Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Still the weight loss king!

Even without trying super hard on the diet this last week, I am now down to 257 - only 4 pounds away from competition goal.

Date Workout Time Calories Burned Weight
1/19/2006 Elliptical 43 1000 260.5
1/20/2006 Elliptical 48 1100
1/21/2006 Elliptical 60 1360
1/22/2006
1/23/2006 Elliptical 42 1025
1/24/2006
1/25/2006 Elliptical 40 1000
1/26/2006
1/27/2006
1/28/2006 Jog 5k + cooldown 30 700
1/28/2006b Elliptical 22 500
1/29/2006
1/30/2006
1/31/2006 Elliptical 47 1100 257

Monday, January 30, 2006

$70,000

$70k
$70,000
Seventy thousand dollars.

No matter how you say it, that's a lot of money.

Why am I thinking about that, you ask? I went to the SMU Cox School of Business MBA information session on Tuesday night. Apparently that is approximately how much it costs to get an MBA from there. Yikes, it's hard to see a great ROI (SMU about halfway down on this page of 26-51 schools ranked by ROI. UC Davis is on the 76-85 page for those interested in comparing) for me on that. However, I am really interested in getting an MBA, since I have become more and more interested in the business side of things, rather than just engineering. An MBA would give me more ability to move around/up within HP, and of course a lot more options should I decide to leave HP and pursue other jobs. Conventional wisdom that I hear from people is that if you can't go to a top school, it's not worth going. I would like to go to a top school, because A) of course I'd be proud of that and B) I enjoy working with those whom I perceive to be the best. But, how much is that ranking worth? And, what does it even mean? SMU literature that I have right in front of me, claims a top 15 national ranking. But when I look online, they aren't usually ranked that high, except maybe specifically for the Professional MBA (where you go while you continue to work), although that is what I would be doing. The University of Texas Austin is also fairly highly ranked, and they actually offer an extension program in Dallas that is every other Friday night and all day Saturday. Its total cost? $74,500 ( $67,500 for tuition and fees, $3500 for books and materials, and $3500 for Friday night hotel, for a total of $74,500.) So, not much help there. The University of Texas Dallas is literally right across a field from my work, and would cost WAY less. In fact that cost should be totally covered by HP. Of course, the school isn't that highly ranked either. I guess I need to spend a little time ruminating on exactly what I want to accomplish with my MBA, which I could do over the next month or two while studying and taking the GMAT, and then make a final call. But right now I just can't see it being worth $70k to me unless I were wanting to change careers.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fighting the man

To make up for my lack of posts recently, I submit my finest moment in complaint writing, my 2002 fight with Roseville Telephone over their DSL disconnect policy. I thought it had been lost forever in my work and home hard drive crashes, but I dredged it up from an online sent items folder where I had sent it to a friend. This might not be quite the final draft, but it is at least 99% there. The older, wiser, and gentler me might now change a few phrases, particularly the one asking them to hire a toddler to teach math, but those often prove to be favorite phrases of readers. Controversy sells.

To whom it may concern:

While my roommate and I had an easy installation of your DSL service and have experienced no subsequent problems with connectivity or speed, I do have one complaint. That is the outrageous contract that we were forced to sign to obtain the service. Specifically, the ludicrous charges for ending the contract early, even if your customer moves to an area not serviced by you, are heinous and border on the criminal. I have no objection to the idea that you should get some fair remuneration from a customer who breaks out of his contract early, in particular to cover the cost of any hardware provided “free” as part of a promotion. However, it is simply ridiculous that in many situations said customer could then actually pay MORE to not have the service than he would to continue having the service. If there is some possible explanation for this complete violation of reason and common sense, please so inform me. Otherwise, please hire a toddler to visit your company and offer a two-week course in simple math.

Let us assume that a customer is 6 months into his 1-year contract, meaning he has 6 months remaining on his contract. Thus, the remaining amount of money he will pay should he continue to receive your DSL service would be 6 * $49.95, or $299.70. However, should he need to end his service, your avaricious company would then charge him $125 + 6 * $39.95 or $364.70 (Point 11, sub-point 5 of your Terms of Service document available online suggests that the values may in actuality be even more scandalous for promotional deals: $300 + 6 *49.95 = $599.70). In other words, it apparently is more of a burden to your company to not provide service than it is to actually provide it. Since most of Roseville probably does not have DSL service, I am forced to wonder if you charge all of them to not give them service? So, regardless of the reason for the cancellation, your company charges an unconscionable disconnect fee. Any reasonable person (apparently none of those make decisions in your DSL department) can see that the fee to disconnect could recompense your company for the equipment obtained as part of the one year offer and perhaps even contain a small additional financial disincentive, without even approaching costing the SAME amount of money as continued service. Words fail me to describe how obscene is the fact that it actually costs MORE to disconnect than to maintain service.

