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The comforts of home April 25, 2009

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I miss the amenities of home – being able to go and buy my own food, make my own food, come and go as I please, and just feel in charge of my life.  I had a dream the other night that my grandma was living here; I was elated to discover this because it meant I could move in with her and take care of myself again.  Staying at Marylin’s is something I wouldn’t say that I’m struggling with per se, but I certainly am having some trouble with it.  There’s a sense of freedom in being responsible for taking care of myself.  I’m used to doing most household chores myself and now and it’s weird to have food cooked for me, my clothes washed for me, and my things cleaned for me.  It makes me feel too much like a guest.

Today was refreshing because I took it upon myself to wash some items, but I still feel strange whenever I’m in the kitchen, so I’m certainly not about to pull out a pan to cook myself something.  Instead, I bought myself some salad and fruit to eat, but since I spend most of my time at the office, I’m keeping them there.  My eating habits don’t match up with any traditional method or what people tend to do (however many meals a day) – I like to snack throughout the day and have one or two larger meals, but mostly just be munching every hour.  That’s a lot harder to do when the food is offered up and then it’s expected to be cleared away after a certain period.

I also like to wander around outside or drive around, which is not exactly an option for me here.  I suppose I could always go downstairs for a stroll or a swim (I wonder if I need a special key for entry?), but I feel bad making someone open the door for me whenever I get back.  It’s difficult to find a good balance between doing what I want to and also not getting in the way or being an inconvenience.  I tend to think everything I do is disruptive except for staying in the room, out of everyone’s way.  And so that is what I do for pretty much 90% of the time that I am here.

It’s an unfortunate combination of factors working here.  For one, it’s not worth it to move to my own place – I’d end up paying to be here and I don’t want to dig into my savings (or my parents’ generosity).  Yet, staying with her poses a myriad of conundrums.  I’m very grateful that Marylin and her family have so generously taken me in, but I feel like I have to tiptoe around everything.  I don’t want to use too much of their resources.  I feel guilty every time her mom so kindly buys me lunch that is ready for me when I wake up on the weekends.  I feel awkward asking their maid to do anything, so I try to do it myself, but then I feel like I’m breaching her territory.  I try to stay away from the living room in case that makes them feel like they can’t use that space.  I don’t talk to her parents very much because I don’t want to disturb them.

All these things are nobody’s fault, but just unfortunate byproducts of the situation.  I’d much rather be on the other end, offering my home and resources to others.  In fact, I often imagine how things could be when I get back and after we’ve found a way to get Marylin over there too (and possibly others!).  Of course, everything else I miss about home doesn’t help things either.  I’ve been getting a lot of invites to events occurring on campus and I wish I could be there to attend, as an alumna now.  This weekend is the Festival of Books and it will be the second year that Livescribe has a booth there.  Last year I was there, working the booth as a campus rep, so I wish them another successful weekend!

I’m going to compile a list of all the things I want/should do in Singapore (and maybe nearby countries, if I can make it) and start figuring out when I’ll have time to get around to doing them all.  That’ll help get me out of the house, see more of Singapore, andkeep me entertained.  I shouldn’t spend my weekends lying around all day, drinking water incessantly and doing who knows what online.  Sometimes I amaze myself with how I distract myself.  I hope that before I know it, I’ll be headed home (though a bit nostalgic and sad to be leaving here).

PC vs. Mac: the neverending debate April 24, 2009

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Disclaimer:  I have a strong bias towards PCs, so Mac-lovers may not like what I say.

Before I started to work here, Marylin warned me that I was entering Mac territory and would likely have to convert.  Dismayed, I tried to keep an open mind about it, but ultimately did not want to make the switch.  Thankfully, I have been able to use my HP Pavilion with few problems.  The only thing that stands out is my inability to connect to the company network to access shared files.  Other than that, I find that my PC is perfectly fine and usually outperforms those little Macs.  Unfortunately, my colleagues are far too enamored with Macs to appreciate it.  Recently, it seems like a lot more of the differences have become apparent to me.

First, let me go through the three experiences I had lately regarding the two different operating systems.  It started when I was retrieving some information off a website to store in our database for reference.  I thought I should use a Mac because it’s linked to the shared drive, so I could download directly to that.  However, I quickly lost patience using the clumsy mouse pad and decided to get it all done on my PC and then transfer it over via a thumb drive.  I found some articles that were embedded in the site, so they needed to be copy-pasted and then converted to a PDF.  When I did that on the Mac, all formatting was lost and I had to go through to change everything.  After switching over to my PC, I discovered that a quick copy-paste would yield basically ascreenshot of what was on the site, all formatting preserved nearly perfectly.  It was a breeze making the PDFs that way.

