Saturday, December 22, 2007

Taiwan trip preparation



We are leaving for Taiwan tomorrow morning. It will involve many hours of flying plus an additional many hours of non-flying travel, some of which is time spent for the sake of leaving extra time around. The non-flight time includes:

  • 15 minute drive to LAX
  • 3 hours to check in, go through security, and wait at the airport
  • time spent sitting on planes but not flying
  • several hours in Narita, Japan to transfer to a flight to Taiwan
  • time waiting for a bus to Taipei
  • a 40 minute bus ride and foot/cab travel to our hotel

Theories and research on the psychological consequences of temporal construal suggest that temporal distance increases the weight of cognitive outcomes compared to affective ones. My thoughts regarding the chocolate cake I may or may not consume right prioritize its taste, texture, and the pleasure of enjoying it. The chocolate cake I think about eating next week, however, probably conjures more ideas about its caloric density, what it will do for my longevity, blood sugar, or waistline.

In addition, construal level theory posits that individuals' mental models of distant-future events are more abstract compared to near-future ones. When purchasing these tickets to Korea and Taiwan, I imagined the people we would see and the places we would go. Now that flight time is less than 24 hours away, I'm stuck on the fact that comfortable air travel could be much more so.

Trope, Y., & Liberman, N. (2003). Temporal Construal. Psychological Review, 110, 403-421.

Photo of LAX, Tom Bradley Terminal by Willie Lee.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

the importance of listening to Christmas music right now



Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.

Christmas music is playing in the apartment because I believe it is of utmost importance that we listen to as much Christmas music as possible while we still can. I feel that the opportunity for listening to Christmas music is diminished compared to most years because

(1) all of our Christmas shopping has been done online, and none of the online stores have been playing Christmas music for customers
(2) we will be on an airplane or in international airports during many of the key Christmas-music-listening hours
(3) related to that, we will be out of the country, where I expect we will be less likely to overhear Christmas music played by shopping establishments
(4) also related to that, we will experience even FURTHER loss of potential Christmas-music listening time due to the fact that we are flying into a time zone which is 15 hours ahead of our own (time loss!).

So time is of the essence. O Holy Night.

It has been a while since I have purchased music in a physical form. The only Christmas album that I have ever owned (versus my parents, who have some Christmas music sets that they probably purchased at Costco) is 98 Degreees' This Christmas. I purchased the CD because in colleged I determined that it was absolutely necessary to own all albums by 98 Degrees. But I don't actually have that CD around because I accidentally gifted it to Gena when I gave her my CD player, which unbeknownst to me, had the only Christmas music I have ever owned, inside.

Sleigh Ride. So it's Christmas tunes via streaming radio. Thank Verizon for high speed internet.

Happy Holidays.
A Holly Jolly Christmas.



christmas candles photo originally uploaded by don2g.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My First Blog

It seems that my daughter-in-law is dragging me into the online world, just as my brother and I dragged my mother into the world of email. She loved it, being able to communicate with family who were thousands of miles away. Now I can communicate with thousands who are only miles away.

I'm doing this instead of writing Christmas cards, a chore that I enjoy only once I've started it. I like re-reading the letters we got last year, imagining old friends looking young as they did when we last saw them 20 years ago. From the adventures some of them are up to, they may indeed still be that young.

As I write a Christmas letter, I imagine saying the words to the person it's addressed to. To whom is a blog addressed? Whose face should I conjure up? For the moment it is Eraine's.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wheeeeee! / I did it again

wheeeeee! - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever

Why I Can't Eat Onions

Why I Can\\\'t Eat Onions - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever

Somehow it's 5am and I'm still awake. It's been a while since I have been up this late -- that's more Alex's thing. But I got caught up in working on my submission for Threadless, "Why I can't eat onions."

Lately Alex and I have talked about the value of doing things.

I hesitated for a moment before hitting that OK button. In doing so I am allowing them full rights over my artwork if my shirt is chosen for print. But I figure I can always produce more drawings, and it would be awesome (and money) to win.

Monday, December 3, 2007

overdressed

I may be overdressed, being mildly bundled up in a fleece while it is 75 degrees outside. I don't feel silly because there are lots USC undergraduates ambling about campus in sweatshirts and jackets. The weather was cool all day yesterday, and last night's observed low was a chilly 42 degrees. The temperatures for tomorrow, December 4, are forecast by weather.com to include a high of 79 degrees. We are all confused.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

bad reasons to buy a dog

Last night we were planning to go work out after CPY, but we got boba instead. Boba was a reasonable substitute for working out because the place we went to, Westsubs, is right next to the gym. As you may have guessed from the establishment's name, Westsubs is not specifically a boba joint in the way that Teastation or Lollicup are. But they have an elaborate menu of boba-full and boba-less drinks, from smoothies and slushes to your standard thai and milk teas. Alex had a thai tea with boba, and I had a hot milk tea with boba. The boba did not seem particularly sweetened, which was fine with me, because I tend to like my drinks slightly less sweet.

Westsubs has a collection of board games and magazines for your enjoyment while you sit and eat or drink. We played The Allowance Game, a simple die rolling, piece-moving game in which certain squares you may land on indicate gains or losses of money. You get $3 allowance each time you round the corner at Home, and can earn money on squares such as "Mow the Lawn" or "Recycle Cans." You spend money buying bubble gum or "Give to charity." We tried to make the game more exciting by adding extra rules, but finally we ended the game before either of us had managed to save up the winning $20.

After the game playing we decided to browse magazines -- Glamour for me, Men's Health for him. I was curious about Glamour's cover story on 25 ways to immediately boost your mood. If I were to write such a feature, it would include items like: 1. Have a caffeinated beverage, or 2. Visit cute overload or check out some lolcatz. Although some of the suggestions by Glamour were quite reasonable (I think take a bubble bath was one), I was appalled to see that "Buy a dog" was also included on their list. That is, Buy a dog. Do it! You know you want to.

WHAT ARE THESE PEOPLE THINKING? How on earth does taking a bubble bath compare to purchasing a live, furry, animal with a lifespan of ten or fifteen years?? Sure, playing with an adorable new puppy will probably boost your mood, but a quick pick-me-up is the wrong reason to get a dog!


On a related note, people should not buy dogs as surprise gifts. Like deciding to have children, it's the sort of thing that people should talk about and plan in advance. I was administering a final exam in a large lecture hall last year, when an occasional whimpering sound could be heard. None of us knew where it was coming from. Later I left the lecture hall and saw a student playing with a puppy outside. She explained to me that since she had finished taking the exam, she was watching the puppy for the girl who had sat next to her during the text. The girl had just been given the puppy as a surprise birthday gift from her boyfriend. GEEZ.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

adorable site

The meomi website is so cute I nearly peed my pants. No, not really. But it is really quite adorable. I couldn't help but "awwww and ooooohhh" for several minutes. The cutest part is that the little creatures move around and make sounds when you mouse over them. I'm tempted to buy things so I can call some of that cuteness my own.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

things that sound more exciting than they are

Next up in this category... LASER SCISSORS.

Yes, I am browsing the Internet for holiday gift-giving ideas. No, I am not likely to purchase laser scissors, since they don't actually cut things with lasers.

Friday, November 16, 2007

clutter

Our apartment is too small, and/or we have too much stuff.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Workout payback

It seems to me that a fair world would not reward pain with yet further pain. Nevertheless, this is how exercise seems to be working for me. On Monday, Elaine and I went to Balley's and did upper body work. Yesterday we were both sore, and this morning it was genuinely unpleasantly painful. There are a number of weird things about this, not the least of which is the fact that the most intense soreness appeared two days after the event.

Also, although I loathe to consider it, I may be getting old.

Elaine and I also both registered Republican today with the intention of voting for Ron Paul in the Republican Primaries. It is quite interesting to see the gap between the internet (extremely pro Ron Paul) and the real-world-based-polls (decidedly less pro Ron Paul). I certainly hope that Ron Paul's supporters make it to the polls come election day.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

daylight savings

I still have not yet gotten used to the daylight savings change. It feels so much later than it is.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

knowing what you want

I have great admiration for individuals who know what they want in life, who set goals, and who plan to achieve them. I wonder how they can be so sure of themselves -- how, exactly, do they know that they know? The impending end of this recognizable unit of time in my life (schooling) requires some decision-making. Specifically, I need to figure out what I really want to do.

