Thinking about life goals

I love my life. My friends, my family… The work I do every day as a computer programmer that actually gives my life a sense of fulfillment and meaning. But I’m at a point now where I often find myself thinking in-depth about the life I’ve made for myself… asking, “What’s next?”. Projects get completed at work, paychecks come in… Personal debt goes down, balance in the retirement account goes up. When you’re a kid, you’re conditioned to think about what you want to do when you “grow up”. For me that meant figuring out what I wanted to do for my professional working life… but I don’t think I ever really put any thought into what I wanted to do with myself after I grew up.

When you’re young, you have the luxury of pursuing any dreams you have and honestly just doing whatever you want. You’re like an artist with a chisel in front of a solid block of marble; you can make any kind of statue you’d like. You’ll try things… they might not turn out the way you want, but you can learn from your experiences and either get better or give up and try something else. I’m not calling myself old by any means, but each year that goes by I’ve definitely gotten wiser and at the same time more ingrained in the life I’ve created for myself as things start to take shape. Sticking with that marble statue analogy, you can keep carving pieces off as you work on this masterpiece of yours and eventually, after years of doing this, you get to a point where you’ve got a pretty solid idea of what you’re working on and you have an opportunity to pause and think about how you’d like to finish the project.

It would be pretty easy at any given point to just say, “Fuck it”, and keep living life day to day, just seeing how things play out. But I personally think life is just way too short to do that. I’ve gotten this far and dammit, I want to have the best possible time on this planet that I can before I’m gone.

Using this time to reflect, I’m realizing that you’re evolving with each decision you make and the experiences you have are like chipped off pieces in this statue you’re carving. Each goal you had in life adjusts itself as time goes by, getting a higher or lower priority. This crossroads is a point where you can look at all the goals you’ve came up with for your life…the priority you’ve associated with them… and then pick the ones you’re going to do, knowing very well that there are things that you’re going to die never having accomplished.

For example, I’m thinking about how much I used to enjoy learning about other cultures and wanting to travel the world. I studied Japanese for about two years, Arabic and Hebrew for about a year each and I’ve always been somewhat decent at Spanish. As far as traveling, I’ve been to many of the states here in America (including Hawaii and Alaska) but internationally, I’ve only ever been to Mexico and Canada. But now I’m realizing that I’ll probably never see the world and I’m perfectly OK with that. And becoming proficient in any language other than Spanish? Not to sell myself short, but I really don’t think that’s happening. Which is hard to accept, thinking about the adventure of going to Europe and backpacking… or visiting Egypt to see the pyramids, or castles, gardens and pagodas in Japan. But at this point in my life, as much as I’d love to speak several languages fluently and be this amazing world traveler, there are ultimately other things I’d rather be doing which shove this dream further and further down the “bucket list”.

I guess the overall theme I’m writing about here is focusing. When you start to realize what your favorite things in life are, what you love doing… it’s really hard to justify doing something else. There’s just not enough time, which really sucks. But I’d rather spend a lot of time doing the things I’ve loved than to spent a little time doing a whole bunch of things that I think are just “OK”. So after all this deep thought and reflection, what are some of those goals?

Making a difference in people’s lives
Through my job I’m getting a chance to work on great products that can make a difference in people’s lives. And although it’s hard to measure, I’d like to think I’ve personally made a big impact on coworkers at every job I’ve been at. I don’t think there are many people that forget me, that’s for sure. Whether it’s kicking ass at the project I’m working on, mentoring someone, jumping in to help fire-fight issues that come up, or just trying to keep team morale high and facilitate good communication, I want to make a difference. Outside of work too, helping people work through issues and making a positive difference in their life.

Paying off all of my debt
This is a huge one and it’s not exactly fun either. In fact, it sucks. I think anybody would rather be taking a trip overseas or buying a sports car. But the reality is, all I have left that I owe are my wife’s student loans and the mortgage on my house. After those are paid, I don’t owe anybody a penny. And that’s huge in my opinion.

Being in better shape and being there for my son
I’m not morbidly obese but I’m not skinny. And body size aside, I’m in embarrassingly bad shape, cardio-wise. If you know me, you’ll know how I have a hard time staying away from sweets and diet soda, things that are just rotting my body away. Those things do help push me through crunch times, but I’ve got a son now and I want to be able to do an activity without falling over and having a heart attack. It would be awfully hard to be a good dad sitting on the couch.

Living in Hawaii
I’ve only vacationed in Hawaii twice but I’ve spent almost a month and a half there total. I’ve been to Oahu, Maui, Lanai, and the big island. And later this year I’ll be going back there for my brother’s wedding, this time in Kauai. I love the beaches, the parks, and the weather. It’s really easy to idolize a place like this and think going there will “make my life complete”; but I’d honestly like to see if I could get bored of a place like this. That sounds like a great challenge to me.

2013: A year of releases

The past few months have been life changing in a lot of ways.

In my free time over the past 2 years, a group of friends and I formed a company and have been working hard to finish creating a game that some of us had originally started in 2002. We made great progress, this time targeting the Xbox 360… and then I found out my wife Margarita and were expecting our first baby. It quickly became a race to finish the game before the baby was due in September.