The next time I came across an issue was at a meeting, where Macs don’t have the right plug to connect to a projector, so we had to use my computer to present a PowerPoint to the clients.  Macs need this converter thing, which is such a hassle to remember to bring along.  Finally, later that same day I was compiling a list that I wanted to store in a database, where I could tag each item with keywords to cross-reference them according to the various categories they fit under.  I was looking into using Access to accomplish this, which would have been fine and dandy, except Macs can’t read those files.  So now we’ve got to look for a paid program or I’m going to have to painstakingly figure out how to make it work out decently on Excel.

Now my main reasons for preferring PCs have always been:
1. The right click!  So much functionality has been lost from not having that.  I really can’t live without it.  Granted, it seems that Apple has finally caught on are adding that in now.
2. The toolbar is at the top of my open box, no matter where that box is.  Why does it have to be the very top, no matter what program is open and where it is on the screen?  What if my window is open at the bottom right?  Then I have to travel all the way to the opposite corner to get to the "Finder" thing just to use the menu options.
3. Double-clicking that expands to full screen.  I am used to it expanding to full screen, not shrinking!  How do you even expand on a Mac, is it that teeny little green button?d
4. The buttons along the bottom of the screen to show all the programs I have open and one button to press to go to the desktop.  I often forget what is even still open on a Mac, and can someone please tell me if there’s any order to how the little screens appear when you sweep to one of those corners that shows all the open windows?  I don’t like accidentally moving my mouse to a corner and BAM everything disappears, or everything appears when I don’t want it to!
5. The backspace AND delete options.  Backspace removes characters to the left and delete removes characters to the right of the cursor.  Delete on a Mac does what backspace does on a PC.  So what on a Mac does what the delete does on a PC, pray tell?

And for HPs, I love the little remote that I get to allow me to control PowerPoints, movies, my music, or any other form of media from up to 10 feet away.  Then I am no longer tied down to where my laptop is sitting (like when it’s tied to the cable connecting it to the projector), so I am free to walk around as I present something, sit further away to watch a show, or dance around to my music, changing it as I want to hear a new song.

Another thing is that I like my mouse sensitivity set at very high.  I don’t know if it’s just because none of the Mac users I know like to make their mouse move faster, but I don’t have the patience to wait for the mouse to casually make its way across the screen.  In this new age of efficiency, that is just too slow.  I like a very sensitive touchpad.  And can someone explain to me why there’s an "apple" button and a control button?  Everything done with the apple button can pretty much be done with a control on a PC, so what in the world is the control for?  Is it trying to make up for the previously lacking right-click?  Maybe this is just something I’d get with time using it, but it seems superfluous to me.

A friend once told me that Macs are designed to be very childish and simple.  That’s very true.  Sometimes they are so simple it doesn’t make sense.  (Like the Finder example above – it’s very easy to always expect the toolbar in the same spot, no matter what, but it is also inefficient in many cases.)  Everything in their design is about simplicity and plainness.  Just one simple color, no designs.  Just one touch pad, nothing else.  Just a few small slits for USBs and CDs.  Oh, speaking of which, there are hardly enough USB ports!  With a wireless mouse and a thumb drive plugged in, they’re already maxed out!  What if I want to plug in just one more thing?  Now maybe it’s just my computer and not all PCs have three slots, but I’m comparing what I have to what I’ve seen of Macs (the new silver ones with the glass screen).

Even their logo is childish and simple.  For 22 years it was the apple shape we all know, but shaded in rainbow colors.  A very simple design and all those colors is rather reminiscent of crayons.  After it was revamped to be the new version that could be blown up without looking tacky, it’s now no more than a silhouette.  Yes, it looks sleeker, but it is still very basic.  And that is great for them – it costs much less to print just one color, the logo is easily recognizable, and it can readily be duplicated.

What I do like about Macs are the scrolling option if you use two fingers, as well as the expand or shrink option if you move your two fingers further away from or closer to each other.  They also tend to be the quietest, though if I keep my laptop parallel to the ground and off of soft surfaces, it doesn’t complain either.  The new glass screens are quite nice as well, leaving less room for dust to get in cracks and giving a nicely smooth texture.  And I do agree that Macs tend to be better for creative work though, in terms of design and whatnot.