The only trouble is, I think that I have spent too much of my life concerned about what it is that others want me to do. You would think that I'd be able to tell the difference by now, having reached adulthood. I should know what my preferences are, and the types of work that make me tick. Unfortunately (?), I think that my habitually denying between what I want and what others want of me has caused the difference to become blurred.

I keep saying that I wish I had a robot (computer program?) to which I could give all sorts of information about myself -- my likes and dislikes, my habits, my preferred lifestyle, and things that I think I enjoy. It would take all of the appropriate data and variables and tell me what I should do. Or what is the next best thing?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

married

In my inbox:

S. Alex says that you two are married on Facebook. We need you to confirm that you are, in fact, married to S. Alex.

To confirm this relationship request, follow the link below:
http://usc.facebook.com/n/?home.php

Thanks,
The Facebook Team

Thursday, October 11, 2007

katamari sampling

I'm thinking that another name for snowball sampling (sometimes referred to as network sampling) should be Katamari sampling.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Early

I became very awake this morning at 5 for no apparent reason. Around 5:30 I decided to get up. Now what?

Monday, October 1, 2007

thai fortune cookie

Got Thai last night at Thai Taste, a restaurant down the street, probably a mile from here. At the end of dinner we received our bill with two fortune cookies. Have Thai places always been able to distribute fortune cookies, or is this a recent happening? Are all Asian restaurants allowed to do this now?

My fortune came with nice sentiment if not grammar:
"You and your love [sic] one will be happy in your life together."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

not a cookie haiku

oatmeal cookie dough
microwaved for two minutes.
no cookies, just smoke

so that's what this stomping is about

I was walking back from the post office yesterday afternoon when I saw a young woman coming down the stairs extremely slowly. She was seated on the stairs, scooting down one step at a time while hanging onto the handrail. Next to her was a pair of crutches, and she had a cast of some sort on one foot. Nearly immediately I knew that she was our new upstairs neighbor, and figured out what all of that stomping must have been about.

I introduced myself and asked if she lived upstairs, and she explained that she had moved in about 2 months ago. She recently broke her foot, so she's been hopping around upstairs! She apologized about possibly causing disturbances for us. She figured we must hear her, being directly below her apartment.

Anyway, I couldn't stop laughing to myself afterwards. This information makes the noise much more easy to tolerate. So much for my career as a detective.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

clutter abounds

We need to have more space or less stuff. Between these two choices, the 2nd is probably better.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

he's back, hooray!

Now we have lots more stuff to cram into our apartment. We have more board games than we know what to do with, and now some duplicates of kitchen stuff because some were purchased for temporary use over the summer. But back is good.

Monday, September 24, 2007

stomping, or loud upstairs neighbors

This post is actually supposed to be for Sunday. Even though I can set the timestamp to read any date and time, I don't want to set this back because it seems dishonest.

Neighbors upstairs have been stomping lately. I don't know that they're really stomping, but that's what it sounds like from here. Either they are stomping or performing a dozen jumping jacks every once in a while. They might be moving furniture in some odd manner. I don't know that moving furniture should sound like stomping, but I've heard that when people move furniture it sounds loud from adjacent apartments. At one point when there was more continuous stomping I thought, "Maybe they're playing DDR." I should be happy about the idea of people playing DDR, but I don't think DDR players should live above the first floor.

There was also loudness of a different sort at what seemed like 4 in the morning. I don't know whether I preferred it to the alarm clock incidents of several months ago.

Maybe someday we'll live where we don't have to hear our neighbors.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

decor

Today included more wonderful rain and my first time using an electric drill. Curtain rod is up, now we just need some curtains. The bedroom feels spartan, with plain white walls that don't have anything on them. I wish I had a stronger decorator intuition. And I wish it was as easy to rearrange furniture, carpet, and walls as it is in the Sims!

Friday, September 21, 2007

it did rain

It did rain. You know what I love about it? I never wash my car, which my mom hassles me about to no end. Yet today, my car is clean!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

chilly and gusty today

It is nearing the end of September and for the first time, actually beginning to feel like it. So far all semester, I've heard students and colleagues complain about how cold it is inside our building. It has been warm out, so it seems not unreasonable to go to class wearing shorts, flip flops, and tank tops (at least for students, if not professors). But air conditioning is always cranked up inside, which contributes to warming on a global scale, but many freezing students and instructors. Today I actually heard two different people mention it being cold but referring to the weather outside! Although I dislike being cold, the cool weather comes as a pleasant surprise. As an added bonus, the next two days' forecasts look like rain...

Python Problems

I love Python---it's a fantastic language. Still, it does have a few annoyances, one of which I encountered while dealing with very large integers. I've been frustrated for a while that ints and longs are considered to be different types, as opposed to (for example) one being a subclass of the other. Recently when doing typechecking (which, I understand, should be avoided as much as possible in Python) I ultimately ended by sticking in the gem:
assert isinstance(int(x), int)
Now, to me, this looks pretty similar to
assert True
which is a pretty unexciting statement. Of course, I was both amused-and-not-amused when I started getting TypeErrors. Yes, it turns out that int(x) can return a long, which is not an int. Although I doubt that I'd prefer it throwing an exception, there seems to be something strongly disconnected here.

In any case, if you would like to make sure that your functions are being passed integers in the larger sense of the word, the statement you're going for is probably:
assert isinstance(x, (int, long))

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

cheap stuff

Most recent Craigslist exchange was my $10 for someone's ikea coffee table. Super cheap, but I think this is the second time I've bought this exact same model of table for $10 off of someone from Craigslist. I don't think it's the same one, because last time I bought it in the Bay Area for temporary summer furniture, and this time I'm in L.A. But I like the possibility.

I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. Having things below eye level increases the likelihood that I will bruise my knees or shins, but I figure I can recoup my ten by resale if needed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

at least one sentence per day?

Today I walked to Lincoln (the street), which is 2 miles from here and makes the round-trip a 4-mile walk. From my old place in Palms, I used to do a 4 mile walk up and down Venice from close to Bagley to the 405. The weather this time of year makes an evening walk a bit before sunset very pleasant. Although I don't mind walking alone -- I like to take in my surroundings -- it's also nice to walk with someone else.

Friday, September 14, 2007

blogging

I wish I blogged more, but for some reason don't actually do so. I think it's because I've set some internal threshold for quality of post -- whether it's something as vague as interestingness, or just length -- too high. Here's my first post in a while. Brief and mundane.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

20 dates for under 20 dollars

20 dates for under 20 dollars. In case anyone was wondering, I came across these via Digg, not browsing Yahoo Personals. I was pretty excited when I saw the title because I thought all 20 dates would come out to a total of under $20, or an average of $1 each! Alas, I think they mean each date is under $20.

In any case, we have done the following in the Los Angeles area:

2. Go to a museum -- The Getty, where we actually joined up one night that they had a free lesson in figure drawing and we practiced on sculptures

4. Go on a romantic hike -- Well, we may not have been on a romantic hike, per se, but we have been hiking and we go for evening walks around the neighborhood.

6. Beat the heat with an ice cream date -- Yes, we do eat ice cream.

11. Stroll through the botanical garden -- Huntington Library has beautiful gardens, and Alex particularly likes succulents. (Free to visitors the first Thursday of every month.)

13. Build a bonfire -- We used to do fires in the fireplace when Alex lived with one, but I expect it would be nice to do an evening bonfire at the beach. It probably wouldn't be worth it unless we had a bigger group though.

We could but haven't really:

12. been bowling -- Since there's a bowling alley down the street from where we live, there's not really a good excuse (besides Wii Sports bowling).

15. paint pottery together -- This is pretty specific, but I think the idea of making stuff together more generally would be nice.