Morgopolis Studios
The friendly staff of Morgopolis Studios, creators of Magicians & Looters

We put in a lot of hard work and finished our game, Magicians & Looters, in August… our first live sales day in the Xbox Live Indie Games store was actually August 23rd. Finishing this game was a huge personal accomplishment for me. Before moving to Arizona, I had never been able to talk about programming or game design with anyone before, at least face-to-face. The closest experience I had was with a great friend of mine, Bill, who I met on AOL in 1993, back when I was a HyperCard developer. We’d talk for hours long distance on the phone about code; nobody I knew in “real life” was very interested in programming. I moved to Arizona in 2001 to attend a school called UAT and this introduced me to a lot of great people that DID like writing code, many that I still talk with regularly. Two of those people are Dan and Justin. The three of us (along with a fourth member, Brad) were members of the game development club, we came up with a “simple” game project that we could all work on and (hopefully) finish. We worked on the game for a good 2 years before calling it quits. It’s not that we didn’t want to finish the game, it’s just that we needed to go out there and get jobs after graduating.

Working on MAL back in 2002
Working on Magicians & Looters back in 2002 at UAT

I jumped into the business world, getting much better at what I do over the years and writing lots of great code along the way… but Magicians & Looters would pop into my head every so-often. Justin put an amazing amount of work into the art and story of the game and I always felt ashamed that we never really got to put it in front of anybody, other than our friends back in the university days. So when we FINALLY finished the game, released it, and started getting feedback… wow, it was an amazing time for me. Good or bad, I was delighted to just see people talking about our game. Luckily, it was fairly well received, which made that feeling even more warm and fuzzy.



Not quite one month after getting our game out there, my wife Margarita and I had our first kid, a healthy baby boy named Michael. We were at the hospital for a week solid; before that time, I don’t think the reality of being a dad had really “hit me” yet. It was (and is) a really cool experience. The baby was delivered via C-section because of some complications and I got to be there with her for all of it. Me being nervous of course, I tell the doctors before they take the baby out, “Hey guys, if that baby is black, I’m leaving” and got a few laughs… and the next thing you know, I’m holding a baby. I cut the umbilical cord and basically spent every moment for the next few days with Margarita and our new baby, trying to figure out the whole dad thing. As of right now, Mikey just hit 3 months and he’s doing great; I’m really enjoying being a dad.

Clifton men
Clifton men just snoozing; the pack leader,the new baby, and the pooch

During the whole pregnancy and also the development cycle with Magicians & Looters, work at my actual job had been extremely busy. I work in the hosting department of GoDaddy and am part of the development team which works on Plesk Hosting, Windows Server 2012 hosting using the Parallels Plesk control panel. This is a new product we created from the ground up in a matter of months and I was thrilled to be a part of this. All of our development lead up to October, when we planned to launch and start selling the product to customers. A ton of hard work went into this product by everybody on our team. 3 days after Michael was born, I was back at work, writing code and working on tasks. We hit our goal and released in October and we’ve been improving the product ever since.

Plesk Hosting
The product I worked on, Plesk Hosting

So in retrospect, 2013 was a great year… a life changing one. I’m extremely proud of all three of my accomplishments: Releasing a video game, having a baby, and releasing a new hosting product.

Thoughts about Yahoo!

Yahoo! has been in the news a lot lately. They were the first search engine and website that I used regularly in the mid 1990s and they seemed to have a fairly strong presence until the early 2000s. I was a happy Yahoo! mail user at a time when getting 250 megs of webmail for free was almost unheard of. And although their site was cluttered, I visited it daily and even used their IM service. In 2004, Google launched the beta for Gmail, offering a gig of space to users… four times what I had… all while offering a nice, simple, and clean interface. That’s when my journey with Yahoo! ended.

In the 9 years that have passed, Yahoo! has kept afloat but I honestly have no idea what they even do anymore. As a programmer, I’ve always been tuned into their web development tools and resources like YSlow, YUI compressor, and their Best practices for speeding up your web site guide. They’ve compiled a ton of valuable information and made it available for free, similar to how Google has put together amazing resources for optimizing your site’s SEO (Search Engine Optimization). While this is great, at the end of the day they’re a public company and are supposed to be returning value to the investors. I know that Yahoo! threw in the towel a few years ago on search and now powers that using Bing (which is a great search engine by the way). They also own Flickr (a photo sharing website) and they seem to be pretty involved in content. I enjoy writing and was pleasantly surprised when I found out about their contributor program. But as an outsider, I don’t really see a huge cash cow.

Google might do Android, Gmail and search, but their bread and butter is advertising… making as much as 97% of their income from ads. Intel has proven itself year after year to be an extremely successful semiconductor company, beating down AMD and now working towards recapturing the mobile market. Microsoft has been such a successful software company that the Department of Justice and other regulators world wide have had to step in and shut them down. Apple (Computers) has raised themselves from the dead after Microsoft bailed them out and have turned themselves into the dollar bill printing machine of the hardware world, setting a record for highest market cap for a publicly traded company. People seriously throw away their perfectly good iPhone and re-buy the new one because they love the brand that much.