Having established the fact that the AMOUNT you charge to disconnect service is completely divorced from reality and a better number could have been achieved by blindfolded monkeys throwing darts at a dartboard, let us move on to discuss WHEN you apply this preposterous fee. And that is ...without exception. Somehow you have scaled heights of stupidity previously thought unreachable. If a person loses his job and is forced to move to Texas, for example, to obtain another one, would this exempt him from paying your monstrous disconnect fee? Of course not. Why should your company suffer for being a small-time, insignificant monopoly? Clearly the customer should be forced to pay extra for not living in the tiny area you serve! How thoughtless of him!

To sum up, your DSL service has been excellent and I have no wish to discontinue it at this time. However, it seems rather clear that RTC/Surewest abuses its monopolistic position in the Roseville area to browbeat customers into signing ridiculous contracts that would NEVER, EVER be tenable in an area where competition existed in the high bandwidth market. While this policy may temporarily “work” for you, it will assuredly not reap dividends when competition inevitably arrives. Even if your policy changes at that time, the ill will your current foolish actions engender will be difficult to overcome. If I have misunderstood the facts of said policy, and in actuality it is not in direct opposition to right and reason, please contact me immediately so that I can understand correctly. Otherwise, please begin to rectify this situation by immediately reconsidering your repugnant disconnect fee.

I had a mole inside the company who got me addresses, so I sent this to all the corporate vice-presidents. I soon got a call from the head of customer relations. He agreed that it seemed silly that it cost more to disconnect than stay connected, and assured me that "RTC is a family company" and would work to make sure no one got taken advantage of in the scenario I was specifically worried about, if you moved out of their coverage area before your contract was up. Satisfied, we parted ways. They then went on to do a big acquisition and become a corporate monolith who in fact proceeded to screw several of my friends in the exact fashion I had
predicted, including sending a collection agency after a friend who actually worked for them! Nice work. I, however, did have the DSL service for the whole year of the contract and thus avoided becoming ensnared by their evil.

Farewell Peja

Ugh. I have a hard time seeing the Peja-Artest trade as a good one for the Kings. It makes a lot of sense in terms of basketball talent. Peja has been repeatedly hurt - plantar fasciitis, bulging disc, etc. - over the past couple of years, and hasn't been as happy playing for the Kings. He was going to be a free agent after the season finished, and it didn't look good for them retaining him. Artest is a good player and a great defender, something the Kings certainly lack. And his contract is cheap, in NBA terms. Of course, there could be a reason for that, like the fact that Artest is a complete head case. Most commentators on the trade have focused on his petulant behavior about this trade and of course the infamous fight in Detroit. Has everyone forgotten about when he wanted to take time off from basketball to pursue his rap career? This guy has TO Jr. written all over him.

Also, it is just another nail in the coffin of the end of the King's glory days of showdowns with the Lakers (*$*&#*$*$% Robert Horry). First Vlade, then Webber and Jackson, and now Peja. Only Bibby is left. I hope Artest can fit into the smooth passing offense that the Kings once had. Brad Miller still fits the mold, so let's pray Artest finally gets his act together and the Kings have a powerful offense, and maybe even a little defense, once again. Bibby, Abdur-Rahim, Miller, Artest, and Wells looks like a potent lineup, if they can all be healthy at the same time.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

PBG

Date Workout Time Calories Burned Weight
1/13/2006 263
1/14/2006 Elliptical 43 900
1/15/2006
1/16/2006 Elliptical 50 1075
1/17/2006 Elliptical 23 540
1/18/2006 Elliptical 45 1000
1/19/2006 Elliptical 43 1000 260.5


