Sunday, 11 June 2017

Finances, Firearms and Frogs-In-Throats

The word of the week is remonstrate.

June 5 – Cowabunga, Animal!

The Niagara Falls ComiCon was this past weekend, and it looks like it keeps getting better every year. There's nothing like it here in Victoria, special after a few local cons close down for various reasons, which was disappointing.

One of the highlights of any convention for me at least, is the cosplay: getting to dress up like your favorite characters and wander around making other people's day is always a delight.

For that reason, I'm a member of more than a few cosplay / replica prop / costume groups on FBook, which keeps my newsfeed busy with all sorts of cosplay goodness. This weekend, five of my favorite characters of all time got together in one photo this past weekend from one of those feeds:

Creator Wayne van Alstine is on the right with Animal!!! So cool!

One of these days I'll be able to get back to my own cosplay creations, which would be greatly helped by having a semi-dedicated space( 2nd bedroom / office )to work on them in, rather than the table in the living room...

June 6 – Googly

I'm a little freaked out by Google Timeline, but not as much as I thought I'd be.

As a hyper-aware techie-g33k, I know exactly how much information I'm giving Google, and what they're doing with it. The thing about Google is that the more information you let them use, the more useful their products are... and so it goes.

Timeline Maps is one of those things that makes you wonder how much is too much.

Just the other day, I was looking through my Timeline, seeing where I've been, and what I've been up to, all courtesy of my phone, which has been tracking me. It's interesting to pop up a day from a few months ago, and see how little actual distance I've moved from home... much like people of olden times centuries ago, who rarely had occasion to travel more than a few miles from their home their entire lives.

Thing is, Timeline isn't all that easy to use, since it was released in 2015.

I can click on a particular day on my timeline, and see what I was up to... sort of. There's no location history recorded any earlier than January of 2016, so it's useless past that date to see where I was and what I was up to at the time. My photos obviously go back further than that, but they're not tied to Google Maps, and this is an oversight I believe. As photos have geo-locational coordinates embedded as of about five years ago, if they were taken by a smart phone as those devices have GPS locational data enabled.

I think what I'm getting at is that I'd love to be able to look back 10 or 20 years from now and see where I was on a certain date, if only to jog some memories. My girlfriend chides me gently whenever I take a photo 'just to remember things' as she's of the opinion that I should just experience a moment and trust to my gray matter to dredge it up when needed.

But isn't that what tech is for, to save us drudgery?

June 7 – Printer Spies!

What the hell? Did you know that your printer is spying on you?

I had no idea that modern colour printers( laser only, not inkjet )utilize special yellow stenography dots coded into every printout that allow forensic tracing of their output to the exact date and time - whoa!

Apparently, this is part of a clandestine agreement between world governments and printer manufacturers, as noted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and it was used recently to out an NSA leaker in the USA quite effectively.

I'm rather horrified that this secret tracking technology is present in printers that people purchase and use without any knowledge of what the device contains. I think it's reprehensible that this sort of technology is present in any consumer device and the scale of its widespread use is, quite frankly, shocking.

Tiny yellow dots form a pattern to embed data in ALL colour laser printouts!

Considering that this discovery was made just after I completed the entry above about tracking technologies via Google, this is more than a little ironic. With Google, I decide how much privacy to give up, whereas with color laser printouts, there's no decision: the date/timestamp data is encoded with every printout.

Scary stuff folks, and it makes you wonder what else has been embedded in the devices that we use every day without our knowledge...

June 8 – Saving Money

I'm pretty frugal these days; I've had to become so, over the years.

It's interesting to look back at what I've spent, how I've spent it and most importantly: why I've spent the way I have.

Some years, I was making okay money and my monthly expenses were somewhat manageable, so I built up a library of books or DVD's of things I liked. Sometimes I would purchase nostalgic items on eBay, or tech items at the occasional Future Shop sale... and I was a regular there for at least a decade, though in the last few years here in BC I didn't bother as I sharply curtailed my occasional tech-spending habits.

It's all about the budget: how much you make, and how much you spend.

Housing, Transport and Food are the big three expenses

For the last five years, I've known exactly how much money is coming in every month and where it's going - to the dollar. I use my Google Calendar so that I know what bills are due and when, what intermittent expenditures are coming up( rental insurance? Dental bill? )so that I can budget accordingly. I calculate each paycheque's deductions so that I'm not caught short of cash, meaning that I don't use debit when that bank account cash is needed for bills - it's extremely rare that I use a credit card to pay a bill, as that just compounds budget issues.

Overall, I've got a pretty good handle on what I'm making versus what I'm spending. I know that in order to get ahead financially, I need to make more money this year, which is why I'm hoping my business will really take off in the fall.