Where does Yahoo! fit into this picture technology-wise? Unlike the companies above, there hasn’t seemed to be a clear area of focus. It’s almost felt to me like they’ve been trying to do an acceptable job at a ton of things instead of doing a killer job at a select few. With the recent news about Yahoo! partnering with Twitter and (just today) acquiring Tumblr, it’s starting to look like they’re really focusing in on content (and the advertising that goes along with that). Users out there are generating massive amounts of content and sharing it online. Google and other advertising companies have been struggling to find a way to be successful at advertising on mobile devices. Yahoo! is definitely an underdog, but I think they have a real shot at coming back here. I think Marissa Mayer has made a great impact in her short time there and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out

Benz on a budget

Owning a Mercedes can be an expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. My goal with this post is to provide you with resources so that you can (hopefully) save yourself some cash. You don’t have to be rich to own a Benz.

Going to the dealership is always a great experience for me, but it can end up being really expensive. I’d recommend finding yourself a local trustworthy independent mechanic. If you’re not sure where to go, check with your local MBCA (Mercedes-Benz Club of America) section. If you’re in the Phoenix Arizona area, I’d like to recommend MB Motors in Phoenix.

I have my independent mechanic do jobs I don’t have the time, talent, or tools for. But I will try to do as much as I possibly can by myself. One of the most important parts of DIY is finding the parts. I only use and recommend genuine Mercedes-Benz parts. Sometimes buying parts at your local dealer can be expensive, so it’s good to shop around. Here’s an alternative you can use to that.

First, you should sign up for an account with EPC. It’s free:
http://epc.startekinfo.com/epc/welcome.jsp

Click on subscribe in the left menu. Read the agreement if you want, and click “I Agree”. EPC is free for North American cars. You’ll see the 365 day subscription for FREE. Put all your information in there, including the credit card. It won’t charge you anything, but they require a card for some reason. After you put everything in, click “Continue” at the bottom and be patient. It took me a few minutes to get a response. It seriously took about 5 minutes. But it did work. There’s a confirmation screen where you confirm the order (even though it’s free). Once you confirm it, you’ll get an email which has your new user ID.

To login to EPC, you’ll need to be on Microsoft Windows and you’ll also need to have Java installed. You can get the latest Java runtime (JRE) from here:
http://java.com/en/download/index.jsp

So now you have Java installed, go ahead and log into EPC. When you do, you’ll see a link that says “Click here to launch EPCnet Online”. Go ahead and click that and then the Java program will launch. When I launched it for the first time, it was in German. If you have that problem too, use the menu and pick “Optionen -> Setup”. For Dialogsprache and Inhaltssprache, change them to Englisch and click OK.

Now you’re logged in and the program is open, drop your VIN into the field up there by Identification number. You can now search and get full diagrams for every single part on your car. Since you entered a VIN, the software should eliminate parts that aren’t compatible. Here’s an example search I did. The LEDs in my drivers side mirror are busted, so I picked the group “72 FRONT DOORS”, the subgroup “331 LEFT OUTSIDE REARVIEW MIRROR”. An exploded diagram now opens up and I can see the parts. For my particular part, the number is A 220 820 05 21.

Now that you have the part number, you can search for parts. My personal favorite is parts.com
http://www.parts.com/

On here, pick Mercedes on the left, then pick your year, then pick your model. You might have to pick the trim level if there are several types of your car (like my S430 is also offered in a 4MATIC version, so I have to pick the base model).

In the textbox there that says “Part # / Keyword Search” you can drop the part number in place. If the part number starts with an A, try stripping off that character. I’m not 100% positive, but I think Parts.com has it’s Mercedes orders fulfilled by Mercedes-Benz of Naperville. They’ve always given me great prices and the shipping has been pretty reasonable too.

If you’re weary about ordering from the internet, you can also take the part number you found in EPC and call up your local dealer. Their parts department will be able to order the part if it’s still in stock. However, parts.com can usually beat their prices by quite a bit. If you’re ok with waiting about a week, I’d highly recommend ordering online. If you do order parts from the dealer, please be aware that they give up to a 10% discount if you are an MBCA member. Show them your membership card and take advantage of the savings. This discount usually applies too for repairs at the dealer.

When it comes to doing the actual jobs (replacing the part, etc), there is a great resource online. These used to be distributed as Service Manual DVDs, but they’re all online in a system called Star TEKInfo.
http://www.startekinfo.com/StarTek/

You can subscribe to this by the day, week, month, and year. Unlike EPC, this service does cost money. However, this service is seriously worth every penny. Compare it to when you go to a dealer; they use this exact system themselves but they charge you a shop fee of $125 dollars an hour. For that kind of money, you can just buy a week subscription and try to figure it out yourself

Windows Phone

Not long after I wrote my last article about Tablet Computing, a really good Black Friday deal came up at the Microsoft Store. I headed over there and got two HTC Radar phones for free, both loaded with the Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) software. I had to cancel Verizon and switch to T-Mobile, but it was well worth it.