My one gripe about my laptops are that they are dead heavy.  I have that one coming though, since I prefer to get the ones with wide screens and this one also has a reserve battery power that gives me extra oomph.  My shoulders pay the price of that decision, but ultimately I don’t mind.

The sleek designs of Macs are much of what makes them appealing, but a lot of functionality is lost through that.  I guess that’s why they sell/don’t sell.  Some of the population is out for aesthetics over usability.  Most of the population is looking for functionality.  And I am one of those individuals who would not pay exorbitant amounts for looks.  But hey, to each his own, I guess.

A future unknown April 23, 2009

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Today, Panda and I discussed our future living situation and it’s a good thing that’s far down the road!  Though everything else we differ in opinion on can be compromised more readily (like the cat I really want I can "adopt" by going to a local shelter to volunteer with the cats there), where to live is something that is much harder to agree on.  Though I think I would like to end up living in LA, I also can’t imagine not finally getting around to living in a few of the places I’ve been thinking about: Houston, Denver, somewhere in England again…  I’ve never lived in any city for longer than 4 years and I can’t stand thinking about being caged up to one city for the rest of my life.  I move a lot, I experience a lot, and I change a lot.  Ironically though, even though I’m used to change, I don’t like the change of having no more change.  Change is what I’m used to and that is what I’m comfortable with.  Ilike a new kind of scenery, a purging of my life here and there, and plenty of chances to learn from a wide demographic!

On the other hand, Panda is born and bred Californian.  Not only has he never left the country, he’s hardly left the state.  He knows LA and he loves LA.  It’s hard for him to imagine living anywhere else, ever.  He grew up with the same people pretty much in the same school district his entire life.  He hasn’t moved since he was just an infant (other than going to college).  Even the college he chose is close to home and right in the middle of LA.  He’s comfortable in that city and doesn’t want to leave.  Though he’s willing to take trips to visit places around the world, he’s just not interested in settling down anywhere else, for any length of time.  His life has been stable, consistent, and reliable.  So why would he want to take a chance and change all that?  It’s far easier to keep on doing what he’s doing and get a job in the area, raise a family there, and grow old there.  Very predictable.

I have known this about him and it has worried me a bit as I imagined our future together.  It’s good that we still have time to change ourselves and perhaps change our minds, but what if we don’t?  How do you reconcile two opposite demands?  Just vacationing is not good enough for me.  I want to immerse myself in a new place, which can only be done with lots of time.  So, I was thinking, maybe I could spend a few months of each year in another city and switch the city every few years.  However, I don’t like being away from him and I certainly would not want to start a family like that.  Panda suggested that we can try to have two houses, one in the greater Los Angeles area, and one in whatever other city I’m interested in.  That’s a good idea in theory, but when would he have the time to join me there?  Being an engineer, I’m sure his work days will be long and hard and the vacation time will be minimal.

Then I was thinking, maybe the company he works for would have offices in the places I’m interested in, so he can request a transfer for a year or two.  After a few of those, we could end up in LA again and settle down then.  Of course, that is banking a lot on the possibility of an office where I want to go and available space.  The type of work I’m doing now seems to (and hopefully is) propelling me towards a life of entrepreneurism and various ventures, which would make my schedule more flexible.  So perhaps I could just wait until he finds a good position and then we relocate.  Granted, this is assuming he’d be willing to go through all that trouble for a couple of years.

As a kid, I got sent on a lot of camps and trips, from annual summer visits to China to swim camps and boot camps (no, I was not a bad child, it was for my JROTC unit and I elected to go).  I like being exposed to different things all the time.  From my upbringing, I tend to get bored of things easily, unless it is always making me see and do things in a different way.  I am afraid that that is going to happen with LA.  I just need some time away, to get out all the dreams I’ve had before I can feel good about settling down in one place.  Unfortunately, that "time away" can take anywhere from 5-15 years.  Who really knows how things will turn out?  I’m trying not to worry about it right now, since it’s still far away, as are deeper commitments with each other.  But, here I am, just about seven and a half weeks into my time in Singapore and I can’t stand a day without him.  And much as I appreciate my experience here, I dream of the day that I get to hold his hand again.  How could I ever leave him in LA again and again for years?

