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Archive for October, 2006

Best Overall Costume, boo-yeah!

October 31st, 2006 at 08:47 pm

Today, our department had a little Halloween party, with prizes given out for best costume.

I went as Sadako, from The Ring. I simply wore a white dress, and let my hair down.

It worked. Everyone recognized me immediately, and were totally wigged out. I ended winning both Scariest Costume *and* Best Overall Costume. Big Grin

Here's the photo.

I got a Sensi-Cush (aka Super-Squishy) pillow as my prize.


Let them eat curry

October 30th, 2006 at 11:26 pm

Went shopping, as expected, on 10/28. Bought:

- mushrooms: $1.81
- eggs: $0.99
- scallions: $0.80/bunch
- tofu (2 boxes): $0.99/each
- coconut milk: $1.20/can
- green curry paste: $0.90

Total: $7.68

I made a perfectly passable Thai green curry with those last two items. Since one can of green curry paste suffices for two cans of coconut milk (I'm too wussy for the full-strength dose), that comes out to $1.65 for the curry sauce. Add in veggies for the sauce and plenty of rice to serve the curry over, and you have quite a memorable dinner for $2 - $3.

And a proper green curry at a Thai restaurant would put one back around $10 around here. And one is never sure if fish/shrimp paste gets into it. Since I'm becoming more paranoid about the vegetarianism of Thai food by the minute, this affords me valuable peace of mind, especially since I can't always get a straight answer from waitpeople.

Man, I love my HK grocery.

Lending money to friends--good idea or bad?

October 25th, 2006 at 09:56 pm

I got hit up for another loan from a colleague today.


He's going home to India at the end of October until Thanksgiving, and I guess he needs a cash advance before his next paycheck. He even said he'll write me a check beforehand, and let me know when I can cash it.

I haven't gotten back the $300 I lent another colleague earlier this month.

Yes, it has apparently gotten around that I am the one sitting on top of wads and wads of cash.

Ironically, I earn less than ALL of them.

I'm more amused than annoyed, really. All of my colleagues are good friends, and I'm totally willing to help them out if it's in my power.

But I don't know how far I should let this go, or where I should draw the line. Could this turn into a slippery slope? Will they get used to this, and continue asking for loans, even for non-emergencies?

Once I get my desired cash flow scheme in place, I won't have as much of a buffer to hand out large loans. Yes, I'll still have loads in ING, but everything there is earmarked, and transferring money in and out constantly is not the most convenient of tasks.

I guess I'm just not sure if I'm being a doormat or a good friend.

Knowing me, though, I'll probably loan him the money. I do have enough to spare currently. And I like the 'pre-writing a check' idea. Maybe I'll institute that as a future loan policy.

Shopping trip

October 25th, 2006 at 09:28 pm

I hit two stores today, for the first grocery shopping trip of the month.

First, M&M Farms for produce:

- day old bread: $1.59
- buttermilk: $1.19
- bananas (7): $1.02 ($0.39/lb.)
- apples (3): $1.36 ($0.79/lb.)
- romaine (1 head): $0.99
- broccoli (2): $0.99
- onions (3 lb. bag): $0.99
- lime: $0.17
- ginger: $0.09 ($0.59/lb.)
- green beans: $0.27 ($0.99/lb.)
- bell peppers (3): $1.23 ($0.79/lb.)
- tomatoes: $2.43 ($0.99/lb.)
- spaghetti squash: $2.34 ($0.59/lb.)

Total: $14.66

Then, Costco for bulk nonperishables:

- avocadoes (5): $4.49
- diced tomatoes: ?
- crushed tomatoes: ?
- butter (4 lb.): ?

(Roommate has the receipt. I need to get it back from him.)

Total: $21.42

The spaghetti squash was a treat that I promised myself, and some of the butter is for the SO.

Total for the day was $36.08. I need to hit another store in the next few days to get eggs, tofu, mushrooms, and possibly curry paste. This can't possibly be more than $8.

