sitting around kids younger than my own kids is so much fun. They still live with their parents. They have to talk about their big adventures, as if they are adventures at all. They are so worried and stressed out and afraid. They rush out of class, worried about the next class. They're afraid if they don't get a good grade on this test their life will be destroyed. They want the teachers to like them.

I like it so far because I'm out of the house rather than being unemployed for the hundredth time. When you stay home all day, googling jobs in Hawaii and linking in to people you used to work with but never really liked, you feel sort of gray and fuzzy by about 2 or 3 pm. You don't take a shower and you don't have an excuse to get a cup of coffee unless one of your ex colleagues calls you up.

I'm out, dressed and smelling human, by 8:30 every day. Just like work. I'm listening to people talk, just like I'm in meetings all day. I'm talking about ideas, I'm listening to things I've never heard, and best of all, I can get coffee anytime I want.

Can I get a degree in that?

Who's Really in the Crate?


The dog's going to Hawaii but not me.

Hawaii! I'd rather be there than almost anywhere. I'm tired of the rain and I'm sick of hunching over because I'm so cold.

I want to go back and swim with a big sea turtle at Honauma Bay, shop cheaply for exotic food at the Navy Exchange, ride bikes in the warm breezy air and get color on my skin instead of rain. I don't know what the dog's preferences are but as long as there are smells to sniff and treats now and then, he seems pretty happy wherever he is, even his little crate.

Okay, it's my daughter's dog and since she lives in Hawaii, she should have her little dog. He's very cute, which is a good thing because if he weren't, he wouldn't be worth the ridiculous amount of money and effort it takes to get a dog to the 50th state. It's part of our own country -- so why so many fees, health certifications and blood tests, and quarantine?

I was almost close to paying down my credit card, or maybe not close but getting it under control. Now it's back on a plastic diet.

I spent $208 at the Vet to get the paperwork filled out, $170 to the Department of Agriculture so they'll process the Vet's paperwork, and $38 to FedEx the paperwork. That's just today and that's just paperwork.

I've lost track of all the bloodwork fees, examination fees, vaccinations and certifications required for a dog to take a 5-hour trip. My daughter will reimburse me someday, but I didn't want her to have to reimburse me, ever. Now it's not a choice. The dog's permanent vacation will be on my card for a while. I'll be a little jealous every time I look at my balance.

I still haven't paid off my own trip to Hawaii. We did all the tourist things like hike up Diamond Head and the Aiea Loop trail, which my daughter hadn't done even though she lived less than ten miles away. When you live somewhere, you don't enjoy the things people from somewhere else go out of their way to do. I know Multnomah Falls is close. That's why I don't have to go.

I'd feel fine about all this if I were taking the dog myself. It'd be an excuse to go. I'd look forward to the freakin' paperwork. Instead, we'll be a little lonelier without the little doggie and a little annoyed every time I look at my credit balance.

He probably won't ever swim with a big sea turtle, either.