For me, when it gets to the point where I know a city inside and out, it loses a lot of its appeal.  It is no longer mysterious, no longer exciting, but suddenly a solved puzzle.  But for him, Los Angeles is his home.  Literally and figuratively.  He’s familiar with its areas, its weather, its people.  He knows just where to go to get the food he wants to eat or the things he needs to buy.  At the same time, Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolis with so much to explore and see!  From the famous landmarks to visit to the beautiful places to see, it offers up a whole bunch of options.  I can totally see him staying there forever and never getting bored.  I admit, there is still plenty for me to go see and do, but I’ve hit up most of the important areas (multiple times) and I’m ready to try something new in a few years.  I still want to go back and establish something there first, but after that… who knows.

As for now, we’ll both just have to see if we can break out of the barriers we grew up learning and find some sort of a compromise down the road.

Obama, from a non-political perspective April 22, 2009

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I’m not one to really delve into politics, but what I’ve been hearing/reading about President Obama over the past few months has been all about his forward-thinking and modernness in terms of his campaign.  He’s definitely breaking boundaries with his approach and I’d like to delve into how social media is impacting his presidency.  To start off with, he is the first Generation X president, bringing an entirely new philosophy as compared to the Baby Boomers.  As such, he has embraced a lot of social media outlets and is really quite on top of things – no longer do we have the outdated leader of the past.  It’s really refreshing to finally see the leader of our country making himself available to the masses in the way that he does, from having a Twitter account to keep people abreast of things (although that has definitely dwindled) to posting videos so the masses can listen to his speeches.  Now that’s what transparency is all about.

I like that the image and expectations of what a president is can be changed with him.  After all, he is all about change!  And it certainly is past due for the states to revamp our national leader’s role in interacting with his contituents.  We should no longer expect frumpy old white men hiding behind their desk in the Oval Office, but men (hopefully women, soon) of all backgrounds with doors thrown open and information shared.  Granted, there will be plenty we will not know due to the sensitivity of the information, but at least this allows us as a nation to have a better idea of what is going on.  People never really have a very good idea of what the presidency entails, so if President Obama and his staff can update his blog, Twitter, facebook, and other such accounts, we can feel like this man is actually doing something for this nation.  There is great potential here to reach out to the United States as a person and not a figure or a title.

I would like to see him reminding people of why we celebrate certain holidays as they come along, to encourage the community to understand what all those days off are for.  I would like to see updates on his social media accounts, telling us when he’s traveling to another country to meet their leader for talks, or an ambassador is visiting him to talk.  I would like to see him bringing attention to the importance of also voting in your local elections.  I would like to see him talking about all the issues he’s looking at, from the ongoing war to environmental issues to educational problems, and the like.  Most of all, I want to see him involving the people, engaging the people, and continuing to reach out to each of us, as individuals.  That’s what I think a great leader would do.

I’ve got high hopes for this man and what he can do not only for the country, but also the presidency.

The ones who blast their music April 21, 2009

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On the way to work this morning, I had the unfortunate experience of standing next to a guy with his music blasting into his ears.  I don’t know what it is about people out there, but they all seem to need their music played at exorbitant volumes.  It’s completely unnecessary and rather harmful too, yet they either don’t know or don’t care and go on with their deafening habits.  It has long been proven that prolonged exposure to loud noises is damaging to our ears.  Is it just that people have not gotten the memo?  Besides the point that is it deafening, literally, it’s also disruptive and inconsiderate to the people around, most who just want a peaceful start to their day.  For those who are trying to drown out ambient noise, get those noise-canceling headphones or learn how to focus on the sound right by your ears, rather than the ones slipping through!

Perhaps it is because of my background studying psychology, which in turn includes biology and physiology, that creates a bias in my knowledge about this subject.  But surely any lay man who goes from an extremely loud environment to a quiet one can tell that the ringing in their ears is not a good thing.  Note to the wise: ringing ears means auditory damage!  You are killing off nerves in those ears!  Now a bit of exposure here and there is hardly noticeable, but when you’re subjecting yourself to that for hours each week, it will result in permanent damage that cannot be reversed.  So are these people just looking to incapacitate themselves this way?  This will always be a mystery to me.  Do people think they’re somehow "cool" by doing this?  Maybe it’s just me, but I find it an annoying and rude behavior.