If you're interested in finding out a bit about your own financial blind spots, the comments section here has a ton of good advice, much of which boils down to 'Keep Track Of Your Spending' and regularly review it, at least once a month.

It's worked well for me, and I'm glad that I've had to become as frugal as I have, so that I'm prepared for when my income rises: that money won't go to waste.

June 9 – Making Money

Am I the jealous type?

I don't mean romantically, but rather financially, and it's a good question. Looking at were am right now( in my mid-40's ) I feel that I should be making at least twice what I am, based on my skills and experience. Yet I'm treading water financially, with no major assets( house, car, etc )to my name that I can leverage to move myself ahead in life... which is understandably a frustrating situation to be in.

This can cause financial resentment, something that I've experienced and had to deal with over the years so as not to affect my relations with my friends.

It's not an easy thing.

Like most people, it's easy to do a comparative with other people's lives and economic standings( perceived, not actual )to gauge one's own spot on the ever-changing scale of success. I realize that for every friend who is married, with the typical house / car / two kids / regular vacation photos, there's often a story that's not being told of debt, sacrifice and hard choices. Since the year 2000, Canadians have added massive amounts to their household debt, so much so that we now leave the world in the ratio of income versus debt:

Wow... a 56 percent increase in 14 years!

Maybe what I should have done years ago is invest in Tesla, whose stock just keeps rising. Using a simple financial calculator, I worked out how much a $10,000 investment in Tesla would be worth as of today, had I invested when their stock went public in 2010:

I'd love to be $100K richer, 7 years from my investment date!

However, seeing as hindsight is 20/20, it's all just a shell game: I'd have had to have been both precedents and extraordinarily frugal to come up with the money seven years ago and had huge cojones to invest it all in a US technology company without any prior investment knowledge.

It's easy for me now to recognize that these 'What If?' Fantasies are merely fuel for my resentment, and to focus on making a better future for myself instead of just playing mind games... which will get me nowhere useful whatsoever.

June 10 – Guns?


As the date gets closer to when I have to travel to the US to pick up my GlowForge, the issue of guns keeps popping up in my brain, especially given the level of... discontent that's currently pervasive in the States this year.

One thing I've always wondered was: how did guns the cons so prolific in the USA?

I know that when crime was on the rise in the 1970s, guns were seen as a quick solution: Shoot The Bad Guy, ala Dirty Harry, which society at the time seem to find perfectly acceptable. Justice at the end of the barrel, in other words.

Digging deeper, I found this video from the New Yorker, which was illuminating in how it exposes the way that the gun industry reinvented itself in order to survive... and in doing so, helped keep Americans killing Americans with guns:

To put things in more about perspective, an article from The Economist neatly breaks down the numbers, which show that things have actually been getting better slowly since 1993, the peak time for gun deaths USA. One of the more interesting bits of data in the article is that the gun industry always profits from uncertain political times, such as when Barrack Obama took the presidency a few years ago: gun sales surged at the hint of any sort of national gun regulation.

Mass shootings are of course part of this conversation, and the stats are sobering:

I don't know. I'll be in the USA for week this August, vacationing with my girlfriend and her family, and picking up my GlowForge on the way home. I do tend to worry needlessly, but I also like to be prepared, so I'll be keeping an eye on the political situation for the next few months to satisfy my worry-needs.

It certainly can't hurt.

June 11 – Hoarsing Around?

I've noticed my voice has changed slightly of late.

Since I'm no longer talking all day long on the phone, to my ears my voice has weakened: it's scratchier and less vibrant, with a little hoarseness to it some days. I can go hours without speaking to anyone at my day job, given my current tasks of a) sorting mail b) opening mail and c) sending out mail  so it's no surprise that my vocal chords are little rusty compared to when they were going all day long - and to be honest I'm glad to give them a rest, as they were getting a little worn the last year.

Neigh, say it isn't so...!

It's a somewhat strange thing to notice, that your voice is change, because your voice never sounds the same when you're speaking as it does when you listen to a recording, due to the effect of bone conduction when you talk.

Given that I'm looking to do some voice work in the future, this is a bit of a concern to me, but I do have a solution:

I'll just talk to myself more often at work!

It's been a pretty good week overall: though admittedly my day job isn't requiring much mental effort, I've come to appreciate it as being like a little vacation every day, leaving me more mental energy for my creative efforts. I've also been walking better, for longer periods of time: having discovered that my work chair wasn't properly supporting my weight, I brought in a cushion from home and that's made all the difference along with getting up every 20 minutes to move around. In my perspective, I'm getting more back towards normal by the week!