Monday, August 31, 2009

Expensive books

I dreamed last night that I had driven to Best Buy right before they closed to pick some things up at their book sale.  They weren't going to sell books anymore, so they had priced all their books really low.  I got a good deal on one particularly nice reference book—normally $60, I got it for $5.  Or I thought I did.  I got home, looked at my receipt, and saw that not only was I charged the full $60 for that book, but there were also plane tickets and other large items on my receipt.  My total was a few dollars short of $2,500, and they were already closed when I noticed.  (I had paid with a credit card and they never told me my total.)  I spent the rest of the dream listing all of the things that were wrong with my receipt and calculating what the total should have been.

And then I woke up and realized that I was actually dreaming about my car insurance settlement, because that's pretty much exactly what I've been doing for the past week.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Theft resolution

I've been pretty quiet on here for the last couple weeks. I promise that once I've settled my claim with my insurance company I'll have plenty to talk about, but in the meantime, I'm not going to get into too much detail here. I think that it will make an interesting story if you're curious what to expect if your car is ever stolen.

In the meantime, please enjoy this alternate version of the music video for the song Total Eclipse of the Heart where the performer sings what's actually happening in the video. (The original video was insane enough...)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sunk costs

Basically the only thing that I found relevant or interesting about my accounting class in college was the concept of sunk costs.  Put very simply, a sunk cost is money or resources that have already been spent and cannot be recovered.  You generally should not factor those costs into decision-making after they have spent, because they are rarely relevant, in stark contrast to what seems logical.

[Note: I may occasionally butcher economic terminology here, but the theory should be relatively sound.  Always listen to your professors.]

In my most recent example, my sunk cost is the amount of money I spent on my car—or rather what is now my previous car.  I specifically paid a premium on the car to get it brand new: it had only six miles on the odometer when I purchased it.  That premium was somewhat difficult to accept, and I thought quite a while about whether I'd want a new car or whether I would accept a used car for considerably less.  But eventually I decided it was worth it.  It seemed logical to me at first over this past week that since I have already paid this premium once, it would be crazy to do it again and buy another new car to replace it.  But what I paid for the first car is no longer relevant.  It's a sunk cost.  In fact, since I decided last time to purchase a new car instead of a used one, and I did not feel buyer's remorse after doing so, it makes more sense to buy a new car again this time around.  If I buy a new car again this month, the important thing for me to remember is that I'm not paying that premium twice; I'm just paying it once.  I should only consider the amount of money it adds to this car purchase, though I can then weigh that value against the amount of satisfaction I received a year ago from buying a new car, assuming I would receive that same satisfaction a second time.

It actually reminds me a lot of the common misconception that if you flip a fair coin nine times in a row, you have a much higher chance of getting tails the next time it is flipped.  It makes so much sense at first, but people who have taken a basic statistics class know quite well that the odds are still 50/50 on the tenth flip.

The money spent on that last car is only tangentially related to the decision of whether to buy a new car or a used car this time around.  It could have been five hundred bucks or half a million; it doesn't matter.  I could have bought nine new cars before this car purchase or none.  What matters is that in a week, unless some sort of miracle happens, I will have no car, a certain amount of money, and a desire to purchase a new car.  In almost every way, it is an entirely new decision, and the only way in which the previous car purchase impacts things is in the experience it gave me.

So in making my decisions about what kind of car I'm going to get to replace my beloved Civic, I am trying to be as rational as possible, and not let history unduly influence me.  In a week or two I will need to buy a car.  It will be almost exactly like the situation of a year ago, just with an ability to make a larger down payment.  How much money I "wasted" by getting a new car instead of a used one is only relevant in that it helps me decide if I will be happy doing the same thing again.  The amount that my last car depreciated over the course of a year is also not very relevant.  What matters is that I now know what the experience of buying a car from a dealership is like, what it's like to have a new car, what I liked from my Honda Civic (I heart the digital speedometer so much), what I like in the way a car feels, and those sorts of other non-finance facts.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Viva la Vida

The short version:
Coldplay—Viva la Vida: 8/10
Newsboys—In the Hands of God: 9/10
Bitter:Sweet—The Mating Game: 7/10
Fatboy Slim—Why Try Harder (hits): 5/10

I've finally been listening to the most recent Coldplay album, Viva la Vida, and it's considerably better than their previous albums.  The title single Viva la Vida is, as the world is quite aware, absolutely amazing with its strings (instruments which I am predisposed to like), and the preceding track Yes and following track Violet Hill are also both great.  The rest of the disc is fairly questionable.  There's more variance in the songs on this CD compared to the earlier ones I'd listened to, but besides those three, I'm not going to remember much else from this album when I put it away.  If that weren't the case, and the rest of the album were better, I'd happily give the album a 9, but as it stands, it's three excellent tracks, a couple good ones, and a bunch more that I don't care about.  That still makes it the best Coldplay album, though.

I've also been listening quite a bit to the latest from Newsboys, In the Hands of God.  Sad as it may or may not be, just about the greatest compliment you can pay to a Christian band is to say that they don't sound like one, and for the most part, that's the case here.  As always, they serve up excellent pop music that just happens to mention Jesus here and there.  The whole disc sounds great front-to-back, only dipping into cheesy stereotype territory for a couple tracks around the middle (such as the title track).  The best on here are the addictive Dance, the quirky The Upside, My Friend Jesus about being put on phone hold, and the darker No Grave with its unfortunate use of "yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah" multiple times in the lyrics.  This is a CD I can play through in its entirety more than once in a row without being bored at all.