Listening to music loudly is often used as a means to ignore the rest of the world.  After all, if your eyes are averted and your ears are plugged, how do we get your attention?  This is a phenomenon you’ll find common on college campuses are students bustle around campus, rushing to get places.  The main thoroughfare through UCLA, Bruinwalk, is abound with students ignoring each other and the people frantically trying to give them fliers as they pass by.  It’s notorious amongst all students that earphones in means everyone out.  Sure, sometimes you need to focus on yourself and where you’re headed or what you need to do, but really, do you need to act like you’re the only one left on the planet?  Playing music at a reasonable level allows you to filter through things that you don’t want to hear, but also catch important ones like someone chasing after you, calling your name.  Since when did we become so antisocial?

I have always listened to my music at a level that is just enough to hear, but not enough to drown out what is going on around me.  I like to be aware of my surroundings and if I can’t hear the sirens approaching that I should give way to or the people behind me who are excusing themselves while trying to dodge me to get off the train, I’m far more likely to be a nuisance and get in the way.  So what do you say?  How about turning down the volume a little and not shutting yourself off in your own world, oblivious to your surroundings.  We as humans are not meant to function that way.  That is why we are social and why we form societies.  So, next time you have the urge to blast your music at the max volume, turn it down halfway and allow yourself time to enjoy the world you’re in.

Reaching out April 20, 2009

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I’ve never been one to ask for help.  Even though the people around me have been more than willing to do so, I grew up so used to doing things on my own that it doesn’t even occur to me to ask much of the time.  I have learned to be an extremely resourceful person and therefore, I love to share all the things I discover.  Yet rarely do I turn to my family and friends to ask them for their opinion or input on something.  Instead, I take the "I can do it" attitude a bit too far and miss out on the opportunity to bond with them and make them feel useful to me.

This is something I’m working on changing so I can allow myself to rely on others every now and then.  But it’s a hard thing to do, placing trust in someone else when you’d much rather just do it yourself.  It’s hard to resist the urge to hop online and find the answers I need on my own.  I realize I’ve missed out on a lot because of this, from time spent getting help on my homework so I wouldn’t waste so much time not getting it to relationships that didn’t deepen because I didn’t open up very much.  It’s a slow process to break this instinct to plow through piles of information to get my desired answer, rather than to interrupt a conversation or approach someone to ask them for their wealth of knowledge.

One great thing about my fraternity’s mailing list is that we can share with each other all sorts of information and ask for help if needed.  That is one of the few places I’ve ever reached out to ask for others’ opinions, thoughts, or knowledge.  Even then, I much prefer to help out whenever I can and share my experiences and expertise.  I think it’s wonderful to have a network like that that I can tap into whenever I want, it’s like having friends who never leave you, even if you hardly keep in touch.  I’m more used to maintaining relationships that are far less maintenance than traditional ones, where the closest people to me only talk to me periodically, typically monthly or less.

So, now with a boyfriend who I can’t go a day without talking to in one way or another, I’m starting to learn more about maintaining relationships.  Though it’s difficult to remain close to people when everyone is moving about all around the world, there are still plenty of ways to stay in touch and remain updated on each others’ lives.  I’m also trying to keep track of who is doing what, who is good at what, who likes what, etc. so I can tap into that in future, whether by asking for help or offering an opportunity.  I don’t know how quickly I can change an age-old habit of self-sufficiency, but to feel more in touch with people, I’ll try to make the effort.  Perhaps getting around to replying to all my facebook wall posts will be the start!

TV’s lack of appeal April 19, 2009

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I can’t recall where our household TVs were in most of the places I grew up.  In fact, my first memory of really consistently watching TV was back in middle school, around 7th grade.  That was when we had moved to New York and I remember coming back from school to watch trash shows like Ricki Lake and then classics like Fresh Prince of Bel Air as I ate my way through a few bags of instant chicken ramen.  I never really cared for cartoons and other animated shows, so I pretty much just stuck towhatever was on when I got home from school.  Prior to that, I had always read books for fun.  I think the change began when I started to come out of my shell and be more sociable at school.  Coming out of my own world and integrating into the larger one introduced me to this phenomenon that seems inescapable in the American culture.

Well, by the time I left New York three and a half years later, I had given up TV other than whatever was on that my dad was watching during dinner, which was usually 60 Minutes or 20/20.  The internet was booming and I could entertain myself far more with that than any TV show could ever provide.  Plus, I had much more control over what I would be exposed to, versus being at the mercy of some channel’s scheduling choices.  I can’t even remember what I used to watch, other than Gilmore Girls and Charmed.  I never really got into the whole TV or movie thing.  I’m not sure why, but I guess it was something about how unenlightening they seem and how they tend to encourage vanity.