I can’t describe how great this phone is. It’s really changed the way I use computers; I end up using them a lot less. All the small tasks I would usually have to plop down in front of a PC to do can quickly be done from the phone. Facebook, emails, checking stocks, looking at website analytics. It has a great web browser and there are a decent amount of applications for it (including games).

I love how Windows Phone links together all of the information about your contacts. I can pull up someone and link all their info together by several accounts, like their Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Outlook, and then their Windows Live ID. The phone will fill in the contact’s picture automatically and then aggregate all of that person’s information on one screen. When you pull them up, you can see all their latest status updates (regardless of the network).

When I signed up for the phone, it came with two $25 dollar gift cards (one for each phone) that were good for the Microsoft Marketplace. I filled in the paperwork required for that and forgot about it. About two weeks later, my mailbox was stuffed with envelopes from Windows Phone. They must have messed up and I ended up getting $150 worth of gift cards! I’ve used this chance to buy a lot of different games and applications and see what there is out there to offer.

I personally think that Microsoft nailed it with this phone. To me, it seems like it’s just a matter of time before people eventually switch over to this (whether that happens or not is up for debate). If you read my blog, you might remember my “I hate cell phones” rant and you’d be glad to know that, as part of the switch from piece of crap feature phone to smart phone, I’ve also made sure to keep my etiquette. I don’t bust the phone out in meetings or while I’m talking to people.

Living with OCD and anxiety

I’ve always had a hard time relaxing because my brain doesn’t know how to stop working. When I was younger, I could force myself to relax by having a few beers. This worked great for me as a teenager up and through college. I built up enough of a tolerance that I could slam a 12 pack in a 3 hour span and still write complex computer code. It got to a point where I was drinking almost every day. This obviously isn’t a great way to live your life and I ended up getting a DUI in 2005 (I wrote about that experience in a previous blog entry, “Life experience: Driving under the influence”). Part of the sentence given to me was attending counseling for a few months. After talking about alcohol for so many hours, drinking lost all of it’s appeal and no longer helped me relax.

Without a way to relax, my brain would keep spinning. It gets fixated and stuck on a subject for long periods of time, to the point where I feel physically ill. I would have an upset stomach and feel extremely fatigued all the time. I’d always feel tense and on-edge. These physical symptoms started to affect my social life. I would ditch events with my best friends because I didn’t feel good. Quite often I’d start feeling light headed out of nowhere and a few times I fainted. One day when I was working at Intel, I started having unbearable chest pains. The nurse came, checked me out, and called an ambulance for me. I really had to figure out what was happening to me. With all these physical issues, my brain is starting to second guess how I feel all the time, making the problem even worse.

In 2006, I spent a lot of time and money running tests at specialty doctors. I was diagnosed by one doctor as having Celiac disease, an allergy to gluten. I switched my diet and quit eating wheat and gluten products altogether for about a year and it did help. I lost weight and started to feel better. But the problem was still there. I got retested, this time taking a biopsy, and it turns out I didn’t have Celiac disease. I did barium tests, an endoscopy, and a colonoscopy. I had CAT scans, MRIs, just about every test in the book. The only diagnosis I got was IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). There was a gastrointestinal doctor I had saw and he told me straight up that the problem is in my head; there is no physical issue. I was insulted; what an idiot. I’m definitely not crazy.

Sometime in 2007, I flew up to Hillsboro Oregon one time for a 3 day business trip. I’ve been there a few times, my team was actually located there. I was working on a project with a few people and really needed the face time to finish the project. The first day was really great, I had a good time and we got some good work done. I was reviewing code with a few other folks and it was really nice to see them in person. The second day I made it about halfway through the day before I started to feel ill. I excused myself towards the end of the day and went back to the hotel.

I stayed in the room for a few hours, trying to sleep and relax, but this time I couldn’t handle it. Something is wrong with me. With all the tests I had done coming back with me being fine, the problem had to be in my head. That stupid doctor was right all along. This was hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever had to accept in my life. I felt like a weak piece of crap for not being able to beat this, especially considering how good my problem solving skills are. I had a break down that night and called my stepmom and let her know what was going on. I had no idea what to do with myself at this point. I ended up canceling my stay and leaving Hillsboro early the next morning.

When I got back home, I started seeking out mental health experts. I met with the first person who was available, a lady named Danielle. After a few visits she diagnosed me with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). It was great having a name for the problem and a plan for how to treat it. The really horrible feelings I have been having were called panic attacks. These are seriously the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. You get pumped up with adrenaline, your muscles get all tense, you start hyperventilating. It got to the point where I was obsessing and getting scared about having panic attacks. What happens if I go out and meet with my friends and an attack happens? These attacks were happening several times a week, sometimes several times a day.

I got on medicine. It took a few weeks to kick in but I started to feel better. Much better. The thing I noticed the most after taking the medicine was that I started to feel extremely happy again. After living with this problem for almost 3 years without a way to relax, I was seriously suffering from depression. It’s weird admitting that because I didn’t feel sad or anything. I guess I just didn’t feel happy.

