28 January 2008

A weekend too long is never long enough

Well, the Australia Day long weekend has been and gone. Our broadband connection at home was shaped back to dial-up speed for two of those three days, because somebody who will remain anonymous blew the last of our download cap just in time for the end of the week. I certainly take no responsibility for it whatsoever. Much.

I didn't vote in the Triple J Hottest 100 for the first time in years, having spent so little time with the radio on that I couldn't find ten songs that I recognised by name. That said, I have caught up on a few episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Réport from the week, and I've written to a few people who haven't heard from me in far too long. Oh, and I got started on Super Mario Galaxy.

It's come to that time of the year again where I'm looking for things to get rid of. Okay, perhaps this is a reaction to the spending I did after I got my first pay, I don't really feel as though I'm getting rid of old junk to make room for new junk. (Besides, as per last week's entry, I'm hardly having money problems.) Clothes I don't wear, video games I don't play, movies I'll never watch again, and so on: all, hopefully, to be given away or sold over the next couple of months. I'll have more detail here about the items for sale when I put them up on eBay beforehand.

One thing that won't be on eBay is my old laptop. It's a little Toshiba that coming up to its fourth birthday. Everything's been superseded, of course, but everything still works; it served me well for three years, until I got my Mac. I'm thinking I might head to the uni and put some ads up there. In any case, it's worth a bit too much just to ship to some anonymous would-be-scammer.

Lastly, I'm working on a video that is very near to completion. When I was in Canberra in December visiting a friend of mine, I took some video of her cat. I had a go at cutting that footage together for her, and I emailed her a preview. I think she's happy enough with it. I'll put a bit more polish on it, before I put it on YouTube. She'll be even happier when the royalty cheques come in - although they will be in the cat's name.

Back to work tomorrow, bright and early. Well, early, anyway.

21 January 2008


I'm going to talk more about the economy this week, but I'm going to start small.

My own economy has taken an upturn, with a new projection of healthy revenue for the coming months. In other words, my new job pays better than my old one (and much better than being unemployed).

I took some time to crunch the numbers on my first pay, which was coincidentally almost identical to the amount I was being paid when I left my previous job. The difference that briefly caused my eyes to leave their sockets is that this pay slip only covered eight days of the fortnight instead of ten. Ever since then, I've been impatiently awaiting my second pay slip, which will cover a full fortnight and will therefore have far more attractive figures.

The question I have struggled to answer since I started working full-time has always been that of knowing what to do with the money. My family and friends only ever have one suggestion - "give it to me and I'll spend it for you" - and I don't much like it. I can do that frivolously enough myself, as I proved on the weekend. No, I'm thinking moreover of something to do with my money over a longer term.

It needs a project. I need to find it a problem that it can solve.

Put that way, it almost sounds as difficult as it really is.

Money has never brought me happiness. Agreed, it takes the stress out of doing things that I want to do, but ultimately, I've always found spending money to be a crutch, and I've never been satisfied with relying on it. It's not that I'm unhappy, it's just that retail therapy can only take you so far.

For example, I like video games, and I can buy whatever new game comes out that I'd be interested in playing. The problem is that I have plenty of money to buy them but less time now to play them than I have had in the past - and aren't they more fun to play than to buy? A few years ago, as I noticed a steadily increasing backlog of games that I had bought but hadn't played, I realised that this was a waste of time and money. I've been more selective since, and by and large, I've kept the queue to a minimum.

The lesson was that money is merely a means to an end, and when you lose sight of the end, you wonder what it is that you're doing. If you're going to buy something to make you happy, you'd better use it for that purpose, lest it be wasted entirely.

So, what can I do with my money that won't waste it?

It's really a question of passion. I can't justify everything that I do, but I'm never going to be hard on myself for pursuing something about which I am truly passionate, something that opens doors for me. (As a crude example, I spend a lot of time writing these blog entries, but I really enjoy writing and I'm trying to create something that I'm going to enjoy, even if nobody else does.)

One might suggest that I buy a house, or have one built. This is perhaps the next frontier for me. Granted, I'm well short of knowing exactly what I want and not even remotely prepared for such an undertaking, but I'm sure I can learn what is required. (One of the downsides to my fragile combination of idealism and deep thought is that I take forever to make decisions. When it works, I do take immense pride in getting there; when it doesn't, I conveniently blame it on being Libran.) No, it's that I have two much bigger problems with the idea.

Firstly, it's not something I really need at the moment. I've just started a new job, and I'm hardly going to buy a house and land with my first month's salary. The compulsion for me to have my own place stems mainly from the ideas that I have had for the place I'm living now, particularly when it comes to living somewhere energy-efficient. I'm renting now, and I can't really put these ideas, some of which I will admit are a bit experimental, into practice on someone else's property. That said, it would be a hobby, and an expensive and time-consuming one at that. I don't think I'm ready for that right now. I'm already tired most of the time now, while I'm still getting used to the arduous timetable of full-time work again.

Secondly, I have deep concerns about the state of the world economy, and I don't think this is the right time to assume a debt that large. The Dow Jones is down some 15% in the past two months and has shown no signs of recovery. Here in Australia, the stock market has dropped nearly 20% in the past three months and has been on the slide now for 11 consecutive trading days. The pressure is manifesting itself as inflationary, which is likely to mean higher interest rates, bad credit and continued flatlining of real estate prices.