If a supermarket trip is forthcoming before the end of the month, I'll be getting baby corn, barley, flour tortillas, and possibly graham crackers and pumpkin filling for a pumpkin pie. I don't necessary need any of these items, but supermarket trips are hard to come by when one is car-less and dependent on others for rides.

In any case, grocery budget is right on target. I'm trying to undershoot $60 this month to make up for last month's splurge, and it looks like I'll hit it.

Mostly a rant about the stupidity of airport security

October 19th, 2006 at 12:05 am

I am back from Atlanta.

I came in amazingly under budget. We can be reimbursed for up to $700, $250 of which is food allowance.

Plane: $173.61
Hotel: $230
Food: $50.33
Misc: $10, but will probably end up being $50.

Since we don't need receipts to claim the food allowance, I can still claim the $250 for food, and actually pocket $200. A part of me feels like it's not right to claim money that I never spent, but considering all the overtime hours I've put in that I never got compensated for, it's hard to feel guilty.

I'll do a more complete post when it's not 3am.

On a totally unrelated topic, airport security is so incredibly ridiculous these days.

On the way there, they checked every single compartment of my bag, and confiscated my bloody peanut butter. Fine, it's a potentially explosive "gel". But any idiot can tell that it's the *nonexplosive* variety of peanut butter, DUH.

I don't understood why they took the peanut butter, but not the poster tubes that can totally be used as clubs.

But the hilarious thing is, they took my peanut butter, but totally missed the RAZOR BLADE that I forgot that I kept in my wallet. I've actually cut myself on that thing, so it *does* work.

Peanut butter vs. razor. Hmmm, I wonder which is more dangerous. Not that my stupid razor is dangerous at all, unless you're, like, a hemophiliac or something, and are dumb enough to swipe your finger across it.

On the way back, I got flagged for having an outdated passport. Oops, I didn't notice, and neither did the airport security folk on the way there.

So I get sent back to the check-in counter for a new boarding pass labelled "SSSS". All that accomplished was wasting my precious time, and separating me from the people I was traveling with. It didn't actually STOP me from getting through eventually, or anything.

But I get routed to the special "suspicious people" line. Whoo-hoo! When I realized that I was in a special line, my first thought was, "I hope this isn't the line for the gas chambers."

So I put all my stuff on the x-ray scanner, and get picked for a random security check! Probably because I have those S's on my boarding pass, and a foreign passport, those racists.

All I could think was, "Way to go, choosing the TINY PACIFICST VEGETARIAN." I don't even kill spiders.

All this hubbub caused me to MISS MY FLIGHT.

Oh, and after all that, they STILL didn't find the razor that was still in my wallet. Because part of me was morbidly curious as to whether I could get away with it a second time.

Yeah, after going through this, I can fully attest that airport security is a total crock that accomplishes absolutely nothing. I don't think they even look that carefully at the x-rays. I'm sure that if I really wanted to, I could have snuck something a lot worse than a razor onto the plane.

I'm glad I don't travel all that often. The frustration would drive me batty.

Taking care of business

October 13th, 2006 at 11:44 pm

I was in a panic this morning.

Today is payday, and I didn't see a direct deposit in either of my bank accounts.

Turns out, I got a plain old check this pay period. Three weeks ago, I'd requested that direct deposit be switched from ING to Bank of America. I didn't expect it to stop altogether.

I finally decided to e-mail our business office.

I asked them about my direct deposit stopping instead of switching.

I asked them about the revision to my W-4 that I submitted on 8/8 to change my filing status from "head of house" to "single" that still hasn't taken effect.

I asked them about the revision to my CT-W4 that I submitted 9/18 that asked them to stop withholding taxes from my paycheck, since I've already overpaid my taxes this year. As of today, I was still paying taxes.

I even told them that the last item was urgent, since I needed the money.

