My earliest memory of using a computer

Gizmodo asked this weekend about earliest computer memories, and illustrated it with a computer that sported a 3.5″ floppy drive. Young whippersnappers.

My first memory was in 1981 or 1982. Dad went to see one of his coworkers in his home, and brought me along. He had a son a few years older than me, probably about 12 years old, and there in the living room was something I’d never seen before, connected to a television and sitting on a desk. “What’s that?” I asked.

“This is a computer,” he said. Then he inserted a Choplifter cartridge and taught me how to play. Read more

Micro Center’s 18-minute pickup works spectacularly

It was like ordering Chinese takeout.

I wrote yesterday about how I needed a motherboard to try to solve my ongoing webserver issue. I don’t live or work anywhere near Micro Center. The computer store near my house closed, and I don’t like the one near my workplace anymore since they jerked my friend around. Frequently I order computer equipment online, but Micro Center’s pricing is really good right now, so I asked my wife if she would mind trying a pickup order.

It worked. Splendidly.

I went to the web site, created an account, then added the items I wanted to my cart. I’ve known for a couple of days that I wanted an Asus P5G41T-M LX motherboard, a Pentium E5700 CPU (two cores of 3 GHz goodness for 65 watts and 50 bux0rZ), and 8 GB of Kingston DDR3. I also added a 32 GB SDHC memory card for my wife’s new camera, to make the trip worth her while. I added my wife as an authorized pickup person and created a PIN for her.

Seven minutes later, I received an e-mail message saying my order was ready.

She went to the store, walked right up to a sign at the front of the store that read Internet Pickup, handed them her driver’s license, told them her PIN, and they grabbed a pile of stuff with my name on it, put it in a bag, and handed it to her.

And I know now that you can place your order and pick it up any time within three calendar days.

I already have a 40 GB SSD and a Corsair power supply I’ve been saving for the project. Now I just need to find an ATX case to gut, put my pieces together, install Linux, and I’ll have a new web server.

Barfy.

I started my professional career doing network administration at the University of Missouri. (I generally don’t count my stint selling low-quality PCs at the last surviving national consumer electronics chain towards my professional experience anymore.)

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Use your coupons!

So on Friday, I went to the local Walgreen Drug (no, I won’t misuse an apostrophe) to buy Zicam to ward off a cold. I spent $20, and they gave me a $2 coupon. I went again today, spent another $20 on similar products, and got another $2 coupon. And yesterday, Target sent us a coupon for $10 off a $100 purchase.

It seems stores are trying to lure us in. If you’re smart, that means savings.In the case of Walgreen Drug, we’ll use the coupons on non-FSA stuff. The chain isn’t exactly known for low prices on consumer staples, but if you can get $2 off with few strings attached, then it’s worth it. Especially if you have to go there anyway because it’s cold season.

In the case of Target, we made ourselves a list of things we needed and stuck to it. We bought two cans of formula instead of one (we’ll use it), and stuff like furnace filters that we’ll use eventually anyway, and tracked it as we went along. It wasn’t long at all before we had $110 worth in the cart–a bit more than we needed, but that’s OK. Everything we bought was either on sale, or cheaper at Target than wherever else we’d buy it.

We got a coupon from either Petco or Petsmart this week too. So we’ll use that to go stock up on dog food–once again, something we’re going to need eventually anyway, so there’s no harm in buying three bags if that’s what’s necessary to get the coupon to kick in.

So we saved ourselves some money at Target. And we’ll save a little at two other stores too in the near future.

It’s not a lot, but every dime counts. Especially in this economy. So if the stores near you are sending you coupons (or printing them for you at the register), use them. Be smart about it, but use them.

How to make more money, but more importantly, keep more of what you earn

Most GenXers don’t spend their money wisely.

That’s not an insult on my peers; there’s plenty of blame to go around. Yes, we want what our parents had at 50 and we want it at 25, but part of the problem is the images all around us tell us we have to have all that. And if my education is any indication, the only financial education I received in school was an aside in a U.S. History class.

Let’s talk about how to earn more to dig out of financial ruin, and how to stay out.First and foremost, usually when people get to the point where they start typing “earn more money now” or something similar into Google, usually they need immediate help. A year ago, I was in that situation. Talking it over with the higher-ups didn’t help–a few months later I lost my job. Ouch.