The current plateau in global oil production surely has a lot to do with the credit crisis: the economy is geared for growth, and without growth in our largest energy source, economic growth is getting harder to come by. This is an aspect that worries me. An ideal preparation for peak oil would probably involve me having my haven of permaculture built and harvested before the problems really take hold. As such, a move into real estate at this point could end up as a race between preparing for peak oil and preparing for three decades of debt. Then again, with its low rainfall and summer temperature extremes, perhaps Adelaide isn't really the ideal place for such a suburban utopia.

I'm basically day-to-day on these things. While I am gearing up for a large economic move, and while I think I will make it sooner rather than later, it won't be that large and it won't be into my own place. This is certainly on the cards, but I fear it would be the right move made at the wrong time.

13 January 2008

First week on the job

I've just started a new job with a defence contractor. Pending any more joyous paperwork or induction activities to dismiss, I'll be back in my good old software engineering boots in a matter of a few hours. I didn't sleep well before my first day on Monday, so I was tired for most of the week, but I'm feeling better now.

Actually, I had an interesting experience on Friday, being back at my old genuine-article Defence workplace. Aside a client meeting, I spent most of the time looking around for people I knew from when I worked there. It's not as though I could realistically have stopped to chat much, of course, and lots of people are still on leave, so it's still a bit of a ghost town.

Given that things weren't going so well for me when I left in June, I had wondered how I'd feel about being back there. The first person that I saw that I recognised was a former supervisor of mine, with whom I don't really get along any more. I wasn't sure if he was expecting to see me, or if he would know what so say to me if he did. I didn't really know what I would do either. Perhaps I was listening more intently than usual to my new boss, who was with me at the time, in the hope of avoiding whatever awkward moment might have been.

Fortunately, I had already had a weird premonition of what would happen. When I returned from my Christmas holidays in Townsville, another former supervisor was on the same plane back to Adelaide. I was waiting at the departure gate, and I had the distinct impression that he saw me and that I had seen him. Yet, he kept walking as if he wasn't supposed to be there. I caught another glimpse of him getting his luggage in Adelaide, but by then I was looking for a bus ride home.

It was all a bit strange. I hardly wanted to stop to chat, particularly because I don't really have a lot to say to him. I will, no doubt, see him again one day on the base. That said, I can take some heart from the sheepishness with which he seemed to avoid eye contact with me at Sydney airport. I've long had a theory that he was afraid of me when I worked for him, although this near-conversation hardly put that theory to a conclusive test. In some ways, I can't wait to find out more - I can accept bad news, so long as I understand it - but in other ways, I'm not exactly seeking it out.

It was all just a coincidence... or was it?

Well, yes, it was.

My near miss on Friday with another former boss conjured up similar thoughts. What would I do? What would he do? Nothing, as it turned out: as sure as I am that we both recognised each other from afar, we both got on with our respective business without outwardly acknowledging each other in any way. Another anticlimax, then.

All in all, Friday had the makings of a very bad day. We were waiting on some software that we are having written for us, for which we have been waiting day-to-day for months but which has been delayed again. Things didn't go so well at our client meeting, either, but we have since managed to make some progress. As for me, I'm still in the mode of not knowing what I'm doing from one day to the next, but that won't last much longer.

* * * * * *

I still can't believe that the Adelaide 36ers beat the Sydney Kings last night. After a near-melee between Brad Davidson and BJ Carter, the Sixers came out and flat-out shut the Kings down in the second and third quarters. The Kings don't lose often nowadays - in fact, last night saw them lose for only the third time all season - but I can't even remember the last time they got smashed like that.

Although I don't get anything for click-through, you can read my match report on Ozhoops. I'll have another one to write on Wednesday night, since we have the Perth Wildcats in town for the Fox Sports game.

* * * * * *

The US economy continues to crumble, and the US dollar continues its slide against the other major currencies. The Dow Jones dropped another 246 points on Friday, and has now dropped some 1500 points in the last three months and 1000 points since Christmas. Gold is knocking on the door of US$900/ounce but is starting to be outpaced by silver now.

The "good" news is that oil has dropped below US$93/barrel, so we might not have to deal with A$1.49/L petrol here for much longer. We'll see what happens on Wednesday, when every petrol station in South Australia simultaneously jacks up its prices.

While I could go another week without filling up the car, I would personally rather try getting the bus to work this week. One tiny problem with that is that it would mean waking up at 6:00 and working 8:00 until 16:30. Considering how tired I've been all week, I'm not sure I'm up to the task, at least without more training. We shall see.

07 January 2008

Getting the tired blog clichés out of the way

So I have a blog now. *sigh*

I realise that the cool kids have all left to join social networking sites, but I decided to set up a blog in case I ever had something to say that I thought was important and wanted everyone on the internet to read it. Getting a few more blogger introduction clichés out of the way, I don't know what this blog will predominantly be about, and I don't know how often I'll be posting in it, so don't ask.

On a more constructive note, I will mention a bit about myself. I'm a computer scientist by trade, but I'm rapidly turning into a pundit for politics, environmentalism and economics, due to my interest in peak oil. My more leisurely hobbies include video games, home movies and sport, particularly basketball (although I don't play anything competitively at the moment).

Share and enjoy. :)