I hate bureaucracies. Hopefully, I'll finally get these issues resolved.

BTW, I'll be scarce for the next five days (at least), since I'm leaving Saturday morning for my conference in Atlanta. I'm coming back really late Wednesday night.

I know that my hotel offers a free breakfast, so I was packing some tupperware and ziplocs in case I could sneak some food out.

I noticed that my roommate, despite thoroughly mocking me for washing and reusing ziplocs, now has his own stash of rinsed ziplocs, ready to be reused.

Ha! *smirk*

My Roth IRA is gaining nicely...really nicely.

October 13th, 2006 at 01:32 am

Just for fun, I crunched the numbers on my Roth IRA, which is invested in Vanguard's Target Retirement 2050 Fund.

Since 8/31, I have invested a total of $7,031.72.

As of today, my Roth is worth $7,284.21.

That's a 3.59% growth in the past 1.5 months, or a monthly growth rate of 2.39%.

Extrapolate this out to a year, and that's an annual growth rate of 28.7%.

If I calculate just by share price, the growth rate becomes 29.9%.

Is this for real?? EEK!

I'm sure that the growth rate won't actually hit this obscenely high figure, and average annual growth rate will actually end up being more in line with the other Target Retirement funds at 12% to 13%.

But it's still nice to dream. Wink

And my father has started asking me for investment advice, since his retirement fund isn't doing nearly so well (it's actually losing money). ME! And he asked me about variable annuities, and I actually told him some info on those that he didn't know before.

*scurries off to continue reading Business Week Guide to Mutual Funds*

Oy, what is the world coming to??

I ticked off a salesperson yesterday, go me!

October 12th, 2006 at 08:00 pm

I'm not sure if I should feel guilty about it.

See, what happened was this.

A colleague (and friend) of mine was ordering a cell phone. She's not very good at English, so she often enlists my help in browsing websites and making phone calls.

I agreed, and we found a plan she liked that offers a free phone (including shipping) and a waived $36 activation fee. We were almost done with ordering it online (she didn't want any of the extra add-ons), when we ran into a box for "discount code".

Now, we know that this particular provider offers a special discount for our institution, and of course we wanted to redeem that.

So I decide to call them up, and ask if there's a special code that I can input. The salesperson on the other line told me that the institutional discount can only be redeemed after an order has been placed, so he couldn't give me a code, but he could give me the number to call to request the discount afterwards.

All right, sounds good.

Except he doesn't give me the number right away, but invited us to place our order through him.

Um, okay, why not, I figured. He probably got a commission on each sale, and if we can order the same (or a better) package, then what's there to lose except a little time?

So I go through, and tell him the plan and phone that we wanted. He confirms that the prices were the same, and the phone was still free.

He just had to offer every single add-on (that we'd already been through online), and I had to turn him down on each one.

Finally, I get to the activation fee. It's waived online, and I ask if it's also waived with him. He sounds confused, and says that he doesn't see this option. I told him, as nicely as I could, that we were very interested in waiving the activation fee, and if he can't get that for us, then I'll just go ahead and order everything online.

Here's where things got really weird.

I was expecting him to let me go, but instead, he started to argue with me.

No, he highly recommends ordering the phone through him, because he can personally place the order, and make sure that the phone arrives on time. If the order were placed online, it would not get immediate attention, and a mistake could be made. The phone delivery might get delayed, or not arrive at all!

Umm, let's just say that throughout this entire heartfelt speech, I was mentally calling BS on every single thing he said.

I was *positive* that he was getting a sales commission now.

But what about the activation fee, I ask again.

His reply? Not to worry! He'll give me the phone number to call for the discount, and when I'm calling, I can also ask to have the activation fee be waived. And speaking of the discount, I would need an order number to redeem it, and he can give that to me if he places my order.

Uh-huh, like the online website won't give me a confirmation number and e-mail with the same exact information.