This last week required persevering through a cold and a lot of eating out - I can't turn down free meals from work! Nevertheless, I'm down almost 21 pounds, just 7.5 more to hit my goal for the competition. Like I said, I am still aiming to get all the way down to 240, regardless of the competition, but I would like to sew up the money. Continuing to lose should help make sure I don't balloon up in the remaining time and get robbed of my money! On some of these days I am also lifting weights, so that I don't become a wimp while losing. That's usually the explanation for the 20 minute workout days. I haven't been recording weight-lifting on here, but I am now tracking it in a separate column. Not for any real reason. Anyway, I should be back to higher calorie burns now that I'm finishing off my cold. It's hard to work out too hard-core when you can't breathe through your nose. For those interested in my exercise minutiae (probably nobody), I record elliptical (use arms but don't change incline) vs Precor elliptical (the kind where you can change incline but can't push with your arms) just as a way to track the different amount of calories I burn on them. I'm not sure if I just don't have it figured out, or if the one using your arms just lets you burn more calories, because I cannot burn as many in the same amount of time on the Precor machines as I do on the other one (Lifefitness is the maker of those, I believe).

Being a man

Doesn't every guy like to read on the throne? This was one of the surprises of married life for my wife. Oh well, at least this losing weight is cutting down on my snoring!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Humor in the Amazon jungle

Congrats to Rob from Mill Valley for one of the funniest Amazon reviews I've read in a long time. Excerpted from his review of Bootstrapping Your Business: Start And Grow a Successful Company With Almost No Money:
This is probably the worst edited book I have ever read. Every second page a sentence with a missing verb or something equally important. Then there are the "missing or misplaced quotation marks. Finally, many sentences have a mysterious, comma dropped into them. All this brings reading to a halt as you stop to figure out what the author is trying to say.

Honestly, how much would it have cost to hire a grad student in English Lit to read it over?
I think the real reason that I find this so funny is that as I read the second sentence, I was annoyed by the fact that there wasn't a verb until my mind caught up with the idea that he was illustrating the errors as he listed them.

Monday, January 16, 2006

NFL: Ref Botched Call on Steelers Pickoff - Yahoo! News

NFL: Ref Botched Call on Steelers Pickoff - Yahoo! News

Uhhh...YEAH! How could that have been any MORE obvious? I actually called to congratulate a friend who is a big Steelers fan as soon as the interception was made, knowing that the game was over. Then when they started reviewing it, I can remember saying, "Obviously this challenge will fail. It is blatantly clear that he caught it." He was already miffed about the officiating, so he says something like "Well, they will probably still find some way to screw it up." We both laughed and then hung up before the decision was announced to give the ball back to Indy. Somebody should be fired, as that is probably the worst call since the advent of instant reply that I have seen in the considerable amount of time I devote to watching football. I was actually kind of rooting for the Colts a little before that, since I didn't have much at stake in the game and the situation with Tony Dungy's son was enough for them to get a mild sympathy vote from me. Plus, Dungy has always seemed to be just a complete class act, which was only validated further in that scenario. Nonetheless, after that terrible call, I switched to heavily rooting for the Steelers, since I didn't want the team that had rightfully won the game to be robbed of a victory by horrific officiating. Quite a game, as it wasn't over until the very end with Bettis fumbling to fail to seal the game. Thankfully justice prevailed with Indy's final field goal attempt going wide-right.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Another PBG update

Just since the last one. Weight still slowly going down...

Date Workout Time Calories Burned Weight
1/3/2006 Elliptical 37 850 267
1/4/2006 Elliptical 37 850
1/5/2006
1/6/2006 Precor Elliptical 30 600 265
1/7/2006 Elliptical 95 2150
1/8/2006 rest day
1/9/2006 Elliptical 25 640
1/10/2006
1/11/2006 Precor Elliptical 37 775
1/12/2006 Precor Elliptical 45 850
1/13/2006 263

Tithing

I read a very interesting article in Forbes a year or so ago. I keep e-mailing it around to people, so I thought I might as well just post it here. This concerns tithing, the practice of donating 10% (or more) of your income to charities/the church. I especially like several of the quotes about two-thirds of the way into the article from Greg Gianforte, CEO of RightNow Technologies. The article itself is from Rich Karlgaard, who not only has a regular column in Forbes, but also blogs for them as well.
And now for a topic that chills any conversation: tithing. Yeow! Take a dull subject--only life insurance is as boring--and combine it with cloying guilt. That's tithing. In the red states the face of tithing is often a pompadour on Channel 46 beseeching you to wire $1,000 to his 800 number. The money, he croons, will return to you tenfold, in divine time, perhaps as a shiny new Harley-Davidson. In the blue states the face of tithing is a Natural Resources Defense Council Hollywood-style
shakedown.