I’d be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t bitter. I still am. But in a way it was the best thing that could have happened to me, because it forced me to look for opportunities. I already had been, but it forced me to find others that I probably wouldn’t have, otherwise.

There are a few ways to make a little money but it won’t necessarily happen immediately. If you have a web site, put Google ads on it. Click my link to find out how. Whether you get your first check in a month or in a year depends on how much traffic you get. A faster way to make a little money is to sign up for some online surveys. You won’t get rich, but a dollar here and five bucks there adds up. Sometimes you’ll hit the jackpot and qualify for a $25 survey. That won’t pay the mortgage but it will pay for a few meals.

Here’s another idea: Become a mystery shopper. Google for it. But don’t pay anyone to become a mystery shopper, not when there are legitimate outfits who are willing to pay you. Just keep in mind some of them want references. That’s actually a good thing. It protects your reputation and theirs. Again, it’s not big money, but it’s fairly easy money.

But I’ll be blunt: If you’re in some real trouble and there’s a bill that’s due in two weeks and you can’t pay it, then it’s time to make some sacrifices. Do you have any recent video games? Any collectible CDs or DVDs or VHS tapes? Collectible toys, such as Star Wars figures? There are lots of places that are willing to buy things like that, but to get top dollar you have to sell it yourself. Search eBay, find out what your items or something similar are selling for, and think seriously about liquidating some stuff. Don’t sell your family heirlooms, but if there are things that you can sell now to get you out of trouble and replace later when you’re out of trouble, consider it. While collectibles do increase in value, I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: Most of them are doing well to keep up with inflation. None will increase as quickly as your debt–not for a sustained period of time, at least. If you have something that is, sell now. The bubble will burst, and you’ll be able to buy it back cheaper later.

And something sobering will happen as you research what some of the things you own are worth. You’ll find a lot of them aren’t worth anywhere near what you paid for them. There’s a lesson there. It’s much better to spend your money on things that hold their value than on things that have bling factor but have no value once the 14-day return period is over.

So when you have money again, spend less on worthless things so you have more to spend on things that do hold their value. A big truck turns heads and lets you bully people on the road (and the ads to some degree encourage it) but can you really afford $40 a week to keep gas in it? Do you have to haul stuff often enough to justify that expense? For the majority of people, it’s much better to drive an economy car and put the money you save on the lower payment and less gas towards paying off debt. Borrow or rent a truck those occasional times when you need to haul something. So skip the Hummer and get a house. You need a house anyway, and while a Hummer will lose value when you go to sell it, a house usually will gain.

Let’s go back to the eBay thing for a minute. Ebay does a lot of good things. Once you’ve sold your stuff, you have the option to go buy more stuff to sell. Buy what you know and only what you know, and only if you can buy low and sell high. If you can’t either double your money or make $10, don’t bother. It’s best to find something that lets you do both. But if you have the ability to do that, you have an asset that stands a chance of turning your financial situation around within a few years.

But it also does something else. It teaches you how to sell. There is no better, more useful ability than how to sell. Not everyone sells merchandise for dollars, but everyone has to sell ideas. If you regularly find that people don’t listen to you, then that’s a good indication that you need more salesmanship ability. Yeah, but those people are idiots, you say. Even better. There are more idiots out there than smart people. Most rich people got rich by getting idiots to buy their junk.

I remember reading a line in a book once that asked me if I could make a better hamburger than McDonald’s. Of course I can. So why did Ray Kroc have more money than me?

By the way, I don’t mean any insult by any of this if people don’t listen to you. There are a lot of people who don’t listen to me either. I need to work on my sales skills as much as anyone.

I did something else before I started selling my stuff. I took a walk. I walked at least once a day. But I didn’t just walk. I was picking up aluminum cans. At 40 cents a pound, an aluminum can is worth about a penny. There’s no way I can pick up 100 cans in an hour, so it’s a lousy way to make money. But nobody else was paying me to do anything else during that time. I made sure I didn’t walk during working hours so I wouldn’t be out if the phone rang with a job opportunity. At least I felt like I was doing a little something. It was very little, but it kept my mind off things so I didn’t get as depressed. It also helped me watch for opportunity. Those cans aren’t worth anything, but the ability to quickly spot things of value from far off is worth something. It made a few house payments when I didn’t have a 40-hour-a-week job.