I press him again about the activation fee. Is it guaranteed to be waived if I call the number he gives?

He waffles on the answer, something along the lines of, "If you can't get it waived, you can cancel the order without charge, and re-order it online". He obviously has no idea, and no way was I going through *that* trouble.

Finally, I gently tell him that I'll place the order online, so could he please stop holding the phone number hostage already.

He reluctantly relents, and sounds very, very peeved at me.

At this point, I've probably spent 20 to 30 minutes on the phone with this man. And I knew within the first 2 minutes that he couldn't help me with my original question (discount code).

And still, I was willing to order through him and have him earn a commission if he could get me the same deal as online. He couldn't, and he had the gall to spew BS at me, and be mad at me when I didn't bite?

Afterwards, I find out that the waived activation fee was only offered for ONLINE orders. Probably so that they don't have to pay salespeople like him to take orders.

All this trouble to save my friend $36.

I never trusted salespeople to begin with, and this certainly didn't help matters. I didn't *want* to cost him a commission, or even his job, but DAMN was that ANNOYING!

In other news, I lent this same friend $300 today, because I am apparently Ms. Moneybags. I do trust her to pay me back, but the amount is making me feel a little uncomfortable. She says she can return it by the end of the month, but I'll ask if she can return it before November 1st, since I don't know if my direct deposit will switch in time, and I want to be able to make rent without having to transfer money out of ING.

I ate out! And I actually paid for it.

October 9th, 2006 at 09:58 pm

I have paid for a meal out for the first time in recent memory.

The last time I remember going out was... two years ago? For a friend's birthday dinner?

If I recall, I didn't even enjoy it that much (didn't like the cuisine), but that's besides the point.

Yeah, it's been that long.

But last week, I randomly ran into a high school friend on the street. She wanted to go out to dinner, hang out, and catch up. I agreed.

So today, I spent $8 on a dinner out with her. Afterwards, I tagged along while she went to a few other meetings/events, and got free pastries, hot chocolate, and a slice of pizza.

I think it was worth it. I don't want to make a habit out of this, but she wants to learn how to cook from me, so we may have found a cheaper alternative in the future.

In any case, $8 is worth preserving (reviving?) a friendship. I am content.

Free food = Happiness

October 4th, 2006 at 07:57 pm

I'm in a good mood, despite having to stay really late at work (until 8pm).

There was a scientic vendor exhibition today, which offered a free pizza lunch, as well as candies and giveaways at each vendor's booth.

And those who know me will know for sure that my motto is, "If there's free food, I am THERE!" Big Grin

So, on top of getting free pizza (with lemonade, a can of Coke, and cake for dessert), I also collected more chocolate munchies than one can shake a stick at. I also got a mousepad, a mini-stapler, a keychain flashlight, an envelope opener, a large plastic cup, lots of pens, and a yo-yo.

So the yo-yo is kind of random, but whatever. Smile Everything else is really useful, and I'd never buy the candies and soda for myself, so they're a real treat when I can get them for free.

Upon getting home, I decided to raid the kitchen cabinet of the previous tenant in my apartment. She apparently left behind pasta and a large container of pasta sauce, among other goodies.

So I chopped up some veggies, and made pasta with sauce, using her stash.

Total food expenditure for today: half an onion, and half a crown of broccoli. Oh, and some olive oil.

I might make some garlic bread from my own food stores before the night is out, but all in all, not a bad deal.

Expense log for October

October 2nd, 2006 at 05:34 am

- rent: $500
- credit card: $69.99
- B&N: $7.52
- cable modem: $25
- electric: $32

- $13, rount-trip Amtrak tickets
- $1.25, shuttle bus

- Ivy Noodle: $8
- $1.25, shuttle bus

- $12, round-trip Amtrak tickets
- $1.25, shuttle bus

- $1.25, shuttle bus
- $35, parking

- M&M: $14.66
- Costco: $21.42

- HK market: $7.68