Every day since then, my life has gotten much better. Relaxing is much easier. Once I started taking that medicine, I started to feel like myself again. I started having feelings I hadn’t had in years. Things just kept getting better. I switched jobs and now I’m doing something that I love every day. I met a great girl and ended up getting married. I never pictured myself where I am today when I was struggling with those issues.

I still deal with the issue, it’s just nowhere near as bad as it was. As much as I’d like it to just go away, it hasn’t. Every day I take steps to get myself in better shape. There are good days and bad days. However, like any problem out there, once you know the root cause, it’s a lot easier to solve the problem. The hardest part through it all was knowing my thoughts were irrational but just not being able to make them stop. In my case, it was not even possible for my mind to overcome the issue. I had to get medicine to get my brain up and running again.

So that’s what I’ve been dealing with for the past few years. Feels really good to sit down and reflect on it. If you know me personally, you’ll know how I joke about being crazy. I’m not insane, but these are the issues I’ve been dealing with.

Tablet computing

The iPad (and its competitors) at first seemed like a fad to me. Now I’m realizing that they actually discovered a market that people didn’t know existed and it’s pretty clear now that tablets aren’t going away anytime soon. There have been a lot of times recently where I’ve been at home and I secretly wish I had a tablet to get comfortable and read websites with.

The amount of content available on the internet has really opened up a market for these tablets. Content on Wikipedia is living; it’s always being changed and updated. Then there’s the concept of getting news which is really subjective. You might consider “News” logging into Facebook and seeing what happened in your personal circle of friends; or maybe it’s checking CNN to see what’s new in the world. Media streaming is something that isn’t going away, whether it’s internet radio, video streaming like YouTube, or watching full length movies using Netflix.

Content is changing all the time. It almost doesn’t make sense to buy a hard copy of reference materials anymore when you can usually find a newer version online. Not only that, most of the online content is interactive to some degree; you read other people’s feedback about an article and engage in a debate. You can create your own internet content in the form of a blog post or simply a message on Twitter. If you find content is written in a language you can’t read, no problem; just run content through Google Translate.

I have no doubt that web sites are where the future will be. Right now, the web browsing experience is lacking, which is why Apple’s model of “Apps” has really taken off. With today’s technology, you simply can’t give the user the exact experience you want them to have with a website. Of course, I think that will change with HTML5 and newer technologies. Eventually, most content that’s being sold or marketed as an application could probably be done as a website.

Right now, tablets still are in that “Fad” phase. They’re new and exciting for a lot of people, to the point where it’s genuinely annoying. I get mad when I’m in a meeting and people are fiddling with their smart phone or their iPad. People seem to think that touch technology is the next big thing. It’s been around forever in the point of sale industry (think about when you’re at a restaurant). Touch screens are also pretty decent for self-checkout, like at the grocery store.

However, watching videos where people imagine everything in the future being touch screen driven is just ridiculous. I already have reservations about handling someone’s smart phone when I know they break it out on the toilet to play Tetris. Then there’s the fact that today’s PCs really meet the needs of most people pretty well. I sit at a desk and write code on a computer for a minimum of eight hours a day. Today’s keyboards work perfect; I’d feel like I’m taking a step backwards if I was forced to use a tablet and on-screen touch keyboard. Then there’s the gestures you can do on tablets, like turning a page, pinching to zoom in or out. How will any of that help you when you’re sitting down with TurboTax to file your taxes? If gaming is your thing, how exactly do you play a first person shooter on a tablet?

All that said, I still think that tablets are worthwhile. I’m not going to jump into this technology however until I can get a Microsoft Windows 8 tablet. Apple has done a great job of opening up the market, but I really think Microsoft will redefine it. I was an Apple user for years, but once I saw the support that Microsoft has for it’s developers I dumped my PowerMac 7200/90 and built a PC. Microsoft is a software company and they make world class software. Apple (in my opinion) is a hardware company. Steve Jobs was an amazing public speaker and got people so excited that they didn’t care that they’re buying almost the same device over and over again. Take a moment and think about how many hardware models Apple has put out there. The first generation iPod plays songs just as well as the newest iPod touch. There isn’t anything revolutionary about the software they’re making; it’s all hardware.

Tablets can without a doubt replace most people’s personal computer usage. For most business situations you’re going to want to be sitting at a desk using a mouse and keyboard. The mouse and keyboard might not be as exciting as touch technology, but it’s more efficient. I’m really looking forward to Windows 8 and being able to use a tablet for laying in bed and reading internet content or writing small blog posts. Tablets could replace personal computers if there are good enough docking stations out there so you could use a mouse and keyboard at a desk or pick it up and go. Whatever the case is, it’ll be interesting to watch it all unfold.

Money on my mind

Recently I’ve been putting a lot of thought into my finances. I’m doing ok; I’m not neck-deep in debt but I’m not exactly rich either.