Friday, July 13, 2007

new social support group for women

I'm going to start a new social support group for women on their periods.

It will be called "Why the #*$&@# am I bleeding?"

Group activities will involve not swimming, not eating cold foods, wearing dark-colored pants, and generally feeling aggrieved.

Who wants in?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

transient summer: how to live temporary

We moved into a 1 bedroom apartment in Mountain View on a three-month lease (not easy to find, some complexes wanted a couple hundred/mo more rent , and most would not lease for less than six months. Alex will be here for about three months; I'll be here now for a little less than two.

Being here has made me realize that I take for granted a lot of things that less transient people typically have in their homes. Like cooking utensils. A can opener. Soap. I've also realized that, despite the fact that I consider myself to require very little maintenance, I need a fair amount. I'm unhappy sitting in an empty apartment to be alone with my thoughts. You'd think that being in an environment without the distractions of social interaction, toys, and media would be incredibly conducive to work and dissertation-writing, but the opposite turns out to be the case -- instead of hours of productivity and accomplishment, the empty box leaves me feeling mostly despair.

That last sentence was more dramatic than it needed to be. Some people don't have enough to eat or a roof over their head -- further evidence that humans judge by comparison rather than objective assessment. Anyway, my solution to this problem is to try to be out elsewhere as much as possible. The City library (where I am right now) is within walking and biking distance, and is quite nice.

I wish I were staying longer so that I'd actually try to settle in rather than just get by or make do. I wish we had a microwave oven, chairs, and stable Internet. I wish I didn't know that our L.A. subletter didn't have it so much better than I do. But maybe he wishes our place had a pool.

Friday, June 22, 2007

asians who have non-asian sounding last names

I have been a Smith for several months now, having jumped through the appropriate hoops (stood in the right lines, filled out the correct forms) to undergo a legal name change. Most things have now been switched over; a stray account here or there, and all of my school stuff remains under my old last name.

Before and after I went through the name change, friends of mine asked if I was planning to change, what I'd change to, and afterward, why I had decided to make the change. My main answer has been that I thought I felt pretty neutral about the whole thing, and I thought it would increase Alex's happiness by some small amount, so I changed my name. I realized that a new last name involved some administrative hassles, the name would take some getting used to, might change my sense of self-identity established over the last twenty-six years. Also, it would make some things easier -- e.g., recognition of us as a family unit, which would make things easier once we have kids.

What I didn't spend nearly so much time thinking about is the fact that I don't look like a Smith at all. This was made most salient to me when I went to check out a book at a public library in Los Angeles, and the (black) man behind the counter said, "Now how did somebody like you get a last name like Smith?" I told him that I had become a Smith by marriage, and he nodded with understanding.

Handing customers their receipts, checkout clerks at Safeway / Vons / Pavilions grocery stores glance at it briefly before addressing them by name. Both the name of the savings club card owner and the name on the credit card appear on the receipt, so I get either a "Thank you Ms. Smith" or "Have a good day Ms. Chan" depending on which part my checker reads. I could just be overly sensitive or making this up, but each time they address me as Ms. Smith instead of Chan, though I get the sense that I have just presented them with a conundrum or puzzle.

I wonder which of these thoughts the are thinking:
"Ah, she must have married a caucasian fellow."
"Near-victim of China's one-child policy, adopted and saved by a white, American family."
"Witness protection program member?"
"Identity or credit card theft?!"

Today I considered another practical implication of my name change when I went to meet someone selling used Wii games on Craigslist. We had communicated via email and she knew me as Smith -- would she recognize me, an Asian female outdoors?

And I realized that this is an identity issue that comes with a marital name change that some, but far fewer, individuals will undergo. An increase in interracial marriages accompanied by name changes will prepare store personnel for my arrival and payment. I wonder how long it will take before I'm used to it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Gmail error and Google's wry sense of humor


First Gmail said it was taking a while to load and maybe I should try out the HTML version.

Then I got this:

Dear valued user,

You have reached the error page for the error page...
You win!

Yeah it's sort of funny. I hope Alex has fun there this summer.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Models of Efficiency

The DMV is not what most people would consider to be an efficient organization, and tales of long lines abound. Never the less, my experience at the DMV today leads me to conclude the following efficiency ranking:

1) First Internet Bank of Indiana
2) DMV
3) Bank of America

When Elaine and I added her to my checking account at First IB, it took five minutes of paperwork and a 41 cent stamp.

When I went to the DMV in order to transfer the title of Elaine's car from her parents to us, it took five minutes of paperwork, and eighteen minutes in line.

When Elaine and I went to BofA to add me to her checking account, it took fifty minutes of waiting in line, five minutes of talking to a "banking specialist"*, then the five minutes of paperwork, then five more minutes of talking to the banking specialist, and ultimately resulted in us leaving without accomplishing our goals. The story follows.

We walked into the bank on Tuesday, and after learning that we couldn't alter accounts by talking to a teller, we sat down in the plush chairs to wait for the single banking specialist at work that day. They had a giant open building and a small basket of lollipops in a manner reminiscent of visits to the doctor's. We were shortly greeted by a greeter, who's job it was to take down our name and our reason for wanting to speak with the banking specialist. During the momentary break between clients, she would approach the specialist and tell her why the next people were there. This was an important job, as by the time clients were allowed to see her, they had generally forgotten why they had visited Bank of America that day, and often why they had an account with Bank of America at all.
After waiting for what not only seemed back was actually measured to be upwards of fifty minutes, our turn arrived. Once we had sat in front of the banking specialist, she explained ... very ... slowly ... that I would need not only one, but *gasp* two forms of ID, and that I would need to know my social security number. Since a major credit card apparently counts as a second form of identification these days, we were apparently over prepared with my passport. After another period of waiting, the woman produced a form for us to sign, that they might have our signatures on file. More questions, offers of new services, and painfully slow explanations later, we arrived at a problem. Elaine's mother was already a joint account holder. Did we want to open a new account?
"No." After an hour of waiting, after long discussions of the lack of necessity for brick and mortar banks, and after plans to imminently close the account Elaine had, we didn't want another.
"Are you sure you want him on your account? Then either one of you could just take all the money."
"Really?"
"Yes."
"So either one of the joint account holders can just close the account?"
"Yes."
"And could we do this just be talking to a teller?"
"Yes."
"Thank you. Bye."

At this point, it felt like we'd found kryptonite. If we can simply close the account, and open another one at a better bank, we have no intention of going through the hassle of getting all the necessary signatures and spell components in order to change the names on the account. At the same time, we still need the account for the time being, since Elaine has direst deposit set up with them; but the clock is ticking.

* I decided to only put quotes around banking specialist at its first appearance. The quotes are intended to express my skepticism at the legitimacy of such a term, especially as used in this context.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Giftcard Tradeoff

This may not actually be the final post related to gift cards, but I hope it is. Elaine and I dropped by Circuit City today, while waiting for her oil to be changed. Although Circuit City is generally a fine store, this one is a bit lacking. We had originally intended to get either a copy of Guild Wars or a new Wiimote, but our choice of stores had none. On our way out, however, we spotted something we could use: iTunes gift cards. Also noticing Virgin Mobile Top Up cards, we decided to split our original CC gift card down the middle. $50 of iTunes for Elaine, $50 of airtime for Alex (note that Elaine's music benefits Alex, and Alex's airtime benefits Elaine).

Do gift cards make good gifts? Selling gift cards

There's the other side to that great thing about gift cards coin. We were given a bunch of gift cards about eight months ago and still have not managed to use them yet. A couple of them were sold on eBay, and the others we figured we would be able to use. Unfortunately this has not yet been the case.

First example: $100 gift card to Circuit City. We do electronics, computing, video games, so it seemed plausible that we would be able to find a good use for the card. But we are always looking for a good bargain, we prefer to buy things used, or we will only buy something new if it is offered on sale at a reasonable discount. We rarely have retail store loyalty.

Another example: $20 Barnes and Noble gift card that I've had since Christmas. Definitely an appropriate gift because I regularly purchase books. But I buy them new in stores because used books are just as good. I've been to the bookstore with gift card in hand many times, but have been unable to buy anything at retail price knowing that it's much cheaper (and recycled) online.