Unfortunately, it’s gotten worse, from what I know, what with shows like Damages that I’ve seen commercials for and Gossip Girls that I’ve heard about.  Why would you spend hours of your life watching people be terrible to each other?  I hope this doesn’t produce a pathological society intent on revenge, greed, and other traits that will pick at our morals.  Entertainment is widely influential and the messages being sent these days are often questionable.  I’m not sure I want to know how this is affecting the younger generation as they grow up with their role models watching that kind of junk.

At the same time, there are some shows cropping up that I don’t mind, such as House and Lie to Me.  Initially my obsession with House started when I was moving in my second year of college and my friend was watching the season one DVDs.  The abrasive humor, fast-paced discourse, and insightful tidbits into the human body and mind attracted me.  Enough for me to decide to buy the first four seasons on DVD when I joined Columbia House.  As I spent the tail end of last year watching episode after episode, I started to notice the trends and patterns and slowly my interest waned.  I am still fond of the show, despite all its peculiarities (or maybe because of them) and I find it interesting because Dr. House is just so odd.

As for Lie to Me, I saw bus stop ads for it all over Westwood in the early parts of this year, as I was enjoying life with no schedule.  I decided to go check it out online once the show started airing and found it to be quite intriguing.  The entire thing is based on research done on microexpressions and body language, and how they can tell us when people are lying.  I have heard of this type of thing before, and having studied psychology as one of my majors, I find this fascinating.  There were a lot of facts in the show about how it all works, plus audiences get to see how what our behavior tells you is just the what, but not the why.  A lot of unexpected motives for lying are unveiled throughout the episodes, which makes you think before you assume.

I am also glad that the newer reality shows I’ve seen are getting more positive, rather than taking the dramatic approach by throwing a bunch of strangers to live together just to watch them fight.  I mentioned beforewatching some of the episodes of The Biggest Loser, which encourages people to take charge of their lives and finally get around to losing the unhealthy weight they’ve been bearing for years.  It’s not that I don’t have gripes about certain details of the show, but overall they are trying to send a good message.  I also like this one show I saw five minutes of, which pairs up children with their dads in a competition.  Done right, it encourages the parent-child relationship to be stronger and allows them to outperform by doing teamwork activities.  Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? can be positive too, by making being smart look cooler.  What kid doesn’t want bragging rights to knowing the answer that the adult didn’t and "saving" them in the show?  Though the show makes some adults look like fools, it also encourages kids to do well in their academics.

Even the good shows out there have their flaws, but I guess that is expected, since they can’t be perfect or they’d be uninteresting.  The main problem with TV shows for me, however, is that I bore of them easily.  For both House and Gilmore Girls, which are the only two shows I own on DVD and the only two shows I have ever watched every episode for, there came a point when I started to tire of the plot or the characters.  When you see a pattern or things become predictable, it’s just not fun anymore.  I like to be challenged to never expect things at face value, to have to think about things that are going on in the plot.  Perhaps that is why I also quite enjoy watching CSI with Marylin on the weekends, whenever she has it on.  There’s always mysteries and twists to look out for.  Yet, whatever draws most of the population to their television sets each day baffles me, for I could live perfectly well without it.  Actually, I can’t even remember the last time I turned on a TV; in the past few years I’ve only ever turned them off after people around me have finished watching and I am still left sitting there.  To me, TV is just unappealing.

Credit scores and finances April 18, 2009

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I decided to go back to Mint.com today to check out how my finances are doing.  It’s really an amazing tool, putting all of my money in the same place for me to easily see.  It was always a chore for me to sign in to my bank accounts, then my various credit card accounts, all so I could see how much money I had, how much I owed, and how things were doing for me overall.  Now I just need Mint.com to keep track of it for me!  As I was filling out the information for my new retirement accounts (gosh, that is a strange thing to think about), I also completed the rest of my profile.  One of the questions they had for me was what my credit score is.  Well, I certainly don’t have a clue.  In fact, I’ve never known my credit score!  So, I decided it was time to find out.