On top of that, tithing is ... but wait a minute. Along comes a friend--educated and rational--who is glad to tell you of his experience with tithing. He grew up in a strict church, where failure to cough up 10% of the paper-route money was a ticket to perdition. So of course he turned against tithing and the church. As time passed he moved away, earned degrees in engineering and law from elite colleges, got married,
started a family and even returned to church. Yet though earning a princely salary, he and his wife were astonished to learn they couldn't save a dime of it.

Now in early middle age, my friend hears yet another sermon about tithing. But this one is different. It makes no references to perdition or Harleys. Just a modest promise: Tithing will liberate the tither from financial worry. That's it. You might be 10% poorer, but you'll stop worrying about it. That was the idea, nothing else. The minister earned extra credibility with the congregants that morning by telling them notto give all their money to the church, to spread it around.

That day my friend and his wife pledged to tithe. They started to give away 10% of their income, every paycheck. Almost immediately a mysterious transformation took place. They found they were able to save 10% of their income. At last. They retired their house mortgage ahead of schedule, too.

My friend calls it the 10-10-80 rule. Tithe, save and spend joyously, in that order. As a partner in a professional services firm, he has some control over his income. It has gone up since he began to tithe, though his industry is flat. My friend takes pains to avoid calling this God's bountiful Harley. He will say, however, that absent financial worry he feels more creative and energetic about his work. Clients evidently like his attitude.

"Entrepreneurial Risk Is Less Terrifying"
Another enthusiastic tither is Greg Gianforte, the founder, chairman and CEO of RightNow Technologies. Gianforte started this Web services company in 1997 in the spare bedroom of his Bozeman, Mont. home and has grown it to $40 million in sales. RightNow went public on NASDAQ last year, becoming Montana's first tech startup to do so. Gianforte is quick to say that tithing is a duty of his faith. One must never tithe with expectations of divine reward. But, funny, Gianforte says, now that you mention it, tithing has brought these benefits:

* "The decibel level in my life has gone down. I think that's because every possession speaks to you. Everything you own wants attention. When I began to tithe, I found a freedom from my possessions. I don't hold on to things as tightly anymore."

* "When you loosen your grip on possessions, you become more willing to take a chance. Entrepreneurial risk is less terrifying."

* "Tithing requires discipline, but that discipline begins to show up unexpectedly in other areas of my life. When I began to tithe, I was able to rise earlier in the morning. I am more patient with people."

* "Tithing puts you in touch with people's needs. This is an excellent habit to acquire in business. I guarantee you, if you want to build a company, you have to be in touch with customers' needs."

At this point I recalled a chat I once had with Gianforte while researching my book, Life 2.0. When Gianforte started RightNow, the first thing he did, with no employees and no product to sell, was print up a data sheet and mail it to the heads of customer service at hundreds of large companies. Then he got on the phone and asked his would-be customers what they liked and didn't like about the data sheet. By listening to their needs, Gianforte was cleverly combining R&D and selling--on the cheap.

I bring this up, and Gianforte laughs.

* "When you tithe, you begin to see your role as a steward of resources. You don't engage in wasteful spending. You learn to become a bootstrapper."

Beyond Supply and Demand
What do we learn by hearing the stories of my friend and Greg Gianforte? I'm not sure. I don't think their stories prove the beneficial effects of tithing for the tither. But neither can anyone prove why capitalism works. Economists, trapped in the closed loop of supply and demand, can only make a dismal pseudo-scientific hash of it. Out in the real world people are inspired by ideas. Some are even willing to suffer irrational odds in an effort to turn their ideas into innovations. Most fail, but even the failures add to our knowledge. The pursuit of innovation by entrepreneurs willing to give before they get creates discontinuities that shatter the predictable loop of supply and demand. Entropy and monopoly alike are defeated by innovation. That is how capitalism works. It starts with an irrational act of giving.

Why does tithing work? Nobody knows. Only that it does for many.