Luckily, existence of a market for gift cards and certificates makes it so that if I ultimately decide that I'd rather have slightly less cash, I can part with the gift card online. Similarly, if your niece/nephew is that that into the Radio Shack gift card you got them for Christmas, they can barter for a different sort of gift card or trade it for universally-accepted cash.

Note the following restrictions for selling gift cards on eBay:
* The value of the gift card may not exceed $500.
* You must have the gift card
* You can only list one card per week

Also, you are likely to lose 10% of the card's face value + your eBay listing fee.

Bankrate.com provides more info about the secondary market for gift cards, including various other venues for swapping and sales.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The great thing about gift cards...


Time to go shopping
Originally uploaded by tomeppy.
... is that you can buy them on eBay.

A number of guests at our wedding last October gave us gift cards of varying increments to some restaurants and shops. We have wanted to use them, but because we prefer to buy things used whenever we can, it has been hard to actually consume the gift cards. The other problem is that I've sometimes gone to the store to get something, and realized upon arriving that I should have brought the gift card currently sitting at home. One gift card, the one for The Cheesecake Factory, we knew rightaway that we would not be interested in using. So we looked to see whether it would be feasible to sell them on eBay. Indeed, a massive market of buying and selling gift cards and certificates exists.

How can the gift card market help you in your frugality?
Buyers -- if you know what store currency you are looking for, you can get the gift card on eBay for up to 20% off face value (10-15% is the norm). Gift cards are most beneficial if you (1) already know the store or restaurant where you will spend money and (2) have the ability to postpone your purchase by a few days or a week. (3) Gift cards may also be beneficial if you shop the same store(s) regularly, i.e., you don't have to worry whether or not you will make future purchases there.

For example: I decided that I wanted to purchase several episodes the Bravo show Work Out off of iTunes at $1.99 each. Granted, the truly frugal thing would be to watch it for free or not at all, but we don't have broadcast or cable, and I decided it would be worth the money to me. Instead of immediately purchasing the episodes at full price, I found an iTunes gift card auction on eBay that was about to end. The $15 gift card (which fit the number of episodes I was planning to buy) cost me $13.26 (free electronic shipping), giving me an 11.6% saving for very little of my time, not to mention +1 to my eBay reputation.

Another example: Those past a beginner stage of frugal living probably brew their own coffee. Or quit the caffeine habit. But those who have decided that the value of their daily cup of Starbucks is worth more than the monetary cost can purchase a $50 gift card on eBay for $45 and get their month's caffeine at 10% off. Find a better priced auction and increase your savings, but already that's $200 in your pocket if you spend $2000 on coffee a year.

Finally: Have a friend whose birthday is coming up in a few weeks? They are into electronics and other stuff, so you figure you will get them a Best Buy gift card (Whether or not gift cards make good gifts is debate that will be left for another day -- I come from a Chinese cultural background and have no qualms giving cash). By buying the card on eBay, you pay less for the gift card, and they can still purchase the same amount of stuff. If their birthday is tomorrow, or TODAY, this may limit your options somewhat. But fortune favors those who plan ahead.

N.B. As with all eBay transactions, use good sense before you bid. Check out the seller's reputation, types of goods they typically sell, and feedback comments from buyers. If you have any questions about the items, definitely ask.

Happy bidding.

*Photo by tomeppy

Saturday, June 9, 2007

robots-look-for-housing


robots-look-for-housing

Originally uploaded by eraine. How do I make this bigger?

Friday, June 8, 2007

I don't like looking for housing... or maybe I don't like dating


for rent
Originally uploaded by mgoldstein.
I've been spending a lot of time on Craigslist these days. Initially, a large part of it was needing to find a subletter to take over our 1-bedroom for a couple of months in L.A.

Looking for a subletter reminded me of the setup on The Bachelor (rather surprisingly, we watched every single episode this season). The Bachelor's stated goal is to find the woman whom he feels best fits him in terms of personality, attraction, life goals, etc, but whom he also believes to feel the same way about him. He is supposed to be looking for a long-term relationship, so he wants a woman who would also be interested long-term.

But there is a large degree of uncertainty and reliance upon trust. He dates multiple (though their numbers decrease through the course of the season) women and wants all of them to be interested in him, but in the end he can only pick one. The women, on the other hand, have similar incentives to demonstrate their interest, because if they aren't interested at all, they become easy targets for elimination.

Our situation is this: We want to have the best subletter possible. For our situation, that's a clean, responsible, respectful individual (or couple) who wants to rent the apartment for the two months in which it will be vacant. We want a guarantee of the subletter's commitment long-term. That is, we want to ensure that they will not rent for one month, then skip out, leaving us having to scramble for a second subletter or leaving the apartment not paid for and empty. We are choosing between multiple candidates, all of whom indicate interest by responding to our CL ad, and they are looking for other possible living situations because our choosing them is far from assured.

Love is complicated. Rent, we can ask for up front. (So we have.)

Now that we've found someone, there's this issue of figuring out where we will live in the Bay Area, and whether I'll find something (e.g., my job) besides my own thing (academic research) to do. I can't wait until we're more settled. Regular housing searches are not much fun.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

How to tell that your vegetables are organic...

Speaking of pesticide-filled produce, yesterday I was shucking some corn (that sounds silly, really I was just removing the husks) for boiling, when I suddenly screamed and threw the corn to the kitchen floor. Alex was in the other room, but he correctly guessed that I had encountered some sort of bug. On one corner of the ear of corn was a slowly wriggling caterpillar, which appeared to have eaten a good square inch and a half of kernels.

This wasn't the first time I'd let out a yelp while cleaning vegetables. Since we've started eating organic, various bug-like creatures have shown up inside lettuce, celery, and other things from time to time. I'm not afraid of them, but I do scream out of surprise. Despite the fact that they've appeared several times, I still don't expect to encounter worms or bugs.

But as much as I'd rather have vegetables without living things in them, it seems like a good sign that our organic produce is able to house the things that should naturally be found in it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Peanuts not fancy, not deluxe.


Yesterday at Costco I bought a container of Kirkland's (the Costco brand) Extra Fancy Mixed Nuts. It is a big thing of nuts, I tell you. But I am confident that we will be able to consume it, because we are a nut-eating household.

My personal preference, listed in order from least to most enjoyed:
5. Brazil Nuts
4. Hazelnuts (Filberts)
3. Almonds
2. Cashews
1. Pecans
A bit strange to me that pecans ended up as the favorite on the list. I think it may be because I rarely have any.

Anyway, like many "fancy" or "deluxe" nut mixes, this one does not contain peanuts. But it doesn't advertise "NO PEANUTS" on the label. This causes me to think more highly of these Extra Fancy mixed nuts. Some other nut mixes find it necessary to proclaim their lack of peanuts or low peanut content loudly. But what is up with not including peanuts? Peanuts are supposed to be a cheaper sort of nut, but by how much?

Looking at these wholesale prices, a fair amount. Almonds are $3.75/lb, Cashews $3.70 - $4.00/lb depending on the size. Pecans are $5.50-$5.70/lb, the high end being if you purchase them roasted. Elsewhere, Brazil nuts are $5.59/lb, Filberts for $4.99, etc. Peanuts are an inexpensive $1.40/lb.

Are peanuts any less tasty? Do they not have as many nutritional benefits as these other Fancy nuts? Or would a mix with peanuts included just seem not as deluxe?

Worst offenders: The most pesticide-laden fruits and veg

My brother sent me the a link to FoodNews from the Environmental Working Group, which puts out a shopper's guide of the pesticide content found on fruits and vegetables.

I had seen a similar list elsewhere -- pesticide-rich produce items -- having first heard of 'the dirty dozen' on a radio show podcast I listen to (KCRW's Good Food). This list actually lists peaches as #1 worst when it comes to pesticides, whereas the list I had seen previously had found apples to be the worst (so I remembered). On the last one I saw, they took their samples based on how people typically eat the fruit -- that is, for oranges, they'd peel the orange and take their measurements from the orange innards. For peaches, which are usually eaten whole, they'd take the measurements with the skin as well.