I found a great website a while back and I’ve been following it. It’s called Get Rich Slowly.
http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/archives/

The link above goes to the archives, which is the easiest place to start reading from. You can see all the article titles and pick ones that interest you. The most recent entry I’ve read was the piece about the debit card fee raises coming up soon.

Besides that website, one of the things that got me thinking about money was getting my 401k quarterly statement last week. I saw that I lost over $6,000 last quarter. So even with my contributions, it still lost that much.

I hate the fact that so much of my money goes into a 401k; a fund that, at the end of the day, I really have no control over. Sure, you can pick what percent of your money goes to which investment plan… you can also choose stocks versus bonds… but you’re pretty limited. I know it’s a long term thing and it’ll come back eventually… but I really wish there were other investment opportunities.

For example, why aren’t there government programs where I could invest my money (tax free) in small businesses? (And if there are programs, where can I read more about them?)

Right now, a small business has to go to a big bank to get a loan. Banks are already making money hand over fist, regardless of whether they got bailed out by the government or not. Instead of helping a business I might actually care about, I put the money into a 401k account where people at some bank play games with it.

No one really cares about the companies they are “investing” in. All they care about is the short term, making money quickly. These people are getting paid with my money to day trade. Why can’t I take my money (with the tax benefits of 401k) and choose how to invest it? Instead of just complaining, I felt like trying to do something about it.

I opened an account at Scottrade. I’ve been looking over stocks for companies that I personally like and think will be good long term investments. Good companies out there will pay dividends quarterly, which amount to a percentage of the value of each share. As long as you’re willing to make a long term commitment, I think stocks can be a good idea. While your money isn’t liquid, you will at least earn more than the APR for any savings account I’ve seen. And to me, even though public companies aren’t small companies, it feels like I’m actually an investor when I choose to have a long term goal.

Long story short, I’m still sticking with my 401k account. I’m also continually stashing money into a measly 0.8% APR savings account. But I think buying stocks with dividends is a good compliment to those two options. I guess we’ll see what happens.

Google Accounts is a joke

For being a huge corporation, some things about Google are pretty embarrassing. I originally had a Gmail account and decided I wanted to have a custom email using my domain name. Google offers a service called Google Apps that allows you to do that. Cool.

I signed up for Google Apps. I found out quickly that you can’t transfer most of your products. I was able to transfer the pictures from my Picasa collection, but that’s about it. I had to recreate my Analytics account, my AdSense account, my YouTube account, and more. This was a pain in the ass, but I stuck in there and did it anyways.

Later, I cancelled my Google Apps service in favor of using Go Daddy’s Hosted Exchange product. I love Outlook and Exchange, a lot more than Gmail. I was able to migrate all my data over quickly. A few days after I cancelled my Google Apps service, my entire Google account was wiped clean. What the hell? I thought it would have only removed my Gmail, Calendar, and Google Docs access; apps that are provided by Google Apps.

So after all my woes, here is what I’ve discovered. There are 3 types of accounts:
1) Google account not tied to a Gmail account
2) Google account tied to a Gmail account
3) Google account tied to a Google Apps service

If you have a Gmail account and you want to change your Google Accounts email, you’re screwed; it’s not possible to change the email associated to your account. If you’re a Google Apps user and decide to cancel the service, you’ll have your Google account(s) removed, even though it doesn’t say it will do that. If you have a Google account using a custom domain and then you decide to register with Google Apps, you’ll cause a Google Accounts conflict to happen which has to be fixed by their support team.

What’s funny is that I did an interview with Google a few months ago. Not because I was pursuing a job, but because a recruiter found me on LinkedIn and had sent me a few emails. I love my job at Go Daddy, but I figured I would at least do the phone interview, just for the experience. The person who did the interview (interestingly enough) was a person who worked on the Google Accounts product. Just like I anticipated, I was asked silly academic questions which I’ll admit, I didn’t do the best job answering. The interviewer was pretty upset because I didn’t answer the questions like a full time student would answer them and basically ended the interview 30 minutes in.

Now, a few months later, I have this Google Accounts experience described above. No wonder their products have huge flaws with them. They have a bunch of employees who are more interested in Academia than delivering a product that people want and love.

Life after having a DUI

If you know me, you’ll know that I don’t drink. I haven’t had a drink in over 4 years now. I went to Santan Brewery last Friday and had a few Diet Cokes with friends and it got me remembering how bad getting a DUI was.

It was just over 6 years ago now; April 2005. I got busted stopped at a red light. A few minutes earlier, someone was in front of me driving really slow on the US60. I was super pissed off, drove aggressively to cut in front of them and shot them the middle finger. They called the cops on me and that’s how it started.

The whole ordeal set me back somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000. Lawyer, court and jail fees… cab fare when I didn’t have a license. Counseling fees for around a hundred hours. I also had to have a blow device in my car at a cost of around $300 to install with a monthly fee of $100 for a year.

Those experiences took every ounce of pleasure when it come to having a drink. The taste, the social scene, having a cool one when you relax. A lot of my friends like to have a few drinks and kick back, but I’ll stick with my Diet Coke, man.

