Tuesday, January 27, 2009

some food for thought:

The average household pays $368 in overdraft fees each year, according to Brenton Woods, a financial services advisory firm quoted in the SmartMoney story.

"You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it."-- Dr. Adrian Pierce Rogers, 1931–2005

"I carry a gun because a cop is too heavy. " Anon

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."-Albert Einstein

PETA- People Eating Tasty Animals.

yes I'm a crazy conservative. No, I don't think spending more money that we don't have erases the debt we still have.

Monday, January 26, 2009

So, Rosemary and I have had to think about our finances a lot lately. A lot of things have come up, not just expenses, but the world's financial situation has had a nasty effect on us lately. My 401k has basically not grown at all last year, despite dumping thousands into it, effectively netting a 40% decline in that account. My personal savings account has lost quite a significant amount as well, due to the huge drops in MSFT stock in the last 12 months.

The world is changing. We are still able to afford everything we need, which is a testament to God's provision, but things have gotten harder. Of course our heating bill grows in the winter, the annual homeowners dues go up every January, and a new assessment was levied against us, due in a few months. I think we can get by, but it leaves us in a strange spot. We can't really afford a new house, nor could we sell our current. But we need to start thinking about that in about a year or so, when we think about a second kid. We have a two bedroom place. We have both kind of decided that we probably won't be able to get into a house within the next two years, because of the housing market. We just couldn't sell our place, or afford a down payment on a new place. We're going to haveto figure out how to be comfortable in our townhouse for a while longer. Especially now that it is made known that no raises will go out to MS employees for at least a year and a half. That is very limiting for our goals.

So, we've decided to look into refinancing, to see if we can eek some extra room out of our monthly house payment. Loans are at pretty low rates right now, and it might net us enough extra per month to be able to jump start our savings enough to get a foothold on a downpayment, or some upgrades to the current place to increase resale value- which is similar to a straight cash downpayment. It would also help with crazy costs like extra assessments, a blown transmission, or emergency purchases for kid(s).

All in all, God is good. He has provided, and as long as we stay debt free and smart with our money, we are in the clear, and will be positioned for financial success in the long run. Truth be told, that's simply amazing for a couple in their early 20's.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Well, the layoff news is in. 1400 immediately let go with small severance packages (one week of pay per 6 months of employment time) and another 3600 out the door within 18 months. No raises this year. And a few other minor cuts in travel and spending.

I think MS made a bit of a mistake saying 3600 will be laid off over the next 18 months. Everyone still employed now has to worry about their job, which is probably one of the most impacting factors on morale. Not only that, but people will be hard pressed to find motivation to work when, during your review, there will be no raise tied to your performance. That being said, bonuses and stock awards are probably still part of the review period. Maybe this will improve the work life balance issues at microsoft? Who knows, maybe it'll mean a mad dash for the top spots so you don't get laid off. Either way it seems a really odd way to do things, from a morale/employee perspective.

It's a pretty small cut overall, to be honest. I would almost rather a larger cut. We've hired something like 10,000 people a year on average the last 4 years in a row. That's an insane growth rate, which is fine, but they are working on projects that don't necessarily create new revenue. We've been growing so much and in so many ways that it seems frivolous. Not to mention the huge bloating of our middle management level. There are soooo many directors, vice presidents, general managers, and so on. I feel like a lot of them got there on the merit of their coding abilities or great achievements they made at microsoft a long time ago, but aren't really a good fit for larger management or direction of microsoft kinds of positions.

I'm not really worried about my position, I think I stated that previously. And apparently my boss has talked me up to my peers quite a bit lately, which I don't much like, because it paints a target on my back, and/or creates some animosity between me and people I like to consider my friends. I don't think I'm "better" than my coworkers... I've just worked on this specific area for so long I've got it down pretty good.


Monday, January 19, 2009

So, there's "rumors of layoffs" at microsoft the past couple of weeks.

How do I feel about that? Well, yet again, I am frustrated at modern media. A single blogger, mini microsoft, (an anonymous microsoft employee that has ideas on how microsoft can become a better company) just kind of mentioned the idea without any proof or hard facts, just a lot of "so and so said" kind of stuff. Then, another blog picked it up, and another, so on and so on, until CNN is displaying on ther NATIONAL NEWS CHANNEL that Microsoft is going to do layoffs.

Bahahah. So, they might be true. Mini Microsoft is a good information source, but even the blogger admits that the info is pretty he said she said kind of stuff. The rumor originally said that the layoffs would be announced on the 15th, and that it would be around 14 percent or so, and mostly just trimming "the fat" or people who get the lower 10% rating on their yearly reviews.

I'm not really that personally concerned. I work on a few very very large projects within microsoft that are considered "big bets" and I've got quite a bit of domain knowledge of build engineering that our group really needs.

So that's how I feel about "layoffs." I guess I wouldn't mind if our company trimmed up a bit, either, because I feel like our hiring standards have kind of slipped. Some of the people I've worked with kind of make me scratch my head sometimes.

So in other news, we just got a letter from our new homeowners management company. The board of directors for our association decided to levy a 250 thousand dollar assessment to raise extra cash. So we haveto pay around 2 grand by may 15th, and we were just notified. This makes me angry. It seems to me any sort of assessment needs a vote from the association body, instead of arbitrarily decided by the board of directors, which are just a few people in the association. And what really frustrates me is that it's just for extra cash. We raise our rates every year, by about 4 or 5 percent, to adjust for cost increases and extra expenses- for this exact purpose. And we have special assessments on top of this...? I understand the previous assessments I've seen- new siding for a third of all the buildings. But that included over a year of advance notice, breaking out the payments in sections, and a clear goal in mind. But just 250k for extra cash? I looked at our current balance sheet and we've got 100k extra cash right now, and we have another 100k that will be saved by the end of this year. So we will have near a half million in extra cash in the bank now... for extra cash?