Fruits and vegetables scoring really high (bad) on their list are largely things we eat whole (apples, peaches, nectarines, cherries, bell peppers, etc.), whereas the things that they find fewer pesticides on, or less % likelihood of pesticides on, are the ones that get peeled (papaya, mango, kiwi, pineapple, avocado, corn, onions..). Lucky for us fans, blueberries are one of the few exceptions.

This would seem to indicate that my mom has probably been right all these years in peeling apples and other fruit skins off before serving them at our family's fruit time. Also, it makes me wonder about whether my cousin-in-law Krish is ingesting a lot more pesticides than the average person (he eats most fruits whole, like, oranges with the peel!), and whether it's not so great that Alex and I have become lazy and started eating kiwi in their entirety, brown fuzz and all.

They say:
Will washing and peeling help?

Nearly all of the data used to create these lists already considers how people typically wash and prepare produce (for example, apples are washed before testing, bananas are peeled). While washing and rinsing fresh produce may reduce levels of some pesticides, it does not eliminate them. Peeling also reduces exposures, but valuable nutrients often go down the drain with the peel. The best option is to eat a varied diet, wash all produce, and choose organic when possible to reduce exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

I prefer to eat organic, but still I'd like to do more research regarding the costs and benefits of the many options now available (conventional, organic, local, none of the above...)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

games for kids -- who is making these up?!

Back from Oakland -- it was a good, though short, trip. Spent the night at Margaret's place (upgraded to a 1BR since the last time I was there) and her most adorable cat Tiger.

I've been looking for group games for Kids Stuff / Club 48 on Friday night at CPUMC. Incredulously, Alex asked who makes these games when I read him this description of a game called SWEET PICKUPS, A race to eat sugar and then stick a pencil in your nose (but in a safe way of course):
To play this game you need a large group of kids. First you line each child up and then you set a timer for eighty seconds. In front of each child place a paper plate with a teaspoon of sugar, a pencil and a clothespin. Say go to start the race. Each child will have to lick up their pile of sugar. Next they stick the pencil up their nose (but not too far - you'll need to demonstrate to keep it safe) And last they take the clothespin and put it on their sock or pants. Whoever finishes first gets a prize. All the kids get to keep their pencils. Have fun!!


It's probably better to stick with classics, like Simon Says.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

five hours driving nowhere

I'm upset at myself for having spent five hours driving today and not gotten anywhere. My plan was to go to Oakland to spend the night with a friend before checking out a possible summer internship all day tomorrow. My journey was cut short when I found myself in the middle of California with no money and no gas.

Ok, that last statement is an exaggeration. But what happened was that I managed to drive approximately 130 miles north, just past Bakersfield, decide that my car needed gas, only to realize that I'd left home without my wallet. That is, I'd left home without my driver's license, credit cards, and cash. Lucky for me, I had $7.49 cents in my coin bucket -- the dollars stowed for emergency parking on the USC campus, plus some miscellaneous change.

Some quick calculations based on the small amount of gas remaining in the tank, plus the approximately 2 gallons I could purchase at the price of $3.719/gallon, and I thought I just might have enough to get back home, or at least close enough that I could convince someone from LA to come get me if I ended up stranded nearby.

Other options that I considered were trying to get to some cash transfer place (was it Western Union that used to have those commercials?) in Bakersfield, but I couldn't get anyone on the phone at 4:30 in the afternoon, and I had no idea how I'd find such a place. I thought about trying to sell my iPod or the Garmin GPS I had in the car at a discounted price to other gas station customers. I thought about what kind of loss I might have to take. I thought about making money via my services: I could offer to work at the gas station, after all, they did have a Help Wanted sign in the window. Or maybe I could wash dishes at the IHOP next door. I could offer drivers 5 minute massages for $5. I thought about how I might approach strangers to ask them to lend me money. Then I thought about how strangers who approach us for money usually don't seem credible.

In the end I decided to fill up the tank with as much gas as I could afford, turn around and head home. Going a pretty consistent 55mph with the windows rolled up and no AC, I just had enough gas to get home (my gas indicator on).

I don't know if my head it just not screwed on right these days or what, but I've booked a flight to Oakland for tomorrow morning and I hope that I make it without too much of a close call. I'm going to go fill my tank now in case I don't have time to tomorrow...

Monday, May 28, 2007

running late -- how to catch a flight


LAX Motion
Originally uploaded by bullish1974.
I haven't solved the mystery of what happened to my alarm on Saturday morning -- whether I turned it off without realizing or never set it correctly in the first place. I used a travel alarm clock that I rarely use because my phone provides a sufficient alarm. For some reason I decided that leaving my phone off and using the travel alarm instead would save me some battery.

Some thoughts re: catching a flight at the last minute:
  1. Ultimately, it's probably bad to have this additional positive reinforcement after showing up at the airport so late. This only increases the likelihood that I will be slow in getting to the airport next time when I figure I can make it. (Though the intentionality of it is questionable, we have certainly done it before).
  2. The extra hour of sleep was probably worth it, since we'd gone to bed only about 5 hours earlier. Saturday was a long session-filled day at ICA 2007, the conference I was attending, and I barely made it through the party USC was hosting from 7-9pm.
  3. 3. Things that undoubtedly helped me make the flight (besides Alex waking me up):
  • online check-in and printing my boarding pass on Friday night
  • having everything packed and ready to go
  • trying to make a Saturday morning 7:15 flight -- any other time would have more traffic in LA
  • having a driver ready to drop me off curbside (and the fact that we're close to the airport)
  • the sense of possibility and urgency that Alex instilled when he dropped me off curbside and explained, "If you're going to make it, you've got to be pushy and make it to the front of the line. Tell people that your flight is boarding and you need to go." The woman checking boarding passes and ID before the security lines told me to cut to the front.
  • not needing to check any bags -- only taking carry-ons
  • my willingness and ability to run -- though dressed for the conference, I wore running shoes (I typically do). The fact that I've been running more lately and improving my speed and capacity undoubtedly helped. I heard an announcement for my flight's final boarding call as I sprinted (as much as possible while wheeling a suitcase behind) through Terminal 5.
I don't recommend making a regular habit of cutting in line, but some of the other aspects certainly helped. I intend to keep my running practiced.

Arex previously blogged some tips on how to get through security checkpoints quickly.

* photo LAX Motion Originally uploaded by bullish1974

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Empty Home

Both Elaine and our recent house guest left this weekend, leaving the place feeling a bit empty. Elaine's leaving was a bit more exciting than our guest's:

Her flight was scheduled to board at 6:45 AM on Saturday, and with laundry and packing, we hadn't gotten to bed until (well) past two in the morning the previous evening. She had set two alarms for herself, and I had one for myself. Never the less, we got up at 6:33 AM.

I specifically remember snoozing my alarm. I remember doing this many times. I also remember finally turning it off. Elaine doesn't know why her alarms didn't wake her up. Were they never turned on? Did she simply sleep through them? At 6:33 AM, I woke up (seemingly on my own), glanced at my clock, and then really woke up.

With very little delay we hurried out the door and zipped double-quick to the airport. Twenty minutes after we woke up, Elaine was stepping out of the car at LAX. Having checking in the previous night, Elaine managed to catch her flight.

Her take: "It's hard to run through an airport when you've recently given blood."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

tired and sleepless

My superhero power is on the fritz. What power? Being able to fall asleep nearly instantly, almost anytime and anywhere. I've fallen asleep in odd positions, in the middle of a phone conversation, even standing during a loud rock concert at least once. Yet I've been in bed and out of bed and back into bed for an hour and not yet a minute of shut eye. I think it's a combination of residual caffeine in my system and anxiety about the events to come in the next few days. Alex and houseguest playing multiple rounds of a usually lengthy and engaging computer game late at night may not help. If my day tomorrow wasn't supposed to start so early, I wouldn't mind as much. But I know that I'll be hating my alarm clock in the morning more, with each sleepless minute that passes. Physically I feel exhausted. And I have a phone interview tomorrow (I don't know what time!)