Update: Thought a link to the article couldn't hurt either.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Aargh

It's "Hear, hear" when one means to demonstrate emphatic agreement with what someone has just said. NOT "Here, here". How would that make sense? See here for the explanation.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Catching up

Action figures that I picked up at Christmas white elephant gift exchanges, now proudly displayed on my desk. And they talk!


One might have expected me to blog a lot over the holidays, what with me having a fair amount of time off. That didn't happen, chiefly because I got into Age of Empires II again on my home computer (old game for old computer, so it works out), and that took up more time than I should be on the computer. I even gave myself a case of dry eyes from staring too intently at the screen as I built my villages and dominated the world. Anyway, here's a collection of things I've found interesting over the past few months, but never bothered to blog on.

Everyone thinks there's a better keyboard layout than qwerty. This guy attempts to derive the optimal layout via pitting different layouts against each other and seeing which were easiest to use to "type" a bunch of texts in computer simulation. Interesting point on how he had to adjust his algorithm to include the maximum potential for alternating hand typing, which allows the most parallelization of typing.

Is this impressive, or a little disturbing that someone has this much time to spend with Legos? Maybe a little of both, but I guess we all have our hobbies.

And I thought I wouldn't have a theme, but here I have several education-related links:
The NEA (and all labor unions) must now report where they spend money politically. Whether or not you agree with their politics, which I obviously don't, it would still seem to me ludicrous that they mandate dues from members and then spend it on things completely unrelated to education:
If we told you that an organization gave away more than $65 million last year to Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Amnesty International, AIDS Walk Washington and dozens of other such advocacy groups, you'd probably assume we were describing a liberal philanthropy. In fact, those expenditures have all turned up on the financial disclosure report of the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union.
You can use this link to look up the same info on any union: www.union-reports.dol.gov. It's a government site, so don't expect it to be too user-friendly.
Are colleges failing?
Maybe things aren't so bad after all, according to Michael Barone. He says that US kids are vastly behind other countries, his example is Singapore, at the age of 18 but that by age 30 we are basically kicking butt. Many education reformers are constantly pushing for stricter standards, but might that push us too much to teaching to the test, which seems to be why the strict countries lose their dominance after school is over?

Done with education, and on to the world of sports. The Niners' two wins to close out the season vault them all the way up to 30th in the ESPN power rankings, and completely out of drafting Reggie Bush. It also brought them up to having the same 4-12 record as the Raiders, something I take no small amount of pleasure in. Remember the start of the season? Everybody knew the Niners were terrible, but all the talk about Oakland? They brought in Moss and Lamont Jordan and looked like they could be something of a powerhouse. WRONG!

The top five religious trends of 2005. Mostly depressing, even moreso because I think they are exactly correct.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

PBG update

Here's the latest on my weight loss. The rate of pounds dropped slowed considerably, particularly as I wasn't as careful with some of my eating while I was off work, which isn't a huge surprise. You have to enjoy a little bit of holiday food! Nonetheless, I am at 50% of my goal weight loss for the competition (14 of my 28), so I'm doing ok. I actually am aiming to get down to 240, rather than stopping at the 253 that the competition requires for me to make money. I only have weight updates from days I have access to the "official" scale in our company fitness center around 3 PM. I want to keep using the same device for my tracking purposes so I'm not introducing variance there. I know weight can fluctuate a lot depending on the time of day, so that's the reason for the consistency there as well.
Date Workout Time Calories Burned Weight
12/12/2005 281
12/13/2005 Elliptical 40 800
12/14/2005 Elliptical (2) 65 1600
12/15/2005
12/16/2005 Elliptical 20 400
12/17/2005
12/18/2005
12/19/2005 Elliptical 33 750 274.5
12/20/2005 Stair/Ellip 30 600
12/21/2005 Elliptical 35 800
12/22/2005 271
12/23/2005 Elliptical 30 660
12/24/2005 Elliptical 40 850
12/25/2005 Walk 20? 175
12/26/2005 Elliptical 50 1100
12/26/2005b Walk 2.5 mi 45 400
12/27/2005 Elliptical 60 1350
12/28/2005 Elliptical 50 1100
12/29/2005 Elliptical 50 1100
12/30/2005 Elliptical 45 1000
12/31/2005 Elliptical 50 1150
1/1/2006 rest day
1/2/2006 Elliptical 30 700
1/2/2006b Bike 10 150
1/2/2006c Elliptical 20 450
1/3/2006 Elliptical 37 850 267