It’s an interesting thing, these credit reports.  I spent ages filling out information at various sites, trying to find one that gives me my three credit scores (for free), period.  For some reason, whenever they ask me verification questions, I get a little nervous that I will answer incorrectly.  I should know my own activity and history with no problem, right?  And I do, but nonetheless, I have that little tinge of worry when I have to give a correct answer for authentication.  I guess it stems from my childhood fear of authority, where anyone with the power to affect my life can make me uncomfortable.  So in this case, it is their control over whether or not they believe I am me, which in turn determines whether or not they will allow me to access information I want, that scares me.

Well, it turns out my credit ratings aren’t half bad (all in the excellent range, yay), but I still have room for improvement.  Luckily, I’ve never been rejected credit and I tend to get way more than I need, but I still have a ways to go, once I start having a mortgage.  I don’t plan on having any loans, but who knows, maybe I will get a good financial adviser who can manage all that for me and actually make me better off by using loans.  I do believe my mom is a guru at that sort of thing.  I am also really pleased with Mint.com because they provide me the information I always was afraid I wouldn’t have once my mom can’t help me with finances anymore.  As of now, she’s always the one I go running to when I have a money issue (like not knowing what type of IRA to open up).  I feel more secure in being able to take care of my own money responsibly now.

I have been very lucky in my life, with parents who have always had the foresight to save money for things we needed/really wanted.  I never had to pay a cent for college, or take out a student loan.  It’s an amazing gift to start offmy career with no debt hanging over my head.  I don’t think I can fully appreciate it since I don’t know what it’s like to be in debt, but nonetheless, I am grateful.  At the same time, I tried not to exploit this privilege and got a scholarship that helped pay some of my way.  Also, we’ve never not had the money to purchase things when we really needed them.  Granted, that has a lot to do with our concept of what we actually need.  We’re not a very materialistic family, so all the nice things we get we get only when we more than have the means to get it.  I have learned some very good spending habits from my parents and I hope that I can retain that, and not live beyond my means.

My mom has always told me that too many Americans get trapped into spending more than they’re earning and borrowing a lot, which leaves little room for error.  On the contrary, our family only takes out loans we know we can pay back, only buy cars that are within our means, and only get houses that have mortgages we can handle.  I admire how well my mom handles money and I wish I had a knack for that myself, but if it were up to me, we’d all just live with cash and never worry about credit cards throwing you into debt or losing money on investments.  Ironic, I guess, since I studied finances quite intently during my undergrad career, but it’s not a topic I really care for.  It certainly is very useful though and it’s a pity I don’t know more.  But, with the booming internet, I can always look up what I need to so it won’t be too bad.

So, though I may not know the best ways to handle my money, at least I’ll make good choices with what I do know so far and just keep educating myself on what else there is.  Ultimately I’m hoping I can make enough to hire a financial adviser to do all that for me.  I’m not much of a risk-taker though, so I don’t know how I’d feel about my money being put into the volatile markets.  It seems lame to keep it all in a savings account though.  Which, by the way, has been disappointing me with the economic downturn.  Supposedly my interest rates are still higher than market rates and rather competitive, but it has been sliced to at least less than half of what it used to be!  It’s so unfulfilling to see your money growing so slowly.  With the magic of compound interest though, I just need to wait it out and see better results later down the line.

Productive day April 17, 2009

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I feel quite good about today overall, since it has been a long and busy day.  Though it started off a bit slow, with Marylin and I running half an hour behind schedule, it was still an efficient day.  A lot of things happened, starting with the mysteriously loud bangs we were hearing – turns out it was the water jug delivery guys.  We got our new stash of water to guzzle (which we do at a very high pace), then received two samples of pillows and blankets from a company in China (for Napper’s other business), and the model ship we have been waiting for!  The ship was made by prison inmates and donated to the Yellow Ribbon Project as a way to promote giving prisoners a second chance.  When Zen saw it, he was very keen to buy it and was actually able to!  I always love mail (and packages especially), so it was rather exciting to keep getting deliveries to the door.

On an individual level, I sent out some follow-up e-mails to people I met at the SHRI Congress.  Some of them took me awhile to craft, since I wanted to make just the right impression and give just the right message.  I feel quite good about what I ended up sending, so we will see how the replies are.  I also spent a lot of time doing some random market research and got a chance to chat with Lorry and share my opinion on something he was working on.  It was a nice bonding bit, getting to spend some time brainstorming and discussing ideas.  I got a chance to step out for lunch, which has been more occurring more rarely these days, so that was nice.  Soon after, I got a call from an old friend  back from Perth for the week and made dinner plans.  I then continued working, taking some small breaks here and there and had another fruitful sharing session with Lorry, which made me late heading out of the office to go to dinner.  Though Orchard Road is not far from our office, it still took me a good 20-25 minutes to get there!  At least the trains weren’t packed.  I guess people go home way earlier than 7:30 on a Friday.  Thank goodness!  Those 6 o’clock crowds are killer.