The key aspect of the phenomenological experience of this mild insomnia is that I feel far too many thoughts running through my head, one after another, each one interrupting the one before and leading me down a new path. This symptom causes me to believe that my inability to fall asleep is due to overactivity in my brain. I don't remember how long ago it would have been, but before I discovered my power of instasleep, I'd sometimes have trouble falling asleep. And I used to have the exact same feeling. My trick back then was to visualize numbers as I counted down from 99. I will try that. If that fails, I'll imagine a relaxing, tranquil scene. Like a waterfall or a beach. Or what life will be like a week from today.

Maybe I should test a new set of earplugs. We still have enough.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Joke of the Day - ridiculous scenario and word play

Not that long after my decision to actively be more positive, I started going to a Joke of the Day site regularly. I'd visit on Wednesday mornings, at the beginning of my marathon day on campus. I'd get to class early and have a few minutes to spare before everyone else arrived. I think it helped, particularly during the middle of the term when everything started to get hectic and crazy. Even though things have calmed down substantially, I still like to check the website and rate a few jokes sometimes.

There are enough jokes in the collection that some are bound to be bad, but today's made me laugh --
A man and an ostrich walk into a restaurant. The waitress asks, "What will it be?"
The man replied "a burger and a coke." "And you?" "I'll have the same," the ostrich replies. They finish their meal and pay. "That will be $4.50," The man reached into his pocket and pulled out the exact amount. They do this every day till Fri.
"The usual?" she asked. "No, today is Friday. I'll have steak and a coke."
"Me too." says the ostrich. They finish and pay. "That will be $10.95"
The man reached in and pulls out the exact amount again just like all week.
The waitress was dumb-founded. "How is it that you always have the exact amount?"
"Well," says the man. "I was cleaning my attic and I found a dusty lamp. I rubbed it and a genie appeared." Wow!" said the waitress. "What did you wish for?"
"I asked that when I needed to pay for something, the exact amount would appear in my pocket." "Amazing! Most people would ask for a million dollars. But what's with the ostrich?" "Well," said the man. "I also asked for a chick with long legs."
--- insert laughter or groan --

I think I found this joke funny because I like jokes that present ridiculous scenarios / imagery and play on words. It would amuse me to come up with tags for the different types of humor in these jokes. I wonder how much of relational compatibility you can predict simply based on whether two people think the same types of jokes are funny.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

consequences of letting your frozen pizza thaw vertical before baking

On eating frozen pizzas that you bake after they've been thawed --

I had frozen pizzas in the trunk of my car and failed to notice that they'd been left behind after the rest of the groceries were taken in. Here's what happens when you leave frozen pizzas standing vertically overnight -- everything on the pizza tries to move to the bottom of the box!

We baked it anyway, and everybody's still alive! I suppose it's more convenient if you have someone who's not into the cheese or toppings, or if you've been arguing about whether to order pizza or bread...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mondays with Aristotle

I took a year+ of Classical Greek in college. It is unimpressive compared to 4 years of high school Latin, 1 semester of working with my college professor to translate Renaissance Latin (correspondence of Antonio Riccoboni, who seems obscure enough to not have a Wikipedia page in English), and 1 semester translating Lucrecius (Latin upper division course, which I tanked). But also impressive because ... well, it's Classical Greek. There is something both impressive and foolish about having studied two dead languages and the long-gone cultures from which they came.

I've lost most of my liberal arts education in Classics. As my dad would say, I have returned it to where I originally got it from. But I still love Aristotle, one of the greatest thinkers ever. My iGoogle page reminded me of this because #4 (below) appeared in my quotes of the day widget. Number 8 is the one I have been thinking about most lately.

Additional quotes from Aristotle:

1) A flatterer is a friend who is your inferior, or pretends to be so.

2) A friend is a second self.

3) All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion, and desire.

4) All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.

5) All virtue is summed up in dealing justly.

6) Dignity consists not in possessing honors, but in the consciousness that we deserve them.

7) Education is the best provision for the journey to old age.

8) Happiness depends upon ourselves.

9) Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit.

10) In the arena of human life the honors and rewards fall to those who show their good qualities.

11) It is in justice that the ordering of society is centered.

12) It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

13) It is unbecoming for young men to utter maxims.

14) Law is mind without reason.

15) Man perfected by society is the best of all animals; he is the most terrible of all when he lives without law, and without justice.

16) Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way...you become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions.

17) Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.

18) Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.

19) The Gods too are fond of a joke.

20) The only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law.

21) To give a satisfactory decision as to the truth it is necessary to be rather an arbitrator than a party to the dispute.

22) To perceive is to suffer.

23) We are what we repeatedly do.

24) Young people are in a condition like permanent intoxication, because youth is sweet and they are growing.

25) It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen.

26) Misfortune shows those who are not really friends.

Source: http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/4-13-2005-68474.asp

Sunday, May 13, 2007

"Do you want to play a game?"
"I'm flexible."
"Let's play twister."

Why I love eBay.


minidisc lot
Originally uploaded by eraine.
I got the following message last night from a satisfied and awesome buyer:
Q: Thank you for sending the Minidiscs so quickly! I liked the Chinese music the best and will save it. Although I don't know the singers name, I know he is credited with bringing rock and roll to Chinese Asia. Do you have any more Xeus or Maxwell minidiscs to sell? If so let me know. Have you heard of David Tao or the group Tension? Based on your music preferences, I think you'd like them. I am a big fan of Alex To and also Sandy Lam. Anyway just wanted to thank you and wish the best! Steve* probably the only Caucsian guy in the midwest who likes Chinese pop music...
The item was a lot of 28 used minidiscs, and it's been so long since I've listened to them that I don't remember what's on there. But I believe the artist he is talking about is Richie Yam, also known as Richie Ren or Richie Jen (a Cantonese vs. Taiwan vs. China spelling difference).

The message made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and I think it is for the following reasons:
  1. It was fairly lengthy, compared to most of my correspondence with buyers or sellers, which tends to be very brief
  2. The buyer expressed appreciation for the fast shipping -- I always figure it's appreciated, but usually I only hear it in a line of eBay feedback.
  3. He told me about music I might like, which is a great social gift. I AM a big fan of David Tao.
  4. Now I know the only Caucasian guy in the midwest who likes Chinese pop music.

* Buyer's last name removed for privacy reasons

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Mother's Day dinner at Joe's Crab Shack

Tonight we had dinner at Joe's Crab Shack in Newport Beach to celebrate Mother's Day with the Irvine-side family. It was very crowded and took us a while to get a seat. During the wait we had time to browse the many crab-themed products they had available, peruse the menu, watch the restaurant staff do a 10 minute dance, play 3 or 4 games of hangman, and start a game of 20 questions.

Overall impressions: the ambiance was loud and cluttered, the menu was not vegetarian-friendly, and the dinner food was indistinguishably mediocre. In sum, it was not worth the wait.

But going to Irvine for Parents' Day (Father's Day got added in somehow, too) was nice. Dean, Alex, and I helped mom plant impatients in the backyard garden. Even though I'm supposedly moved out and married, it still feels like home.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Save money, get rich -- Part 1: Be a cheap date


Several months back, Arex (not to be confused with Alex) sought advice on saving money, or how to get rich. I prepared a lengthy and obviously insightful response, but something broke down and my comment didn't go through. Although I don't remember what I had written at the time, my guess is that the basic points were to avoid doing too much of #1 and #2 (below) and how. Nevertheless, I think most of our recent expenses fall under one of the following categories:

1. Social/leisure: eating out and going out
2. Goods: buying and having stuff
3. Living: overhead (food + utilities + rent)
4. Travel: going places and transportation
5. Getting married: paying for a wedding

We are more frugal in some of these categories than in others. It's rare that we eat out, but we sprung for a Nintendo Wii at above-market price. The general philosophy that we live by very compatibly includes that a) we have money in order to use it, and b) money should not be needlessly used, so when reasonable, save.

Today I will share my thoughts on sector 1 : eating out and going out.