I found out about Bitter:Sweet years ago after seeing one of their album covers in ads for the Zune.  I actually thought that they were a made-up band, sort of like the Contoso of music, but it turns out that they are an actual lounge/electronica group, and their CD The Mating Game is pretty decent, if a bit weird.  Dirty Laundry is the single that made me buy the disc, and it's sexy and sultry in that way that probably has a genre defined but I just associate with James Bond themes.  The opening track Don't Forget to Breathe is also fun, and Salty Air is good too.  The disc reminds me a lot of the music of the Brazilian Girls, even though it doesn't really sound all that similar.  I think that if you like that lounge/electronica sound, you'll like this disc.

I also picked up Why Try Harder, a hits compilation from Fatboy Slim.  It's pretty grating and repetitive, but you get a decent number of songs for your money.  It's hard for me to listen to it all at once; I just get sick of it.  A lot of these songs work well in commercials or TV or movies, especially when clipped down to fit a particular segment, but they're just not that pleasant to listen to for a whole hour.  Since it's a hits album, it also doesn't really have much of a flow either, and I imagine that a normal album would be a little less awkward.  That said, it's not bad: Weapon of Choice is a great song with a fun video, and Praise You and That Old Pair of Jeans sound good too.  I guess I just expected a little more from one of the more recognizable names in electronic music.

The final season of Battlestar Galactica's soundtrack is out and I've been listening to that a bit. I've got plenty of other stuff in the queue too.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

No News Is Not Good News

Well, this is a situation in which No News Is Not Good News. It's been a week since my car has been stolen, and neither the police nor Progressive have any news for me. It'll be another week or slightly longer before they give up, but at this point the chances of me recovering my car are very slim. It's a shame, too; I really liked the car and it was in nearly perfect shape. But, I'm going to need to start looking into more options. I could be happy with another Civic (lightning won't strike twice, right?), or there are a couple other cars I'm interested in as well. I don't think that I'll be happy with a used car, but perhaps. I got a new car in the first place because I really like the idea of owning a car for its whole lifetime, keeping it in excellent shape, and knowing its history. I don't like buying used things because few people seem to take care of things like I do. Maybe I'll find a used one that I like, but at least I'd completely paid off the one that was stolen, so taking out another car loan is (sigh) at least an option.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Victoria

Jason and I had a great time in Victoria, British Columbia this weekend, even if it meant getting up at 6 AM on Saturday to catch the boat.  We wandered around, explored the city, relaxed, and checked out the plants and fireworks at Butchart Gardens.  The fireworks were particularly interesting, rather unlike any fireworks show I'd seen before.  The show featured a mix of strange ground displays and more standard aerial blasts, all set to music.  It's really hard to describe, and I didn't want to bother to take photos or videos, but it was definitely worth the visit.  I took some photos at the gardens and around Victoria, but having been there once before, I mainly wanted to focus on just enjoying our time there, and I did.  I broke my own rule by not scheduling at least a day of time off work before and after the vacation, and thus I'm rather exhausted today, but we only planned things a day and a half in advance of the trip so it worked out pretty well considering.

And then I got back to Seattle last night and my car was stolen from the parking garage.  After searching the garage over and over, reporting the loss, talking to the police, and getting a $40 cab ride home, the last two and a half hours of the vacation were not as pleasant as the rest.  If you plan on taking any vacations to Victoria in the near future, I strongly recommend not having your car stolen while you're away.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Artistry

Ask a few dozen people who have the same job as me how they classify their job and you'll get a wide variety of answers: it's a science, it's an art, it's engineering, it's applied mathematics, and so on.  I've known this for a while, but what I've realized is that it's something that is probably nearly universal across careers.  People want to classify their job in a way that makes them feel more special, or that makes their job sound like something that they'd rather do than what they're actually doing.  Fast food cooks want to call themselves "burger artists" or something like that.  Secretaries want to call themselves "administrative professionals."  And depending on my mood, I want to call myself a "scientist" or an "engineer" or an "architect" or an "artist."

Certainly my career as a code monkey has aspects of all of those things.  I form hypotheses, prove and disprove them through experimentation, and work with theoretical subjects, so I'm a scientist.  I design things to be organized yet functional, so I'm an architect.  I design things to be beautiful and elegant, in that sort of way that only people of the same career path as you understand and everyone else thinks you're insane, like when a motorcycle enthusiast says how "beautiful" their bike's engine sounds, while everyone else plugs their ears.  So I'm an artist too.  Sometimes I get to be really creative, and I feel like an artist.  And sometimes I have to do tedious, methodical crap.  Really, I think that sometimes I'm just jealous of some of those people.

To me, it's easier to accept that artists are doing something I can't do.  Everyone knows how to draw.  Everyone has tried to draw.  Most people aren't good at it.  Many people are not that good at it even after a lot of practice.  There's an obvious element of talent, combined with a universal famliarity with the task, and that makes it easy for me to comprehend that pencil-and-pen graphic artists are people who have a very specific talent that I don't have.  My talents simply do not include creating beautiful things with a a pencil.  I don't feel that, even given unlimited time, I would be good enough at it.  In contrast, I often feel that given unlimited time, nearly anyone could learn to do what I do.  It might take them decades, and even after that time they might not be very fast at it and they might make more mistakes, but they could build software.  It wouldn't have that artistic touch and innate skill that I (like to think that I) have, but they could produce software that would basically do what they wanted.  I think that's the difference that sometimes irks me.  Poorly-produced software that took a very long time to build by someone who was not talented at it would still do roughly what it was meant to.  But visual artwork produced by someone without the talent doesn't serve its purposes to delight the senses and provoke the mind and soul.  As much artistry as there is in building software, there's still that utilitarian aspect of things that separates it from painting watercolors or sculpting statues.