I spent many hours over dinner catching up with my friend and then we met up with a good friend of hers.  A lot of interesting topics were discussed and it was very nice to spend some time out for myself, chilling and talking over dinner and drinks.  There was a lot of ground to cover, after three years of not seeing each other, then mixing in a new person.  It was quite nice to see her because 1. we didn’t expect to see each other again for years, if at all; 2. Singapore was the last place we thought we’d meet up (it was supposed to be LA); and 3. I had no idea she was coming back so soon until just a few days ago.  This was rather unexpected and a great refresher of my second year of uni.  Ah, the good old days…  Life has changed so much since then!  The college lifestyle is so special.  Pity it can’t be retained as we move on into the workforce.

As I was leaving, I checked with Marylin to make sure she was still awake to let me in.  Turns out she and Zen were still out, hanging out with some of his friends from the Navy.  Thus, I was dropped off at Clarke Quay and made my way to a rooftop bar.  I met four other guys there and we sat around having a grand old time.  It was a nicely breezy night up there, so it was quite comfortable.  I munched on some ice to help clear my throat from the smoke I had been close to at the bar I came from and eventually we headed off to get some "supper."  What do you actually call a meal that you have at 3 in the morning?  Over dinner, we continued to crack jokes offhandedly and have a grand old time eating porridge.  I avoided the frog meat and got myself a bowl with some chicken shreds in it.

We were out until nearly 4 in the morning!  If tomorrow wasn’t a Saturday, I don’t think I could make it.

Appearances April 16, 2009

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I’m making my way through Blink, which talks about how powerful our unconscious minds are.  One of the things it mentions is how height, gender, and other physical traits can really influence us, even if on a subconscious level.  It’s going to take us a long time to ever overcome (or even come close to that) initial impressions based on a person’s appearance.  Those who are taller exude more power; those who are well-shaped exemplify better health; and those who are good-looking are expected to be better people at everything they do.  It takes a lot of training and exposure to lessen the effects of the unconscious feelings we get from our split-second judgment of a person.  It’s a sad truth of evolution that we tend to have these immediate reactions.  It’s how we size people up at a glance.

Our views of others continues to be molded by the way they look, among other factors, even after we get to spend some time getting to know them.  A lot of societal constraints force us to still dress in business attire when we’re doing things related to work, or wear certain clothes to fit a certain "type" of image, such as punk or preppy.  It’s because of this that there are dress codes and categories of people based on what they choose to wear.  Perhaps this is why I feel very sharp when I dress up in formal clothing and more casual when I’m in my sweats.  What you choose to wear really does send a message.  You’d certainly never find me tottering around in high fashion clothes, not only because I don’t care to pay the money for those things, but also because I find that look to be silly.  It’s just something I don’t get.  What I do wear either tells people that I am a business woman and I take my work seriously, or that I am a low-maintenance girl who just wants to enjoy herself and not worry about looking stellar.  (Wow, even my language reflects the impression I am presenting, with woman being a more serious noun and girl being a more relaxed one.)

It’s funny how every choice you make can be so reflective of your nature.  But, that is always to be taken with a grain of salt, as there are certainly people who don’t "look the part."  On a very broad scale though, how a person looks in just a fraction of second of seeing them is actually quite a decent measure of their personalities and preferences.  That’s what Blink is telling us.  This is generally not easily accepted, since we value getting more information.  More is not always good and in certain cases, less can be more accurate!  Mind-boggling, isn’t it?  I am constantly amazed at all the previously counter-intuitive things that have been proven true in research.  Even our intuitions are being molded differently now!

So in the end, I will still conform a bit to society’s expectations of me, much as I may disagree with it sometimes.  After all, it will help get me further in my goals.  A bit of resistance and change is good.  I want to run an unconventional office one day, but until then, there are certain things I must still do for others to accept me as capable, reliable, and trustworthy.  Not that I mind wearing business clothes!  It’s just other things that I don’t care for.