Eating out (decrease).
Granted, if you happen to live in an area abundant in Chinese food (countries with a Chinese cultural history, or Arcadia or the San Gabriel Valley), eating out can be very, very cheap. But it is SO, so easy to go to the Cheesecake Factory with friends and drop $20 for dinner after tax and tip. And you might not even be getting any cheesecake. Friend's birthday dinner? Now you can include part of their meal (you can't let someone pay on their own birthday). Also please include miscellaneous drinks, appetizers, and desserts that other people have gotten but you are now paying for because someone suggested an equal split for the tab. $25.

This is not to say that we never eat out, but the less often you do, the more you will save. It is often appropriate to eat out if it is the most convenient way to dine with friends, or when celebrating a special occasion. But since one of us is vegetarian, it's usually easier to eat in than to eat out. Not eating out will be more difficult to accomplish for the foodie or if you are employed as a professional food blogger.

Compared to my first year in grad school, I've also improved a whole lot as far as packing my own lunch to bring. Via lifehacker, save $988 a year by packing your own lunch. I've also cut back substantially on the money I pay Starbucks for coffee by brewing my own. Savings: $300-$800 per year, depending on your coffee drink of choice.

Finally, the added bonus of making your own food instead of eating out is that it is bound to be healthier 9 times out of 10. I totally just made that statistic up.

Going out, like, to play (decrease or cheapen). Much to the disappointment of my former roommate, we don't go out very often, and when we do, we tend not to spend much money being out. I suppose this means we are either Very Boring or Easily Satisfied. I prefer to think of this characteristic as "low-maintenance." It doesn't mean that all we do is stay in and watch TV. We don't actually have a TV (we watch shows via the Internet), so that would be hard. But we do go out for walks in the neighborhood (cheap and good for your health), going grocery shopping (cheap and functional), sailing at the UCLA MAC (free because Alex is a volunteer TA for their classes), reading together or apart at the bookstore, seeing a movie (usually for free with movie passes either of us have gotten from donating blood).

Staying in (increase). Staying in is usually cheaper than going out, unless the main activity is buying things online, or something like that. If you are willing to put in some effort of preparing food and cleaning up, inviting people over to your home for dinner should turn out to be cheaper eats. Especially if people take turns hosting in. We also like to have people over for board or video games (we have spent money buying these), which are more socially interactive than going out to see a movie.

Some links on fun things to do on the cheap:
And, because it's a good article:

piggy bank photo by: kiss kiss bang bang

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Better microwave popcorn, in a brown paper bag


brown bag popcorn BOOM
Originally uploaded by eraine.
I have been meaning to blog about better microwave popcorn, and here's one more reason not to eat that trans-fat-filled, artificially colored and flavored garbage. A Washington Post article outlines the problem:
...California food-flavoring workers recently diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare and life-threatening form of fixed obstructive lung disease. Also known as popcorn workers lung, because it has turned up in workers at microwave-popcorn factories, the disease destroys the lungs. A transplant is the only cure.

Granted, the amount of artificial butter flavor (diacetyl) they work with is probably more than the average person is ever going to encounter. But I believe it's good to minimize ingestion of bizarre chemicals whenever you can.

Did you know you can pop plain kernels in a brown paper bag? We learned this method from Alton Brown on the Good Eats episode Ear Apparent. This is pretty much the only way we eat popcorn now at home (or if we bring some, at school). The secret to brown bag popcorn:

Put about 1/4 cup of popcorn in a small paper lunch bag. Fold the top and staple closed. Microwave! Voila!

AB suggests olive oil, kosher salt, and seasoning, but I've found that the olive oil gets the bag greasy and isn't necessary. You can fiddle a bit with the amount of popcorn and microwave time, but as evidenced by the photograph, 1/2 a cup seems to be too much. If you want more flavor, something I have found effective is to spray a bit of olive oil on the popcorn after it's been popped, sprinkle in some kosher salt, and shake up the bag. Less messy all around.

Try the brown bag popcorn. It's better for you, and the texture compared to the other stuff (movie popcorn included) can't be beat.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Things to do (list in progress), in no particular order

I will try to cross off items as they actually occur.

DECLUTTER

  • get rid of leftover blank and non-blank MDs
  • sell broken ipod
  • donate unworn clothing
  • make school article files paperless

CRAFTING AND COOKING

  • try making healthy cereal bars
  • make robot cookies (!)
  • make robot anything.
  • make pie crust from scratch

RELATIONSHIPS

  • host a biweekly potluck or dinner or something
  • visit eunice and pat in NYC

TRAVEL OR OTHER LEISURE

  • ice skate outdoors downtown in LA
  • visit lotusland
  • snorkel in catalina
  • go to the channel islands
  • visit friends in indonesia and malaysia

SKILL DEVELOPMENT

  • learn to program in python
  • learn how to surf
  • design and develop a simple video game

Monday, May 7, 2007

Polar Heart Rate Monitor F11 Women's


I've been thinking about getting a heart rate monitor for a while now. My last one, a Mio Shape Select Petite bit the dust a little over a year ago, within about a month-and-a-half of my purchasing it on Amazon. Disappointingly, replacing the battery and taking the watch apart only fixed it for a day. My calls to customer support were not returned, and the Mio community emails I occasionally receive are like a poke in the eye (I really should remove myself from their list).

The neat thing about the Mio watches are that they do not require a chest strap for use. You apply your index and middle fingers to sensors on the face of the watch. But I decided that a chest strap wouldn't be too much of a hassle and would monitor my heart rate continuously. After some online research I decided to order a Polar Women's F11 from Amazon. I also considered the Nike Imara, but for reasons I've now forgotten, I decided to go with Polar.

Things I like about the Polar F11:
The chest strap is a comfortable fit. It tracks exercise and fitness progress in various manners, so that you can look over what you've done over the last week. You can upload your data to Polar's online training program with just your watch and a microphone. It's compatible with all of the cardio machines I've tried so far at the gym, so that their output indicates my HR without having to hold onto sensors on the handlebars. It gave me a trophy last night for completing my workout goals for the week!

Things I do not like:
If you set it up for OwnZone it wants you to stay within specific heart rate zones, or your exercise timer won't count down. This seems reasonable if I'm going under, but going over should count, no? But you can turn that feature off. Also, it's pretty bulky for regular wear. Oh well.

The last time I got a heart rate monitor, Alex found amusement in the fact that I would only wear a watch if it was a gadget of some sort. I suppose this is true; I haven't worn a watch since some time in high school when I started carrying around a pager (remember those?). I'm regularly surrounded by enough electronic devices that I expect to be able to determine the time if ever I should need. But I do value data, and I wish more of my behavior could be based on data. People talk about the need for evidence-based medicine. I like the idea of evidence-based living. Some examples of people who interest me:
  • Seth Roberts, who practices and preaches self-experimentation, and developed The Shangri La Diet based on some of it
  • Tim Ferris, whose buzz-heavy book, the 4-Hour Workweek, comes out tomorrow; he blogs about his experiments in lifestyle design
  • Gretchen Rubin, who has been testing what works and doesn't as far as increasing her happiness; qualitative data is evidence, too
Anyway, the proof is in the pudding. Hopefully I will continue to improve in cardiovascular fitness and enjoy the process. I did 5.6 treadmill miles yesterday and felt like I could have kept going.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Getting a parking un-ticket in L.A.


Since living in Los Angeles (I'm going on 8 years now), I have definitely gotten my share of parking violations. Between morning street cleaning in Westwood, Palms, USC, and Mar Vista; expired meters at UCLA and USC; one ticket for parking against a red curb (I parked late at night and didn't see); and one ticket for parking on Vermont in Koreatown into rush hour (I didn't think lunch would last that long), I would be a whole lot wealthier were it not for my careless non-driving.

So after leaving campus on Monday last week, as I approached my car from up the street, I was definitely not shocked when I noticed that a small, white envelope had been tucked under my windshield wiper. Usually I know when I may be unlucky because I've been kept late and my parking meter has probably expired, so I started to become confused and angry at L.A. and myself.