After remembering the experience I dug this up. It’s a journal entry I wrote the morning I was released, Tuesday July 12th, 2005. I’ve posted it before (years ago), but if you haven’t already read it, take a minute and check it out. This is it, in its entirety and completely unedited…

My original journal entry from July 2005
Today I finished doing my time in the Maricopa county jail for my DUI. I can’t explain how awesome it is to be out of there. I’m really looking forward to getting a full night’s sleep in my own bed again.

I’ll try to explain the entire process as accurately as possible (this is all from memory so some of the layouts might be slightly off).

Day 1 (07/02/2005)
If you live in the US, you’ve probably heard about the man that runs this jail, Sheriff Joe Arpaio aka “The toughest sheriff in America”. He is always speaking publicly about making prisoner’s time as bad as possible and about the money he saves by basically denying prisoners any luxuries. He makes the prisoners wear pink underwear and socks and the old-school black and white striped uniforms and he’s made Maricopa County’s “Tent City” famous.

When you get sentenced, you have a date to report to jail. It’s called a self-surrender. You go to the east corner of the Lower Buckeye Jail (LBJ). I got here around 7:30am and waited with a group of people. After about an hour, a detention officer came out and gathered us up and led us to the main building. After we walked through the gate, he radioed someone to close the gate. When the gate slammed closed, I knew this was going to suck. We went into the booking office and filled out paperwork (name, address, etc). Below is a drawing of the facility

Lower Buckeye jail
Lower Buckeye jail

After filling out and turning in the paperwork, you walk through a metal detector. I beeped along with some other people, and we were separated from the rest of the group. Another person took all of us and led us down the hall (forgetting to even bother searching the people that set off the metal detector) and down the first hall filled with holding cells (“tanks”). We were put into a holding cell with about 15 people already in it and the door was locked shut behind us.

The drawing above shows what a typical holding tank looks like. I noticed two types (when I was being booked, the holding tank was about 9 feet by 10 feet. When I was being released, that holding tank was slightly larger at about 9 feet by 12 feet). Being in the holding tank is hands down the worst part about the entire process. When I got in there, I talked with people and asked how long they’ve been here. Most of the people there had been there since around 5pm or 6pm the day before (and now it was about 8:30am). This is where it set in how bad this sucked. After about an hour of sitting on the floor, I laid out and tried to get some sleep.

The time goes by extremely slow. Finally I was called out and I was pretty excited. An officer led me back over to the booking area by the computer and snapped my photo. Then I got thrown back into the holding tank.

A few hours go by and a rookie officer brings in the lunch for everyone. He throws these plastic bags and milk out to everyone and its chow time. If you’ve heard about tent city and Joe Arpaio, then you know how he makes sure the food is absolutely disgusting. He serves the prisoners rotten and expired food which costs less than the meals he provides for the animals over at the animal shelter (I think the cost of an animal meal per day is about $1.20 while the prisoner meal costs about 44 cents). You get 2 pieces of bread that are as hard as a rock, 2 slices of American cheese, 3 pieces of rotten bologna (which have these pieces of cheese in them), and a rotten tomato. I was surprised that the milk didn’t expire until tomorrow. It’s pretty nasty food, but it beats being hungry. Most of the people didn’t eat their food.

Not much else happened. I guess the highlight was something in the cell next to us. There was a ton of noise next door, which I later learned the story behind. Apparently a guy next door couldn’t take being in the holding cell for a long time and went completely insane. He grabbed the toilet paper, dipped it in the toilet, and strained the TP over his head, catching the water in his mouth. He started screaming and undressing and banging his head over and over again into the door and the window on the door. Officers pulled him out and tazered him. Some officers came into our cell and told us to turn around “or else”. We turned around and you could tell they were beating the crap out of this guy. He was screaming pretty loud. They put him into this weird kind of “crazy people” chair and probably put him in solitary confinement.

At 11:30pm, people from different cells were being called out. We were lead into the hall and lined up. The officers shackled our legs up and handcuffed everyone to another person and led us out to the trucks. We crammed in there and the officers started driving. These guys drive insane and I think they do it on purpose. They were taking corners going about 40 or 50, probably just so everyone in back gets thrown around. We finally got to our destination, Estrella Jail, at around midnight. We were let into the main room there, un-cuffed, and searched. The officers threw us all into 2 holding tanks while they were processing us (both of which didn’t have a bathroom). I think a Mexican guy in the other tank crapped his pants.

After sitting in there for a long time, we were let out and went out to the main area. The officer let us use a bathroom and then we got shackled up. I think it was around 1:45am at this point. We got handcuffed on the legs and handcuffed to another person. We started the walk over to tent city.

Overview of the jail layout
Above is an overview of the area. You can see the drive we made from LBJ over to Estrella and I highlighted the walk. I was wearing sandals and during the walk the cuffs really dug into my legs. I could feel the cuffs slicing deeper and deeper the closer we got. We were led over to the “Con-Tents” tent city (the other yard is the “In-Tents”, also called “Stripes” by inmates. The people over at stripes have to wear the old-school striped uniforms).