That’s enough talk about making money. I’ll admit that they’re just general ideas. I can’t give specific advice because something that works where I live might not work 100 miles away. Something else works there. The nice thing about the United States is that there always is an opportunity, no matter where you are. Although politicians seem to be trying their best to destroy that, they can’t destroy opportunities as quickly as you can find them.

I read a study this past week that said 70% of college graduates today can’t balance a checkbook, and when presented with a 20-ounce jar of spaghetti sauce for $1.99 and a 32-ounce jar for $2.49, they don’t know how to figure out which one is the better deal. That should scare some people.

But it occurred to me that I didn’t learn how to do that in school. I learned it from my mother. And I think she learned it from her mother, who must have known it because she managed to raise 11 kids and her husband didn’t have any money.

They don’t teach that kind of thing in school. To me, that’s the only thing math is good for. But I don’t know how old I was when I realized math was useful for that. Before that I thought math was just something teachers used to prove they knew something I didn’t.

There are lots of books out there that try to teach you how to make more money. But a more valuable skill is learning how to spot the good deal. Learn how to calculate the cost per ounce and use it. Carry a calculator with you if that’s what you have to do. There’s no shame in that. A calculator is also a useful tool for keeping a running total of the cost of the stuff in your cart. So it might be a good idea to carry two calculators. They’ll pay for themselves the first time you use them.

And if you have any influence with math teachers, please hand them this word problem. It’s the only good use of math I can think of for a non-engineer:

A television costs $199 at a store two miles from you. The sales tax rate in your town is 5.75%. The same television costs $179 at a store 100 miles away. The sales tax rate in that town is 6%. Your car gets 25 miles to the gallon. Gasoline costs $2.00 a gallon. Is it cheaper to buy the television at the store two miles away, or is it cheaper to buy it 100 miles away?

I’ll conclude with the secret of getting rich. The secret isn’t to make lots of money. It’s human nature to spend more money as soon as you make more money. The secret is to spend less.

I remember when the first of my college classmates bought a house. He told me that at the end of the paper, it told him how much money the loan was for, and how much money he would pay between then and the end of the term. “Am I really going to make that much money?” he asked. Then he laughed it off.

He will. So will I. So will everyone. Most people living in the United States will make a lot more than a million dollars between their first job and retirement. The question is whether Nike and General Motors and Phillip Morris and Coca-Cola get to keep most of it, or whether the wage-earner gets to keep most of it.

I really don’t like the tone of this rant–and it basically is a rant–because it sounds like someone who made it looking back. I’ve only started the journey myself. I started 14 months ago. But my wife and I already have something to show for it. We have no credit card debt, we own two 2002 Honda Civics outright, and if we can keep up our current pace, we will own our house outright in a little over three years. Five years is probably more realistic.

Remember, around 12 months ago there wasn’t enough money to pay the bills. So if I can do it, lots of people can.

A reminder about the most obvious money saver

A reminder about the most obvious money saver

I haven’t written about being a tightwad in a while. Not to worry, I’m still a big cheapskate–every dollar I save has a cascading effect. Remember, paying just an extra $10 a month on your mortgage is enough to shave a full month off the back end. So let’s talk about coupons.

The first thing about coupons is to resist the temptation to have to use them. Sometimes a generic still costs less than a name brand with a coupon. If that’s the case, put the coupon away and buy the generic. And if the coupon is for something you’d never buy anyway, resist the temptation to buy it just because you can get it for a quarter less.

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Pretty Boy rides again (unfortunately)

I was at the grocery store on Sunday with my girlfriend, Amanda, stocking up on whatever was on sale. Since I’ve got a pantry now, I’m gonna use it. As we went through the store, we passed a petite girl, around 5’4″, with sandy blonde hair.
Then her boyfriend and her (maybe their) daughter appeared. He was about six feet, with short, cropped dark hair. It was longer on top and it was teased out at the edges. It was styled more than most guys bother with, and he didn’t look all that happy to be there or all that happy to be with her. He had lots of words written all over him: Cocky. Pretty Boy. Arrogant. Jerk.

She and I made eye contact, briefly. There was an intense sense of curiosity and at least a hint of longing in her eyes, as if she was wondering if I was like her guy. If all guys are like her guy.