I extracted the envelope and examined the paper inside, scanning it in attempt to determine my fault. Imagine the pleasant surprise and relief when I found a reminder from my Figueroa Corridor Community Ambassador informing me that my radio faceplate being visable (sic) might lead to a future car break-in. Various sorts of crimes occur with some frequency in the area immediately surrounding USC. I was regularly reminded of this by the weekly (or more) crime report emails sent to USC until I set up a filter to remove them from my inbox.

What the Figueroa Corridor Partnership is doing to try to prevent car break-ins seems helpful and interesting, although I wonder about how effective it will be in deterring car crimes. Though this completely anecdotal, I am the worst when it comes to protecting my car from break-ins. I regularly go to my car to realize that I have left it unlocked, I have left my window half-way rolled down, my wallet sitting on the passenger seat, or similar things. As far as I know, my car has never been broken into. I have friends whose cars, on the other hand, have been broken into multiple times. Alex's car was broken into (stereo and other things stolen) when he had parked in my apartment complex's gated, locked garage. His stereo was fancier than mine, but his car also looks like a kicked-in aluminum can. My CD player doesn't work, although you wouldn't be able to tell just looking at it.

I'm unlikely to remove my radio face plate as a result of the un-ticket notice, but getting one does make me feel like the area around USC is a little bit friendlier.

Friday, May 4, 2007

My first real sailing capsize

We went sailing yesterday in good wind (16-17 knots) on a UCLA MAC Vanguard 15 and I experienced my first unintended capsism*. It's not the first time I have capsized a boat; you're forced to do it in Sailing I. But there, it's less clumsy and more planned.

We were tacking and I was on the port side of the boat, but I was too slow to get to the other side because my shoe got stuck underneath one of the hiking straps (you purposefully put your feet under them so that you can lean really far out of the boat without falling into the water). And then, in slow motion, the starboard side got higher and higher and I was not on it.

Not long after, I was in the water.

Not only did the boat capsize, but it turtled as well, i.e., went completely upside-mast-down.

It took two attempts for both of us to get the boat upright with us in it. The entire experience was cold, wet, and somewhat windy, and not at all the sort of thing I would want to do on purpose. But it did remind me that Alex is exactly the person I want to have around in a real emergency or other confusing circumstance. Also, we make a good team. I can sink a boat and he can re-sail it.


* I don't think "capsism" is actually a word, but thanks to Google I know that somebody once used it here.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Organic Vegetable Delivery Box by L.O.V.E.


We have been getting organic produce delivered from L.O.V.E. Delivery for a little over a month now, leading me to believe that the arrival of Tuesday's box was our 5th. I became interested in organic vegetable delivery last summer when I lived with a roommate in the Bay Area who used a similar service up there. I became re-interested when we were at intergalactically-themed Nova Express Cafe in West Hollywood for a friend's birthday, and I saw a L.O.V.E. flyer.

Alex and I decided to try it out and have been happy with it so far. We subscribe to the small vegetable box (they say it feeds 2-4) for $28.50 a week. You can customize the box week to week and decide what exactly you'd like to have in it. Our most recent box included:

1 bunch of Beets, Red
1 bunch Broccoli
1 each Cabbage, Green
1 - 1lb. bag of Carrots
1 bag of Carrots, baby peeled
1 bunch Celery
1 each Chard, Green
1 head of Lettuce, Red Leaf
1 -8 oz. bag of Peas, English
1 - 4 ox. bag of Spinach, Baby
1 - 4 oz. bag of Sprouts, Alfalfa
1 - 8 ox. bag String Beans, Green
1 - 1 lb. bag Tomatoes, Roma

We have discussed the fact that getting the box delivered and eating more organic fruits and vegetables hasn't led to major life change or anything, but we like it.

More specifically, we like:
  • The Vegetables: We get a variety of vegetables that are fresh and in season; what they put in the box makes us more likely to try cooking vegetables we haven't tried before. But it's fully customizable, and you can create a list of "Never Sends" (eggplant is on our list) that they will, not surprisingly, never send. It's fun to decide what to put in the box, and has been a collaborative experience for us the past couple of times.
  • The Box: Has helped us to cut down on the amount of packaging our daily lives seem to generate. Each week we put out an empty reusable box and get one back filled with the goods.
  • Delivery: C'mon, everyone likes getting things delivered to them. Flowers are nice, or something you ordered from eBay or Amazon.com. But really, someone could deliver you some poop and it would make you a little bit happy. (My claiming this does not mean I want you to send me some.)
  • The Price: I could get cheaper produce by shopping for it by myself, especially if I buy non-organic. I think after doing some estimates and calculations, I decided that I could buy non-organic equivalents for about $18ish. But I feel like the amount I get is quite reasonable for the quality and price, and I don't mind the delivery.
  • The Price, 2nd: The way things are set up on the web menu, you can replace items in the box with other items from a list of produce items. If you remove something from your box, you can put other things depending on how much room is left in the box. It must be the case that this is tied into the price of the various items, but it isn't transparently. That is, you don't see how much each item costs when you're deciding whether or not to put it in your box. It feels better this way because we can afford to eat good food, it's likely healthier not to make eating decisions based largely on immediate monetary cost, so that's one less thing to worry about.

The best way to try to implement a good habit is to make it as easy as possible to do. We are advantaged by the fact that Alex is vegetarian and I love veggies. Maybe it would be easier if the vegetables came washed, and maybe chopped. Cooked, even. Or if they would just eat 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables-a-day for me. But this is pretty good.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

weather.com looking out for my interests


I was checking the weather again, when my eyes drifted to the sidebar containing "Today in Los Angeles."

Here they often have things that are sort of weather-related. Scanning the list, I saw "Rush Hour Traffic Conditions", "Allergy and Pollen Conditions," and ... what the? "Baby Animal Slideshow." Baby Animal Slideshow?!?! I clicked on it and, sure enough, pictures of baby animals. This is quite awesome, because I am happy to look at pictures of baby animals whenever I'm given the opportunity. Indeed, I often frequent cuteoverload.com.

Links that did not worked claimed that I could show off my pets by submitting photos or video of my pets. I wonder how long it will be until weather.com will soon allow me to show off my lip syncing talent, stand up comedy, or other things that should be left to YouTube. Meanwhile, I am trying to think of other things I would like to see on weather.com.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

weather.com, or note to self: notice the small things that make you happy

I used to leave home in the morning with no idea what the weather would be like outside immediately or for the rest of the day. It must have been years ago, maybe in college. Now I almost always check weather.com in the morning at some point before I leave, or before Alex leaves (if he asks). At one point I added the weather forecast for Los Angeles, CA (90066) to my bookmarks toolbar so that, at any given moment, information about the weather would be a mere click away.

But more recently I found myself checking the weather even if I wasn't planning to go anywhere, i.e., on days that I had intended to work at home all day. Or even multiple times during the day, just to see what outside is (objectively) like.

I think it comforts me that I have instant access to weather information. The information helps me feel calmer, more relaxed, even a bit more happy. Right now it is clear, 50 degrees Farenheit, and it feels like 50 degrees. Better yet, clicking over to the 10-Day allows me to believe that I know what the weather will be like for the next week and a half. On Sunday evening there will be some chance of rain, followed by just a 10 percent chance of rain for the rest of the week.

What else in life can you bet on with any degree of certainty about the next week and a half?

Friday, April 20, 2007

secret package


Sometimes I come home to this scene. Someone has disturbed our welcome mat from its regular flat-to- the-ground -in-front- of-our-door position. It does take me about 3 seconds to go from "What on earth?" to "Oh, we must have a package." Today it is a cartridge full of laser printer toner, having arrived via UPS Ground.

It is raining today, but the second floor balcony makes it such that there's no chance of our doorstep getting wet. Sure, there's a bit of wind, but it's not like the package is going to blow away. They must be using the doormat to decrease the likelihood of parcel theft.

I appreciate the additional effort the delivery person must have gone through to reach down and pull the welcome mat up over the box. But it also makes me wonder ... who do they think they're fooling?