Grr! I'm still trying to get up the willpower and anger to go dig out my homeowners agreement documents and find out whether they need to do an association vote on this. We haveto vote to approve the yearly increase in dues, so it seems we need to do that for an assessment as well.

Monday, January 12, 2009

forgot to add- part of this recent discovery led me to start a 2 week free trial of the Zunepass.

What's that? Well, it's the competitor to iTunes and the iPod. It's a music application, like iTunes, where you can listen to all of your favorite music. With the Zunepass you pay fifteen bucks a month and get unlimited music and everything you want to listen to. They've acquired the rights to pretty much every song I've come across, and you can download and listen to it, create playlists of it, and so on. So you basically get access to all the music in the world for fifteen bucks a month. I think that, if you are a big music fan, it's a much better deal than iTunes, where you pay 70-100 cents per song- which can add up real quick. Buy an album or so and you're up at 15 bucks, the same cost as a zunepass which gives you millions of albums, not just one.

And to help them compete with iTunes, zunepass gives you ten free songs per month (to download and keep, even after you shut down your zunepass) on top of the unlimited access. I think it's a much better deal, and I'm not real sure why it hasn't been doing better against the apple offering. oh and, the Zune is a pretty cool device.
So, when I was younger- starting right around 10 or so, I just fell in love with music. I know it happens to most everyone, and the way I started in on the new found love was by first listening to all of the music my mom had. This included lots of Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, some old Petra album called "This Means War" in tape format, and a bunch of other less popular christian bands. After a few years, when I was 12, I built myself my first computer, and immediately started in on the journey of creating my own music collection. I discovered great things like rock music and techno. These were truly momentous things! Trance Control forever changed my life, buzzing out of my maxed out 3 dollar speakers that I barely could afford after years of saving for my computer build. I started saving up for a speaker set that could do my growing collection justice, and picked up a 2.1 set of Altec Lansings that were the best of the class for that time- that I think my cousin still has and uses. Don't even get me started on Creed!

As I grew up, and I started falling in love with other things in my life, such as the idea of love, which was opened up to me by the idea of salvation and someone loving me so much they died for me, I started hearing the passion that comes forth from love songs. Things like Jewel, Blessed Union of Souls, and various artists that did a few love songs like Bush and Dido. The idea of being so sold out for someone else really captured me, because I grew up wanting to please others and make people happy.

And the story continues, the great journey of music through life that everyone takes. Some people it plays a minor role, some people it's a very large part of who they are. Part of that journey contains mix CDs- works of art that people put together to illustrate emotions or states of mind.

Well, I stumbled upon a CD case full of some of my old mix CDs, and just started popping them into my CD player this last week. There was the L-mix, (which stood for love, but was written to avoid embarrassment by my 'macho' friends), and of course the famed "Mix 1" "Mix 2" "mix 3" and "mix 4." And when I'd be ready to create a new set of mixes, I'd just write "old" on the old mix tapes. So I stumbled across mix 1-4 Old, and Mix 1-6, and the L-mix, of course.

It's so interesting when you listen to something like that, from a bygone era of your life. I put those mixes together with specific feelings and thoughts in mind, creating a flowing story for each CD. Listening to them brings me back to those feelings and times in my life. Times when emotional responses were easier to get out of me, times when I was so introspective and cognitive that I would try and glean a greater meaning or purpose out of everything. When the lyrics of a specific song would evoke life changing convictions.

As a sample of this, here is where I am at in my current music life: David Crowder, some Nickelback, Family Force 5, various trance music (similar to Infected Mushroom), United, Kutless, and various other mainstream bands such as Daughtry and Maroon 5.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

I KNEW this would happen...

So, at work, I've been transitioning off of my work and team, and training up a vendor to own and take leadership of all build engineering for this team. My boss has wanted me to move into automating and testing (basically fitting into the basic microsoft idea: only two types of people exist, devs and testers). Which I don't personally believe in, because build engineering needs to exist in IT development. Anyways, the transition is pretty much complete, and the vendor has been shadowing me for a few months and knows the ropes, and is taking charge. So when I came back to work after my winter vacation, I started working on the automation/testing framework my boss wants everyone to move into.

This morning, he calls me into the private meeting room to talk to me, and tells me about another group that has been having some pretty serious troubles with engineering, and how he wants to take it over and overhaul how it works and how we do their engineering. And, he wants me to take charge and work on that. My ENTIRE career has been basically this:

1. Get thrown on a problem application, to clean up their engineering processes, do a couple of releases and get the delivery and execution results up, make the customers happy.

2. Boss calls me in, tells me about a problem application.

3. Repeat.

Which is fine with me. I love engineering. I love fixing problems... last week, my xbox broke and I just sat there and fixed it for four hours. It was fun. Unfortunatetly the fix didn't last too long, and I tried to fix it again (and didn't have the tool) but I still had a blast fixing it. To me, fixing things and engineering is WAYY more fun than your standard develop and test framework that a lot of this company operates on. I hate writing code, it's boring, and I hate testing code, because it's mind numbing. I'd like to think that I'm a fairly seasoned build engineer, and I'd like to think that I'm fairly good at it- which is why I keep getting thrown on problem applications that need serious engineering help. And thats what I want to do. I'm sure that once I'm done fixing up this application and how it's engineered, the issue will come back up and my boss will want me to move over to traditional dev/test. It's really frustrating to have a build engineering manager that doesn't believe in build engineering... he believes build engineering is obsolete and a job that shouldn't exist. I'll continue to do a good job and prove him wrong, proving that no amount of automation can replace a smart guy with an engineering backround- we will always be better than a script.