I didn’t think much of it until we went to the checkout line. The trio came around just after we did. She went into the checkout lane next to the one we were in. Pretty Boy got into the checkout lane behind us. After I paid, I walked down to the end to start bagging, and Amanda stayed behind in the lane, feeding the remaining groceries down the conveyer belt to me. As she fed the last couple of items down to me, Pretty Boy rammed his cart into her back. “Excuse me,” he said, very loudly and impatiently. She scurried out of his way.

I bagged the last couple of items as Amanda walked around beside me. I swung the cart around towards the exit, pushed it a few inches, then turned around to Pretty Boy. “Next time, why don’t you say ‘Excuse me,’ before you mow her down with the cart?” I asked.

“Oh, shut up,” Pretty Boy said angrily.

Ah, so I’d come upon the center of the universe and I was in the wrong for not acknowledging that. In his mind. (The rest of us don’t live in that world, fortunately.)

I looked Pretty Boy straight in the eye. “Thanks for being a [one-syllable word that begins with “p” and rhymes with “kick”],” I said.

The cashier looked our direction. Pretty Boy looked around, then looked abck at me and mouthed a three-letter word that starts with “F” that’s derogatory to homosexual males.

Noting that he wasn’t worth any more expenditure of oxygen, I turned around and walked away.

Why Pretty Boy chose to question my sexuality with my girlfriend (who holds her own in the looks department too) standing right there, I’m not sure. I asked her about that after we got in the car. The best I could think of was that maybe he didn’t know what the word means. After all, “homosexual” is a complex idea and the word is three syllables more than the longest word he uttered in our presence, and the longest sentence he uttered was all of three words, including “Oh,” which is a common filler word thrown in to sentences to buy time as your brain searches for the right words to say. So Pretty Boy didn’t exactly bowl me over with his speaking ability or intelligence.

I also noted that my one friend who does happen to be homosexual is 6’2″ and wouldn’t have had any trouble whatsoever knocking Pretty Boy down on his cocky, arrogant butt and mopping the floor with it. And he probably wouldn’t have hesitated to do it either.

That’s overreacting. Calling attention to his behavior and letting his true colors shine through for all around to see ought to be pennance enough for what he did. She said he didn’t hurt her.

But if Pretty Boy’s behavior is indicative of how he treats women, I can’t help but think that if someone does overreact next time and sprawls Pretty Boy across the floor, the world will be a better place for it.

At least for the moment before he stands back up.

Day Three after everything changed

On Day One, I reverted into news junkie mode. What I read, of course, sickened me. I undoubtedly have a few former classmates in New York, but no one I’ve seen or talked to in the last five years. Still, it wasn’t much consolation. They’re still my people.
When my dad died, I lost myself in whatever I could find around me. These days, when I miss my dad, I lose myself in work. I took a look around me, realized there was a lot of work that needed to be done, and did my best to lose myself in it. I didn’t get much done, and it wasn’t all my best work, but it was something.

I got home and realized it was the last place I wanted to be. I went to church.

When I got home, my mom had called. It was late, but I called her.

On Day Two, I got more information and more work done. It wasn’t a normal day, but I don’t feel the least bit guilty about the day’s productivity. Yeah, the world’s reaction to the previous day’s events made me weepy, and I talked to a friend from church who said he was ready to find out where to go sign up to kick some butt and I agreed with him.

I got home and realized it was the last place I wanted to be. I went to church.

Day Three was similar. People were smiling more–the previous couple of days made me wonder if I actually worked at a funeral home–and there was a lot to do. At the end of the day, there was more. So I stayed late and got stuff done.

I stopped at the grocery store on the way home. I was thinking about going to church, and I knew my chances of making it on time were slim if I stopped. I stopped anyway, and I didn’t just grab a few things. I stocked up.

The checker asked how I was. I told her I was good and asked how she was. She said she was good. She called her son yesterday. He lives in New York. He had no reason to be anywhere near the disaster, but she had to be sure. She asked if I’d heard about the five firefighters rescued in an SUV. I told her I had. She said she just had to hear some good news from New York. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the latest on that, that the report had been mistaken. So I asked her if she’d heard about the guy who was on the 82nd floor when one of the buildings collapsed and survived. Her eyes widened. I said that guy must have been surrounded by a whole legion of angels. No doubt, she said. I swiped my debit card and started bagging my groceries. I told her his only injuries were two broken legs. She smiled and started checking out the lady behind me.

As I loaded my groceries into my cart, the cashier turned back my direction.

“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you so much.”

And at that moment, I felt a whole lot better about being a human being.

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