We were let in and searched. A lot of people obviously weren’t searched before or weren’t searched very good. People had cell phones on them, etc and some people had stuff that could obviously be used as a weapon, like a screw driver. Finally, the cuffs were taken off and I got a chance to check out my legs. They were cut pretty bad and were bleeding all over the place. When I did get a chance to return home, I took a photo (this photo is 2 days after the cuffs cut the crap out of me)

My ankles cut from the handcuffs
It took 18 hours, but we finally made it here to tent city (2:00am). We were told the rules, etc and handed our blankets and assigned a tent and a bunk. I went and made my bed and went up on the hill. There’s a Commissary there that has vending machines. They were being serviced I guess so I waited around with 3 other people and talked until about 4am when they were opened up again. I grabbed an RC Cola and felt a lot better. We all finally got some sleep after that. I drew a map of the con-tents tent city yard.

Detailed tent city image
The tents are all numbered and have numbered bunks. There are metal frame bunk beds with about an inch of foam padding for a mattress. When you walk in, the left side of the tent has 4 bunks in a row and the right has 7 bunks.

Days 2 through 10; Tent Living
I woke up the next day at about 6am. It was pretty hard to get to sleep. It started to get really hot outside, and by noon it was almost unbearable. It gets really damn hot outside, especially inside the tents. Inside the tents, the temperature gets up to 140 degrees. I picked up some good tips that make it not as bad though
-Drink lots of water (obviously)
-Take a shower with your clothes on and get your head soaking wet, this helps a lot
-You get a pink towel when you get your bunk blankets. Grab that and get it soaking wet. Put it around your neck, making sure to cover up the back of your neck. This is probably the most important thing to do, otherwise you’ll probably have a heat stroke (someone did when I was there last Saturday)

The day isn’t that bad if you have work release. There’s a black box in front of the office where you turn in your ID to get released for work. You have to turn in your ID between an hour and a half or an hour before your release time in order to get out. Also, you have to shave everyday and be clean-shaven to get out for work. Once you get work release, the time flies by. Tent City basically is just a hotel to sleep in at night and nothing more really.

I met a lot of great people at tent city. Mostly everyone there was there for a DUI and they’re going through the same things. There’s also some other interesting things. There’s a guy that sells Powerball tickets every Wednesday and Sunday. He sells number slots for the actual Powerball (not the other 5 numbers) for 2 dollars. The winner gets like 100 bucks or something like that (last Sunday’s number was 4).

Besides gambling, you can also find smokes and drugs in tent city. All of these things will get you “rolled up” if you get caught. Rolled up means you pack up your stuff and the guards will put you in stripes (the “in-tents”). You’ll be wearing pink underwear, etc.

Cigarettes go for a dollar a piece. I saw a few people walking around smoking pot just in-between tents. Some guy I talked to saw a guy with a handful of hundred dollar bills and a bag of meth. It’s insane. The stuff all gets in by people throwing it over the fence. The officers don’t really seem to care that much. If they walked around constantly and watched everyone, it would be a much different place.

I spent a lot of time talking with everyone there. I met a lot of great people and had some fun playing Gin Rummy and trying to figure out how to play Dominos (an inmate made dominos out of soap bars). The worst was the last day.

The final hours
When I got back on the 11th (Monday), a guard pulled me aside and let me know I was going to be “kicked out” soon. My name was called about 30 minutes later and I brought all my stuff to the gate. The officer got ready to shackle us up and was nice enough to not shackle our feet (I showed her the scars on the back of my legs). We got thrown in a holding cell with about 15 other people back at Estrella. We got there at 9pm and left at 11pm. When we left, we got shackled up and handcuffed to each other and set off for LBJ. We got to LBJ and got thrown into a holding cell there. At the time, there were only about 12 of us in there, but by about 4am, there was over 40 of us in this small little cell.

Just sitting there is the worst part. It’s impossible to go to sleep and you run out of things to talk about. This is where crazy and insane people save the day. There was a guy there that got busted for shoplifting and was getting released and he stood up on the bench and started to tell everyone about how he likes crack cocaine and how to make it.

The rest really isn’t even worth writing about, but I finally got released around 12 noon on Tuesday. I can’t believe it takes 15 hours to get processed out.

Because of the way they treat people, I think a lot of the inmates are prone to going back out and committing the same crime again. Lots of people in the holding cells I overheard talking were talking about how they’re going to go break the law as soon as they get released. A group of about 10 people already picked the local Circle K (see my drawing above) as a target that they’re going to shoplift from as soon as they get out. One guy was going to get a ride to the mall and go back to the store he was arrested at and shoplift new clothes and then move to Las Vegas. Pretty much everyone was talking about getting drunk and a lot of people were talking about smoking crack or shooting up. I don’t think shoving people in a room really helps them, it only makes them want to commit the crime or a worse crime even more. I’m a really relaxed guy and after being in a small room with 45+ guys and having to use the bathroom in front of everyone and not being able to sleep, I was ready to fight anyone that said the wrong thing.

That all went away when they finally called my name out and I got to do the final walk out to the release area. It’s finally over with

Brian Clifton